Authors: Keith Mansfield
's viewscreen, a distant but reassuringly yellow Sun was lighting up Pluto's surface. Even from this height, the wreckage of the super gun was plain to see, the line of the enormous barrel now twisted and scattered over a wide area. It had taken out four ships before being destroyed. The rest of Pluto Base was largely intact. The small Imperial fleet, led by the captainless ship, had arrived just in time to protect it and engage those Andromedans nearby.
“The galaxy owes you a great debt, Johnny Mackintosh,” said Frago, appearing at his side. The Tolimus's head only came up to Johnny's waist.
“Earth owes the Tolimi, Frago. You were amazing.”
Someone slapped Johnny on the back, spilling his drink.
“Don't care what the Milky Way News Network says. You're all right in my book, Johnny Mackintosh.” Johnny turned and smiled weakly at a red-skinned alien with no hair or ears and a circular toothless mouth. “Captain Djarjack of the
,” he said, saluting.
The alien's stale breath washed over Johnny, but he returned
a half-hearted salute.
“Fleet's leaving tomorrow,” said the captain. “Nothing left for us to do hereâyou've seen to that.”
Johnny nodded and made his excuses. He slipped away from the bridge, heading toward the shuttle bay.
“Leaving so soon, Johnny Mackintosh?” It was
herself who'd asked the question.
“I've gotÂ â¦ things to do,” Johnny replied.
“Like you, I do not feel like celebrating,” said the ship.
Johnny had entered the shuttle bay. It was as messy as ever, all manner of oddly shaped space junk pushed to the side to accommodate the various visiting ships. “I'm so sorry for what happened,” he said to the ship.
“My captain died in battle, doing what he loved best,”
replied. “I am only sorry I was not with him at the time.”
“Well, I'm glad you're still here,” said Johnny. “So longâlook after yourself.” He climbed into the waiting
“Goodbye, Johnny Mackintosh.”
With the ship's words ringing in his ears, Johnny flew his shuttle out of the open doors and was soon aboard the
Spirit of London
, settling down in the space between the
and the Imperial Starfighter.
“Solâwhere's Clara?” he asked.
“Clara is on deck 18 with Bentley.”
He made his way to the lifts and out into the garden. Bentley stood on his hind legs to greet him, so Johnny rubbed noses with the smelly sheepdog. Then he lowered his friend to the ground and walked toward Clara, who was watching the two of them from her seat on a rocky outcrop. She made room for Johnny to sit down, but looked straight ahead. Johnny stared down at his boots. Bentley settled beneath them, wagging his tail and panting.
It was here on Christmas Day that he'd wanted to tell Clara
about Nicky. He hated himself for finding it so hard to talk to her about their brother. Even now, he had no idea how to begin. Finally, Johnny said, “He could have survived.”
“How?” asked Clara. “The whole ship went upâthere were no escape pods.” She jumped down from the rock and walked around in circles, waving her hands as she tried to compose herself.
“They fold differently,” said Johnny. “That strange tunnel. I don't knowÂ â¦ but it started as you were pulling us out.”
“You're just saying that.”
“I'm notâI promise.” Johnny looked at his sister. He hated how sad she'd been since they saved Earth. The truth was he hadn't seen Nicky die. However unlikely it seemed, he had to hope, if only to give Clara hope.
She climbed back up the rock and sat down, lifting the locket from around her neck and opening it in front of them both. The picture in one half was of their mum, the Diaquant, looking totally human and standing arm in arm with their dad, with a much younger Bentley wagging his tail in front of them. In the other half were Clara, Johnny and, several years older with half his face covered in shadow, Nicky.
“Tell me about him,” said Clara. “Tell me everything.”
“It's complicated,” said Johnny, taking a deep breath. “It all started when you were out hereâthe day you went to PlutoÂ â¦”