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.

OSS: Resurt – The Final Exam

The Order of the Silver Star: Restart

The Final Exam

Resurt woke in the morning and found the AI looking down at him. “It is time for your final exam.” Resurt smiled and climbed out of his bed. Today was going to be a great day and he was really looking forward to the test. He was confident that he would pass. He loved the technical aspects of the Gate and went through the training faster than all but one in the history of the Gate. Today was going to be his day.

It did not take Resurt long to dress and grab a little breakfast. He stepped in the main hall of the Temple happier than he had been in his entire life. He took two steps into the hall and felt pain slam into his shoulder. He turned toward the entrance of the Temple and the location the blow came from. In front of him were materializing three men. The men were shimmering in and out of his vision as if they had an invisibility screen that was fading in and out. The problem was that every time they appeared they shot him with something. The repeated blows had pain coursing through his entire body. He could not even lift his arms to protect himself. How had they entered the Temple without him knowing? What about the alarm? Why had he let his guard down? He dropped to his knees in agony. His head was ringing and his vision was starting to go. He saw the boot approaching his face and then his whole head exploded. He blacked out.

Resurt woke for the twenty-third time in total agony. He knew it was twenty-three because it was the burns that made him black out and he could count the burn marks on his arms and legs. All they wanted was his code number to the Gate computer and they would take away the pain. All they wanted was everything that he was. He knew that they would destroy the entire gate system this time if they had the controls to the computer. He also knew he was the last person able to bring the gate system back online. He could see that the Temple was capable of training many candidates at once. Yet, the history showed that only three had tried the training in the past 10,000 years and they all failed. Perhaps this was why. Could it be that the others were kidnapped as he was and failed to survive the torture? He remembered why J’Rontia respected him – because he would not quit, even until death. Well these fools would have to learn that also, even if the price was high for him.

Knowing that he might die did not stop him from trying to think of a way out of this mess. He desperately wished for an opening of any kind. He was here because he got careless in the Temple. He felt that it was protected and that he was safe there. The history of the gate’s construction and life should have taught him different. The enemies of the gate attacked from every possible angle. He should have known better. Well that was enough yelling at himself. Now, how could he get out of this?

He reviewed what he had tried so far and why the ideas had not worked. Something was not right about this place and he wished he had J’Rontia’s mental powers. The Kuli he had trained with would have done some mind trick and escaped. Unfortunately, he had the “block” or whatever it was in the way of using his mental powers. Wait! How did he know the block was still in place? Or, perhaps he could get rid of it somehow? They never said he didn’t have the mental powers, only that they were blocked.

He knew he might only have moments before his tormentors returned so he moved into the meditative state he had been trained in as fast as possible. It was here that his efforts failed. He tried to “open” his mind but nothing happened, again. It was like a door stood in his way. He could almost “see” the door with light leaking around it. He opened his eyes in frustration and looked around the tiny room he was in. Stone walls, dirty stone floor, and a stone ceiling so damp that water droplets were formed regularly and dripped down to the floor creating small puddles so that he was always wet. He was chained to the wall opposite the only door. The walls were green in spots where slime grew. The cuffs and chains were rusted and covered with filth. Human feces and urine were scattered on the floor as there were no personal facilities. Not that he could use them anyway, chained as he was.

He looked at the door knowing that it held his torture. He knew that any minute, the men would return and try to make him talk again. He looked at the old rusting hunk of metal. The door was battered and old. It no longer fit properly in the frame and he could see the light from the bright hallway sneaking through the sides into his dark room. He watched the handle. Soon he would see it turn and the men would enter. First, he would hear the key turning the lock and then the handle would be free to turn…

He closed his eyes and returned to his meditation state. He focused on the “door” he had seen all these years. There was no handle but there was a symbol on the door in the shape of a woman reaching for a star. He covered the symbol with his right hand and felt his hand warm. His father’s voice entered his mind. “Only you can unlock the door. You must want the life on the other side. It will be a life of service and great sacrifice. You have the knowledge needed to unlock the door already in your mind. Choose carefully as much hangs in the balance and you must only commit if it is permanent.”

The sound of his father’s voice lifted his hopes in this dark place. He did not need time to think. He had made this decision long ago. He pictured the symbol of freedom from the amulet the Angel wore and set it next to the woman reaching. The door vanished and light flowed through his mind. Understanding hit him and he felt the fool.

Resurt sat up in his bed. There had been no torture, only his own fears. The final exam was just a mental war with his own darkness in his own mind. He wondered how the Artificial Intelligence was able to make it so real. He remembered one of his instructors at the Kuli School. They had said, “Those who are afraid of darkness and death will always be under its influence and those who live in the light will continue to shine in the darkest times.”

Resurt got out of bed and dressed for the day. He wondered what would happened next. After eating breakfast, he left his room and walked out into the main hall of the Temple. The hall was bright and he looked up at the ceiling which was now transparent. He heard noises on the sides of the hall. In the side coves, the machines moved to the sides and walls came up to hide them. Then, the entire Temple lit up and benches rose from the floor. He heard a noise behind him and turned to see a stage rise up with a podium. Everything was sparkling clean and now looked brand new. The wall and pillars were pure white and trimmed in gold with gold trimmed white doors to the side rooms and solid gold doors on the front of the Temple.

He watched as the door at the front of the Temple opened for the first time since he arrived. People started streaming in. They came and brought him gifts that they laid at his feet and they bowed before him. Soon, the Temple was half full and more were coming in. No one could get close to him because of the gifts around him. This was incredible and more than he ever thought.

A man in gold and white came forward. “Are you ready to receive the key to the city and to open the gates once more?”

Resurt smiled and answered, “No.”

The great hall was instantly empty once again. In front of him was the AI clapping.

“Very well. So you have learned to tell what is real and what is not. Excellent. Now we are ready to restart the gates.”

“Not yet.”

The AI looked at him with a worried face. This was not the answer he expected.

“Why not.”

“Because there is still the matter of my father.”

“What matter? He passed away years ago.”

“No. He is standing right in front of me.”

The man who acted like he was an AI reached out and hugged Resurt. Tears flowed through his eyes as he could finally speak to his son as a father.

Resurt stepped back and held his father’s shoulders as he said, “Now, I am ready.”

A voice from behind him answered, “Congratulations. You are the first graduate in thousands of years.”

Resurt turned around to see a tall man walking toward him. He did not look old, nor did he look like he was very young; he had light brown eyes with a gold glint in them and smile lines all over his face. He was two legged and from a distance looked like a Linthian or Murhan, yet up close seemed to radiate a visible energy that was impossible to define. His hair was white but he had a confidence about him and a certain spring in his walk as one has when they are young and indestructible. He wore a coat of dragon skin that rose from his shoulders to the top of his head in a cowl and flowed down from his shoulders to his ankles. His hair fell out of his cowl down across his chest and he wore a neatly trimmed beard that covered most of his face.

Resurt immediately knelt and bowed his head as he knew he was in the presence of the Stewart of the Silver Realm.

The Stewart released a small laugh that rolled lightly off of his tongue as music sung. He stepped forward and reached out a hand to Resurt.

“Stand. You may bow before the Sovereign; however, I am only the Stewart.”

Resurt stood and looked into the face of one of the most mysterious characters in the histories that he read. The stories pointed to a man who was almost one hundred thousand years old, quite impossible. They also put him, at times, in two places at the same time. They have him traversing the breadth of the universe in mere days. They have him possessing incredible powers from levitation to the ability to deliver energy bolts directly from his hands. Yet the man in front of him looked remarkably normal and, quite frankly, only about 50 standard years old.

“I have read a lot about you.”

“Perhaps. It is more likely that you read what someone wrote about me.”

“Would there be much of a difference?”

The Stewart laughed with a deep rumble. He clasped Resurt on the shoulder with a firm hand and said through his pleasant smile, “Sometimes so much of a difference that I do not recognize the story myself.”

The Stewart laughed a little more and, releasing Resurt’s shoulder, turned to Resurt’s father.

“The city of gold is ready and the little warrior is in training now.”

“Shall I have him start the gates we have power for now?”

“No. Take him around to all of the gates and prepare them. They all have at least enough power to enter standby mode. Unless some of the Ion cannons are still working, which I doubt after all this time, the standby shields will hold against any attacks. That way we can bring the entire system online when the city of gold moves into place.”

Resurt’s father was nodding in agreement and then became very thoughtful. He asked, “What about Tyria?”

“Tyria and the galaxies around it have no gates. The treaty must stand and unfortunately, the Linthians will not fight as they once did. They have given up most of their technology.”

Both men shook their heads and their faces grew sad.

Resurt was puzzled and asked, “What is this treaty? I have never been able to find any trace of it in the records.”

The Stewart turned back to Resurt and a very sad look came across his face.

“That is for another day.”

Then his face cheered up and he said, “Today is your graduation. I have come to show you the Fires of Perdition and the Cross of Corinth.”

Resurt beamed as those were his two favorite parts of all the galaxies he studied. He didn’t even find it strange that this man knew his favorites when he had told no one. He turned and followed the Stewart into a shimmering spot in the nearest wall.

Resurt’s father was so proud. He walked over to the nearest wall and held his hand up to a sensor.

The computer spoke to him. “Will you be returning to stasis now?”

“Yes.”

He opened his shirt and pressed the bottom rib on his left. A seam appeared in his chest. The seam ran around his chest and ended back where it started. A bar moved out from a hidden panel in the wall to loop around his left arm. The bottom half of his torso detached as a cabinet slid out from the wall. His legs walked that part of his body into its resting place. As the rest of his extra parts were put away the old feelings came over him.

There was so very little left of his original body and so many times he had wanted to quit and give up. It was always his son that the Tall Man had used to keep him motivated. Today he felt proud of his son and was so glad that he stayed alive to see him pass the final exam. As his brain case slid into the last drawer he smiled inside. All of the sacrifices would be worth it.

There were so few who survived those days of betrayal and so much had been required of them. The drawer was closing as he started feeling sleepy. While he was drifting off into the sleep of stasis he asked no one the question he had asked a million, million times. How did the Tall Man know when he was a young man to take him so far into the future to have a child? The drawer closed.

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.

Leaving

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.

SR: Warriors – He Tasted Blood In His Mouth

The Silver Realm: The Warriors

He Tasted Blood In His Mouth

He tasted blood in his mouth and grabbed his jaw where the punk hit him. Life was pain.

He felt the asphalt beneath his cheek and was sure that at least one tooth was going to fall out if he managed to live through this. The side of his head had exploded, he was sure, and he wanted to transport himself instantly to almost anywhere else. If only Star Trek was real – he would ask Scotty to transport him up right now. He could hear the voice of the young man yelling obscenities at him and he felt all three spots where he had been kicked.

 

He knew he needed to get back up. They wanted him to stay on the ground. They earned their reputation by forcing others to cower and by inflicting pain that left people whimpering. He would not let them win. He would rather die.

 

At 65, he was way too old to be dealing with young hoodlums. It was also too hot. The summer temperature was way too high and he needed to be at home in his lounge chair rather than lying on the sidewalk with broken ribs. It would be easy to give up and hand over his wallet, but he couldn’t do it. He was the example that six kids and twenty-one grandkids looked up to. They thought he was the toughest grandpa ever – he could not give in.

 

Charles Tasch and Tyron Bartle were a couple of bullies and they knew it. They enjoyed it and profited by it. They understood that most of the people in the U.S. had become complacent and weak, particularly in this neighborhood. All you had to do was scare them a little bit and they buckled. The fools were always waiting for someone else to come rushing in to help them. Some even expected the police to show up. When things got tough, they would look around for their rescue and if no one showed up within a couple of seconds, they gave in to whatever a bully wanted.

 

After five years of robbing people, Tyron was pretty good at telling the difference between a strong victim and a weak one. He never attacked someone who looked strong. This was the first time he had been wrong in a long time. He had never had an old person stand up to him before and this was the first time one of them even argued about turning over their money in years. The most he would get is some whining about keeping some of their money for something. He usually let them keep a little.

 

Tyron robbed people in front of others from the neighborhood as he had learned that if you humiliated an old person in front of a crowd, then the next time they would just hand over their money with no problems. Plus, they were all too scared to call the police. For years, he and Charles had earned a good living from their robberies. Last week, they brought in about $900 per day with almost all of their “customers” being repeat business.

 

 

Charles was not as confident as Tyron and wanted to run away as fast as possible. He had been watching the crowd as Tyron beat on the man. They were turning ugly. More and more people came up and circled the group until Charles was sure they could no longer get away.

 

Charles looked at the old man on the ground. Why did he keep getting up? Why didn’t he give up his money? Didn’t he understand that Tyron would kill him? And what would the crowd do when that happened? Charles prayed that the old man stayed on the ground this time and gave up his wallet.

 

Standing in the crowd was a man in his late fifties. Sam was a retired police officer who came back to work to perform undercover work for the local vice squad. They were trying to find out who was supplying the drugs to Charles and Tyron and set him up as the uncle to one of the local families. It was all that he could do to stand by. He wanted to pull the gun he didn’t have and stop this assault but that would blow his cover. He didn’t know who the old man was and had actually thought he might be one of the suppliers’ contacts when he first moved into the neighborhood. But the old man had checked out clean.

 

Sam’s research found that the old man’s wife had died two years earlier and the medical expenses left him totally bankrupt. He did not qualify for government support because he refused to install the implants required. So he could only live in commercial apartments and the only inexpensive ones were in these types of neighborhoods. Sad story but not unusual.

 

Sam knew how tough things were for people who refused the implants. The Supreme Court ruled that they could not be forced to have one but that the government did not have to deliver full benefits to them if they didn’t wear one. Even their social security checks were reduced. They only received one fourth of what people with implants received.

 

Sam never saw anyone visit the old man and found out that he refused to tell his family where he lived so they wouldn’t endanger themselves coming to visit him. He would ride the buses to a mall on the other side of town and meet them. But now he was sure that the old man’s attitude was going to get him killed. He didn’t believe that Tyron would stop unless the old man surrendered the money or died.

 

Sam hoped and prayed that the old man gave up the money before it was too late.

 

 

The crowd went silent as the old man pushed himself to all fours. Would he give in this time? Blood ran down the side of his face from the many cuts and he was having trouble breathing. The old man held his side and got to his feet. He stumbled and almost fell. Then he stood and turned toward Tyron.

 

“Give up the money old man or die!”

 

A mischievous smile ran across the old man’s bloodied face and he asked, “Are you threatening my life?”

 

Sam was shocked. The old man had smiled and asked a key legal question. If Tyron answered yes, the old man could now prove self defense for anything that followed. But why? He couldn’t fight. The old man was almost dead. He could hardly stand. Nothing today made sense.

 

Bethany was 72 and hated being robbed every week. They always waited until after her family visited because they knew she was given money. She had gotten to the point where she didn’t want to see her family anymore. She hated Tyron and Charles because they made her feel like a failure and coward. She didn’t know who this old man was but she desperately wanted him to win. She wanted him to destroy them. But she knew what would happen. So, she prayed for a miracle.

 

Tyron felt nothing but confusion and anger. No one had stood up to him for years, especially an old man. This had to stop. There was now a crowd and he could tell that they wanted him to lose. Plus, if the man died, the police would have lots of witnesses and one might testify. No, he needed to keep torturing until he got that money.

 

Tyron leaned forward and said, “Yes. You stupid idiot. You either give me the money or die slow as I break all the bones in your body one at a time.”

 

The old man smiled again. He stretched out his body and stepped back from Tyron. Tyron smiled and thought that finally the old man was scared and would give him the money. He was wrong.

 

The old man leaned forward and threw himself at Tyron butting his head against Tyron’s chin. He drove with his legs and pushed the young man into the ground with all the strength that he had in his broken, old body. He didn’t stop. Once Tyron was on the ground the old man took his elbow and smashed it into Tyron’s face multiple times. Before Tyron could adjust, the old man sat up and then threw himself back down bringing all his weight onto his right elbow that he had aimed at Tyron’s throat.

 

Twice more he repeated the action stunning everyone around. Then he struggled to his feet next to a choking Tyron. He walked up to Tyron’s head, lifted his right foot, and stomped down on Tyron’s jaw. The crowd gasped as the sound of breaking bone hit their ears.

 

The old man was panting rapidly and looked like he was about to drop. He turned to Charles and said, “Are you threatening me too?”

 

Charles had terror written all over his face. He wanted nothing more than to run but the crowd would not let him. He answered quietly, “No, sir.” He bowed his head down and prayed he would be allowed to leave.

 

The old man walked up to Charles slowly and stopped when he was almost touching the young man face to face.

 

“Are you going to return all the money you still have? Now?”

 

Charles was trembling as he answered, “Uhm. Ok. Sure.”

 

Charles thought this might be his way out. The old man was going to let him leave and then he would get the money and never come back.

 

“Good. I bet there are a few people here who will volunteer to go with and help you.”

 

The crowd cheered and many voices were heard saying, “I will go.”

 

Charles felt his air and hope leave him. He looked back at Tyron, who was now choking up blood, and decided it was best to do as he was told. He turned and walked to his apartment with about twenty community members. This was shaping up to be his worst day ever.

 

Sam was amazed at what he just saw and didn’t know what to do. When the old man walked up to him he was very apprehensive.

 

“Can you call for an ambulance for the young man?”

 

Sam was relieved as he answered, “Sure.”

 

What was going on here? He was a trained officer of the law and he was nervous when the old man approached. Who was this guy really and how did he handle all of the abuse and still be able to attack back?

 

Sam triggered his com device and called for an ambulance and police. It took a while to explain everything to the dispatcher. When he looked back the old man was gone. He looked around but didn’t see the old man anywhere. He turned to an old lady nearby.

 

“Where did the old man go?”

 

“Why? So you can arrest him?”

 

Sam was shocked. What did this old lady know?

 

“What? I don’t arrest people?”

 

“Right. When you are undercover you only watch people being robbed and beaten, you don’t help.”

 

Then, Bethany turned and walked away leaving Sam surprised once again. Did everyone know he was undercover. He needed to know. He went after the old woman and stepped in front of her.

 

“Just what do you mean by that?”

 

“We all know that you are a retired cop working undercover. Tyron and Charles told us and you are also very obviously not here because you have to be. It just makes me sick how you stood there and did nothing while they beat that man almost to a pulp. I am so glad that he paid Tyron back some. Now leave me alone.”

 

The old woman walked away and Sam felt about as tall as a worm. He didn’t know how to move forward and moved slowly back to where Tyron was on the ground. Just as he approached, the sounds of the ambulance’s sirens could be heard. He looked at the young man on the ground and wasn’t sure that he would make it.

 

Sam realized that his cover was blown and after the ambulance arrived, he went to his apartment and packed up. He never felt so down in his life. He wondered what happened to the old man. If he didn’t get to a hospital soon, he would probably die as Sam was sure he had multiple internal injuries.

 

Maybe his wife was right and he should just hang it up and enjoy his retirement. They had a beautiful house on the lake and it was all paid for. He hated that his wife was the one in the family that had paid for the home. He made very little compared to her. When she retired, she had hoped he would follow. The thought now came to him that he was only doing the undercover because he was not comfortable in “her” house. After watching the old man get beat without giving up and without fighting back until his life was on the line, he knew that it was only his ego that had him working.

 

As Sam walked to his car he was a different person. He vowed never to stand on the sidelines again. He made a couple of phone calls and then drove home. Later, when he walked into the house on the lake, he said to his wife, “I love you more than my life, I love this house, and I quit my job today.”

 

Sam’s wife cried and hugged him for a long time. She didn’t know what had happened but she could tell when her husband was telling the truth and he was. It was the happiest day of her life since her youngest child was born.

 

 

The old man was in a dark alley seven blocks from his apartment. He had thought if he took the short cut he might make it. He had wanted to die at home but he wasn’t going to. He only made it about half way when his breathing forced him to sit down. He was not able to get back up.

 

He knew it was time to die. His family would be sad but he was glad he went out the way he did. He hated bullies and fought against them in one way or the other his whole life. The third kick in his side broke something critical and he knew it when it happened. Still, until they threatened to kill him, he could not attack. That would send the wrong message to his kids and grandkids and their success was more important than his life any day.

 

He laid his head down on the ground because he could no longer hold it up. Life had been good to him. He loved his family and believed that they would be ok. He was ready to die.

 

He closed his eyes and felt some of the fear of death come to him. He prayed and a comfort came over him. He knew he was not worthy of heaven but hoped that mercy would allow him in. He started to slip into darkness.

 

Then he felt a hand on his forehead and he heard a voice ask, “Are you willing to help others stand up against evil?”

 

He whispered, “Of course.”

 

“Are you willing to suffer, perhaps a lot, in this effort?”

 

He noticed that his pain level was dropping and his head was clearing.

 

“Yes, I am.”

 

The pain flowed out of his body and in its place was a comforting warmth that spread through his body. Everywhere the warmth spread his pain left. Soon he had no pain and opened his eyes. Standing in front of him with one hand holding a glove and the other on his forehead was a man, a tall man.

He did not look old, nor did he look like he was very young; he had light brown eyes with a gold glint in them and smile lines all over his face. He seemed to radiate a visible energy that was impossible to define. His hair was white but he had a confidence about him and a certain spring in his walk as one has when they are young and indestructible. He wore a coat of some unusual material that rose from his shoulders to the top of his head in a cowl and flowed down from his shoulders to his ankles. His hair fell out of his cowl down across his chest and he wore a neatly trimmed beard that covered most of his face.

 

 

The snow was falling outside as she finished cleaning the house. It had been six months since she saw her father and she was very worried. He had not been the same since mom died and she knew he was dead broke from all the medical bills. The family had invited him to stay with them and offered him money but he refused it all. Some said it was pride, others that he was stubborn.

 

She knew better. He just did not want to be a burden on anyone. He believed that they should use their resources for their kids not their parents. Growing up with him had been tough because of what he expected but he told them that once they were an adult it was their life not his.

 

He tried to honor that by not telling them what to do unless they asked. He went out of his way to respect their new family traditions. He tried to visit when it was convenient for them. And so much more. As they got older, all the kids understood why he had acted as he did. It helped them through tough times and they all were respectable people now.

 

However, the past six months no one had heard from him at all except for a short note in late summer. The note had said, “I have a new job and will be in training for about six months. See you in February.”

 

Most of their friends thought he was in the hospital and the rest thought he was in jail. They had read about the mysterious old man who fought the punk robbing people in the ghetto. They were sure it was him. Many reporters hunted for months trying to find the man to no avail. Some of the stories written listed him as a hero and others as a criminal.

 

The family agreed that it sounded like him but could not find him either. Till yesterday. She received the com message that he would be visiting her and asked if it was ok for the rest of the family to come over if they wished. She was the “family boss” according to her siblings so it made sense that he contacted her first. She commed back yes and within minutes her siblings called to discuss their invitations. All of which came with a code for paid travel. Rather curious for a man who two years ago was so in debt that he had to move into the ghetto.

 

Due to the short notice, only one of her sisters was able to make the trip and she arrived two hours ago with the kids only. Everyone was in the living room waiting except her. She was too much like her mother and had to be doing something, mainly cleaning, when she was stressed. She finished sweeping the floor and dumped the remains in the garbage.

 

The garbage did not need emptying but she needed to take it out. She hollered into the living room that she was taking the garbage out. She was thoughtful and worried about her father as she walked through the fresh snow to the dumpster.

 

Something shimmered behind the garage drawing her view. There he was walking toward her. She ran to him, crying all the way, and jumped on him giving him a huge hug. Then she jumped back. What was wrong with her? She probably hurt him.

 

Her dad was looking back at her and laughing.

 

“I am fine.”

 

He reached out and pulled her back into a hug and held her tight for a long time. Until she stopped shaking.

 

“Where have you been? What is this job? Why didn’t you call?”

 

The questions poured out and she spewed about ten without giving him a chance to answer. He just stood there and smiled. When she finally stopped he hugged her again.

 

“I am fine. My job is going to be very tough and I will be gone a lot. I just wanted to come by and let the people I love know that things are better now and that you don’t need to worry. Let’s go inside so I can hug the rest who are here.”

 

She smiled through her tears and they went in.

 

After the greetings and hugs were over, he wouldn’t answer questions. He said presents first, since he missed Christmas. He took out some envelopes. Each one had a child or a grandchild’s name on it. He handed out the envelopes to those who were there and asked her to send off the rest later.

 

Inside each was a letter where he discussed the things they had been doing in fall and how proud he was of them. He told them that he was going to be gone a lot but that he was still keeping up with what they were doing. There was also a gift card to their favorite store, or restaurant, or movie theatre, or whatever.

 

For his kids, he included a credit report showing that all of the medical bills were paid off along with the rest of his debt. There was also a copy of his health ID card showing that he had a ten year, fully paid, subscription to the zero deductible and top rated insurance plan offered.

 

She was watching him from across the room. He was dressed in Dockers pants, the more expensive dressy ones. He had new, tall, black, and stitched Justin cowboy boots on with a really nice looking felt cowboy hat. The hat must have water proofing because the melted snow left water pellets that rolled off of the hat. The shirt was a dress shirt with a western collar and a bolo tie that had a Texas Star on it. Over all of this he wore a leather trench coat that fell to his ankles. The coat was open but he refused to take it off.

 

She watched him move around and realized that his limp was gone. He also no longer favored his neck. He didn’t use his glasses to read either. Then she noticed the buckle on his belt. The buckle was large with the outline of a woman reaching up with one hand. Something was in the hand and lines radiated from it. It also looked like the woman may have wings or something else on her back.

 

He caught her looking and winked at her. She smiled back and then walked to the window where she watched the falling snow for a while. What had happened to her dad? The last time she saw him he had a smile but behind it was tremendous pain. Yet today, he was as happy as she had ever seen him.

 

Moments later, a familiar hand landed on her shoulder.

 

“I am fine.”

 

She nodded and said, “I can see that but I want to know what happened.”

 

“But you can tell that I am not allowed to say?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“That is correct. I can tell you that this is the best and most fulfilling job I have ever had. I miss your mother beyond what you can imagine but I know that she would be proud of what I am doing.”

 

“But where did so much money come from Dad?”

 

“I signed on for ten years and took most of the money up front. All expenses are paid so I need little to live on. Mainly money for presents and personal travel. Plus, my boss was able to have most of the medical written off because of contracts they have with the medical community.”

 

“What is the catch? It is too good to not have a catch?”

 

“The job is very dangerous. I could die every time I go on a job.”

 

“I don’t like that Dad.”

 

Her father sighed a bit. This was why he came. This was the key issue and he needed his family to understand so that he could move forward. He answered gently in a sincere tone, “How do you want me to die? In a nursing home? Beaten up on a ghetto street? Or working to save lives?”

 

She looked into his eyes and finally understood. She gave him a hug and kissed him on the check.

 

“You will come to see me, us, every chance you get. Right?”

 

“Yes. Every chance I get that I am not at one of your brothers or sisters’ houses.”

 

They both laughed at that long and loud.

 

Her sister across the room heard the laugh and smiled inside. She felt much better and knew things would be ok. If dad could bring the “family boss” to a laugh, then it was going to be alright for the rest of them.

 

 

It was getting dark when he said he had to go. Everyone gathered around. Tears and hugs were spread around in abundance. It took a while but soon he was leaving, out the back door. She walked with him to the dumpster.

 

“I suppose you are going to disappear behind the garage.”

 

He chuckled and said, “Of course.”

 

“I thought so. You used to tease us about being a spy and somehow I think you are getting to live your jokes.”

 

“Jokes? I don’t know what you are talking about.”

 

They both laughed and hugged once more. He walked behind the garage and she saw the weird shimmer again and knew he was gone.

 

 

 

The Tall Man entered the ship through a shimmer in the back wall. He walked over to the man in the cowboy hat smiling.

 

“I guess you are going to wear that all the time when you are not on a mission.”

 

The man, known as Cowboy by the Order’s supply stations, turned and smiled.

 

“Of course.”

 

“Another successful mission?”

 

“Yes. Although it was not easy. I thought for a while that my jaw was broke.”

 

“Perhaps it was. The amulet helps heal almost any injury.”

 

“Well, they are back on track. The “Guardian” has been defeated and his prisons liberated.”

 

“Good. I have another job for you as soon as you finish your visit home.”

 

“Home? Great. How long?”

 

“Three weeks in local time. It will be the second week of June when you get there.”

 

“Wonderful. Summer break.”

 

 

 

She watched her dad in the pool with seventeen of his twenty one grandkids. All six kids received paid travel for their families to the resort. One sister was not able to make it on time but would arrive later with the last four grandkids.

 

Officially, he worked for Humanity International and visited developing countries helping small business owners. She didn’t believe that. They did have nice offices in Knoxville, TN where he now had a nice house overlooking a lake. The family met there many times for family get togethers. Still, you could call or stop by at any other time and no one was ever there.

 

She loved him and he was happy. But, she was still curious.

 

 

The grandkids were climbing all over him and splashing everywhere. This is what it is all about. His trips home inspired him and allowed him to recharge. He saw his worry wart daughter and knew what she was thinking. It must be hard for her not knowing. Well, someday he would tell her. At some point he would have to because he was no longer aging the way they did on this planet.

 

He turned back to the grandkids too late. Two had jumped in from the side of the pool and a foot smacked him right in the face. Immediately, the kids started saying they were sorry. He laughed and splashed water on them. The fun started again.

 

Moments later, the kids were called from the pool to get ready for dinner. When they left he swam to the far end and looked out over the valley near by. Things had changed a lot for him. He tasted blood in his mouth and grabbed his jaw where the kids hit him. Life was great!

OSS: Return of the Angel – Memories Are All We Have Left

The Order of the Silver Star – The Return of the Angel

Memories Are All We Have Left

Juan Carlos was starting to regret getting out of bed. He was squatted down behind some bushes near the high school’s track and it was starting to drizzle on a day that was already way too cold. The world had been out to get him as long as he could remember and he was having second thoughts about today’s plans. Juan Carlos had thought the old man would be easy to steal from but this rain and cold was becoming irritating. This was his second morning to lay in wait and he was not sure if his victim would even show. The old man he was waiting for did not come every day and sometimes he skipped three or four in a row. Hopefully, the old man would have lots of money and credits card to make all the waiting and cold worth it.

 

The first time he saw the old man had been after a long night of partying. He had been walking home because he couldn’t remember where he had left his car. He took the path that went behind the high school and next to the track. It had been a cold morning, about 35 degrees, and when the old man got out of his truck in the track parking lot Juan was surprised. It was 4:30 in the morning and there was no reason for going to the track. Juan stayed in the dark near the woods and watched to see what the old man was up to. It turned out that the old man was there to run. That had not occurred to Juan because there were no night lights on the track. During the night, only the nearby street lights provided illumination and that was not much.

 

A couple of days later, Juan saw the old man again, so he decided to see if there was a pattern. It was the fourth time he saw the old man that he decided to rob him. The old man had left the track after running and stopped for gas on his way home. He had to have some money with to do that. So Juan Carlos made his plans.

 

Baptized Juan Carlos Diego Garcia III, by a single parent mother who was a drug user, Juan grew up on the streets. He moved in and out of juvenile detention halls many times over the years. He learned all the wrong lessons at those institutions and at 18 went to the big house. While in jail, he studied the law and discovered the benefits of planning. He served two years in one of the state’s jails studying the whole time to find ways to prevent himself from ever going back.

 

The direction he took with his studies was not what the system hoped when it provided him the materials. His time in jail taught him that planning how to commit a crime the “right” way could prevent him from being convicted. For example, if he broke into the old man’s truck and took his money, he could be charged with breaking and entering and theft. On the other hand, if he walked up and asked the old man for his wallet, he could argue that as a poor man he asked the old man for his wallet and out of compassion the old man just gave it to him. The key was to look and act scary enough while asking so that he didn’t actually have to pull a knife or gun. After he left jail, they had arrested him about ten times but he always got off because of his planning. Juan Carlos had decided that it was amazing how stupid the law was when you understood it.

 

He started to shiver and was about to give up when he heard the truck approaching. When it pulled into the parking lot he was able to recognize the old man right away. What a loser he must be to be coming at this time in the morning. That did not mean he wasn’t tough. Lonely perhaps, but a wimp, no. You cannot be a wimp and then go running when it is freezing out. Well this time the trip was going to cost him.

 

Juan waited until the old man finished running. The old man ran eight laps and Juan figured that would wear him out and lower the chance of him doing something stupid. Plus, people did not think straight when they were tired. So, when the old man starting walking back to his truck, Juan stepped out and intercepted him.

 

“Hey old man.”

 

“Yes.”

 

The old man turn slightly so that he faced Juan directly and slowed to a stop.

 

“I could use some money. Why don’t you give me what you got? Now.”

 

The approach he used usually scared people into giving up all their cash immediately. Plus, Juan was able to see their credit cards when they opened their wallets so he could end up with a lot more.

 

The old man did not even flinch.

 

“No.”

 

“Man you don’t know who you are dealing with. Now give me some money!”

 

Juan couldn’t believe it. Was this old man stupid? Was this one of those old people with that all timers disease or something?

 

“No. Now step aside.”

 

“Are you crazy or something? Do you want me to mess you up?”

 

Juan was getting mad and he started thinking about the knife in his pocket. He wondered if this old man was going to need to be hurt before he understood.

 

The old man sighed deeply and then asked, “Are you threatening me?”

 

“Yes, you idiot! Now give me the money.”

 

The old man stepped back one step and stretched out his arms. Then he moved forward a half a step and took up a defensive stance.

 

“You should walk away while you can.”

 

Juan was shocked to his core. He never had anyone, let alone an old man, stand so strong with no fear evident before. He pulled out his knife.

 

“I will hurt you if you don’t give me the money right now.”

 

The old man felt the change in his body as the energy flowed through him. On this planet, he was almost like everyone else; however, when needed, the power would come. He straightened as the strength he knew in battle reenergized his old body. Damaged knees and sore muscles disappeared as the warrior that was within was released and the character he played disappeared. He was himself again.

 

With steely eyes and a hard voice, the old man answered, “You can walk away or ride in an ambulance – your choice.”

 

Juan Carlos felt doubt creep into his mind as the old man spoke. There was no fear here and the old man almost glowed with an energy that he did not have moments before. The old man seemed powerful and unconcerned about the knife. Fear started to gnaw at Juan’s nerves and then his brain kicked back in.

 

The old man was bluffing. He might have been an actor or something like that. It was a good show and Juan almost believed it. He would have to remember what the old man did and practice doing it himself. Very clever but Juan Carlos was more clever and he also didn’t mind hurting someone if it was necessary to accomplish his goals.

 

“Well old man. I gave you a chance. Now I will have to take the money.”

 

Juan stepped in and the blade flashed in the dim light as it moved to the old man’s stomach. Except the old man was no longer there. Juan felt the fear return just before the old man’s feet crashed into his chest. The wind flew out of his lungs and pain blasted across his chest as he realized the old man had jumped up and toward him during the split second his knife was moving.

 

Juan flew back and slid along the asphalt of the parking lot. His hip caught on the curb and he felt pain slice into his back as the impact with the curb crushed bone. He twisted sideways in agony and came to a stop curled up on the grass between the parking lot and the sidewalk.

 

He tried to move and found that the slightest change in position created intense pain throughout his body. He tasted blood in his mouth and, for the first time, felt the fear that accompanies the realization that one might die. He heard the old man approach.

 

“You better not move as you may have internal injuries.”

 

Juan started to answer but found that he was in too much pain. He went to nod and that was a mistake also as pain shot up his spine and into his head making it feel like it exploded.

 

“Try not to move your head either. It hit the ground hard when you went from the curb to the grass. I imagine that you have a number of broken bones and a concussion. Not a very good line of work to be in.”

 

The old man reached down and touched Juan on the forehead. The touch felt good and the pain faded throughout his body until it was tolerable. Then the old man took his hand away.

 

“Why did you try to rob me?”

 

“I wanted your money.”

 

The old man shook his head no. His face was sad and he clearly did not enjoy seeing the young man in agony.

 

“You have wanted a lot of people’s money and you have not gone after it. Why did you go after my money?”

 

“Because you were an old man and I thought you would just give it to me.”

 

“That is much more honest. We can talk a bit if you promise to continue to be honest. If you answer my questions, then I will call for an ambulance. Otherwise, I will leave and you can wait till someone comes by. Do we have a deal?”

 

Juan believed that the old man would leave him and he knew he was in bad shape. He decided to do as the old man said.

 

“Yes.”

 

The old man started the questioning with his favorite: “What kind of a life do you want for your children?”

 

Ten minutes later the ambulance service received a call for a pickup at the high school track. It was weird because the caller id showed the phone number at the coach’s office nearby but no one, except the injured man, was there when they arrived and the coach’s office was locked with the alarm still set.

 

The old man didn’t know if his conversation made a difference but every human being was worth the attempt. As he drove home, he considered his own life and where he was.

 

In real years, he was very old but, on this planet, he was dying for the seventh time. This was his station and dying was a part of the posting. The people did not live very long on this planet so all of those stationed here were required to have life cycles that were similar. In the past, he was able to avoid dying by changing his name and moving around; however, once the planet’s technology was able to track an individual from birth to grave things became more complex.

 

When the governments started to use DNA to track individuals, his life cycle changes became even more complex. He had become his own nephew five times now. Still, his original information was preserved by using alternative locations for the changed features with the deep coding done using the Awisd method. The end result was minor cosmetic differences with the tracking indicating only that he was a close relative to his previous self.

 

Naturally, he inherited all of his previous wealth, minus any taxes; however, his new identities tended to be poor or middle class so that he could blend in better. Still, if the money was ever needed, he had plenty stored away.

 

The old man entered the house and immediately knew he was not alone. All of his defenses came up and his warrior mode was activated for the second time that morning. Then he heard the soft laugh.

 

“It is only me.”

 

The voice was familiar and the old man turned on the light. Standing across the room was a tall woman.

Her black boots rose above her knees and had a silver band around their tops. On the front of each boot, in the silver area near the top was the symbol of the Order of the Silver Star, an outline of an angel with a star in her outstretched right hand. Her pants were laced with the light armor of Special Forces with vertical silver force lines glowing from her boots to her belt. The belt was silver and had a buckle with the symbol of freedom from the amulet engraved on it.

She wore a breast plate that covered her body from the neck to the waist. The plate appeared to be metal but flexed with her movements and seemed to change shape so that there was no discomfort to the wearer. She was wearing a long jacket made of dragon skin that ran from her neck to her ankles and was open in the front with a catch chain at the waist. Her helmet had a gold band that ran around her forehead and above it her head was covered with a black metal. The helmet came down and covered her ears and the back of her head and neck as it draped over her jacket. On her hands, she was wearing gauntlets that covered her jacket sleeves and ended just before reaching her elbow. The only part of her body showing was her face.

Her hair was in her helmet except for some that came out around her neck and flowed down over her breast plate. The hair was bright blue and so radiate that it seemed to glow. Her face was firm and delicate at the same time with deep hypnotic blue eyes. She had thin lips, a thin face, and clearly was a beautiful woman. She exuded power and when she came closer, everyone could see symbols engraved on her helmet’s gold band: άγγελο.

She was smiling sweetly and he walked over eagerly and received a hug. She hugged and shook him. Then she held his shoulders and kissed him on the cheek. It did not last long but the memories would. It is good to be loved.

 

The greetings lasted only for a little while. He could see she was in a hurry and finally he asked, “So, what is the reason for this early morning visit?”

 

“The Paladin and I were just called to a planetary system that is critical to the success of the Gate. Can you take over leading a battle on one of my client planets?”

 

The old man looked at the phone he was holding and asked, “When would I be back, in local time?”

 

“I can send you through the T’Klond portal and have you back here in five minutes local time. The Tall Man authorized the use and you can be in their system for up to one month during the five minutes.”

 

The old man was shocked. The T’Klond portal was extremely expensive to operate and had very limited transport capacity. The Angel’s activities must be extremely critical to the startup of the Gate in order for this to be approved.

 

“I would be honored to serve in the stead of a Steward of the Order.”

 

The old man bowed deeply and with humility. He had spent many years training her and knew how special she was and how broken she had been before the Tall Man saved her. In the years they worked together, he learned of her special abilities and watched as she gained her self-respect back while becoming a warrior that surpassed him by a mile. Whoever she was when she started on this journey no longer matter, she clearly was an important player now.

 

“Don’t bow. After all you have done, you will always be like a father to me. Besides, this is not an easy mission you will be taking on.”

 

Hours later, he thought about her warning and realized it was an understatement. He was on the ground in agony. His left arm no longer responded to his commands and his legs were on fire. The uniform he wore generally negated the destructive effects of energy attacks but it was not always effective for multiple or simultaneous bursts of extremely high energy weapons.

 

He wore the energy bands that were designed to absorb excess energies and he had the training on how to divert that capacity back into his sword. Still, this attack exceeded the capacity of his uniform and the bands. The energy overloading the uniform and bands leeched out causing damage all around him.

 

Whoever was providing the advanced weapons had planned for someone like him to be there. They were going to be slightly upset when they learned that he had lived. They were going to be very upset when they learned of the damage he had caused. He now knew why the Angel wanted him. Only a small number of the Order’s members would have survived the attack he just went through and hardly any were capable of unleashing destructive energies of this type back on their creator.

 

He rolled on the ground and slapped his legs putting out the fires. He hated burns and thought that they were one of the worst injuries that anyone could have. His right arm and the fingers on his right hand still worked. So he reached into his mouth and released the Formts virus mixture into his system.

 

The various virus components worked with his immune system to deaden areas of high pain and to enhance the speed of tissue repair. One virus component targeted his adrenalin production and another the release of endorphins. He felt the changes immediately after releasing the virus. He looked around at the destruction caused by the enemy’s energy blasts.

 

To the south the forest was on fire and smoke severely limited visibility. The edge of the grassy field was smoldering and there were craters where the blasts impacted. Fortunately, very few of his troops were in the main area of the enemy’s attack and the portable armory was intact. Still, almost all of their transport equipment was destroyed along with most of their food and non-lethal supplies.

 

To the east he saw the enemy’s forces in disarray. They had not been ready for his return of the energy. While he could not contain all of the energy, he did return a significant amount and their forces were now in serious trouble. He managed to eliminate all of their vehicles and reduced their storage buildings to rubble.

 

To the north it looked like the area he was in, devastation. Craters everywhere, burnt trees and shrubs, and, unfortunately, some bodies. He was not able to protect this area and the enemy blasts that were deflected mainly went to the north. His heart sank as he saw an area that contained about 50 bodies. Why had they not followed his directions? He may never know.

 

To the west was the main body of his troops and little damage. He had done a remarkable job of protecting them from the energy blasts. He noticed that one of the officers was approaching and he could only imagine what he looked like. He tried to brush himself off but that only caused more of his uniform to fragment and fall to the ground. He decided he better not do that again.

 

“Are you all right?”

 

“I will be fine. My uniform will regenerate but it will take some time due to the extensive damage.”

 

“What about the burns and your arm?”

 

He looked down and saw the raw flesh of his legs with blackened skin and dark red clotted blood sprinkled with fresh bright red blood. He could see healing on the edges but the legs did look horrible. His arm was worse and better. There was no blood or burnt flesh but the angles of the arm showed directions that are not possible with intact bones.

 

“I will need help resetting the arm but the rest is already being taken care of. Do you have a medic who can give me a hand?”

 

“Sure. I’ll go get her.”

 

He knew he only had a short lull in the battle to work with so he finished his review and motioned the commanders to come over.

 

“We need to attack now while they are in disarray.”

 

He did not get to say more as the commanders all started speaking at once. He held up his hand and pointed to one to start.

 

“We cannot face fire power like that. We will be destroyed.”

 

He looked at the rest and asked, “How many of you feel that way?”

 

All but two of them said yes. He looked at the two who were off by themselves.

 

“What do you two think?”

 

One of the men was young, barely old enough to be an officer and the other could have been his father. The older man looked at the younger and the later nodded. The older man turned back.

 

“We believe in you and the Order. This is the best time to attack if you say it is.”

 

Both of the officers bowed their heads and looked down. He could hear the other officers muttering under their breath comments they would not say out loud. He took one step back away from the group.

 

“We will attack. Those of you who do not want to attack can remove all symbols of the Order and leave the battlefield. You are welcome to take anyone with you who believes the same.”

 

He turned to the two officers and said, “You two are the new commanders. Welsty will take the three divisions on the north and prepare them and Truce will take the four divisions on the south. Be ready in two pades.”

 

Then he walked away from the stunned group to the waiting medic so that he could set his arm.

 

 

General Rowet examined his forces with a critical eye. What just happened was not possible according to the “advisors” his king was listening to. He warned the king that the Order was powerful and advised him to negotiate as the Order usually stayed out of those activities considering them to be local affairs.

 

The advisors had told the king that the Order no longer existed and that the enemy was weak. Well they sure were wrong. Still, this was his mess to clean up. The return of his own energy blasts was not expected and his inexperienced troops panicked making the destruction that much worse. Trying to retreat under fire caused more deaths than the counter attacks did.

 

His energy weapons were destroyed and he did not have any in reserve. They had been assured that the enemy had no defenses against his firepower. Truth be told, they didn’t, except for the old man. No one had figured he was dangerous. But, it was evident, everyone was wrong.

 

He knew that he needed to retreat but was not able to communicate with the various groups. Everything was chaos and he could only hope the enemy didn’t attack. He sent runners to the units with directions to reform and prepare to retreat. Then he sent a runner to headquarters about the situation and what he was going to do. It was his prayer that his units would be ready soon and that they could start the retreat before he heard back from headquarters as he feared they would not allow the retreat.

 

 

Colonel Tarsus was furious. Who did that old man think he was that he could dismiss him. He would have done better than the old man did if he had access to the technologies the old man was using. He also knew better than to attack the Watrums and General Rowet. He was going to get them all killed.

 

He tried to talk the soldiers into leaving with him but almost all of them wanted to stay. This business with the “Order” was a joke and they would all die. When all of this started he had command of 15,000 and now he was walking away with 154.

 

The old man was going to lose because if he lived today, which Tarsus doubted, Tarsus would kill him himself. He was so mad that he couldn’t see straight. He wanted to get back to the president and straighten this out. He needed to hurry before the old man killed all of his men.

 

 

 

The old man saw the small group cutting across the field. He had told them to stay on the road. It was a shame the Colonel was so angry. People made bad decisions when their emotions were out of control. He had just turned back to the maps in front of him when the explosions started.

 

 

Tarsus knew what had happened the moment the first explosions went off. They had walked right into a delayed land mine field. The fields were a favorite of General Rowet. He loved to retreat through the fields, knowing where the mines were, and then lead the enemy to their deaths.

 

The fields had long delay fuses to allow the forces entering to move deeply into the mines. Then, as the first explosions went off, the vibrations would trigger the delays to turn off. Thus trapping the group in a zone of death. He screamed for his soldiers to stand still. No one heard.

 

Running back the way they came, thinking it was safe, a large group hit newly sensitive mines. This left the rest in a panic, fleeing in every direction, setting off mines all around. It was only a short time before Tarsus found himself standing in a field of blood and body parts with only Sergeant L’Reed at his side.

 

They knew what was coming. After the initial explosions finished, the hoppers would engage. Hoppers popped up from the ground and shot pellets 360 degrees at multiple angles to catch anyone left alive. The only defense was a shield barrier. The two of them formed up back to back but knew that they could not block out pellets from all angles and then they waited.

 

 

 

The old man heard the explosions stop and understood what was coming next. His officers had stopped the rescue attempts before they could start. This made the soldiers mad until they watched the scene unfold. Then they realized how many would have died. Still, most did not know what would happen now. This was one of those difficult lessons that the old man hated for anyone to learn.

 

The hoppers start with a short whoosh as a unit flies into the air. Then there is a screeching and a whining as it spins up. This is followed by a repeated popping. A sound similar to a child’s pop gun. Of course, the pops came in rapid succession as pellets shoot out. He could see the two men trying to barricade themselves with their shields and he knew that there were too many holes in their defense. He decided he needed to act.

 

He stepped away from the tent and moved where he had a clear view. At the first whoosh his sword came up and a tiny orange stream flew from it and destroyed the pellet canister in midair. During the next few moments, his sword spewed orange twenty times more. The whooshes stopped and he started to float up in the air. When he reached a height three times his own, a blue beam shot out of the sword burning a path double the height of a man all the way to the two men. He floated down.

 

He turned to one of the officers nearby.

 

“Take a small group of ten men and grappling gear. You are to stay on the blue path. Throw the grappling hook and drag the injured to the path. Then evacuate them.”

 

“Yes sir!”

 

The officer gathered ten men and went work. At about the same time Welsty and Truce returned.

 

“We are ready sir,” Welsty said.

 

“Very well, your troops will follow me. Truce will move to the road and try to cut off their retreat. As you just saw, they have the other routes mined. Whatever you do, do not follow them off the road. If they move into a field, use your mortars to send weights into the fields around and in front of them to trigger the mines. Do not enter yourselves.”

 

“Yes sir!”

 

After what they just saw he was confident no one would rush into a field. The old man walked to the front of the rapidly forming column. His clothes had almost regenerated and his legs and arm were working fine again.

 

 

General Rowet saw them coming through his scope. Once again the old man was leading them. That was not good news. Whoever the old man was he had experience and used it well. He scanned the group and saw that part of the forces had split off and were working to cutoff his retreat.

 

It no longer mattered. He had heard back from headquarters and they decided that it was important to make a stand against this rabble. Even with the evidence given, headquarters still did not believe that the Order was viable and felt that their weapons must have had a defect that caused them to blow up.

 

Rowett had seen the old man’s sword glow and watched the old man direct it toward them. He deliberately aimed at the energy weapons and methodically destroyed them. The resulting explosions annihilated the soldiers around the weapons. The chaos that followed caused many secondary explosions at the cost of thousands of additional soldiers. That was no defect.

 

Rowett scanned over his own troops. They were not even reformed yet. The enemy was outnumbered three to one but he was not sure that would matter today. He sent runners to his unit commanders to prepare for an assault. He wondered how many would live to see the night fall. He turned to his maps to prepare for counter attacks and to adjust the defenses as best he could.

 

 

 

The old man saw the runners head out from the command tent. He knew that General Rowett was an excellent strategist and he did not want those orders making it to the unit commanders. He called for his best archers. Each of the runners was wearing a red arm band to prevent being fired on by friendly forces. So he had his archers target the runners in groups of three. One fired ahead of where the runner would be, one fired where they thought he would be, and fired behind. This allowed for the varying speeds that some runners used to avoid being targeted.

 

The twenty groups took out the seventeen runners in short order. Some were only wounded and would find someone to deliver their message but that will probably be too late. The old man had his soldiers move to a light jog.

 

 

General Rowett watched the end of the archers’ efforts with a growing sense of despair. When he witnessed the groups of three firing together he knew his runners would not make it. He called forward his signal man. He needed to send the commands to the units now that the runners were eliminated. This would not be very effective because most of the signal men were injured or killed in the first battle but this would be better than nothing.

 

Rowett then called two of his nearby commanders to the command center and gave them directions on how to handle the forces coming down the road. He needed to try and delay them so that he could prepare for the retreat he was afraid he would need.

 

 

 

Truce was moving rapidly up the road when he saw the enemy taking up positions on the hills ahead. The road passed directly between two rises and the enemy was positioning themselves on both. He knew he could not go the south due to the mine fields and considered swinging around on the north. Still, he had been directed not to leave the road so he threw that thought away.

 

He brought his troops to a halt at a reasonable distance and took out his scopes. The old man had directed them to use mortars if the enemy was in a field. He ordered his mortar units to the front. He took his infantry and they locked shields in a barrier around the mortar units. He had them replace the regular charges with large ball bearings.

 

Truce then moved his archers into similarly protected groups behind the mortars. He instructed them to hold fire unless the enemy was on the road.

 

Truce directed the units to start their barrage on the edge of the forces as far away from the road as possible. They were to move along the edge from midway to the farthest away and then move toward the road. They were to follow this with strikes from the edge at the middle and then move toward themselves.

 

 

Commander Wster was surprised when the mortars started lobbing ball bearings into the fields around them. His surprise turned to dismay when they set off the delay mines. He could only look on in horror as his command was destroyed bit by bit. Moving set off more and soon the hoppers would begin their carnage.

 

He had planned on trapping the enemy and yet it turned out to be his own troops he condemned. Commander Stero was in the same situation on his side except that a large number of his men were still on the road when the attacks began. He immediately sent the men he had on the road to attack the enemy and stop the mortars.

 

 

Truce saw the enemy coming down the road in a desperate attempt to stop the mortars. He ordered his mortars to stop and drop. They laid on the ground with the infantry shielding them. As soon as they were down, the archers unleashed a torrent of arrows. In moments, the enemy’s advance stalled as row after row went down in a hail of arrows. Soon the attack was over and the remnant was struggling back up the road. Truce let them go.

 

 

Commander Wster watched Commander Stero go down with an arrow to his chest. Right after that the attack on the road was stopped and the survivors began their retreat. Wster ordered his remaining men to assist. He saw that the enemy was going to allow them to leave the field and he decided to take advantage of that while he could.

 

 

Truce moved up the road and cleared the bodies as they went. He wanted the road clear in case they needed it to travel fast. In addition, he thought that a few survivors returning might send a message that could help the enemy in its decision to surrender.

 

Truce heard the sounds of battle as he finished moving his forces in place. The exit was effectively blocked and the enemy would have to pay dearly to retreat in this direction.

 

 

 

The old man heard the mortars and the mines and knew what was happening. His heart sank at the knowledge that so many would die because a few were power hungry. It was an old story but sad just the same. Thousands of years did not change the pain although it did increase his understanding and ability to lessen the suffering.

 

He was running lightly and nearing the enemy’s positions. They were disorganized and most were still unaware of the attack. He started to run faster.

 

The old man headed for the highest density of enemy forces. They were located just beyond a small hill. As he came over the hill, he leapt high into the air and let out a banshee yell. The sound of his yell reached its loudest as he neared the highest point in his leapt. At that peak, he also released a burst of energy from his sword at the group of soldiers in front of him.

 

The ensuing explosion killed hundreds and completely destroyed any remaining courage the group had. As they started to pick themselves off the ground, the old man’s troops crested the hill and began their yelling and releasing of banshee cries. The enemy panicked and, those that could, ran away from the attack.

 

The old man had concentrated the entire force on this one area in hopes that it would fold. Even though it had the highest concentration of forces, it appeared to be the most chaotic. He had split the force in three with directions to separate after they penetrated the line. One group was to swing south and join up with their forces protecting the road – without entering the fields and then move east to the crossroads where they could join together and swing back north.

 

Another group was to swing north but try to stay behind the front lines so that they could destroy the supply lines and prevent the enemy from regrouping. They were to move up while protecting their own supply line.

 

His group was going to keep going straight and attempt to reach the enemy’s headquarters. They were to move as fast as possible and cut the head off of the snake with the hope that the rest would surrender.

 

The panic of the enemy at the point of contact prompted the old man to signal a change. He split his forces in two and added another group heading north. This one along the front lines to try and trap a large number of the enemy fighters in a pincer movement.

 

 

 

General Rowett was tracking the destruction of his center when Commander Wster arrived with news of the debacle on the south road. They now only had one escape route and his time to retreat was past due. He had a quandary on his hands. He could take his main group northeast to the last clear road of escape and abandon his forces on the northern line or he could reinforce them and lose the last avenue of retreat.

 

The General used his scopes and watched the progress of the old man’s forces. It was incredible. He was leading his troops like a laser from a gun. He cut through the few defenders like a scythe through grass and just as fast. His rate of advance was only slowed by his own soldiers’ lack of ability to keep up. The group was cutting a wide path and coming right at the headquarters. There was little time.

 

General Rowett had Commander Wster take the reserve units to the center to slow the old man down. He sent runners to the front lines to the north with directions to fall back to the northeast road. He sent runners to the front lines to the south but knew that there was little hope any could be saved. He gave them directions to retreat behind Commander Wster’s position as fast as possible. He doubted many would make it.

 

He ordered the headquarters staff to pack up the critical items only and head north to the northeast road. He called his staff together.

 

“This will be a battle to the end. Move your materials to the northeast road and set up a temporary command headquarters just beyond the forest’s edge. After that, you are to join the Guard and hold the road.”

 

They were serious and nodded their agreement. They knew that the enemy had them on the run and that the situation was dire. Still, they had great faith in the General and his ability to pull a victory out of a disaster.

 

The General knew most of those around him and had for many years. The Guard were his most loyal and experienced officers. Most had served years on the line and were given their post as a reward for decades of service. They would die before they gave up the road.

 

Welsty had given command of the southern group to Squatr, a young officer with a reputation for getting his job done. When they first split from the main group things had gone well. The enemy units on the front lines to the south were sparse due to the terrain. Moving quickly, he positioned his forces behind the lines and moved south in a double 90 wing formation. One wing ran east to west and directly engaged the enemy forces on the front lines. The second wing ran north and south to prevent the enemy from retreating in that direction.

 

At first this worked great; however, as they moved south it increased the concentration of enemy forces acting against them. The old man had felt that it was better to cut them off hoping for a surrender than to allow the various groups to join up with the rest of the enemy. Still, moving south was becoming more and more difficult.

 

 

To the north, Welsty was cutting through the supply lines easily. He was to move through to the northeast road and then cut back to the front lines entrapping the enemy forces on the line. He had received the information on the help coming up the line and was confident that he would be able to trap a large number of enemy fighters.

 

He was about to turn back west when he received word that the enemy was moving up the northeast road. He reviewed his map and calculated that they were trying to get the forest’s edge to hold the road. With no way to contact the old man, he decided to turn south and engage the enemy on the road.

 

 

To the west, the battle was moving north with relative ease. The forces they encountered were weak, disorganized, and quick to surrender. In a short time, they were moving large numbers west with small guard units. The old man had given command to Reref, an old veteran of many wars. Reref would quickly disarm those who surrendered, tie them up so that the could still travel, and then send them off with his weakest or wounded men. He was making great progress.

 

 

The old man saw that the reserves were being directed toward him and that another group had gone north. His communication with his southern thrust showed stiff resistance and very little to the north. If he could push the reserves back, he would cutoff the southern group completely and he could have Truce move to reinforce them from the south east.

 

The old man disengaged with the front line and called a couple of officers to him. He would lead a feint to the northeast with the hopes of drawing off the reserves who were protecting the retreat of the headquarters. Once they committed to moving north, the main attack would come straight on against a weak line. This would seal the fate of the south if it worked.

 

The old man took a group and moved to the northeast corner of their penetration. The group attacked along a line that ran 50 degrees north of the original attack. Within moments then were breaking free of the reserves that had been arrayed against them. He moved steadily on his path but did not increase his speed.

 

 

Commander Wster saw the old man and the group moving northeast. If this was the main group, they could cutoff the only escape route left. Still, if it was a feint, he would be surrendering the all of the forces south, possibly including his own units. He decided to push hard against the center to see if they could gain ground and force the old man to return and reinforce his line.

 

 

The old man observed the movements of the enemy and saw that they appeared not to take his bait. If this was a feint, he should return to reinforce the line. So, he didn’t. Instead, he increased the speed of his advance.

 

 

Commander Wster was not able to push the line back and instead watched the enemy move even farther northeast at an increased pace. He no longer had a choice. He sent word to the southern forces by multiple runners and pulled back from his position. His reserves moved back to parallel the old man and then slowly shifted north.

 

 

The old man smiled when the news came that the enemy had broken off. His forces would not have held up much longer. He slowed his advanced and allowed his other group to catch up. As they were rejoining, a message came from the south that the last resistance had surrendered and his southern group was joining up with Truce’s force to drive north.

 

 

Welsty was in trouble. His decision to head to the road paid off and he was able to prevent the enemy from escaping; however, now he had the tiger by the tail. His small force was all that stood between the enemy’s main body and an escape route. The battle had been fierce and he was sure that it was going to get worse.

 

He had sent runners to the old man and to the rest of their units moving north along the former front lines but had no answer. Not that it mattered. He didn’t see how anyone could get to them any time soon. He was really worried about the remnant of the enemy in the west retreating right into his back. Plus, his front line was going be more and more difficult to hold as those retreating from the south join the ones in front of him.

 

 

General Rowett had to admire the officer who blocked in escape path on the road. It took guts to make the stand he did and skill to hold it as long as he had. Still, once his main force arrived, the little unit would have to be crushed and crushed fast. The old man’s soldiers were harassing his retreat and destroying as much equipment as they could.

 

In a way he was relieved. The old man could be targeting his men instead of his equipment. Of course this was probably not because of compassion. Rowett had noticed from the beginnning a tendency for the old man to destroy supplies and equipment. His conclusion was that the old man knew about the shortages back home and wanted to reduce the possibility of future actions.

 

He was reviewing the maps and plotting the locations of his units when a message came in from the northwest. The last of his troops along the former front had surrendered. Now there was only his group left. If he didn’t punch through the enemy blocking the room soon, the old man’s troops would push through Wster’s forces and catch him from behind. He called in his top remaining officers.

 

The old man was no longer behind Commander Wster. As soon as his group was at full strength had made a big show of coming around behind the enemy. Then he immediately took 200 of his fastest men and slipped off to the east. Running through the woods on old logging roads that the enemy had been using to transport their wounded, they passed the enemy’s main group before they reached the road block.

 

Things became more difficult then as they quietly and carefully worked their way across a couple of fields without setting off the mines. It was delicate work but his wrist bands accurately detected the energy signatures of the mines even though they were in passive mode. They were just coming up on the fighting as the enemy’s main group was preparing for a new assault.

 

 

Welsty had been about to pull his men back as he saw the enemy preparing in large numbers to attack again. But then he received a message from the old man. Once again, the old man shocked everyone in the command tent as he ordered Welsty to attack with everything he had just as the enemy’s main force was moving into place.

 

No one refused to participate but he could see the doubt. They all wanted to believe but were not able. Still, they had seen what the old man was capable of and so they were willing to give their life to the Order and their country on faith that it would serve a bigger plan. It was a sober group that went back to the line with the orders.

 

 

General Rowett was standing on a rise watching the battle preparations when he noticed the changes in the enemy’s formation. He could not believe his eyes. They were outnumbered 20 to 1 and, unless he was seriously mistaken, they were preparing to attack. Had he missed something or were they just crazy?

 

He scanned the horizon and almost missed the old man. Tucked neatly behind a hill on the east, of all places, was another small group of enemy soldiers. He looked back to the west. There on a far hill was a large force running full out for his position. He sighed. The old man had them boxed in. The forces in front of him only needed to hold for a very short time and the group from the west would hit, followed he was sure by the group from the south who were almost caught up.

 

Even with the group coming at him from the west he still outnumbered the enemy in front by about 4 to 1. Although, with the constant attacks on his equipment and supplies, the old man had seriously reduced his ability to last in a battle for any amount of time and the sun was setting. The old man was giving him a choice – surrender now or be crushed in the morning.

 

His orders were to fight to the death. Orders given by people who did not have to carry them out. Orders also given by people who would kill anyone who did not follow them. He called for his signal man.

 

 

The old man saw the signal the same time as Welsty did. The enemy wanted to talk. Finally. He told his little unit to hold their position and attack if anything went wrong. Then he stepped out to attend the parlay.

 

 

Welsty saw the signal and was stunned. They were so out numbered that he expected to be wiped out. As he started to head for the parlay he saw the old man. Clever how he managed to move into that position without being noticed. He arrived at the meeting point about the same time as the other two.

 

 

The old man walked up to General Rowett and said, “I wish we were meeting under other circumstances. I have always been an admirer of you and your tactics.”

 

“Thanks and I can say the same thing as of today about you. General Rowett at your service.”

 

“They call me the Drifter.”

 

They both exchanged salutes and then the old man introduced Welsty. They exchanged pleasantries for a few moments and then the General said, “I have orders to fight to the death.”

 

Everyone was quiet and just looked at each other for a while.

 

“We understand. Those who are not in the fight cannot understand the fight.”

 

The General said, “I am asking you to surrender or face an all out attack in the morning.”

 

The old man nodded thoughtfully and the General could see that he understood the situation. He wondered who the Drifter was. He had never heard of him but it was evident that he had lots of experience. He hoped the old man had a solution. He waited for more.

 

“I could arrange for you to be gassed and then capture you when you are unconscious.”

 

“I like that idea and appreciate the consideration. I will tell my men to prepare for a morning attack. You can gas us during the night.”

 

“Very well. We appreciate the help and will tell our soldiers that you asked for our surrender and gave us till morning to give up.”

 

“Excellent. It has been an honor gentlemen.”

 

The three men went back to their camps to prepare. When the General returned to his camp, he called for all of his officers to come forward. Commander Wster had just rejoined the main body and updated him on the recent losses. Almost all of their equipment and supplies had been destroyed or left behind in their retreat. In addition, none of the southern forces ever rendezvoused with Wster’s group.

 

This meant that they lost all of the troops on the line in the north, all of the troops on the line in the south and half of those on the line in the middle. All he really had left were the reserves, medical corps, and those handling the supplies. The old man had very successfully targeted high level enlisted and mid level officers. Basically, he cut the communications, then he destroyed their equipment, and finally he eliminated their supplies.

 

He explained to the officers present that they only had 20% of their fighting forces left, 5% of their equipment, and 15% of their supplies. They had one chance to destroy the enemy. If they could not take them in the morning, then they would lose. He gave the officers their orders and told them to position their troops before allowing them to sleep for the night. They were to be up and ready before dawn.

 

When all the officers were dismissed to process their orders, Commander Wster stayed back.

 

“May I speak with you in private General?”

 

“Yes. Step into my office.”

 

They both entered the General’s office in the center of the tent.

 

“What can I do for you?”

 

“The old man cannot be beaten with the forces we have.”

 

“Why do you believe that?”

 

“Because the men do and because he was able to stop our best weapons, none of which we have anymore.”

 

“Don’t you think that man to man we have a better chance anyway?”

 

“No. He fights as if he was 20 men and everyone around him rallies and fights harder then ever. Plus, on our side, he scares all that he comes near.”

 

“Can you not find a way to motivate the men to stand against him?”

 

“Yes. I believe they will stand and fight strong if they believe reinforcements and new supplies are coming. Can I tell them that?”

 

“Unfortunately, I have been assured that we have enough men and materials to handle the situation and that we should quit being scared of one old man and fight like warriors.”

 

The room was silent as they both processed the conversation and implications. The General looked at him and then went on, “The old man was not who we were to fight. We were told that the Order was sending a Steward to help, a female. This is one of her helpers. Can you imagine what it would have been like if she had showed up?”

 

“So you have us attacking when there is no hope we will win? Do we just all die for the mistaken beliefs of others?”

 

“You are starting to get a good grasp of how things work. I had hoped the advisors were right and this would be a quick battle; however, I know others who have gone against the Order and it seldom ends well. And, if the Order doesn’t carry the day, they come back with more and eventually win. The only time that is not the case is when a treaty was not broken.”

 

“We broke a treaty with the Order?”

 

“Yes. We broke it bad! Of course, all of the advanced weapons we attacked them with were a violation too.”

 

The General paused to give the young man time to consider what was said. Then he continued, “Now you understand – but orders are orders and they must be obeyed. Still, the men will not follow you if they believe you can only lead them to their doom. Plus, they will not follow someone who gives up or loses all the time.”

 

“Then what can we do? If we attack, we could be destroyed and the lives lost will be a waste. If we do not attack, we will look as cowards and we will have violated orders. Is there no way out?”

 

“Yes. Prepare to attack and trust that things will work out.”

 

“Shouldn’t we attack now? The enemy will be reinforced by morning and those following will be caught up.”

 

“Are your forces ready and able to take on the enemy?”

 

“No. But it won’t be any better in the morning.”

 

“Convince them that we have a plan.”

 

Commander Wster realized that the General did not want to tell him everything. Perhaps it would be better if he didn’t know. He considered the situation and decided it would be no worse in the morning.

 

“Very well. It will be done.”

 

“Thanks. Oh, one more thing.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Keep thinking and questioning. When done properly, as you have, it is a critical skill.”

 

During the night, a small group of the old man’s soldier’s silently moved in on the General’s encampment on the upwind side. They subdued the guards and slowly released sleeping gas. They moved silently through out the camp until all areas had been covered. Then they called in help and went to work.

 

When the General’s soldiers awoke in the morning, they found themselves tied together neatly in groups of four. The battle was over.

 

Two days later, Commander Welsty marched his forces down the streets of the capital of the Y’Wert Empire. The old man was long gone and the president had given him control of the army. He was to seize the enemy’s capital and demand a new peace treaty.

 

Behind him walked thirty of the officers of the fallen army of the Empire. They had refused to surrender but could do nothing to resist. Leading the group was General Rowett with his head held high. The news spread that he was taken in his sleep just before a major attack and yet refused to surrender. The news made him a hero among his people. Welsty had positioned four guards around him to enhance the view that he was a feared opponent.

 

Information was released throughout the Empire that before the war General Rowett had argued against violating the treaty and warned the decision makers that there could be a huge loss of life. Soon, everyone understood that he followed his orders courageously, kept the fatalities down by sacrificing equipment and supplies, and was a strong believer in the treaty made with the Order.

 

Forty cycles later, a woman in a cape and cowl with her hood drawn paid for an information packet with the latest news. It seemed that a group of Nobles in the Empire had started a petition right after the fall of the capital for the Emperor to step down and for Rowett to take over. It only took a short time and then there was a new treaty with the new Prime Minister of an Empire where the Emperor was now mainly a figurehead.

 

The woman walked back to the woods thinking that Prime Minister Rowett would do a good job. She smiled as she thought about the old man. He always came through for her. Maybe she would leave him a Rootbeer in his refrigerator for a reward. Her laugh was heard by those walking near by on the sidewalk. They turned in time to see her jump off the bridge into the dry river bed.

 

Two very worried men ran to bridge and looked down to see if she lived. Nothing was there except for gravel, sand, and rocks. Soon there were many more people combing the area for her but she was never found.

 

 

Juan Carlos woke on his twelfth day in the hospital feeling almost normal. He wiggled his feet and then his arms with only minimal pain. After a few deep breaths, he stretched and moved around a bit to find a more comfortable position. He was not able to find a comfortable spot and decided to raise the bed up. The controls were on the side of the bed where he left them and he lifted the head of the bed high enough that he could look around the room.

 

His room was a regular hospital room – boring. One wall had windows, with blinds, one wall had a large door in it so that beds could roll in and out, and the other two walls were plain except for one picture on each. The wall on his left had a picture of the ocean and the wall behind him had the controls for the bed and medical equipment. Something bothered him so he looked at the room again. His eyes detected movement in the corner and his gaze shifted there as he noticed a figure sitting in the chair in the shadows.

 

“Who is there?”

 

“Me.”

 

The soft voice hit him hard like a ton of bricks. He thought he would never hear that voice again. She was the only good thing that had ever happened to him and when she found out what he really was, she left with their two kids. Tears started to roll down his face as she continued.

 

“I received a call from the District Attorney. He said a friend of his told him I would want to hear what you had done. I asked what you had done but he wouldn’t tell me, except to say that you dramatically changed your life. I am curious. What did you do?”

 

Juan Carlos could not believe that she was in his room. He thought that he had lost Bethany for good when she found out that he had lied to her for years. He told her when they married that he had quit his life of crime. It was more than she could bear when she found out he had never stopped.

 

He had filled himself with anger at her leaving and blamed the cold, cruel world for being out to get him. The old man allowed him to see that it was his choices that led to his life’s disasters. He gathered his courage and explained what he had done.

 

“Once I recovered enough to have a clear head, I asked for District Attorney Rangel to come to my room so I could fill him in on some crimes. At first he said no, then I told him the old man said to tell him that the blue moon was rising. After that, his attitude changed and he was here within an hour.”

 

“Who is the old man?”

 

“He is the one I tried to rob. He fought back and I ended up here.”

 

“An old man did this?”

 

“Yes. Then he wouldn’t send for help unless I agreed to answer some questions for him. By the time he was done with the questions, I realized that the problems in my life were mine. So, I asked him what I needed to do.”

 

“And he said?”

 

“Come clean about who you are to District Attorney Rangel, and no other DA, and then you can become who you want to be. Then he had me memorize “the blue moon was rising” phrase. He walked away and I blacked out. I woke up in the hospital after surgery. A few days later, I call the DA and told him everything.”

 

“Everything?”

 

“Yes. Every crime since I was 16.”

 

“Wow. What did he say?”

 

“He recorded it all, had it transcribed, and I signed confessions.”

 

“How long of a jail sentence did he offer?”

 

“He made no offer. I did all that to come clean with no conditions.”

 

He could see that she was shocked.

 

“Why?”

 

“The old man asked many questions but one hit me the hardest – What do you want your children to know about you?”

 

“What was your answer?”

 

“That I loved them.”

 

“What did he say to that?”

 

“If you truly love them, what can you do to show them? I said I didn’t know. He asked me what trait I respected most in others and I said “Honesty.””

 

“So he ask you to be honest?”

 

“No. I asked him what I needed to do and he said “Come clean” and what I told you earlier.”

 

“How many of the crimes did the DA say he would charge you with?”

 

“He said, before I started to confess, that he would charge me with all of them. That startled me but then I thought of our kids and realized that it was worth it.”

 

Tears were running down her face. She never thought this day would come. She truly loved Juan. Still, she absorbed his words with caution as he had deceived her before. The only reason she even came to the hospital was because of the call from the DA. She was about to ask him another question when the door opened.

 

District Attorney Rangel was a short man. He had short cropped hair and a pug nose with a short, thick neck. His stomach bulged with the results of good food but his eyes held the steel of a difficult life. He wore a full beard that did not completely cover a long scar on his right check. The suit he had on was a Ralph Lauren but rather worn although clean as can be.

 

Rangel surveyed the room as he entered, scanning every inch as if he was expecting an attack. His gaze stopped nowhere until the entire room was examined at least twice. Then he stepped up to the bed and with a nod to Bethany looked directly at Juan.

 

“I spoke to Judge Mojanik this morning about your case. He had one question – “Why did he confess?” So I told him about your meeting with the old man and the questions. He said he would back my decision.”

 

Rangel turned to Bethany.

 

“What do you think?”

 

“I believed in him once and he betrayed me. But I have never seen him confess a wrong before. He always dodged the dark side of his life. This time he has faced them. Once he is out of prison, I will be there with our children.”

 

Bethany walked up to Juan and grabbed his hand. Then she leaned over and kissed him on the check.

 

“I will bring the kids to see you every week.”

 

Juan had tears running down his face as he clenched her hand back.

 

“Thanks. I love you and am so sorry that I let you down so many times.”

 

Rangel took out a clipboard and placed some papers on it.

 

“Read them and sign the last one.”

 

Juan took the papers and flipped to the last page and signed it.

 

“I will accept whatever you think is fair.”

 

Rangel took the papers back.

 

“I thought you would say that. The old man has a strong effect on people – if they listen to him.”

 

Rangel turned and walked to the door. He opened it and started to step out. He turned back, half in and half out of the doorway.

 

“You have been given seven years of deferred adjudication. One false step, one crime during that time and you will serve 30 years. You will not have to report to jail and you will be contacted about your restrictions and monitoring. Good luck.”

 

Then he turned and left the room, leaving the two in total silence as the shock of what he said penetrated.

 

 

 

It was about 4:00 in the afternoon and the old man’s communicator buzzed. He answered, “Yes.”

 

“She agreed. He will have his chance.”

 

“Great. I will pray he uses it well. Thanks.”

 

The connection was broke and the old man returned to his dinner. The 10 minutes turned out to be worth it once again. He smiled as he reviewed in his mind the memories of all the others that had turned back to their good side. He would sleep well tonight. After all, at the end of the day, memories are all we have left.

SR: DarkWar – The Day Time Stopped

The Silver Realm: The Dark War

The Day Time Stopped

He stood looking out over the narrow passageway and considered the plight of his people. The man was a tall man. He looked old, but not real old; he had light brown eyes with a glint of gold and there was evidence of faded smile lines all over his face. He was two legged and from a distance looked like a Linthian or Murhan, yet up close seemed to radiate a visible energy that was impossible to define. His hair was white but he had a confidence about him and a certain spring in his walk as one has when they are young and indestructible. He wore a coat of dragon skin that rose from his shoulders to the top of his head in a cowl and flowed down from his shoulders to his ankles. His hair fell out of his cowl down across his chest and he wore a roughly trimmed beard that covered most of his face except for a large scar on the left side. When he walked, his long coat would sway with each step accenting his stride and giving him an almost royal look.

They were in a desperate battle against the dark forces. For months they had pushed them back and they were close to retaking one of the key planets in their system. The logistics of the war, for them, would greatly improve if they could regain this planet. Therefore, the enemy was putting up fierce resistance. In the years since the announcement of a possible Gatekeeper, they had pushed the enemy back again and again. However, it had been a long time and some were starting to doubt that the Gatekeeper would arrive. He needed to win this battle so that some of the stress would come off of his people and they would have the time needed to wait for the Gatekeeper.

The star system they were in was shaped as an hour glass with this planet and its sun at the center of the neck. Surrounding the planet, in all directions, was clear space for two sectroids. Then, the space surrounding was filled with asteroids and other rocks out to the abyss. That meant that the holder of this planet controlled the movement of all space transports from one side of the hour glass system to the other. They would be able to prevent the attacks everywhere except this planet. This would allow his people to take turns resting while they waited for the Gatekeeper.

The enemy knew this also and that is why he was making every effort to retain control of the planet. The battles had been costly but the enemy only had one stronghold left. The stronghold sat on a peninsula that jutted out into one of the oceans and held a fortified spaceport. The enemy had a Tr’Ufler force field that covered the base and projected toward their area of space. Due to the field, assault from the air or space was not possible and the ground was heavily fortified.

He reached up and scratched his scar. The scar represented a special time in his life. When the events around him shook his core, he would scratch his scar and remind himself of when things were worse. The problem was that this time things were almost as bad. They had thrown everything they had against the enemy’s forces and had not managed to break the lines. There was a solar storm coming in three cycles of the planet and it would kill all living things outside the field. They either took the fortress in two days or they would have to leave.

Once the storm was over, the enemy would be able to reclaim almost all of the territory on the planet before they could safely land. They had paid dearly for the ground they had taken and to allow a storm to give those gains to the enemy was more than he could stomach at this point. He could not allow that to happen.

The past years had turned things around and once they took this planet completely, the gatekeeper could use it to provide troops and supplies as they had not had for hundreds of years. He knew that the belief in the Gatekeeper’s return was fading but he believed. He could not afford to waste the chance given to his people to take this key planet nor could he afford to take it again.

The Defender of the Realm scratched his scar one more time and then returned to his command tent to prepare for the coming battle. He stopped when he heard a strange noise. He turned to the sky and saw the ship. Immediately it came under attack.

For most of his troops and most of the enemy, this ship was like no other ship they had seen. There was no defining shape as it seemed to morph as it came down. The color was silver with gold stripes on what became the bottom. Regardless of how strange the ship might appear, the enemy attacked it. The attacks on the ship had no effect and it was not deterred in its course.

His troops gathered as the ship came down in their encampment. Most were not fearful as a ship attacked by their enemy must be their friend and curiosity filled the encampment. The final shape as it landed was a square box with four feet on the bottom. A ramp descended from the ship and anticipation rose. After a few anxious moments, a woman walked down the ramp with confident strides and a commanding presence that quieted the crowd.

Her black boots rose above her knees and had a silver band around their tops. On the front of each boot, in the silver area near the top was the symbol of the Order of the Silver Star, an outline of an angel with a star in her outstretched right hand. Her pants were laced with the light armor of Special Forces with vertical silver force lines glowing from her boots to her belt. The belt was silver and had a buckle with the symbol of freedom from the amulet engraved on it.

She wore a breast plate that covered her body from the neck to the waist. The plate appeared to be metal but flexed with her movements and seemed to change shape so that there was no discomfort to the wearer. She was wearing a long jacket made of dragon skin that ran from her neck to her ankles and was open in the front with a catch chain at the waist. Her helmet had a gold band that ran around her forehead and above it her head was covered with a black metal. The helmet came down and covered her ears and the back of her head and neck as it draped over her jacket. On her hands, she was wearing gauntlets that covered her jacket sleeves and ended just before reaching her elbow. The only part of her body showing was her face.

Her hair was in her helmet except for some that came out around her neck and flowed down over her breast plate. The hair was bright blue and so radiate that it seemed to glow. Her face was firm and delicate at the same time with deep hypnotic blue eyes. She had thin lips, a thin face, and clearly was a beautiful woman. She exuded power and when she came closer, everyone could see symbols engraved on her helmet’s gold band: άγγελο. The crowd cheered.

“άγγελο”

“άγγελο”

The Defender felt a grin come to his face. She could only be a gift from the Tall Man. Interesting how the Tall Man managed to send him help, just when he needed it without violating the treaty.

“Greetings and welcome to Hell.”

“I have one day for my vacation so I thought I could spend it here in paradise with you.”

He laughed a deep hearted growl and soon the crowd around them was laughing also. They had fought such a desperate fight for so long it was nice to know that others cared and even nicer that this young lady had a sense of humor.

The Angel asked, “Would anyone like some news on the Gatekeeper?”

The crowd fell silent and the Defender answered in a whisper, “Yes.”

“He has almost completed his training at the Temple and I am told he has some of the highest marks ever.”

A cheer went up from the crowd again and he realized that in just moments she had revitalized his troops and brought hope back to them all. He didn’t know if she would be an asset in the day’s fighting but she earned high marks for motivating his soldiers.

“Do you have an estimate on time for the Gate to reactivate?”

“Yes. The Tall Man estimates one Silver year.”

Once again a cheer rang out from the crowd and he felt a huge weight lift off of his shoulders. She had just given all of them a great gift and there was only one thing he could do. He walked up to her and gave her a warrior brace. She responded with a Sovereign’s salute. Everyone in the encampment replied. The war had just changed again. It was as if time had stopped and he was back in the past – the glorious past. Back in the time when the Silver Realm was at the center of the universe, literally. He knew it would not last but perhaps time would stop for the day she was here. He smiled in spite of what they faced.

 

In the fortress, the Dark Warrior watched the scene unfolding and hate flowed through his veins. He could see that the woman had brought hope of some kind to the rabble attacking him. For years, he had been on the defensive and had finally wore them down again. This solar storm would have destroyed them if they stayed so he was sure they were going to leave. Now, he could see that they were going to attack again. He thought about bringing the field down and attacking them with energy weapons but knew he would not have time to power it up before the storm hit – not to the level needed to protect all of his ships in space on his side of the planet.

No. He was going to have to meet them on the ground in an old fashioned battle. Well, he would show them. He still had a big surprise left. They were all going to wish they had left him alone. This time they would be destroyed completely. He walked away from the monitors smashing him right hand against his left as hate welled up inside of him.

 

The morning ushered in a beautiful day with the light glinting off the nearby lake and a slight breeze bringing fresh, cool air across the field in front of him. The Defender of the Realm knew that he had to cross that field and then attack the fortress up hill. Because of the energy field, they could not use any energy weapons above a level 6, nor could they use their force sticks. This was going to be swords and speed with hand-to-hand combat until one side surrendered and he was not going to surrender. Not now that he had hope on his side.

The Defender of the Realm looked back at his soldiers. There was no one under 300 years old, except possibly the Angel. He didn’t know much about her, except that somehow she had earned one of the highest honors for a female warrior. Still, these were soldiers of the Realm and he doubted she could fight any better than they could. The Realm soldiers were incredibly disciplined and were genetically advanced compared to most inhabitants of the nearby galaxies. Although, the armor she wore was at least as good as theirs.

Well, soon everyone would see her skills. He wondered what the Dark Warrior would throw at them today. There was always some secret weapon or devious trick waiting for them. Usually, it was those things that killed his warriors. Seldom was an enemy soldier able to best one of them.

He turned back to the enemy fortress and saw that they were coming down to meet him. He was glad. It would be a little more difficult getting across the field and moving up the hill against live forces but when they broke through, they should have a quicker time taking the actual fortress itself.

He formed up his group and led them across the field. About halfway, they met the enemy and the battle began. It was a fierce battle and his troops were gaining ground. When they reached the bottom of the hill, they began to believe it would be over soon. Then they heard the noise.

Smoke belched out of the ground about halfway up the hill. Rocks and flames flew in all directions and many soldiers on both side were wounded by the hot and hard spray. Soon the air was thick with smoke and the enemy disengaged and retreated up the hill to the top. What was left on the hill amazed even the Defender of the Realm. A dragon. A real dragon.

Within moments it was on them. It tore through his lines throwing men and women in all directions. Swords and knifes just bounced off of its hide and things started to look desperate. Then he saw her. Her blue hair and eyes were glowing as she ran straight toward the dragon. She moved so fast that it was hard for most to keep up with her, including the dragon.

The dragon raised its head and took a great breath. He knew that it would bend its neck down, almost to ground level, and expel a huge breath of toxic fumes and flames. Then it would eat what was left of her charred body. At least that is what the dragon thought. The Defender knew better as the armor she was wearing would protect her from the flames and heat for quite a while. Still, it made no sense to be running toward it as even the best sword could not penetrate the hide.

He watched as she came closer and the dragon lowered its head to flame her. As it opened its mouth she jumped in. With a flying leap she had propelled herself into its mouth and then the dragon shut its mouth and she was gone!

 

 

The Dark Warrior watched as the dragon ripped into the Realm’s lines with devastation following in its wake. A smile came to his face as he saw their victory hopes dashed into the flames and teeth of the dragon. His smile faded as he watched the young warrior run toward the dragon and he was shocked when she jumped into its mouth.

No. It cannot be. Fear came into his mind as the realization hit him that her hair and eyes were glowing blue as she jumped. That cannot be. The blue were destroyed. Yes, the Lord of Light recruited some of the synthetic blue and they fought with him until he was killed. Yet this could not be a synthetic blue, there is no way one could have become a fighter for the order, they would never pass the trials. Only a true blue could be a fighter for the Order. He must have been mistaken as they died out long ago with the white. Then the dragon stopped.

No. He screamed at no one but at everyone. No. It cannot be.

He watched as the dragon started to shake and then fell to the ground writhing in agony. After a few moments, it rolled on its back and quit shaking. He saw the blue beam come out of its belly followed by a sword. The sword cut its way out from the soft insides. He fell to the floor in shock. It was not possible. But then he saw her climb out of the corpse that had been his last dragon.

He knew that this battle was lost. Oh, he could probably defeat her, but not her and the Defender. Nor would his troops hold up against this rejuvenated enemy. After what she had done, they would not stop until the fortress fell. He sounded the retreat. As his shuttle lifted off the landing platform he wondered. Where did she come from and how did she end up an Angel in the Order? The true blue were gone… Then a fear swept over him as a realization hit him hard. If there were still true blue, were there still white?

 

The Defender of the Realm stood to the side of the fortress near the wall as his troops celebrated. They were now inside the force field and celebrating as the rest of his people on the planet joined them. Wow. What a day this had been. Once the Angel climbed out of that dragon he knew the battle was theirs. Still, he could have sworn he saw her hair and eyes glow blue.

She saw him standing there and walked over.

“Are you going to join us?”

“Not yet. I want to see our ships come in safely just in case one of the enemy ships changes its mind and starts to attack.”

“Ok. But don’t miss all the fun.”

She started to walk away and he said, “I thought I saw your hair and eyes glow blue today.”

She stopped and turned back around slowly. She took a long look at him and then said, “You did.”

He nodded. She continued, “Does it matter?”

He looked into her eyes and saw the challenge waiting there. No anger, no fear, just a challenge for him to explain himself. He smiled.

“No. You just reminded me of someone from long ago. I miss her.”

A sad look passed across his face and she turned back to the crowd to leave him alone. She enjoyed being in the Order where her glow was treated with respect rather than fear. She rejoined the group.

The Defender of the Realm watched her walk back to the group and he recognized the gait. He didn’t know why she glowed blue instead of white but he knew one of her ancestors and she was a mirror image.

Time stopped as memories of days long past roamed through his mind as he relaxed for the first time in years. He considered the possibility of winning this war, something he had not done in hundreds of years.

After a few moments, he gathered himself back to the present. There were millions of things that could go wrong and destroy his hopes again. Still, tonight he would enjoy the simple things.

 

Resurt had watched the battle on one of the monitors in the Temple. His training included the dragons of the Dark Warrior. He knew that a person with the blue glow was very powerful and he understood the special characteristics of the swords of the Order. Yet, the dragons could not be stopped the way that dragon was stopped. Either the records were wrong or the Angel was not a blue. The sword could only have enough power to cut through a dragon if the wielder was a white and they no longer existed.

Resurt went back to the records and initiated a new search. This time he asked the computer to find all stories about the order where a sword of the order killed a dragon. It took him many local days to read through all the stories. He had just finished when the old man came into the room.

“What have you learned today?”

“The battle you had me watch with the Angel in it defies the records.”

“In what way?”

“The Angel of the Order is a blue. Yet, she wields a sword of the Order with the power of a white. Since the white do not exists, this is a conflict in facts.”

“Who said the white do not exist?”

“The records. But even if the records were wrong, she definitely glowed blue and even admitted it to the Defender of the Realm. He also should have been able to defeat the dragon without her.”

“So why didn’t he and why did she?”

“I don’t know. It didn’t make sense.”

“What color was the dragon?”

“It was an off orange.”

“Really? What kind of dragon is that?”

“I don’t know. I will look it up.”

Resurt turned back the computer and then decide to just ask the old man. When he turned around, the AI had vanished. He wondered how the computer decided when to have the old man there and when not to. He returned to his search.

It was way past sleep time when he found the information on the orange dragons. They were specially breed to resist the powers of the Lords of the Realm. The Defender of the Realm would have not been able to destroy it. Plus, the orange dragons could counter the effects of the swords of the Order.

So, only someone with powers other than a Lord of the Realm could have used an Order’s sword and killed the dragon. Of course, the Order’s swords only respond to certain energy sources. Well, this mystery became deeper and deeper. How did anyone know that there was an orange dragon there? And, how far in advance did they need to know in order to arrange for the Angel to be there? Plus, where did the Angel come from in the first place?

Resurt was finding the temple full of mysteries and short on answers today. Perhaps a night’s sleep would help.

 

As soon as everyone was safely inside the force field, the Angel left in her ship. In a short time, she was flying through space back to a planet where the Order needed her battle skills. The wall shimmered and the Tall Man stepped into the room. Angel got up and gave him a big hug.

“I take it you had no trouble with the dragon?”

“I wouldn’t say that! It was huge and I thought I was going to die from a lack of air before I managed to cut my way back out.”

The Tall Man smiled and the laugh lines on his face lit up. He loved this young woman and she had a way of taking him back in time to better days.

“Well, since you are here, I guess you were able to hold your breath long enough.”

She laughed also and said, “I guess I have to quote you: You are what you do and you can do more than you think.”

The Tall Man gave her another hug and smiled as he said, “You are becoming more like your grandmother every day.”

He watched her beam at the compliment. He gave her another quick hug and said, “We both have to go. Please keep H’Trunt and the Alliance in mind as you head there. I have loaded your computer with the latest details.”

The Tall Man then turned back and started walked toward the wall of the ship.

“Wait,” she said. He stopped and turned around.

“How did you know to send me at that time and place?”

The Tall Man smiled a much more mischievous smile and said, “How do you know that the time and place wasn’t created because you were going to be there?”

“I am not that important.”

“You might be surprised.”

“Sometimes it is very difficult to get a straight answer from you.”

The Angel was a bit frustrated although she was used to the way he responded to complex questions. Still, it was in her nature to keep trying. She watched his smile change again to one of great caring and then he started to leave again, but stopped.

“Very well. A small fact.” He turned back toward her but stayed where he was.

“We have a friend on the enemy’s side.” He held up his hand for her not to ask more. “I can tell you no more today. Time and events will lead you to the answer you need.”

“Thanks. For that information and for everything.”

The Tall Man smiled again and turned back to the wall. He walked toward the wall and vanished in a shimmer. A single tear ran down his face when he realized how much he missed her grandmother.

 

Resurt woke in the morning and found the AI looking down at him.

“It is time for your final exam.”

Resurt smiled and climbed out of his bed. Today was going to be a great day and he was really looking forward to the test. He was confident that he would pass. He loved the technical aspects of the Gate and went through the training faster than all but one in the history of the Gate. Today was going to be his day.

It did not take Resurt long to dress and grab a little breakfast. He stepped in the main hall of the Temple just about happier than he had been in all his life. He took two steps into the hall and felt pain slam into his shoulder. He turned toward the entrance of the Temple and the location the blow came from. In front of him were materializing three men.

The men were shimmering in and out of his vision as if they had an invisibility screen that was fading in and out. The problem was the when they appeared they shot him with something. The pain was now coursing through his entire body. He could not even lift his arms to protect himself.

How had they entered the Temple without him knowing? What about the alarm? Why had he let his guard down?

He dropped to his knees in agony. His head was ringing and his vision was starting to go. He saw the boot approaching his face and then his whole head exploded. He blacked out.

SR: Warriors – The Nights Can Be Long

The Silver Realm – The Warriors

The Nights Can Be Long

He did not want to open his eyes. He tried to be as still as possible. He attempted to relax and clear his mind. Perhaps he could fall back asleep. If he didn’t open his eyes he wouldn’t see the clock and he would not have to get out and do it again.

It wasn’t that he hated the work. No, he loved it. It was just that there was almost always a dark side to deal with and the memories of the battles and the horrors witnessed start to mount as the years go on.

If he didn’t see the clock he could continue pretending that this life was his real life. He could wake up later and go to a regular job like the rest of the people on this planet. If he could fall back asleep, he could pretend for another day that he was just another guy.

He rolled onto his side and tried to fall back asleep. It was no use. He could hear all the sounds of the highway only a block away. Every car and truck sounded as if it was right outside of his window. His small hope falling asleep vanished when the train whistle blew. Another slow thundering freight train, and a long one at that.

He rolled back over and looked toward the clock. He opened his eyes. The brightly lit clock was covered with a cloth to keep his room as dark as possible. Slowly he moved his arm over and lifted the cloth. It was 4:37 am. Crap.

There was no avoiding it now. He had to get up.

Minutes later, he was climbing in his truck in his running clothes. The temperature was 25 degrees and he could see the frozen ice on a pothole full of water from the recent rain. If the rain would have waited a couple of hours, it would have been snow. Not that it would have mattered. He had to go no matter the temperature. He started the truck and headed to a local high school’s track.

He always stretched a little. He knew that the latest medical research pointed toward cool down stretching rather than warm up stretching. Still, his calf muscles cramped almost every time he skipped the warm-up stretches. He finished his warm-up and started walking to the finish line.

He ran one mile in one direction on the track and the second mile in the opposite direction. His story was that this helped his knees and prevented injury. There was truth to that but the main reason was that he used the turn around to synchronize his departure and arrival on this planet with the same on his destination. He walked across the finish line and his image shimmered.

The school’s transportation department was right behind the track and the director, a middle aged man named Bob Thompson, came in to work between 5:00 and 5:30 am each day. He had to see who called in on the computer as sick so he could adjust the routes. Today, he had arrived at 4:40 am and noticed that crazy, bearded old guy warming up on the track again.

He had watched him before and saw that he ran 8 laps. Always 4 in one direction and then 4 in the other. He never saw anyone else do that. Weird. Oh, once in a while he would only finish 6 or 7 laps but then he was usually limping. He saw the old man on the track one Saturday and got a good look at him in the light of day. The old man was about 50 to 55 years old. He stood over 6 foot tall and was balding with a lot of gray hair on his head and in his full beard. He had a bit of a pot belly and usually leaned forward some when running.

The old man did not do that slow running that was almost walking but he was not fast either. One of the coaches told him that the old man seemed to run about a 10 minute mile, as if he knew what that was supposed to mean. The coach went on to say that it was pretty good for a guy his age. Whatever that meant.

The transportation director finished logging into his computer and looked back out the window. The old man was finishing his warm-ups and walking to the finish line. Crazy, running the opposite direction on the track for the first 4 laps. Really weird. The old man walked up to the line and then he was all blurry for a moment.

Bob shook his head and then rubbed his eyes. He looked again. The old man was doing just fine. He was lumbering along at his normal speed. Sometimes, when he went around the corner just right, he would look as if he was falling forward. Bob watched for one lap and then went back to work. What a weird old man. Who would be out in the freezing cold running? Why didn’t he just get a treadmill? Moments later he forgot about the old man as he saw that he was short two bus drivers.

The young man felt the tears in his eyes as he reviewed the scene in front of him. So many good men and women had died already and he was to blame. he had talked them into fighting against the invaders. Outnumbered by well-trained alien soldiers, they had fought a mostly hidden war that had stretched on for four years.

His name was Jon Trostren but the media called him General T. There was no real reason for it. A news article, years ago, gave him the title in a story that had little to do with the truth. Still, his supporters jumped on it and the name stuck. The truth was that he had been a restaurant manager and volunteer firefighter before the aliens attacked.

He had been at work when the rays hit his hometown. He was under the vent hood and the metal protected him from the devastation that fell on those exposed. Two billion died that one day. The sadly ironic thing was that the rays came from a weapon one of the world powers had developed to stop the aliens.

The old-timers had argued against it. They spoke for months at the World Congress against developing new technologies. They reminded everyone that the planet was under the protection of the Order of the Silver Star and that enemies could only use our own technologies against us. The world no longer believed that the Order existed and the fear mongers won the day.

Two days after a successful test of the weapon, the enemy showed up in hundreds of small ships and positioned themselves over all the major cities. The World Congress was given untilthe sun set on the Great Hall of Peace to surrender. They didn’t, and the aliens released the rays. The next morning, all of the countries in the world surrendered except for his country, Kingsland.

Kingsland was still strong in the belief in the Order and they knew the world caused this mess. They deployed the old uniforms of the Order and fought back when the aliens tried to take control of the utilities or the government buildings. The rays did not work when they wore their helmets from the Order’s uniforms and the enemy was forced to fight man-to-man.

Still, it did not take long before the warriors were all dead and there was no one experienced left to fight. So a new generation took up arms. Jon was the first of the new group to win a major skirmish and be given a new name.

Even though their country was the only one on the planet that had fought back it had made an impact. For four years, the other countries around the world sent them troops and funds to keep the fight alive. It had worked and they grew stronger and stronger. Once they started to have an impact, the aliens brought forward other technologies to destroy them.

He remembered the morning of the first high-tech attack. He sat up in his cot and felt something slide off his chest onto the floor. He reached over and turned up the lamp. On the floor were a paper and an amulet. The paper said, “Wear the Amulet of Freedom and their technology will be worthless.” He didn’t see how it could hurt so he started wearing the amulet. It worked; the aliens’ technology was negated by the Amulet of Freedom from the Order of the Silver Star. Soon, they were starting to push the aliens back and the amulet drove morale to high levels. People began to believe that they might take their planet back; however, the influx of mercenary fighters stopped their successes.

About a year ago, the enemy started using electronic sweeps for life forms in the field. This destroyed their guerrilla tactics by eliminating the ability to hide after an attack. They tried using tunnels and caves but the sweeps could penetrate great distances under the ground. They were forced to fight in the open as regular soldiers do. The enemy started winning again.

He had approximately 15,000 soldiers when the ground battles started to take place and now he was down to 3,000 with many of them wounded. The enemy had suffered also but they just brought in replacements by the shipload whereas his came in slowly. Morale had dropped and along with it his number of new recruits. He knew that he needed a victory soon or all would be lost.

So, he knelt in front of his officers that morning and prayed while holding the sword of the Order. The sword was supposed to have powers but he never felt any. It was beautiful but beyond that not special at all. Yet, when he prayed this time, he thought it warmed a bit. Wishful thinking he was sure. Some of the officers joined him but most mumbled about how the Order died years ago in the galactic peace that followed the great wars due to a lack of need.

The field in front of him was long grass that drifted into the distance between two hills like a painting on a wall. The field was long and narrow running east to west. It started narrow on his end and widened up until it reached the river where it narrowed a bit before drifting to the hills.

The enemy was almost directly across from him and was forming up at the edge of the woods. He was on the north side with hills at his back. He always fought with an escape route nearby as thathad allowed for their survival in the early days. Today he was not so sure, as he would not be able to move through the rough hills easily with so many wounded.

Gloom was setting in among his troops as the enemy prepared to attack once again. He looked around and saw no one working to fire up their companies. They all looked resigned to their fates and he didn’t have any more inspirational words for them. Four years had used up all his words. He ordered the officers to form up their companies. He turned toward the enemy and prepared to do battle.

The enemy started across the field and his officers moved the companies into defensive positions. Everyone was looking across the field when a shimmering occurred in the middle of the field.

Jon felt the amulet growing warmer and his sword started to glow. Soon a light appeared above the shimmer and formed into a brightness that replicated the Amulet of Freedom, although much larger.

All of the soldiers on the field stopped to watch as the shimmering increased. Soon a hazy image appeared. The image solidified into a man walking. Moments later, the shimmering was gone and the man stopped in the glow of the brightness. In a short time, the brightness turned off and all that was left was the man.

He wore black boots that rose above his knees and had a gold band around their top and another gold band at the ankle. On the front of each boot, in the gold area near the top was the symbol of the Order of the Silver Star, an outline of an angel with a star in her outstretched right hand. His pants were laced with white glowing lines of force flowing through a black material. His belt was black with gold trim and had a gold buckle with the symbol of freedom from the amulet engraved on it.

He wore a breast plate that covered his body from his neck to his belt. The plate appeared to be metal but flexed as he moved changing shape so that there was no discomfort to the wearer. He was wearing a long jacket made of another unknown material that ran from his neck to just above his boots and was open in the front with a catch chain at the waist. His helmet had a silver band that ran around his forehead and above it his head was covered with a black metal. The helmet came down and covered his ears and the back of his head and neck as it draped over his jacket. He was wearing gauntlets that covered his jacket sleeves and ended just before reaching his elbow. The only part of his body showing was his face.

He was a tall older man with an easy smile and laugh lines by the corners of his eyes. Yet, his face still had the hard lines formed by lots of serious work with the tan and weathered look of someone who spent time outside working. He had a full beard that contained more white than black.

He looked around the field with deep set light brown eyes that appeared to glisten with gold and were topped with thick eyebrows. When he completed his quick review he motioned to Jon and the commander of the alien forces directing them to come to him. The battlefield was quiet and everyone waited to see what the commanders would do.

Jon stepped forward right away. The man had the marks of the Order and hope blossomed that his prayers may have been answered. The alien commander hesitated a bit and then stepped forward also after indicating to his guard to accompany him. He came forward with ten heavily armed soldiers.

Jon approached the man and could see that he was older, probably around 50 to 55 standard years. Yet, he did not look past his prime and in fact radiated a confidence that surprised Jon. When they had all reached a distance within a sword’s length he had them stop. Once again, his eyes swept over them. His look made Jon feel as he did when his dad had caught him doing something wrong. Clearly the alien was even more uncomfortable as he nervously fidgeted. The man quit his scanning and looked at the alien commander.

“Why are you violating the treaty of the Order by bringing outside warriors into battle? Do you understand what that allows the Order to do?”

“These are my men. We brought them from our world.”

The old man laughed and pointed to the ten men standing behind the commander.

“These are from two systems beyond yours and half of your troops are mercenaries from even further. Do not lie to me. You might make me angry.”

“I don’t care if you are angry nor do I care about a dead treaty for dead men.”

“Do I look dead to you?”

“You are one old man. You mean nothing.”

“Then you are refusing to comply with the treaty and remove the violators?”

“That treaty died with the signers.”

“The Tall Man is alive and I ask again – are you refusing to comply with the treaty and refusing to remove the violators?”

“I am Supreme Commander Krused of the 13th Brigade and we crushed the Tolgrate Rebellion in three days. You and your treaty can go to Hell.”

The commander turned and walked away. The man turned to Jon and motioned for him to return to his lines. The man walked with him.

“Do you mind if I join you today?”

“Not at all. Are others coming to help?”

“I don’t think we will need them.”

Jon was shocked and did not know if this man was crazy or not. Surely one man could not make much of a difference.

“I have less than 3,000 men and women to his 15,000. That is not a fair fight.”

“True, true. Still, he might not know the situation is unfair.”

Jon was stunned. Somehow, his prayer brought him a crazy old man. What would the troops think now? They approached his lines and he motioned for his officers to come forward. It was risky. The enemy could send a blast their way and take out the entire command team. However, with what had just happened he knew that the meeting was needed.

The officers lined up casually in front of the old man except for seven. Those seven created a straight line and knelt down in front of the old man. He smiled.

“Your prayers were heard today and the Order will respond.”

He took his hand and reached into his pocket of his jacket and drew out seven amulets of freedom. He placed one around each man’s neck. Two more officers stepped forward and knelt in the line.

The old man looked at them with a sad face that showed a deep understanding and a slight hard edge of wisdom.

“You are willing to line up for an amulet. Yet you did not pray this morning and your thoughts moments ago were rather disturbing. No. The amulets go to those who have believed and held strong during the dark times.”

The men were shocked to their cores as they realized the total meaning of the old man’s words. Truly he must be of the Order if he has knowledge of their thoughts and feelings. They were shamed and stepped back with heads down.

“Do not be ashamed and stand proud. The person who fights for honor and follows the Order’s ways can be proud, even if their belief is not strong. Your time will come.”

Then he motioned for the officers to gather around. He raised one finger as if to tell them to wait and he drew his sword. Everyone could see the concentration on his face as he waited for something.

Suddenly, he turned and thrust with the sword. An explosion sounded across the field and a blue light flew out of the tip of the sword shooting across the field where it impacted with explosive shells that had just been launched. Twenty three more times the sword flashed and each time the shells burst as they came out of the launcher. The attack stopped.

The old man stepped toward the battlefield and spoke some strange words. His sword glowed and it was almost as if a humming sound filled the air. He swung the sword in an arc encompassing the launchers. Orange pulses exited the tip of the sword and flew through the air crashing into the launchers. Each of the machines exploded with great force sending fragments into the enemy’s lines killing hundreds and disrupting their organization. The war had just changed.

Two of the officers came forward asking for Jon to begin the attack.

“They are confused and off guard. We should attack now.”

The old man stepped in front of the group and said, “No.”

Everyone looked at him and confusion flowed through the group.

“You need to prepare your soldiers for the coming battle. Please take a seat so I can explain.”

The officers moved around behind the command tents and sat at the benches there. The old man started to give directions. The troops were first divided into two groups. The old man, Jon, and the seven officers with amulets would lead the soldiers who believed in the Order. These men and women would attack the foreign fighters with the advanced weapons. This group numbered about 400 and they formed up in four sections front of all the others across the length of the enemy’s line.

The second group formed in sections along the forest and was given the task of plugging any holes that formed in the 400 as they countered the enemy’s attacks. It was made clear that they were never to move past a mid-point in the battlefield and their main job would be to cover for the medics pulling the wounded to safety.

Most of the army thought that 3,000 against 15,000 was suicide. Now, they saw this old man leading 400 against 15,000 and could not understand it at all. The other officers argued against the plan over and over. The old man held firm against the arguments. He said that 400 believers could destroy 15,000 mercenaries any day. The ranks of the 400 swelled with pride as they learned of his comments. Their beliefs told them that they could not lose if the Order was on their side.

The 100 men in each section formed a rectangle with 5 lines of 20 men. In front of each section were two of the officers wearing an amulet of freedom. All of the 400 and their officers were given a red skull cap to put over their heads, red gloves to put on their hands, and red boot covers for their feet.

In front of all of the men walked the old man and right behind him, Jon. The old man led them onto the battlefield with a confidence that the numbers and the visual scene could not support. Still, murmurs went through the lines of the soldiers left in the woods that they wished they were out there with them.

Supreme Commander Krused was finishing up his reorganization when the old man led his 400 onto the battlefield. The explosions disrupted his offensive front lines but did no damage to his secondary. He had hoped the enemy would attack because his men would not have been surprised and instead were eager. Cleaning up the mess and reorganizing had given him time to bring up more advanced weapons so it was a plus for him either way.

Then he saw the old man leading them out. It made no sense. They were already outnumbered and a defensive stance would be the best. Also, if he was going to attack, it would have made sense to do it while they were cleaning up. Attacking now, after they reorganized, made no sense. And to only bring out 400 – this was an insult to his men.

Supreme Commander Krused called forth two of his best officers. First right-hand Wedf and Second right-hand Pces were given orders to take 200 of their top men each and cut down the arrogant 400 and end this insult.

The old man stopped halfway across the battlefield and waited. If his analysis was correct, the enemy commander would first try to humiliate them. Then he would attack with advanced weapons. Finally, when none of that worked, he would attack with all of his forces to overwhelm them. Arrogance was usually very predictable and he had to rebuild the morale of his own men. Calm confidence was needed.

First right-hand Wedf did not like the situation at all. He did not believe the enemy would be destroyed. He saw the devastation that the old man’s sword wrought against their launchers and believed only an all out attack on all fronts would work. Still, he was not in charge. So, he took his men toward the east corner of the 400. He would attack with a sweep around to try and get to the back of the men. The commander did not believe that all 400 were top men and felt that the weaker ones were in the back.

Second right-hand Pces hated this planet and all the people. He was looking forward to crushing these fools. Everywhere they went, the army under Supreme Commander Krused obliterated their opponents. This time it would be a massacre and the sooner it was over, the better it would be for him so he could leave this junk heap of a planet.

The old man saw the two groups coming out and he stepped up. The group coming on the East was particularly grim so he started moving toward them. The closer they got the faster he went until he was running full out toward them. The officers behind him were also running but not able to keep up and the 400 moved at a slow trot under orders to stay in formation.

Second right-hand Pces saw the crazy man and stepped in front of his men by two paces but he was not going to tire himself out. As the man moved faster and faster he started to lose confidence. When the man was almost upon him, he motioned to two men to join him. They hesitated.

The old man leapt into the air at the last possible moment just outside the range of the man’s sword. He rose to an impossible height and twisted in a 180 while in the air. He came down behind second right-hand Pces with his sword slicing down with him. He hit the ground and rolled backwards and executed a spin as he rose off the ground. The sword spun with him and sliced the two men who were now stepping forward.

The old man jumped over the still falling body parts slicing with his blade like a hot knife through butter. By the time his officers caught up with him, they had to step over a multitude of bodies strewn with blood. The scene was hellish and the officers fell in with him. In a short time, before the formation could join them, the small group of enemy fighters left alive turned and fled.

First right-hand Wedf had not engaged the enemy when the old man hit the other group. Before he came up on the 100 he was engaging it was clear that his partner’s group would be worthless. Still, if he could get behind them, perhaps it would be his turn to cause chaos.

Jon had been given orders to stay with the formation and move to the first group that was attacked. He recognized the tactic and moved himself to the far outside of the group. As the enemy pushed around the east side, Jon slipped to the back and pulled two of his best men out of the middle to come with him. He met the first right-hand Wedf head-on as he came around the side.

Jon lifted the sword of the Order and was shocked at how light it had become. The soldier he faced went to block his blow with his sword but Jon’s sword, which was now glowing, cut right through the blade as if it was paper and then through the man. Soon he found himself facing the enemy officer leading the attack.

First right-hand Wedf was irritated that the enemy had anticipated his moves and mounted a counter-attack. He was positive that this would only slow him down until he watched the enemy commander’s sword slice through the sword of one of his men. He activated his electronic counter-measures on his sword and prepared to meet this man.

Jon finished fighting his way through to the officer and found that the other men had cleared a place for them to fight. Jon motioned to his men to keep clear also. The two circled each other for a while. The man lunged at Jon and then stepped back as it was a feint. The Jon made a few moves himself, simply to test his opponent’s reactions. He noticed that the sounds of battle around him had ceased.

Supreme Commander Krused was angry. The old man and four officers killed almost 60 men and caused the rest of that group of flee like cowards. Then his second group was stopped in its sweep and severely crippled. Now, he was watching First right-hand Wedf face off against the commander of the rebel forces. With his troops almost destroyed, he had better win or not bother coming back. Krused called for the General overseeing his advanced weapons to come forward.

The day was almost 2/3 over when the fight started. Jon and Wedf fought an even match for a long time. They had moved in between Jon’s forces, of which almost all 400 were still in fighting shape, and Wedf’s 50 remaining soldiers, many who were wounded. Wedf had a great fighting style and moved like a professional. Jon had little style but, instead, the natural skills for fighting found among so many of the rebel forces, it was almost as if he could sense Wedf’s next move.

They came together in a clench and Wedf was able to slip a dagger in his left hand. As they separated, he stabbed out with the dagger at Jon and sliced his arm wide open. The blood flew and Jon almost dropped his sword. He stepped back and Wedf pressed his advantage. Jon picked up his sword just in time to deflect a fatal blow. Wedf could feel the win and, even though he was exhausted, pressed harder.

Jon felt a warm tingling up his injured arm. The amulet on his chest was warm and energy flowed through his body. Wedf’s next blow was stopped with a strength that surprised Jon. He realized that the amulet had already healed his arm and he lunged forward.

The move caught Wedf off guard. He thought he had his man and he stumbled as he fell back. A moment later his head was separated from his body. The battlefield was silent and then the enemy slowly backed away. Soon, the 400 were the only ones left on the field and a cheer went up.

The old man motioned Jon over and told him to form up the 400 in a perimeter around the rest of his troops with the seven spaced out in front. Then he was to join the old man in front of all of them – quickly! Jon put the plans into place with great speed and his forces responded with an enthusiasm that had not been seen in a long time.

Jon walked up to the old man and heard him praying something about “forgive our sins as we forgive the enemy’s sins.” Jon figured that this would not work too well for his men as most of his soldiers could never forgive the atrocities of the enemy. This old man was proving to be full of surprises.

The old man stood, looked him squarely in the eyes and said, “You must have pure thoughts and desires for the sword to activate. Revenge is not the answer; however, justice is a good thing to fight for. Your troops are mixed in their motivation. If you want to succeed, you need to change your attitude and the attitude of your officers. Justice rather than revenge, fairness rather than favoritism, representative government rather than dictatorship, and so on.”

The old man paused and put his hand on Jon’s shoulder.

“I can help you with the violations of the treaty but you have to be righteous in your actions and have a goal people want. Have you given others your version of the country or world after you win? Without that vision, you will not be able to sustain your forces. Look at your officers, only seven prayed. Why have any officers in your cause who do not believe? You must let people know what you stand for because everything you used to have is gone.”

Jon felt embarrassed as he realized that in the past year his leadership quality had diminished dramatically. He was beginning to understand why his recruits had dropped.

“I am sorry. I guess I gave up on the possibility of winning.”

“Don’t worry. You have done more than anyone else on the planet and today your prayers have elicited the help needed for a new spark to light the fires of your rebellion. I would just hate to see this spark wasted if you are not willing to make the changes needed. I can move the violators out of the picture but that still leaves some serious forces for you to deal with.”

“I will do all that you say. I have a vision that I used in the beginning. I will not slack off again.”

“We all do from time to time. That is why you need to make sure that those closest to you are true believers in your vision and, in my opinion, the Order.”

The old man held up his hand for silence. Then he said, “They are ready to attack.”

He turned toward the enemy and held up the sword. A blue pulse went out from his blade to the officers with amulets and the troops with the red caps. The pulses increased and formed a glowing dome over the entire group. The dome had just formed when the enemy struck.

An orange beam of heat flashed across the field and struck the dome. The dome sparked and flashed but the beam did not strike the soldiers. Three times more, the beam struck the soldiers in formation with no damage.

The dome was glowing brightly by this point and the soldiers were thrilled and yet nervous at the same time. Many of them were having trouble not running away. Then the old man pointed his sword toward the dome. The pulses now ran back to the sword leaving the dome just barely glowing and the sword glowing so bright it hurt to look upon it.

The old man turned back in the direction of the enemy and pointed his sword toward them. A beam of orange heat flew out of the sword as the old man swung the blade across the length of the enemy’s formation. The beam hit the soldiers and equipment melting them all. It happened so fast there were no screams, only a foul burning smell.

Jon and his men realized that what they were watching was supposed to have been their fate. Some of the officers knelt and gave thanks. Soon all of Jon’s troops were kneeling and praying. The old man turned to look at Jon’s troops and smiled.

Supreme Commander Krused was devastated. Two thirds of his forces were gone and his most advanced weapons had proved dangerous to his own men. He had had enough. Krused picked up his comm and contacted his ship. He ordered the ship to destroy the enemy’s camp immediately. No one crushes him.

Jon was walking toward his troops and his officers were smiling and shouting at the him in positive cheers when the old man’s voice boomed out at them all.

“Get in position – now!”

Everyone was shocked but moved quickly to return to their formation.

The old man called Jon to him.

“Get help. You will need to hold me up.”

Jon motioned for two other officers to come over and they positioned themselves around the old man. The old man raised his sword to the sky with both hands. He had one officer hold each arm and Jon hold him from behind. They had just gotten in position when the green beam crashed down from on high. The three men were barely enough to help the old man keep the sword up.

The air around them crackled and they started to feel light-headed as felt their strength fading. Jon was just about to fall when the beam stopped. The old man straightened up and took a step forward.

The old man’s skin started to glow. His clothes began to smoke and all the metal on his uniform turned orange while the sword became so bright that it hurt to look at it. Suddenly, a beam of orange light blasted upward out of the sword into the sky. The old man fell to the ground.

Jon started toward the old man and then fell to the ground as an explosion in the sky rocked the planet itself. He looked up to see debris falling across the sky as if the most massive fireworks display ever was set off.

Jon reached down and helped the old man to his feet. His clothes were burned and still smoking. His sword was on the ground and burning the grass on which it was laying. The old man picked up the sword and placed it in its scabbard. Then he turned to the enemy and started across the field.

Jon motioned to his officers to bring the troops and they formed up behind him. The old man led them across the field with confidence and almost a bounce in his step. Jon was amazed at how his life had changed in such a short time.

Jon turned to look back at his soldiers. He saw them marching tall, proud and with a confidence he had never seen. In the distance, he could see many of the wounded hurrying to join them. A smile came across his face and he felt his heart soar as the possibility of winning this war came back to him. He realized how long his heart had been in darkness.

When he turned back to the enemy, he saw them rushing to organize themselves and he knew it was too late. Just as he was getting ready to slow down and prepare for the attack, the old man shouted, “Attack. Run”

The old man started sprinting toward the enemy and the rest of them tried to keep up while staying in formation. The enemy was not in formation yet and the old man hit them as if he were a wild bear from the woods. Before Jon and the rest could catch up, the old man had seven down and was literally leaping through the air towards a group of three more.

The battle rage and soon panic filled the enemy lines as the intensity of the assault hit them. In moments, they were retreating as fast as they could. Jon found himself without an opponent to fight and looked around. The old man was nearby in a tent with his sword at the throat of one of their officers. Jon moved closer.

“The next time, we will blast you out to bit if you even enter this area of space without the Order’s permission. Is that understood?”

“Yes.”

“You have till sunrise to remove all of your personnel and equipment.”

“We cannot be done in that amount of time.”

“Do you want the cease fire or shall we bring our ships in?”

The enemy commander was disgusted but not stupid. He definitely understood what would happen if he did not agree. After a few moments of hesitation, he hung his head and averted his eyes as he said, “Fine. We will be out by sunrise.”

The old man nodded and indicated for Jon to come over.

“Please provide your best men to escort the commander to the landing field. We do not want any harm to come to him due to accidents.”

“I will take care of it immediately.”

Jon called a couple of officers over and gave them directions. They selected a couple of soldiers and left with the commander. The old man went over to a chair and sat down.

“It has been a long day.”

The following morning, Jon and the old man stood in the field and watched as the last group of enemy troops left the planet. It turned out that only a few hundred of the forces arrayed against them were from the planet. Those soldiers were long gone and Jon’s forces now controlled the entire area.

The night also saw many new recruits coming out. They increased their forces by over six hundred during the night. For the first time in years, Jon would have to have multiple groups training. It was a good feeling and he hoped that he was up to the challenge of maintaining and promoting his vision.

The old man seemed restless and, except for his short time sitting in the chair, had not stopped working since he arrived. The recent activities had left him with a filthy, burnt uniform and multiple cuts and abrasions on his face. Jon was impressed that the old man had handled the past day at his age and was still on his feet.

He was about to speak to the old man when the old man said, “I have to go.”

“The remaining enemy ships have just left orbit and the monitoring satellites are activated. You should be safe from outside interference.”

“I really appreciate your help and hate to see you go. Can I ask you a question?”

“Yes.”

“What is your name?”

“Some call me the Drifter and others the Destroyer.”

“But what is your name?”

The old man turn toward the field and, as he looked at the rising sun, a shimmer appeared over the field. A light appeared above the shimmer and formed into a brightness that replicated the Amulet of Freedom, although much larger.

All of the soldiers on the field stopped to watch as the shimmering increased. The old man walked into the light. As the old man walked away he started to fade and then he was gone. Moments later, the light faded to a shimmering and then it was gone also.

Two of the officers came up.

“General T”

“Yes.”

“What was his name? The men would like to know.”

“The Drifter.”

“Well, I would have thought the warrior or something similar.”

“Some call him the Destroyer.”

“That sounds better. That is what I will tell the men.”

The officers were walking off and Jon heard a small voice in his head say, “Of course I prefer two other names – dad or grandpa.” Jon smiled and he was sure that he felt the old man smiling also.

The old man stumbled a bit as he crossed the finish line on his 8th lap. He prayed thanks for his return and the water that was waiting. The water tasted wonderful and it was great to breathe normal air again. He walked almost a full lap before he was fully adjusted to the planet once again.

When he returned home, it took 35 minutes on his machine to clean out the foreign chemicals from his body. Then it was into the shower to wash off any residue with his restorer. There were so many easier ways but he was not allowed to use any technologies not already available on this planet. By the time he finished, he needed to prepare for work. No rest for the weary.

The old man’s secretary was a little late to work. She hated being even a couple minutes late as her boss was almost always there. He was one of the first at work, even if he came in extremely late from an away game the night before. He was also one of the last to leave, many times not leaving until ten or eleven at night. His work schedule intimidated many of the staff and everyone knew that his expectations were high. However, he was always complimentary when she did a great job and he always enjoyed a good laugh. He just seemed to always keep a part of himself in reserve and held a professional veneer up that he seldom let down.

She walked to the copy machine and looked out of the window behind it. She saw him coming from another building up the sidewalk. He had a slight limp this morning and she could see his pain with each step. Of course, he would disguise it if he thought anyone was looking. Still, on occasion she saw his unguarded expression and knew his pain somewhat. Today was going to be difficult day for him. He grimaced when he took the steps up to the building. She looked away as he entered the building.

“Good morning sir.”

“Good morning. How are you today?”

“I am doing fine. And you?”

“Pretty good. Just a few stiff spots.”

He went into his office and picked up some papers. He came back out and it was clear he was trying not to show his limp.

“I have to take these papers to the other office. I will be back in a little bit.”

“OK.”

She went to the window and watched him walk back to the other building. He tried to cover his pain but he was not able to hide it from her anymore. She shook her head and went back to work thinking that he should just relax once in a while.

The old man walked to the football field instead of the other office. He needed to have a moment to gather his thoughts together. The previous night was painful and he did not recover as easily as he once did, even with the amulet. He had lived a long time, way longer than anyone around him knew. He sat down on the top row of bleachers and looked out over the horizon. It was so beautiful. He felt at peace and took a moment to pray.

 

In the distance, keen eyes watched him from the shadows with interest. For many years the old man had battled in the night and lived in the day. For years he had served the Order loyally. The eyes watched the old man finish his prayers and then go back to work. The man behind the eyes was satisfied. The old man was still a valuable asset and stable. There would be many more nights for him. He may be getting older but he still had what it took and he was grounded strongly with his faith and his family.

The tall man smiled, stepped out of the shadows, and walked toward a tree. The air shimmered and then he was gone but before he left he thought, “The nights can be long and filled with darkness – but the mornings are then that much brighter.”

 

OSS: Restart – The Temple

The Order of the Silver Star – Restart

The Temple

Resurt opened the doors of the temple and walked into a huge room full of shadows as the only light was from the open doors. He stepped forward into the dust and stale air of the main hall. He was once again confused as he came to realize that no one had been in the temple for many years. 

 

 

The shadows increased and the room darkened as the doors shut behind him. Soon he was standing in pitch black and found that all of the sounds from outside ended with the shutting of the doors. There was no light and no sound.

 

 

 

Resurt turned back to the doors with hands extended to find the wall without crashing into it. He noticed a light blue glow and followed it to the source – his hands. The symbol of the Order was glowing slightly and steadily increasing in intensity. He stopped moving and waited as the glow started to give him a view of the area around him.

 

 

 

He moved his hands around and detected an increase in the glow’s intensity when they were pointed in one direction. He held his hands out and moved through the temple in the direction his brightening hands pointed him. Soon he approached a control panel of some sort. He could see blue highlights on the panel in the form of the symbol of the Order. He placed his hands over the highlights and the panel lit up.

 

 

 

He felt a bump from behind as a chair materialized from the floor and rose up for him to sit in. The highlights on the control panel rose up and detached from the control panel and bonded as arms on the chair. He felt the chair wrap around him and soon a set of probes moved from the chair to his head placing electrodes across his skull and causing tingling sensations to flow through his scalp and into his brain.

 

 

 

The feeling was extremely uncomfortable at first and he had to concentrate to hold off the panic feeling he was having. It took a while but he finally relaxed and the chair quickly finished attaching itself. He wished he had a mirror so that he could see himself. He was sure that it must be a terrifying sight, although he actually felt safe and secure when it was complete.

 

 

 

He had just started wondering what would happen next when the control panel began to change. The panel morphed as it wrapped itself in a half circle in front of his chair in a way that put every part of the panel within reach of one of his hands. Once the change was complete, an arm came up from the back of the panel with a mirror – just as he had wished. A few moments later, it disappeared.

 

 

 

Two half shells dropped down over his eyes and his world changed. He was now in another place and time looking out of someone else’s eyes at a factory floor of incredible dimensions. The ceiling and walls were so far away that the workers all had transportation devices that they crossed the floor with. The person’s vision turned toward a monitor that showed a great battle. He could feel the worry and other emotions of the person the memories were from.

 

 

 

The monitor switched from battle scene to battle scene as it became clear that the war was being fought on many planets across an entire galaxy and the enemy was winning. His vision returned to the factory and he focused on the equipment being prepared all across the huge factory’s floor.

 

 

 

He knew there were seventeen sections on the floor although he could only see eight. Evidentially, he was able to receive some information in addition to the visual from the person who recorded this memory. The section was relatively square with four cylinders set near the corners of the square. The cylinders were made of a material that had a dull black finish with spirals of blue threads running up and around the cylinders. The four cylinders were connected together in a cube using a metal frame at the top and the bottom. There was a direct connection between all of the cylinders forming an unusual cube so that none of the connections touched each other. The cylinder on the far right had tubes that ran from its top to the top of the other three cylinders. The cylinder on the far left had tubes that ran from one third of the way down and connected directly to the other cylinders. The cylinder on the near left had tubes that started two thirds the way down and connected directly to the other cylinders. Finally, the cylinder on the near right had tubes that ran from its bottom to the bottom of the other three cylinders. The tubes connecting the cylinders were bright silver with gold threads that spread around and across the tubes as the roots of a plant spread moving from wide connections at the cylinders to thin but much more numerous connections in the middle.

 

 

 

In the center of the cube was a maze of wires that attached to the tubes through the threads. These wires ran to six points on the outside of the cube where there were black boxes connected to the two frames. The wires were the smallest components in the cube and the smallest wire had a diameter larger than the average man is tall. These cubes were massive.

 

 

 

His vision returned to one of the monitors that was flashing. He heard a voice ask, “When will you be able to activate the gate?” Then, out of “his” mouth he heard, “If I skip the testing, I can activate it in about half a year. But the tests will drain almost all of the power I have. I may be able to open it seven or eight times and only for one-way traffic. Three times if you want two way traffic. You are just not giving me enough time to build the power sources. I will need ten years to build a power source capable of keeping the gate open. What we have will only open it for a while and then it will close.”

 

 

 

The voice on the comm spoke again, “Half a year is a long time. We will lose a lot of planets. Still, I think we can hold on that long. As for your power needs, the Tall Man said he knows a race that will sell us power modules similar to those you have so that we can open it more often; however, he cannot give us a technology not available to either side.”

 

 

 

“I understand. I will do what I can do increase the pace of construction.”

 

 

 

His vision faded away and came back with the scene radically changed. He was still standing in the same spot but the construction was almost done. He “knew” that it was time to take the parts into space and build the gate. He also “knew” that he was ahead of schedule and waiting a visit from the Tall Man to discuss the power modules.

 

 

 

As he moved toward the nearest machine, there was a horrible sound over his head. He looked up to see a small ship inside the building with debris surrounding it from its impact with the building as it crashed through the roof. The ship hit the force field just inside the building and exploded blinding him.

 

 

 

He fell to the ground as the shock waves and heat struck him. He heard the siren signaling the imminent failure of the force field. He got up and ran to his security station just in time as the field failed and the ship, the pieces left, and debris fell.

 

 

 

Moments later, as the air cleared, he looked around the working floor of the factory. All around his position, pieces of the roof and the ship were scattered and, in many cases, burning. The pieces of the gate in the immediate area were damaged to various levels, including one major piece that was destroyed. His hopes crashed and he realized that he was going miss his deadline and that he was going to miss it by a lot. He realized how many millions would lose their lives waiting for him to get the gate back together again. He sat down on the floor of the plant and felt tears in his eyes. He closed his eyes and bent his head forward in despair.

 

 

 

Resurt felt the half shells move away from his eyes and the connection was broken with the vision. The chair slowly disengaged from his body and soon he was standing in front of the control panel. Then the lights in the room turned on.

 

 

 

He was standing in a small cove off of a main hall. The main hall stretched away from him ending in a half circle that contained a huge statue of a woman reaching out and holding a star. Along the length of the hall were 14 coves, 7 on each side, and all with a small control panel except two. The entire length of the main hall was approximately 100 times his height or 550 transors.

 

 

 

The word transor had just popped into his head and he realized that the vision he saw was in another language. As he thought about it, multiple new words floated across his mind as he mentally returned to the story he just lived. He was very curious about the war and if they lost due to the delay. He wondered why he was shown these images.

 

 

 

Resurt’s thoughts returned to the temple’s interior. The ceiling of the main hall was 55 transors high and slightly curved from the centerline out with a half circle at the end. The coves were all about 11 transors high. The walls were straight with an arch over the entrance to the coves with the coves being a half circle. The walls and ceiling were all a dull white with bright white trim that contained gold threads.

 

 

 

There were no windows anywhere nor were there any paintings or photos hanging anywhere in the temple. He noticed that, except for two of the coves, the only doors were the front ones he came in. He decided to check the two coves with doors to see if there was a bathroom or kitchen in the temple.

 

 

 

The coves with doors were in the middle of the hall. He went to the first one and reached down to grab the handle. The door opened as his hand came close to the handle. The handles glowed blue and swept away from him as he reached for them. Resurt stepped forward into the room and realized that this was a personal living area.

 

 

 

Directly in front of him was a long table with seating on both sides. On the right side of the table was a kitchen that included a cooler, freezer, stove, oven, an open grill, and a large prep area. The kitchen had cabinets with see-through doors that exposed cups, plates, and other eating and prep utensils.

 

 

 

To the left of the table was an area with comfortable seats and bookshelves. The book shelves were full of both antique and modern books. Resurt picked up a couple of the crystals and dropped them into the reader to see what was on them. He picked up the reading glasses and put them on. The crystal contained the history of a world near the core of the galaxy. He took the crystal out of the reader and put the glasses back.

 

 

 

Resurt made a note to himself to check the antique books. He thought it was interesting that they existed. Why not convert them to crystals as that would save space? He turned from the living area and moved away from the doors toward the back of the room.    

 

 

 

The wall at the back of the room held 12 doors. He walked the length of the wall and each door opened as he reached for the handle. Every room was the same. There was an open area when you walked into the room with a desk that had a fold down bed above it. The back of the room had a personal toilet and refresher facilities and a draw curtain for additional privacy. There was very little storage space and no closets, although there was a clothing recycler that he would need to examine.

 

 

 

The walls were all dull white with bright white trim with gold threads as in the main room. There were no paintings, photos, designs, or icons hanging or placed anywhere. The rule clearly was efficient and sparse.

 

 

 

Resurt opened the cooler and removed a beverage. The container opened automatically as he picked it up. The drink had a pleasant smell, although he did not recognize it.  He sipped the drink and let the cool liquid roll around in his mouth for a bit. The flavor was enjoyable and when he swallowed it his throat was mildly warmed without a spicy aftertaste.

 

 

 

He wondered what time it was and looked around for a clock. There was none to be found. He was curious about how long he had been connected to the story machine. There was so much to learn and, so far, no one to teach him except a machine. He finished the drink, placed the cup in the kitchen’s recycler, and went back into the main hall.

 

 

 

Standing in the hall just outside the door was an old man. The man had a short beard that was almost all white. He had almost all white hair on his head although he had little of it. Resurt was confused. Only primitive races went bald. The man also had wrinkles on his face and neck giving him the appearance of being an old man. He stood over 6 transors tall and had light golden brown eyes deep in his head. His nose was long and prominent but not out of place on his long and rectangular face.

 

 

 

The man stepped back and motioned him to follow. Resurt nodded and they walked to the other side of the hall. The old man opened the door to the cove and gestured for him to enter. When he nodded again, the old man smiled and it was obvious that most of his wrinkles were laugh lines. He reminded Resurt of his father and the man gave the impression to Resurt of a stern but fun father.

 

 

 

The old man stepped aside and motioned for Resurt to enter. Resurt stepped into the room and heard the door shut behind him. He turned and went to open the door to ask the old man some questions, only to find the door would not open. He tried again and the door opened. He looked out into the main hall but saw nothing. The old man had vanished. Resurt turned back to examine the room he entered as he considered the mysterious old man.

 

 

 

He was standing in a plain room with gray walls and no visible doors except the one he walked into the room through. He saw no lighting but the room was not dark and he could see no catches or latches anywhere. He moved to the center of the room and pondered the situation.

 

 

 

He noticed that his feet felt wet and looked down. He was standing in water and it was rising. The water was warm and, as he looked around, he could not see anywhere that it was coming from. He was concerned but didn’t panic as there had to be a reason for this room.

 

 

 

He wondered where the old man went and where the water was coming from. The water kept rising and Resurt tried moving around the room with no change. He looked for the door he had come in so that he could leave but it was nowhere to be found.

 

 

 

He thought about the door. Where had it been in the room and where should it be now. Did the door disappear or did he only think it did. When the water was up to his neck he started to worry. Did he miss some key instruction or was he not capable of handling this? And what is this?

 

 

 

A test. Yes. He realized that this was another test. He thought back to how real the chair was and considered if this was real or not. When the water reached his nose he started to pray. The water covered his nose and he remembered breathing underwater during the competition at Kuli training. Something was different. It was the pressure. There was no pressure against his body so this could not be water.

 

 

 

Instantly, the water was gone and he saw the open door. He knelt and gave thanks and the room changed again. In the corner near the door was the old man. He had a rather mischievous smile on his face and motioned for Resurt to walk over.

 

 

 

“Was any of that real?”

 

 

 

Resurt thought about the question for a while and then commented, “It felt real.”

 

 

 

“Very good. Now, what did you pray?”

 

 

 

“I apologized for not doing more with my life.”

 

 

 

“Did you think you were going to die?”

 

 

 

“No. But it was becoming more and more likely.”

 

 

 

The old man laughed and Resurt joined in.

 

 

 

“This is a simulation room. You will take the training from the chair and apply it in here. The training is designed so that each day you will spend about half the day in the chair, one tenth in this room, and the rest to study or sleep.”

 

 

 

“How long does the training take?”

 

 

 

“That depends on the person taking the training. You can go as fast as you can go. I don’t know anyone who finished in less than 2 standard years but we did have a number who were not able to complete the training.”

 

 

 

“Are there any others who live or work here besides you?”

 

 

 

“No, and I am an AI.”

 

 

 

Resurt was surprised once again. He thought the old man was real and perhaps someone he could chat with on occasion. He was a little saddened by the news and realized that the loneliness of the Temple was not what he expected.

 

 

 

“Sorry. I thought that there would be others here.”

 

 

 

“No. The Gatekeepers spend most of their time alone and so the training needs to reflect that to make sure the candidates are capable of handling the solitude.”

 

 

 

“You said most of their time?”

 

 

 

“No. That is incorrect wording. The Gatekeepers are mostly alone.”

 

 

 

“But not always?”

 

 

 

“True. There have been a couple who married; however, there are not many who would be able to handle the situation in either case.”

 

 

 

“Interesting. When do I begin my training?”

 

 

 

“You began today. You also passed the first session. You have completed a tenth of a year in one day. Your progress today is positive for successful completion of the training but only time will tell. See you tomorrow.”

 

 

 

The old man vanished in front of him and Resurt was alone once more. He walked out the door of the simulator and went back to the living area to see what type of food they provided.

 

 

 

Resurt sat down with study materials as he ate. He found that he was drawn to the Gster incident with the City of Gold. He was especially interested in T’Lhast who was supposedly over 200 years old and yet managed to maintain the appearance of a little girl. The story of her meeting with the Kuli J’Rontia and their rescue of the City of Gold was fascinating and he could not help but feel that it was important to him in some way.

 

 

 

He finished his meal and sat down on the couch as he considered where he was. He recently went from being an almost nobody to a key player in an intergalactic war of good versus evil. He now understood how pivotal the Gatekeeper is to providing resources where and when needed across galaxies and how severely the gate’s loss had damaged the war effort the past ten thousand years.

 

 

 

There was an immense undertaking ahead of him and he had felt doubts at moments over the last few days. They did not last long. All he had to do was go back to his memories of the Kuli school and the comments that J’Rontia and Tomli voiced about his abilities. If they believed in him, then he could do it. His challenge now was to do the best he could without quitting and he knew that he would die before he would quit.

 

 

 

Still, something told him he needed to find out more about T’Lhast and what those old books made out of paper were doing here. He got off the couch and went back to his studies wondering what death scenario would play-out in the simulator tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The old man walked down the alley behind the Temple to a small tower. He entered the tower and climbed to the top where he spoke to a man in the shadows.

 

 

 

“He has completed the drowning lesson.”

 

 

 

“He is a quick study. Was he afraid?”

 

 

 

“Not much. His anxiety score was very low during the entire exercise.”

 

 

 

“What is your assessment?”

 

 

 

“I predict success. He learns faster in the chair than just about anyone who ever used it. He didn’t panic in the water lesson – he is only the second one to finish on the first attempt. He also included prayer at the appropriate moments and showed appreciation.”

 

 

 

“And you?”

 

 

 

“I told him I was an AI.”

 

 

 

“Not really the truth.”

 

 

 

“Well – he didn’t ask what AI stood for so I let him believe what he wanted. It actually helped with the assessment.”

 

 

 

“What are you having it stand for?”

 

 

 

“Advanced Instructor.”

 

 

 

The man in the shadows laughed. The old man joined in and a broad smile stayed on his face after they both stopped.

 

 

 

“Someday he will see through your wrinkles and age. He will recognize you when he does.”

 

 

 

“Yes. I agree; however, there is no one else left alive who can run the simulator.”

 

 

 

“You realize that we must win this time.”

 

 

 

“I will do all I can to have him ready as soon as possible. How are the other components coming along?”

 

 

 

“The Order is rising again and the blue are stabilizing. The Kuli are fading as a group but there are a few bright lights among them that I believe will hold the day until the sacrifice. The White Warrior lives as does the Last Light and the City of Gold has been found.”

 

 

 

The Tall Man stepped out of the shadows and the two clasped hands in an ancient sign of brotherly love. The Tall Man patted the old man on the shoulder and with a smile on his face walked toward the wall and vanished into a shimmer.

 

 

 

Trewst stood looking at the spot where the Tall Man vanished for quite a time. Then the old man turned and started down the stairs to go back to his work, training his descendant to operate the Great Gate. 

 

 

 

 

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.