Five dark shadows hustled along a low-lit corridor on the planet of Kantal-ka. Dressed in all black and outfitted with sleek weapons and cleverly disguised spy gear, the five princesses of the Pentangle felt very removed from their former posh lives.
"Psst," Rhea hissed from the back of the line as she and the other girls raced around a corner. "Luna! Can you tie your hair back or something? It's huge — there's no way Geela's security cameras aren't going to spot it. It's almost big enough to warrant a few of its own moons." Luna spun around and glared at Rhea — her hair spun with her. Rhea grinned and wiggled a few fingers in a wave.
Luna's long blond hair was her most prized accessory. She had spent several hours deep conditioning and blow-drying it that morning, to prepare for SPACEPOP's show that night. It had taken days and gallons of expensive creams and tonics, but Luna had finally managed to wash away all remnants of Solar Glow. After weeks of suffering through bad hair days, Luna's locks now looked better than ever. "My hair is a lot less noticeable than your constant yammering and bad jokes," Luna snapped back.
"Can we all just focus on the mission?" Athena asked, shushing them both. "We need to finish our exploration of Kantal-ka, then get out of here. In case anyone has forgotten, according to the information Captain Hansome sent over this morning, Geela's troops are scheduled to return from their training session in fifteen minutes. And tonight's gig starts in less than two hours. We need to wrap up this search and get out of here. We have another job to get to."
The five girls paused when they reached a T in the corridor. Straight ahead of them stood an imposing, glossy black wall. To their left was a giant archway, leading out into the blue-purple Kantal-ka night; to their right, a closed door. There was no sign of life in either direction. "Which way?" Hera asked, glancing at the others. Without waiting for an answer, she closed her eyes and hummed. "I'm trying to visualize the correct path," Hera said in a moony voice. "I'm getting a definite left vibe. The night sky is calling to me, telling me we all need to step outside and recharge before moving on."
"Then let's go right," Juno said, moving toward the closed door in the opposite direction. "We don't need to recharge. If we want this mission to be successful, we need to explore every possible wing of Geela's facility here on Kantal-ka. Otherwise, we might miss something that could lead us to our parents. And who knows when we might get back to this planet again."
"Juno's right," Athena agreed. "We need to see what's behind that closed door."
"Behind Door Number One ..." Rhea said in a funny game show announcer voice. "A new space transport!"
Luna flipped her enormous hair over her shoulder and shushed Rhea. Then the five princesses slipped around the corner and made their way toward the mysterious closed door.
On orders from Resistance leader Captain Hansome, Rhea, Luna, Athena, Hera, and Juno had been exploring Geela's central command station on Kantal-ka for just short of four hours. During that time, they had found no evidence that Geela's Dungeon of Dark Doom was hidden away on the foggy planet of Kantal-ka. But it seemed that every time they thought they had reached the end of the facility, there were more doors leading into unexplored turf.
Athena reached out to press a button, and the closed door whooshed open. They all slipped through the door and waited as it closed behind them. Ahead of them stretched another long, empty corridor that led to yet another door. The girls raced down the corridor, pressed another button, and this door slid open. On the other side of this door was yet another long corridor with yet another door at the far end. The girls carried on. And on. And on.
"What's with all the doors?" Rhea asked after they had passed through the sixth identical door. "Think Geela's just really into climate control or something?"
Juno narrowed her eyes. When she was a contestant on Fight or Flight, she had faced a maze of doors and hallways that felt eerily similar to the one they were in now. Her stomach clenched into a fist and she muttered, "I hope it's not some kind of trap. These doors must be protecting something."
Rhea scanned the smooth walls, searching for security cameras or any other indication that someone might be watching their every move in some far-off control room. She couldn't find any signs of enhanced security or tracking devices, which made her think they were on a wild-goose chase. "Has anyone else considered the fact that none of these doors are locked? And we haven't seen a single guard or one of Geela's Android Soldiers all day. If the Dungeon of Dark Doom was hidden somewhere in this facility on Kantal-ka, don't you think it would be better protected?"
The other girls nodded their agreement. But until they were absolutely sure they had hit a dead end, none of them was willing to call off the search. Because when — if? — they found Geela's Dungeon of Dark Doom, the girls were sure they would also find their imprisoned parents. That singular goal was propelling them all forward, giving them strength to carry on with their difficult and dangerous Resistance mission. If they could find the secret location of Geela's Dungeon of Dark Doom, they would be able to release their parents, thus allowing the Pentangle Galaxy — and its princesses — to go back to life as usual.
Thanks to intelligence the girls had helped gather on one of their first assignments for the Resistance (the SPACEPOP crew planted trackers on Geela's entire fleet of space tankers), Captain Hansome and his team had been able to figure out that Geela and her army spent the majority of their time and resources on five planets — Kantal-ka, Lud, Pallomo, Tik-tik, and Pluton. By using the tracker data the disguised princesses had helped to collect, Resistance forces decided to turn their attention to these five planets to see if they could figure out how to weaken Geela's strongholds.
When Hansome told the girls about the team's findings, Athena was the one who pointed out that it would also make sense to narrow the search for the missing royal families to those five planets. Geela was the kind of leader who would enjoy visiting her prisoners regularly, relishing in their discomfort and weakness. She wouldn't be likely to hide the Dungeon of Dark Doom anywhere that would be too hard for her to reach or too remote for her to visit regularly. Therefore, if Resistance forces were to conduct an extensive search of each of the five planets Geela spent most of her time on, they would very likely find the hidden Dungeon of Dark Doom and the royal prisoners.
The trouble was, each of the five planets the Resistance forces needed to search was in strict lockdown mode. All travel onto and off each of the planets was restricted, and the only way anyone was allowed in the planets' airspace was with a valid travel authorization. Anyone caught entering or leaving without said authorization would be destroyed without question. So it wasn't as simple as dispersing Resistance forces to search each planet in a hurry — no one could land on any of these planets to start the hunt.
When Captain Hansome had delivered the bad news, Luna shrugged. "So we use our cover as SPACEPOP to get the necessary travel authorizations."
Hansome stared at her blankly for a moment, and then his eyes brightened on the holo-screen communicator. "Yes!" he cried. He flung his muscled green arms up into the air and pumped his fists. Luna swooned at the sight of his strapping muscles. She had a major thing for Captain Hansome, but the Resistance leader didn't seem to return her affections. The handsome captain was so caught up in his own awesomeness that he didn't have time to flirt back. "Luna, you are absolutely right."
"I am?" Luna squeaked. The self-confident princess only ever lost her cool in front of Captain Hansome. But after a moment of wide-eyed blinking, she gathered her wits, then splashed an enormous smile across her face. "I mean — yeah, I guess I am."
"If you book a concert or ... gig? Is that what you call them, gigs?"
"Yeah," Rhea said, rolling her eyes.
Hansome stroked his chin. Luna sighed dramatically when he flicked a braided lock of hair off his forehead. The strapping Resistance captain went on, "If you book SPACEPUP gigs on the five planets we need to gain access to, it will give you the perfect cover. You can slip in and out without attracting notice."
"Um," Rhea muttered. "The point of a gig is to attract attention. We're not going for empty stadiums here, y'know. It's kind of hard to spread our message of peace, love, and rebellion if no one's listening."
Juno growled, "And it's SPACEPOP, bub. Not SPACEPUP."
"Of course, of course." Hansome laughed his gruff belly laugh, which made Luna swoon — again. The miniature holo-version of the captain patted his blue-and-pink Mohawk into place and adjusted his worn leather vest over his muscled chest. "I just mean, if you secure clearance to enter these planets for your band stuff, you won't be calling attention to yourselves as spies. You'll garner plenty of attention for your cute little songs, of course."
The girls exchanged irritated looks. Hansome was constantly dismissing their band as fluff and failing to realize the impact their successful missions had had on his precious Resistance. They had destroyed Geela's servers and taken down her whole media empire! Yet he never gave them the credit they were due. Whenever they reported back to him after a mission, he would scold them for not following his orders to the letter, write off their successes as lucky breaks, or take credit for the results himself. Someday, the princesses hoped, he would realize just how useful they were ... to him, and to the Pentangle Galaxy.
It took a little convincing and creativity in scheduling, but Chamberlin had managed to book the girls a gig on Kantal-ka. It was only a small auditorium show — not the huge arenas the band preferred to play in now that they had achieved a certain level of fame — but the small gig was enough to secure the band's clearance to enter Kantal-ka airspace. They had arrived on the fog-covered planet that morning. Moments after they landed, the girls slipped into their rebel gear and left Chamberlin and Rand — the band's innocent roadie — to prep for their gig that afternoon while they were off on their reconnaissance mission.
"Another door?" Rhea groaned as the spies made their way down yet another unmarked hallway. "How big is this place?"
"And where do all these doors lead?" Athena wondered.
When they hustled through the ninth door, all five girls screeched to a stop ... narrowly avoiding plunging off a narrow catwalk into a bottomless black abyss. They were standing at the edge of a huge, cavernous room. A narrow walkway snaked around the perimeter of the room, overlooking inky black nothingness. Suddenly, Luna shrieked and pointed.
The others followed her finger. There, shivering on a small, floating disc in the center of the room — surrounded on all sides by open air and empty space — were Chamberlin and Captain Hansome.CHAPTER 2
Chamberlin lifted his hand in a timid wave. "Greetings."
"Chamberlin?" Athena said, squinting. "Captain Hansome?"
"It is us!" Captain Hansome said in a blustery voice. "Hello!"
"Uh, hello?" Luna squeaked. She shook her hair around her shoulders and squeezed her cheeks to give them a little color.
"What are you doing way out there?" Juno asked. "And how did you get there?"
"Bit of a situation," Chamberlin began. "You see, the captain and I were coming to —"
Hansome cut him off and blurted out, "To rescue you!"
Rhea snorted. "Mighty fine job you've done of it, too."
Captain Hansome flexed his muscles and put his arm around Chamberlin in a chummy sort of way. The move nearly knocked the old guy off the narrow platform. The royal butler sunk to his knees, his breath wheezing out in a giant whoosh as he held the edges of the floating disc for dear life. "Yes, well," Captain Hansome said in a bold voice. "When you didn't return at the time we were expecting you, I grew concerned for your safety. So I gathered up old Chamberlin here — who insisted he come along, the brave old chap! — and we entered Geela's facility to help you girls out. Figured you could use a hand."
"You came to help us?" Athena put her hands on her hips and said plainly, "Looks like you're the ones who need the help."
Captain Hansome chuckled. "Yes, well, about that ..." Hansome lost his footing as the outer edge of the platform he and Chamberlin were standing on broke away and fell — soundlessly — into the bottomless pit. The disc was now much smaller and obviously even harder to balance on. Hansome peered over the edge of his little island and spoke more quickly. "While we were searching for you, we came upon this room. As we were racing across the middle of the floor — toward that door, there —" Captain Hansome cut off and gestured to a small door on the other side of the room. "All of a sudden the floor below us began to fall away. First the far edges broke apart, then more and more. Within seconds, we were left on this small platform ... and our resting spot seems to be getting smaller every minute. Perhaps this room is under construction and we weren't meant to walk here?"
"I highly doubt the room is under construction," Athena said, lifting one eyebrow. "But I think you're right about one thing: we're not meant to be here."
Hera nodded. "This must be Geela's way of ensuring no one gets past this room. No need for guards when you can trap someone in the middle of a bottomless pit, am I right?" The others stared at her. Hera was sweet, kind, and caring — and had been known to keep the other girls from driving one another crazy, or worse, more than a few times — but she was usually not the member of the group who figured things out first. "What?" Hera asked. "Geela must have had some sort of motion detectors set up in the room so if anyone tried to cross over to the next door, they would be trapped with nowhere to go."
"Exactly," Juno said, nodding. "Well said, Hera."
"Thanks!" Hera chirped.
"What I still don't get," said Rhea, "is why you thought we needed your help getting out of here. We've proved ourselves to be capable, resourceful, and safe in every one of our missions for ... the Resistance ..." Rhea said the word Resistance the way Captain Hansome always did — with emphasis. None of the girls tired of making fun of him behind his back for the way he accentuated Resistance. It was the band's little inside joke.
Athena jumped in. "Might I remind you, we are the team that secured clearance to enter the Kantal-ka airspace and we were perfectly comfortable executing this mission on our own."
"With no 'help' from you," Juno added, putting the word help in little quotation marks.
"Perhaps we could talk more about the hows and whys of this, uh, little situation after we've found a way to get ol' Chamberlin to more solid ground?" Hansome suggested.
"Fair enough," Rhea said, smirking. "Can you say the magic words?"
"M-m-magic words?" Captain Hansome stuttered as more of the platform broke away. The tiny island that was keeping Chamberlin and Hansome from certain doom was now just barely large enough to fit the two men. "What are the magic words?" It was the first time any of the girls had seen Captain Hansome ruffled. But it didn't take a genius to figure out that soon there would be room left for only one of them on the disc.
"Pretty please," Rhea began slowly. While she spoke, she scanned the perimeter of the room. Her face split into a smile when she spotted a control panel directly across from where the girls were standing. Rhea had a knack for programming that came in handy at times like this. She glanced at Captain Hansome again and, in a deep voice that sounded nothing like the strapping captain's, said, "Pretty please, Resistance rock stars, will you rescue us?"