Everyone thought his father was such a hard man, and when it came to work he was, but his mother had been able to get his dad to do anything she wanted. Like the time she made him dress up as a pineapple for a Halloween party. Archer hadn’t even been born yet but he remembered the picture because his mom used to bring it out now and again just to annoy his father.
It made Archer smile. It made him sad.
“What’s wrong?” Del asked, sitting beside him and then knocking into him with her shoulder.
He shrugged. “Just thinking.”
“Thinking about what?”
He glanced up. What was it with the girls in his life? Did none of them ever give up?
“My mom,” he found himself saying softly.
“Oh,” Del replied, kicking at something in the dirt with her boot. “I’ve heard you talk about your dad but not your mother.”
“Well that’s because she’s not…” Darn. His eyes were getting hot and itchy. Archer swiped at them and tried not to sniffle, but he wasn’t successful. He took a moment, more than a little choked up. “She’s not alive anymore.”
For a few seconds Del was silent and then she slipped her hand over his shoulder and hugged him. “Mine is alive but she left me and my dad a long time ago,” she whispered. “Sometimes I don’t even remember what she looked like but whenever I smell ratki it reminds me of her.”
“Ratki?” Archer asked, glancing up at his friend.
“It’s a fruit. Small and orange and when it’s ripe, its fragrance is so sweet. She used to crush the skin into her shampoo.”
Archer set down his plate and reached for his bag. He grabbed his holo device and watched as the one picture he treasured above all others sprang to life. There he was, a little boy with both of his parents. It felt like, forever ago, to him.
“She’d be very proud of you Archer. Of how you’ve survived out here without your father. I don’t think I would’ve been able to get my dad back if not for you and Dash.”
“And Bruce,” Archer said with a chuckle.
“And Magnar and all his little babies.”
Dash floated into view. The bot looked relaxed and Archer could tell that Dash was charging his lumen batteries. His eyes glowed softly and the whirrs and beeps were barely above a whisper.
“We need to go,” Archer said, eyes back on Del. “We need to get your father.”
Del stood up. “So what’s our plan?”
“Hold on,” Archer said, sliding past Del and searching for Sousha. He spied his friend near a roaring fire and headed toward her.
“Sousha, we need to leave.”
“Yes, it would be time to go now,” Bruce said, dropping down from one of the trees that were located sporadically in the large cavern. “The pirates are gathering.”
“We need prisms to use in exchange for Del’s father.”
The guard’s face got even more fierce when Sousha translated Archer’s words. His skin got red and he shook his head, speaking rapidly to those gathered around him.
Some of the guards began to shake their fists in the air and their voices got loud. Archer began to think that all was lost before it even began.
“We’re not going to let them keep the prisms. I would never let that happen,” he shouted, pointing to Magnar and his babies. “Magnar will never let that happen. We just need a bunch of prisms to give to Big Bully and he’ll hand over Del’s dad. Once that happens Magnar and his crew will move in and take the prisms back and hopefully scare the pirates so bad that they’ll leave the planet.”
Archer had to make them see.
“If we don’t do this. If we don’t rescue Del’s father, they’ll sell him into slavery and they probably won’t stop messing about your planet until they get Del back too. If they ever found this place….well, I don’t even want to think about that because it would be too awful.”
His voice trailed off until there was no noise at all. Every single soul in the cavern was silent as Sousha translated his words. Her soft voice rose and fell and when she was done, she ran to Archer and hugged him fiercely.
The guards and elders spoke behind them and eventually one of them shouted to Sousha. Her smiled widened. “We will help you.”
The guard who’d been staring at Archer so fiercely walked over, a bunch of prisms in his hand. He hesitated—only for a moment—and handed them over. He spoke in his language and Archer had to wait patiently for Sousha to translate.
Sousha smiled and then grabbed Del’s hand. “You will see your father again. All will be good and we can dance around the fire until morning.”
“Yes,” Sousha said in her sing-song voice.
Archer shook his head. “No. Sousha. We’re heading into a dangerous situation. You can’t come. You could get hurt!”
She giggled and held up her arms toward the massive spider. Magnar knelt and Archer watched, open-mouthed, as she crawled up to its head where she settled herself. Sousha’s eyes sparkled.
“Magnar will not let anything happen to me.”
“Archer,” Dash said. “It’s time.”
He glanced at Del. “Okay. Let’s do this.”
Clutching the prisms in his arms he, Dash, Del and Bruce, followed the great Magnar from the cavern, an army of small, hairy spiders behind them, as well as the guards.
Archer wanted to say that he wasn’t scared. But that would be a lie. He was scared. Probably more scared than he’d ever been in his entire life.
“Yep,” he replied. “You?”
Archer squeezed her hand. “It’s okay. I am too.”
“Good,” Del replied, butting her shoulder into his. “Just another thing we have in common.”
“Yeah,” Archer replied. He took a few more steps and whispered. “We’re gonna be all right. We’re going to get your father back.”
“I know,” Del said.
And that was the last thing either one of them said for a good long while. They exited the cavern and entered the underground tunnels. They were on the march and there was no heading back.