This Sci-fi story was written for a contest. The story title is "Mica." Mica is a planet that is habitable but covered with a gold dust. It tells a tale of a young girl searching for her father who is lost in the galaxy. His last message was transmitted from the vicinity of this planet. So read on.

Chapter 1- In the year 5000

Zeta is a girl who lives on the planet of Dorsai. The Dorsai civilization is a friendly race and advanced in technology, they are also very beautiful in stature and grace. 

Zeta receives a summons from her uncle Alaef. When she gets there, the person that greets her has a serious demeanor, not the jovial uncle she knows.

Zeta is tense as Alaef speaks. She absentmindedly strokes Brunn, a monstrous dragon, about 30 feet tall, he has a fierce look about him, two heads and large carnivorous teeth, he is green and scaly, his looks deceive him, he has a gentle nature, and is an intelligent being. He is a companion / guardian / friend. He has a calming force on Zeta; he tells her everything will turn out well. This is done telepathically. Father had brought him home from one of his missions, as a baby, orphaned, needing a  home and love. Zeta was able to supply that need. They have become very close through the years.

Zolo, Zeta's father, was a space explorer. He met many challenges while on his journey through space, in search for raw material that the Dorsai needed for their technology and fuel. He was interested in space explorations also; his quest was to learn of other worlds and civilizations. He had been able to tackled difficult situations and tasks, always to return safely and in tact, this time he did not return as scheduled, he was lost somewhere in the galaxy. 

Alaef speaks, "Zeta, I would like you to take part in the search for your father, I think that you are ready to go on your first mission. You need the experience, and the chance to use your telepathic powers. You will be able to find Zolo with your telepathic powers, back track if you must, but you have to start somewhere." He said firmly and with authority.

"But where should I start Uncle Alaef? I have no experience in that sort of thing," Zeta replies.

Uncle Alaef continues, "I think you should start at Mica." (The planet he is referring to is a habitable planet. It is a virtual paradise.) 

"Father discovered that the mysterious planet was devoid of life. Where has the populace gone? Its surface is covered with a fine gold dust; no one knows where it comes from. Could the storms be causing the strange phenomena, what has happened to the people," Zeta asks quizzically?

Uncle Alaef continues firmly, "I want you to go there and research the mysterious phenomenon, see if you can uncover this mystery."

A storm had raged on Mica for months, it was unapproachable; the storm has ceased, leaving the planet in an eerie darkness. Zeta's instinct bids her to approach with caution. Something on that planet has taken over, what was it, where did all that mica come from? Were the storms causing this strange phenomena? Is this the reason for the mystery behind the disappearance of the inhabitants?

When the crew beams down from the ship, they immediately go to work collecting the dust and mica, for data to clear the mystery. The inhabitants who lived here a few years ago are no longer present. The research crew is met by a deserted city, and an eerie silence. Zeta hears only the beating of her heart, her breath comes in gulps. She cannot speak; even Brunn (the dragon) acts nervously; he is emitting clicking sounds, which Brunn usually makes when he is nervous. 

She motions to her crew to move faster. Uncle Alaef sent supplies and a handful of his best people. The crew had traveled numerous times with Zolo, her father; they knew how to respond in times of emergency. They are nervous and tense, unable to grasp the discomfort they feel.

The sound breaking the silence has one of the guards ready to spring into action; he then throws his spear. What was that? A familiar call, she utters a cry, "I recognize it to be father's voice," she speaks to the guard, "could Zolo be in one of those buildings?" She rushes forth, throwing caution to the winds and hastens to the sound. 

A large door swings opens and something rushes out, Zeta is surprised at what she sees. What is this obsolete machine, she thinks? It is a tarnished robotic creature, he is speaking in the same type of voice as father's, and he is mimicking him.

"What are you? Why do you speak that way," she questions harshly? 

The robot responds in a whisper, "I am a data collector, I am the only one that was able to survive. The old ones, the ones that built this city, left me here; they are all gone now." The robot continues," I am here to help you determine what the next course of action should be."

Zeta is speechless; she is unable to comprehend this thing, this machine. I can only deal with living things, she thought, why am I so confused? She then regains her composure saying, "What is it you have to say?" 

The robot then replies, "I will help you determine what to do next, I suggest you return to your ship immediately, leaving only 1 or 2 of your helpers." He continues, "they can then relay the events about to take place." 

Zeta is uncertain, Brunn, signals that he will stay and relay the events, he, Brunn wants Zeta to return to the ship and wait. 

She takes the handful of guards and supplies and beams up. No sooner have they beamed up, she hears Brunn emit a loud gasp. "Brunn, she franticly calls, what is it Brunn?" 

He signals back, that he sees thousands of prints on the ground that the ground seemed to be moving. He is confused and unable to relay to her what this could mean.

She shouts out a command to the engineer, "Beam him up," She turns on a screen and sees what is occurring, the gold is a bacterium, eating away at his flesh. The engineer frantically tries, but fails, he cannot beam him up on time. The microorganism consumes him.

She now knows where the mica came from; the storm has unleashed them from an unknown origin. The gold dust is the residue of living things; the dust is the residue from the populace. The little creatures cleanse the planet.

The robot remains untouched. 

Chapter 2 - Z

Zeta was not the same person she was a few months ago, her experience with Mica has left her devastated, thought Uncle Alaef. 

He speaks out loud to Zeta," I want you to forget Brunn and get on with your life."

"I cannot," Zeta replies, "I loved Brunn, he was my friend and companion. Brunn has been a comfort to me since father's disappearance." She felt the sting of tears behind her eyes, She felt so lost. 

Uncle Alaef spoke again, "I am sending you on another journey, Zeta." He hesitates, giving Zeta enough time to compose herself. "Go as soon as you are able, you have to keep looking for your Father, Zeta." 

She gazes at an object, not seeing it. "Yes, Uncle Alaef, this is as good a time as any," she says dejectedly.

He nods and gives her a thin smile. "I am sorry about Brunn," he seemed lost for words, "He was a good friend and guide, he died believing he did the right thing." 

She shuddered as she recounts his terrible fate; the bacterium had consumed him. She nods to her Uncle Alaef and stands up, and starts to leave. 

Uncle Alaef comes up to her and pats her on the shoulder. " This time, there is a place I want you to go. On the other side of the galaxy, it is quite possible that your father, Zolo might be found there."

She nods absentmindedly; she was going to need a cause or distraction to erase the horror and loss. 

Alaef knows the last experience was a traumatic one, it was a hard lesson to learn, losing a beloved companion and friend, it had matured her, the experience would help in the future. Her instinctive power was necessary to achieve her goals.

Alaef spoke again, "I want to present you with a gift Zeta, it is a robot. You can learn from him, he is an excellent navigator and will be good company for you." 

At first, her feeling of repugnance is strong, but then she thinks why not, it will be a good experience. The "other one" in Mica had helped, if it were not for him, she would not be here today.

She nods "Alright Uncle Alaef, I will give the robot a try."

The next morning, there is a knock on the door; she is sitting in her living room reading.

She calls out, "Enter." 

In walks a stranger; he is an android, very humanoid. She instinctively knows that this is the robot Uncle Alaef was speaking about. She notices that he is silent and waiting. 

She gets up and walks up to him, and asks, " What is your name?" 

His reply is, "Z, Miss Zeta." He has a pleasant voice, she thinks, not at all like the other one in Mica. 

"I am glad to meet you, Z, have you made plans for our next journey," she queries?

He replies, "Yes Miss Zeta, the plans have been made," he quietly waits for further instructions. 

"Did Uncle Alaef tell you about Father or what he plans to do with the search," she asks?

Z looks at her and says, "Yes, he has programmed me on Zolo, it is crucial that we find him soon." 

She nods, "Then you may leave and start preparation for the journey." 

He is tall in stature and has a smooth gait, she likes that, not jerky like most robots, this must have been one of the new one's from the factory. Uncle Alaef's pet project. He is handsome, and resembles her; he could pass as a brother. 

"Z, I am glad you will accompany me on my journey, did Uncle Alaef tell you about Brunn" she quires?

He answers, "Yes Miss Zeta, I would like to have known him, we would have gotten along." 

She smiles, I think I will like this "one," he is quite charming, indeed. She smiles, as usual Uncle Alaef made the right decision. I will need this fellow traveler, and we will go far. She starts preparing for the trip. Tomorrow will be soon enough; I will have to make haste to find Father. She no longer feels alone.  Z was the answer. 

Chapter 3: The star ship Explorer 5000

Zeta was jarred from her thoughts by a light tap on the door. 

She calls out, "Come in"

The robot enters quietly; she turns from her preparation for her trip. "Is everything ready," she asks? 

"Yes Miss Zeta," Z replies.

He seems to be studying her intently, her pupils, and her every feature, he is collecting data off of her to keep a profile. She senses this, and allows him to continue with his scanning, he will need this information in his data bank, because he will be her guide and protector. The task was done so quickly that she is surprised when he starts to speak, 

"I have charted a course to the place where Zolo might be, this is where he sent his last distress call," he goes up to the map on the wall and points to the location. 

"Do you think we will find him Z," she asks?

"Yes, miss Zeta, my theory is that he is alive, we will find him," Z replies. 

"I hope so," she answers forlornly, tears well up in her eyes as she realizes how much she loves and misses Zolo. 

Z notices something different about her, her mood has changed, the tears, he reaches out and touches the tears on her cheek, his analytical mind is at work, he tastes it and knows that only humans have that quality, a human response to sadness? It has a saline taste, and the DNA in it; he stores that too in his memory bank. 

His urge is to comfort her, because a part of him has Zolo's memories. The Robotics section had recorded Zolo's memories with a data chip and placed in Z's. This data was taken before Zolo's last trip. The fatherly quality is there to comfort Zeta.

When Z had a theory, he was usually right. "I firmly believe we will find him, miss Zeta, but we will have to use every means to complete that task," Z replies. 

Zeta knew what he meant, she too would have to use her knowledge and talents of telepathy and work cooperatively with Z. "I know Z, she says with a sigh, I will work along with you and give you feedback from my thoughts and feelings." 

"Then, Miss Zeta, we are ready for the journey," Z comments. "The space vehicle occupants comprises of only you and I. The long journey requires supplies, and a large party would require provisions that would take up space. I require little maintenance, only you will need the provisions," Z informs Zeta. 

Zeta thinks, that makes a lot of sense, Uncle Alaef had planned it that way, and he was always methodical in his thinking. 

Alaef, her uncle, was a wise and good counselor and second parent. He had Zeta study the art of survival and defense. She was a master in weaponry; she had completed her schooling in academia with high grades. She could also chart courses in the universe and learned about astrology and exploration. She was wise beyond her years, along with an inquiring mind, like Zolo, her father.

Just then she hears a knock on the door, "Come in," Zeta calls out. 

Uncle Alaef walks in, full of smiles for Zeta, he is pleased that she is prepared and ready for the trip. She is in her space uniform; form fitting but comfortable in a special blend to keep her protected from dangerous rays and toxic substances, which she might encounter. "So you and Z are ready," Alaef inquires? 

"Yes, Uncle Alaef, thank you for everything, especially for Z," Zeta replies. 

"Oh it was my pleasure my child, Z will come in handy for you when you are on the long journey, he will be your guide and protector, he is very efficient. Z has been programmed with the knowledge about space survival and travel," Uncle Alaef replies." With your talents and his capabilities, you will accomplish your mission." 

"Thank you for your trust in me, Uncle Alaef, I will do my best to find father, Z's theory is that Zolo is in a section here in the galaxy," Zeta goes over to the map on the wall, pin pointing a section that Z had done earlier. 

Alaef walks up to map and studies it, he is concerned and yet excited for Zeta, she will be experiencing another new chapter in her life and will be able to use her talents of telepathy and her knowledge from the books she has learned. 

"Ah, yes I see, Alaef smiles broadly. So have you everything ready Z," Alaef asks of the robot?

"Yes Master Alaef, I have taken a profile of Miss Zeta, and discussed the crew consisting of only herself and I. Will there be further instructions before we depart, Master Alaef," Z inquires of Alaef? 

"No, I don't think so, I have put a new communication system with a screen and remote system for the vessel to orbit a planet for a number of hours, unmanned. The ships code name is Explorer5000."Alaef replies. 

Z replies, "I have been informed of the new developments, I have read up on the technology of the systems, and worked on it earlier."

"Oh good, I am happy to hear that all is in place," Zeta replies.

"Shall we go then, and see? Then you will embark on the long journey," Uncle Alaef continues.

The ship is a compact disk, sleek and shinny, seamless and perfect in shape and form. It is sitting on a platform, with people working around and in it to prepare for the journey. 

A master technician approaches Alaef and speaks, "I have the ship ready for launch, sir, are there further instructions," he asks? 

"Yes, Decor, we will name the ship "Explorer5000, would you log it in the logbook and on our systems," Alaef asks.

"Yes Sir, counselor Alaef, Sir," he nods to Zeta and salutes Alaef, turns and walks away. 

Alaef smiles to himself, he notices the look Decor has given Zeta and the faint blush on his niece's cheeks. Ah, the young man would be a good match for her. Very bright and promising, and handsome too, good man for her, Alaef thought. I will remember this.

Then Alaef turns to Zeta and gives her a warm embrace. She has been like a daughter to him. Since her father was very seldom there, and not having a mother, Uncle Alaef took charge of Zeta. Alaef was childless, he had lost his wife in the time of the plague, Zeta was his only living relative, they are very close. "There, my child, go in safety and peace and return to me unharmed," there was tenderness in his voice.

Tears rolls down Zeta's cheeks and Alaef's eyes are moist also. "Take care of her Z, and do not let harm come to her," Alaef speaks to the robot.

"I will do my utmost, master Alaef," Z replies, and makes the same salute to Alaef which he notes Decor has done. 

They enter the ship and Zeta gets into her holding seat, she presses a button that will automatically secure her. The robot starts making preparation for the long journey. Zeta gives a nod and waves to all the people standing around the hanger, a wave of farewell. The ship's door slides silently shut, sealing them within.

Chapter 4 - The planet Altarie - The Hidden Mystery

Zeta hardly felt the vessel take off, Z the robot was an excellent navigator, and he promptly has them pointed in the direction of the planet Altarie.

Zeta had very little time to think about things, leaving home again was hard for her, she would miss Uncle Alaef and the people she held so dear. Finding father was in the forefront of her mind and survival, the fear and the uncertainty of the quest was heavy on her mind. She knew that Z would take good care of her, Uncle Alaef had made sure of that. 

Her reverie was broken by a sound; it was Z moving around in the cabin. She then remembers to do the same. 

Z speaks, "Have something to drink and refresh yourself, Miss Zeta, we have work to do before we reach our destination." 

Zeta smiled to herself, he was so much like father, taking care of her needs. How lucky she was to have acquired him, he was a valuable companion.

Time seemed to go quickly, before she knew it, they were approaching the planet of destination. A habitable planet, where father "Zolo" had last transmitted his massage of distress. Her telepathic mind had suggested this place, "Altarie" it was a small planet but had possibilities of sustaining life.

Zeta and Z made preparations to approach the planet with caution; she put on her full gear, preparing for an unfriendly force. Z also had his on. They put the ship on auto, to orbit the planet. This was a precaution for a hasty get away. They took their weapons along, and were on guard when they beamed down. 

They found themselves in a remote countryside. There was quiet, she noticed that there was a steam nearby with flowers and grasses, but devoid of life. Strange, she thought to herself, why were there no birds, butterflies, and bees? To show some clue that this planet had a friendly atmosphere?

She realizes that this is a false illusion. Someone or something was hiding behind a fa'ade, would the truth scare her and Z away? 

Z sensed it too; he motions for her to follow him. As they walk on a little further, they come upon a thick bluish wall of haze. Z motions for Zeta to wait while he walks through the thick haze, to explore what is on the other side of the anomaly.

She nods and waits nervously; minutes seem like an eternity, suddenly Z appears. 

Z voices his concern, "It is very bleak on the other side, please approach with caution, I think this is where the inhabitants are, but they are not showing themselves until they know what our mission is." 

Zeta replies, " We have to go on, Z, father might be in mortal danger and we have to rescue him." 

"Affirmative, miss Zeta, we will go on then, but I suggest you use your telepathic powers, so the leaders of this race should know our intent, that we are not here to destroy or harm them," Z replied.

Zeta walks through the thick haze, the bleak landscape greets her. 

She then goes into a deep trance, and puts her mind to work.

At first she has difficulty contacting the beings, it seems like every time she grasps something, she runs into a void. Why she thought? What were they hiding, what were they afraid of? She continues to work, sweat beading on her forehead. She becomes part of the bleak terrain, cold and formidable. She knows why they are hiding, they are a very small race, little people, no bigger than her little finger. A handful maybe, small strange beings, looking more like the vegetation that grows sparsely, clinging to rocks and trees at home. 

She receives a telepathic message. 

"Why are you here," they queried? 

She replies, "I am looking for a lost person of my race, he is very much like myself and needs my help," she replies. 

"We have seen one such as yourself," they reply." But he wandered off to a different place; we do not know where he is at the present time. We can direct you there, but beware of the "Others" they are not a friendly race, they will cause you much distress, " they warned. 

"Can you tell me of them, or where to find them?" Zeta inquires?

The little beings replies, "It is far from here, it will be many days before you will find their lair, but proceed with caution, they are very aggressive and fierce. The "Others" can be found where the earth meets the sky." 

"Thank you for your help," Zeta replies, "is there something I can do for you in return for your kind help," she asks?

"Yes, return the Orb to us, the "Others" took it from us many moons ago," they replied, "without it our existence will end." 

Zeta is suddenly jolted out of her trance, she is shivering and gasping for air, she feels like she has been buried alive. Z is holding her, to help her back to reality. 

"How long was I out Z," she asks of the robot? 

"Not long, Miss Zeta, but you went very deep, did you find out anything," he asks? 

"Yes, I think I know where father is, he has fallen into the wrong hands, very unfriendly captors. We must approach with caution, they are very much like myself, but most aggressive, they are called the "Others"," she says worriedly.

"How far do we have to go, Miss Zeta," Z inquires?

Zeta replies, "A great distance from here, about 10 moons. I promised the inhabitants that I would return with the Orb that the "Others" had taken." 

"Ah, yes, the Orb of life, it will bring light into their world to help them to flourish. I know of such an Orb from your father's memories, their world will return to its former state," Z informs Zeta.

"Then let us move on to our quest to find father and the Orb," Zeta replies.

Chapter 5 - The Crystal Orb of Life

Zeta and Z, her android companion, beam up to the ship to prepare for their long journey ahead. The space ship has been orbiting the planet awaiting their arrival. She puts on a long robe with a hood to disguise her protective suit. She also has Z disguised in the same kind of clothing. Their supplies consist of food and weapons for the long journey ahead. 

They then beam down halfway to the mountains, for this is where "the earth meets the sky" as the little beings had mentioned earlier. 

As they approach a knoll, she hears a voice whispering to her. She is aware that something is trying to communicate with her. She questions the speaker, "Who are you and what do you want?"

The voice replies, "I am the Crystal Orb, I have been awaiting your arrival."

Zeta is surprised, she asks the mysterious Orb, "Where are you and how can I reach you?"

It answers, "Find the key, that is hidden in the bushes."

Zeta rushes to the bushes and parts them to find a small niche; she looks in and sees a shinning object. She reaches in and takes the key from its hiding place. She then asks, "where is it that I am I to go and what do I have to unlock?"

The Orb replies, "I am hidden in a vault under the ground, you will have to go a little farther to reach it, I will let you know when you have arrived at my hiding place."

Zeta hurries to find the orb. She finally hears the voice speaking, "Here, I am right beneath you." 

There is a bolder in before her; she is mystified, how could she move the bolder? She feels around the stone and suddenly she hits a trigger on the rock and it swings aside. In the dark gloom she sees stairs leading down into the ground. She walks down cautiously and turns on her little crystal cylinder. It emits light and she can see a door with a lock in it. She inserts the key into the lock and it turns easily. The door swings open, and glowing within is a small blue Orb sitting on a pedestal. Zeta goes up to the Orb and asks, " Are you the one that was speaking to me?"

"Yes, it replies, I am the Orb of Life, I belong to the little people. I will help you to find what you are looking for and give you great powers to conquer the "Others."

"Why are you helping me?" she asks of the Orb. 

"Because you are the long awaited savior for my people, the Orb replies. They will perish and soon they will be no more," it replies sadly.

"Will you please help me to find my father," Zeta asks of the Orb? 

"Yes, your father is alive, but not for long, the Orb replies, the "Others" are growing weary of his stubborn refusal to do their bidding, he is protecting the little people and knows that his life will be over if he gives them the information they want," the Orb replies.

Zeta picks up the Orb, and the moment she touches it, it becomes smaller in her hands, the brilliance goes away. She feels a sudden surge of strength, the Orb is giving her the powers, it enables her to see everything, her father being held captive and the "Others". They look like the early prehistoric man, "Neanderthal" in features. She is appalled at what she sees. They live in a caldera. A deep depression in the mountain, left by a volcanic eruption. She even sees the secret entrance to use to reach father. 

"I will make you and your companion invisible," Zeta hears the Orb say, the "Others" will not be able to see you."

"Thank you," Zeta replies, "it will help tremendously."

Zeta gathers that the "Others" are incapable of communicating with the Orb. That is why they needed father to communicate with it. They sensed his abilities. She sees that she has to act immediately. She hears their leader talking to his people, he is going to sacrifice father to the Orb, so that the Orb will divulge it's secrets and give them the power to conquer the planet. 

Zeta and Z travel in haste, they know that time is of essence. 

Zeta hides the Orb in her garments, it is light, and she feels it's protective force. She is given great strength also, to endure the journey ahead. Her knowledge is keen and sharpened to assist in the quest for father.

Chapter 6 - Grog The Evil Master

Zeta unconsciously sighs as she thinks of what she must do to rescue Zolo her father who is held captive by the "Others."

"Z," she calls to her companion, the android. "Do you detect the entrance that the Orb has shown to me?"

"No, Miss Zeta, but I feel we are getting close, I hear a great deal of activity," he replies.

Zeta searches the terrain. They have climbed almost to the top of the mountain, to the Caldera. That is where the Orb said she would find the "Others." She realizes that Z has excellent sensors, and can hear for miles. She is approaching the lip of the caldera and peaks over the edge. She is on her stomach as she glances down; there she detects a slight movement. It is a guard on watch, he does not realize he is being watched, but his sense of smell is excellent, he sniffs the air and is on the alert. 

Ah, Zeta thinks, we must put on the cloak of invisibility. The protection from the Orb she has with her. The Orb Of Life. 

The Orb whispers to her telepathically, "Beware of the "Others," they have a keen sense of smell. Take the path around and they will not detect you." 

Yes, Zeta thinks, we will be much safer taking the longer and more difficult route. The path is steep and treacherous; it is covered with thorny and scrubby bushes, making their progress a slow one. She clings to the wall of the cliff, not daring to look down because it is steep and treacherous; the path is a thin ledge that has to be scaled, taking concerted effort and concentration. 

Z follows behind, she looks back with concern, is aware of his capabilities and will keep up with her, but she knows little about his ability as a mountain climber, to scale the mountainside that is steep and dangerous. 

She learned to scale mountains at an early age at her survival school. The clothing she has on is hampering her progress; she feels agitated, she hopes they will reach the opening soon, the secret entrance to the passageway that leads to Zolo, her father, where the "Others" have him imprisoned. She feels a ledge, and peeks over it, and finds the opening deserted. The opening is quite small, not big enough for a bulky man like the "others", she realizes that this is just an opening for light and circulation for the inhabitants. An opening that the "Others" would not ordinarily feel the need to watch. She climbs over the edge and motions Z to do the same. 

As they enter the passageway, it is gloomy and musty. The odor is overpowering. It must be the scent of the "Others." She wonders how father can stand it, or what he must be feeling right now. How long have these barbarians held him captive? She feels the sweat and the prickle of fear and frustration hit her. 

The Orb speaks once again, "Go down to the end of the passageway, it will be where they have your father. It is also down wind and they will not catch your scent." 

Zeta makes sure she has her cloak of invisibility and walks with care and stealth. Z, the android follows. They press against the wall as they hear voices in one of the rooms, it is a hum of strange tongues and she turns on her telepathic powers. 

The leader of the others is speaking, "I am tired of your refusal to speak to us, we know you understand us, why are you being so unhelpful to our cause?" 

She hears a faint cry, and a curse from the guard, the cry is familiar. She wants to run to him and protect the captive, who she knows is her father. They are killing him, she thinks, I will try to be patient and wait till they have left. It is a long and painful wait as she hears that cry over and over again. The terrible anguish she feels as time goes on of the cruel punishment inflicted on such a kind and gentle man.

Finally after a long period of time, she hears the door to the room open and out marches an extremely ugly person, large and lumbering, and smelling even worse than the others. This must be the leader, she thought, he is wearing a different garment also. He is drooling and frothing at the mouth, like a mad dog, he rushes down the passageways followed by 3 or four more of the guards. They leave one of the guards behind to guard the entryway.

Zeta waits until she can no longer hear the ranting and raving of the leader and his shuffling in the distance. The guard is restless, he is tired and hungry, and he shuffles around and starts to grunt.

Zeta thinks, he is trying to sing to keep himself distracted from the hunger pangs in his stomach. She can hear it gurgle, it gets louder as time goes on, he throws down his spear and shuffles down the corridor. Zeta imagines he is in quest for food. She motions Z to go ahead and open the door and make haste to do so. 

She impatiently waits for him as he returns with father in his arms. She takes him into the cloak of invisibility. 

"We must hurry Z," the guard will return at any minute, she whispers. 

Z nods in understanding. Father is covered with blood and slime. They drooled on him and spat upon him and bruised him with their countless beatings. She can see that he is in a state of shock and his condition is comatose, he lets out a sigh. 

"Shhh, father, it is I, Zeta," she speaks whispers. 

He tries to open his eyes, but they are swollen shut. "Zeta," he tries to smile, "is it really you, or an apparition?"

"Father, it is truly I," she says softly, biting her lips to keep from crying.

The Orb speaks to Zeta again, "Go down this passageway, it is safe here, you will find a way out. Even the "Others" do not know of this place."

Zeta motions to Z to follow, they head down a very narrow and steep passageway, as they move on, it gets even narrower. Z has Zolo, her father carried over his back like a sack of potatoes. Father is not coherent; he seems to be unconscious. Zeta is worried, she can do nothing for him, she wish they could stop and give him rest, but time is of essence. 

Finally they come upon a bolder blocking the opening. Z puts Zolo down gently and starts to push on the large bolder, it begins to move, Z's superhuman power is what they needed right now, she thought. Zeta is relieved when she sees him give a final push and the bolder starts to roll outwardly, it moves with momentum, then air, blessed air hits her nostrils, the stench was beginning to make her nauseated. They walk out on a ledge, there is enough room for them to walk, steep, but not precarious. The journey down is hard and slow, they are making sure they do not draw attention to themselves. They are still under the cloak of invisibility. When they are in range of the ship, Zeta beams them up. 

Chapter 7 - The Return Of The Orb

Countless hours are spent on ministering to father, Zolo. It is touch and go for a while. He has suffered great trauma at the hands of the "Others", his wounds and dehydration has taken a toll of his mental and physical state. Due to the neglect caused by the hands of the "Others."

A week has passed before Zolo is strong enough to talk or is coherent. He tells Zeta about his travels and misfortune by falling into the hands of the "Others."

"Yes, I was running low on fuel, I detected a power source and I headed straight for it," he replied.

"So your ship was lost on this planet, father," Zeta asks?

"I crashed and lost all of the crew, I found I was in a wonderland when I came to, but soon found out it was an illusion," he said.

"Was it the little people, father," Zeta inquires?

"Yes, it was, they ministered to me," Zolo replied. "They tended to my wounds and my needs, it took a while for me to get back on my feet again."

"Poor father," Zeta answered sadly, "what happened next?"

"The little people called me "Caboni, meaning their friend and advisor, Zolo went on. They asked if I would help them to retrieve their Orb, so I left when I was well enough and came to the land of the others. The "Others" were putting the Orb into its hiding place when I came upon them, said Zolo. I understood what they were saying, but I didn't put on that I knew what they were saying. They held me captive then, at first they were kind to me, but when I went in search of the Orb, they knew I could communicate with it, Zolo said sadly. I should have not given away myself so easily."

Zeta pats Zolo on the back and kisses him, "You were only doing what you thought was right, She said soothingly. She could see that father was growing agitated. I have a surprise for you," she says as she presents the Orb to him.

"Oh, that is wonderful, Zeta, how did you come into it's possession," he asks.

Zeta tells of her accounts with the little people and of the Orb speaking and helping them along the way.

"It spoke to me also, Zeta, I could hear it calling to me, but I was not strong enough to make the long journey, the "Others" were watching me closely, so I was not free to explore the terrain, in search of the Orb, said Zolo. I knew it was the Orb, the spirit was strong and it was revealing it self more and more to me, he said sadly. After they caught me speaking with the Orb, they started torturing me to reveal it's secrets and find out it's powers. He continued, I kept my silence and they were furious with my response. I knew what they would do, they are not intelligent enough to make good judgements, it would be chaos for this planet."

Zeta grew pensive, she was thinking about the little people and what they must be suffering. 

She then thinks up a plan, they would help to build a strong fort around the land of the little people and protect them from their enemies. She talks about it to father and Z and they decide on what they must do. 

They beam down and take the Orb with them, and then they start work on the fortification.

The land thrives as soon as the Orb is put in place, in the land of the little people. The sun begins to shine through the thick haze, the creatures, the birds and bees go back to their work on their world. The warmth melts the ice from the rivers and streams, making the water rise high. They help the little people to resettle once again, and they are joyful and multiply rapidly. 

Zeta, Zolo and Z are ready to depart when the Orb speaks, "Thank you for helping my people, take the stone that is crystal, and hold it in your hand, Zeta does so. The Orb continues, touch the crystal to the Orb," it continues. 

As soon as Zeta does this, the crystal transforms itself and becomes another round Orb, just like the original Orb. 

The Orb speaks again, "This will be your power source and you talisman, this is your reward for helping my people. Go now and be at peace and be fruitful." 

"Thank you for helping me with father, I will always remember you and your people." Zeta speaks happily.

Chapter 8 - D'cor 

Father was taking a long time to recuperate from his imprisonment and beatings from the "Others." Even after the rest and special care he receives, he still remains listless, moments of flashbacks keeps haunting him. Nightmares would creep into his dreams when he least expected it. He didn't seem to recover like expected. His physician was with him constantly. Zeta ministered to him also and would not leave his side. She grows in maturity during this period of tending to the needs of her father Zolo. 

She was so much like her mother Alitha, thought Zolo, so beautiful, with her thoughtful and sad eyes. His missed his deceased wife, he wished Alitha was with him again, just to hold his hand and comfort his broken spirit and body. He dreamed one night that she had come to him and ministered to him. He held her hand and would not let go. Alitha smiled and spoke to him, she told him that she was near and would not leave his side. She told him of a journey they would take, that they would remain together forever.

After the dream, Zolo becomes worse; he will not take food or drink, his condition deteriorates. Zeta is beside herself with worry. One night she goes to him after a short rest and finds him peacefully sleeping. She sees a slight smile on his lips and a distinct change in his appearance. She takes his hand in hers, he whispers, "Alitha?" Then lets out a sigh, then goes quiet. Zeta can not believe what is happening, tears and sorrow wrenches at her heart, she can not be consoled. Her cries can be heard by the household. Father is no longer with her. 

Zeta remains in mourning for a year. Uncle Alaef visits her and tries to encourage her to get out and mingle with her people. She would smile sadly and say that she do so, soon.

Each day she walks quietly in the flower garden and listens to the birds, to learn of harmony and peace that she needs, she enjoys the solitude also. One day as she sits in the garden under a shade tree, Decor comes upon the scene and speaks to her. "Zeta, how have you been? We have all missed you." 

Zeta does not recognize him, "Good day to you sir, I am sorry, I do not remember you, what is your name," she asks apologetically?

Decor sees the suffering in her eyes and his heart goes out to her. "I am Decor, I work as an engineer with the space exploration party. May I stay awhile and talk to you," he asks?

Zeta smiles and says, "Oh please do, it has been a while since I have spoken to someone, you are most welcome."

The visits are frequent and soon Decor has Zeta going to events and functions. Zeta adapts readily with those of her own age, Uncle Alaef sees this and is pleased to see the change in her.

As time goes on, Zeta becomes fond of Decor and looks forward to his visits. He has become a part of her life, filling the empty space that Zolo and Brunn has left in her heart. 

Uncle Alaef summons Zeta one day. He informs her that the scientists have discovered that the specimen they took from Mica showed that the bacteria could be controlled and that Mica could be colonized once again. He asks if she would like to start a colony there and be counted among the second group to land on Mica and make the planet a flourishing community again. There would be a treatment crew to take care of the dangerous bacteria. This would be the first group to go.

Zeta, says she will think about it and asks who else would be in her group?

Uncle Alaef replies, "I am sending Decor, Z would also be included; he would be of great help transporting and helping people to resettle the new Mica colony.

After much talk and discussions on the safety of the colony. The first group starts decontaminating the land, making it habitable for the new colony. 

There is much rejoicing among the people. They migrate to Mica and the populace grows, it returns to a flourishing planet. It begins to look like its former state before the invasion of the dreaded bacterium. 

Zeta and Decor decide that after the colony has resettled, that they would return to Dorsai and become husband and wife.


More by :  Maria Reed-Shore

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