Shot2TheMoon: “The 10 Moons of Ilsendor” (Entire Living Story)

Dispatch #2: The View From Here

Launch Date: Jan 12, 2022

It’s easy to lose track of time when traveling through space. Long gone are the days of rising with the sun or falling asleep beneath the glow of the moon. The view from here, far away from Earth, beyond the chaos of the Milky Way, is unlike anything the crew has seen before.

“Who stole my last Gatorade?” asked Commander Von, rifling through the fridge in the galley.

Faint chuckles echoed through the room. It could have been any of the 5,000 recruits aboard the spaceship. It could have been Commander Sean on a midnight prowl, determined to quench his thirst; or Mission Specialists JB and Snazzy, playing a cruel game of hide and seek. It could have been Flight Engineer Riemer or Payload Specialist Risk. It could have been anyone at any time because when supplies dwindle, mischief arrives.

“You drank it last night,” said Riemer, releasing steam from a bag of popcorn. “Don’t you remember?”

Commander Von didn’t remember much about last night. It was a bit of a blur, just as everything had been since the voyage began. “It’s possible,” he said, shoulders deep in the belly of the fridge. “But I doubt I’d forget something like that.”

As much as the popcorn in Riemer’s hand smelled and felt like popcorn, it didn’t taste the way he remembered. Nothing did. Space food had certainly evolved since the days of John Glenn, the first American to eat in space aboard Friendship 7, and because of that Riemer was grateful for not having to live off apple sauce, sugar tablets or tubes of puréed beef and vegetables. The food on board was slightly off, but he could live with that.

What Riemer couldn’t live with was Commander Von’s fleeting memory and how quickly he kept forgetting about the mission’s dire state. It was as if he was oblivious to everything the crew had endured. It had only been a month or so since the team boarded the vessel — an artifact created by an international faction tethered to the government of the United States of America. Since liftoff, the team had lost communication with earth, the spaceship’s speed accelerators swiftly fizzled the moment they reached the outer arm of the Milky Way, and food supplies were becoming scarcer by the day.

“You keep forgetting that we’re practically lost in space, floating to who knows where without a functioning navigation system,” said Riemer, shoveling a handful of popcorn into his mouth. “It’s not your fault that the government decided to cut corners and gave up on building this ride.”

The crew knew that there were risks when they accepted the mission. S2TM was an untested intergalactic spaceship that had been worked on in secret since the 1970s. When funds dried up in 2008 due to a wide scale economic collapse, so did the government’s daydreams for extended space travel. For nearly 13 years, S2TM remained tucked away at a classified military base in the heart of Alaska where it patiently waited for the day it would become a priority once again.

From a bird’s eye view, the base looked lifeless. Nothing more than two dozen white satellites in the middle of a valley surrounded by mountains. A single dirt road cut through the wilderness like a long scar running alongside the satellite field to the base of a small silver shed. Very few knew how to open the shed and flip the breaker in the electrical panel. Knowledge which granted access to the network of tunnels connecting large hangers, research laboratories and a high-security Command Center sprawling beneath the Earth’s surface. It was there, deep underground, where Commanders Von and Sean worked in secret.

“Do you ever wonder what would have happened had you and Sean not taken to the airwaves that night?” asked Riemer.

Von didn’t like to think about that critical moment. A time when they broadcasted their conversation into deep space. The jury was still out on whether the duo accidentally went live or if curiosity got the best of them. As they were flying solo in the Command Center, speculation among the recruits swung either way.

“I mean, we’re here now,” said Von, closing the fridge. “What’s the point of dwelling on the past when we can’t change it?”

Riemer rubbed his buttery fingers on his navy coveralls. “I’m just sayin’, you and Sean are heroes. Had it not been for your broadcast, you wouldn’t have freaked out and messed with the satellites or fiddled with the algorithms. How long have you and Sean been sitting in that room, going over incoming signals, looking for evidence of alien communication? You guys hit the motherload, my friend!”

Commanders Von and Sean had been stationed at the base for nearly six years. Six years too long. Von had dreams of working at the International Space Station, playing guitar while in orbit. Sean was obsessed with Neil Armstrong, his childhood hero. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his idol by leaving his own on the moon.

While being stationed at a secret base in Alaska was intriguing, it was far from ideal. Bases like this were rumored to be the places where flightless Commanders go to retire. For these two young Commanders, it was the government’s way of keeping them away from anything they could potentially destroy, which was pretty much everything.

“True, true,” said Von. “It really makes you wonder if the government knew about Nifty and the Legion of Wen this whole time, and we just happened to stumble across something that’s well above our clearance level.”

“I know it doesn’t feel like it, but there’s really no one else best suited to lead this mission,” said Riemer. “Especially right now when it seems like everything that could possibly go wrong has happened, minus crashing into an asteroid or being struck by a wayward comet or … yeah, I guess it could be worse. But I mean, who even knows where we are? Or where Nifty is? And the worst part is, we’re now out of popcorn.”

Von and Sean knew that the transmission they intercepted wasn’t the first of its kind. The government had been receiving variations for years, monitoring plasma waves and searching for encrypted messages from extraterrestrials. Cracking the code was the challenge. It’s one thing to have a transmission and it’s another to be able to understand it. Nifty was a breakthrough. The fierceness in his voice, so dark and guttural, made the hairs on the back of Commander Sean’s neck stand up. When world leaders began arriving at the base, Sean and Von went under heavy rounds of interrogation. Rumors spread like wildfire about what they had discovered and why the world’s leaders suddenly cared about a base many assumed they had abandoned.

While various factions rarely agreed on much, it was unanimous that Nifty was a force that had to be stopped. If not for Simia, a moon neither Sean nor Von had previously heard of, then for Earth. Fragile, helpless Earth.

How to stop Nifty was a larger, more ambiguous question. Who would step forward to embark on a one-way mission? Which commanders could unite thousands of people they’ve never worked alongside before and carry them through the most harrowing experiences of their lives?

“Von! Where’s Von?” yelled JB, rushing into the galley.

“He just stepped into the pantry,” said Riemer, eyeing a chocolate bar. “Think he’s a little hangry.”

“Sean needs him on the bridge, STAT!”

The day the comms died on the spaceship was the day JB and Snazzy realized just how large the vessel was. Not being able to quickly connect through communicators made everything more difficult. Von was a creature of habit, and if he wasn’t in the game room, he’d most likely be in the galley.

“What’s going on?” asked Von, stepping out of the pantry with a raspberry jam sandwich in his hand.

JB scanned the room. There were too many recruits around to tell Von what was happening on the bridge. Even though JB didn’t know what prompted the panic, the fear in Commander Sean’s voice was enough to make him trust that not all was well. Sounding a premature alarm would send a shockwave of chaos through the ship. That was something JB wasn’t willing to do until Sean or Von commanded it.

“Not here,” said JB, quietly. “We need to get to the bridge.”

Riemer straightened up. He could tell by the seriousness in JB’s voice that whatever was happening on the bridge was something that could not be taken lightly.

“Ahkaydud,” said Von, eyeing Riemer. “If Sean’s pulling a fast one and interrupting my lunch time for kicks, I’m going to have a talk with that fish.”

Commander Sean was speaking with Risk and Snazzy when JB, Riemer and Von barged into the bridge. The Officers in the room, fixed at their stations, seemed overly tense and panicked. They were scared. Far more scared than they had been when the communication system and speed accelerators failed.

“Did someone die?” asked Von.

“We have a situation,” said Sean. “There’s something right in front of us, but we don’t know what it is.”

Snazzy sniffled as she wiped the tears from her eyes. She could feel the difference in the way the spaceship was behaving. It was as if they had travelled too close to some large mass and were caught in its gravitational pull. The movements of the ship, although subtle, didn’t feel like the movements the team had come to know. There was resistance against any change in course. As much as Snazzy wanted to be wrong, she knew deep down that what was happening didn’t feel right.

“What do you mean?” said Von, scanning the emptiness. “There’s nothing out there. I mean, seriously. Look. There’s nothing. Tell me you didn’t disturb my moment with my jam sammy for this.”

“Risk and JB, can you each take a level and urge the recruits to lock in?” said Sean. “Snazzy’s right. There’s something strange happening here. It feels off. Even though we can’t pinpoint what it is, we need to protect our crew as much as we can. This is far worse than I thought, and it may get ugly fast.”

“Copy that,” said JB, rushing out of the bridge with Risk close behind.

Riemer sat at his station and zoomed in on what was before them. He searched for anomalies, patterns in the stars — anything that could potentially indicate that what they were seeing wasn’t really there. Or worse, evidence that something was there. Riemer learned early on that the rules change with the game, and to know the rules he must understand the game he’s playing. With space, one can never assume that human logic applies. Space, and life within it, colors outside of the lines.

“Von! Sean! You have to look at this,” yelled Riemer. “Two of the patterns look like they’re mirrored, as if they’re reflecting another part of the galaxy. Whatever is doing this, we’re headed straight for it.”

Just then the lights in the bridge darkened and the emergency lights flicked on. The spaceship’s internal collision warning system wailed.

“Hey, look at that,” said Von. “The emergency system works. That’s a W.”

Sean glared at Von. This wasn’t the time for jokes. This was serious, and if the alarm reached every corner of the spaceship, it could save lives.

“We need to lock in now,” said Snazzy, sitting at her station. “Commanders, get yourselves seated. This could be a bumpy ride.”

“Snazzy, any regrets?” asked Riemer, trying to focus on something other than near certain death.

“Natta,” she said. “Carpe diem all day, every day. But now’s not really the time to chat about missed opportunities. This mission potentially being one of them if we don’t come out of it alive.”

“Holy shit,” yelled Sean. “Where did that planet come from?”

“The pull is too strong,” said Riemer, as the ship picked up speed. “I can’t break away.”

The entire vessel shook wildly as if it were a toy in a child’s hand.

“We’re going to barrel-roll if we don’t get this situation under control,” hollered Sean.

It was too late. S2TM was rapidly descending toward the planet, spinning around and around like a pinwheel freefalling toward the ground.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” said Snazzy.

“Not in my direction,” said Riemer. “Turn your head toward Von.”

JB had only made it to the second level before finding a safe place to hide with several Officers.

“It’s going to be okay,” he said, reassuring the recruits. “Everything will be fine. Just some unfortunate turbulence.”

There were bad lies and good lies. At this very moment JB didn’t know whether it was best to tell the recruits that they had encountered something unprecedented or if it was best to shrug it off as just another rough ride in space. Everything they had experienced up until this point had been new. One of the benefits of being early was that discoveries were bountiful, but with so many unknowns it was easy to get wrecked. Given the territory that they were in and the mission they were on, room for error was limitless.

“Riemer, is there anything we can unload to even us out?” asked Sean. “We’re going to crash into this planet hard if we don’t slow down.”

“Empty the hanger,” yelled Von. “That’s where most of our weight is right now. Dump it! All of it!”

It was a gamble. This whole mission was a gamble, and if there was anything that could stop S2TM from total annihilation upon impact, it was shedding dead weight.

“I’ll give it a shot,” said Riemer. “What do we have to lose?”

“Just our lives,” quipped Snazzy.

Everything happened so fast that the crew didn’t have time to realize that what they had sailed into was a protective netting. A double-layered honeycomb shield that kept the hidden planet alive. The chances of discovering something like this seemed incredibly thin, and yet here they were, crashing toward a world that wanted to keep its existence unknown. But why? And from whom?

“Aim for the desert,” yelled Sean. “If we can slightly lift up the nose, we can try to cushion the impact.”

“I can’t change our course,” said Riemer. “Whatever’s down there is pulling us to where it wants us to go. It’s like it wants us to crash.”

“Wait. Do you see that?” said Von, trying to focus on the surface.

Whether the crew liked it or not, S2TM was headed toward a graveyard of spaceships. Hundreds of vessels scattered across the raw desert, covered by the sands of time. All Sean and Von could focus on was the destination. That this wasteland of debris would be where the crew and every recruit would be laid to rest.

“Ohhhhhh yea!” yelled Riemer. “We’re lightening the load. Can you feel that? We’re getting some of our power back.”

“Drop the evacuation pods,” said Sean.

“Drain our water supply,” said Snazzy.

“Just dump it all!” yelled Von.

Far away from the rest of the crew, stuck inside an airlock outside of the hangar, Risk watched everything the crew brought with them from home tumble into space.

“We’re going to make it,” he mumbled. “We’re going to make it.”

Risk closed his eyes, and took a final deep breath. He ran his list of goodbyes through his head. A few seconds before S2TM slammed into the desert and the ship’s hull shattered like glass, Risk’s body suspended in the calm before the crash. For the first time in his life, he truly felt like he was flying.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dispatch #3: In Plain Sight

Launch Date: Jan 19, 2022

Waking up on the side of a sand dune was better than never waking up at all, thought Commander Sean. He hardly had time to think about what happened when Commander Von sprinted over.

“Are you alright? Is everything okay?”

Sean rubbed the sand out of his eyes. There was no way he, or anyone else, would have survived a crash like that. Everything and everyone should have been destroyed by the sheer force of impact.

“Here, let me help you up,” said Von, extending a hand. “I don’t know how you ended up all the way over here, but at least we finally found you. I was freaking out for a hot second.”

Sean looked at the wreckage below. The spaceship was barely recognizable behind the wall of thick smoke. Half of S2TM was ablaze with flames crackling and popping.

“Where’s the crew?” asked Sean, shaking bits of ash out of his hair.

“They’re doing a roll call, making sure everyone is accounted for. So far, so good.”

Sean ran his hands over his face. “Whatever wanted us to crash also wanted us to live. It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Not much does,” said Von.

The dunes reminded Sean of the Sahara Desert. The way the wind moves the sand, building and flattening mountains. It felt like Earth, and even though he knew they would never return home, it was nice to breathe fresh air again and feel particles of sand roll across his skin. Even the strength of the sun felt like home. All of it made him feel alive; it made him feel human in ways living aboard a spaceship could never provide.

“I don’t know about you, but my first experience with teleportation could have been smoother,” said Von. “I was full-ostrich with my head in the sand. Definitely don’t want to relive that moment again.”

Sean hadn’t put much thought into how the crew and 5,000 recruits made it out alive, but in that critical second before the crash, when he closed his eyes and released a prayer, he vaguely recalled what it felt like to slip away from the bridge and dissolve into nothingness.

“Who teleported us?” asked Sean, scanning the desert.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” said Von. “We’ve been out here doing roll calls for at least an hour, watching our spaceship burn, and no one has rolled out the welcome mat.”

Sean shuddered at the thought of being watched. Anything could be hiding out there in the shells of fallen vessels, waiting for the right moment to attack. The longer he thought about it the more it felt like they were an experiment. That whatever crashed their vessel wanted to see how beings from another planet reacted when left shipless and stranded.

Von bent down and scooped up a handful of sand. “I know it looks like sand,” he said, bringing it closer to his eye. “But it feels artificial. It’s different from the sand we have back home.”

Von would be the first to admit that he wasn’t well versed in the molecular makeup of sand, but he knew it well enough to know that the coarse particles in his hand felt extra prickly.

“What if these are actually tiny cameras?” he asked. “And every particle is watching our every move. Wouldn’t that be trippy?”

Sean rolled his eyes. Sometimes the ideas born out of Von’s imagination shouldn’t be verbalized.

“I think I have a plan,” yelled JB, running toward Sean and Von. “There are fresh tracks headed west, just over the tallest dune. I’d like to take two teams in that direction. We don’t know what is out there, or what we’ll find. What I do know, is that we’re without food, water, and shelter. If we don’t find refuge before sundown, we’ll have bigger problems on our hands.”

If there was anything JB didn’t like about being a Mission Specialist, it was coming up with blind solutions to unforeseeable problems. A role that became increasingly problematic on a strange planet. As a natural problem solver, JB instantly thought about all the issues the crew could encounter. Fundamental glitches that trickled down to the very air they breathed. Air which could be composed of anything, like tiny molecules containing foreign substances with the power to alter their DNA. Even the weight of unfamiliar gravity pressing on their shoulders could impact the shape of their bodies. There were so many invisible elements at work that JB, who was so easily filled with worry, could be paralyzed by fear simply by entertaining the breadth of every outlandish possibility.

“Great plan,” said Sean. “Have we been able to salvage any supplies from the ship?”

JB shook his head. “The crew is too afraid to try. We can’t tell how deep the fire has traveled and some of the Officers are worried that the ship may blow. We can’t risk the lives of our own on the off chance that we can retrieve a weapon, a communicator, or a wedge of cheese from the galley. It’s just not worth it.”

“No, you’re right. There’s too much at stake. Von and I will join you and lead additional teams. We fly as one, and we survive as one.”

“I appreciate it,” said JB. “Whatever exists here has an advantage. We may find ourselves outnumbered or in a situation where we need to split up to explore alternate routes. Strength in numbers may be our best approach.”

Von, Sean and JB looked across the desert. As much as they would like to believe that everyone comes in peace, their first impression of this planet was far from positive.

“Time to break the news to Snazzy and Risk,” said JB. “Wish me luck.”

Sean smirked as JB slid down the dune.

“Guess we’re mobilizing the recruits,” said Von. “You take the right side of our burning spaceship, and I’ll take the left?”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Snazzy was completing the last of her roll call when JB busted through.

“I’m taking Riemer, Von and Sean over the peak. I’d like you and Risk to stay here.”

“We can’t stay here forever,” quipped Snazzy, shielding her eyes from the sun. “Look around. We’re without shade, and I doubt we’ve hit the hottest part of the day. We’re going to fry if we remain exposed. Add chronic dehydration and we’ll be dropping like flies.”

JB spied a piece of debris out of the corner of his eye. Its shadow moved with the sun. A loose, flaw-filled calculation of time.

“Give me two hours,” said JB. “If I’m not back by then, you and Risk can lead the rest of the recruits over the dune and come looking for us.”

Snazzy didn’t like the idea of being a designated search and rescue party, especially when she knew no one would come looking for her if she or Risk were ambushed and taken captive.

“You know that fake sundial of yours isn’t going to work, right?” laughed Snazzy. “But if you need two hours, I’ll give you two hours and not a second more.”

“Deal!” said JB. “Now where’s Riemer?”

It took JB one quick sweep over the plains to spot Riemer in the crowd. Being the tallest crew member, he always stood out.

“What did I miss?” asked Risk, stepping next to Snazzy.

“Just the worst idea JB has had in a long time,” she said, watching him rush toward Riemer. “I hope your combat skills are sharp. We may need them.”

Risk looked at his feet. He knew he wasn’t built for hand-to-hand combat. Finding a place to hide, on the other hand, was a solid strategy.

“I was digging around in some of the empty vessels, and it looks like their landing wasn’t nearly as pleasant as ours,” said Risk. “There’s more structural damage and the ships have been completely looted.”

“Any remains?” asked Snazzy.

“Not a single set of bones. These crashes are either so old that the sands have broken down the bones of the crew or whatever lives here likes to teleport crews a split second before impact. Either way, it’s weird.”

Snazzy looked at JB’s rigged sundial. “They have two hours, Risk. Two hours. JB thinks that if he follows those tracks, he will discover a new civilization, but those tracks had to come from somewhere. Heading in the opposite direction is just as logical.”

Snazzy didn’t say it, but Risk knew exactly what she was thinking. Being left behind was like being left for dead. Time, or lack thereof, kills all.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dispatch #4: Beyond the Tallest Dune

Launch Day: Jan. 26, 2022

Everything in the desert was farther than it seemed. There was no way for JB to tell Snazzy that he miscalculated the distance; that he needed more time to reach the peak. He kept climbing upward and onwards because he knew something was out there. He could feel it pulling him toward it, like an invisible tether.

“I swear that dune is moving farther away from us,” said Riemer, wiping sweat from his brow. “Or maybe it’s taking longer than usual because we’re out of shape. That’s probably it, to be honest. I haven’t walked this much in months.”

“You’re telling me!” said Von, looking over his shoulder. A couple thousand recruits followed their lead. “I bet they’re feeling it too.”

The relentless sun seared their skin. The only element that kept them from overheating was the wind. What started as a well-intentioned quest turned into countless sighs and groans, with bored recruits acting like children, repeatedly asking “are we there yet?”

Captain Brian looked back toward the spaceship. He could barely make out the handful of officers he left behind. They looked like shadows now, huddled far away from the burning vessel and its toxic cloud of smoke.

“At least Captain Glorious is there to guide them,” he mumbled to himself. “If I don’t make it, there’s still hope.”

It didn’t seem like that long ago that S2TM’s captains, second-in-commands, lieutenants, flight officers, combat specialists, astrophysicists and science officers were celebrating their new roles, raising glasses of ale in a pub. They felt like dreamers then, with Captain Glorious chief among them, envisioning a better future for all.

Only after leaving members of his fleet behind did it occur to Captain Brian that time on this strange planet may operate differently than time on Earth. A minute could be an hour: an hour, half a day. Some rabbit holes were nearly impossible to escape.

“I think we’re finally getting closer,” said Captain Degenerate, pointing to a soft ring of light appearing on the other side of the peak. “There’s definitely something over there. I can feel it.”

Sean, Von and Captain Degenerate quickened their step. Too much was at stake to quit now and turn back. Without saying a word, they ran as fast as they could up the side of the dune, scrambling on all fours toward the sharp edge of the ridge.

“I really should have taken gym class more seriously,” said Von, catching his breath. “If you haven’t noticed, cardio and I are not the best of friends.”

Sean was silent, and he’s rarely silent. Sprawling before him was a flourishing metropolis unlike any he had ever seen.

“Are those flying cars?” asked Officer Fizzy, rubbing his eyes.

“Looks like it,” said JB. “We only have prototypes of this kind of technology on Earth. This is far beyond anything we’ve ever dreamed. Wish we could send evidence of this back home. It’s unbelievable.”

One by one, the recruits reached the top of the dune. The crystal city before them sparkled beneath the sunlight. It looked clean, pristine, and orderly. Technologically advanced with its rail-less trains weaving around floating parts of the city bobbing so effortlessly in the sky.

“This can’t be real,” said Officer JASooner. “It has to be a mirage. How are these sections of land just hovering? And those gigantic trees — they must be the thickest and tallest I’ve ever seen. How is any of this possible?”

“Pinch me,” said Officer RCar. “If this is a mirage, it’s the biggest mirage I’ve ever seen.”

“You don’t see a big arrow pointing us to where we need to go for help, do you?” asked Von. “Or maybe a tourist information center? That would really make navigating this situation a lot easier.”

“Looks like there’s a bazaar over there,” said JB, pointing to a sea of white, honeycomb-shaped tents on the edge of the city. “I wish I had my vision enhancement system right now. We’d be able to assess the situation better. I can’t stand being this vulnerable.”

“What if I just run down the dune real fast, yelling and waving my hands?” asked Von. “That’s like the ultimate vibe check.”

“I don’t think you’re listening,” said JB. “That couldn’t be farther from what I’m suggesting.”

Just before JB could reiterate their vulnerability and recommend the best course of action, down Von went determined to get attention.

“Hey! Help! We’re stranded in your desert! Help!”

Captain Brian rolled his eyes. “I’ll never understand how Von passed basic training.”

“It’s like he’s writing a guide on what NOT to do when you’re stranded on a foreign planet,” said Riemer.

Without hesitation, thousands of recruits followed Von’s lead, yelling from the tops of their lungs as they rushed toward the bazaar.

“Do you think they realize that this looks like a stampede?” asked Master of the Mop (Jake), shaking his head.

“Doubt it,” said Sean.

“I could really use some popcorn right about now,” said Riemer. “This is entertaining.”

Snazzy lifted her hand to her forehead, shielding her eyes from the sun. “Captain Glorious! Risk! They finally made it to the top.”

“You sound surprised,” said Risk, smirking. “Should we join them?”

There was a sense of power and pride in activating an army, motivating recruits to come together to step toward the unknown.

“We can’t stay here any longer,” said Captain Glorious, watching the team slowly vanish from the top of the dune. “I don’t even understand why we agreed to stay behind in the first place. I get that JB is trying to play it safe, but we’re already running on borrowed time. Let’s move!”

— -

It was all too quiet in Outer’s Bazaar. The merchants, all evenly spaced and neatly lined in rows, tidied their bronto berries, polished their hoverboards, and stirred large pots of cypris soup. Strips of smoked lyonloin dangled beside stuffed woo-zoo birds hanging upside down by their tiny woo-zoo feet. It seemed like every second vendor had their variation of impskimp jerky. Some spicy, salty, and sweet. Some strips were nearly liquid, like little packets of watery fat just waiting to explode on your tongue. Others were so tough that only those with artificial teeth could dare to break it down with their mechanical beaks. In Outer’s Bazaar, citizens of Makanan, and occasional strandlings, could find just about anything. The magic that existed in the bazaar’s passageways slithered beyond what the eye could see; for the motto of noble Outer, when he lived and reigned, was simple: Ask for what you want. It shall set you free.

The merchants in Outer’s Bazaar paid little attention to the humans rushing over Oswald’s Dune, stumbling head over feet. It was a recurring theme every time the powers that be crashed a spaceship into the desert, leaving it up to the crew to find its way to The City of Sagird. A night in the desert was not safe for anyone or anything. This is what every Makanan knew to be true. Deep beneath the dunes, in the hollow caverns of forged sand, lurked moon dragons plagued with everlasting hunger; gluttonous, ravenous beasts swirling in circles as they patiently waited for their opportunity to feast.

If JB knew what lived beneath his feet, he may think twice about volunteering to stay behind, waiting for Snazzy, Captain Glorious and Risk to make the trek. Night falls quickly in the desert once daylight willfully surrenders and no one, not even the inhabitants of Makanan, can outrun moon dragons.

“Why don’t you two chase Von?” said JB, sitting in the sand. His skin, raw and sun crisped, ached with every bit of movement. “He needs a chaperone, and we need someone to stay behind for Risk, Captain Glorious and Snazzy. As your Mission Specialist, this is a plan of action I wholeheartedly stand by.”

Sean, Riemer, Fizzy and Captain Brian watched as Von and the recruits raced toward Outer’s Bazaar. It didn’t make sense for everyone to stay with JB on top of the dune, waiting beneath the hot sun for the others to arrive. Then again, not much of anything made sense. It was becoming increasingly difficult for Commander Sean to know what decisions would lead to prosperity or trigger catastrophic events. Especially when he couldn’t shake the feeling that, in space, death was always imminent.

“Thanks for taking one for the team,” said Captain Brian, leading Sean, Riemer and Fizzy down the dune. “You’re a gem!”

JB laid face down in the sand. He was too tired to think about where the faint vibrations lightly shifting the sand were coming from. Nor did he realize that by resting on the sand, the famished moon dragons deep beneath him could better hear the beating of his heart. A soft rhythm that could only mean one thing — food.

— -

Walking through the desert, without food or water, made it easy for Von to quiet his hunger and suppress his thirst. The bazaar’s alluring aroma awakened the beast inside of him, so much so that he felt quite unlike himself. A feeling he shared with the thousands of officers running behind him, thinking and feeling the same thing. Feast! Feast! Feast!

No matter how quickly Von moved his legs, he couldn’t reach the bazaar fast enough. Doubt set in as he wondered whether he’d run out of fuel. It was like climbing the dune all over again. Everything was farther than it seemed.

“Maybe this really is a mirage,” Von mumbled breathlessly. “Maybe we’re imagining all of this.”

As the curve of the dune flattened beneath his feet, he felt the sands shift to harder, more permanent ground. It was enough to motivate him to keep going, even though he felt like he could tumble and never get back up. That he could close his eyes and drift away forever.

“I wonder if there’s a popcorn vendor in the bazaar,” asked Riemer, trying to keep up with Sean. “I bet they have some wild flavors. Just the craziest kinds. I mean, I guess they’d have to have corn as a food source. Do you think they have corn?”

Sean shook his head, ignored Riemer and pressed on. The last thing Sean wanted to think about was food.

— -

In Outer’s Bazaar the merchants went about their business, bartering with Skimus, Inkfellers, Rostamoles and Cowichthrongs. Tinselflies, small and fairy-like, fluttered around bushels of fruit. Everyone was happy; everyone was laughing. It was perfect, perhaps too perfect to be true.

“It’s time to welcome our guests,” said Murna, straightening her white, glittery gown. It twinkled brightly, as did the attire of the other members of the Makanan Council. It wasn’t hard to find them in a crowd. Beacons of light, angels of the cosmos, they were. Or at least that’s the story that was perpetually told. No one dared to challenge the narrative. Standing up against the Makanan Council meant spending a night alone in the desert. And a night alone in the desert meant only one thing: death.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dispatch #5: Once Upon a Moon Dragon

Launch Date: Feb. 2, 2022

Birtrant liked the way prickly pentalopes smelled. The sickly-sweet fruit with smoky green flesh felt sinfully satisfying on his tongue. Holding one up to his nose, inhaling deeply, he opened his eyes to spy a torrid dust cloud billowing behind the two-legged creatures running toward him.

“Do you know why your father let them live?” asked Birtrant. “What made these drifters so special?”

It was a bold, somewhat prohibited statement, as one should never question the decisions made by the Makanan Council, but as Birtrant’s eagle eye spied Von and all of his bearded glory, he couldn’t help but wonder what logic was applied to making such life-or-death choices.

Birtrant envied Murna for many things. Her beauty. Her brilliance. The way she welcomed guests to the planet with kindness and grace. She was the first face space travelers would see and the last if the Makanan Council decided they were to be assimilated into Makanan society like every other creature not of Makanan descent. Afterall, Birtrant, like the Skimus, Inkfellers, Rostamoles, Cowichthrongs and Tinselflies, had been assimilated. Not that he’d ever remember it, though. To Birtrant, Murna was his best and only friend, and Makanan was his home.

Murna leaned close to Birtrant, pressing her cheek against his as she whispered in his large, floppy ear. “My father extracted data from their spaceship, Birty. They know about Nifty and the Legion of Wen. They know about the 10 Moons of Ilsendor. They’re out here, beyond the Milky Way, to put an end to it all. We can give them what they seek, Birty. We can be their eyes and ears and guide them. Instead of being their enemy, we can be their ally.”

Everyone on Makanan knew of Nifty and the Legion of Wen, and all the other Ilsendor seekers who came before them. It was because of them that the protective shield was installed and that, by all appearances, Makanan remained undetected.

“They don’t look that intelligent,” said Birtrant, taking a bite out of his prickly pentalope. “But if you believe, Murna, then I believe.”

“That I do, Birty. That I do.”

Murna took a deep breath, straightened her crown and stepped beyond the boundary of Outer’s Bazaar as she entered the desert. She could feel the vibrations of the restless moon dragons beneath her feet, trembling with excitement, eager to feast.

“Hello!” she said, raising her hand. “Welcome to the City of Sagird. I am Murna, a member of the Makanan Council. We wish you no harm.”

Von huffed and puffed, trying to catch his breath.

“You have a weird way of showing it, lady. You crashed our only ride and stranded us here. That’s the most messed up welcome I’ve ever received.”

“We know that you have traveled very far and are searching for Nifty and the Legion of Wen,” said Murna. “Consider us friends who want to help prepare you for the very turbulent road which lies ahead.”

“Nifty can wait,” panted Von. “We need water, food, and a place to sleep — you know, the essentials. Give us that, and then we’ll talk Nifty.”

“Yes, of course. Please forgive me. Outer’s Bazaar is yours. Please help yourself to whatever you need. Accommodations will be provided for you in Sagird’s Citadel. There are plenty of beds, I assure you.”

Captain Brian suspiciously eyed Murna. She looked too nice to be trusted. “What did you say you were a part of again?” he asked.

“The Makanan Council,” said Murna.

“Did the Council decide to crash our vessel?” asked Sean, picking up the same vibe as Brian.

“Yes, Commander Sean. All 222 members of the Makanan Council collectively decided to help you in your mission. The vote was unanimous.”

“I never told you my name,” he quipped.

“It’s on your jumpsuit,” said Murna, leaving Sean with a wink. “Now if you’ll follow me through Outer’s Bazaar, I’m sure you’ll find something nourishing to eat.”

“We have more officers on the way,” said RCar. “We should wait for them.”

Murna stopped abruptly, straightened her posture, and stiffly turned to RCar. “They better hurry,” she said coldly. “The desert at night can be another world unto itself. I do hope your colleagues make haste, for their safety of course.”

Sean, Captain Brian, Riemer and RCar looked at each other. There was something off about Murna, but they couldn’t put their finger on it. It could have been the way she spoke; smooth yet confident. Or how they felt like there were hidden meanings behind her words. Either way, they both felt like it was dangerous, far too dangerous, for the rest of the team to be out there all alone in the desert; more so now than ever, as nightfall neared.

— -

It was only when Risk, Captain Glorious and Snazzy started walking toward Oswald’s Dune did they begin to understand why it took JB and the team so long to reach the top. Distance on Makanan was difficult to assess. Everything was continuously farther than it seemed.

“The sun’s getting low,” said Risk, struggling to take another step. The sand, once loose and airy, felt like cement clinging to his feet.

“We’re almost there,” said Snazzy. “I think I see JB. Wait. Is he napping?”

“I hope he’s not dead,” said Captain Glorious. “If that’s the case, this whole situation doesn’t feel very promising.”

Struck by fear, they ran at full speed to the top of the Dune.

“He can’t be dead,” said Snazzy. “They wouldn’t have left him behind. Not like this.”

The higher they climbed, the heavier the sand felt beneath their feet.

“JB! Wake up!” yelled Risk.

It took a few seconds for JB to snap out of his slumber. Trapped in dreams about home; it felt safe and familiar. He hadn’t slept that well in quite some time. Little did he know the vibrations in the sand were to blame. Never underestimate the magic of a moon dragon. Lulling its prey to sleep was just one of its many games.

“I’m up!” said JB, rubbing his eyes.

“WOW! Would you look at that?” said Captain Glorious, seeing the City of Sagird for the first time. “I need to know everything about this colony. The level of tech here — it’s astonishing. Just think about everything we can possibly learn.”

Snazzy smiled. If there was anyone who could extract the positive out of a dire situation, it was Captain Glorious — one of the few optimistic realists on the team. Every inch of Sagird was like a child’s playground to him. There was so much to uncover, explore and absorb.

JB stood up and brushed away the sand. “It looks like the rest of the team reached the bazaar. We should join them before it gets too dark.”

Snazzy looked back at their spaceship and wondered how it all happened, how they found themselves on this planet, in this desert, and now standing before a majestic city never explored by humankind.

“Can you believe that we’re the first from Earth to make contact with this planet’s inhabitants?” said Captain Glorious, running his hands through his dark hair. “Is this even happening right now? It’s surreal!”

“It’s a lot to take in,” said Snazzy. “I think I’m going to hang back and watch the sunset. After everything we’ve been through together, I just want to take a few minutes to soak it up.”

Captain Glorious looked at Snazzy. He didn’t agree with her decision but decided to let it go.

“We better get going,” said Risk. “You know just as well as most that Von needs at least four chaperons.”

Perched on top of Oswald’s Dune, watching the rest of the team make haste toward the bazaar, Snazzy bathed in fleeting daylight. She had seen countless sunsets on Earth; some blazingly brilliant, some boringly bland. Her first sunset on a new planet would be one she should never forget.

— -

Von didn’t know what he was eating, but it didn’t matter. It smelled fantastic and it tasted great. All he knew was that it was some part of some animal he had yet to encounter and that the tastiest bits were questionable.

“I wouldn’t have too many of those,” said Birtrant, nibbling on his prickly pentalope. “Unless you think your stomach can handle it.”

Von lifted an eyebrow. “Thanks for the tip!”

Birtrant smiled. “Ah, your royal welcome has finally arrived. Let the parade begin.”

At the far end of Outer’s Bazaar stood a large, white skelfulton with three tusks protruding high into the sky. It was so wide that it forced market goers to scatter into side passages and squeeze between vendors. When the skelfulton began a procession, it was well known that Zinu had arrived.

“Am I expected to bow and shit?” asked Von, eyeing Birtrant’s prickly pentalope. “That’s not really my vibe.”

“No, just don’t make eye contact,” said Birtrant. “Legend has it that if you lock eyes with Zinu, he’ll turn you to stone.”

“So, he’s your planet’s Cleopatra. Got it.”

Birtrant laughed and then quickly stopped. Murna’s stern glare bore a hole deep inside of him. Jokes about Zinu were considered poor taste.

“What’s the deal with Zinu, anyway?” asked Sean. “Why’s he so special?”

Birtrant chuckled to himself. He wondered the same thing about the short, scrawny humans Zinu and the Makanan Council decided to save. Perhaps they weren’t so different after all.

“Zinu’s the reason we’re still alive,” said Birtrant, watching Murna closely. “He’s the reason this planet has gone undetected for so long. Life is good here.”

To Sean, every vendor in the market felt artificial. A little too happy; a little too eager. Everyone seemed too good to be true; everyone, but Birtrant.

As the sun inched closer to the horizon, and darkness slowly crept in, the tents in Outer’s Bazaar lit up, twinkling brighter than the stars overhead.

“More of your friends are about to join us,” said Murna, gazing toward the desert. “Perfect timing as night fall is upon us.”

As much as Captain Brian wanted to greet the crew, part of him was fixed on the skelfulton, wondering if it only had one speed. It was sluggishly slow, occasionally standing tall on its back two legs, asserting its presence with a deep, guttural roar.

“I think I found popcorn,” said Riemer, nudging Fizzy. “Or at least the closest Makanan equivalent. Want some?”

Fizzy peered into the bag and cringed. It looked nothing like popcorn. “You’re a brave, brave man,” he said.

The rest of the S2TM crew wandered into the bazaar, cautiously eating and drinking whatever smelled delicious and looked edible.

“It’s time,” said Murna, watching the skelfulton head toward Sentinel Square, the heart of the bazaar. “Zinu and the Makanan Council will be ready to meet you soon. Is everyone from your crew accounted for?”

“Yeah, looks like it,” said Von, devouring one of Birtrant’s prickly pentalopes. “This is so friggin’ good. I’ve never tasted anything like it.”

— -

Murna led the crew to Sentinel Square. Birtrant lingered close behind. He wasn’t part of the Makanan Council, nor did he wish to be. Those who didn’t belong but interfered in Council matters suffered fates far worse than death.

“Zinu, I bring you visitors from afar who are destined to stop Nifty and the Legion of Wen,” said Murna, dropping to one knee, bowing her head. “Please receive these guests as friends and bestow your limitless generosity upon them so they can complete their mission.”

Von looked at Birtrant. “Thought you said no bowing?”

Birtrant grinned. “I lied.”

Murna slowly rose and stepped back into the crowd. She felt the way she always did when she delivered her visitors to her father; she was proud.

“Thank you, Murna,” said Zinu, walking toward Sean and Von. “It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to Makanan. As you have experienced, what is ours is yours.”

“Sorry, sorry. I don’t mean to interrupt or seem ungrateful, but we’d really like to find a way off this planet and get back on track. That’s really all we’re here to do. Now, I don’t know what that looks like, or what kind of gamble we’re going to take, but I’d rather we just get to the point and push aside all of the formalities.”

The crowd grew quiet. No one interrupted Zinu.

“Read the room, buddy,” whispered Sean. “You’re speaking out of turn.”

Von shrugged it off. “I don’t know how much you know — but if we don’t defeat Nifty, our home planet, Earth, will be no more. Every second we spend here is a second we’re not out there, saving our world.”

The skelfulton pounded its two front feet against the cobblestone and roared with anger. Even the skelfulton knew not to speak to Zinu with such force.

“Commander Von, this is why you are here. This is why you are still alive. We are giving you a spaceship unlike any other. One which will take you to Simia and beyond. You know, just as well as I, that your previous vessel was not equipped to take you to where you needed to go. With the spaceship we are providing you, hunger will never be a concern. Warp speed travel, not an issue. The communications system is years ahead of most civilizations. The weapon system is so advanced that, should you need it, you will be positioned to vaporize any space pirate that gets in your way. This spaceship has a navigation system unlike any you have ever seen. This, Commander Von, is a gift for the taking.”

There was something deep in Sean’s stomach that didn’t feel right. It felt like Zinu’s promises came with a catch or a lopsided compromise.

“We also want you to pass on the technology that we have been able to create to protect our planet,” said Zinu. “There are others out there who would benefit from this level of protection. A system we would not have been able to create if it were not for the Thealuvians. Ringbolt, could you please step forward?”

The crowd parted to make way for a large, hard-shelled creature that looked like it had been through its fair share of wars.

“That’s one turtle I don’t want to mess with,” said Captain Degenerate, eying its protective armor, enamored by the gold ring hanging from a white string wrapped around its left arm.

“Over the next few days, as we prepare your vessel, you will learn from Ringbolt and his team. It is no coincidence that you found us, but right now we are running short on time. We will do all that we can to prepare you; after all, it is the Makanan way.”

Zinu clasped his hands and bowed to the crowd.

Captain Glorious looked up to the stars. The depth of the darkness made the stars more spectacular. Constellations he had never seen. It reminded him that stars, and the stories told about them, can only make sense from certain viewpoints. Those who call Makanan home probably have their own myths and legends about what certain star pairings mean. To Captain Glorious, it was a blend of chaos and beauty, and everything in between.

“Have you seen Snazzy?” asked Risk, looking around at the crowd. “Thought she’d be back by now.”

JB thought of the pitch-black desert. “If she’s still out there, the city’s lights will help her find her way. I’m not worried.”

Murna and Birtrant looked at each other. They could hear the celebratory cries of the moon dragons and knew that Von had been mistaken. Not all members of S2TM were accounted for.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dispatch #6: Evil Pulls the Most Dangerous of Strings

Launch Date: Feb 9, 2022

Black. Pitch Black. The warm confines of the walls of sand shifted as Snazzy attempted to gather her bearings. There was no way of knowing how long she had dozed off for, as there were no moons, or anything visible, as far as her debilitated human eyes could see.

“Is this what Oswald’s Dune and the desert are like every single night?” she muttered very eerily to herself. “There’s no way I’m not able to find any sort of illumination coming from the city.”

Despite a slow-burning feeling of self-realization that she had no knowledge of her surroundings, there was a grim sense of awareness that she was not alone. Wiping the sand out of her eyes and hair proved much tougher than normal. Comparing the sunsets of the Canadian arctic to that of Makanan was the last thing that she had remembered before an overwhelmingly powerful rush of warmth and exhaustion sent her to sleep. The vibrations rumbling through the shifting dunes was something that JB had briefly mumbled once he woke up from his slumber, but she hadn’t put all the pieces together until now — someone or something had successfully lured her right into their trap.

A wave of relief spread over the weathered mission specialist, reaching into her jacket pocket to find the flashlight that Captain Glorious had made sure she included with the rest of her supplies back when the crew was scrounging for whatever they could find from the crashed ship. Snazzy knew that the batteries inside that specific flashlight weren’t guaranteed to last more than a few hours, so she’d have to use the guided light sparingly if she had any shot of making it out of wherever she was trapped. Her finger flipped the switch to illuminate her surroundings.

A long, thunderous cry shook the cavern within seconds of the flashlight turning on. It was almost as if the walls of the carved out underground sand tomb were sending a warning message — the caves weren’t used to survivors. Another bellowing sound echoed through the tunnels, with a second not too far behind it. Out of all three sounds Snazzy had heard, the initial calling felt much, much closer. She pulled herself up and started tip-toeing forward, keeping one hand on the sand wall as a guide as she flickered the light on and off to not attract any more attention.

- — -

“Testing, testing, this thing on? Ugh, I’m terrible with technology.” Sean frantically muttered under his breath, fumbling with the new communicator given to him by Murna. “Why would an alien life force that we’ve never met before be nice enough to invite us into their city? How in any world would it be believable that they’d be willing to build us a fricken brand new spaceship without any payment or repercussions? Things are just not adding up and I have no idea how to tell the rest of the team without destroying everyone’s spirits. In addition to all that, I saw the concern on both Murna and Birtrant’s faces when JB referred to Snazzy still being out in the desert. Miles away from Sagird and Outer’s Bazaar, that look alone from them gave me an instant pit in my stomach. Man, I really hope this thing is recording right now.”

“You said something, Commander?” exclaimed Risk. He noticed a concerned look in the leader’s eyes as soon as Zinu finished his declaration in Sentinel Square.

Sean had not noticed that Risk had followed him into a nearby alley while attempting to record a ship log for the daily manifest. As shocking and concerning this specific entry was, the Commander quickly realized that word would spread if Risk had overheard him.

“My goodness man, you scared the crap out of me. Did you hear any of that?” Sean responded while wiping the beads of nervous sweat from his forehead.

Risk shook his head. “Nothing outside of you signing off. Is there anything you want to relay to Von or the team?”

The Commander wanted to snip this in the butt right away, but he didn’t quite have enough evidence to prove that things all of a sudden seemed way too good to be true. It would be pointless if he went to Von and the team with little to nothing to stand on outside of gut feeling. All he could think of was the look on both Murna and Birtrant’s faces when JB mentioned that Snazzy was still out in the desert.

“There’s not much I can say at the moment, but it’ll come out in due time.” Sean said. “Let’s head on over to join the rest of the team and check out this new ship.”

The two crew members waded their way through the hustle and bustle of Sentinel Square, making their way towards the statue of Zinu. The obnoxiously large reverence sculpture was used as an entryway of sorts to the planet’s multitude of ship hangars. After a few minutes of bobbing and weaving through traffic, Sean and Risk finally met back up with Von and the rest of the recruits.

“About time you guys made it over here.” Von stated, obviously impatient. “If I had to hear Josh talk about bazaar popcorn one more time —

A loud, interrupting roar came from behind a piece of machinery: “HUMAN, NO TALK BAD ABOUT POPCORN.”

“Hooooooly SHEEEEESH, man, where the heck did you come from?!” The deafening exclamation startled practically everyone, but Von was by far the most vocal.

“Ahh, it looks like you’ve met my dear friend Vadum” stated Ringbolt as he made his way down the boarding ramp of the majestic vessel promised by Zinu and the council. “He may be able to rip off every head of a snorpdrid in one swoop, but I promise he’s just a big baby at heart.”

The massively jacked space turtle stepped out from behind the machinery he was working with and made his way towards Ringbolt, who was also joined by several other similar looking creatures. Sean, Von, and the crew all stared in awe at the colossal creatures, many still trying to pull their souls back into their bodies after being scared half to death.

“I’d like you all to meet the rest of our team. Elekron and Link are our magic wielders, prioritizing the creation of some of the most advanced shield-generating technology in the galaxy. Reg and Vadum are the muscles of the operation, each genetically and physically gifted in their own ways.” The weathered war veteran wrapped his four-fingered hand around the gold ring that resided on his left arm. “As for me, you know by now that my name is Ringbolt. Known across the stars as the Thealuvians, our lifelong mission is to bring safety and security to lifeforms that can’t protect themselves. An honor passed down from centuries upon centuries of former ring bearers, It can be a hard, unforgiving way of life. All we ask of you is respect, and in return, it shall be given.”

Before Ringbolt could get another word in, a loud metal clang rang throughout the inside of the ship, followed shortly by an android-looking turtle closely resembling the rest of the dream team.

“Ah yes, how forgetful of me.” Ringbolt said as he gestured toward the boarding ramp. “It is my pleasure to introduce the most advanced specimen of our team: Revitalized Engineering Intelligence: Neuro Android Division Specimen #2465, but you can call her R.E.I.N.A. for short.”

The android turtle took a slight bow and waved to the crew. Her voice was practically indistinguishable from any human’s. “Welcome to Makanan, Ringbolt has told all of us much about you and your destinies.”

“Destinies? Why does that sound absolutely terrifying?” Flight Engineer Reimer whispered into JB’s ear. Before JB could get in a word, Ringbolt continued on, this time directing his focus to the Commanders.

“What Zinu said about the ship is true. The communications system has been modified by R.E.I.N.A. to accommodate the most remote species. The weapons system, able to hold its own in the most dangerous of dogfights. The warp drive is a state of the art hyperspace upgrade that will transport you at the fastest rate the galaxy has ever seen. In all my years, this is the most beautiful and powerful ship I’ve ever laid eyes upon.”

Commander Von replied hesitantly: “I mean this in the most respectful way possible, but why don’t you all just take the ship as yours? Why is all this work being put in to benefit us?”

Ringbolt’s smile was filled with ancient wisdom as he turned back toward the striking work of art. “You’ll get this answer in due time, young one. Everyone’s questions will be answered soon. In the meantime, you may start to board the ship and make it your own.”

“Alright, you heard the man — I mean, turtle-man — I mean, you know what I mean.” Stuttered Sean as he turned towards the crew. “Janitors, let’s get to work and clean this baby up to prep it for launch!”

Janitors Randy, Jakob, Lanz, Erik, Sharp, Pitchdark, and TH4MONST4 all followed Captain Brian into the newly acquired vessel. Things were finally starting to feel like home again, one day at a time.

- — -

After what felt like one of the longest hours of her entire life, Snazzy had made, or at least thought she’d made pretty decent progress in the never ending sand tunnels. She was so focused on the flashlight giving her away that she hadn’t been focusing on the sound of her boots hitting the moist sand until the water droplets of a puddle splashed onto her legs.

Terrified of the possible costly mistake that was just made, she immediately turned off the flashlight and stood completely still. A quiet yelp of sorts echoed throughout the walls. Whatever it was, it felt like it was in the same room now.

“This is it, I’ve really done it this time.” She gasped to herself, there was a rhythmic snorting of sorts gradually getting louder by the second. Whatever was down here with her was growing closer. In an attempt to go out at least seeing what would most likely devour her, Snazzy turned the flashlight back on one last time, embracing fear and what would come along with it. It was then, to her surprise, that the beast in front of her actually appeared more scared of her than she was of it.

“Wow, look at you.” she whispered, half shocked she hadn’t been eaten alive yet. “It’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you.”

The young dragon squinted at Snazzy with caution, hesitating to move another foot closer. After a moment of deliberation, its wings rustled as it reached its neck out towards her outstretched hand.

“That’s it little guy, that’s it.” Snazzy whispered to the youngling, who edged a bit closer, finally making contact with it’s warm snout. The dragon started to make the walls vibrate, its throat giving off a purring effect that relaxed the mission specialist. She then realized that the dragon’s purring was the reason why both her and JB fell asleep in the sand on the surface.

“There’s no shot anyone back home would ever believe this. Any chance you know a way outta here, mister?” Snazzy asked, continuously petting the Moon Dragon’s snout softly as its purring rumbled throughout the tunnels deep below the dunes.

- — -

Zinu made his way back to the council chambers, all the while checking to see if anyone was following him as he headed back to the throne room. After cautiously waiting for a few seconds for any signs of interruption, the leader of the Makanan Council pulled a torch light down slightly, revealing an elevator that he quickly slipped into before the sliding doors closed behind him.

A few minutes went by as Zinu’s body grew colder and colder. No one in Sagird dared to traverse the underside of Makanan, it’s harsh, freezing environment held little to no room for long term survival. However, it was the only place on the planet where one would go to not attract any attention.

The elevator slowly opened to reveal a long, thin bridge with another set of doors at the end of the room. On either side of the bridge was a dark, hollow chasm that went down hundreds of miles into the planet’s core. Zinu had walked this bridge before, but this time he had no idea what was waiting for him on the other side.

The control room was eerily silent as he walked through the second set of doors, the alarm system already shut off before his arrival. A bead of cold sweat dripped down his forehead at the sight of the three cloaked figures, all facing the screen at the opposite end of the room, monitoring the planetary defense shield of Makanan and the surrounding moons.

“Excellent work Zinu.” The middle hooded figure stated. “The Legion of Wen is most impressed with your work. In time, your people will understand what you have done is in their best interest.”

The tall, slender figure turned and faced Zinu, slowly removing the hood covering his face. Zinu could feel the heat leave his body, his fingers frozen in paralyzing fear and regret. The two hooded figures remained focused on the interactive maps while their leader planned his next move.

Nifty grinned as he looked straight into the eyes of the Council leader. “Proceed with the plan. The humans must not be allowed to lift off out of Sagird. Do whatever is necessary.”

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dispatch #7: “Bloodshed Pt. 1”
Launch Day:
Feb. 16, 2022

Zinu’s body begged for warmth as he stepped back into the elevator transport. No living creature with a soul could survive more than a few hours down in this part of the planet. As he slowly made his way back up to Sagird, he could start to feel his body come back to life, his soul returning from its lifeless state after being in such close proximity to the Legion of Wen. The warmth of the planet he called home for so many years was comforting. From the breathtaking dark amber sunrises to the cool, mellow evening hum of the bazaar, Zinu’s childhood had been nothing but joyous in those times of peace. How he longed for those memories to become reality again. Things had gotten so out of control since he took over for his father before him no more than ten years ago. He had come to respect his elder more and more since his passing, as leading a civilization wasn’t as easy as it had looked when he was coming of age. Recently, to no surprise of his own, there was a sense of hesitance felt around the council since the humans had arrived on Makanan. If only they knew of the evil that had already planted its seed right under their noses…

Sick to his stomach, Zinu emerged from the elevator and headed straight for the council chambers, not daring to look in anyone’s direction to draw attention. His face still drained, he quickly glanced over at his reflection in the bronze throne before taking a seat.

“Pitiful.” He gasped under his breath. “What have I done?”

Zinu lifted his hand, revealing a communicator on the arm of the throne. He reluctantly pressed the button and called out to his daughter.

“Murna dear, listen to me carefully. Please calmly make arrangements to reach out to the humans on their new ship. Makanan is in great danger of a moon dragon attack and we will need their aid if we have any hopes of Sagird’s survival. Have them meet us at the dunes outside of Outer’s Bazaar and tell them…tell them to prepare for battle.”

Her throne communicator always in her possession, Murna’s face went cold as she heard the tremor in her father’s voice. It was a tone she had never heard before, as her father usually spoke with tremendous poise and power. He obviously knew something was coming, and although it was weird given that moon dragons and Sagird were currently at peace, she did not dare protest her father’s order.

“As you wish, father. I will take care of this right away and activate the troops.”

Zinu had been told by Nifty that the humans and Wen were destined to have their time on the planet coincide, making Makanan an eventual battleground. Faced with making the choice between his people and betraying the humans, there was nothing that Zinu could do to stop the inevitable — evil would rear its head upon the dunes for the first time in many, many years.

- -

Nifty and a few members of the mythical Legion of Wen had made their way to Makanan a short time before the humans showed up on the planetary defense grid. Most of the galaxy believed in the Wen as lore, a simple children’s bedtime story. Little did they know that the second coming of evil had awoken once more, threatening life as they all knew it. Consumed by the power of the Ilsendor Map, Nifty would stop at nothing until all Ten Moon Relics were his, harboring a power that so many before him attempted to obtain, many eons ago.

Legend has it that when N-20, Nifty’s home planet, was destroyed by the Oraborealis (the governing body of the Ardere galaxy), Nifty was forced to assimilate and obey the Oraborealis Code. Stripped of rank, purpose and place in the ruling colony, Nifty quietly lived among them, carefully watching every move and taking note of every mission. Then one day, while cleaning the Grand Library of Borea, Nifty found a stardust scroll that had fallen behind the bookshelf. Away from the watchful eye of the Oraborealis, he broke the seal and unraveled the scroll. It was a map of several galaxies. He followed the starlines, trying to make sense of it all until he landed on N-20, B-6 and T-12; planets and moons destroyed by the Oraborealis. Nifty realized the map he was holding in his hands was the coveted map to the Ten Moons of Ilsendor. Based on ancient folklore and generations of storytelling, it was rumored that whoever was able to possess the relics of the 10 Moons to restore the Seal of Ilsendor would have unlimited power over all galaxy lifeforms.

Knowing that he could never break free and destroy the Oraborealis on his own, Nifty knew that he had to free the ever-feared Legion of Wen. Locked away deep inside the long-forgotten caves of Borea, Nifty, with the map’s help, was able to infiltrate and set the Wen free once again. With their allegiance now sworn to a new leader, the Legion plotted their revenge on Borea, eventually overthrowing the longtime rulers of Ardere. The galaxy once again faced an evil unbeknownst to its inhabitants.

- -

“Look at all the doohickeys!” Commander Von shrieked as he violently pushed all the buttons he could within the control room on the new ship, “I have no idea what any of it does or means but this thing’s a TRIPLE DOUBLE BANGER!”

Gunners Charkie and Steady shook their heads. It was remarkable that the old ship even got them here in the first place, but more impressive that the new one hadn’t blown up in the first 10 minutes of receiving it.

“Destiny’s Fortune is a tough old bird, she’s been through many battles in her day but can still outrun the majority of the new puppies in the galaxy.” Ringbolt commented in response to the button mashing of the Commander. “Charkie, Steady, the weapons system is this way, let’s see if we can get these specs to your liking.”

As the gunners traversed through the new vessel, Captain Glorious was caught gawking at the technology placed before him.

“Everything alright, Captain?” Recruit Smoky asked, “She’s a beaut, isn’t she?”

Glorious wiped a joyful tear away from his eye, the amount of futuristic tech was mind-blowing for any human not familiar with anything other than dinosaur Earth inventions. Destiny’s Fortune carried a telecommunicator capable of computing and deciphering over 12,000 different languages, while also matching its brains with its brawn in the weapons department. The elegance of the flight deck, spacious quarters for a mini-army, and hyperdrive for interplanetary travel left the Captain completely speechless. It was perfect.

“Commander Sean, come in Commander Sean. This is Murna with an urgent message for Destiny’s Fortune.” The crew all stood straight up in their chairs, this was the first message they’d heard over a comms system since their Milky Way days.

“Murna, great to hear your voice. What’s going on?” Commander Sean inquired.

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I just received word from Zinu that Makanan is in great danger of a moon dragon attack. We are requesting help from Destiny’s Fortune and the Thealuvians at once. Please prepare your recruits for battle. Meet us at the dunes outside of Outer’s Bazaar. Please hurry, the moon dragons can be relentless.” Murna relayed with a slight hesitancy in her voice, there still was something off about this whole plan of attack.

Commander Sean took a deep breath before relaying direction to the rest of the team, clearing his throat before pressing the intercom.

“Attention all Destiny’s Fortune recruits and crew, please make your way to the flight deck immediately. We are preparing for battle.”

- -

Snazzy wiped the drool from the baby moon dragon’s nostrils that covered her jacket. Although cute, the baby behaved very similarly to that of all infants. The dragon had guided her through the caverns into what appeared to be a den of sorts. Snazzy let out a quick gasp but was able to cover her mouth, as to not wake up the hundreds of moon dragons sleeping within the discovered room. It was a large, underground chamber that sounded like many simultaneous earthquakes. While truly terrifying at first discovery, Snazzy stared in awe at the colony of creatures.

The baby nudged Snazzy over to a sand-covered metal plate of sorts. It was too small to be a shield and too alien to be anything that she recognized at first glance with limited visibility. She ran her hand over the artifact to remove the sand and felt what seemed to be a series of carvings where objects used to reside. It felt like a seal of sorts, but she didn’t want to shine her flashlight on it and risk waking any of the dragons up.

Before she could finish her current thought, the ground above the cavern rumbled. One by one, the moon dragons awoke from their slumber, furious to have been disturbed. They were incredible creatures once upright, their wingspan stretching what appeared to be at least 30 feet. Snazzy ran for cover as the angry colony soared towards the faint light at the surface, hundreds of dragons streaking towards the enemy making all the noise at the base of the dunes. Just as she was about to dive behind a sheltered part of the cavern, the baby dragon grabbed her by the waist and slung her on to its back. Before Snazzy was able to react, she was flying on the back of a dragon that was headed into a battle against her best friends.

- -

Destiny’s Fortune skimmed swiftly across the desert sand. Commanders Sean and Von could see the dragons spewing out of the ground below like a volcano, fire expelling from their mouths in rage. They quickly joined up with the Makanan forces and headed towards the ferocious creatures. Mission Specialist JB squinted into the sea of dunes, horrified by what he thought he saw on the back of one of the dragons.
“Gunners, all fire on the targets ahead! They must not harm the Makanan ships!” Commander Sean declared.

Before Mission Specialist JB could say anything, several rounds of laser cannons fired upon the entrance of the cavern. As the vessel rocketed through the desert sand, Captain Glorious gasped as he pieced things together. Sprawled out near the dunes where he left Snazzy at sunset just a few days earlier lay a baby moon dragon, a human jacket, and what appeared to be a flashlight sticking out of the sand.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dispatch #8: “Bloodshed Pt. 2”
Launch Day:
Wed, Feb. 23, 2022

There are things in life that simply cannot be prepared for. The first day at a new school. When a parent drops their child off at college. Maybe even the first night alone with a newborn baby. But losing the first team member, a highly ranked mission specialist at that, during the human civilization’s first intergalactic war on an unknown planet home to fire breathing moon dragons? Yep, one hundred percent fully prepared for that one (sarcasm).

As the hot sand whipped his face, Captain Glorious violently pulled the ripcord of his parachute, beelining his way towards the fallen baby moon dragon to find any sort of concrete evidence of Snazzy’s survival. The Captain had disobeyed Commander Sean’s orders to have the entirety of the crew stay in the ship, taking a few of his most trusted men on a rescue mission while Destiny’s Fortune continued to hold its own against the dragons hundreds of feet in the air above.

“Over there, I see an arm poking out of the dunes!” VRA shouted to Captain G through the whistling storm brewed up by the firefight.

The crew descended into the dunes, landing just a few hundred feet away from the moon dragon and jacket they had identified from the sky above. Captain G, Risk, VRA, Fizzy, and JASooner sprinted as fast as they could up the dune, avoiding the spontaneous dust devils that traversed the battlefield. Captain G’s heart sunk into his stomach as the reality of the situation became clearer with each panicking step; his worst fears realized as Snazzy’s lifeless body was uncovered by the wind.

The entirety of the crew dropped to their knees, distraught by the sight of losing the mission specialist to their own gunfire. Captain G, unable to say a single word as his head filled with rage, punched the sand ferociously as the crew put hands on his shoulder. Time stood still as the sound of moon dragons roared all around them.

- -

“They just keep coming, SHEEESH!!, we’ve really done it this time!” Commander Von exclaimed as Destiny’s Fortune barrel rolled through several groups of advancing dragons, avoiding their v-formation attack scheme. As gunners Charkie and Steady continued to open fire across the desert, Commander Sean violently pounded his fist on the control deck. Zinu and the council had betrayed them, forcing fire on one of their own.

“I KNEW something was up, they had us in the palm of their hand as soon as we crashed onto this vile desert.” the Commander shouted furiously. “We were doomed from the start.”

“The moon dragons are a peaceful species, only attacking when provoked,” said Ringbolt. “Battle isn’t their first instinct, they hunt by lulling their prey to sleep. They must have something that they’re protecting in the caverns.”

“Then what the heck are we supposed to do to get them to stop trying to burn us into space dust!?” Engineer Riemer yelled as he violently jerked the control side-stick. “We’re not going to be able to hold them off forever over here!”

In between orders to crew members, Captain Brian was sidetracked by a strange movement coming from the corner of his eye. He took a quick glance down at his watch, realizing that this was no ordinary distraction. The whites of the crystal began to slowly turn to a dark shade of black, while the normally brown hands began to reveal hues of gold. The Captain had previously discovered that his watch acted up when they first arrived on the planet a few days ago, but this magic was nothing he’d seen before. The hands began to progressively turn counterclockwise, adjusting every time he moved his arm around. It was like they were circling in on something out in the desert. Captain Brian followed the watch’s trajectory as it continued to close in on Captain Glorious and the rest of the crew’s relative location. Whatever his watch was doing, the Captain knew his team was in danger once again.

- -

Several hundred feet behind the battleground sat the Makanan fleet of ships that had not too long ago desperately attempted to contact Destiny’s Fortune for assistance. Inside the main cabin, Murna walked apprehensively toward her father. She made eye contact with several warriors and generals alike, all coming to a similar conclusion: Sagird was never the initial target and may have never been in danger in the first place.

“Father, what is the meaning of all of this? Why did we lure the humans into a battle with the moon dragons? Our treaty with them has been nothing but peaceful for generations, hasn’t it?”

Zinu took a deep breath as he turned to face his daughter, she had always been smarter than he’d given her credit for, consistently able to sense when things were even slightly in disarray. It was better to come clean now than hide from the truth anymore.

“Murna, my love. Makanan has been compromised. A dark evil has set foot on our beloved planet, searching for I’m not quite sure what, but it has something to do with the humans that made their way here. None of it was coincidence. Evil has once again reared its head and I was too foolish to not stand up against it.”

The Makanan leader looked out over the horizon, shaking his head in pure horror. As the vessel maneuvered amongst the waves of oncoming moon dragons, a dark presence began to swallow the midday sky.

“There’s nothing that we can do anymore for them, we no longer play a role in their destiny.”

- -

JASooner took his hand off his Captain’s shoulder and placed it on top of his helmet, trying to console his leader in any way possible. VRA and Fizzy both looked down at the sand, noticing more than just their own shadows. It was then that Captain Glorious took his eyes off the fallen Mission Specialist to discover what was the largest black cloud he’d ever seen. It stretched from the horizon and was rapidly approaching their location. He quickly rubbed his eyes, stood up, and tried to get a better gauge of their surroundings. As he turned toward the rest of the crew, he noticed that Risk wasn’t accounted for.

“Wait, where’s Risk?” Captain G shakingly stuttered. “Please tell me that one of you saw him walk off somewhere, we can’t lose any more crew today!”

The three recruits shook their heads, but were able to point out a very light series of footprints despite the wind whipping up the sand. VRA and Fizzy followed the trail and were able to track down Risk a couple hundred feet away. The Payload Specialist wouldn’t normally abandon his Captain, but he noticed something odd about an item in the sand that he had seen while they had parachuted in. He turned around to the other recruits, showing them what appeared to be a metal plate artifact of sorts with a series of alien markings on it. Captain Glorious and JASooner caught up with the others, staring at Risk’s discovery in awe. Before anyone was able to get out another word, they all looked up in horror as a group of five dark hooded figures descended from the now completely dark atmosphere above. The moon dragons shrieked and retreated as the warm heatwaves of the dunes turned to a cold, desolate wasteland. The hooded figures had now landed roughly 50 feet away from the crew, with only the middle figure walking slowly forward to separate himself from the pack.

Nifty removed his hood and pointed a crooked, vile finger at Risk’s chest.

“Despicable human. You have something that I want.”

The Wen leader took another step forward, directing his next message to the rest of the crew.

“You have all served your purposes well. The Legion of Wen is pleased. Hand over the Seal of Ilsendor to its rightful heir.”

The rest of the hooded figures started to head toward the crew to retrieve the ancient artifact. As Risk lifted the seal from his feet, he felt a powerful resistance coming from it as he attempted to extend his arms out towards the approaching figures. The quiet Payload Specialist felt an overwhelming rush of courage and strength channeling within him through the seal. He planted his back foot into the sand beneath him, speaking directly to Nifty with a bite in his voice that the crew had never heard before.

“You want it, alien slime? Come and get it. But you’ll have to get through me first.”

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dispatch #9: “A New Mission”
Launch Day:
Wed, Mar. 2, 2022

The crew members looked at each other, then turned toward Risk, then back at each other. Initial feelings of disbelief came from the crew, their eyes darting as the situation around the Seal of Ilsendor continued to escalate amidst the whipping Makanan sand. This was a brand new side of the Payload Specialist that the crew had never seen before. If not for the hooded evil figures surrounding them that intended to do colossal amounts of harm at a moment’s notice, Captain Glorious would’ve found a way to slip in a sly shot at his quiet compadre somehow.

A sudden rush of warmth had come over Risk as soon as he picked up the seal that had been lying in the sand. It felt like there was some sort of magic resonating from the artifact that coursed through my entire body. Feelings of overwhelming courage and definitive purpose completely took over, leaving no room for any fear of the Legion of Wen moving towards the crew.

The seal seemed to be a source of optimistic power of sorts, transferred immediately to its carrier upon physical possession of the artifact. Was this the sort of power that Nifty was after? It seemed like a source of power way too ‘good’ for someone so evil to even consider attempting to capture. Whatever the case may be, if there’s one thing Risk knew about the Seal of Ilsendor, it was that whoever was holding it literally could not lose. Ringbolt had mentioned to the crew that the powers within this kind of ancient technology were some of the most mysterious types of magic. A kind of magic that originated back to the creation of the Ardere Galaxy itself.

Risk took a quick look back at his friend’s body lying in the sand. He was overcome with anger as the strength of the seal coursed through his veins.

“Hand over the seal, human! The rightful heir of Ilsendor’s power belongs to me!” Nifty snarled as he edged closer to the Payload Specialist.

Before Risk could respond, Nifty and his henchmen of Wen were thrown back into the sand behind them by a force unbeknownst to the crew. Captain Glorious turned around and screamed with joy as the Thealuvians emerged from behind a nearby dune; reinforcements had finally arrived.

“How dare you compare yourself to the galaxy’s creators!” yelled Elekron as the turtles honed in on Nifty and the Legion of Wen, the initial beam of magic coming from his hand-crafted staff.

“MUST. CRUSH. WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEENNNNN!” bellowed Vatum as he connected with two of the hooded figures at once, sending them both somersaulting through the desert sky.

Sensing a momentum shift, the recruits used the Thealuvian support as an opportunity to head for cover away from the battle. Rapidly descending from the sand-whipping sky appeared Destiny’s Fortune, determined to rescue the cargo that was the disobeying crew.

“Go young ones, we’ll hold off the Wen until you’re clear of our sights!” shouted Reg as he pummeled Nifty with a backhanded fist. “You must hurry, there’s no turning back now!”

Flight Engineer Riemer lowered down the vessel’s ramp as close as he could to the incoming crew members. VRA, Fizzy, JASooner, and Captain Glorious sprinted up into the ship, diving to safety as the Thealuvians continued to cause distraction to the Wen henchmen. Risk was the last to head up the ramp, taking one last look at Snazzy and the baby moon dragon before reluctantly heading to safety. Destiny’s Fortune immediately ascended and took off, leaving Nifty cursing in the desert.

- -

Hurtling through the atmosphere, Destiny’s Fortune and its crew received their first views of the Ardere galaxy on board their new vessel. The dunes of Makanan now looked like small waves, the towers of Sentinel Square distant specs. Captains Glorious and Brian exchanged glances across the Flight Deck in honor of their fallen Mission Specialist.

JB walked into the control room, joining the Commanders at the newly renovated holo-map station. Sean and Von gazed in awe at the holographically generated layout, recently uploaded by Ringbolt during the renovation of the ship. The Thealuvian leader sat down, tilting his head back as if to relieve a source of pressure building within him. Awkward silence filled the room as everyone tried to emotionally process the battle they had just been through.

“So, Ringbolt, where to now?” stated JB.

“Literally anywhere that doesn’t have sand..” muttered Von as he stared into the void of the rotating planets, mesmerized by the technology..

The weathered turtle leaned forward in his chair and looked at the galaxy map before him. He had studied the stars through decades of war, but this specific time felt a little bit different than the other missions of his past. Clearing his throat and choosing his words carefully, the warrior explained the next steps to the team.

“Right now, we are blessed with the element of surprise. While Nifty may have the map to the moons, the ten locations of the relics that make up Ilsendor’s seal are currently hidden within those moons. It will stay that way until the first relic of each sector of Ardere is discovered and placed within the Seal of Ilsendor. The galaxy was constructed in such a way that it was organized by three sectors. The first sector that we are currently in that hides three relics, Obinabwe. The second that is also hiding three relics, Tajana. The third and final sector holding four relics, Khasiat.

We must now direct all attention to Makanan’s neighbor, a moon called Simia. It is a moon of many ancient teachings and holds many Arderean galaxy secrets that date back thousands of years. I have an old friend there, Aras, who may be able to help us. He will be our best shot for the time being while we have a leg up on travel. Simia is also home to Mt. Alouatta, one of the oldest temples in the galaxy. We may be able to get answers to some of the many questions we are currently faced with. Commanders, what do we think?”

Both Von and Sean looked up from the holographic galaxy map to meet Ringbolt’s stern gaze. They looked back at each other for a brief moment, knowing that once they gave the green light on continuing the mission, there was no going back until all missions were complete.

“To Simia.” stated Commander Sean.

“To Simia.” Rinbolt repeated.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dispatch #10: “A King’s Journey”
Launch Day:
Wed, Mar. 9, 2022

The orange glow from the sun always seemed to hang around the horizon longer this time of year. The way that the dark, heavy hues ran straight up the glasslike face of Mt. Alouatta illuminated the cosmos each night before slowly descending into the cascading lava pools in the distance. Even as the light dissipated and welcomed the night sky, the resonating glow from the embers of the ancestral volcanic giant produced a warm and protective aura over the colony of Simia. Such power and elegance the mountain had, providing its inhabitants with the tools of survival and sustenance for generations upon generations. A force unbeknownst to any outside being, Mt. Alouatta’s energy can still be felt from every inch of the moon despite its dormancy for the last few centuries.

Mesmerized by the moon’s landscape, Aras caught himself staring into the wide open sea of lava that leaked out between the cracks of the mountain’s base and stretched into the vast canyons beyond. All he had ever known Simia to be was a place of peace, a prosperous colony that kept to itself amongst the ever expanding and tumultuous quadrant of Zialta. Old tales from many families of Simians ago spoke of tremendous loss and suffering, referring to a period of time called The Great Faction. It has been said that many generations ago, Mt. Alouatta’s energy had been sought after by many in hopes of controlling and using the volcano’s power to unlock the galaxy’s most malleable energy source. The Simian King knew of the mountain’s power through lessons from the Elders, but still wasn’t quite sure why the volcanic moon was a hot spot for galaxy attention. The people of Simia had kept to themselves for as long as he had known, and he intended on keeping it that way.

Aras’ daydreaming was quickly interrupted by a shuffling of a few pieces of loose igneous rock outside the temple. The swift, yet quiet presence was just enough for the King to snap out of his troubled thoughts.

“Father and Grandfather have prepared you well for this day.” Vira stated, sensing the discomfort in her loved one’s posture. She had always had a knack of seeing right through Aras’ body language, dating back to when they first met a half-century ago as younglings during their protector trials. Her compassionate, radiant fire was as rich and light blue to this day as it was then. A calming presence for the troubled warrior.

“I miss them, my love,” Aras whispered as he felt Vira’s warm embrace. “Knowing they are always with me along with the other Elders is only comforting for so long.”

Still fairly new to the throne, Aras had sensed unsettlement within the elders, as The High Protectors rarely ever appointed a leader at such a young age. With his father’s sudden passing and his father before him gone, many questioned the inexperienced warrior’s poise and doubted the rumblings of an “all-powerful chosen one”.

“You mustn’t fear the day that has been set before you,” Vira said. “Now go, the ancestors await you.”

Taking one last look at his Queen’s fiery eyes, Aras smiled confidently as he turned back towards the mountain. Today marked his first trek to the top of Mt. Alouatta, honoring an event called “The Final Trial” that only the current King could fulfill. There, he would meditate with The High Protectors, former rulers of Simia, to honor the ancestors and discover what his fate would be during his time as King. After a moment of silence, the chosen one placed one foot in front of the other and began ascending the ancient ridge before him.

- -

Aras stopped every so often to take a glance back from the mountain and soak in the beautiful colony of Simia in the valley below. Built upon generations of solidarity and respect to their elders before them, it was a race of persistence, reflection, and innovation. He had made this part of the trek hundreds of times before but was never allowed to pass the second ridge, a passageway that only the King was granted access to. Regardless if he was ready or not, the new King continued to make his way through the jagged mountain. As his feet continued to grow warmer due to the energy given off by the lava rocks beneath he became aware of something deep inside the darkest part of his subconscious, warning of a grave feeling of danger that he’d never felt before. Aras initially shook it off and continued the climb.

The shrine of The High Protectors sat just below the peak of Mt. Alouatta. Mostly undisturbed given the lack of Simians able to set foot on its sacred ground, it was an overwhelming sight to witness upon first glance. Aras took a moment to gather himself and proceeded to go into Lotus pose to begin his journey as the rightful heir to the throne.

After a moment of silence, Aras whispered into the temple, hesitancy all but gone at this stage. It was now or never.

“It is I, Aras. Son of Ramas. I call upon The High Protectors to initiate The Final Trial and reveal my destiny as the reigning King of Simia. Thank you for your continuous protection of our people.”

The wind suddenly shifted as Aras felt a power unbeknownst to him suddenly coursing through his veins. The High Protectors were now present.

“Welcome young one,” A deep voice boomed throughout the temple. “It is now time to reveal your destiny. May the trial begin.”

Aras closed his eyes and began to clear his mind through continuous long breaths of meditation. Each inhalation more drawn out than the last, he could feel himself drifting further and further away from reality. As Aras’ blood pressure dropped, his mind cleared all distraction from the outside world. He had learned as a child through several teachings passed down from The High Protectors to channel the energy sent from the sacred mountain. It was then that he started to feel a power source pulling him out of his body and away from the temple. The sounds of internal breathing were nothing more than faint pulses in the distance as the King joined The High Protectors in their sacred temple of the gods.

- -

“Aras my son, welcome home” said Ramas in a calm, soothing tone. “The High Protectors have waited a very long time for this day.”

Having not seen his father since his tragic passing, Aras was speechless as he tried to gather himself within the mesmerizing, other-worldly experience.

“You have been brought here today to complete your initiation as the next King of Simia. Like the hundreds before you, the rightful heirs of Simia have climbed Mt. Alouatta for generations upon generations to reveal the next chapter of the moon’s destiny. You are no longer responsible for just yourself, but responsible for the moon of Simia, its inhabitants, and future generations of Simians for centuries to come.”

Aras continued to stare at his father, awestruck of the temple that stood before him. Everything seemed so real, yet so perfect that it couldn’t have been real life. Ramas noticed his son’s lack of words and continued.

“Aras, my son. Simia has been a moon of peace for many, many years. During my time as King and my father’s time before mine, Simians have known nothing but peace and tranquility. However, The High Protectors fear a sudden shift in the future of the colony, a feeling that hasn’t been sensed since The Great Faction.”

Ramas bent down on one knee to meet his son eye to eye.

“Times are going to get bleak over the coming hours, my son. The road will not be as easy as it has once been. Please do not take what I say next lightly.”

The rightful heir to the throne looked directly into his father’s eyes, noticing the change of tone in his voice. His father never used that serious of a tone when he was living.

“A great evil has entered our world once again. While The High Protectors can see these events coming before they happen, it is up to you to defend Simia and stand up to any outside forces. All of the moon’s power is at your disposal.”

“But…but where do I find this power? What evil would ever come here?” Aras stammered as he tried to process what his father was attempting to transcribe.

“You will know when the time is right. Trust your instincts.” Ramas stated, smiling as he stood back up to join the rest of the Elders surrounding him.

Another rush of wind ripped through the air as Aras tried to yell back to his father.

“But how will I know what to do?!” Aras yelled, fighting to stay in the dreamlike state a few moments longer.

“The chosen one will know what to do when the time is right.” echoed Ramas’ voice throughout the temple as Aras drifted back into consciousness on the mountaintop.

- -

“My King, extreme apologies for the intrusion on such an historic day. An incoming message has been intercepted back at the temple” shouted Zondar, the Simian General. “Ringbolt the Thealuvian claims to be an old friend of yours, shall I patch him through to you?”

A moment of consternation overcame the King. Contact from Ringbolt was scarce in times of peace and good tidings rarely followed.

“Very well, thank you Zondar.” Aras replied with a sense of hesitancy in his voice. “Make your way back to the temple and prepare the warriors, I fear this call isn’t one of pleasantries.”

As Zondar bolted back to the Simian temple, Aras turned towards Mt. Alouatta and took in the stunning sunset that spread across the entirety of the moon’s horizon. His eyes lost in the sea of deep orange, Aras could feel the warmth and residual effect of his ancestral connection speaking to him now clearer than ever. He now knew the destiny that lay before him; a tall task no matter how experienced the leader.

Things were calm in that moment, but the Simian King had come to the realization of what he had seen in the vision quest to be true. A threat bigger than The Great Faction was headed their way. The mountain, the prosperity, and the Simian way of life was in danger once again.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dispatch #11: “The Classiest of Landings”
Launch Day:
Wed, Mar. 16, 2022

“That should just about do it. Thank you Ringbolt, my dear friend.” said Ramas as he installed the last Simian crystal to activate the newly renovated shield system. “Simia has been a place of peace for so long, but I fear that as long as the Oraborealis are governing the galaxy, our way of life is at risk.”

“It is the way of the Thealuvians my King. Your people are my people.” said Ringbolt, satisfied with his latest and greatest moon defense system that he’d created in his years of exploration.

Ringbolt glanced over to his left to see two young boys training. It must have been some sort of ancient Simian fighting style, the worshiping of a higher power was at the center of their culture. As the turtle warrior watched eagerly, the Simian King noticed the attention the spar was getting from his friend.

“You are too tense, Aras. A warrior must clear his mind from all distraction to channel the energy of The High Protectors.” said Ramas. “Zondar, take Aras back to the temple for meditation before any more training.”

The King turned towards Ringbolt with a slight smirk on his face.

“The High Protectors are calling my son a ‘chosen one’. I’m more concerned about him just being able to go one day without causing childish mischief.” said Ramas with a chuckle.

The Thealuvian warrior put his enormous hand on the King’s shoulder.

“In due time, Ramas. In due time.”

- -

Destiny’s Fortune hurtled through the small asteroid field and made its way into a clearing where the moon of Simia was vastly approaching. The planet’s exterior was a mixture of dark orange and red, with a slightly noticeable mountain of sorts extracting itself from the vast lava oceans.

“We’re approaching the Simian atmosphere, I’d suggest we all start to prepare for landing.” said Ringbolt, finishing his sentence with a slight smile. He was happy to come back to a place that he considered home after so many years. When you travel the galaxy like the Thealuvians do, coming across peaceful planets was pretty few and far between.

“Alright, alright let me try this sucker out.” said Commander Von as he slid into the cockpit and put his hands on the side-stick that had been on autopilot.

“Wait, is he allowed to do that?” asked Commander Sean to Captain Monst4 and Captain Wolfpup.

“Nope. No he can’t.” said Captain Monst4 with a hint of worry in his voice. Captain Wolfpup shook his head quickly but kept his mouth shut as he walked out of the Flight Deck. Commander Von had only been trusted to guide the first ship once and Captain Wolfpup had lied to him, stating that the autopilot was off when it was really on.

“If I had known this bad boy was available to anyone to fly I would have given it a go a few hours ago.” said Commander Sean as he cracked his knuckles. “Hopefully nobody here forgot that I still hold the best flight scores of anyone on this mission.”

“Hopefully nobody forgot that I still have the high score on Space Fox, high scores carry over from ship to ship.” said Commander Von, his tongue sticking out of his mouth as he concentrated on flying Destiny’s Fortune.

“Wait, is he allowed to do that?” said Flight Engineer Riemer as he entered the Flight Deck.

“Nope, not even a little bit.” said Captain Monst4, this time with more sarcasm than distress.

Commander Sean moved swiftly over to the two-way intercom to patch a message through to his Mission Specialist.

“JB, we’re approaching the Simian atmosphere, make sure to prep the recruits for landing,” said the Commander. “Oh, one more thing. You may want to tell them to strap themselves in with any harness they can find. Commander Von’s flying the ship.”

“Aye-aye Cap’n.” said JB over the two-way, digesting the last part of his Commander’s message. “You’re sure he’s allowed to do that?”

“NOPE, BUT HE’S GOING TO DO IT ANYWAY!” yelled Captain Monst4 as he overheard JB’s response.

“Sheesh, y’all need to lighten up over here. I think you forget who you’re talkin’ to. This’ll be a breeze.” said Commander Von as he activated the ship’s drag panels.

Destiny’s Fortune screamed through the Simian atmosphere, the orange glow forming around the exterior of the ship matched the lava pools of the moon below.

“Two ships on our flank Commanders.” said Captain Monst4, looking intensely at the radar. “Should I get the gunners in place?”

“That’s not necessary.” said Ringbolt, who had gotten up from his seat to join Commander Sean. “It is Simian nature to guide expected guests to the correct landing strip upon arrival.”

“Yurrrrrrrr. This landing’s gonna be a Triple-Double Banger, dude.” said Commander Von as he flipped down his visor to shield the reflection of the lava ocean.

The Simian guide ships directed Destiny’s Fortune toward an open strip of land at the base of a mountain. Recruits that had access to window views gasped in awe at the beautiful ancient architecture of the city below. DPerciv’s jaw dropped. Philbrobaggins’ heart skipped a beat. Even Jamie admitted that he was impressed. None of Earth’s civilization lessons could have prepared them for what they were currently seeing.

“This place is … absolutely breathtaking.” said Commander Sean, having a hard time finishing his sentence as he openly stared at the moon mountain’s elegance.

“Yes, yes it is. One of my favorite places in all of the Arderean galaxy.” said Ringbolt. “The Simian colony is built on the most fruitful land registered in the Obinabwe sector. At the base of Mt. Alouatta, the volcanic environment has produced some of the most sought after materials the galaxy has ever come to know. It is important that we ensure the safety of Simia and its people, as it has been a target of the greedy for generations.”

The two guide ships landed safely next to a tall tower that was emanating some kind of energy into the moon’s atmosphere. Near the other ships was a plot of land for Destiny’s Fortune to land, a crowd of Simian warriors stationed nearby to welcome Earth’s heroes.

“Whatever you do, don’t spin the ship to expose the thrusters to that energy source.” said Engineer Riemer cautiously to Commander Von as he continued to lower the landing gear.

“Roger-Roger, piece of cake dude.” said Von as he turned Destiny’s Fortune counter-clockwise to face the Simian colony.

As the ship turned, the newly acquired thrusters clipped just enough of the tower, setting off an explosion that shook the Flight Deck. Commander Von immediately let go of the landing stabilizers, sending Destiny’s Fortune straight into the ground, crushing half of its landing gear and taking out the defense tower in the process.

“Zero-Double Banger.” muttered Risk, who had been strapped into his chair, white knuckling the arm rests the whole way down.

- -

Flight Engineer Riemer put a hand to his face in disgust, the crew couldn’t go more than one stinking planet without having something on any ship break. As everyone began to catch their breaths from another crash landing, Ringbolt stood up and made his way over to Commander Von, a stern look on the old warrior’s face.

“Ahhhhhhhh, everyone all good?” said Von.

“Maybe I should take the lead here.” said Ringbolt as he hit the button on the control panel to lower the slipway. Having the Thealuvian introduce the Earthlings was probably the way to go here after basically destroying a part of the moon’s defense system on arrival.

“Commanders, please join me so I am able to introduce you to Aras, the King of Simia.” said Ringbolt.

Commander Sean nodded, heading over to his two-way to send a message to JB to communicate next steps.

“JB, I’d imagine parts of the ship were damaged upon Commander Von’s…landing. Have the recruits help you get things all repaired while we introduce ourselves to whoever and whatever we’re getting into here.” said Commander Sean as the two Commanders made their way to the entrance of the ship.

“Will do, Cap.” said JB. “Tory, Erik, Pitchdark, let’s sweep these floors up from all the fallen debris that the landing caused and get this ship looking like it should!”

As the janitors got to work on cleaning up the inside of Destiny’s Fortune, Commanders Von and Sean followed Ringbolt onto Simian soil, taking their first steps on the ancient moon. The Simian warriors standing by cleared a pathway for King Aras, who chuckled as he walked forward to greet his dear friend.

“Ringbolt my old companion, I see that your flying skills are still at least somewhat intact.” said Aras, taking any shot he could, reminiscing childhood memories of the turtle’s lack of maneuvering spacecrafts.

Von immediately blushed at the King’s joking comment (It could’ve been the fiery lava pools emanating from the moon’s core that flushed the Commander’s skin, but let’s be honest, that landing job was pretty terrible). The turtle smirked for a brief second, then turned to the Commanders for an introduction.

“Von. Sean. I give you the honor of meeting Aras, King of Simia. He is a King of honor, a “chosen one”, if I do say so myself.” said Ringbolt.

“Sorry we destroyed one of your towers, Your Majesty.” said Commander Von, half bowing, half trying to extend his arm for a handshake before pulling it back in embarrassment.

“I have expressed great interest in the humans, my King.” said Ringbolt, shifting the focus away from the crash site. “There is something about them that is deeply embedded in the cosmos within the Arderean galaxy. They just might be the missing piece to the — -

Before he could finish his sentence, a shrieking voice echoed from Ringbolt’s communicator.

“Ringbolt! Ringbolt! Are you there?!” said Elekron through the two-way.

The weathered giant reached into his pocket, his eyes taking a quick sweep of Aras and the Commanders. He made brief eye contact with the Simian King before activating Elekron’s hologram.

“What is it, Elekron?” said Ringbolt, the turtle’s tone as stern as Commanders Von and Sean had ever heard from the warrior.

“Ringbolt, thank goodness you picked up. We were only able to hold off the Legion of Wen for so long. They were somehow able to divert our defense shields and are now on their way to your location. Evil is on its way to Simia.” said Elekron, his voice shaking with every syllable.

The Commanders glanced at each other and then turned to face Ringbolt. The turtle warrior took a few steps away from the group, facing Mt. Alouatta.

“Aras, the time has come. The fight for Simia is upon us.”

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dispatch #12: “To Plume Marketplace”
Launch Day: Wed, Mar. 23, 2022

Commander Von laid down inside his bunk aboard Destiny’s Fortune and pulled the bandana wrapped around his forehead over his eyes. Things were moving way too fast and the galaxy needed to stop moving for just one second. After a few seconds of much needed silence, the Commander pulled out his journal from the side compartment next to his bed, clicked his ballpoint pen, and began to vent.

“Man, that Elekron dude sure did sound terrified of those Wen henchmen. If the things that were sent to protect and help us are scared of the things that are trying to kill us…that’s a no-go from me, dog. There’s a constant murmur lately amongst the recruits aboard Destiny’s Fortune that resoundingly states that we’re in way over our heads out here. What did everyone expect? We basically were sent out on a suicide mission, chances of survival are less than a million to one. We knew what we were signing up for, or at least I thought we included that in the fine print.”

The Commander let out a huge sigh of relief and kept writing, his focus solely on the Earthly primitive pen to paper.

“Hopefully the King we met today isn’t too mad that we took out one of his moon defense shield towers. I literally had that landing under control until the very last second; stupid new technology stuff. It’s starting to become a trend, but if we didn’t have Ringbolt guiding us every step of the way, there’s not a chance in this universe or our old one that we’d still be alive today.”

Commander Sean quietly entered their bunk area, not expecting to see Commander Von writing in silence.

“Von, when you’re done, Ringbolt and King Aras require our presence. It sounds urgent.”

“Sounds good, I’m wrapping things up right now.” said Von as Sean headed back

out to embrace the next part of their journey.

“Aras mentioned very quietly to Ringbolt that he was going to take Sean and I up to the Simian royal temple right after he got off the two way with Elekron. With the threat of Nifty and the Legion of Wen on the way, I’m not sure if we’ll even have the time to get halfway up the volcano from where we’re at right now. Maybe those tubes near the other defense tower could get us there faster…”

Commander Von closed his journal and sat up with purpose, his spirits uplifted after being able to get things off his chest. While the morale of the crew wasn’t the greatest, they were on another moon in a different galaxy that needed their help. Selfishness wasn’t even an option from here on out.

“Science Officers, gather on the Flight Deck to assume your new position.” said the Commander through his two-way as he exited his bunk area. “We have a special mission for you.”

- -

“Science Officers, we need you to aid the Simians in repairing the defense tower I, err, knicked.” said Commander Von.

“I believe the word you’re looking for is ‘destroyed’.” said Risk, holding back hints of sarcasm.

“Uncalled for.” said Commander Von. “Officers, please make your way out onto Simia and use your expertise to help them fix what the mess we’ve made.

The Commander saluted each Science Officer individually as they exited Destiny’s Fortune, all of them excited to put their strengths to the test. Von followed his crew down the slipway, approaching Commander Sean, Ringbolt, and Aras as the lava sunset made its presence on the horizon. After exchanging respectful bows with the Simian King, Von joined Commander Sean on the hardened soil.

“Commanders, I’d like to catch Ringbolt up with everything we’ve added to our defense system since the last time he visited Simia,” said King Aras. “In the meantime, I’d like both of you to explore Plume Marketplace. Located in the heart of the city, you’ll be able to learn everything about our people and the reason why Simia is such a sacred place. Please take our lava tube system to directly access the nearest volcanic vent to the city.”

The Commanders looked at each other very quickly with obvious expressions of concern, as transporting via lava tubes was the last thing they had signed up for.

“Elekron’s indicators match up with our readings from the temple.” said Aras. “We expect Nifty and the Legion of Wen to arrive in roughly a day, day and a half at most. This should allow us enough time to fully prepare for what’s at stake.”

“Thank you, Your Highness. We’ll use the time given to us to learn the ways of SImian culture.” said Commander Sean. His eyes darted over to Ringbolt, who nodded in approval.

“Very well,” said Aras. “Use these Simian credits to fulfill your quick tour of our wondrous civilization.”

The King motioned to a Simian warrior who revealed a series of coins and placed them in the Commander’s hands.

“Go.There is no time like the present.” said Aras, his facial expression turning from proud to concerned.

“If either of you need anything, my two-way is open.” said Ringbolt. “We’ll call for you to meet at the temple when the time is right.”

Ringbolt and the King joined the Simian warriors, one by one disappearing into the series of transport lava tubes.

- -

“Ahhhhhh, nah dude.” said Commander Von. “I don’t know how they expect us to be okay climbing into one of these.”

A nearby Simian warrior overheard the Commander’s concerns. He revealed a bottle of sorts as he swiftly approached Von and Sean.

“Here, quickly, take a few gulps of this. It’ll help calm down the nerves.” said the warrior as he waved a dark bottle, clearly doing something he wasn’t supposed to be.

“Are you sure you want to do that?” said Commander Sean, his spidey-senses tingling.

“If it’s the only way to get me into one of these capsules, then I’ll fricken send it.” said Commander Von, his hands shaking with anxiety as he brought the mysterious bottle to his lips and started chugging away.

- -

“Sewwwww ahhhh, when do I start to feel the affectives-ness of this stuffs?” said Commander Von, seconds feeling like minutes after drinking the Simian Moon Punch.

“I can’t feel a single fricken bone in my body. I dunno if this it’s the punch I just drank or the way the sun hits yur eyes, but you’re lookin’ mighty fine mah man.”

Commander Sean glanced over at the Simian guard and gave a quick nod. The warrior took a few steps towards Commander Von, who was stumbling towards the nearest lava capsule, and took his place.

“Alright buddy, you’re going to forget everything that happens now anyway, why don’t you get comfortable before we head into the city.” said Sean as he rubbed the other Commander’s shoulders.

Before Von could answer, the Simian warrior pushed ‘drunk Von’ into the lava capsule, the Commander howling in intoxicated laughter as he started his trek towards Plume Marketplace.

“I’ll have to remember to ask him what level of banger that was when we get into town.” said Commander Sean as the sliding glass door of his own tube system closed in front of him.

“Drunken-double-banger, I guess.” said the Commander as he catapulted towards the volcanic city.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dispatch #13: “Calm Within the Fire”
Launch Day:
Wed, Mar. 30, 2022

“I don’t feel like I’ll ever get fully accustomed to these tubes no matter how many times I use them.” said Ringbolt as he shifted his shoulder and forearm guards around. He patted down the invisible embers that followed him out of the tube that were just a figment of his imagination, clutching the ring that dangled from the cloth wrapped around his left arm.

“You mean the transportation system weaving in and out of every part of the city that YOUR team built for us?” said King Aras sarcastically, smirking as he moved toward the armed warriors guarding the hover throne. He respectfully bowed to each of the warriors, making eye contact and giving a swift nod to each one individually.

“Ahh, you forget that I hated every single moment of that construction years ago, young one.” said Ringbolt as he shook his head. “I beat your father in a game of Winshippen at the time and he told me that he’d find a way to pay me back at some point. If this is his way of forever reminding me, then touché old friend. Touché.

The King boarded the hovering vehicle, taking his staff from Zondar before extending a hand to his old Thealuvian friend. After getting the turtle on board, Aras pointed his staff in the direction of the Simian Temple and nodded. Zondar moved the levers of the hover throne forward as the King’s transportation headed towards Mt. Alouatta.

- — -

The ground quietly erupted as Commander Sean shot out of the lava tube and into the reception canister. He frantically looked around, still in awe of the transportation experience he just went through. Before he could fully catch his breath, Commander Von catapulted out of his tube, clearing the canister waiting for him and taking out the two armed guards arming the entrance to Plume Marketplace.

Commander Sean shook his head and scrambled to aid the two fallen guards and his partner, once again covering for the mistakes made throughout the journey.

“The LAUNCH ANGLE I got on that baby, what a shot!!” screamed Commander Von, obviously still intoxicated from the alien moon concoction.

“Yes, yes.” said Commander Sean. “A banger comparable to the size of your headache tomorrow morning.”

As the guards gathered their composure and realized they couldn’t punish the visitors that their King placed a protection clause on, a shadow had been cast across Commander Von’s face.

“That’s not uh…normal, right gentlemen?” said Commander Von to the guards.

- — -

The orange glow from the sun hung around the horizon as the hover throne made its way through the first ridge and past the farms of the highlands that separated the city from the royal temple. The dark, heavy hues ran straight up the vitreous face of the mountain and dissipated into the emerging night sky. As the warriors traversed through the mountainside, a resonating glow from the lava pools below produced what looked like a protective shield over the colony of Simia. Ringbolt caught himself staring at the ancient volcano, his jaw ajar in awe. Completely mesmerized by the moon’s landscape since the day he landed here many years ago, Simia held a very strong place in the old warrior’s heart.

With Mt. Alouatta growing closer by the second, King Aras could feel the energy inside the volcano channeling within him — The High Protectors were watching. Noticing the slight change in body language of the Simian Leader, Ringbolt whispered to his late friend’s loyal son, a calming presence for the newly appointed King.

“Aras, you seem troubled.” said Ringbolt, just audible for those within a few feet of the King. Simian hairs raised amongst the guards aboard the hovercraft; it was evident amongst the group that their King and colony were in danger.

“Ringbolt, my friend. The mountain is trying to tell me something. The High Protectors are giving their warning that the Legion of Wen are on their way.” said Aras, his voice deeper than usual. “Zondar, get us to the temple now, timing of all of this is imminent.”

- — -

“Elekron, can you hear me? What’s your status? What are your coordinates compared to Simia?” said Ringbolt with a hint of apprehension in his voice.

“Ringbolt, thank goodness you’re still alive,” said Elekron. “Our indicators say that we’re within a half-day of the Simian atmosphere. While Nifty and the Legion of Wen aren’t that far ahead of us, they were able to noticeably outpace us while exiting the atmosphere of Makanan. I wouldn’t underestimate the power of Wen and would prepare for all options.”

All Simian guards exchanged glances of concern around the room, their heads turning anxiously towards the King. Aras faced his warriors head on, unafraid of the fate that was set before him. After a brief moment of silence, the Simian King cleared his throat and proceeded to speak to the entire temple.

“Brave warriors of Simia. Kin of Ramas and Datamas before him. Many of you have remained loyal to the throne despite much change of power. I am forever in debt to you for that reason.” said Aras as he surveyed his army. “The road ahead is going to be far from easy. Hell is on its way, and it will stop for no one. While The High Protectors will do everything in their power to protect our way of life, it is now our turn to protect the place we love. May Simia survive and thrive just as it always has.”

As the King finished his speech to his warriors, the sky above Mt. Alouatta grew black. The skies around the active supervolcano darkened as six unidentified objects broke through the Simian atmosphere. While the horizon all but faded from the lava pools, it became clear that five fighter jets surrounded by a single mammoth starcraft had broken through the Commander Von-damaged portion of the moon’s defense system.

The war for Simia, the First Moon of Ilsendor, had officially begun.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dispatch #14: “The Lava Tides of War”
Launch Day:
Wed, Apr. 6, 2022

Mission Specialist JB maneuvered through fallen sections of the damaged Simian defense tower, casting long shadows over the rocky landing strip as the day turned quickly to night. The routine check to make sure all accessories of Destiny’s Fortune were accounted for brought him back to his days on Earth, where he’d consistently be in charge of recovering lost or stolen artifacts on various missions. Before he could finish ducking under a piece of scaffolding, something from the emerging night sky caught his eye.

Even with the sun setting below the moon’s horizon, a noticeably darker entity had been making its presence known amongst some of the recruits since they landed on Simia. JB had noticed it within the first hour of Commander Von crash-landing the ship, but it had seemed to have grown five times over since. What was this toxic presence doing in what seemed to be a very peaceful sector of the galaxy?

Hot, tired, and ready to vent his frustrations, the Mission Specialist pulled out his ship log recorder and held down the button to begin his latest entry:

“Why is it that when anything happens to any ship this crew touches, both Commanders leave immediately after and I’m the one that’s responsible for cleaning it all up!? I guess that’s what comes with being the only Mission Specialist left. After Commander Von took out the Simian defense tower, our Science Officers and Engineers have been working their absolute tails off to try to repair Destiny’s Fortune as well as offering to help the Simians in any way we can. Problem is, this technology is nothing like we’ve ever seen before. The Simian scientists have been very welcoming and respectful of our naivety; something I didn’t expect after we basically blew a hole open in their atmosphere and left them susceptible to foreign attack. With Flight Engineer Riemer attending to the internal wiring within the flight deck and Payload Specialist Risk making his rounds on all the Recruits, I am tasked with trying to make sure we don’t piss off the new civilization we so rudely introduced ourselves to any more than we already have.”

JB took a brief pause from the recording and grabbed a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe his beaded forehead with. Along with the bandana came a fistful of sand that had traveled with him from the dunes of Makanan. Thoughts of his fallen partner-in-crime started to resurface, but he quickly shook his head and forced it all back down. JB pressed the recorder again:

“I’ve been noticing a growing black blob that seems to be growing closer to the moon’s atmosphere. Very slow, subtle changes. I may in fact be getting crazier by the second, but I swear over the last few hours that we’ve been here that this black entity has tripled in size at the very least. When I asked a few of the scientists in charge of repairing the tower what they thought it was, they were quick to dismiss my wild theory and told me there was ‘nothing to worry about’. I now find myself looking up at the sky for what seems like every few minutes, the darkness setting off all sorts of red flags in my head. I don’t know what normal is like on Simia, but I know that this certainly isn’t it.”

The Mission Specialist released his thumb from the button, ending the log as his mind continued to fill with unanswered questions.

- — -

“Steady…steeeeeaaaaaadddddyyyy. Nice and easy now…Got it!” said Flight Engineer Riemer as he finished repairing the main Magnaflux Coil that was damaged during the crash-landing. He had learned so much about this new technology since the days of him tinkering under cars near the sandy beaches of the Mid-Atlantic just to pay rent.

“Well done, the main Magnaflux is never an easy repair.” said Wisco-Doug, as he and RayW made their presence felt inside the flight deck after watching the Flight Engineer work from afar.

“AHH, YEESH.” shouted Riemer as he subsequently lifted his head in shock, smacking it on the coil he had just put back in place. “Don’t scare me like that! What are you trying to do, give me a heart attack!?”

“Our apologies sir! We were sent by Mission Specialist JB to check in on you and see how all the repairs were going.” said RayW.

“I was almost done until my forehead moved the main coil out of place. We’ll be good to go inside the ship momentarily. Go see if Payload Specialist Risk needs any help.” said Riemer, inaudibly swearing under his breath so the recruits couldn’t hear.

“Aye-aye sir, we’ll relay the message!” said Wisco-Doug.

“Oh, one more thing,” said Riemer. “Bring me something for the eventual headache I’m about to get from the pantry, will you?”

- — -

Payload Specialist Risk clutched the Seal of Ilsendor tightly to his chest. Since landing on Simia he had been experiencing splitting headaches, each one consecutively worse than the last. The pain, albeit crazy, seemed to be coming from the seal. A warning sign of sorts. A tap at his door abruptly took his mind off the seal momentarily.

“Risk, Riemer just wanted us to check in on you and see how you’re doing.” said RayW outside of the Payload Specialist’s closed door.

“Um, ah, no. Everything is fine here,” said Risk, shoving the seal under his pillow in a frenzy. “Continue on with your scheduled duties.”

“We’re all done with assignments at this time. Is there anything else we can do to help while we wait for the Commanders to return?” said Wisco-Doug.

Risk put his fingers up to his temple as the searing pain started to come back behind his eyeballs. How much worse could these headaches possibly get?

“Feel free to pick whatever. I have Edgar and Buffaloes70 helping out Janitor Erik in tidying up the galley. Jamie and RCar are resealing the escape pod hangar. Moultonlava, yogi93, xMrCrispyy, Seal_Bur, Infamous-D, and Jake the Freak are helping the Captains clean and reload the weaponry.” said Risk, still behind his closed door.

“Will do, sir!” relayed RayW and Wisco-Doug in unison.

“One more thing,” said Risk, clearly in agonizing pain now. “Could one of you fetch something for my headache from the pantry?”

“Absolutely, right away sir.” said Ray as the two Recruits looked at each other in confusion.

- — -

“That’s not uh…normal, right gentlemen?” said Commander Von to the guards. The group all tilted their heads towards the conveniently large hole in the Simian atmosphere right underneath the crash site of Destiny’s Fortune.

“Man, everyone’s gonna kill me.” said Commander Von, shaking his head as he started to sober up outside the marketplace.

“Yep, probably.” said Commander Sean. “C’mon, we have to make contact with Ringbolt and meet up with them STAT. I have a bad feeling about this.”

“We’ll take you both to the royal temple,” said one of the guards. “The easiest way to get there is by hovercart through the market and up into the ridges of Mt. Alouatta. We must go at once.”

Sean and Von followed the guards through the entrance of Plume Marketplace, all frantically boarding the hovercart to start the sprint to the royal temple. Trying not to cause any sense of urgency or panic amongst the townsfolk, the hovercart could only weave in and out of foot traffic so fast.

“What is life normally like around here when there isn’t an evil army trying to invade the moon?” said Commander Sean as an attempt to break the silent tension.

He received a stern look from many of the guards, but the one that had been most helpful to the Commanders so far slightly grinned and answered politely.

“Plume Marketplace is where Simia lives and prospers. Professions and techniques passed down from generation to generation keep trade fair and flourishing. While there are tiers within Simian society, the marketplace reminds us why we are here and how grateful we are to have life at the base of Mt. Alouatta. Life has been very simple the way we have lived the past few centuries.”

Before the Commanders could react to and address the fact that a small number of these Simians were several hundred years old, they had arrived at the royal temple.

- — -

Zondar discreetly closed the set of double doors behind him, joining Ringbolt, Vira, and Aras inside the King’s chambers. Panic had yet to set in from both Plume Marketplace and the royal temple, a blessing in disguise for at least the next few minutes.

“We need to get ahead of this, Your Majesty.” said Zondar with a hint of worry in his voice. “The people of Simia need to know that their King is ready to defend our beloved moon.”

Aras faced the mountain, his back to his unorthodox family. The sky above Mt. Alouatta was almost completely pitch black from the threat of the Legion of Wen, growing darker by the second.

“Vira, tell the perimeter guards to lock down the temple. Ringbolt, track the 6 aircraft carriers that broke through the atmosphere and two-way Zondar and your team once you have a location. Zondar, gather the troops and sound the moon defense alarms. The High Protectors are calling me. I must listen to what they say, as I have a feeling it has everything to do with the battle for this moon.”

Aras took a quick look around the room and surveyed the looks on the faces of the three people he trusted the most in this world.

“Go. May The High Protectors watch over us all.” said King Aras.

As the group dispersed to handle their respective tasks, Commanders Von and Sean made their way up the final set of stairs and entered the Simian royal temple. They met Zondar and Ringbolt in the middle of the temple hall, out of breath from the lack of cardio they’ve done in the past month.

“Commanders, it’s good to see you.” said Ringbolt with a twinkle in his aged eye. “By order of King Aras, we must prepare the recruits of Destiny’s Fortune for battle.”

The Commanders looked at each other with an initial glance of terror, nodded, and confidently looked back at their Thealuvian guide to accept the next challenge. Sprinting through the temple hall, Zondar gave the order to all guards and warriors alike to prepare for battle. After finishing his list of orders on his two-way communicator, he raised his hand and grasped the top of the lever of The Great Horn. A warning system only used in the most dire emergencies, Zondar was afraid that the horn had been stagnant for so long that it would no longer work to the same effect. He used all his body weight and with all his might pushed the lever of The Great Horn down to set off the sequence of alarms routed throughout the moon.

The Commanders and Ringbolt caught up with Zondar and joined him on the ledge overlooking the rest of the colony of Simia. As the horns sounded off throughout the city, water pots and food barrels were quickly replaced by flame spears and armor suits in the marketplace below. Zondar handed Ringbolt a pair of binoculars and the Thealuvian scanned the confines of the vast lava pools spread out over the dim horizon.

“There,” Ringbolt pointed. “All the ships are headed towards the damaged defense tower.”

The Commanders looked at each other and both thought the exact same thing — they had to contact JB, Riemer, Risk, and the rest of Destiny’s Fortune.

- — -

Aras sprinted up the first and second ridge on his way to talk with The High Protectors of Mt. Alouatta. Every now and then he glanced back to check in on the colony of Simia below. Plume Marketplace was gathering soldiers by the second, the tips of their flame spears barely visible from his vantage point. The valley below had been built upon generations of solidarity and respect to their elders before them, and by the gods above would he let any sort of evil take over the place all Simians call home..His feet continued to grow warmer due to the energy given off by the lava rocks beneath. Almost there. The sky was completely pitch black now as Aras looked out towards Destiny’s Fortune in terror, continuing to race up the mountainside. He must hurry if there could be any chance of saving both his race and the humans that just landed here.

Once Aras reached the shrine of The High Protectors, he immediately fell to his knees gasping for air. After a few seconds, he caught his breath and closed his eyes to await his next set of instructions.

- — -

“JB! Risk! Riemer! Can any of you hear me?!” yelled Commander Von over the two-way communicator that every ranking officer wore on Destiny’s Fortune.

“Loud and clear Commander. It’s good to hear your voice. What’s with all the horns sounding off from the city?” said Riemer. He and Risk both stared out the windows of the flight deck into the black abyss above, terrified at what their commander’s response would be.

“Simia is under attack by the Legion of Wen and their army of Reklicon. Prepare the Recruits and Destiny’s Fortune for battle.” said Commander Sean. “Hold on guys. We’re on our way.”

“When does King Aras want to engage?” said Riemer. “How will we know when they’re –”

“Here.” interrupted JB, face-to-face with Vyolco, a member of the five Legion of Wen. The Mission Specialist pulled down his armored helmet over his face and activated the fire spear one of the Simian warriors had given him. “Unfortunately, they’re already here. Doesn’t look like they’re going away anytime soon. See you guys on the other side.”

Vyolco reached back behind his head and revealed a hammer-head shaped weapon. The Wen member snickered as he activated a secondary handle featuring a spear, clearly expressing the dominant weapon among the two. JB looked back at his recruits fighting the Reklicon, then locked eyes with Vyolco. The battle of Simia had begun.

- — -

The Mission Specialist and Wen member sprinted toward each other and lunged, their fire spears connecting in such a loud clash that it reverberated off The Great Horn several miles away. JB weaved and dodged the Wen’s attack, getting in jabs to the chest and jaw when he could. Vyolco paused, reset his feet, and ravaged JB with a concussive blow to the side of the head with his spear. JB looked up after seeing stars for a few seconds, noticing that the lava pools surrounding the battlefield were starting to agitate, causing the nearest rock to start to turn into molten lava. Destiny’s Fortune was just starting to power up, but it wouldn’t be ready in time to save the battle. He had to move now.
JB strafed to the right to avoid another seismic blow to the face, this time able to catch Vyolco by surprise for a brief moment. The Mission Specialist caught the Wen with a crushing blow to the cheekbone, black blood starting to now leak from the enemy.

JB lunged once more to the Wen’s left side, this time swinging through midair. The Wen countered, throwing his right arm around JB’s throat and immediately started constricting. Life being sucked out of him with every gasping breath, JB reached back irrationally, not able to connect with the Wen on any attempts. The Wen brought his arm over the other and wrapped it around JB’s neck. As the Mission Specialist struggled for air, the Wen let go of his chokehold and raised his hand up to face JB’s left eye. Vyolco then reared his hand back and slung it forward, connecting with JB’s eye, disarticulating the veins from the Mission Specialist’s body.

Writhing in splitting pain, JB’s instinct-lead adrenaline kicked in, elbowing the Wen just enough to waver the enemy for just a brief second. Still facing backwards from the enemy, JB threw his fire spear over his shoulder, connecting and impaling the Wen warrior. The fire weapon passed through his skull and exited into the lava pool behind him.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dispatch #15: “The Least Likely of Heroes”
Launch Day:
Wed, Apr. 13, 2022

It became harder and harder to concentrate as the sky above Mt. Alouatta drew darker by the second. Did the pitch black aura come from nightfall itself, or did the Legion of Wen bring it with them? It was impossible to tell. King Aras tilted his head to the side, realigning his body to correctly position himself for an impromptu meeting with The High Protectors. After a brief moment of much needed silence, the King felt a force unlike any other pull him from his body — something felt different.

“King! Ha, some King. Your forces are no match for my Legion of Wen! Feel the true power of Ilsendor’s darkness.” said Nifty with a bite of malice in his voice. The evil lord had somehow interrupted the communication path between Aras and The High Protectors, trapping the King in an endless moment of despair.

Pitch black all around, the King felt his soul break away from his physical body, dissipating into the nothingness of the space surrounding him. Seconds of darkness felt like hours until a faint, bright light forced Aras’ eyes to crack back open. The High Protectors had come to save him.

“Abomination!” said Ramas, coming out of nowhere in a thunderous rage. “The Wen have been banished for centuries and it’s time to send you back with them!”

“Foolish old man,” said Nifty, “Your powers from beyond the grave are strong, but they are no match for mine. I have the power of Ilsendor flowing through me and with the Wen under my full control, nothing in the Arderean Galaxy can match them.”

King Aras snapped out of the trance he was in, the force of a thousand Simian protectors inside him, breaking the curse that Nifty had put him in.

“ENOUGH. YOU ARE NOT WELCOME HERE.” shouted Aras ferociously, simultaneously vanishing out of the dark channel he was in. The King opened his eyes and was greeted by Ramas along with several High Protectors.

“The galaxy is in more danger than we once thought, my son.” said Ramas, dusting off his immortal arms.

“Ringbolt and the humans mentioned Nifty’s cold presence, how was he able to gain the power of Ilsendor himself?” said Aras, still shaking from the celestial shift his body went through.

“Evil lives through many hosts.” said Ramas, his illuminating body walking slowly towards his son. “This type of evil just so happens to have the ability to shapeshift and disrupt multi-dimensional connections…something the likes of which I have never seen before. We must use the highest powers Simia has given us in order to preserve our homeland.”

Ramas reached into his cloak pocket and pulled out what appeared to be a key of sorts. King Aras got back up to his feet, awestruck by his father’s calm presence amongst the calamity both parties just went through.

“This, my son, is one of the ten moon relics of Ilsendor.” said Ramas, handing over the key to Aras. “Hidden for centuries in Mt. Alouatta and protected by all the previous Kings of Simia, the Relic of Simia possesses the power that Nifty and his Legion of Wen are after. While it is the only way to currently stop the battle on our beloved moon, you must treat it with great respect and honor upon its use.”

“Thank you, father,” said Aras, still in shock. “But how can I use this to stop Nifty?”

“Head to the moon’s defense system,” said Ramas. “Every tower was constructed with the hidden ability to react to the moon relic’s power at any given moment. Something I passed down to you that I thought might’ve come in handy at the right time.”

“Thank you father, every Simian will hear of your greatness once this battle is over.” said Aras.

“Go, my son,” Ramas said with a smirk on his face. “Do me a favor and visit here more often, ideally when there isn’t a galactic war being fought on our home soil.”

A tidal wave-like rush overcame King Aras as his soul rocketed back down to Mt. Alouatta — he now knew what had to be done.

- — -

Commander’s Sean and Von sprinted up the slipway of Destiny’s Fortune, making it inside the Flight Deck just in time as the crew prepared for battle to aid JB and the few recruits currently engaged with the Legion of Wen.

“Charkie, Steady, man the gunning stations! It’s time we showed these scumbags who’s boss.” shouted Commander Von. “As for everyone else, pay close attention to orders here on out, things are about to get messy.”

Destiny’s Fortune rocketed toward their compadres, firing at will in the direction of the Reklicon who currently surrounded JB as he attempted to finish off Wen Leader Vyolco. Before they could reach the battle, another formation of characters broke into the Simian atmosphere…

- — -

“RINGBOOOOOOOOLLLLTTTT.” shouted Vadum as he and the rest of the Thealuvians made a beeline toward the battle site of Simia, their turtle-like jetpacks fully intact and ready to strike down on the Reklicon. Alongside Ringbolt’s crew, hundreds of skull-like creatures cast a shadow of darkness that blinded even the most loyal of the Wen army. The allies circled in on the Reklicon that were moving in on JB’s crew.

“What are those things!?” said Commander Sean, completely taken aback at the forces aiding the Simians.

“The DeadHead Skull Troopers have finally arrived,” said Ringbolt with a rare smile on his face. “A long time ally of Simia and the Thealuvians, the DeadHeads have been friends with The High Protectors for generations, aiding wherever and whenever evil greater than their own strikes.”

The Skull Troopers swept down upon the Reklicon, imposing their will on the evil that dared enter the fiery reign of Mt. Alouatta. While the battle of Simia raged on, King Aras made his way to the nearest defense tower…

- — -

“My King, we must restore the moon’s generative shields at once. We can only hold them for so long!” said Zondar, who had stayed back from the battle to specifically help King Aras on this mission.

“Nothinig to fear, Zondar, for I have been blessed with the opportunity to wield the sacred relic of Simia.” said King Aras, holding the key up into the darkness to get some sort of reflection.

“But, my King, the relic has only been talked about as a sacred myth for centuries, are you sure this is going to work? said Zondar, laying down his shield in respect.

“It will work. I bet The High Protectors on it.” said King Aras.

The royal crew pulled up to the newly repaired defense tower, eyeing a slot within the original infrastructure that seemed like it didn’t belong. King Aras pulled out the relic and moved it toward the defense tower. Like butter, the specific portion of the defense tower melted and morphed into a keyhole for the Simian Chosen One to use. It was time to activate the first relic.

- — -

As King Aras turned the key, a sense of overwhelming power flowed within his veins. He looked up to the sky to see the array of defense towers all aligning in perfect unison under this new power, eliminating the Reklicon and forcing the Legion of Wen to retreat back into the Arderean atmosphere. The volcanic streaks of fire penetrated all Wen ships as they disappeared into the atmosphere, the Reklicon stuck on the ground burning alive in the process. A brutal start to an eventual long line of battles.

Destiny’s Fortune landed right outside of the newly renovated defense tower, afraid to make the same mistake twice. Elekron and the leader of the DeadHead Skull Troopers approached King Aras, Ringbolt, and the Commanders with a proposal.

“My friends, the power of the Legion of Wen cannot be underestimated. We must combine forces and fight together in order to save the rest of Ardere as it stands today. Please accept this invitation of coordinates to join us in the next steps of battle.”

The DeadHeads leader pulled out a holocube of sorts, one of the only forms of stealth transportation that still existed within the galaxy. King Aras looked at the cube, then back around at each of the leaders, as if they were in the huddle of a two-minute warning of a football game.

“Let’s kick Nifty and this so-called Legion of Wen’s ass, what do you say?”

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dispatch #16: “A Divided Ship”
Launch Day:
Wed, Apr. 20, 2022

“Fascinating. Absolutely fascinating.” said Elekron as he examined the relic King Aras had used to activate the Simian war defense shield. The Thealuvians and Aras had gathered around a quieter part of the Flight Deck within Destiny’s Fortune to examine the piece given from The High Protectors a little further without drawing too much attention to themselves.

“Ahh-KAY! What are we all lookin’ at over here!?” said Commander Von, a plethora of recruits tilting their heads to see what all the commotion was about.

“So much for being discreet.” muttered King Aras as he attempted to shield some of the relic from the rest of the ship.

“My bad, my bad,” said Commander Von, “but seriously, have we figured out what the key and that doohickey thing the DeadHeads guy gave us are?”

“Not quite, but we’ll know soon. This relic is some kind of ancient magic that neither Ringbolt nor I have ever seen before.” said Aras, not trying to raise his voice too much to attract attention. While he trusted his Thealuvian brothers, he was still a tad bit unsure of the human’s aboard the ship.

“You have nothing to fear, Commander.” said Ringbolt, his calming presence always coming in handy these days. “We Thealuvians have seen many a war in our time. While Nifty’s recruiting of the once thought folklore Legion of Wen is something we didn’t see coming, there are powers such as this all across the galaxy that we can trust in.”

Before the Commander could respond, an announcement interrupted the conversation going on in the Flight Deck.

“Attention Recruits, we are approaching Brazoria. Time to strap in and prepare for landing.” said Flight Engineer Riemer over the ship’s intercom system.

“Duty calls.” said Commander Von as he headed towards the control panel to prepare for another new venture.

- — -

The hangar surrounding Brazoria could be seen from hundreds of miles away, the blinding lights of the casino stretching far and wide into the vast sector of the Arderean galaxy. Despite being at the edge of the Zialta sector, Brazoria was a highly sought after resort/casino getaway, known for its excitement and the occasional black market firefight. As Destiny’s Fortune landed (successfully this time), they were greeted by the DeadHeads leader that had just met and saved them on Simia. The Commanders were the first to be greeted coming down the slipway.

“Welcome to Brazoria, humans of Earth. My name is Tylea, servant and follower of The Metta. My responsibilities and loyalties lie within Brazoria, a refuge for thousands of species across the galaxy. We hope you enjoy your time here, so much so that we will be giving each member of your ship 200 credits each to use inside our casino. We hope that you enjoy your time here in this little sliver of paradise.”

The Commanders both matched Tylea and exchanged slight bows in each other’s direction, the excitement growing inside the both of them. A casino? 200 credits? Sliver of Paradise?! The galaxy hub sounded like an absolute dream.

Commander Sean shook Tylea’s hand awkwardly as a sign of human confirmation as Commander Von rounded up all the recruits to inform them of the good news. It was a brief “holiday” for Destiny’s Fortune.

- — -

As soon as Commander Von was done getting all the recruits out of Destiny’s Fortune and into the Brazorian casino, he noticed that there were still a group of them huddled around King Aras and the Thealuvians. The Commander walked over to enthusiastically approach them, but stopped as soon as he saw how intrinsically deep in thought the group was. They were fully engulfed in this never-before-seen technology.

“Uhh…hate to break up the party here guys, but our casino paradise awaits.” said the Commander with a hint of uncertainty in his voice.

Link looked up from his concentrated gaze, which threw Aras off, which irritated Elekron enough to the point where he was going to get snippy with Von.

“Commander, it’s in our best interest that we stay here and continue to research the ins and outs of this relic technology. It is absolutely imperative to our journey, and we’d much rather try to figure out how to not give away the galaxy to Nifty than gamble a bunch of money away at a slimy casino. I know you’re trying your best, but this is just a distraction. There are more pressing matters at hand.”

“Very well.” said Commander Von, his tone darker and more serious than usual. ”You all can have fun looking at your key thing while I win a million credits to get us all the food and weapons we’ll ever need.”

King Aras and Ringbolt locked eyes, rolling them in the process of dealing with the foresighted Commander.

“If you don’t mind Commander, we’d like to sideline some of your Astrophysicists, they seem to be up to the challenge in trying to figure things out over here.” said Ringbolt, eager to get back to work with his team.

“If they’re okay with it, I’m okay with it. Fire away.” said Commander Von as he did a 180 and turned back toward the slipway, heading towards the casino. “Hit my two-way if you need anything, you’ll know where to find me.”

With 95% of Destiny’s Fortune off the ship to enjoy a brief moment of vacation, Ringbolt, Aras, and the rest of the S2TM team buckled down, obsessed with cracking the code that was the Seal of Ilsendor. The first relic already in place within the seal reminded the group of hurtful past experiences, but also a building feeling of optimism within the untouched galaxy.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dispatch #17: “Exploitation”
Launch Day:
Wed, Apr. 27, 2022

“Hit me.” said Commander Sean as he wiped away the bead of sweat that was forming at the base of his forehead. Mission Specialist JB and Payload Specialist Risk looked on as the Brazorian blackjack dealer threw another card to the Commander.

“Hit me again.” said Sean as he looked down at the hand he’d been dealt. He was currently seven away from 21. The dealer placed the next card face down on the table and sent it over to the Commander. JB looked down at the card, took a quick glance around the rest of the fully engaged table, then glanced back down at the card with a slight smirk.

“21! Let’s go baby!” shouted the Commander in excitement.

Charkie, JASooner, and backdoorkeys all got out of their chairs in excitement to celebrate with their leader. As the casino dealer distributed the chips that Sean had won on that hand, Risk leaned over to the smiling JB and whispered amidst the sound of cheering.

“How’d you know he was going to win?” said the Payload Specialist quietly, trying not to draw any attention to the rest of the table.

“This thing does some pretty crazy stuff.” said JB, pointing to his new mechanical eye with a chuckle. “Almost wish that I would’ve had my eye ripped out of its socket years ago. Unfortunately, the pit boss already spotted it and told me I couldn’t play any card games in any of the casinos at the resort. Guess I’ll just be a bystander and check on the recruits to see if I can be of any assistance.”

Winking with his human eye, the Mission Specialist got up and stepped away from the table, moving towards the slot machines that seemed to be keeping the majority of Destiny’s Fortune preoccupied.

Britt, SealBur, LaHoushua, Joesude, and Commander Von all huddled around MainStreet as the recruit kept firing away at the Brazorian slot machine. Winning on 8 of the last 10 pulls, the recruit looked to stay hot, determined to hit the big one.

“If I nail the jackpot on this pull, everyone in this row is getting free drinks on me the rest of the night!” shouted MainStreet as he reached for the machine lever.

Cheers quieted to murmurs as members of Destiny’s Fortune looked on in excitement. DPerciv, RCar, MrCrispyyy, and Paco looked on from the machines in the same row, the intensity building as the machine’s reels began to slow down. Shrieks of joy erupted from the casino as the stars aligned for MainStreet.

“Triple sevens baby! What a banger!” screamed Commander Von as he and the rest of the recruits rambunctiously hugged the jackpot-winning recruit. The yelling and celebrating could be heard throughout the slots sector of the casino.

“I’ve never been this lucky in my entire life! Drinks for everyone all night long!” said MainStreet as he collected his receipt from the machine. As soon as he and the rest of the party left that specific row of machines, a flurry of resort vacationers flocked to the hot machine, trying to also cash in on the magical run that just took place.

- — -

“Protecting the reputation of Brazoria is my number one priority during the beginning of these dark times.” said Tylea as he addressed his staff inside the casino’s security room. “After Nifty and the Legion of Wen’s planned invasions of both Makanan and Simia, there has been widespread panic across the galaxy the likes of which I’ve never seen before. Panic leads to less travel, which ultimately leads to less people spending their hard earned money within the resort. We must do everything we can to hold Brazoria to the high standards the galaxy expects.”

Tylea looked back at the security camera footage of the recruits celebrating MainStreet’s jackpot win; his eyes lighting up despite one of his machines paying out more than he’d like to see. The humans arriving alongside the Thealuvians and the royalty in King Aras of Simia certainly helps the vibes around this area of the galaxy. The safer things are around here, the better (outside of the occasional blaster exchange of course). Giving the humans 200 credits each should encourage the high rollers to play more, especially if they are winning like one of their recruits just did. Big money rolling around in the casino means the suckers come out to play as well.

“Let’s keep the good vibes rolling and everyone will be happy. I’ll be out on the floor if anyone needs me.” said Tylea as he exited the security room and stepped out in the hallway that led to the main casino lobby.

In the possible event that things start to get chippy, at least we’ll have the firepower advantage on our side…

- — -

The heroic clang of the ringside bell sounded off within the casino coliseum. Deafening roars followed from the sold out crowd upon the announcement that the ‘Fight of the Night’ battle was starting. Not only a casino, Brazoria was also home to the largest fight community within the Arderean galaxy. Flight Engineer Riemer, Captain Brian, Captain Wolfpup, and Captain Th4 Monst4 made their way into the upper deck suite that was graciously granted to them by Tylea. Brazoria had gone above and beyond anything the humans had ever expected when it came to hospitality from the resort. While the majority of Destiny’s Fortune was having a blast at the casino, the Commanders and Tylea figured it would be good to give a few of the captains and Riemer a taste of entertainment in something they loved.

“I’m so fired up, there are signs everywhere stating that the champion actually has a real test tonight!” said Captain Brian, bringing a Brazorian cocktail to his lips.

“Don’t tell me that.” shouted Flight Engineer Riemer. “I placed all of my 200 credits on the champion for shits and gigs.”

Captain Brian shrugged his shoulders, turning his head toward the entrance of the suite as three hooded figures made their way in and stationed themselves at the back of the room.

“Do we have any kind of bad feelings about this?” said Captain Wolfpup as he pretended to eat popcorn out of Riemer’s container. “I’m starting to get anxious butterflies in my stomach and it’s not because of the three cocktails I’ve already had.”

“No, I’m sensing it too. I should contact the Commanders.” said Riemer under his breath. “For now, we have to act like we’re enjoying ourselves so that they think we don’t notice that they are here.”

Before the contestants could even be announced, a wild shriek resonated from the main microphone that addressed the crowd — something wasn’t right…

“THIS IS ALL A DISTRACTION.” screamed the voice over the loudspeaker. “The Ice Wolf planet of Loborio was destroyed this evening, its core burnt to a crisp following the arrival of the Legion of Wen.”

Gasps from the crowd echoed throughout the coliseum as the Captains looked back and forth at each other, trying to not draw too much attention to the fact that they knew more Wen were in their vicinity. Riemer nodded to the group as if to give the go-ahead to use any force necessary if an attack should arise.

“I now ask of the mighty republic of Ardere, what say you of Nifty and his Legion of Wen?” said the voice over the loudspeaker.

The Legion of Wen moved in behind the Captains and activated their weapons of paralysis, immobilizing the several captains and Flight Engineer Riemer.

- — -

“Is there any way we can turn this guy off?” shouted Tylea into his two-way.

“No sir, it appears all communications have been jammed by…Destiny’s Fortune.” said one of the security crew.

Tylea moved over to face the other side of the Brazorian complex, his eyes set on Destiny’s Fortune sitting in the guest hangar.

“The least likely of outcomes has finally hit Brazoria. Let us embrace change in order to survive.”

- — -

“Magma scarring.” exclaimed King Aras. “A planet with an icy composition such as Loborio doesn’t stand a chance against magma samples taken from the lava pools of Simia. The Legion of Wen must’ve collected the lava right under our noses during the battle near the defense tower. How could we have missed this? I have to go to Loborio to investigate.”

“All due respect my King, but I think the Captains, Commander Sean, and I should go. You know, for hierarchy reasons.” said Commander Von, a hint of hesitancy in his voice.

“Stand down Commander.” said Ringbolt, “Let’s hear what Tylea has to say considering the infiltration of his ‘well-protected casino’.”

The sarcasm didn’t sit well with the Brazorian resort leader, this incident wasn’t going to sit well with the DeadHeads council.

“As much as I’d like to make the ultimate decision, it sounds like you all have things handled. Brazoria need not interfere with galaxy matters outside of what we deal with inside the battle arena. Whatever decision you come to need not affect us.” said Tylea as he walked out of the room, noticeably ticked off by the way things went during one of the biggest nights the casino has seen in quite some time..

“Looks like we have decisions to make,” said Ringbolt. “Time to rally the troops.”

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dispatch #18: “Desolation”
Launch Day:
Wed, May 18, 2022

“HOW WAS SOMEONE ABLE TO INFILTRATE OUR SYSTEMS!” Tylea exclaimed as he slammed both fists onto the boardroom table inside one of the suites inside the Brazorian arena. “The greatest fight night in Brazorian history! The most tickets we’ve ever sold on a single event! This is absolutely unacceptable! Everything has been ruined because of some teensy-weensy moon blowing up…I will NOT go down for this!”

Brazorian casino boardroom members stared at one another in lieu of Tylea’s rage. Some were surprised at the inconsiderate comments towards fellow moon Loborio, others quickly tried to figure out internally how to gather their money and get out of this sector of the galaxy before things got worse. Every place the Legion of Wen has shown up, pain and suffering has followed to the surrounding areas of previous ‘hit’ sites.

Searing with rage to the point of killing off one of his boardroom goonies, Tylea collected himself, took a deep breath, and turned his attention to the center of the ring where the scheduled fights had resumed.

“Keep an eye on the rest of the fights. No one leaves this room until tonight’s profits are captured.” Tylea turned back around to face his board members. “I’m off to Destiny’s Fortune to get to the bottom of this once and for all. Tell security to lock down the ship and all Brazorian exits at once.”

The head of the casino stormed out of the suite, almost breaking the hand-sensored lock in the process. The rest of the board members looked at each other in silence, hesitant to risk the chance of fleeing or to wait for the profits and risk more death. Roars of cheer could be heard throughout the casino as the greatest night of Brazorian fighting continued.

- — -

“Uhh, this guy doesn’t look too happy.” said JB as Tylea made his way towards Destiny’s Fortune.” As the casino leader drew closer, the crew just outside the ship were beginning to notice more and more security rallying to surround them. The Commanders and intoxicated members of the crew could see the veins popping out of Tylea’s forehead, causing a few untimely chuckles as the situation grew more serious.

All exits blocked. Several hundred guards between them and the next ship. Sounds like a nice little welcoming party after a night of gambling.

“This doesn’t need to be difficult. You may have fooled our casino once with your happy-go -lucky antics, but we will not be the victim of galactic embarrassment. Do you know what we do to people that break the rules in Brazoria?” said Tylea as security forces around the perimeter drew their weapons, pointing them directly at the Commanders and crew.

“Look boss, I don’t know who hacked our system or how they were able to do it, but I can guarantee you that we have no interest in joining the Wen or have any intentions of blowing up Arderian moons.” said Commander Von, the tone in his voice growing ever pressing. “It’s hard to explain, but it’s actually the exact opposite.”

“Then how do you explain the communications jammer originating from inside Destiny’s Fortune?!” yelled the impatient casino manager. Recruits were finally sobering up, realizing that security was continuing to circle in on them every few seconds.

“Well, that’s news to us.” said Commander Sean calmly, trying to not draw attention to the bead of sweat running down his forehead. “I’m sure there’s a logical explanation to all –”

“LIES!” interrupted Tylea, finally having enough of Destiny’s Fortune’s antics. “Casino security has evidence that points to Legion of Wen sightings throughout the night, with communications that so rudely interrupted the greatest night of entertainment that Brazoria has ever seen. I could care less about Loborio’s sorry ass moon, someone needs to suffer the consequences of messing with the integrity of my casino!”

Silence echoed throughout the ship hangar. Even some of the security forces looked at each other with darting eyes of concern. Their boss had finally blown his gasket.

“Tylea of Brazoria.” said a voice from Destiny’s Fortune just inside the slipway. “I believe this is what you’re looking for.”

King Aras emerged from inside the ship, holding a piece of electronic equipment. The royalty of Simia quickly paced toward the casino leader as security let him through to make his case.

“Ahh, King of Aras of Simia. I didn’t think that someone of your upbringing and, dare I say, lifely abundance would ever dare sniffing a place like this. We are, as many wealthy have told us, scum of the Arderian galaxy.” Tylea stated, his mouth slyly curving into an evil grin.

Aras shrugged off the comment, not giving into the mind games of the Brazorian. Normally a being of acceptance towards all races and creatures of the galaxy, coincidentally the King and the rest of Simia did not have very good relations dating back generations with Brazoria.

“Your accusations are false, my friend.” said Aras calmly, “Destiny’s Fortune has been hunting down and battling the Legion of Wen over Makanan and Simia thus far. With Loborio being their latest victim, I expected at least a hint of sympathy out of you. Maybe that’s why my father told me to never do business with you or your kind.”

Tylea smirked, not taken aback whatsoever by the King’s attempt at slighting Brazoria. The Commanders looked at each as to warn the other of a potential confrontation. Movement from inside the ship triggered a few security members to shift their attention from the discussion that was slowly heating up.

“My King, it is with the utmost respect that I ask you to clear our security team to search the ship in lieu of what has happened tonight. Once all is clear, I’ll gladly order Destiny’s Fortune a pass. We can also have our research department take a closer look at the machinery brought forth.” said Tylea with a slightly sarcastic tone in his voice.

“Very well. Commanders, please let security make their way about the ship and let me know if they need anything.” said Aras, not really asking as much as stating as both Commanders Sean and Von nodded their heads in approval.

- — -

Riemer wrestled away the staff and sent it right back at one of the Wen, activating the stun setting and temporarily paralyzing his foe. He dropped to his knees and was immobile for a few seconds, still trying to recover from the initial blow that had paralyzed several members of Destiny’s Fortune. The entire crew was now in grave danger.

The Flight Engineer made his way out of the coliseum suite and back into the casino where recruits were still partying and gambling the night away. He managed to spot Risk and a few janitors at a craps table with no security in sight.

“Quick,” whispered Flight Engineer Riemer, “We have to get out of here, things are going to get ugly fast.I’ll explain in a bit but you have to trust me.” Clearing his throat in obvious pain, Riemer spit out the blood that had accrued from the skirmish between the Captains and the Wen. It was all up to a few of them to escape now.

Risk gave a quick scan of the janitor crew — Master of the Mop, Mr. Mop Buckets, Janitor Chokingrandy, Janitor Lanzy Tory, and Janitor Pro Erik — grabbed one of the pieces he had swiped from the Seal of Ilsendor, and followed the Flight Engineer to the nearest casino escape pod that wasn’t monitored by security.

As the rogue crew stealthily loaded themselves into the pod, they heard a quiet shriek coming from behind a set of old machinery in the bay.

“W-w-w-wait!!” said a shrill voice, the same voice that echoed over the loudspeaker inside the fight arena. “P-p-please take me with you, I need to make sure Loborio is avenged!”

“Who are you? You’re the one who interrupted tonight’s event. How can we trust you?” said Riemer, unwilling to give in without more detail.

“I am LaRoyo of Loborio, the sole Lobo to survive this evening’s attack by the Legion of Wen.” said the Lobo, the hair on his back stick straight up amidst the horrific terror his home moon incurred. “The Legion of Wen jammed the broadcast of the fights and rerouted a message they forced me to make while being held hostage after my delivery to the casino earlier in the day. P-p-please help me get out of here.”

A tad skeptic, Risk and Riemer looked at each other and coincidentally nodded.

“Alright, strap yourself in. You’ve got quite the backstory to fill us in on.” said Riemer, setting the escape pod sequence within the compound.

A few seconds later, the crew had disbanded from the rest of the casino and was now headed to the obliterated moon of Loborio, hoping to find any sort of evidence of remaining life on the latest victim of the Legion of Wen.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dispatch #19: “The Cold Truth”
Launch Day:
Wed, May 25, 2022

The head of Brazorian security walked down the slipway and leaned into Tylea’s ear, trying to keep the conversation’s volume to a minimum.

“She’s crystal clear, sir. Not even the slightest sign of tampering of any of the communication equipment within the ship. Maybe Destiny’s Fortune was telling the truth after all…”

Tylea was beside himself. Trying not to explode in public for the third time that evening, he kept his gaze straight ahead at the slipway and into the ship, his eyes darting every which way as if to manifest a solution out of thin air.

“Someone has to pay for the outrage that has happened tonight. I will not go down for this.” The casino leader continued to mutter under his breath but was quickly drowned out by an alarm that came from all the security guard two-ways still inside the hangar.

“WHAT IS IT NOW?!” yelled Tylea, unable to hold back his hot headed temper any longer. “WHAT COULD IT POSSIBLY BE NOW?!”

“Looks like an escape pod carrying a few life forms managed to slip out of our tractor beam, sir.” said a security guard through his two-way. “We haven’t authorized any departures during the lockdown, but our security cameras picked up evidence of a scuffle between some dark-hooded figures and a few Destiny’s Fortune members in the suite we put them in. During our sweep of the area we recovered some kind of communication chip. I think this baby should lead us to what we’re looking for.”

“Thank you, officer.” said the Brazorian security head. “Bring it on down here asap and we’ll decipher it before fully clearing Destiny’s Fortune.”

Tylea faced the Commanders and smirked. Finally, someone would pay for ruining his night and reputation. Commander Sean made eye contact with the casino leader for a brief moment, only to have his concentration broken by Commander Von who was beginning to unbutton his shirt.

“Scan me, give me a lie detector test, put me through all the security protocols — I ain’t got NUTHIN to hide!” said Von, growing impatient by the minute. This had the makings of a distraction of some sort, he just knew it.

That…won’t be necessary, Commander. We shall have the answers we seek momentarily.” said the security head. “You can, uh, keep your clothes on.”

“All good all good, we’re vibin’.” said Von, clearly not happy with the answer given to him. Sean, JB, and Ringbolt all shook their heads in embarrassment.

After a few extremely awkward moments, the security team responsible for sweeping the coliseum suite had arrived at the hangar, handing over the chip to Tylea.

“Wonderful work, gentlemen, absolutely wonderful.” said the casino owner, clapping his hands vigorously out of pure spite. “Now what are our human friends here really up to? Let’s find out.”

The Commanders and members of Destiny’s Fortune who were outside the ship looked on curiously as Brazorian security forces worked on the communication chip. Several seconds of silence passed before the machine transcribing the chip projected upward to reveal a hologram message. The face that was revealed cast a low rumble of gasps and fear throughout the hangar.

“Ahhhh, yessssss. The great Brazorian Casino! It has been quite some time since I’ve visited your poor excuse for a money-hungry cash grab. While your pathetic coliseum event didn’t go how you had wanted, what did go exactly according to plan was the diversion my henchmen created this evening. Not only did your feeble event get ruined, but we also managed to destroy that diminutive excuse for a planet…who even wants to live on an ice rock anyway? Loborio was not meant to survive. Its lack of hospitality and mindless race did not meet the guidelines for the future of the Arederan Galaxy.

What you have witnessed tonight is only the beginning of a long and painful journey towards enlightenment. The Legion of Wen is back. The Ten Moons of Ilsendor will once again belong to darkness.

Oh, by the way, it’s probably about time that you found out that the Wen have taken a few of your precious Captains. They are now en route with our Legion to Vizenfall. We will keep them safe.”

The hologram continued to run after the recording had ended, with the Wen symbol rotating slowly in place of Nifty’s face. A minute or so went by before anyone had the courage to speak up and say anything. All life and purpose had truly been sucked out of the hangar. It was almost as if Nifty and the Wen had given the speech in person to them; imposing fear and hopelessness to all who listened.

“So it is true,” Tylea stammered, the blood draining from his face as Brazorians, Thealuvians, and humans alike tried to process the hologram statement.

“The Legion of Wen is officially back.”

- — -

“That’s what we were trying to tell ya!” yelled Von. “We’ve been fighting Nifty and these dudes all this time and now we’re wasting even more precious seconds here as sitting ducks while half of our captains, pilot, and payload specialist are all who knows where!”

Realizing his mistakes, Tylea stepped backward and convened with his security team. Commander Sean attempted to calm down Von while JB rallied the recruits to make sure everyone was okay after what they had witnessed tonight. With Flight Engineer Riemer, Payload Specialist Risk, Captain Brian, Captain Wolfpup, and Captain Th4 Monst4 all taken hostage, morale around Destiny’s Fortune had never been lower.

“As hard as this is to say, Brazoria gives its most sincere apology.” said the head of security. “Our accusations were out of line and incorrect. On behalf of Tylea and casino security, Destiny’s Fortune has been cleared for departure.”

“About fricken time.” said Von, still pissed about the Brazorian misdiagnosis. Commander Sean had to hold him back and give him a nudge to not fire back any more than he already had.

“Thank you. We will be on our way.” said Sean. “We appreciate all the support and hospitality that Brazoria has given Destiny’s Fortune. We will never forget it.”

The head of security exchanged a nod of respect with the Commanders. After surveying the room and gathering their surroundings, both Sean and Von noticed that Tylea was nowhere to be found.

“What a petty piece of shit, dude can’t even admit and man up to his own mistakes.” said Von under his breath, heading back towards the slipway to prepare for takeoff. Commander Sean and JB rallied the recruits back to the ship to move on from the stunning last few hours.

“Commanders, it is now time for a few of us to head back to Simia for reinforcements.” said Ringbolt, a look of concern draped over his normally calm demeanor. “The King has been beside himself since learning of the magma scarring used to destroy Loborio. I think the best thing to do here is to let him try to rectify this however he sees fit. Trespassing on Simia is one thing, but using sacred magma from the moon itself to inflict destruction on another lifeform is a travesty unlike any of us have seen in this galaxy in hundreds of years.Aras must ask The High Protectors about the vast meanings and powers within the Seal of Ilsendor. I believe that seal is the only real chance we have of even coming close to defeating what lies in front of us.”

The wise Thealuvian turned his back towards the Commanders and softly whispered under his breath just loud enough for them to hear.

“I feel we are in over our heads at this time. Let’s hope that I am indeed wrong when this is all said and done.”

As Ringbolt headed towards the rental ship that Brazoria had lent to their party, another voice came chiming in to wish condolences.

“Very rarely is he ever wrong, so for all of our sakes, I hope this is one of those rare moments.” Link stuttered as he bowed to the Commanders and Recruits. “We shall see you soon Destiny’s Fortune, stay vigilant in these trying times.”

- — -

The desolate landscape of the northern side of the Obinabwe sector was as far away from the Arderean sun as any area of the galaxy the recruits had been thus far. While the temperature stayed comfortable inside the airlocked escape pod, Risk, Riemer, and the Janitors couldn’t help but shiver at the emptiness in front of them.

“How much further until we hit Loborio’s relative location?” said Risk, choosing his words carefully to avoid causing any more pain towards their guest and his long, lost home.

Riemer adjusted his readings on the directional pad of the pod.

“It should be showing up annyyyyy minnuuuutteee n –”

“N-now, you normally w-would be able to see it now.” whispered LaRoyo, holding back the tears as he arrived back home with no remnants of Loborio in sight. Not a single ice shard nor a single asteroid could be found — just a pitch black hole of nothingness lay in front of the pod.

“Let’s all have a moment of silence for the people of Loborio.” said Riemer, trying to resolve an impossible situation the best way he knew how. “For the lost civilization of Lobos and all of its vast wonders as part of the Arederean Galaxy, we pledge to honor your sacrifice and refuse to forget the powerful part you played in this moment in history. Loborio may now be gone, but it will never be forgotten.”

LaRoyo sniffled as the crew remained quiet, paying their respects to the lost civilization was the least they could do. The silence was broken by a loud noise coming from behind the pod.

“What was that?!” said Janitor Pro Erik.

“We’re not alone,” said Riemer. “Far from alone.Strap in where you can.”

“They’ve found us, we’re d-d-d-doomed!!!” shrieked LaRoyo.

Cutting through the nothingness at what seemed like lightspeed was a dark,needle-like ship, a signature Wen aircraft. Riemer knew the build from anywhere, he had spotted it during their escape on Brazoria — Vyolco had come to finish the job he started.

“Hold on tight, this thing could get a little bit hairy.” said Riemer as he rigged the controls to fit a manual pilot approach. The escape pod had no chance in a firefight compared to a starfighter, so the crew had no choice but to hold on and pray that they could slip through the Wen’s grasp once again.

Vyolco dove underneath the pod, barrel-rolling all the while as a means of ‘playing with his food’ before he kills it. Riemer continued to shake off the Wen, doing everything he could with the limited lack of controls at his disposal. He felt Vyolco locking on to their vessel with his blaster cannons and prepared to try one last maneuver to potentially save them.

Before he could carry out the last ditch effort, his jaw dropped as he saw a spear-shaped ice dagger launch from the back of the escape pod. LaRoyo had rigged one of the engines with his ability to create ice with his own two hands. Turning the propelling engine into a chemically fused ice spear, LaRoyo launched the chunk of ice with all his might back at the Wen ship. The starship didn’t have any chance to react, flying straight into the spear like a piece of wood getting split in half by a metal ax.

After the massive explosion had settled, Riemer, Risk, and the crew all held their breaths to see if they really did in fact take down a Legion of Wen member. A few seconds later, there appeared Vyolco, frozen solid in an encased sheet of ice as a result of the impact.

“Th-th-th-that’s for my friends, family, and wolves of Loborio you scum.” said LaRoyo definitively. The rest of the crew paused, taken aback by the stuttering ice wolf.

“I had no idea you had that in you, I’m sure that one felt good.” said Riemer, trying to find the words to describe what they all just went through.

“The Lobos are a harmless species, it is only when provoked that we show our true colors. The Legion of Wen have it coming, and there’s nothing that’ll stop me from avenging all the loved ones I’ve lost.” said LaRoyo, calming down from his heroic efforts.

“Very well, definitely can’t blame you for that. Just give us a heads up if you’re ever going to do that again, I have to get it on camera next time.” said Riemer, trying to finally make light of the situation.

“Where are we off to next? There isn’t much fuel left in this pod and we’re down to only one propelling engine.” said Risk, attempting to get the crew back on track.

“The closest stopping point for fuel is nearby, on a skyscraper-filled metropolis called Zolturia II.” chimed LaRoyo. “Once inhabitants of the luscious wildlife planet of Zolturia, the civilization that lived there treated the environment and its resources so poorly that they had to relocate the entire planet and rebuild it on a nearby moon half its size. It is home to the largest city of this sector of the galaxy and also is host to the biggest armory Ardere has ever seen.”

“Sounds like the exact rendezvous we need.” said Riemer, plugging the coordinates into the control deck while simultaneously wiring the location to Destiny’s Fortune. “To the city we go.”

As the escape pod changed course and made its way towards life, the Janitors were able to get one last look at Vyolco’s frozen corpse as it floated away into the cold, dark beyond of the outer rim of Obinabwe.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dispatch #20: “A Fear Unbeknownst”
Launch Day:
Wed, June 1, 2022

“Destiny’s Fortune, come in Destiny’s Fortune.” said RIngbolt over the holographic video transponder. With no Captains aboard the ship, JB was the only member of the team left that had the capability of approving and answering such forms of communication.

“Destiny’s Fortune, can you hear me?” said Ringbolt, growing impatient by the second.

“Of all times not to answer the –”

“Here, I’m here.” said JB gasping after sprinting across the Flight Deck to answer the Thealuvian leader’s call. The ship hadn’t been more split up throughout their entire journey than it was at the current moment. With Josh and Risk who knows where and the Commanders getting ready for departure, most jobs were abundant as well as thankless.

“JB, where are the Commanders? What’s going on?” said Ringbolt, a stern tone coming from the holographic video that turned the heads of some recruits inside the ship who were within proximity of the conversation.

“My liege, I’m all we have right now in terms of crew members that can make hierarchical ship and mission decisions. The Commanders have gone down to the hangar to prepare to explore the planet Zolturia that they had heard in passing at the casino. Since the remaining Captains and Lieutenants went with them, I’m pretty much here by myself just waiting for updates. I won’t really know any more information in terms of next steps until I hear word from their two-ways.” said JB, a hint of worry in his reply.

“Not to worry, at ease.” said Ringbolt, “I am, however, going to give you a set of instructions on how to proceed. They are imperative to the rest of our missions moving forward.”

“I’m all ears, sir!” said JB, “Fire away.”

Ringbolt cleared his throat as if to prepare for a long speech.

“Upon our examination of the magma scarring that took place on Loborio, King Aras and the scientists of Simia discovered traces of power that seem to be linked to the same types of energy flowing within the Seal of Ilsendor. The magma scarring of Loborio was not an incident, and we could even go as far as stating that the attack on Simia was just a diversion for the Legion of Wen’s greater goal: hunting moons for seal pieces.”

Ringbolt paused, taken aback at his own words. Noticing the unwillingness within his dear friend to continue, King Aras chimed in to continue relaying information to JB.
“It is stated in ancient Simian scripture that the one who holds both the map to the moons and the completed Seal of Ilsendor has the ability to harness the greatest powers of the Arderean galaxy. If these two types of magic are indeed in the same family, then our worst fears have been realized. The Legion of Wen, specifically Nifty, must have Ilsendor’s map to the moons. It’s the only way that he’s been able to stay one step ahead of us over our past several destinations.”

The King paused for a brief moment to wrap his head around their recent discoveries. After a few moments of meditation, he continued the video transmission.

“Thankfully, we’re able to gain a ton of information through historically cross-referencing the Seal’s archives within Simian scripture, which should give us the slight advantage we will need if we have any shot of anticipating where the Legion of Wen is off to next. This brings me to my next point and Destiny’s Fortune’s next destination: Zolturia II.”

“Wait,” interrupted JB, “There’s a Zolturia II?”

“Yes, a second there is, indeed.” said Ringbolt, back from his initial divulgence. “The planet of Zolturia was host to a civilization that didn’t respect the land passed down to them from previous generations. Over the last hundred years or so, the amount of pollution and irreversible damage done to the planet got to the point of mass extinction, forcing them to rebuild the Zolturian civilization on the orbiting nearby moon, later named Zolturia II. Your team isn’t going to find anything worth a rip on that wasteland of a rock.”

“Hmm, wonder where I’ve heard that before.” muttered JB sarcastically under his breath, his mind tracing back to his days on Earth.

“One last thing, JB.” said King Aras. “We believe that the Legion of Wen is after the relic of Zolturia next. While we don’t think that the seal piece itself is on the original Zolturia, there are signs in our research that point to the relic being split in two from previous wars. Meaning, you’ll need to have both relic pieces in order to insert the full assembly into the Seal of Ilsendor. If we have any more leads on where to look, we’ll shoot them over to Destiny’s Fortune’s ship log. For now though, relay that message to your team and get everyone back in the same place. We’ll be in touch soon.”

“Easier said than done. Stay vigilant my friends.” said JB as he disconnected from the transmission. Before he could wrap his head around the conversation he had, another transmission was coming in from the Commanders.

- — -

Commander Von flipped the switch, bringing the dusty and muck-covered hoverboard to life for what appeared to be the first time in ages. Taking a running head start, Von leapt onto the board, gliding seamlessly around the warehouse like he’d been riding that technology his entire life.

“Awwwwhh heck yeah, dude!” yelled Von, pure excitement blasting into the rest of the crew’s space helmets. “You guys have to try this baby out!”

Commander Sean rolled his eyes as the Lieutenants watched and cheered on their Commander’s maneuverability with the newly discovered hoverboard. Before he had the chance to drily respond to his counterpart, his transmission effort to Destiny’s Fortune finally connected in the Flight Deck.

“Commander, come in. Can you hear me?” said JB over the two-way.

“Loud and clear, we’re live from Zolturia. An absolutely disgusting wasteland of a planet.” said Sean, trying to talk over the cheers and yelling from Von’s watch party. “Also, Von is riding a hoverboard of all things, don’t ask.”

“No time to get into details, but two quick things,” said JB. “First, King Aras and Ringbolt found some pretty incredible information after studying a few things in the Simian archives. Second, you guys are in the wrong place. I’ll send you the actual coordinates to Zolturia II, the planet you’re on is deserted and I’d get out of there before you find something that knows you don’t belong.”

As soon as JB finished relaying his message, Von looked back at the Lieutenants just long enough to not see a pile of boxes lying in front of him. Everyone cringed at the crash as the hoverboard continued to soar away into the dark corner of the unexplored warehouse. Commander Von picked himself up and tried to say he was alright, but he noticed that the sound of the hoverboard had stopped, resulting in an eerily awkward silence.

“Oh, you’ve gotta be kidding me.” said Command Sean, already anticipating what was coming next as he put his hand on his holster.

A stomach-churning roar came from the darkness of the warehouse. The crew was not alone…

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dispatch #21: “Allies In Abundance”
Launch Day:
Fri, June 10, 2022

“Can this thing go any faster?” groaned Janitor Pro Erik. The low hum of the lone engine powering the space pod was the only thing that the crew had heard in a couple days after their run-in with the recently deceased Vyolco. Flying at the rate of Simian magma creeping down the side of Mt. Alouatta, Riemer had purposely turned off the speedometer to prevent him from getting any more impatient than he already was.

“No, for the thousandth time, we can’t go any faster. Before you ask again, I can’t do anything to fix it and in a few hours from now when someone else asks how far we are, I’ll tell you that I don’t know for the tenth time today.” said Riemer, his confidence and energy obviously shot. It had been a long time since any of the crew aboard the escape pod got any sleep. Floating around in the empty darkness with a lone lifeform from a destroyed planet kept everyone on edge. While LaRoyo had good intentions, the crew could only explain how to play chess so many times without banging their heads against the walls of the pod. Plus, you know, there was that whole “turning the other working engine into an ice dagger and destroying a member of the Legion of Wen thing” to worry about.

“W-W-e’re actually not too far away from Zolturia 2’s orbit.” said LaRoyo, “We sh-should be able to see the moon’s nightlife from quite a distance as soon as it makes another quarter of a revolution. I know this area of th-the galaxy by hand. N-not too much longer.”

The janitors looked at each other, raising their eyebrows in disbelief. Were they ever going to get out of this dang escape pod? Would they ever be able to get to see sunlight ever again? The disappointment over the last few days was becoming nearly unbearable, so much so that good news was hard to process.

“All I want is to be able to lay in my own bunk in Destiny’s Fortune and sleep in peace.” said Risk under his breath, “I promise I’ll never take any of Commander Von’s snacks from the Flight Deck fridge ever again.”

“So THAT’s who has been taking all the snack packs all this time!” said Riemer. “Touché sir, touché .”

The janitors chuckled to themselves, it was nice to actually laugh at something other than the revolving door of endless darkness remarks. The escape pod slowly drifted on in search of Zolturia 2’s orbit path.

- — -

“How many heads does this thing have?! Which one do we go for?!” shouted Von amidst the roars of the Zolturian Cravastror. The five-headed beast looked like a mutated version of a tiger, transformed after centuries of pollution to its original species.

“It says here in the galaxy log that the Cravastror is one of the most feared beasts in this sector of Ardere.” said KingsPark, “It also says that the trick to defeating it is to –”

“BLAST ALL OF ITS HEADS INTO OBLIVION! FIRE FIRE FIRE!” screamed Von as he pulled both of his blasters out of their holders and unloaded a worthless barrage of ammo into the beast. The Cravastror seemed to actually enjoy it, the rounds absorbed by its rough, matted hair.

“Yeah, about that plan. Let’s try something else. KingsPark?” said Commander Sean as the beast stared at the crew, intently waiting for their next move.

The lieutenant cautiously approached the beast, putting one foot in front of the other until he was only a few steps away from being in attack range.

“I hope you know what you’re doing, soldier.” said Von hesitantly.

“As I was saying,” said KingsPark with his back to the crew, “The trick to defeating it is to stop trying to kill it, it just thinks we’re playing a game. I’m not sure if this is going to work, but here goes nothing.”

KingsPark put his blaster back in its holster, looked up at the center head of the Cravastror and started to bow. The beast’s emotion completely changed, acknowledging the lieutenant while keeping an eye on the Commanders and the rest of the crew.

“Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it. It seems to be working!” said Von, slowly making his way over to join KingsPark in bowing to the now seemingly harmless creature.

One by one the crew joined up and respectfully bowed to the mutant giant, each of its heads nodding as if to grant its respect to members of Destiny’s Fortune.

“The galaxy log’s fine print mentions that the Cravastror is a highly intelligent being despite its ferocious exterior. Its docile nature only reverts to violence if provoked, but it will only fight if frightened or in allegiance to those it respects. The Zolturians never fully respected this beast, but ancient scripture states that long ago, the Cravastror fought alongside other species in previous Arderean galaxy wars. This one just looks like it’s been through the ringer.” said KingsPark, making eye contact with the now calm beast.

“You got all that by reading a galaxy instruction manual?” said Von, “I always just threw away my video game strategy guide books without even thinking twice. Shout out to you fam.”

“Yeah, seriously, you saved us all from turning into mutated mince meat.” said Commander Sean, “So, we just…head back to the ship like nothing ever happened? Apparently we’re not even in the right place, Destiny’s Fortune sent us new coordinates to the moon of Zolturia 2, that’s where the rest of the crew is at this very moment.”

“You don’t have to tell me twice.” said Von, already making his way back toward the ship. “I’m getting out of here before this thing decides it wants to eat us instead.”

Before making his way back to the ship with the rest of the crew, KingsPark locked eyes with the Cravastror and placed a tracking device on the ground in front of the beast.

“Alright big guy, this is a tracker that’ll give you my location at all times,” said the lieutenant. “There are some weird things going on around the galaxy these days. We haven’t been here all that long, but I know sketchy when I see sketchy. If we get ourselves into another hairy situation, you think you can have our backs?”

As if to nod in approval, the Cravastror’s center head locked eyes with KingsPark and exhaled what appeared to be a growl of confirmation. The lieutenant nodded, and after giving one final bow to the creature, turned and headed back to join the rest of the crew in making their rendezvous to Zolturia 2.

- — -

Recruits of Destiny’s Fortune glued their faces to all available windows of the ship as the crew made their descent on to the ever-awaited moon of Zolturia 2. Manning the Flight Deck, JB eagerly accepted an incoming transmission from Ringbolt and King Aras.

“We’re approaching our destination, my King.” said JB, “We’ll be arriving on Zolturia 2 momentarily.”

“Good, thank you for the update.” said King Aras, still obviously affected by the countless hours of research he and the Thealuvians had been doing to figure out the Legion of Wen’s next move.

Ringbolt had now taken over the transmission, sending instructions to Destiny’s Fortune before they touched down.

“Like I had mentioned previously, the planet of Zolturia was host to a civilization that didn’t respect the land passed down to them from previous generations. Pollution, politics, and an extremely war-driven mindset caused irreversible damage to their beautiful planet. They’ve been living on this moon for the last hundred years or so, transforming the nonexistent landscape into an extravagant and extremely successful metropolis. There have been rumblings from a source very close to us that have warned of mysterious activity circulating around the metropolis’ annual racing event occurring in the next few days. I fear that Nifty and the Wen have already infiltrated the city. With that being said, proceed with great caution.”

JB nodded, making sure to save this transcript for the rest of the crew to see once they all met at the assigned rendezvous point.

“Our point of contact at the rendezvous is a well-known machine tech named Kickstradomis.” said King Aras. “He’ll show you and the crew where to dock, as well as filling you all in on what to expect over the coming days. This is one of the busiest and most rambunctious times of the year for this sector of the galaxy — a perfect opportunity for the Wen to strike in the shadows. Stay vigilant.”

JB gave a salute to the King and Thealuvian leader, closing the transmission just as the ship landed in the docking bay just outside the center sector of the metropolis. He pressed the loudspeaker button to make an announcement to everyone onboard Destiny’s Fortune.

“Recruits! We have successfully landed on the metropolis moon of Zolturia 2. We will be here for the next several days, looking for clues related to a few key items that the Simians sent over to us. There have been rumblings that the Legion of Wen are here. We must remain calm and adhere to the tasks at hand. Your supervisor will be in touch with more orders and will communicate them to you once the rest of the crew arrives. As always, we Fly As One. Thank you.”

Noticing the irony in his latest statement, JB couldn’t help but chuckle as he waited for the Commanders, Riemer, Risk, the lieutenants, and the janitors to arrive at their new destination. Things would be back to normal soon, right?

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dispatch #22: “The Future Is Now”
Launch Day:
Fri, June 17, 2022

The neon signs that covered every inch of the downtown sector lit up the night sky. If one wasn’t already aware of their surroundings or what time of the day it was, Zolturia 2’s metropolis could easily be mistaken for manufactured daylight at every waking second. Several tiers of hover car lanes weaved in and out of the moon city’s infrastructure; the purple taillights adding to the fluorescent glow of the highrise. Amazed at the incredibly futuristic megapolis presented before him, JB snapped out of his gaze and looked down towards the bustling streets below. The base of the skyscrapers were littered with life. From street seller tech stands to pubs on every corner, the city seemed like it truly never slept.

A flash of light in the distance caught the mission specialist’s attention, his eyes quickly darting to discover its origin. Preoccupied by the vast new world in front of him, JB jumped at the sound of a new voice that had snuck up behind him.

“Crazy times around these parts with the Annual Zolturian Boot Race set to air in the next few days.” said Kickstradomis, polishing what appeared to be a metallic boot of sorts with a buffer rag. “Tourists from every corner of the galaxy make their way to this already capped out moon to watch people race to their deaths…makes for one heck of a party if you ask me.”

JB took a quick glance back at some of the recruits that were standing nearby, trying to read the room before making any comments towards his new friend. Before he could respond, the technician extended his robotic hand as a greeting.

“The name’s Kickstradomis, but you can call me Kick. I see that Destiny’s Fortune is making themselves comfortable in their new digs?” said the technician.

“Yes, absolutely, thank you so much for your hospitality sir.” said JB, finally able to bring himself to speak. “Ringbolt and King Aras have spoken very highly of you.”

“The two of them are very old friends, they’ve helped me out in more ways than one over the years.” said Kick, looking back down at his hand as he finished polishing the moon racing boot. “You’re from…Earth, is that right? The King tells me that Earth’s atmosphere is actually pretty similar to the environment here on Zolturia 2. If that’s the case, you’re just in time, as this is one of the most popular times of the calendar year. Moon boot racing originated on Zolturia 2 and has been the most popular sport of the last decade. I know that y’all aren’t really here to relax, but if you find time in your busy schedules, I’d recommend checkin’ out the stadium and its surroundings.”

JB looked back at the stadium across the moon’s downtown skyline, it had been a while since anyone on the ship actually had some kind of fun. In addition to that, morale amongst the crew of Destiny’s Fortune was higher than it had been in weeks. It might actually be a nice change of pace while still trying to adhere to the tasks at hand.

“That sounds like a great idea, I think the crew would be really happy to attend. Do you know how much it costs? We obviously don’t have any type of currency here.” said JB.

“I may have a proposition for you that coouulddd interest someone on the team.” said Kick with a twinkle in his eye. “There are 22 entrants in each annual boot race and I may have just gotten word that one team had to back out due to tech issues…know anyone that has the racing itch? If you have an entrant in the race, it’s free admission for everyone involved.”

“He’s not here right now but yes, I absolutely know someone who would be down to race without any experience…count us in!!!” yelled JB in excitement.

“Perfect, I’ll inform the race crews. What’s the new contestant’s boot size? We have some work to do.” said Kick as he pulled out his two-way. Destiny’s Fortune was headed to the raceway.

- — -

“DESTINY’S FORTUNE. COME IN DESTINY’S FORTUNE!!!! AHHH WHY DOES THIS ALWAYS HAPPEN TO ME!” screamed Flight Engineer Riemer through the telecom. The escape pod crew had just entered the Zolturian atmosphere, hurtling through space with nothing more than a few emergency gate resistors after losing their sole engine on their way to the rendezvous point. The janitors looked around the pod, unsure of how to handle the idea of another crash landing on a foreign entity.

“This is Destiny’s Fortune. Riemer, Risk, it’s so nice to hear comms. What’s going on?” said JB through his mobile two-way.

“Hey, hi, I wish we could catch up and shoot the shit but we’re in a teeeeeny little bind over here.” said Riemer as he fought to maintain control of the freefalling escape pod. “You happen to have any friends nearby or tricks up your sleeve to help us land one more time?”

“I’ll find a way to clear a port for you to land on away from the downtown sector of the city, it’d be a nightmare over here. Give me a few minutes and you can consider it done.” said JB.

“Not gonna lie many I don’t think we have even a minute!” exclaimed Riemer, pulling every lever possible in order to reduce the escape pod’s speed.

“I’ll be right back!” said JB, “Put trust in your old friend one more time!”

Riemer, Risk, LaRoyo, and the Janitors all winced as their last seconds of life flashed before their eyes. Seconds felt like hours as a familiar voice came through the telecom.

“Ayyyoooo! Heard you guys needed a lift?” said Commander Von, flying just underneath the flaming escape pod. A one in a million chance.

“Not counting the last Vendy’s drive-thru trip we had, this is the most excited I’ve ever been to hear your voice!” screamed Risk as the now pod fireball continued to freefall into Zolturia 2.

“Alright, alright, don’t get your panties in a bundle.” shouted Von, “Enabling tractor beam landing protocol 1528.”

The Arderean ship given to the crew by Brazoria was able to extinguish the fire emitting from the escape pod, activate the tractor beam to stabilize the two ships, and finally bring it just inside the slipway, reuniting some of the crew before entering the metropolis.

Once safely aboard the Commander’s ship, Riemer and the rest of the crew breathed a well deserved sigh of relief. They had been floating in a space pod with zero engines for several days with no hope of meeting up with the rest of the crew. Diving timing was everything and there was definitely something out there in the Arderean galaxy that was looking out for them.

The rest of Destiny’s Fortune was about to successfully make the ever anticipated rendezvous point to finally put the crew at 100% attendance once again.

- — -

A faint cry emerged from behind the counter of Kickstradomis’ front desk. Commander Sean and a few lieutenants looked around, confused by the sound of a baby’s cry in such a random location.

“Is there a baby in here?” exclaimed Commander Von, tightening the last strap of his moon boots as he continued to try on gear before the annual race. “Are there even babies here to begin with in general?”

Unable to find the source of the sound, the crew went back to prepping Von for his big race and a shot at galactic fame. Commander Sean kept an eye on Kick, who was coincidentally carrying a tote of supplies to the back of his warehouse. Giving up for now, the commander turned his attention towards the rest of the recruits and started helping Commander Von learn how to utilize the customized moon boots made just for him.

“You can’t be doing that now, missy.” said Kickstradomis under his breath. “If anyone knows that you’re here, it’s the end for both of us. Just give me a little bit of a heads up next time, alright?”

The technician lifted the grease cloths covering the makeshift bassinet, revealing a young human child. Just a few months old, the child squirmed about as she tried to fall back asleep.

“Sleep well, my little Crypto. Brighter days are ahead for both of us.” said Kick, tucking her back into her layers of blankets. “Brighter days indeed.”

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dispatch #23: “Highway Robbery”
Launch Day:
Fri, June 24, 2022

The extravagance of the stadium green room was almost too much to bear. Finally having a second to catch his breath for the first time since the casino, Von rolled up his sleeves and unbuttoned the top button of his race vest in an attempt to try to cool down before racing in flaming race boots for the next hour.

“You excited man!? We’re going to clean the floor with all these suckers!” said Commander Sean emphatically.

“A little nervous, but other than that I’m all good. Ready to lock in!” said Von. “Why does every place that we’ve been to in this galaxy have an average temperature of a bajillion degrees?! That’s what I wanna know.”

“Here, you’re going to need a few of these.” said Riemer as he handed a few cooling patches to Von. “These cooling devices came in the race kit from Kick. A few of the janitors, Risk, and I are headed down to the track to start prepping a few things and making sure all your gear works. Make sure you get down to the raceway in one hour!”

Von nodded, exchanging positive vibes with all of the surrounding crew. “I’ll catch ya guys in a little bit, I just want to be alone and collect myself for a second before heading down.”

“You got it man.” said Sean, “I’ll check up on King Aras and the Thealuvians, I received word from the crew back at the ship that they were on their way in. Let’s get it!”

After the crew headed off in their separate directions, Von was finally able to sit down and catch his breath. He let out a long sigh of relief and exhaustion as the miles of travel over the last few months seemed to catch up to him all at once. The journey from Earth to the desert oasis of Makanan. After a desert battle on Makanan to another battle on the volcanic moon of Simia. A brief stint at the Brazorian casino led part of the crew to the middle of nowhere after searching for Loborio while he and Sean stopped at a dead end on Zolturia I. The chase seemed never ending and now, he was about to compete in the race of his life in search of more answers to the Seal of Ilsendor. While he had never felt more alive, this test seemed like the most daunting of them all so far.

“Do I have what it takes to continue to do all this? Why me? Why is it so important that I’m the one that has to be the guy that races on a moon we’ve never been to before?”

Negative thoughts crept in and stayed for just a brief moment. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt lingered around the Commander’s headspace, unsure if the terrible times he’s endured lately would be his last. But then he remembered how successful the launch of the mission was and how far they’d come…the crew was on its fourth location as a collective whole! He imagined the smile that would have appeared on Snazzy’s face if she’d been here to witness this moment, how proud of him she would be. The reason they’d come this far was all because of family, the community of recruit support never wavering.

Von took one last look out towards the stadium. The fans were beginning to file in, holding signs that displayed their idols from all different origins. A young Zolturian girl who was holding onto her mother with one robotic arm was holding a stuffed animal monkey. Von recognized it right away: it was the mighty warrior Biz that everyone in their journeys had talked about. The Commander knew in that moment that all of this was much, much bigger than him. There were recruits that depended on him. There were his crew mates that depended on him. There were even people on Earth that depended on him to succeed. The Commander stood up, put on his helmet, and started to make his way down towards the stadium ground floor.

- — -

“Ahh it’s nice to see a familiar face.” said Commander Sean as he joined Destiny’s Fortune in welcoming both King Aras and the Thealuvians to Zolturia 2.

“It has certainly been quite some time since I’ve had the itch to return back to the coliseum,” said Ringbolt. “The last time our crew was here, we ended up bringing that guy along with us after he smashed in a couple thousand grunkels.”

Vadum turned his head, laughing with joy in remembrance of more chaotically heroic times. Elekron reached into his travel bag, revealing an artifact that was intended for King Aras. The Simian ruler discreetly received the item, quickly hiding it under his robes.

“Commander,” said the King, “We have successfully identified the use case of the Seal of Ilsendor. After weeks of processing and meditation with Simian scripture, I can confirm that this is the technology we’ve been searching for. If we have any chance of beating the Legion of Wen and stopping Nifty, it is with this at our disposal.”

Aras revealed the seal to the Commander, its presence alone forced everyone in the immediate circle to take a step back.

“So this is what is supposed to defeat Nifty?” said Sean gullibly.

“In theory, yes,” said Aras, pointing to the open spaces within the sphere. “The Seal of Ilsendor is capable of holding and harnessing the power of ten moon relics. If one is able to control the intensity, the sheer vigor of all actual moons of Ilsendor…we must never allow that sort of position to be given to any one individual.”

The King turned his back towards the group, in fear that he had shared too much information.

“What Nifty and the Legion of Wen are after, I hope you all know that we don’t stand a chance if they are successful. We have come here not to watch the race, but to watch the suspicious activity outside of the race. The strength within the seal is strong on this moon, stronger than it was on Simia. I fear the circumstances are too good to be true. Please make sure all the troops stay vigilant and unfortunately for them, stay on top of their game during the race.”

“Will do, my King.” said Sean, his nerves cranking up a notch. No one aboard Destiny’s Fortune had seen this coming. “We will keep an eye on everything and make sure there are levels of secur — Oh Crap, has anyone seen Von lately?!”

- — -

“Ready to join your captain buddies? There’s a special place waiting for you in the caves of Vizenfall!” sneered Ryventor as he revved his boot rig with the attached handlebars, sending a blue flame out of the rockets coming from the underside of the shoes.

“You guys have a weird way of trying to insult people…” said Von, shaking off the poor attempt at a backhanded comment. Turning back to face the starting line, the Commander began focusing all his attention on timing the light system ahead of him. He had memorized the pattern of the purple pulsing glow, its image engrained in the Commander’s head the past few nights. The area surrounding the starting line began to char as the contestants positioned themselves and their boot rigs inside their blocks. Game time.

“Greetings and Salutations! The moment you’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived!” said the race commissioner over the stadium speaker system. “We welcome all who have traveled far and wide across the Arderean galaxy to the one, the only: Annual Zolturian Boot Race!”

Explosions of cheering erupted from the stadium, completely drowning out any communications coming to the Commander’s earpiece. Von tapped the device to attempt to turn it up, but the overwhelming sounds surrounding him were piercing.

“Each contestant has earned the right to participate in the galaxy’s highest level of competition. The traditions of class and exquisite talent amongst this group are barnone, and Zolturia is humbled to be able to host such a terrific presence.” said the commissioner.

“Wait…he’s not talking about us, is he?” said Von under his breath.

“Just go with it, bow or something, the broadcast camera is on you.” said JB, finally able to hear him through the bustling crowd.

The Commander took one look at the hovering camera nearby, stuck his left arm out, and put two fingers on the inner part of his elbow as he let out his best “SHEEEEEEESH!”

After a moment of awkward crowd silence in reaction to Von’s failed hype attempt, the commissioner continued.

“Alright, that was…interesting. Contestants! For the next twenty-five laps, you will be competing amongst each other to maneuver the coliseum’s vast obstacles for a shot at being crowned galaxy champion! Outside of ultimate notoriety, fame and fortune, earning first place will also furthermore grant you access to the most elite tier in all of Arderean Sport! Best of luck, you will all need it. If you shall die, your body will be offered as sacrifice to the beasts participating in tonight’s post-race gladiator challenge!

“Brutal.” said Risk to Riemer as they watched from the race pits next to the starting line.

“Double brutal.” replied Riemer.

The commissioner cleared his throat and sounded the coliseum horn, “Contestants, please make your way to the appropriate starting positions. May the best racer win!”

For a brief second, all was quiet. The roar of the crowd seemed to vanish into another dimension; the kicked up dust from rocket boots stagnant in the still air. A bead of sweat managed to find its way under the Commander’s bandana, annoyingly trickling down onto his brow. Before he could wipe it away, the ear-shattering blast of the starting gun echoed throughout the coliseum.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dispatch #24: “Dark Days Pt. 1”
Launch Day:
Fri, July 8, 2022

A sea of orange flames came into view as Commander Von turned the sharp corner of the course to face the straightaway that led towards a clearing within the coliseum walls. With the largest section of fan seating a few hundred meters away, he could still hear the roars of the crowd despite half a dozen racers advancing on either side of him, trying to do everything they could to nudge past and earn their spot in Arderean history. As the group of racers approached the fan-facing area of the course in the boot race’s final lap, a plume of smoke started to appear from the stone-column base that held up half of the arena. Something was fishy…

With little to no time to react, the Commander found himself unable to adjust his rocket boots while trying to change gears to avoid the communal party heading towards what appeared to be a trap of sorts. Blaring sirens sounded off from all areas of the stadium to notify both teams and fans of the caution that was trying to stop the race. In an effort to gain position, a Brazorian contestant came soaring through Von’s blindspot and completely cutting off the rest of the field, forcing everyone into “every racer for themselves” panic mode.

“VON! RED ALERT! You need to get out of that cluster of racers you’re in STAT!” screamed Riemer from the pit area of the coliseum. The crew members of Destiny’s Fortune could see the disaster unfolding right in front of them. RCar, 1Cent, Joshua, Fintopaz, and Moultonlava looked on in horror as the group of contestants hit the straightaway back towards the starting line. Cringing as he grabbed Risk’s shoulder, JB zipped up his fireproof suit, convinced that he was going to have to rescue his commander in the inevitable crash laid out before them in slow motion.

“Recruits!” yelled JB, “Put on your fireproof gear, things are about to get real messy.”

As the crew members bolted into their suits, Moultonlava couldn’t help but feel apprehensive. Time seemed to slow down for a brief moment as he attempted to pull the zipper of his fire suit up to his neck. Movement within the upcoming crash site caused the recruit to double take, a small break in the smoke revealing two dark-hooded figures hiding within the columns holding up the arena.

“VON! DO YOU READ ME, GET OUT OF THERE NOW! IT’S A TRAP!” yelled Riemer, this time with more force than either Risk or JB had heard since their days on Makanan.

“He can’t hear us, the boot engines and screaming of the crowd is way too much for his internal speakers.” yelled Risk, “Someone has to go after him now!”

Before anyone else could chime in, JB activated the spare pair of rocket boots, making a diagonal beeline straight for the hub of racers headed back towards the coliseum stands. The recruits followed as their fearless Commander and the rest of the contestants headed straight into the smoke, setting off an explosion that shook Riemer to his core.

- — -

Gasps of horror subsided throughout the arena as fans and crews alike stared earnestly at the billowing clouds of smoke rising from the devastating crash. None of the racers had been identified yet, whether they were dead or alive had yet to be seen. As Commander Von’s pit crew sprinted toward the crash site, a rumbling from within the rubble shook the ground nearby. A few columns had started to cave under the weight and explosion trauma beneath, forcing part of the arena to fall into the fire deathtrap.

Frantic shrieks started to cut through the commotion and more and more fans started to realize that part of the coliseum was beginning to collapse. Sirens and Zolturian rescue teams tried to keep everyone calm, but it was pointless — there was nothing that anyone could do to save the racers trapped within the rubble.

As the crew continued to make their way through the chaos towards the crumbling stone, Moultonlava felt a sudden urge to stop and “hold” the coliseum together. Something from deep inside his subconscious kept telling him to “hold it together”, “hold it together”, “hold it together”.

The recruit stopped dead in his tracks, reached his arms out towards the collapsing coliseum, and within a split second, essentially slowed down time while giving the pit crews and search and rescue teams to do their job and recover the racing contestants. Moulton couldn’t believe what he was doing nor was he able to explain it, but the overwhelming power of being able to successfully pull off a heroic act like that coursed through his veins.

“What did you interact with? Secret ooze, a ring, a spider?” said Riemer, “What the heck was that!?”

“I swear I didn’t do anything, I promise!” said Moulton, “All I did was just grab the seal from Risk’s bunk to give it to him like he told me to, then all of a sudden I have voices in my head telling me what to do. I literally did nothing else!”

Risk reached into his handbag to reveal half of the Seal of Ilsendor. He locked eyes with Riemer and the rest of the crew, receiving the verbal cues to put the hallowed artifact away to not cause a scene with the Legion of Wen around.

“Okay…whatever that was, however you were able to do it, let’s uhh…circle back on that later. Right now we need to make sure Von’s okay.” said Riemer as he tried to wrap his head around the fact that a member of Destiny’s Fortune now had superpowers because of alien technology. No amount of training could ever prepare you for something like that.

The team ran into the smoke-filled section of the explosion site that basically had turned into a crater of sorts. It was amazing that the structural integrity of the coliseum still stood in place, many of the columns still upright with little to no damage. Whatever Moulton did, it worked. Inside the cloud bubble came various screams, whether they came from injured racers or pit crews discovering that their teammate perished in the crash, both were equally horrendous to experience. The raceway had turned into a literal battlefield.

“YO! Over here!” choked Commander Von, the smoke clouds clogging his lungs as he struggled to make contact with his team. A few minutes being trapped in the rubble had felt like hours, the inability to breathe making it harder to concentrate and fight to stay alive.

The crew simultaneously came to the Commander’s rescue alongside Zolturian emergency services. JB and RCar initially helped get Von onto a stretcher while the medical rescue teams rallied around them to get everyone out of the still dangerous crash zone. Before he could react to orders coming from the emergency crews, a hooded figure lurking in the shadows caught Riemer’s eye. Time stood still as a cold shiver sent chills up his spine. He could feel the Wen’s presence, of course they were the root of all this death and destruction. Like something out of a childhood nightmare, he felt himself unable to speak. As hard as he tried to yell for his crew or anyone that was in earshot, the words just would not come out. Finally mustering the strength to move his legs that felt like tree trunks, the Flight Engineer was able to rendezvous with his team. Amidst all the chaos, the crew all looked at their terrified leader, stopping their evacuation in the process.

“Come on, sir! We have to get moving, we’re going to be the last team out of this crap! We can’t risk being behind the rest!” said 1Cent, tugging on the higher-up’s fire suit.

Before anyone could say anything else, a darkness encircled the pit crew of Destiny’s Fortune, cutting them off completely from the rest of the coliseum. Total darkness only meant one thing: The Legion of Wen. One by one, members of the crew collapsed as the Wen’s gas anesthetic took effect.

Riemer let out a gasp as he tried to fight the sleeping gas, letting out an audible yelp as a tall, slim figure made his way through the sea of black clokes surrounding them.

Nifty looked down at the Flight Engineer and the rest of the unconscious crew.

“Send them to Vizenfall.” he sneered, “I have some relic business I have to attend to.”

- — -

“How is he doing, doctor?” said Sean, a look of concern covering the Commander’s face.

“His body is responding well to the medications we’ve administered.” said the Zolturian doctor as he checked Commander Von’s vitals. “It’s going to take him quite a bit of time before he’s able to ride again, but he’s going to survive. He’s a lucky one, we had many fatalities from that crash today.”

Both Sean and King Aras looked at their injured comrade, thankful that he was alive but also frustrated because there wasn’t anything they could do to help him. The King put his hand on Sean’s shoulder in an attempt to console Destiny’s Fortune’s leader.

“Why did he volunteer to do the boot race, it shouldn’t have been him.” said Sean, “It should’ve been me, I should be in that bed right now.”

“Now, now Commander.” said Aras as he sat down in a chair next to Von’s bedside. “You can’t put this burden on yourself. You have a crew to lead and delegate. A leader must accept their position regardless of how they got there. Obstacles will always present themselves, it’s how they are tackled that separate the weak from the strong.”

Sean continued to stand, the surmounting guilt essentially paralyzing him and his wandering thoughts. His counterpart’s unconscious body hooked up to several alien machines was almost too much to bear.

Sensing the weight within the room, Aras decided to change topics, becoming much more serious to address the situation at hand. Maybe the Commander needed to be sidetracked, albeit a terrible situation.

“We have confirmation from the Zolturian government that the first place trophy contains the relic of Zolturia, one of the ten moon relics that power the Seal of Ilsendor. Why and how they thought this was okay to advertise is irrelevant now. Ringbolt and the Thealuvians are presently en route to secure the relic from Zolturian government. Once obtained, they’ll make their way back to Destiny’s Fortune and we can head out on our next destination.”

Aras noticed the look of concern on the Commander’s face with the mention of a new destination.

“Don’t worry, I already let the medical staff know that Von will be coming with us. We have plenty of medical personnel on staff with Link and Elekron.” said the King.

“Alright, we have to do what we must, right?” said the Commander.

King Aras nodded. “I’ll contact Ringbolt now.”

The communicator rang twice before the Thealuvian leader picked up. His voice was a bit raspy from the amount of yelling he had given the Zolturian government.

“My King. Commander. We can confirm we have possession of the Zolturian relic.” said Ringbolt.

“Good, my friend. Make your way back to Destiny’s Fortune at once. Upon your arrival, relay to the crew to prepare for takeoff. Commander Sean and I will be transporting Von shortly, but we need to make sure his vitals are in a good place before we do so.” said Aras.

“Understood, my King.” said Ringbolt, “We’ll head back to the ship, prepare for takeoff, and arrange a space for Link and Elekron to monitor the fallen Commander. See you soon.”

“Thank you, Ringbolt. Stay vigilant.” said the King.

“Oh wait, one more thing Commander, we think — -”

Commander Sean took his eyes off of Von as he panned towards King Aras and his connection with Ringbolt. A look of concern started to show from Aras, but he quickly shook it off.

“Ringbolt, can you hear me? Ringbolt?” said Aras, bumping the communicator against his leg to magically reestablish the connection.

A crackling sound followed by a chuckle emerged from the communicator. King Aras stood up, motioning Sean to start moving Von’s bed out of the room. The chuckling voice cleared its throat, preparing to speak.

“Ahhh, the famous King Aras. We meet again.” sneered Nifty, “Surely, you’re smart enough to admit that partnering with the humans was a mistake, right? Hahahahahah.”

“I have no interest in speaking with a spineless criminal. You have nothing to say to me.” said King Aras, verbally pushing the medical staff to clear Von despite him being unresponsive. They needed to get out of this building, and fast.

“Your crew may have foiled our plans to capture the relic of Zolturia, but they have paid the ultimate price.” said Nifty, “They are currently being held hostage in our prison cells of Vizenfall with the rest of your captains. Your body count is piling up, my King. Hahahahah.”

“If the path you choose to resort to is violence and exploitation, so be it.” said Aras, a hint of noticeable fury in his voice, “Then retaliation tenfold you shall receive.”

“Can’t wait.” snickered Nifty, “See you soon, my King.”

Aras threw the communicator at the ground, shattering it into hundreds of pieces.

“Quickly.” said the King to the medical staff, “We must transport this patient at once. The galaxy depends on it.”

- — -

Risk, Riemer, JB, and the rest of the pit crew on Zolturia all woke up to a cold, clammy, basement-type ground after being drugged to sleep upon their kidnapping. Risk immediately felt his handbag, the outline of the seal still within his possession resulting in a sigh of relief from the Payload Specialist. A rustle came from within the cell, resulting in a familiar face to the captured crew.

“Hey there old friends.” said Captain Brian, “Fancy to see you here.”

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dispatch #25: “Dark Days Pt. 2”
Launch Day:
Fri, July 15, 2022

Moulton sprinted over and embraced the Captain, thinking that he had lost his brother for good after leaving the Brazorian Casino. The rest of the crew exchanged hugs and handshakes, grateful that they were able to reunite before it was time for them to be sacrificed.

“How have all you guys been able to survive here?” exclaimed Riemer, “This is literally the Wen base we’re talking about!”

“Yeah, you’re not kidding. It hasn’t been easy.” responded Captain Th4Monst4 as he adjusted the straps that he had been improvising as a belt. “They dang near starved us to death before you all arrived.”

“Couldn’t be happier to see another human besides these two.” said Captain Wolfpup, grinning as he stared back at his captain counterparts, putting his hands on both Risk and Riemer’s shoulders. “It’s good to see you boys.”

“Alright, alright, enough sucking up, how are we getting out of here?” asked Captain Brian, anxious to get out of the prison they’d been held up in for the last week.

“Your guess is as good as mine.” said Riemer as he foolishly attempted to pull the prison bars apart in front of him. “Looks like Risk is up to something, though.”

The crew turned to look towards the back corner of the prison cell where they found the Payload Specialist messing with something near his belt buckle.

“Hey man, we’ve made it this far without having to establish a pee corner, let’s not start now please.” said Captain Wolfpup jokingly. “But seriously though, what’s going on over there?”

“You promise you won’t freak out if I tell you?” said Risk apprehensively, knowing it was time to relay to the crew what he was working on.

“Uhhhh, buddy, you’re scaring me.” said Riemer, “Come out with it!”

Risk turned around, revealing the Seal of Ilsendor that held within it the two relics of Simia and Zolturia 2. The captains tried to look through their fingers while shielding their eyes, the bright, yet warm glow of the seal penetrating their attempts. A few seconds went by as Risk tied the seal back around his neck, tucking it in underneath his shirt.

“Ummmm, time to explain mi amigo.” stuttered Captain Th4Monst4, “What in the alien juju heck is that?!”

“So it is true…what King Aras and Ringbolt were murmuring about for two planets…this is that Seal of Ilsendor thingy?” said Captain Brian, having a hard time finding his words.

“It certainly is.” said Riemer confidently, “It also seems to have bonded with Risk, like, it basically listens to everything he says. Since Makanan there hasn’t been a second where he and the seal were apart.”

“Uhh, so you’re okay then, mate?” Moulton said to Risk, the entire crew thinking the exact same thing. “This isn’t a ‘One Ring to Rule Them All’ type scenario, is it?”

“No, no, no.” laughed Risk as he pulled the seal back out, the two relics inserted deactivated but still gleaming. “From what I understand, the Seal chose me to be its bearer after I rediscovered it on the Makanan sand dunes. There are no voices, moreso just a confidence of decision making associated within it. Like a second conscience of sorts.”

The rest of the crew looked at each other, mentally coming to the conclusion that Risk had never once seen the hobbit trilogy. Before any more questions could be asked, the Payload Specialist had already found a way to open the gate using the seal’s power.

“See, it’s just that easy. Let’s get out of here.” said Risk.

Riemer looked back at the rest of the crew and shrugged, following the supremely confident Risk out of the Vizenfall prison cell.

- — -

With Wen grunts patrolling seemingly every corridor of the prison of Vizenfall, the crew made their way from one side of the prison to the other, finally entering a hangar housing a variety of service ships. They had made it so far without making a peep until Captain Wolfpup tripped a surveillance laser with his foot.

“Crap.” whispered Captain Brian.

“HEY!” yelled Trikaza, “STOP! GUARDS — WE HAVE A PRISON BREAK!”

The crew sprinted towards the hangar of various aircrafts, sprinting into a waste disposal ship. Riemer pulled out a small microphone from inside his vest pocket as he felt the inside of the ship rev its engines in preparation for take off.

“Good timing, who’d a thunk?” said Moulton as he and Captain Wolfpup high-fived.

“Elekron! Elekron, can you hear me?” said Riemer over the roaring engines. “Link, Ringbolt, we’ve managed to find the captured captains on a Wen prison base called Vizenfall, it appears to be a few clicks away from the transport hub of Omrow. Think you can do us one more favor and help us out here?”

A moment went by until Riemer was finally able to hear a faint response from a familiar voice.

“My friend, it’s so glad to hear you and the rest of the crew are safe.” shrieked a delighted Elekron. “I’ll relay to the rest of the crew that you’re in a transport headed towards Omrow, we’ll intercept you once you arrive. Stay vigilant.”

Riemer put the microphone back in his vest pocket, smiling in relief as the rescue mission was going almost too well. The waste cargo ship took off, starting its course to the wastelander hub of Omrow.

- — -

A slimy hand slammed down on the surface of the command deck. Several grunts looked in the direction of their frustrated leader, who returned their gazes with a stern face of disgust.

“Ryventor. Trikaza. It was foolish of me to trust either of you with this task.” said Nifty, annoyed by the lack of accountability from his Wen grunts. “I should’ve known that disrupting the boot race on Zolturia II should’ve been handled by someone else, those pathetic humans are still alive!!”

“We are so sorry my lord. We promise to make it up to you.” said Trikaza as bowed his head in shame.

“Yes — sorry, Master.” said Ryventor in a jock-type manor. The two Wen partners when standing next to each other were comical to watch.

“I did okay, Bozo over here failed.” said Ryventor.

“I did no such thing.” Trikaza snapped back, “If you hadn’t have hit the dynamite out of my hands we wouldn’t even be talking about –”

“ENOUGH. INGRATES.” said Nifty, raising his voice as he continued to grow more impatient by the second. “I don’t care whatever you two did back then, you already got us into this mess. Now the rest of the Wen have to clean it up for you, we cannot let those pesky flesh-beings make their way off this base!!”

“We’re on it, sir.” said Ryventor dopily.

“Yes sir, on it.” said Trikaza as he smacked the back of Ryventor’s head. “You suck up.”

A loud siren made its way through the base with a security protocol voice proclaiming a message over the intercom.

“ATTENTION, WEN SECURITY. ATTENTION, WEN SECURITY. THERE HAS BEEN A BREACH IN CELL B35A7. I REPEAT, THERE HAS BEEN A BREACH IN CELL B35A7. HOSTAGES ARE ON THE LOOSE. NO LIVES SHALL BE SPARED.”

“AGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH” screamed Nifty, taking over the intercom system, “The humans are off the base and headed for Omrow, all teams AFTER THEM!”

- — -

Destiny’s Fortune soared through the asteroid field that lay just outside the old entrance to the recently abandoned moon of Omrow. A pub hub back in its hay day, the Arderean moon was mostly used as a transportation site to send travelers back and forth through portals created by the Arederan gods.

As Commander Sean weaved in and out of the massive asteroids, Ringbolt chimed in with a little history of the hub that they were zeroing in on.

“Oh man, the days that we used to have at the Omrow pubs,” said the old turtle warrior. “This one time, Vadum tricked this broad into thinking that he was a god and –”

“I’m sure we can save these stories for another time that isn’t as pressing.” interrupted King Aras, smirking as he tried to divert the conversation.

“Man, I was actually enjoying the beginning of that story.” commented Commander Von, propped up in his hospital bed a few meters away from the rest of the Flight Deck.

“Anyway, let’s get back on track here,” said King Aras. “Commander, how is the ship navigating?”

“We’re hanging in there my friend.” said Sean, swerving around a tight gap in between two large boulders. “It’s going to take a lot more than this field to get me to make a mistake, turn me up!”

After a few more minutes of navigating through the asteroid field, Destiny’s Fortune had finally arrived at the now abandoned transportation hub of Omrow.

“It’s quiet. Way too quiet considering this is the teleportation site to Otherside.” said Ringbolt, taken aback by his own comments. “So the story of the Wen destruction is more true than we thought…”

- — -

The Vizenfall waste transport made its way through the asteroid field and landed just outside the gate to Omrow’s abandoned walls.

“Alright, Riemer, we’re ready for you.” said Elekron as Destiny’s Fortune made itself visible to the escaping crew members.

The captains and crew started quietly making their way off the ship while trying not to be seen, but before all were off the transport, Risk pulled Captain Brian aside.

“Here, before we go any further.” said Risk as he took off the Seal of Ilsendor, placing it around Captain Brian’s neck. “This belongs to you now, please take care of it for me.”

Unable to process what that meant in the moment, the Captain nodded and felt part of his soul leave his body, his first meeting with the Arderean gods well underway. The Payload Specialist turned around and took one last look at Destiny’s Fortune, turned, and headed towards the hub’s center.

“Where’s he off to? We have a battle to fight.” said Riemer.

“No clue.” said Captain Brian’s subconscious, his soul in another dimension.

- — -

The Legion of Wen and their fearless, heated leader had finally surrounded the moon of Omrow, with Destiny’s Fortune well within its perimeter. Nifty’s solo ship slowly maneuvered around some of the smaller asteroids within the moon’s orbit, landing abruptly next to the hijacked waste ship that the crew had used to escape the prison. The Wen leader exited the spacecraft and used his blaster to destroy a section of nearby rubble, revealing the shimmering relic of Omrow.

“Finally, the time has come to use this extraordinary power.” said Nifty outloud for everyone listening in to hear. “By the power of the relic of Omrow, I command that this Arderean portal awake from its slumber!” said Nifty emphatically, “You shall now be…OPEN!”

The grounds of the hub began to shake, consequently forcing the nearby asteroid field to move incoherently as well. Destiny’s Fortune had no choice but to back off away from the volatile pummeling space rocks, unable to risk being seen after witnessing Nifty’s power.

The hard, rocky surface continued to vibrate underneath the Wen leader’s feet, slowly starting to reveal a portal that appeared to be sleeping for several hundred years. A swirling view of the cosmos lay ahead for those brave enough to jump through, the Arderean transportation system only granted its services to those who held the ancient artifacts created by the gods several thousands of years ago.

“At last.” said Nifty, rubbing his hands together with joy. “The first portal is now open. My soul can now live out its destiny!”

“Not if I have anything to say about it!” yelled a voice that had been watching from the shadows.

The Payload Specialist lunged, grabbing onto Nifty’s horns at the back of his skull, jamming his knees as hard as he possibly could into the Wen warlord’s back while attempting to fight for the relic piece. After a series of screams and grunts, Nifty threw an elbow back into Risk’s jaw, causing his head to slam back into the wall behind him and loosening his grip for just a brief second.

After being able to free one hand, Nifty grabbed the stone and smirked, clenching his fist and throwing the seal piece in the air. The distraction caused Risk to relax his grip on the horns, launching him flat on his back as he saw the relic of Omrow fall to the ground. Before he could get to his feet, he looked back at Nifty, who was pointing a blaster in the direction of the relic.

Scrambling to his feet, Risk sprinted a few strides and lept full speed at the Wen leader. Nifty took one look at the outstretched human lumbering towards him, jumped backwards into the Arderean portal, and pulled the trigger…

- — -

The sky erupted into a fireball of debris, filling the empty night sky with a luminous orange glow. The impact of the blaster caused a chemical reaction that destroyed the relic of Omrow, obliterating everything within 100 meters of the explosion. All nearby ships had their communication systems temporarily disabled due to the radioactive behavior, resulting in several minutes of lifeless drifting through the wartorn sector of the galaxy. As the dust began to settle, all that could be seen of the battle site was a vast crater , the temporary portal created by the relic disappearing without a trace.

Members of Destiny’s Fortune looked on helplessly, unable to process the falling of yet another crew member. No longer was the journey about saving Earth, it was about exacting revenge.

--

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Shot2TheMoon brings you a one-of-a-kind NFT project the space has never seen before. A community-driven storyline that evolves each week — follow along here!

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