The EGC Part II

​Kayleb Forest was young enough to have learned the standard Thorlinthian unit system, and his marriage technically made him a citizen of Valhal, but his parents were old Earthers who raised him to think in the American units. That’s why he always felt strange when thinking he was about to compete in the EGC as a member of a Thorlinthian team against the American team. Now, as the crowds miles below cheered, he thought back to how it had all come about.

Kayleb knew from the first EGC, when a hypecast game had been previewed to Earthers for the first time, that he wanted to play. It had been hard enough in school getting special visas and time off to get into Zero G Ball; but the first time he had played, even in the safer environment of the Laser League, he had felt totally outclassed. Of course, there were very few Armadians in an appropriate age range, which meant he learned playing against adults, and Thorlinthian adults at that. Despite that fact, he loved it. He had been the first in his school to learn the Thorran language, which was standard amongst the Armada, and he was the only one in his class to learn East Valhallan, which was the language spoken by the coach on the TAS Frightbringer, where he had taken every opportunity to go and train. It wasn’t just Zero G Ball, either. By the time he’d normally have entered high school, he’d been accepted by the Armada’s Remedial Education Program, which was designed to give Earther students the opportunity to receive a Thorlinthian-level education by the majority age, which sat right around 16 years of age. He was the oldest applicant in the Frightbringer’s radius of authority to be approved for the program and the second oldest in the world. He was, by Earther standards, a genius. By Thorlinthian standards, he was slightly above average. He was the only student accepted by the Frightbringer that finished the program ahead of schedule.

Kayleb would often be called a traitor back home. He didn’t seem to feel as devoted to resisting Thorlinthian rule as a “good American” should, but that was fine by him. One doesn’t stay scrawny long playing Zero G Ball regularly, and the Peacekeepers rarely took issue with a “traitor” defending himself a little too heavily against “patriots” with a bone to pick. Peacekeeper forces were primarily manned by “traitors” themselves. He soon became friends with the Peacekeepers in his town, and he would study in their station. Sometimes, he would even get to tag along on shuttle trips to the Frightbringer on days civilians weren’t normally permitted. After his first year playing, he scored an invite to the Frightbringer to watch the second EGC live from space. He realized then that he knew both competitors from the ship’s team, including his coach, who competed in the Kohstr tournament. The other was a frequent sight in the hangar, where she could usually be seen inspecting shuttle hulls and repairing defects. He had first met her on his first visit aboard a Peacekeeper shuttle. She hadn’t expected a civilian and had quickly started swearing in East Valhallan, which Kayleb had just started picking up. He didn’t know what exactly she had said, but he recognized several words to do with eating and using the toilet. It was unlikely they were used in the appropriate context.

Seeing her play Kohstr was like watching a master chess player. Her moves held neither hesitation nor haste. She moved carefully and would only set down her hand on occasion to push back the lock of blue hair that kept loosing itself from behind her ear. He had asked about the hair, thinking it was against the rules, but an Armadian he never met had told him she had almost become a Valkyrie, but she had failed out of their academy. She wasn’t smart enough, apparently. Kayleb kept probing and learned that her name was Keria’Ledrii, named after her great grandmother or some generation past that. The Thorlinthians didn’t count generations further than that, so the word used was imprecise. Though born a Khuda’Cronell, her failure to attain Valkyrie ranks caused her to lose her title and become a Teros’Cronell. She was a young teenager at the time, one of the youngest in the Armada. Valkyrie drop-outs were apparently an exception to the age limits. Kayleb learned there were a few in the fleet, but most didn’t go on to seek a military career. It had something to do with honor or lights. The word was the same. Kayleb experienced his first crush that day, and he resolved to become one of the champions at the fourth EGC, when Zero G Ball was first scheduled to be played. Once her match was over (She lost to the Lieutenant in the first round.), Kayleb headed straight for the Zero G Court to train.

By the time the fourth EGC came around, Kayleb had almost finished his Remedial Education, but he discovered that Earthers needed a complete juvenile education to even try out for one of the teams for the qualifiers, so he couldn’t try out for the Frightbringer’s team that year. The American team required a college degree, and it didn’t look like any colleges were planning on accepting a Thorlinthian education any time soon, so he couldn’t play for them for another four years after that point, which was indeterminate. He realized at that point that he wasn’t going to get to play in the EGC. He couldn’t even start on the requirements to try out for the American team, and the ship system was being replaced by representative teams from New Valhal starting with the next games, so he couldn’t represent the Frightbringer after he finished his Thorlinthian education. The best he could do was play as a small fry in the Ship League, which would be his first time playing with semi-lethality. Still, he loved the game, and he was on his way to being a great player.

A year later, Kayleb talked to Keria’Ledrii for the first time ever down on Earth. He thought it was strange, running into her at a grocery store, but apparently, the Frightbringer wasn’t the only ship that had quite a few crew members seeking to live “ashore” somewhere that wasn’t below zero and didn’t have the Cost of Living of New Qzcivden. As it happened, the Frightbringer made its shuttle runs to his town, so the crew that wanted to live ashore almost all lived there. Keria’Ledrii happened to have an apartment about a block from Kayleb’s grocery store because of its proximity to the Peacekeeper Station, where the shuttle runs were tended. She was able to do her job from the ground about half the time, it seemed, so she actually spent quite a lot of time in town. Kayleb didn’t even realize how long he had been talking to her until his attention was drawn away by the melted ice cream dripping past his fingers. He replaced the ice cream and was surprised when he turned around to find Keria’Ledrii still standing there, leaning with her back against the opposing freezer doors. Apparently, she wanted to keep talking, but he explained he didn’t want a second carton of ice cream to melt in the store, so he headed over to the check-out. She followed him and started asking him questions about himself. He was bewildered until he looked up at the check-out clerk, who was staring at the two of them as if they were talking nonsense. At that moment, he realized he had been speaking to her in East Valhallan, which no one else in town knew. Most had picked up standard Thorran, but she spoke with a thick Valhallan dialect, and he was the first Earther who understood her. She wanted to keep talking because she had no one else to talk to. As she checked out after him, he offered to have her over for dinner at his parents’ house. She commented on how nice that sounded and accepted.

Kayleb’s parents didn’t know any Thorran or East Valhallan. Keria’Ledrii didn’t know any English. Nonetheless, the trio got along well that evening with Kayleb as their increasingly haggard translator. Shortly after Keria’Ledrii started explaining what she did in the Armada, Kayleb reached a point where he simply didn’t know the words anymore. He told her this, and the conversation began to come to a close. Kayleb’s parents offered for her to stay the night, as dinner had carried well past dusk, but she was heading back to the ship on the first shuttle early the next morning, so she politely declined. She would be back in town in ten days’ time, though, so Kayleb’s parents invited her to come for dinner again, this time early enough that she could play a board game. Kayleb didn’t know how to say board game, but his parents brought out a few to show her, and she seemed excited at the prospect. Kayleb saw her to the door, and no one noticed that she had left her pocket wireless until Kayleb got up for the late morning shuttle to the Frightbringer for practice. He grabbed it and brought it along with him to the ship. When it landed on the ship, the door opened, and Kayleb could see Keria’Ledrii across the hangar looking very concernedly at a type of ship he had never seen before. He excused himself from the rest of the Earthers on the team and headed over to speak with her. He was stopped abruptly by a very uniquely clad Armadian with black armor and a formal kilt and sash on top. Upon seeing the swords and knives, Kayleb guessed that the Dragon Rider stories were more than legend and didn’t argue about being stopped. He did, however, tell the Dragon Rider that he had the wireless belonging to the hull technician working on his Dragon.

He must have worded that wrongly, however, since he immediately found himself pinned to the ground, the Dragon Rider shouting at him in Osgordian, which Kayleb recognized but didn’t speak. To his surprise, however, he soon heard a familiar voice shouting right back at the Dragon Rider in the same language with what Kayleb was certain was an incredibly thick Valhallan accent. Occasionally, he heard some Valhallan curses pop up and the Dragon Rider was spitting hard words right back, some of which were easily distinguished by the other Earthers in the hangar as English and Thorran swear words. After at least two minutes of thinking his arm was going to be snapped any second, Kayleb found the weight of the Dragon Rider suddenly lifted from his body and the grip gone. He heard a crash and a squeal and looked to see the Dragon Rider about 50 yards away, having smashed into a light shuttle’s nose so hard the shuttle had turned, dragging its landers along for the ride. Kayleb looked the other direction and saw a bright green light fading from a very flustered face with a strand of blue hair messily hanging in front. He gaped before she said in East Valhallan with a clumsy smile, “I failed because I was stupid and lacked grace, not because I was weak.” This was clearly a reference to the Valkyries’ Academy, and Kayleb chuckled stupidly as she helped him up with his uninjured arm. Kayleb asked what that was all about, and she said the Dragon Rider had insulted her virtue and accused Kayleb of being a thief and worse. At that, Kayleb remembered the wireless and went to pull it from his pocket only to discover that that arm was dislocated. When he groaned and turned white from the pain, Keria’Ledrii called out to her supervisor and escorted him to the infirmary. Once he had been fixed up at the infirmary, he handed her the wireless, and she gave him her contact information. As they walked out, a medlifter carried in the Dragon Rider, unconscious. Keria’Ledrii reached out momentarily, and Kayleb was quite sure she broke one of the Dragon Rider’s fingers with a twist. That was the first time Kayleb was late to practice.

A year later, Kayleb turned 18 years old, and there was a small party with a couple friends from town and some from the ship. Keria’Ledrii was there, too. She had to have the significance of it all explained to her, since she wasn’t used to years, and the age of majority in Thorlinthia was different. Once she’d caught on, though, she was probably the most enthusiastic of the party-goers who weren’t in Kayleb’s family. When he asked her at the end of the night to start going out with him officially instead of just hanging out as they had been for the past year since he was finally an adult, he had to spend quite some time explaining what he meant. By the end of the conversation, they were engaged. The party decided it would keep going for a few more hours at the news.

A month later, he was informed that if he wanted to remain in the Ship League for any additional cycles, he’d have to enlist as a Peacekeeper. He said he’d think about it, but when he talked to Keria’Ledrii, she said that wasn’t necessary. He should just try out as a champion for the EGC instead. When Kayleb explained why the American team wouldn’t let him on, she told him to try out for the New Valhallan team since he was so good in the Ship League. When Kayleb protested that he wasn’t a Thorlinthian citizen, she informed him that he would be after their marriage. Try-outs, however, were in two months, and Kayleb couldn’t afford to sit around not practicing for a whole year. They talked to his church and got the wedding moved forward. After the wedding, Kayleb and Keria’Ledrii did something that hadn’t been done before. They took advantage of Thorlinthian laws allowing a member of another (presumed but not explicitly stated to be Thorlinthian) planet to change planetary citizenship upon marriage to make an Earther a Valhallan citizen, which in turn made Kayleb a Thorlinthian citizen. He wasn’t the first Earther to legally become Thorlinthian, but he was the first to be directly affiliated with a planet other than Earth. He didn’t make the team, but he was able to secure facility usage rights as a Valhallan citizen aboard Valhal’s embassy ship, the TAS Hunter. It was such a long shuttle ride from his hometown to the Hunter (which was situated above Italy) that he had to move. Being a Thorlinthian citizen, however, he no longer needed a visa to live outside the US, so he simply moved to Italy, and Keria’Ledrii lived aboard the Frightbringer while she secured a transfer to the Hunter. The transfer took a few months, but there were no surprises when she arrived at their apartment near Rome. Neither of them were sure how to feel about that.

Kayleb didn’t try out for the EGC for the next few years. He instead rejoined the Ship League as the first Earther Armadian after enlisting and attending training in Antarctica for a little over a year. It took a couple weeks for him to get back up to snuff, but the close quarters combat training he had received paid off in plenty, and he quickly found himself a better player than before. He also found he had a little more money to throw around once he was employed as an Armadian, even if it was low-level pay. He and Keria’Ledrii started spending more time actually in Rome when both were on liberty and took leave for World Youth Day his second year in the Armada. At the end of his minimal term as an Armadian, Kayleb decided to try out for the EGC team again before renewing his obligation. This time, he made it.

He got out of the Armada and started taking a daily shuttle to the TAS Tyrant, which was over the former South Africa, for practice. There, he met Reggie, who had been MVP for New Valhal in the previous EGC. Reggie was now missing two fingers, but the giant of a man claimed it made it easier to grip the ball. Reggie, as it turned out, worked at the New Qzcivden Basilica, Saint John Paul the Great Cathedral. This gave them quite a lot to talk about, as Kayleb and Keria’Ledrii were both somewhat recent converts, having joined the Church their first Easter in Rome. Reggie said a lot of “Tees” (Kayleb didn’t like the word) converted pretty regularly, and that Saint John Paul the Great Cathedral actually had the world’s largest baptistry for that express purpose. Reggie came over for dinner a lot, and occasionally, Kayleb and Keria’Ledrii actually went to Reggie’s place in New Qzcivden for dinner. The first time they went, Kayleb realized just what winning the EGC could mean as far as money went. Victors received suites in New Qzcivden and a regular stipend, which was neither excessive nor as slim as their pay had been while both had been in the Armada.

A week before the games, they found out the first team that New Valhal was competing against was North America. That wasn’t good news. They were hoping to go against North America last for a better chance at placing. The team was confident they could beat the other teams, but North America had the daughter of Drigondii Sheii’Cronell on its team. The rest of the team was adequate, but Lihandii Khuda’Cronell was a total unknown. Her try-out had been extremely secretive, and no one could be found who would say anything about how she played. Not only that, but no one had any idea what kind of strength she had, and whenever he contemplated the upcoming match, Kayleb would think back to the Dragon Rider in the Frightbringer’s hangar. He had no doubts about how strong his wife was, but he also had no qualms admitting that he was pretty sure Lihandii was stronger. It felt strange when he thought about the fact that he was planning on how to defeat North America on behalf of the New Valhallan team. He didn’t really think he was a traitor, but he had always thought of himself as American. Now he was going up against the team he had planned on playing for.

All these things came rushing through Kayleb’s head as he stared straight ahead into Lihandii’s eyes. He knew from personal experience that it wasn’t a good idea to look Valkyrie-types straight in the eye, but something was strange. Her eyes weren’t glowing green, though they certainly glowed. No, they were an unmistakeable gold, and looking into them was like looking into the sun. He looked away and to the clock as Drigondii Sheii’Cronell wrapped up his speech. The timer was counting down in millidays, but Kayleb was counting down in seconds. 3… 2… 1… Now.

There was a rush like he had never experienced in a game before when the spheres opened and he leapt forward. He had timed it perfectly. Under any circumstances, he should have been the first to that ball. Even Reggie was a good twenty yards behind him, but a golden flash swelled around the ball, and Kayleb dodged a shot only just as the ball spun around to reveal Lihandii Khuda’Cronell clinging tightly with one arm extended away and holding a repeater. The bolt certainly struck Reggie, and Kayleb fired back twice with his own, both shots missing by a hair and zipping past the teenaged girl and hitting two of her teammates as she spun about the ball as if it were a set of parallel bars. She came sliding toward him, feet first, and Kayleb managed to deflect the majority of the blow, so he was surprised when he found himself flying backward at top speed with a broken set of ribs. He took a while to slow down, and quickly realized he was the last remaining member on his team still conscious while his teammates had managed to make Lihandii the last on hers. Kayleb gritted his teeth as he blasted forward at breakneck speeds to intercept the ball. He shot the ball with the repeater, and a few of its teeth went spinning off while the ball slipped from Lihandii’s grip. Kayleb made contact with the orb for a brief moment before looking at Lihandii and straight into the Devil’s eyes. This was one of the fastest-paced games of Zero G Ball ever played, and it was only just beginning.

The Birth of a Sheii’Cronell

Lihandii Khuda’Cronell “Casey” Kendrick sat silently with her husband, Jake, in his medical bed as they contemplated what she had told him after pulling him out of his burning house. It had been almost a full week since he had passed out on his lawn, and he hadn’t been able to talk to her about it yet. The past week had been focused on his recovery. In the fire, he had broken more than just his arm Though his arm had been all but shattered by a falling rafter, he hadn’t realized at the time that that was due to his arm having successfully redirected a hit that had very nearly creamed him right in the head. It hadn’t missed completely, however, and that was evidenced by the cracks to the side of his skull and the fractures in his collarbone, scapula, and his top three ribs. Had he not first caught the beam with his arm, it would have killed him. Atop the broken bones, or rather beneath them, his left lung pierced, his right ventricle punctured, his spleen ruptured, some mild bruising on his brain, and his left eye actually rather well demolished, since replaced by a Thorlinthian optic prosthesis fashioned by Feri’Andi, Valkyr 52’s copilot and medical officer, Jake’s arm had to be completely reconstructed. It was a miracle he’d survived.

Now, however, his recovery had progressed to a point where he was quite able to discuss his wife’s pregnancy. “So,” he finally projected into the silent compartment of Valkyr 52’s makeshift medbay in the main hold, “how long have you known you were pregnant?” He didn’t know how else to ask. The shock was just starting to kick in. He didn’t really feel like a dad yet, though he’d always wanted to be one.

“About seventy-five days.” Lihandii’s idea of estimates differed slightly from his. Once narrowed to the day, that’d be plenty of precision to state definitively for Jake, but that was not the issue.

“Seventy-five days?!” Jake nearly shouted, a rare occasion when flames weren’t surrounding him. Liha flinched at the tone. Valkyrie she may be, but it killed her to disappoint him. “Why on Earth didn’t you tell me sooner?! We need to be planning!” He wasn’t sure if he should be mad or excited, so for now, he was a bit of both.

“Most Valkyrie pregnancies miscarry in the first eighty days. We’re talking the vast majority. There was only a two percent chance of me staying pregnant. I couldn’t bear having you look at me if I’d lost your child!” All the anger Jake had mustered up melted when he saw tears pouring down her face. The green light from her eyes carried into the edges of her tears, and he’d never seen her cry like this.

“Hey…” Jake beckoned for her to embrace him. “I love you. I understand why you didn’t want to tell me, and I forgive you, but you still should have told me. Imagine if you’d lost the baby, and I didn’t even know. I’d hardly be able to comfort you. I wouldn’t even understand why you were upset.” He smiled gently at her, and she smiled weakly back at him, the light of her eyes brightening slightly.

“I suppose that’s true. I’m sorry, Jake.” Lihandii strengthened her smile. Jake marveled sometimes at the strange docility his wife assumed toward him. She was an incredibly strong and independent woman, but some part of Valkyrie culture stressed the importance of the husband’s position in the family despite the fact that the Valkyrie women were most assuredly much stronger and often made a more luxurious living. Their devotion to their husbands was only ever second to their devotion to the Great One, their concept of God.

“I do have one question, though,” Jake said. “Don’t you have to return home in four or five years?” He hoped Lihandii would say no.

“Yeah, of course I do,” she replied. She gave him a puzzled look. “Why?”

Jake frowned. “Well, I can’t go back with you. What about the baby? Will you take him home with you? I know Feri is taking her baby home.”

“Yes, I’ll be taking her back. A Valkyrie wouldn’t do well to grow up here. She’d have no education on Earth.” Lihandii seemed to be holding something back, but she had always been as honest as she could be with him. If she didn’t think she should tell him, he’d trust her judgement.

“It’s a girl?” He latched onto the feminine pronouns with fervor. “You think so?” He smiled, pushing through the concept that he’d never see his daughter again after only a few years together.

“It’s practically impossible for a Valkyrie to have a son, and you’re not even Thorlinthian. Besides, a son would be…” Her eyes darkened. The light seemed almost to disappear at the thought of having a son. Jake decided not to press. It wasn’t worth pursuing. The child was a girl, anyway. He gripped her hand, their eyes met, and he was briefly glad her glow had dimmed as he stared directly into her eyes before the light was restored, and he had to look away from the phenomenon that was a Valkyrie’s gaze.

He smiled as he looked back, closing his right eye. The prosthetic optic wasn’t impacted the same way. He focused hard directly on his wife’s eye for the first time as her glow grew, and anything seemed possible. Of course, it wasn’t, but he didn’t know that yet…


Lihandii screamed in the medbay of Valkyr 52, her eyes burning the ceiling with their brilliance as she pushed. Her sweat-drenched hair singed the pillow as it shone just as brightly. She looked with gritted teeth at Feri’Andi, who was poised to receive the baby into her gloved arms and wipe off the blood and meconium. After that, Jake would take the baby in his bare, disinfected hands and place her on Lihandii’s breast after declaring her name, place a blanket over the baby and allow Lihandii to breastfeed while she delivered the placenta. After the feeding, Jake would cut the umbilical cord. He would then wait and wash the baby when prompted by Feri’Andi.

They had decided in a conversation months ago to name her Drigan’di after the mother of light and matriarch of the heavenly valkyri’din, the heavenly army of Jalihu’Dai, the ancient religion of Linthia. They had even rehearsed the birthing ceremony, including teaching Jake how to properly proclaim the child’s name, cut the cord with the ceremonial blade and wash the child with water from the Pond of Grace, the place where Valkyries had the full potential of their power released through their final ceremony of initiation. It was said that the sacred pool was home to a true valkyri’din of old, a spirit creature of nearly infinite power. Its waters were known for their tremendous healing power and had even been known to grant the power of the Valkyries to normal Linthians temporarily, filling them with the Light of Drigan’di, a purer form of the source of the Valkyries’ signature glow. Washing their daughter with the water would prevent the baby from entering full glow, which in turn would save the baby’s life. No one was sure exactly how it worked, but it was a ritual as old as the Matriarch that had been used before the Valkyries had become what they were now.

Jake gripped his wife’s hand tightly as her screams issued ever louder, and his brow seemed permanently furrowed in worry. Feri’Andi’s labor had been nowhere near this long and traumatic. She was nearing full glow, a dangerous state where Valkyries unleash their full power at risk of immense bodily harm and even death. Lihandii had often trained at high glow levels to lengthen the time she could remain in the state safely, but it was a highly volatile state, and Jake would be forced to leave if that happened so Feri’Andi could sedate her, which would be particularly dangerous during childbirth. That would be especially bad this near the baby’s emergence.

“Jake!” Feri’Andi exclaimed. “Come here. It’s time.” Lihandii’s screams grew stronger, and the room grew warmer as Jake released her hand to prepare to receive his daughter into his arms. When he moved down to the foot of the bed, he saw the top of his daughter’s head, and all his unease became more bearable. If he remembered, this was crowning. As the baby emerged, Feri’Andi grabbed the head and took a small tube in her hand, applying it to the nose and mouth, suctioning out the various fluids with which the baby had been filled for her entire life thus far. Once the baby had fully emerged, Feri’Andi wiped her and handed her to Jake still a bit slimy.

Jake raised the baby slightly, saying with rehearsed precision, “Sja edt minn barn. Yk karr nom edt Drigan’di,” meaning, “This is my child. Your name is Drigan’di.” He set his child as practiced properly on her mother’s breast to feed and placed a blanket over her body to hold in heat. Feri’Andi ensured the proper delivery of the placenta and began to tend to monitoring the activity of the strange, independent organ and making sure Lihandii was feeding Drigan’di properly. After a while, she gestured to Jake to grab the blade while she grabbed the clamps. She clamped either side of the point where he was to cut, and he slid the blade against the cord as instructed, slicing the cord cleanly as he spoke, “Yk karr andi edt band vidh ykfold,” meaning, “your spirit is bound to yourself.” Immediately, he brought the baby to the small basin of water and began to wash him, first saying, “Sja aegir edt yk karr rondi,” meaning, “this sea is your shield.” The baby’s crying stopped as the remainder of the umbilical cord fell off, leaving no navel, only a flat belly. Jake continued washing, saying (with permission from his bishop due to the risk of the baby’s death due to extremely high mortality rates of Valkyrie babies to full glow within the first day.), “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” At these words, the water of the font glowed white, then green, and the light flowed onto the right arm of the child, wrapping around it, settling in the form of a green dragon, the Thorlinthian image of a purified and redeemed Oa’din symbolizing the Great One’s mercy. Jake’s mouth opened slightly as he saw this, but not as much as it did when he looked down Drigan’di’s tiny body. She was a he.

Feri’Andi’s hand came quickly upon his mouth as he turned to tell Lihandii and she saw the baby’s groin. She shook her head and had him hand her the baby. He did so, and she pushed him out of the hold as she said, “Lihandii, I have news.”

“Yes?” Lihandii’s eager, if weary, smile was the last thing Jake saw as the door closed.

“It’s a boy.” There was a single, brief moment of silence.

Lihandii let loose a blood-curdling scream. “No!” She screamed. “They’ll kill him!” Hysteria filled her voice. “Not my baby! Not my Drigan’di!”

Feri’Andi’s response was oddly cool and reserved. “Drigondii,” she calmly corrected for gender, “would be safer here. Look. The Great One Himself has bestowed the symbol of redemption on his skin. It happened during his baptism.”

Lihandii’s crying quieted down, and Jake realized the door was cooling as she calmed down. Now he understood why he’d been pushed from the room. He re-entered. “I thought you said it would be a girl.” His face was filled with compassion but his eyes cut into hers with immense questioning. “What does this mean?”

Lihandii spoke gaspingly through the tears as she held Drigondii lovingly yet mournfully in her arms. “He’s a Sheii’Cronell, one of the most powerful beings that live. His power will lead him to madness, and the Monarch will have him killed unless his powers are sealed, and he is hidden.” She looked up at her confused husband. “I will ensure his powers are adequately sealed away, and he’ll remain here on Earth with you. It’s the only way for him to remain safe. Feri and I will have to send a message seeking instructions from the Matriarch beyond that.”

She looked at Drigondii with tear-filled eyes. “He’s so beautiful.” A tear fell upon him, and he opened his squinted eyes wide, showing a brilliant red light just as it was washed away by what looked like fluid to reveal plain mahogany eyes.


Lieutenant Commander Drake Kendrick flew his plane across the Pacific with his formation. The five planes he was flying with were on his either side behind him. Ahead of him, he could see the flecks on the horizon that were the enemy battle group. Once they were in range for visual sightings, their stealth designs wouldn’t do much to protect them. Anti-air missiles wouldn’t be able to lock, but bullets would still tear through their planes easily.

“Lock in on targets now.” He gave the order calmly. There was no use panicking yet. The enemy didn’t even know they were coming yet. They weren’t running flight ops anymore, either, because fuel supplies had become too limited in the war, so no planes were going to randomly spot them out here. Once he had confirmations of locks, he knew the enemy would know they were coming now. That’s why everyone in the formation was locked in on aircraft carrier launching mechanisms. The only way they would be able to complete their mission with any survivors would be for the enemy to be unable to launch most of their planes. “Fire.”

He watched the condensation trails of the missiles firing toward the enemy ships and readied for his least favorite part of the mission. “Full speed ahead, gents.” As soon as the words came out, he and his wingmen pressed in fully on their throttles, quickly accelerating at about four times gravity to Mach 2 at an altitude of only 100 feet above sea level. The body of his plane rattled and groaned, despising its pilot’s demands and resisting his commands.

Still, the plane held. This was the operational limit of the plane, a limit being tested at that very moment. Nothing about the plane liked him right now. He knew, however, that the speed was necessary for the mission’s success. Once it was up to speed, the formation launched its second set of missiles, these directed at various critical points on enemy escort ships. One missile launched at these speeds was enough to trash such small ships. Drake resisted the urge to close his eyes in prayer. If he did, he’d crash and die before he finished the first sentence. He was too close to the water.

Sooner than seemed right to him, the enemy was easily visible. The formation fired another set of missiles at half of the remaining escorts. Soon would come the worst of the flying. His team had trained so intensely for this next maneuver that he’d been forced to drop half of the possible candidates for the mission in the first day of training. Here was where the balance hung. Whether it was the plane or pilot, if one failed to pull off the maneuver, they’d quickly be an unintentional kamikaze, and America would lose its support from the UN.

Here it was. With less than four miles between the battle group and the formation closing in at just under half a mile per second, the planes dropped their torpedoes and pulled up at an acceleration of 6.7 gravities. Every pilot but Drake blacked out, but they were immediately awakened by shots of adrenaline programmed to be given at the appropriate mission time. Every second was perfect. The formation climbed to over twelve miles before turning back to Earth. The planes’ engines stalled out at precisely eleven miles, and momentum had carried them the remaining mile and a half to the stratosphere. Each pilot had now had plenty of time to awaken fully, their tightened grips and positions relaxing as they briefly took in the view of space before up became down, and the formation pulled into a dive back to Earth, angled toward that tiny battle group, so crippled by this attack.

But not every catapult had been put totally out of possible service, apparently. Three enemy planes had managed to launch before the last catapult had failed, and those three planes were now coming up on his radar, heading straight for his group. Without thinking, Drake entered his Sheii’Cronell state, releasing Drigondii. Quickly, Drigondii brought the first plane into aim and shot it down with a three round burst from eight miles. His plane was able to get the next enemy into aim by five miles. That plane was soon a paperweight, too. The third plane, however, broke through and passed him. That was when the mission came apart.

The enemy managed to fell one plane in its first pass. It would take ten seconds for the enemy to bear around to meet them. In the meantime, the remaining five planes in formation all fired their remaining missiles to their final targets. Three targets still remained. Comms were currently being jammed, but once the formation passed the battle group and started on its return, the enemy would have intel on their planes. Surprise would be gone for future missions.

Drigondii knew at that moment what he needed to do that Drake could not. He had to ensure mission success despite current conditions. “Larry!” He called across the comm to his wingman. “We’re finishing this. Everyone else, head home.” The remaining formation members punched their throttles, returning to Mach 2. It would still take about ten minutes for them to return to their carrier. Drigondii and Larry brought their planes about and began firing on one of the remaining ships with their machine guns. After a few seconds, they flew past a decimated hulk of slag. Drigondii’s sensors still couldn’t find that enemy plane, and he didn’t have time to search for it himself. He and Larry brought their planes about and fired on the second remaining ship. The last ship was hidden near the middle of the group. They’d need to climb again to get enough direct line of sight to take it out with machine guns.

They’d brought their planes to three thousand feet before Drigondii found that enemy plane. It was above them another couple of miles, but the missile it had just launched toward Larry’s plane was within a mile. Already concerned, Drigondii then felt the missile launched from the last remaining ship. He knew there was only one thing he could do. Reaching out to the missiles, he redirected their locks to the only other place he could: his own plane. ‘Terira,’ he called out, praying she was ready to do what he needed and knew what it was, since he didn’t have time to explain all of that as the missiles simultaneously began to strike his plane from either direction. He had only just managed to fire the burst necessary to destroy the enemy plane before it could fire again.

Time seemed to be at a standstill. Drigondii could see the missile crunching into his plane’s nose. He used all the power he could muster to create a field of incredibly dense energy around his body. He couldn’t even summon the energy to cover his jumpsuit before the force of the explosion hit him. His body was limply tossed into the cloud of fire as his plane shattered. By the time his body fell from the bottom of the cloud, Larry’s plane was too far away for Larry to see him. Shame. He’d have liked to let him know he lived, but the time had come.

Drigondii felt it before he saw it. It was perfect piloting, better than his own yet was. In an instant, his wife manually hyped her Valkyr around his falling body. He hit the deck of the spaceship at terminal velocity, and the thud let Terira know he was on board after a nearly impossible maneuver. In another instant, the Valkyr hyped into orbit, and Drigondii Sheii’Cronell truly left Earth for the first time. He wouldn’t be back for a long time.

Quickly, Drigondii relinquished control to Drake, who practically flew to the cockpit where his wife was already bringing up imagery of Lieutenant Larry Denton’s plane. They both watched as he expended his remaining ammunition in a single dive ,decimating the hull of the ship that had just shot down the man he had considered a brother all his life. Once it was done, he pulled up and took off back for the carrier from which a larger formation had launched than the group that would return.

“It’s over.” Terira turned to Drake as she said it. “Drake and Sara Kendrick are both dead now. It’s time to go, Drake. We have someone to meet.” She programmed a hype course and took a breath before Valkyr 53 imploded in a hype leaving the Solar System for the first time in over a decade.

The Reka: The Blindness of Glow

‘Keri, do you have any idea what you’re doing?’ Shilo’s voice rings openly in your mind as you fasten yourself to a seat in the Valkyr’s cockpit. Your movements are neither frantic nor calm, achieving a moderate shakiness likely appropriate to a girl your age trying to save the lives of her newly made friends. Once you’re seated properly, you pull out the command interfaces and start up the Valkyr’s displays of the hangar outside.

“Nope,” you reply straightforwardly as you pull on the main drivers. “I have no clue.” You smirk as the crewmen around the Valkyr jump at the sound of his drives. The low, animalistic growl makes it seem almost alive, and the fact that apparently none of them saw you enter it and shut the airlocks makes it all the more startling for them. You take to the controls and begin preparing to exit the hangar, only this time you’ve actually been treated for zero-grav environments, so the sensation of weightlessness doesn’t go to your stomach as the Valkyr gently drifts off of his moorings, the electromagnetic locks deactivating as you pull away.

You float the Valkyr forward to the hangar airlock. Once inside, the inner lock closes, and you can see the jets of condensation as the pressurized space has its air removed. You remember a lieutenant mentioning that air can’t just be vented to space carelessly since the ship has a limited supply. You understood why immediately, but it hadn’t been something of which you’d thought.

As you watch the outer lock open, you hear Shilo reply, ‘Well, I haven’t ever disarmed a ship full of bardag bombs over three hundred cycles old. Come to think of it, I’ve never disarmed a single, brand-new bardag bomb because they were phased out over a hundred cycles ago, and none of them were still supposed to exist.’ The tone that rings out with Shilo’s voice doesn’t sit well with you, but it’s often best simply to take what she says with a grain of optimism. You simply roll the Valkyr to the side, out of the airlock, and activate his more sensitive detectors. Immediately, you get a fix on the Storm Ship, and you make your way toward it, watching the Osgord flash her lights at you as she pulls away, slowly at first but increasing her speed steadily.

“Well,” you speak into the silence, “I suppose it’s just us now.” Shilo’s returned grumblings are unremarkable rhetoric pertaining to leaving the Osgord behind entirely once the bombs are disarmed, but you have no intention of leaving that crew for what only remain to be five days aboard ship. Your skills as a spacer have greatly improved across the board, and you plan on taking the Osgord into her mooring in the orbit of her namesake.

You fire up the Valkyr’s main drivers, and he begins to purr contentedly as you approach and just slightly surpass matching speed with the Storm Ship. It will take a few centidays to reach the derelict beast, but that will give you time to take more thorough scans of the ship, verifying what you had sensed from the Osgord. Opening up your glow, you feel more intimately the workings of the ship and the bombs aboard it. As you do so, you notice that many of the bombs have had their trigger mechanisms combined in compartmental order. Curious, you build up a simulation of one of the mechanisms on your display and start studying a way to disarm the bombs.

About four centidays later, you come alongside the Storm Ship and throttle down the main drivers, matching speed exactly with the craft and setting the Valkyr to follow a path that will maintain its position relative to the tumbling ship. As you do, you notice the writing on the side of the ship: Reka. Once everything’s set, you gently bump sides with the ship and get out of your seat. ‘Well,’ Shilo pipes in, ‘at least you have small hands.’

You smile as you make your way to the peripheral airlock behind the Valkyr’s galley. That is very true. You activate your helmet and enhance your glow, grabbing a set of tools from the box beside the airlock. You make your way inside the airlock and close the inner lock, hearing the whoosh to nothingness as the air is pulled from the tiny space. You open the outer lock, revealing the Reka’s emergency exit.

As you pull out your cutter, you note that the quiet of space is actually quite difficult to notice. Even out here, there is still the sound of your own heartbeat and breathing. It’s actually rather comforting. If you couldn’t hear the minor sounds of movement in your armor or the steady rhythm of your heart, you’re fairly certain you’d go quite mad, being constantly reminded of the stasis pod in which you had very nearly died. You shudder at the very thought and fire up the cutter, its highly focused emission quickly embrittling the door to the Reka in a slightly wobbly circle, just wider than yourself.

When you finish, you put away the cutter and place a small thumper on the center of the circle. Floating off to the side, you activate the thumper. It isn’t long before the fracture line you’ve created breaks. As soon as it does, the chunk of metal now disconnected bursts away from the Reka, bumping into your Valkyr as the air in the local compartment pushes itself out into the zero-pressure void of space.

When the air stops rushing out of the compartment, you work your way into the space once intended to be a secondary airlock for the Reka. You reach to activate the inner door, but Shilo quickly reminds you, ‘Magnetic lock!’ Your hand stops. You blink a few commands into your helmet and activate your magnetic lock as well as sending a signal to the Valkyr to revolve a quarter of a circle around the Reka, in case anything comes shooting out of the ship when you open the door.

Just as Shilo suspected, you find yourself ducking quickly as items which had drifted away from the bulkheads are pushed out the new opening to the ultra low pressure environment of the void. You creep your way under the rushing debris and shut the airlock door behind you. The objects in motion drift toward the closed door and thud quietly against the metal. Turning away from the door’s operator, you start looking about the passageway and gag on  your own vomit. Instantly understanding why you sensed no one aboard, you realize that none of the crew evacuated this ship.

Bodies surround you, floating freely in the air after being stirred from age-old resting places. The sterile environment of ships meant that the bodies were surprisingly well preserved for being so old as they were, but decay had nonetheless found its way to the faces of all of these men and women. Looks of horror are forever etched into the stone-cold, drained flesh of their faces. The gaunt looks of the spacers throughout the passageway thoroughly convey the fact that they did not die in battle. The damage to the outside of the ship had made it clear that no penetrations had made it entirely through all of the ship’s hulls, but you had considered the possibility of evacuation or fire as explanations to your inability to sense any life aboard. You had not prepared for the hollow faces of men and women who had starved to death.

You begin wading your way through the bodies, carefully setting each one on its back on the deck before passing by, posing their arms over their hearts. When you reach the end of the passageway, you view the status of the primary airlock. The faded indicator light still shows that the airlock is set, so you reach toward the door’s operator only to realize that it’s been violently destroyed. Confused toward why this would be, you reach into the door’s operating mechanisms with your glow and activate the opening sequence of the airlock. The hiss of the air being pushed out of the airlock to equalize pressure with the passageway sounds for only a few moments before the door unlocks.

You make your way into the airlock and close the door, setting the lock and prepping the space for the insurge of air that will occur when you operate the internal door. Looking down, you notice that this operator, too, has been destroyed. You begin reaching into the door when something bumps against your helmet. You turn around and grab the small, soft cylinder from the air. This time, you are unable to prevent vomit from entering your mouth as you bring the thoroughly gnawed finger into the light of your helmet.

Swallowing the sour taste, you turn and open the inside door of the airlock, seeing for the first time something the glow had not revealed across the void between the Reka and the Osgord. As you calm yourself, you step forward into the compartment, this time full of many bodies which had not starved but had rather simply not made it to the airlock before the cannibalism began. You are reminded of the house in which you met Shilo and step forward into a scene straight from a nightmare. Stone sets itself onto your face as you press on, resolving yourself to destroy this ship as soon as the bombs have been disarmed.

The Osgord: Battle Stations

Thirty days after your encounter with the Matriarch, you awaken in your cabin to the claxon of the ship’s general quarters alarm. After fourteen similar drills, it only takes you about three millidays to don your armor. As soon as your helmet seals, your door opens with a belting roar, the uniform red light casting an eerie effect on the wardroom. Immediately, you’re up and out the main hatch, making your way into the central passageway, where many other crew members are making their way to their battle stations.

On your way to the forward cut of the ship, you hear the groan of the main counterbalance rotating around to join the central compartment as the ship’s spin comes to a grinding halt. There is a brief moment of drift to one side when the central compartment locks into position, and after, you feel yourself lift off of the deck. Enabling your magnetic locks, you bring yourself back to the ground and continue your way forward.

When you reach the forward breaking head, you disengage your magnetic locks and pull yourself through the manifold into a small airlock. As the abaft airlock closes, the forward airlock opens, revealing the workings of the Combat Readiness and Response Control Room, known to most as the Sword Room. The Captain looks to you briefly and nods. You nod back, making your way to your station as the Upper Northport Gunner. You take a seat and link into the interface panel, and immediately, your visor lights up with an entirely new display.

You are now looking, instead of at a small panel of figures on a dash, at a live feed of the outside of the ship, complete with extravisible sensor information displayed around the borders of the feed. Monitoring the parameters and finding nothing out of the ordinary, you issue an “all clear” from your station. The message is received by the Captain, who acknowledges and asks you to look out for any possible enemy activity. Of course, this is just a drill; but the Captain takes every operation, drill or otherwise, just as seriously as the life of any and all of his crew. You continue scanning the void for any possible signs out of the ordinary while reports shipwide come in, giving the all clear.

After the last station calls in, you begin to feel on edge. Not a single casualty has been reported, which is quite contrary to the very nature of a drill. Additionally, every senior member of ship staff has the same grim look on his or her face, and each one is enhanced with each glance at the central command console. Concerned, you open up access to all external sensors, compounding the data on your visor and reviewing it more thoroughly. There doesn’t appear to be anything out there, but–

There it is! Closing all but two of your views, you compare them once more. Sure enough, there’s an exaggerated parallax discrepancy between the two views of Osgord, still not much more than a pinprick at this distance. Nevertheless, it’s enough. “Anomaly spotted at Up-23, North-15, Port-71!” The report comes out from your external speaker in that eerily androgynous voice, but everyone knows whose voice is really calling out, and no one questions the validity of the claim, instead bringing their screens up to show the location surrounding those coordinates.

Immediately, calls begin issuing out from other stations, reporting similar findings of different natures. Each time a report is issued, the Captain nods and makes a small mark on the central command console. When the heat sensors report in, the Captain makes one final mark before standing tall and grabbing hold of the intracommunicator.

“This is the Captain speaking. There has been a confirmed sighting of a stealth-equipped enemy ship. Heat signatures indicate that it’s a repurposed Fregjyt-Class Storm Ship. It appears to be headed toward the planet Osgord. Reports were first received of a missing cargo vessel three days ago. GQ status was issued as soon as the Osgord entered the flight path of the missing ship and confirmed that there were no signs of the vessel. It is highly suspected that the enemy ship is on a bombing run, and I have every intention to engage.”

A few moments of silence ring out at these words. The Osgord hasn’t seen action in over a cycle, despite a very vivid memory of your own to the contrary manufactured by the Matriarch, and its crew isn’t looking to end that streak any time soon. As if on cue, the Captain continues. “I realize most of you don’t look forward to combat, but trust me when I say this is our duty.” He takes a look around the Sword Room and glares at his console once more before finishing: “Let’s go show those idiots why the Ginnung don’t go to the Core!”

Despite yourself, you join in for a moment as the whole crew shouts as one, men and women alike pounding a fist to their chest before returning to their properly stationed mannerisms. The Captain begins barking orders, and the senior officers surrounding him turn to their respective divisions. The chief gunnery officer turns to your division and orders that all guns be freed. You reach to your interface and begin to engage weapons when Shilo says, ‘Wait. Feel inside that ship.’

You reach out toward the ship with your mind, your glow burning more brightly. Upon looking inside, you realize the trap and shout, “Wait!” Your helmet disengages, and you practically trip over your seat scrambling toward the Captain, who gives you one quick glance over before picking up the intracommunicator once more and calmly issuing the order, “All hold.”

“What is it, Keria’Ledrii? You sensed something, I can tell.” His eyes try to scan your own, but he quickly has to wipe them. Staring directly into a Valkyrie’s eyes with the naked eye can be dangerous, and he rarely wears the recommended Captain’s Visor. Seeing that he won’t be able to look you in the eye with your helmet off, he sets his hand on your head and leaves his eyes closed.

For a moment, you are hesitant to tell him what you’ve felt, but then you feel aboard the other ship again, and your determination becomes hardened. “There are twenty-four bardag bombs aboard that ship, and it’s extremely derelict. I’m surprised it’s even capable of maintaining its stealth parameters. There isn’t anyone aboard that ship. My guess is that it’s on a suicide run to Osgord, and it flew straight through the missing ship by a freak chance. I don’t think anyone has been aboard that ship since the Ginnung Gap was first formed. As I suppose, it was on a bombing run and was riddled with holes in its hull. When the crew evacuated or while it was dying, they set the ship on a collision course with Osgord. The problem was that its engines were damaged severely, which is why its heat signature looks like a Fregjyt-class. As I see it, it’s clearly an original Vedr-class Storm Ship.”

The Captain nods, his eyes closed in contemplation. After a few seconds, he asks the question you knew he must. “Can you disable the bombs?”

You grab his hand from atop your head and hold it in both of your own, smaller hands. “I can’t guarantee that I’ll succeed, but I’ll try, Captain. I recommend that I board the ship using the Valkyr while you take the Osgord to a safe distance. When I finish, I’ll signal my return, and you can send me the Osgord’s coordinates.”

The Captain nods again, and you re-engage your helmet. After nodding at everyone in the Sword Room, you go to the center airlock and open it. Immediately, the massive pressure differential in the express tube pulls you into itself, closing the airlock behind you as you float swiftly toward the aftermost part of the ship, the hangar, where your Valkyr awaits.

The Osgord: Mind Games

You look blindly into the dark of your mind. As you stare through the realm of your subconscious, you find yourself walking through your home back on Nivlahim. You never thought very much of it, but now that it’s so far away, you can’t help but want to shed a tear over losing it. You stop for a few moments in your room to pick up the plush ulfr which had once been all you had of your mommy. Now, instead of a simple child’s toy, you have a warrior’s sword. You set down the stuffed animal and walk out of your room, determination writing itself onto your face. You have something to do.

Moving out of your bedroom, you find the family room to be in the same state of disarray in which you left it last. Looking about as you move through to the door, you see the residue of plasma discharge along with the massive corpses of the wyrms Shilo defeated with such deftness. Thinking back, you still can’t believe what happened. If you hadn’t tried to help, she may have survived. Then again, you may both have died. The past is the past, though, so there’s no real way to know now. No sense blaming yourself…

The doorway is demolished, but you step through it gently. On the other side, the heartwrenching sight of the lobby is there to meet you. After all, this is your own mind. What else would reside there beside your memory? Finished with the sorrow this sight brings you, however, you reach into the depths of your mind and restore the room to its state before the attack. The wyrms’ corpses disappear, and the massive light fixture is restored to its former state hovering over the center of the lobby. Apart from the lack of people, there is only one difference in the room from your previous memories: In the very center of the lobby, there is a black pillar with green light woven through the material like ribbons in the fog.

You walk toward the pillar, remembering the last sight you witnessed there: Shilo’s eyes turning dark. As you suspected, the entrance to Shilo’s mind is standing before you. You need to talk to her directly. You place your hand on the pillar. The world changes in an instant, a burning rush of wind pouring over you.

You find yourself standing on a road constructed of what seem to be large pebbles set in sand. Looking about, you don’t recognize the place from any of Shilo’s memories. The trees are even strange. Looking more closely, you can’t quite place what it is, but something about the color of the leaves is wrong. You straighten up and begin looking about for Shilo.

As you look about, you take in some of the stranger aspects of the world around you. The buildings are made mainly of wood, and the roofs appear mostly to be thatched. There are no pulse cars in sight, but there are short, wooden trucked trailers hitched to the yokes of large, four-legged beasts. You’ve never seen animals quite like them, but their similarity to hrossaks is remarkable.

As you approach the nearest one, you hear the sound of herd animals being brought in your direction. You turn toward the sound, but there’s a hill between you and the herd, so you can’t really see anything. While you’re waiting for the herd to approach, the beast behind you snorts. You jump at the sound, quietly laughing at yourself for being startled inside your own mind before reminding yourself that you’re inside Shilo’s mind, not your own, as strange as that is.

“Keri?” Shilo’s voice is easily recognized, but it’s strangely distant. Looking up, you see her herding a large group of big, fuzzy animals over the hill. Looking around, she almost seems perplexed to see you here, her face engulfed in concern. She pulls down her cowl and pushes the hair in her face behind her ear. “What’s going on? I haven’t heard anything from you for days!”

That’s odd. The attack on the Osgord was just yesterday. “What do you mean?” you ask. “The Osgord was attacked. You helped me figure out what was going on, and I got tossed into space, and then Keliar’di was there, andIgothurtandmyeyesdidntworkandtheworldwasallglowyand–”

“Whoa, whoa, Keri, wait up!” Shilo’s finally made it to you, and she crouches down to look you in the eyes. “I haven’t talked to you since our first night on the Osgord.” She looks more closely into your eyes, and her eyebrows raise at the sight of something. “Ahh. I see what’s happening. There’s a series of tomoweh in your mind’s eye. Someone’s implanting an experience on you.” You give her a confused look that clearly states you have no idea what that means. “Let me explain. When you woke up, and all those things were happening, you hadn’t actually woken up. You’re still unconscious.”

You sit down on the ground, crossing your legs and gathering your focus to think more about what’s being said. “So what you’re saying is that I’ve basically been having a terrible dream?”

“No, Keri,” Shilo says, sitting down in front of you. “You’re awake, but your mind is essentially imprisoned in the will of another. And considering the depth of space we’re in, there are only two people I can think of that would be able to affect your awareness so completely: The Monarch or the Matriarch. And since you’re not dead right now, I think it’s safe to say it isn’t the Monarch.” Shilo swings the bag strapped to her back around and into her lap. Reaching into it, she pulls out a ragged book that looks a few dozen cycles old.

“What’s that?” You reach out a bit, wanting to see what’s in the book. She just smiles and hands you a small, red fruit. You take a bite out of it. It’s crisp and sweet with just the right hint of sour. You smile. “What is this?”

Shilo’s eyes look over the edge of the now-open book and says, “I have no idea. This place is a bit of a mystery.” You give a quizzical look. “This isn’t from my memories. It’s from a vision given to me by the Matriarch when I finished my training. It’s not her vision, either. All Valkyries are shown the vision upon completion of their training. It’s from the old skies. It was entrusted to the Matriarch by a man she called, ‘outside of time.’ I’m not sure what that means, but if I had actually gotten to meet her and ask face-to-face, I’m not sure she’d know, either.” She smiles and returns to the book.

You take another bite of the fruit and take another look at the world around you. The color of the leaves is yellower, not because of season but because the star in the sky has less blue in its spectrum. The animals around you are all completely unknown, but you can’t shake the eeriness of the buildings. The village is so small, it reminds you of a bedtime story. Outside of time is probably a perfect description of anyone who’s seen this place in real life.

“Here it is!” Shilo cries out. You look back to her, your attention focused. “Well, that explains why we’re able to talk here… Oh, that makes sense. Hmm…” She tells you no details of what she’s reading, and it’s all you can do not to grab the book and read it yourself. Instead, you take another bite of your fruit. “Well, I can only think of one way to get out of this simulation, Keri.”

You have no idea what she has in mind, but Shilo has never let you down. “What do I do?” When you see her confident smirk, you can’t help but smile back at her.

“You have to try to reach out to the Matriarch and…” Shilo begins to fade into a dull gray silence. She stands up, grabbing your hand and pulling you into a hug, trying to tell you more before she fades completely, but you get nothing.

“Wake up, Keri,” the lie of a voice reaches into your ears like milk, but you can’t let yourself be distracted by this false reality. Opening your eyes, you look into the shining world around you. You’re back on the Osgord, though you suppose you never left, and this isn’t actually an accurate indication of your location anyway. You begin searching the void with your strongest glow. “Can you see?”

There it is! The planet is so far away, but the path of green light you feel can’t quite be hidden away. Too much effort is going into simulating the events onboard the Osgord. On the planet of the same name, you feel a presence stronger and warmer than anything you’ve ever felt, even compared to memories of your mother. Grasping hold of the sensation, you try your hardest to scream out to it with your mind, “I see YOU!”

For the third time, you open your eyes. This time, however, you know everything is real. You’ve been brought to the medical bay, and the Medical Officer scrambles over to you, calling over the communicator in her hand, “She’s awake, sir!”

Exhausted beyond reason, you feel the strength of your glow fade, sapping strength from your body as well. ‘Good job, Keri,” Shilo speaks in your mind. Smiling, you close your eyes again, saying, “I need to rest a bit.” As the Medical Officer grips your hand, you grip it back.

Then, another voice echoes in your mind, accompanied by that same warm sensation you felt before. As clearly as if it had been whispered into your ear, the voice says, ‘I’ve been waiting a long time for you, Keria’Ledrii. Enjoy your trip. I’ll be waiting just a bit longer.’

The Osgord: Eye Opening

You’re running. You aren’t sure where you’re running or why, but you are most definitely running. Looking around, you see nothing but dark. There are no distinguishing features in your vision to tell you where or even what anything is, and you see no landscape or trail, yet you keep running, focusing on silent breathing. Only there’s no breathing, either. You listen for the sound of your own feet and hear nothing. You feel for your own heartbeat and feel nothing. You stop running only to realize you hadn’t actually been moving. From the inside of your own mind, you scream, ‘No! No, please! Not again!’ But there’s not even a whisper of sound.
‘Keri, dear, don’t be frightened.’ That voice… You know that voice, but it’s impossible. You hear it in your mind once more, ‘Oh, sweet little Keri, it’s alright. Don’t cry. Open your eyes, sweetie.’
You open your eyes. You’re not yet a cycle old, and you look up out of your crib into the peering eyes of a beautiful woman. She’s not young, but neither is she old, though the creases in her face imply an age far beyond that of her shining, green eyes. Her expression is one of concerned fear. She turns to one side and calls out, “Plua’die, come quickly! Keri is awake, and I have to feed her.’ Her words, you notice, run a bit long, but this is normal. She’s always been like that.
A man you always find to be exceptionally tall walks into the room and reaches down into your crib. You reach up and begin grasping your fingers at his face, so far away and yet so close and so wonderful. He smiles at you, and picks you up, grabbing you under your armpits and spinning you around him until you coo and grin at him. He smiles broadly, his graying whiskers lifting like the great big, well, lifting things. You giggle at the thought, and he pulls you into a gentle hug. You wrap your arms around his neck as much as you can, but it isn’t much.
He begins to lower you down, and you turn to see your mommy reaching out from her seat to hold you. Her grey-blue hair spills over her shoulders as she leans over her frail legs to grab you. Her hands are a bit bony, but they’re mommy hands, so you don’t mind. You look up into her eyes and are entranced by the green light emanating from them as she whispers, “Open your eyes, Keri. Don’t be frightened.” You don’t understand and simply coo again, reaching your hand–
You awake to a great booming sound. You unstrap yourself from your bed, moving away just in time for a great crashing vibration to go through the ship.  ‘Shilo,’ you think, ‘what’s going on?’
Another boom precedes a great groan of metal as the rotating semi-cylinders through the central fuselage of the ship come to a halt, and the little simulated gravity that was left vanishes with the rocking of the compartment. ‘We’re probably under attack. I’m not sure who would be attacking this far into the core, though. This doesn’t bode well. I need to think.’
Shilo retreats into your mind once more while you prepare for the possibility of battle. You shed your nightgown and petticoat and pull out the tight garment used as the primary neural interface with Valkyrie armor. You step into the gelatinous material and zip it up. Despite your best efforts to avoid it, the zipper snags twice, and it takes you a full milliday to zip it all the way. Once you’ve finished, you wrap your hair tightly and pull the hood of the undergarment over your head.
Another crashing sound is heard, and you kick away from the bulkheads to prevent yourself from being knocked around while you pull the main armor pressure suit on, sealing the suit once you get the choker around your neck, a rush of air passing over your face as the suit removes all pockets of air between itself and you, at once expanding inward slightly to apply standard pressure across your whole body. The cool sensation of your undergarment’s inner gel layer warms slightly, maintaining appropriate skin temperature which will lower if it detects your muscles warming. Bracing yourself for your least favorite part of donning the armor, you twist the release on the choker indicating that the seal has been formed comfortably, and there is a slight whirring sound as plasma needles insert sterilized intravenous catheters to monitor your hormone levels, to allow fast transfusions if necessary, and to allow you to maintain proper nutrition and hydration without removing your armor. You make a face as the excretory interfaces are carefully placed with an awkwardly gentle seal.
Once that ordeal ends, you begin attaching equipment to the pressure seal, servo motors squealing and humming as the various pieces of equipment are latched and screwed into place. You add canisters of blood, water, and various nutrients, vitamins, and proteins in solution. A box full of smaller canisters attaches to your chest, the canisters inside containing various drugs and hormones for automatic emergency treatment. Swinging it over your back, you attach the main DPU and air supply system. Once you’ve finished attaching the various weapons and such that you may need, you begin adding the armor segments that fit over it all.
Another crash as you place the final segment over your back startles you a bit, but you ignore the noise and finish setting it in place, and the segments all press inward, connecting to one another and creating an appearance that would prevent the uneducated eye from seeing that the armor is, in fact, more than one piece. You pick up Shilo’s sword and swing it around to an inverted sheath on your back, the sheath over a head taller than you despite extending almost a whole arm’s length to your side. You turn around to grab your helmet.
A long, grinding sound approaches you from the forward external direction, and you quickly pick up the helmet and shove it over your head, the main seal coming into place with the visor still deactivated just as the sound accumulates to a roar as your bulkhead is torn apart, and the compartment instantly depressurizes along with the area immediately surrounding your eyes, your sight taking in the sight of a rounded ship sweeping past followed by an opening to the dead of space, into which you are immediately pulled, your eyes screaming in pain. You close them as tightly as you can, your voice joining your eyes in their scream when your boots fail to magnetize in time to prevent you being vented into space. You feel yourself tumble as your eyes begin to boil, and there’s a thud as you hit the other ship.
The plasma visor finally initializes just as your breather kicks in, air rushing over your burning, frozen eyelids, and pressurized air works its way into your lungs. You can hear a thunk as your magnetized boots fix themselves to the hull of the enemy ship. Through the metal, your audio sensors begin to pick up the sound of alarms and shouts, though there is no sense of panic. The shouts seem to be a simple attempt to speak over the sound of the proximity and impact alarms. You feel your way across the hull, still refusing to open your eyes as tears and blood work their way through your tightly shut eyelids. You feel what seems to be a bioswitch and engage it by using one of the intravenous catheters to draw blood and pump it through a pipette in the thumb of your armor. The switch retreats into the hull to reveal a handle, which you turn to open the hatch into an airlock. You work your way inside and close the hatch, air filling the airlock with a whooshing sound.
You press your eyes tighter in pain, concentrating as much as you can on bringing your glow up and feeling outward into the ship. There are only two people inside. As soon as you feel them, however, they both turn toward the airlock and start advancing toward it purposefully. You feel their focus on you and realize that this wasn’t meant to be an
attack. It was a search and rescue. She may not know you, but you recognize the feeling of Keliar’di from Shilo’s memories.
The door to the airlock opens, and you manage out a weak, “Stop the fight. I can explain everything,” before losing consciousness, your small body too weak from the ordeal.
You coo again and pull at your mommy’s hair. She smiles gently as she removes your hand’s grip. “Everything’s going to be just fine.” Your bottle comes into view, and you immediately go for it. Your mommy’s hand caresses your head, and she looks to your daddy with a joyful face. It’s a face you’ll never forget. After all, it’s one of the last faces you’ll ever see on your mommy.
You awake and remember the pain over your eyes, which you squeeze more tightly closed immediately. Tears squeeze their way out into the air, and you realize you don’t have your helmet on. Then, a soft hand presses against your forehead gently, and an impossible voice says, “Shh, it’s alright. Don’t cry. Open your eyes, sweetie.”
In an act of almost sheer incredulity, you release the pressure over your eyes and open them to a sight unlike any you’ve ever seen. The world around you is a mass of multicolored light, and you feel like you can see through the very bulkheads into the vastness of space. And staring down into your eyes is a light brighter than any of the others with eyes as bright a green as you’ve ever seen. You realize now that your eyes aren’t actually working. Your glow, however, is seeing for you.
A figure of light moves over to the green-eyed light and whispers something. You can see their minds lighting up, but you don’t know how to make sense of it. The green-eyed figure speaks with that same, impossible voice, “No, that can’t be right.” The other figure nods slowly as if to assert that whatever she was just told is, in fact, very true. The green-eyed figure becomes brighter and looks to you again, her thumb caressing your brow.
“Keria’Ledrii, is it?” You nod, and she continues, “I’m your mother’s sister, Qzcia’Ledrii. I’m so sorry about your parents and Shilo, but its all going to be alright. You’re on the Osgord again, sweetheart, and we’re all at the dock orbiting the planet Osgord. You made it. We’re going to do what we can to fix your eyes, but I’m afraid I can’t make any promises. I’ll talk to you more on the other side, alright?” You nod again, and a dim light is placed over your face. A few moments later, and you’re out again.

The Osgord: Wardroom

Dinner reminds you immediately that you’re on one of the Armada’s best ships. Large bowls of fruit and vegetables from the arboretum on the bottom deck are lined up down the center of the table along with platters of fresh mirchn and fiskr grown in that same artificial habitat. The colors alone are enough to make your mouth water. There are small bowls filled with various insects, oils, and nuts, too, but your adventurous sense of taste doesn’t yet stretch that far. Your own plate is filled with a large, dark salad with lots of fruit and a moderately sized cut of fiskr on it. After some gentle prodding by the Osgord’s Chief of Nutrition, you agree to add some oil and nuts to the salad, along with a small, red fruit you had originally thought to be a berry but which had a much more succulent taste. Apart from the small meal with Shilo before the encounter with the wyrms, you haven’t had a bite to eat since the attack on Nivlahim, so you dig in as soon as the benediction is finished.

“It’s Keria’Ledrii, isn’t it?” The nutritionist sitting beside you seems to be attempting conversation. You set down your fork, returning yourself to the appropriate mindset for engaging in conversation and taking that time to swallow your food.

“That’s right,” you reply.

He continues, “Did I hear the Cap saying that you were on your way to train as a, umm…” his throat catches for a moment before he manages, “a Valkyrie?” His eyes briefly catch on your hair, and he makes it a point not to gulp out of apprehension. You’re not used to this type of response to your appearance, but some of Shilo’s memories surge up for a moment, particularly ones of a nasty incident between the monarchy and the Blue only about twelve cycles ago, more than a lifetime for you but not even half of one for the man beside you. There is a very violent reason that the Valkyries came into light and became the only group independent of monarch control those several cycles ago.

“Yes, that’s right,” you say again. “My sister was a Valkyrie, and my mommy was one of the Blue before their official formation.” The mention of this causes a twinge of discomfort to spread across the table like a small explosion. “My daddy died a little while ago, and then my sister found me, but then she died, too.” As the words make their way out of your mouth, they grow progressively slower and further apart, tears welling up in your eyes upon realization of the full tragedy of it all.

You notice when you finish speaking that the previously tumultuous table was now silent all but for the sobs of a girl only five cycles old. Nonetheless, the sobs don’t stop, and the men and women surrounding you make no effort to look away from what you can only see as a broken child. None of them can know the pain you feel, and none pretend to. Quite different from the petty consolations you’d received upon your mother’s death from strangers who’d never truly known her as you did, the respecting and gentle gazes you receive now are those of men and women who have known similar pains and have experienced great loss themselves and, thusly, who know that the pain they felt was not the same.

So you cry. You cry for your mommy and daddy. You cry for Shilo. You cry for the friends who hadn’t been evacuated. You cry for every life lost in your city and every heart broken over this war. When the sobs finally begin to peter out, and the slim hand of one of the female officers makes its way to your shoulder, you look into her warm, blue eyes and realize that the only person you won’t ever have to cry for is yourself. The room remains silent until you wipe your eyes and nose, quietly thanking everyone. “Thank you. I’m sorry if I ruined your dinner.” You give a halfhearted smile, and a few chuckles make there way around the table.

Suddenly, as if it had been no one’s idea at all, the wardroom began to fill with a somber dirge of a tune:

“In lonely nights,

The shadows fill the room,

And the nightmares

Hang my heart in gloom.

Though you have left,

You’re never gone.

I’ll keep you with me

In this sweet, sad song.

“We once had dreams,

But never now fulfilled,

Stillest waters

Ripple now with guilt.

Though you have left,

You’re never gone.

I’ll keep you with me

In this sweet, sad song.

“The cold of night

Has reached my lonely heart.

But golden gates

For your good soul part.

Though you have left,

You’re never gone.

I’ll keep you with me

In this sweet, sad song.

“In sweetest fields

Of golden felmag hum,

We’ll run again

When my day has come.

Though you have left,

You’re never gone.

I’ll keep you with me

In this sweet, sad song.”

A few moments pass as you realize that the song is finishing slowly throughout the ship, having made its way through bulkheads and open doors and hatches. It’s a song the crew knows well, having sung it for plenty a fellow, and you feel as though you’ve just witnessed the exposed hearts of these men and women as must as they have yours.

The executive officer of the ship quietly takes a drink and clears his throat. “We may not know your pain, but we know ours well enough to say that if you keep moving forward, time heals all wounds.” A hushed assent makes its way across the table as various men and women look down in memory of those they had been singing for. “Now, I’m not sure how good you are on a quarter-grav platform like this, but there’s only one way to keep moving forward on a ship like this, and that’s working. The captain may have gotten to welcome you to the ship, but I would like to welcome you to the crew of the TAS Osgord, if you’d have it.”

You blink away the tears in your eyes. “It would be an honor.” Everyone smiles. No one expects you to become a fully qualified spacer, but they know how much it means to have something to do, particularly in the hard times. You, of course, take the offer to heart. You plan on becoming the best spacer you can be in the time it takes to reach Osgord.

The Osgord: Boarded


Shilo’s call almost seems distant, but you realize upon opening your eyes that it had come out of great necessity, waking you just in time. Standing in front of you, magnetic locks engaged, is a looming figure reaching toward you. In the moment it takes you to register the figure’s pristine red uniform and shaky hands training a small hand repeater on you, you spin weightlessly through the air, kicking that very repeater from his hand, bringing yourself to the deck where your own magnetic locks engage upon command. As you reach up to grab the weapon from the air, however, you register the considerably less shakily aimed heavy repeaters in the hands of similarly uniformed figures standing in the main door to the hold, your dipulse the only thing standing firmly between yourself and them.

Just before you do so, Shilo’s voice sounds off once more in your mind, ‘Don’t put your hands up.’ You comply, instead swiftly grabbing the repeater and pulling the trembling and disoriented figure behind you into a headlock, the small weapon trained on his skull while his body stands between you and the figures in the adjacent ship.

‘Good,’ Shilo speaks into your mind. ‘Now, say exactly what I tell you…’

“This is a Valkyr,” you speak loudly to the figures in red. “The Armada has no jurisdiction here. State your intentions.”

The central figure releases his weapon, leaving it floating harmlessly in the air, and steps forward, his own hands raised. “I am Lieutenant Captain Gildr Khuda’Mundi, and I’m the commanding officer of the TAS Osgord. We picked up your ship on our sensors, and there were no responses to our attempts to retrieve identification. I made the decision to investigate. When we realized what kind of ship this was, further attempts to communicate were made unsuccessfully, so we boarded to see if help was needed. It was upon seeing the two bodies on the deck that I gave the order for weapons to be drawn. It’s my understanding that Valkyr crews consist of only two Valkyries. Furthermore, you’re the smallest warrior I’ve seen in my whole life, and I found your presence and armor suspicious enough to warrant taking necessary precautions. The man in your grips right now is Junior Sergeant Pil’die Carden. He’s a member of my medical personnel, and I’d greatly appreciate it if you would release him, identify yourself, and explain the quite interesting situation we all seem to find ourselves in right now.”

While he waits for you to make your decision, the Lieutenant Captain makes no attempt to move toward you or back to his men, instead calmly standing next to the dipulse, looking at it with a mild fascination, as if you are of little interest to him. Though you commend how collected he is, a simple probing of his mind reveals him to be in a state of immense stress, his thoughts clearly focused on the safety of his men but coolly sorting through the facts. You remove your focus from him, reaching out around you and realizing that your ship has actually been brought into the main hangar of a Minor Carrier, a detail which could have caused the Lieutenant Captain to have seemed more threatening only moments ago.

“I will not disarm, nor will I tolerate any attempted boarding beyond this hold.” You realize upon hearing it that the age of your voice is being masked by the androgynous voice of your helmet’s external comm. “I do, however, expect that you remain armed as well, in the interest of perceived fairness. Your men will return to their normal duties while we go over the details of the situation. If these terms are not agreeable,” you continue as Shilo cues you on, “I take no quarter, Lieutenant Captain. There will be no survivors.”

Personally, you find the words all to be a bit harsh and out of character, even for Shilo. Even so, you wait for the Lieutenant Captain to nod before releasing the Junior Sergeant, who walks as calmly as possible away from you, his shipmates grabbing his arms as he passes out upon reaching them, pulling him back out of the ship and into the hangar. The door closes slowly behind them, hissing quietly as its seals are formed.

The Lieutenant Captain removes his helmet and begins looking around the compartment, leaving the helmet resting neatly in the air. His eyes catch hold of the dipulse, and you can almost see him disassembling it in his mind. “Well, now that we’re alone, would you mind identifying yourself, Valkyrie? I know you don’t have to do so, but I’m putting myself at quite the disadvantage here just to speak with you. I certainly wouldn’t mind knowing what you’re doing here with two dead Valkyrie bodies, either. As a matter of fact,” he looks up at your helmet, as if he can see right into your eyes, “I’m incredibly curious why you’re even in my sector of space. Thor is about a quarter of a turn around Linthia.”

You choose to be upfront with him. “I’m not on my way to Thor. I’m heading to Osgord.”

The Lieutenant Captain gives you a critical look. “I can tell that much, thank you. I’m more curious why you’re going to Osgord with two dead Valkyries in a ship designed to be piloted by two of the same, likely the two that are dead. And you still haven’t identified yourself.” He crosses his arms, and you cock your head a bit at the motion.

“No, I haven’t.” You can’t keep up this charade any longer. “I’m Keria’Ledrii Khuda’Cronell.” You take off your helmet, and the Lieutenant Captain’s eyes widen. “I’m not a Valkyrie yet, but I’m on my way to Osgord to meet someone very important. Possession of this ship has been granted to me through Valkyrie protocol Freija.” The protocol is obscure, but Shilo seems to think its contents are similar enough for the application to be sound. Besides, the Lieutenant Captain is clearly distracted by the revelation of your age.

After a few millidays, though it felt like centidays, the Lieutenant Captain uncrosses his arms and lets out his breath. With it seems to come the burden of trying to figure out what to do with you, and his posture belies an increased state of ease. “Well,” he says, “whether you’re a Valkyrie or not, you didn’t miss a step disarming my medic, and you’ve got their hair, so I’m going to assume you’ve got their powers, too, to some extent. That means that if I want to keep my crew safe, I only have two options.”

Your interest is piqued at this. You don’t remember him having any option other than letting you go on your way. Shilo makes no indication that you should speak, either, so you choose to say yourself, “And what are those options, Lieutenant Captain?”

He eyes you for a few moments, unsure if he should be disturbed by you or not. Finally, however, he speaks. “Well, the first option, which my men would probably prefer as much as you would, I’m sure, would be to let you go.” You cock your brow at that. That implies that he prefers the second option, which you still can’t figure out. “The second option,” he says, “would be to keep you aboard but away from my men. They may be of no safety concern to you, but you’re of one to them, and I need them working. We have a spin on most of the ship. The hangar area isn’t on one for obvious reasons, but something tells me you haven’t been treated for zero-gravity travel, which I suspect is why your stasis pod shows recent use.”

You look over at the pod. You haven’t even thought about it since the boarding started. Surely enough, though, its hatch is wide open, the contents slightly billowed outward, though not spilling due to a lack of gravitational forces. A trail of liquid is hovering in the air where you drifted out of the pressurized pod. Upon Shilo’s advisement, you say, “Well, there is no point pretending I have. You’re obviously not a fool, and I have no need to hide my goings-on. So which option will you be choosing?”

The Lieutenant Captain smiles at you like he would at any other child, and for a moment, you remember that you still are one. “Well, Keria’Ledrii, I suppose I should welcome you aboard the Osgord.” He grabs his helmet, and you do the same, putting yours on just before he opens the main door and waves down the squadron of Glidjumprs waiting on the orher side, continuing to speak as he leads you out. “He’s the only pup in his class. It’s a quite different design from ships like the Deathbringer. This ship is designed with stealth and defense in mind.”

Certainly, it must be. Everything seemed so rounded. The fighters in the hangar all had mirrored surfaces with stealth geometries, the crewman were all wearing auto pressure suits, and the exposed framework had massive cross beams which could likely withstand a fall from orbit on one of the standard worlds.

When you reached the wall of the hangar, you followed suit with the Lieutenant Captain and released your magnetic locks before gliding into a ring which ran along the edge of the hangar. Once in it, you’re caught in a current of air which is pushing you both faster along the curve of the ship and farther forward. Your feet hit the deck, and you almost fall backward as you realize that it’s now spinning beneath you. With a silent cheer, you smile at your first experience with simulated gravity.

You take a few tentative steps toward the Lieutenant Captain before coming to terms with the fact that you aren’t going to accidentally push yourself away from the deck, despite feeling much lighter than you did back home. You remember that Nivlahim is more than twice the mass of the average core planet and realize that this is a simulation of about one fourth standard gravity, just enough to permit the necessary conditions to prevent bodily repercussions from very low gravity with the proper exercises.

About midship, the Lieutenant Captain stops, crouches down, and opens a hatch beneath him before gliding down with an ease only possible in space for most. You follow suit and feel yourself grow heavier when you hit the deck of the wardroom. Looking about, you see officers tensing up as you pass, looking to their commanding officer and trusting his judgement as best as they can. At this point, you’re very glad you put your helmet back on. They can’t see the terrified little girl on the other side of your visor.

The Lieutenant Captain opens a door on one side of the wardroom, and you follow him in. Once inside, you notice the bed and desk, both simple and utilitarian in design. There’s an open door on the other side of the small cabin which leads to the head. On the bulkheads are various connections and nozzles for maintaining life support in case the adjacent compartments are vented. Protruding from the desk is a DPU interface, its screen black.

“This will be your cabin until we reach Osgord. You’re free to roam about the ship, but I ask that you do not inhibit my spacers’ ability to do their work. We’ll be to Osgord within thirty-five days if all goes well, and they’re eager for world leave, so they’ll do their best to make it shorter if they can.” The Lieutenant Captain gives you a smile and begins to head out the door.

“Thank you, Lieutenant Captain Khuda’Mundi.” The words come out in that same androgynous voice, but the tone was heard well enough. You meant it.

“You’re aboard my ship now, little Valkyrie,” he replies. “It’s easier for everyone if you just call me Captain.” The smile on his face grows wider before he adds, “You’ll probably be alright on the Osgord without the armor, too. My spacers have nothing against Valkyries, and the troopers on board are friendly enough. I’d imagine you’d feel more comfortable in clothing more suitable to a young girl’s taste.” Just as he speaks, one of the troopers shows up outside the door with a small box that holds your personal belongings, labeled, “Keri.”

“Thank you, Captain,” you say, taking the helmet off to do so. The trooper blinks a couple times, but there are otherwise no indications of his shock. You smile and take the box from him as the Captain steps out of the compartment.

As he closes the door, a face of realization springs onto his face, “Oh, and there’ll be food in about ten centidays. I invite you to eat in the wardroom with my officers just outside this cabin, in my personal wardroom if you so please, or in the galley with the enlisted personnel. They’ll all be eager to meet you. We’ll make further arrangements afterward.”

The door closes, and you hear a hiss as the airtight seal forms. You set your helmet down and open your box, pulling out a green dress with pretty flowers as you begin to unfasten the seals on your armor.

Memories: Fatigue

You can feel the fatigue caused by your consciousness beginning to set in at last. It was, of course, only a matter of time. The stasis pod has a limited number of measures to keep its occupant alive nearly indefinitely, but those are specifically designed for the unconscious. Your wakeful state is consuming more energy than the pod provides, and you’re slowly dying. Still, now is not the time to panic. Panic distracts thought, and that would only accelerate your death.

You are reminded at this time of when you were alone in the city, before you found Shilo. You had wandered for so long, trying to find just one living person, but the residences which had even still been occupied when the Valkyries came were few and far between, having already been evacuated. Where people had still been alive before the attack, however, you found only bodies or remnants thereof. Wandering out too far, you had gotten lost in the smoky streets. You would certainly have suffocated had you not remained calm and resolved your situation rationally. Now, you must do likewise. You set back into Shilo’s memories.

Zhilo’di Khuda’Cronell, Age 6, Processing Zone, Blue Selection Grounds, Undisclosed Location, Osgord

Shilo steps out of the ship with tears drying on her face. Though it has technically been several days since her parents’ death, the event was only minutes ago from her perspective. She wipes her eyes as she looks around, the other girls looking a bit shaken but none quite so much as her.

Taking a few moments to collect herself, Shilo marvels once more at the sheer number of girls and women with blue hair of various shades and amounts, some with only a few locks of blue, others with only a few strands of hair that aren’t blue. Looking around, she tries to find anyone without hair like her own. She can’t.

Trying to figure out what she’s supposed to do, Shilo searches the crowd for some sense of order. Her attention is grabbed when she sees the flight attendant who had grabbed her earlier directing a group of girls into a multi-line formation, calmly giving orders that Shilo can’t quite hear. She opts to move closer and quietly sneaks into the back of the formation. For a moment, she thinks the woman has noticed her, their eyes catching, but the woman quickly continues her visual scan of the formation, either not noticing or choosing to ignore Shilo’s appearance.

“When you get to your quarters,” the woman says, “you’ll have five millidays to sort through your things before forming up and prepping for uniform issue. You may not be Academics yet, but that’s no excuse not to act like ones. Now, we’ll start off with a light jog. Follow me.” With that, the woman takes off in what couldn’t have been any less than a full sprint.

Shilo’s group takes off after the woman, who somehow turns around in the middle of her sprint, her face still calm and collected as she says, “Stay in formation! If you can’t stay in a simple formation like this during a light jog, how can any of you expect to be admitted to the Academy?” Shilo’s face turns to stone as she realizes that she could still fail admission. She doesn’t find the run particularly difficult to maintain, but many of the other girls are falling out of the formation, not sure where to line up. As the formation falls apart, Shilo looks up at the woman who clearly isn’t actually a flight attendant. The woman looks around at the faces of all the girls before locking eyes with Shilo.

As she makes eye contact, Shilo tries to reach out toward the woman’s mind in an attempt to ask if there’s anything she can do. She gets no mental response, and she’s not entirely sure she even succeeded at contacting the woman until she notices a slight smirk appearing on the woman’s lips, turning around to face forward once more, as if to say, “I can’t see anyone breaking ranks if I’m looking this way.”

Shilo picks up her speed and pulls to the front on one side, saying, “Line up on me!” The girls to her side quickly straighten up, the ones behind them coming slowly into a line again, most of them struggling to maintain pace, but soon the girls move all the strugglers to the middle, encouraging them as best they can to stick in formation. The middle of the formation stays a bit unstable as the strugglers fall out of line and are pushed gently back into it by the faster girls behind them.

Many of the girls are losing their belongings to the path as the things they carry fall out of bags or their hands open up to push strugglers along, but they’re too focused on keeping formation to worry about it. One girl drops what seems to be a stuffed ulfr, and her eyes grow wide. Panicking, she stops and turns back to pick it up. Shilo doesn’t look back far enough to see what happens to her, but soon she hears muffled shouting, and the girl doesn’t return to formation. Silently, she thanks the Great One that her satchel’s pouches are all tightly secured. Soon, however, tears come to her eyes as she recalls who secured them, and she pushes the thought aside, focusing on the run.

After what seems like several rosts, the woman leading Shilo’s group slows down, and the formation follows suit, many of the girls out of breath. They stop, and the woman faces them, pacing in front of the formation. She instructs the girl opposite Shilo in the front of the formation to lead everyone inside in a single file. The girl steps outside the formation and begins to tell her fellows what to do. Before she finishes speaking, however, the woman comes up to her and whispers something into her ear. In response, the girl looks at her incredulously, her eyes confused.

“Right, then,” the woman says as she paces back across the front of the formation, “You there.” She looks at Shilo, who meets her gaze with a hard but silent determination. “You’ll be leading everyone inside now.” Shilo nods in response but says nothing, waiting for the woman to break eye contact first before focusing on the task. After a few moments, the woman turns around and goes back to pacing, that same smirk vaguely visible on her face.

Shilo isn’t sure exactly what the other girl did wrong, but clearly doing the same thing will do no good, so she tries a different approach. She sends out a mental instruction to the other girls in formation, detailing when to enter formation, and starts walking inside, the girl behind her following and the other columns soon falling in behind her own just as instructed.

When Shilo gets inside the building, she finds herself inside a hallway. Unsure where to go, she begins probing the location. Most of the eastern side of the building appears to be a simple dining hall of some sort. At the end of the building, there seems to be a large bathing room and a kitchen beside it. That only leaves the western compartment. She turns into it just as she reaches the entrance.

What she meets as she walks inside the compartment is not what she expected. On the south side of the room, there is an arrangement of stasis pods, lockers placed beside each one, while the north side is mostly empty with an assortment of items against the walls. Shilo opens the nearest locker and places her things inside it, reminding those behind her that they have five millidays to form up.

While everyone else is talking to one another, Shilo pulls out her book and opens it to the page where she had placed her photograph as a bookmark. Tears begin to tread down her face, but the moment is quickly lost when the woman in charge of Shilo’s group comes into the room and walks directly to Shilo. “It’s Zhilo’di, isn’t it?”

Shilo blinks, her eyes meeting the woman’s for a few moments before responding, “Yes, it is. I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what?” The woman asks. Her lips are pursed and to one side, as if she’s trying to decypher a particularly difficult puzzle.

“I know I was supposed to be in a different group, but you were the only person I recognized.” Shilo’s tears begin to make their way out of her again, but the woman crouches down to meet her at eye level.

“Honestly, do you really think I would have let you join this group if it were that important?” The woman smiles. “You did miss my introduction, though. I’m your Candidate Chapter Commander, Keliar’di. Like everyone else here, I’m a Khuda’Cronell. Since that would get a bit confusing, we just use given names and nicknames here. We’re all sisters in a way, after all, aren’t we?” She smiles gently. “I knew your mother at one point, Zhilo’di. Qzculi’Adri was one of the best instructors at the Academy. I’m sorry about what happened, but I don’t recommend dwelling on it. The selection process here can be complicated at times, and it’s always difficult.”

Keliar’di stands and looks at her bare wrist. Somehow, though, it seems that there is some unseen information that she has gleaned from the glance, and she begins walking to the northern end of the compartment, where most of the other girls have gathered. Shilo quickly puts up her book and makes her way back to her spot in the formation.

“Right, girls,” Keliar’di says after the full time has passed, all the girls having returned to formation early, “you may have noticed that there are no beds here. There are only stasis pods. Now, those of you who were tired before the flight here may have noticed an interesting effect of stasis: It completely restores your mind while you’re under. It turns out that stasis only requires about five centidays for that effect to complete itself, making stasis much more efficient than regular sleep and leaving the days longer and more open to training and lessons.

“Now, you aren’t going to go into stasis every day for the rest of your lives, of course.” At this, a few girls sigh in relief. “While stasis restores your mind, it doesn’t reduce physical fatigue very much. It removes the fatiguing chemicals from your body, but your body has no opportunity to restore its t
issues while you’re in stasis, so eventually, you will need to sleep. The selection process isn’t so long that that will be a concern, but there is one concern that I must address about stasis.

“Your mind can wake up during stasis. It’s not typical, but it happens. Of course, a working mind consumes more energy than a static mind, so if your mind awakes, but if you fail to fully exit or re-enter stasis, you can very easily die. Normally, this is resolved by having someone monitor the condition of those in stasis, which we will have. However, there is always the chance that the person monitoring your condition fails to notice that you’re awake. In that case, you need to know how to save yourself. This is how you’re going to do it…”

You return from the memory to a dizzying sensation, a signal that you’re very near death. You’ve spent too much time in the memory. There’s a very good chance that you may have taken too long listening to Keliar’di and are now going to die regardless of what you know. Still, you refuse to panic.

Focusing on what you learned, you do exactly as Keliar’di told Shilo. You carefully remove all thought from your mind except that tiny amount of focus allowing you to remember. Then, you visualize yourself going to sleep, allowing that dizzying sensation to sweep over you as you think about black silence and stillness. Finally, you let go of even the memory and focus on being absolutely still, commanding your muscles not to move, then your lungs not to breathe, then your heart not to beat, then your mind not to think, and finally even your eyes not to glow. You sink into the blackness.


You gulp for air as the pod releases you from stasis. Your mind reels as your brain comes all the way back online. You are startled a bit at the age of Shilo’s voice when she calls out in your mind, ‘It’s alright, Shilo. You’ve made it out. Everything’s going to be ok.’ You choose to believe her as everything fades to black again while you slip into a genuine sleep.