We had been traveling for a few weeks on our way to Thereon where the fourth and final stone was waiting to be found. Tammy said it would take a little over another week to reach the planet that she was born on, but dreaded returning to.
I could tell returning there bothered her even though she wouldn't admit it. She didn't allow herself any free-time and instead she was always working on a project either in her room, workroom or the flight deck. I tried not to bother her too much since she always looked really busy.
With time to kill, no Tammy or Kiko to talk to, I spent days writing in my room and then one day an unfamiliar, male, monotonic voice reverberated throughout the ship.
"Attention stone seekers, I am pleased to inform you that one of the four great stones has been found. The location of the stone is on the planet of Thereon where passage to this forbidden planet has been lifted for the ambitions of any brave racer willing to disembark on our planet. We await your arrive for the glory of the galaxy's most prized possession." We heard a click signifying the end of the message and the voice ceased.
There was only one way of finding out what all that was about... ask Tammy. I jumped up and ran to the flight deck where everyone else joined me en route.
We didn't even have to ask, she was already explaining when we got there, "They broadcasted on an open channel, any ship within radius has heard that message."
Kiko sat down in Cashel's old pilot seat and flipped through some panels, "They're telling everyone where the stone is? Why would they do that?"
"Maybe they don't want it anymore…" said Rei hopefully.
"It's a trap." Tammy said bluntly. "They're luring in racers to destroy them."
"Aren't there like millions of racers? Can they really destroy them all?" I questioned.
Tammy explained, "Thereon is one of the few planets that can operate outside of Crux law. Our advancement in technology has even surpassed that on Crux, and so therefore Crux had basically allowed Thereon to operate independently as long as they did not interfere with other planets' affairs. It was a win-win for both Thereon and Crux because Thereon considers all other planets inferior and won't bother wasting their time with others anyway, aside from business." She looked to me, "So, to answer your question simply, yes, they can destroy them all."
So Thereon blatantly beckoning other racers was bad news for everyone, but maybe other racers didn't know that.
She continued, "I had originally planned to masquerade the Jago as a supply ship to land on Thereon, but after the current events I recommend remaining hidden and taking a less noticeable path."
"Agreed," said Kiko.
Tammy spent the next few days re-routing and re-planning our passage to Thereon. I spent mine reliving the awkward horrors Kiko and I shared. We were both now avoiding any conversational contact with each other since the night she came to visit me in my room. We said the basic, 'hello' and 'what're you up to?' but that was about it. Of course that didn't mean I didn't like to be around her, in fact we both spent a lot of time in the sky deck, just gazing quietly together.
"Did you see that?" I asked out of the blue while we were laying there.
"See what?" she mumbled, I guess I woke her up.
Suddenly hundreds of ships appeared out of nowhere and everywhere around us. They wasted no time firing their ship's weapons. We both sprang to our feet as a large ship suddenly appeared and passed by, extremely close to us.
Tammy's voice ordered us, "Get to the ship blasters."
We didn't have to be told twice as we both straggled through the rattling ship as fast as we could. The sound of blasters clashing with our shield rang everywhere once all the ships spotted us.
Rei joined us as we each got into a blaster room.
"What's going on?!" she asked while targeting the ships firing on us.
"I'm not sure," Kiko said, mimicking her movements. "Tammy, can we get an explanation?!"
Tammy joined in the conversation, "Thereon set up a disruptive hyperdrive net in this area. Every ship traveling in this direction has come to a halt because of it."
"So what does that mean?!"
"It means we were caught in their trap."
That's not good. All we could do now was to try and defend the ship as best as we could while Tammy tried to steer us out of harms way. There were many unlucky ships being blasted to smithereens with their debris beginning to float off into space. Everyone knew there was no way we would last very long being in the middle of this battlefield against larger and more equipped ships.
The Jago jolted sideways from a huge hit, and an alarm rang in that area of the ship.
Kiko spit out curse words, "Tammy we're not gonna last much longer!"
As I was targeting hostile ships I saw a small one traveling by quickly, maneuvering out of the way of debris with only a few shots being fired from their blasters. What drew me to them was that they also had a shield around their ship, which was apparently pretty rare. It looked as if they were evading attacks and avoiding attention as much as possible, so I didn't see them as a threat and I didn't target them.
Our holograms and blaster rooms abruptly powered off and I couldn't hear from anyone except for Rei.
"Did your station turn off too?" She asked.
"Yeah it did," I responded.
"Let's go see what's happening on the flight deck."
I got out of my station and met Rei on the way to the flight deck. Kiko was already there conversing with Tammy. The only operating hologram panels looked like they were broken with many strange symbols scrolling across it. Tammy was obviously trying to stop whatever was happening.
"A ship-wreck virus??" Kiko asked. None of us have heard of such a thing.
Tammy said, "The last time I heard of this it was still in the alpha testing stage. I didn't think they would have it completed so quickly." She sounded worried which made me worry.
"What does it do?" I asked.
"In very simple terms, it destroys a ships computer network and interface causing the ship to lose control and set route to collide with other ships, planets or anything solid in space."
We heard loud explosions from space and saw out of the sun-shield, all of the remaining ships were no longer firing any weapons. Instead they began to turn and take paths that would eventually lead to colliding with each other.
Soon our ship began moving on its own and Tammy frantically worked the contaminated panels.
"I don't have enough time to bypass the virus." She said seriously.
We were getting closer and closer to a large ship that was also headed directly for us. I was getting nervous. Was there really nothing we could do?
Tammy sat down in the pilot's seat and pressed her hair into a dock in the chair. We watched as she stared into space, her eyes darting across like she was reading something in front of her.
Kiko sensed something, "Tammy what are you doing?" she asked, but Tammy didn't respond.
Before long, the ship powered back up again. Rei and I sighed with relief as Kiko bolted to the captain's chair and averted the Jago from crashing into the large ship.
Tammy removed her hair from the chair and took over from Kiko as we fled the ship graveyard.
"Wow, what'd you do?" Rei asked happily.
She didn't answer and continued to steer the ship away from danger.
"What did you do Tammy?" Kiko pressed in a serious tone.
She gave in to answering, "I took in the virus" she answered plainly.
"You what?" I asked.
"I had to. It was the only way to save the ship."
Kiko asked again, "So what does that mean?"
"It means the ship will now be able to land on Thereon."
"No. What does it mean for you?"
She hesitated, "It means… I won't be finishing the race with you."
"WHAT?!" Rei and I yelled in unison.
The thought of losing her made me panic, "No! Why?! Because of the virus?! Can't you take it out somehow?! There has to be some way to!"
"The virus was made to be contracted and unpurgeable, so there is no way to extract it."
I shook my head in disbelief, "No, you can't do this!" I refused to allow her to die like this for us.
Kiko stood over her and gave her a stern look, "Tammy, there has to be a way to save you. Tell us now."
She sighed slightly, contemplating on if she should tell us. We were all on-edge waiting for her answer which we knew she had.
She gave in again, "There's a very slight possibility of an antivirus somewhere on Thereon."
Kiko immediately took over the captain's chair and set a direct course for Thereon.
She continued, "But the likelyhood of me surviving until then-"
I cut her off from finishing that sentence. "-We'll make it," I said with confidence.
"We will," said Rei, backing me up.
"Damn right we will," Kiko joined, increasing the ship's speed.
It would still take us a few days to reach Thereon traveling at the Jago's full speed. Within that time period Tammy's health began declining rapidly. I stayed with her the entire time, and we were only a day away from landing when she finally collapsed. She was getting up from her chair in her workroom when she stumbled into my arms.
"Tammy!" I worried, as I caught her from falling to the ground.
She felt hot in my arms and her hair no longer had its usual shining glow. It pained me to watch her suffer like this.
"I'm okay…" she said regaining some strength and trying to get back up.
"No," I held her close to keep from moving, "I'll take you to your room."
I swooped her up gently in my arms and carried her back to her room. Kiko saw me carrying her along the way and asked if she was okay. I told her I was taking her to her room and she went ahead of us to get her bed ready. I set her down gingerly on her bed. She looked frail, her face was sullen and her eyes held a distant, unfocused glaze. Kiko put the back of her hand to her forehead.
"She's heating up," she muttered.
"Kiko, can I talk to Sarth for a moment?" Tammy whispered to her.
She removed her hand from her forehead and answered, "Yeah, of course." We watched her walk to the door and say to her, "We're almost there Tammy. Hold on for us."
Then the door closed behind her.
Tammy took her hand out from under the covers and reached for my left hand. She took a strand of her hair and tied it snuggly around my pinky. Then she took her index finger and wrote something on my palm. I couldn't read it at the angle she held my hand.
"This is the unlocking code. It'll appear again when you remember this."
"Why are you telling me this like you're not gonna live to use the code yourself?" I asked distraught.
"It's just a precaution," she gently squeezed my hand when she finished and gave me a weak smile. "Promise me you'll tell her your true feelings before this is all over," she whispered.
I didn't know what that had to do with anything but I agreed.
"Okay, I promise, but you have to promise me you won't give up trying to survive."
She smiled and closed her eyes, "I promise."
I held her hand all night by her bedside and the next morning her fever was worse and she didn't wake up. I felt helpless watching her die slowly, right before my eyes.
Rei came in to check up on us, her and Kiko had both been taking turns steering the ship to Thereon since it had to piloted manually now that Tammy was incapacitated.
"How is she?" Rei whispered to me, brushing Tammy's hair out of her face.
"We need to land soon." I answered.
"We're almost there." She turned to me, "You should get some rest before we land. It'll be non-stop once we're there." She was right but I didn't want to part with Tammy. "She'll be fine. I'll be here the entire time I promise."
I nodded and let go of her hand. It was harder leaving her than I thought and when I was in my room all I did was worry. Ever since I've been on this ship, Tammy's the one I've bonded the easiest with. She's always been there for me, even when I didn't know it. She's saved our lives plenty of times, and now it's time to save hers. We won't fail. I refuse to. By my last breath, I will save her.
Somehow Kiko knew I wasn't sleeping and I heard her voice over the intercom, "Sarth get some rest, don't make me have to come over there and knock you out myself."
I smiled at her concern. She was right, if I wanted to be of any use to help Tammy I'd need to get all my rest done before we land. I closed my eyes.
After all, she promised she wouldn't give up, so I had nothing to fear because I wouldn't either.
I had a strange dream that night. I was on a strangely familiar planet, wandering. No one else was around, and suddenly I was standing right in front of a large rock. It looked a normal rock but this one stood out somehow from the others. I took a look around; there were patches of remains of what used to be white building on my right, like it had been destroyed and abandoned a while ago. I faced the large rock again and held out my hand to touch it. That's when I woke up.
I didn't think much of it when I woke up. In fact, I pretty much forgot about it and went straight to see how Tammy was doing. Rei was sitting next to her fixing a wet cloth on her forehead. I didn't have to ask to see how she was doing. She was definitely worse than when I left her last night. We stayed with her for a few more hours before Kiko called us both up to the flight deck. I reluctantly followed Rei to where Kiko summoned us.
Kiko explained the situation from the hologram table where two planets were hovering above it, "Tammy was able to camouflage our ship and find a landing spot for us on the larger of the two planets that make up Thereon." She zoomed onto the larger planet, "She also gave us the coordinates to a safe-house on the outskirts of the nearest town." She zoomed even closer to a bare spot on planet. "We will be landing within the hour, so we should prepare ourselves."
"What are we gonna do after we land?" I asked.
"We'll have to find someone we can trust, locate the antivirus and bring it back to Tammy."
The vagueness of the plan had me worried. There were a lot of variables we were leaving out which would inevitably take time to solve, time that we just don't have.
"We should split up and search for the antivirus" I said.
Kiko thought for a moment and eventually nodded, "We'll need to in order to cover more ground. But we need to maintain communication somehow."
"Tammy has a few long-range earpieces…" Rei suggested.
"Yes but they're easily intercepted and traceable, especially on this planet…" We paused to think again but came up with nothing. "We'll just have to use it when we really need to."
So far our plan wasn't the best.
"What're we going to do about Tammy? We can't just leave her all alone."
Kiko shook her head, "We'll just have to see what we can do when we get there."
I groaned and pounded the table with vexation. I couldn't stand the thought of such an unstable plan over something so important. Rei and Kiko stood staring with empathy.
Then Kiko walked over, caringly put her hand on my shoulder and said, "Sarth, we'll make it in time. We'll save her. I give you my word."
I looked at her confident face and into her fearless gray eyes. They spoke the truth from deep within her heart that somehow we wouldn't fail.
I swallowed the tears that were building up in my throat and nodded to her. She gave me a smirk to cheer me up then went back to the pilot's chair.
"Prepare to land."