The Archer Chronicles, Book 2
Ghost Planet
CHAPTER
1
An apple and a new adventure...
Archibald McTavish the 4th was dreaming about apples. _Big fat juicy apples. _Big fat juicy apples that were as ripe and red as the velvet curtains in his grandfather’s living room. The ones his grandfather refused to take down. Big fat juicy apples that smelled as sweet as the sweetest candy imaginable.
He rolled over and fell out of bed, whacking his head against the wall, and he winced, rubbing the spot above his ear rapidly.
It took a moment for him to get his bearings—to realize that he was no longer on Planet #8. No longer were the pirates after him and his friends. No longer was he alone and lost.
Archer smiled sheepishly, eyes on his personal bot Dash. The small robot floated above his bed, energy on low. Who knew that a tin can with computerized guts would become one of his best friends ever?
His stomach rumbled and hunger pains crept across his belly. He’d been eating non-stop ever since his father had returned to the planet and rescued him. It seemed as if he could never get enough food, and right now his only thought was to snatch a couple of the red apples he’d spied in Cook McDaniel’s large bushel in the stock room.
He pushed up from the floor and ran a hand through the messy curls atop his head. Cook McDaniel had tried to corner him with his scissors within minutes of boarding the Reamus, but Archer was fast and had slipped away. With a sigh he pushed the release button and the door to his personal cubicle opened with a gentle swish.
He supposed he was going to have to give in and let the Cook trim up his hair. It was getting long, but still…
He yawned and padded on bare feet down the hall. The ship was quiet—most everyone was asleep—and only the first officer and the rest of the night crew were on the command deck.
Archer stopped to peek into the large observation room. The first officer was sitting in the captain’s chair reading something on his com. (or maybe playing a game because his brows were furrowed in concentration) The rest of the night crew talked quietly and the only other sound was the intermittent beep of the distress signal they’d picked up days ago.
The ship was due to enter the planet’s orbit in a few hours and Archer picked up his pace. He wanted to be awake and on deck when that happened.
With one more glance out at the vast space that enveloped the Reamus like a thick, dark blanket, he jogged the rest of the way to the kitchen stock room and slipped inside before anyone saw him. The big bushel of apples sat in the corner and he was just about to reach for one when a giggle stopped him cold.
“Great minds and all of that,” Del said from her perch on the top shelf. Her sword laid at her side and Archer wondered if she slept with it. She smiled down at him and bit into an apple. “These are the best treats ever.”
It was hard to understand her, as her mouth was full of food, and Archer grabbed one for himself, hopping up onto bags of rice and wheat so that he could sit beside her.
They were quiet for a few moments and then Archer elbowed her. “I’m glad you’re here.”
She nodded. “Me too.” She paused and swallowed the last bit of apple. “I think it will be a long time until your father can get back to our solar system, but father and I are happy to help out his crew in whatever way we can.” She punched him in the arm.
“Hey,” Archer said, rubbing the spot before digging into his apple.
“I’m allowed to attend your classes.”
Archer made a face. “And that’s a good thing?”
Del looked at him as if he was crazy. “Um, yeah.” She shrugged. “I’ve never attended formal training before. I’ve never had a teacher.”
Okay, Archer thought, maybe Del had a touch of space poisoning. It had happened before. One of his father’s officers had gone crazy a few months back and they’d had to detour to a medical facility on one of the Federation’s outposts so that the man could be treated.
“Well,” Archer said slowly, eyeing up his friend closely. “I suppose some people might think that learning in the classroom is fun but I don’t. It’s boring.”
“Learning is never boring,” Del said, sounding a lot like Archer’s father.
“You’ve never had to sit through a four hour history lesson with Tutor,” Archer grumbled, biting into his apple again.
Just then the lights flickered and the intercom cackled.
“All hands on deck. All hands on deck.”
“What does that mean?” Del whispered.
Archer slipped from his perch and grabbed another apple. He grinned up at Del. “There’s only one way to find out. Let’s get dressed and meet up on the command center deck.”
Archer raced back to his cubicle and grabbed his clothes. He stubbed his big toe on the corner of his bed and said a word that would have earned an ear-pulling from Cook McDaniel. After pulling on his shoes, he switched Dash into full-power mode and raced to the command deck.
His father was deep in conversation with the first officer and just as Del got there, Archer made eye contact with him. For a second his father’s eyes softened, and then he nodded toward two seats near the observation window.
Archer pulled Del along with him and they sat down. “Do up your safety buckle,” he whispered excitedly. “We must be approaching the planet.”
He glanced up at his bot. “Dash, can you decipher the signal at all?”
His bot whirred and beeped, eyes glowing yellow, then blue, and then red. “Negative, Archer. It is unchanged. Simply an SOS. Although the frequency is more intense.”
Archer settled back and observed his father’s crew working diligently. They were like a bunch of bees in a hive—all with a job to do and one they did well.
“We’ve entered the planet’s airspace,” someone shouted.
“Scan the planet for life-forms,” his father replied, slipping into the captain’s chair.
His father looked over at Archer and winked, and for that one moment, Archer’s heart swelled.
“Captain McTavish,” the crewman reported. “The initial scan shows nothing, however it seems to be compromised.”
“In what way?” Archer’s father asked, sitting forward, a frown on his face.
“I can’t say,” the man replied, furiously touching the screen in front of him.
“What’s going on?” Del whispered.
Archer shrugged. “I don’t know.”
The distress signal was louder. It echoed inside the command center of The Reamus. It echoed inside Archer’s head making him wince. He glanced over to Del but her eyes were glued to the observation window, and just then the planet came into view. It was a large round ball surrounded by a blanket of black space and twinkling stars.
Dash floated just behind Archer, his chirps and whirrs, low and muted. “There is an additional pulse integrated with the distress signal,” Dash reported, floated closer.
Was that what the crewman had meant? Archer frowned, watching his father closely. “What does that mean exactly?” he whispered to his bot.
Something was wrong. He felt it. His father’s eyes were hard and his face was lined with... worry?
Just then the ship shuddered and shook.
“Archer,” Del whispered gripping her seat as she moved forward. “I’m getting a bad feeling about this.”
The ship heaved to the right and began to spiral, turning in an arc before aiming directly at the planet below. They were close. So close that Archer saw the remnants of a city. But there were no lights. Nothing to indicate life.
“Archer!” Del shouted.
Archer unbuckled his belt and jumped from his seat, eyes wide when he spied his father slumped over in his command chair. His first officer was slumped over as well.
Archer turned in a full circle. The entire crew looked like they were sleeping and their ship was hurtling through space toward the planet.
This can’t be happening, he thought.
“Archer, we have to do something,” Del yelled.
“Archibald, we have exactly two minutes until impact.” Dash zipped past him and the bot’s words sank into Archer’s brain.
Archer raced after his bot, his heart in his throat, pounding fast and heavy like a drum. All he could see was the planet looming below. The city. It looked pretty.
It looked dangerous.
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