C. J. AtticusThe Official Site
The Real hero
A fine layer of charcoal dust coated the inside of Jody’s nostrils. The residue typically was only found in Danglers, miners who operated ritedozers, the space vehicles used in slicing asteroids into smeltable chunks. But Jody had just climbed through the roof hatch of a ritedozer and had the scent all over his hands and clothes. Now he stood in the center of Hangar Bay 12, while behind him that dozer steamed with exhaustion, pipes popping and crackling. He didn’t care that he’d singed and dented the most stellar machine ever put into his hands. But he struggled with tears as he watched medics tighten the straps around Johnny stretched out on a gurney. Blood seeped from his twin brother’s right ear, perhaps a sign of something worse. Jody may have saved his brother’s life, but he blamed himself for his brother’s injury.
“Jody, let me look at you.”
He hardly noticed his mother, Noreen Starrider, Chief Medical Officer here on Terren Space Station. She stepped in front of him, turned his chin, and studied his right ear.
Annoyed, Jody leaned his head away, his eyes staying on Johnny. “Don’t worry about me.”
“I want to see you in my office,” she said, then turned to the medics. “Okay, people, let’s get my son some help!”
As the gurney rolled toward the corridor doors, Jody worried he’d never again see his brother alive. Tears blurred his eyes as he recalled how Johnny was hurt, the memory as vivid as the blood was frightening.
Barely an hour ago, he and Johnny were in a fight for their lives. They had sealed themselves inside Starrider Lab Area 14 by triggering Water Tight Conditions, the safety measure where titanium walls enclosed a punctured bulkhead during an atmospheric leak. The boys were there to obliterate ICON, an Artificial Intelligence gone rogue. The countdown was underway to eject the entire laboratory into space and blow it up. But the moment those WTC walls slammed shut, Jody inadvertently threatened the mission.
Claustrophobia had always been his problem. That’s why he liked sitting in windows; seeing wide open spaces allowed him to relax and breath. Once during an Evasion Deck escape test, a similar WTC trapped him in water, another of his phobias. It took all his concentration in Area 14 to remain at Johnny’s side and face their task together.
ICON was also inside Area 14. He assumed the form of I/O, the boys’ android friend and mentor. Hidden inside the real I/O’s mechanical heart was the only sample of Dark Energy, the mysterious cosmic radiation collected by Jody and Johnny. ICON coveted this energy and planned to lure I/O into the lab, steal the energy, and then destroy him. But I/O fought ICON so the boys could set a series of Qusion reactors into overload. The plan was working until a collapsing jib crane trapped I/O and the grappling clamp struck down Johnny. Jody was left to trigger the Qusion explosion. In the final seconds, he piloted the ritedozer into space, flew Johnny to safety, and narrowly escaped the largest and brightest explosion ever seen within Earth’s orbit.
ICON perished. But so did I/O. Jody couldn’t free him from the steel entrapment. He had to leave his friend behind. And none of that would have happened if he had been a better brother and son.
Fighting a sense of doom, Jody watched his brother’s gurney roll through the corridor doors. He and Johnny always had a sibling rivalry. Lately, things had grown worse since their thirteenth birthday six months ago at the start of 2091. Johnny became more and more popular, especially with their father. When ICON manifested himself, Jody misinterpreted Johnny and their dad working together as a new closeness. Crazy with jealousy, Jody wanted to injure Johnny during an Arc Derby race. After his dad found out, the man disowned Jody as his son. But Jody had never felt like a son. He dreamed of winning his father’s love but he’d only known his father’s cold shoulder. Jody blamed Johnny, which turned out to be unfounded. So when Johnny needed help wiping out ICON, Jody came to his aid. Jody assumed that had he never been jealous, the three of them could have battled ICON earlier and he would have proven himself worthy of his father’s respect. But his father was unappreciative and his only dream was crushed once again.
Out in the corridor, his father lounged against the wall. He didn’t even attend Jody’s homecoming celebration. But boy did he spring into action when spotting the medics. He raced to Johnny’s side and trotted alongside the gurney, grabbing Johnny’s hands and holding them in a desperate grasp as everyone made a mad dash to find an elevator and reach the Infirmary.
Heartbroken, Jody whispered, “Dad, come back.” A tear dripped down his cheek.
His father disappeared down the corridor and Jody’s adrenalin rush seeped from him like hydroquenilum rocket propellant gushing from a bludgeoned fuel line.
He wanted to yell Dad, don’t turn away from me. Not again! He also wanted to hurl Johnny’s Sequoia Leaf Cluster in his hand, the medal he scooped up in Area 14 that Johnny dropped, right into the invisible bull’s-eye on his father’s back. But that wasn’t a very sonly thing to do. He had just saved the two most precious things in his father’s life—Johnny and Terren. Where was his hug?
Jody stepped forward, intending to run after his dad until someone slapped his back.
“Way to go, Jody,” Malcolm Bircher said, curling an arm around his neck and tugging a bit before walking toward the corridor.
Jody appreciated the buddy-squeeze, but it didn’t salvage his esteem, nor could the other revelers who had greeted him on his triumphant return home. They walked past him on their way to that same exit. Van Helium and Ronnie Ashpile playfully gave him thumbs up. Lyra Tilwar smiled and winked. Captain Gray and Ensign Ulanova patted his back. But Jody no longer felt like the hero these people had applauded when he exited the airlock.
As usual, Johnny ended up with most of the attention, leaving Jody divided with jealousy and pride. Johnny had devised the plan that saved everyone. Johnny did include him in the accolades. And Johnny did referee on the Bridge between him and their father concerning the Arc Derby incident. Yes, Johnny deserved praise, but all of it? The only reward worth earning was their father’s embrace. Why couldn’t Johnny share this?
Jody had one final chance to earn his father’s pride. The Citizen Pathfinder trials would begin at summer’s end. Teens would compete in rigid examinations to earn their Wings, an award signifying a young space inhabitant’s first acceptance into adulthood. Johnny earned his last month, but if Jody succeeded, his father would definitely be proud.
So he hoped.
Jody slid his brother’s Cluster into his jacket pocket as he walked out of the hangar bay, in no rush to get to the Infirmary. Far ahead within the glossy blue corridor, he could hear the echoing flattery from his admirers, the squeaky gurney wheels long silent.
He stopped and looked behind him. “Oh, hi, Miranda.”
“I’m glad you’re okay,” she said. “I heard how brave you were. Sorry for being late to your welcome home.” She tilted her head and her black hair exposed her neck. “I, uh, had to change clothes.”
“Huh?” He glanced back toward the now distant echoes. Maybe a certain someone’s shadow would turn around and walk his way.
“What was it like out there?” Miranda asked.
“Like? Where?” He perked up when he noticed a shadow move within the wall’s polished finish.
“The space battle,” she said. “SkyGuard versus the military. Were you caught up in it?”
“What?” he mumbled. He thought he saw a figure but it turned out to be a stupid clanking automatoid on its way to change a light bulb. Nothing exciting about that.
“This is why I’m flunking my Pathfinder program. I should be an Earthling since space travel makes me nervous.”
“It’s not so bad.” Jody studied the glossy walls, waiting for another shadow. “You just have to concentrate on what’s important, keep focused.”
“You sound like an expert. Perhaps one day you and I can . . .”
Again he thought he saw something. He craned his neck to see better. “Do what?”
“Never mind,” she said. “I can see you’re busy.”
Jody stared down the corridor far into the curved distance. There was nothing. Maybe he’d imagined the shadows.
“Uh, do what?” When he didn’t get an answer, he turned to her. “Miran—”
All he saw was a shadow moving away from him.
He headed toward a nearby elevator and rode up to the Command Deck. When he stepped out into a bustling corridor he immediately slammed his back against the elevator door, narrowly avoiding a Skyman running past him.
Red sconce wall signs pulsed “STATCON 1.” A wailing alarm wrecked everyone’s nerves. “Go hide, Starrider!” the guard shouted as he sped away to join the squad of armed Skymen zigzagging through the crowd of scurrying civilians seeking shelter.
Jody watched the men crouch down on one knee and aim their Sone rifles toward the far end of the quickly emptying corridor. He guessed he’d been so preoccupied with his own little battle, saving his brother and all, that he’d missed the excitement up here, but he didn’t want to hang around to see what happened next.
He sprinted in the opposite direction, dodging a few pedestrians darting door to door. He sideswiped androids and toids indifferent to whatever menace would soon catch up with them. He reached the Infirmary and squeezed through the half-opened door.
Right away, things looked wrong to him. The lobby was empty, the messy receptionist desk abandoned. Mom was a stickler about all visitors being greeted. She ran a twenty-four-hour office accessible for emergency appendectomies to hangnails—tourists, you know. This place should be active. What happened to the staff, and was Johnny even brought here?
Jody sailed across the lobby and entered the hallway, worrying his brother had been whisked away to a secret location. He’d go to each examination room, open every door, check every gurney and bed. If Johnny wasn’t here, he’d organize a search party and inspect every square foot of Terren. For a brother, Johnny may be a pain, but he was his best friend.
Jody pushed open the first door. No one was there, and no one was in the second room, third, or fourth. The hall seemed to have a million rooms, each growing colder, dimmer, emptier. Jody froze with panic and glanced left and right, wondering what to do, where to look next? He almost shouted his brother’s name—
Battle for the Biology
Star Child Saga
A Middle Grade Series Ages 9-12
Copyright 2015 C. J. Atticus
Illustrations Copyright 2015 Angelika Domschke
The Starrider twins, Johnny and Jody, suffer a Dark Energy radiation exposure that not only harms them physically but intensifies their sibling rivalry.