The Poisoned Apple
by Ariele Sieling
part 1 of 2
There was a large gap in her memory: miles and miles of blackness and darkness and nothing. That’s why, when he kissed her, her instincts kicked in and she kept her eyes closed. The darkness gave her the heebie-jeebies, as if she was back in the war. Thus caution was necessary. There would be no waking up quite yet.
“Dammit!” she heard a male voice say. “That was supposed to work! They said, ‘Kiss her and she’ll wake up’.”
“Well, clearly they were wrong, and we came here for nothing.” The other voice was also male but raspy and rough. “We didn’t have a plan B.”
“Maybe if I play with these meds...” the first voice said.
She heard footsteps walking towards her, and then the sound of tape ripping.
“Oh good grief, don’t do that,” the second voice replied. “You wanted to wake her up, not kill her! Why don’t we just take the left rotating stave from her ship to fix ours and then move her body over to our sick bay? Then we can figure it out from there.”
“I guess that’s all we can do.” The first man sighed loudly.
Well, this wouldn’t do. She sat up and screamed. Loudly. All the air in her lungs rushed rapidly past her vocal cords at a speed which reached quite a high pitch. In the middle of the scream she opened her eyes, ripped out the plastic tubes sticking out of her arm, and swung her legs down to look at the two men.
Both stood hunched over, clutching their ears and grimacing. The younger of the two wore high boots and a rakishly cocked hat. His doublet was a deep burgundy and seemed to have elephant-bone buttons. The older one had greying hair, a few wrinkles, and a dark suit coat. His shoes were sturdy, leather, and workable. Neither looked like a murderer — no bloody knives or unusual-looking axes — so that was a good start.
She took a breath. “Who are you?”
The two men each let out a long, relieved sigh.
“Oh thank the goddess’s bloomers, she stopped,” the older man exclaimed. He was the one with the raspy voice.
The other man bowed elegantly. “My lady, I am here to rescue you.”
“Oh, don’t be an ass,” she said, “and just tell me who you are.”
A small frown crossed the younger man’s features, but the older gentleman grinned slightly.
“I am the Duke of High Count Orchard and this is my manservant, Raul.”
“And what are you doing here?” she continued.
“I already told you that.” The Duke crossed his arms in irritation. “Or weren’t you listening?”
“I didn’t need saving,” she said.
“You were asleep!” he protested.
“I didn’t need saving,” she insisted. “I had it all planned out but now I’m awake and you’ve ruined my plan. Now get out!”
The Duke glanced at his manservant, who was very carefully looking the other way.
“Fine. But your ship is drifting hopelessly in the vast reaches of space, and it took some heat from an asteroid belt, and you’re alone, and... and...”
“And what?” she wiggled her feet. The feeling was starting to come back into them. Soon she’d be able to walk. She just had to hold him off for a few more minutes.
“Sir,” Raul interrupted. “Might I suggest we leave the lady alone for a few minutes? She has just awakened, and it might not be appropriate for us to be here — er... so early in the... uh... morning.”
“Okay, okay. I’m going to the bridge.” The Duke gestured to a pile of bags heaped by the door as he turned. “Raul, bring my things.”
The door swung shut behind him.
“Did your ship break down?” she asked Raul.
“Yes,” Raul replied. “I’m working on it.”
“Did the Queen send him?”
“No.” Raul lifted the bags that were piled in the corner. “Trust me on that one. He’s a little sensitive though. Be nice?”
“No,” she said, sliding forward until her feet touched the floor. If she could just put a little weight on her legs... “I can’t stand arrogant imbeciles with too much money.”
Her legs gave way.
“Oh crap!” she exclaimed as Raul ran over to help. He put his arm under her shoulder and helped her back up on the bed. “If he had only waited... this would have all worked out...”
Raul gave her a wry smile. “If I might recommend the stretches?” He handed her a pamphlet that lay on the table next to her med station. “I’ll leave you to it. Let me know if you need anything.” He picked up the bags and left the room.
The room was surprisingly large, she noted, picking up the list of stretches and swinging her legs up onto the bed. When this whole process had been planned, she had imagined that her bed would be about coffin-sized and the room about mausoleum-sized. But the dwarves had done an excellent job — that meant that the rest of the ship was probably bigger than she thought as well. Unless they had sacrificed space elsewhere to make more space in the sleeping room. She hoped they hadn’t been that stupid.
She looked down. The apple lay next to her, just as the dwarves had promised. Except for the one bite mark, it looked as fresh as the day it had been picked.
“Ow,” she muttered as her muscles groaned at their sudden use. A few minutes and a large number of stretches later she ventured to stand. Although her legs were wobbly, it worked, and she stumbled out the door and into the hallway, clutching the apple in one hand. The hall was longer than she imagined.
Did I shrink while I was sleeping? she wondered briefly.
The bridge, according to the blueprint that she had memorized before biting the apple, was at the end of this hall. Her legs didn’t like the length of the hallway, but she mentally told them to shut up and stumbled forward. She was impressed — the iron in the ship was a clean, pure black and the seams were invisible. The dwarves had done an admirable job; the craftsmanship was perfect.
The bridge door slid open. The Duke stood at the windows gazing out at the tiny bits of light immersed in the massive emptiness of space with his hands clasped behind his back. Pretty, yes, but she shivered as the darkness outside the windows reminded her of the blackness in her memory — the time without anything filling it.
“Oh great. You’re up,” the Duke stated with an apathetic sigh. He turned and shook his head. “She didn’t even put on a pretty dress,” he muttered under his breath.
She looked down at her clothes — sturdy boots, Godmother’s non-rip pants, and a brown tank top — pretty standard attire for spaceship crew. Moving forward, she glared at him and took her seat in the captain’s chair.
“Computer,” she stated clearly. “Status report.”
“All systems functioning,” the computer replied.
“Goooood...” She drew out the word. “More please?”
“Life systems functioning at one hundred percent capacity; all engines undamaged, operating at fifty percent capacity; a fleet of ships is headed towards us at forty que-nots, arrival in ten.”
“What?!” she exclaimed. “A fleet of ships? Who are they?”
“This is not unusual, your highness,” the computer replied. “They will be avoided. Shields at one hundred percent.”
“We’re not invisible, computer! What if they see us?”
The Duke began to breathe heavily. She glanced up from the console to see him bent over and clutching his side. Raul rolled his eyes and walked over, smacking him loudly on the back.
“What if... what if...” the Duke gasped. “What if they find us? What if they board us? What if we can’t get away?”
“Why?” she demanded. “What did you do?”
“He robbed Her Majesty the Queen’s personal transport.” Raul looked grim.
“Don’t tell her!” the Duke protested. “What if she turns us in?”
“She’s on the run, too,” Raul replied. “Wouldn’t make much sense, now would it?”
“But... she could turn us in to save her own skin!”
“Don’t be an idiot. She’d die the instant she set foot in the Queen’s presence.”
She closed her eyes. Colors began to swirl — green and black, blue and red and more red — like crayons being melted in a frying pan... it was that blasted apple, the apple that haunted her dreams, that gave her the worst nightmares she had ever experienced. The evil apple, so red, yet partially green... and held tightly in her hand...
“Excuse me.” Raul suddenly stood over her. He was shaking her. “You, er, don’t look good?”
She gave him a piercing glare.
“Well,” she began. “I believe it is time to make our escape. I have a rendezvous with seven adorable little men and would be devastated if I missed it. How about you two tell me what’s wrong with your ship?”
“We only have ten minutes!” the Duke began to whimper.
“TELL ME. NOW.” The command boomed from her lungs, angry and powerful. She grinned. She still had it.
“Whoa!” Raul took a step back. “We lost power in the main control room. Back-up power runs the life systems, but we can’t actually steer it or jump it. I think we need a stave.”
She nodded thoughtfully. “What kind of ship is it?”
“A Mastermind 3, with Campbell coils.”
“What kind of idiot puts Campbell coils in a Mastermind 3?” She gave a short laugh. “I see you need a new mechanic. I’m not giving you my stave, but I think we can use the ship.” She turned to look at the console. The oncoming ships were growing larger. “Computer, can you hack into the Mastermind’s mainframe?”
“Yes, your highness,” the computer replied. “It is complete.”
“Program it to take a suicide run towards the primary ship in the oncoming fleet. When I give the go-ahead, release it.”
“That’s my ship!” the Duke now sat on the floor, his hands clutching his temples. “My ship. I... I got that ship.”
“He stole it.” Raul nodded as she shook her head slightly.
“From the Queen, probably,” she muttered. “Okay, Computer, give manual controls to me, please.”
“Retinal and voice recognition passcodes required.” A small box slid up from her console. She put her eye up to it and blinked the rhythm to an old, old song called the Star Spangled Banner. Her father used to sing it as he harvested corn in the late summer. She never knew what it meant, but it made for great passcode material.
“Black Apple,” a voice sounded from the communication node. “You are in forbidden territory. You will be boarded. Please await our arrival.”
“I like to whistle when I work,” she stated clearly into the console microphone.
“Identity verified,” the Computer said. “Manual controls reverted to primary console.”
“Thank you, computer.” She grinned as her hands reached out to grasp the controls that rose slowly from the console. “Please release the Mastermind 3.”
She watched the screens as a little dot separated from her ship and began to blink towards the larger ships. The engines revved as she increased the power to full. Her little ship began to move rapidly, speeding towards the fleet.
“We’re going to die! We’re going to die!” the Duke whispered. “I’m too young to die!”
The ship jerked and buffeted as it barely cleared the belly of the largest ship in the fleet. The Mastermind 3 disappeared — they could see the explosion through the window as bits of metal and plastic drifted outwards away from each other. Maybe those bits and pieces would become part of a planet someday. She bent forward over the console, gazing intently at her instruments.
They zipped under the last ship in the fleet and headed rapidly for empty space.
“Now who’s the best pilot of them all?” she whispered.
“Not you,” said Raul. He pointed at the window.
Copyright © 2013 by Ariele Sieling