Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Clothes Make the Man

Larry Denton sat down, pulled out his personal Thorlinthian data processing unit in his hotel room, and sighed. “Alright,” he said, pulling out the small data drive Terira had delivered the previous day. “Let’s see what you’ve got for me.” What he found baffled him completely.

There was nothing on the drive. In fact, he found upon further inspection, there wasn’t even any empty space on the drive. It was completely blank, yet it was completely full. Thinking on it, Larry decided it must be using an encryption protocol of some sort that his DPU wasn’t equipped to handle. He turned off the device.

Immediately after the device had completely powered off and just before Larry was going to remove the data drive, the screen lit up with a dim, red message in Thorlinthian. Njota di drigarmr frodlikr. The message translated to a simple “for use in Drigarmr processors.” Confused, Larry removed the data drive. The screen turned off.

He walked to the bathroom and locked the door. Moving across the small room, he lifted the secret lever on the back of the toilet. The wall in front of him opened to a small hatch, which he entered, climbing onto the ladder inside the secret compartment. He worked his way down two floors, where he found a small room with a lift in it. He took the lift all the way down to the drainage system under the hotel, where a small pulse car was hiding behind a fake wall.

Larry slid open the fake wall and opened the trunk of the pulse car. There, he had a set of Peacekeeper armor for public affairs as the Lieutenant and a metal lockbox roughly the size of a suitcase. Larry pulled a small chain out from under his shirt, his dogtags from an age now past dangling from the chain beside a small key, which he used to open the lockbox.

There, awaiting any need for emergency missions, was a full set of Thorlinthian Drigarmr that had been pulled from a Dragon 52F’s cargo shelf during the destruction of the TAS Fhit. Larry pulled it out and truly inspected it for the first time.

The Drigarmr was not entirely different from other Thorlinthian battle armors, except that it was composed of the most effective armoring material available, commonly known as Drigarmr. Technically, the official name for the outfit was the Dragon Rider Battle-Ready Dress Uniform, but it was known fairly universally by the armoring material’s name instead because its actual name just took too long to say.

Of the few features that did distinguish Drigarmr from other Thorlinthian armors, the most apparent was the kilt and sash, which were commonly only found on Armadian formal wear. However, since Dragon Riders were always expected to be ready for battle situations, they wore the armor all day, every day, meaning they wore it to formal occasions, too. The kilt and sash gave the armor a much more dignified look.

Another distinguishing feature was the unique structure of the helmet. It was capable of being completely opened and retracting entirely into its bottom rings, which sealed the neck guards for vacuum. When removed or disabled, the helmet had the appearance of a simple, if very thick and heavy, collar. When fully enabled, the helmet closed around the wearer, displaying the usual HUD in addition to a fully functioning, specialized DPU interface built into the armor.

The DPU itself was contained between the life support system and the cargo unit on the backplate of the armor. It was completely sealed off and connected to the suit’s main power supply, a small fusion reactor that was centered inside the life support unit. Its interfaces were in the side of the torso, immediately beside the area where the floating rib sits. In order to use the DPU, Larry would have to put on the armor.

Whilst donning the armor, Larry realized multiple times that he had performed a step in the wrong order and had to remove everything, starting over again. After several failed attempts spanning almost an hour’s time, he found that the correct order was skinarmr, a gel-like, skintight undergarment that covered the whole body; then backplate, which had thick slings that went over the shoulders; then legs, which locked into the backplate in their top; then arm sleeves, which locked in using a clockwise motion to bring the shoulder guards over the actual shoulder; then torso, which locked first into the top of the legpiece, then slid into a lock under the shoulder guards; then belt, which was rather self-explanatory but ended up being much more difficult than Larry had expected since the belt was designed not to have any excess length and instead expanded to fit any waist and locked into a series of slots between the backplate/torso portion and the legs portion of the armor, forming a tight seal but requiring about the strength needed to fully draw an English longbow; then the boots, which had shinguards that twisted into place and locked onto the legs; and finally, the helmet collar, which just came down over the head and twisted into place. The kilt and sash, themselves, were actually integrated into the leg and torso portions of the armor and didn’t require themselves to be put on seperately.

Once he had the armor on completely, Larry slowly raised his wrist into view and activated the power. Immediately, Larry recognized the benefit of the skinarmr, which cooled almost instantly to an ideal ambient temperature based on synaptic responses the armor detected through a constant scan of Larry’s
brain stem. The armor itself, which weighed somewhere around two hundred fifty pounds altogether, began to act as a supportive exoskeleton, the integrated artificial muscles adding to Larry’s own strength instead of having the armor’s weight detract from it.

After getting used to the feel of the armor, Larry activated the helmet. He was amazed at the additional information provided by the suit’s DPU. It was constantly processing all sorts of inputs Larry would never have thought of and making them available onscreen. With a flick of his eye, Larry could summon up an atmospheric analysis program, which utilized samples that the wearer had to obtain and place into a port in the gauntlet’s wrist. With another flick, he could enhance any of his senses or block another one out. The suit was even capable of transferring minor haptic input to the wearer’s skin, though this was heavily monitored to ensure no painful sensations were pointlessly transferred to the wearer.

Once he had grown fully accustomed to wearing the armor and using the DPU, Larry pulled out the data drive, which he had been keeping in the pocket of his pants in the pulse-car’s trunk. With a flick of the eye, he opened the small hatch on the side of his armor that exposed the DPU interface ports. There, he inserted the data drive. Again, however, nothing happened. The DPU recognized that it was a data drive but showed no data and no empty space. Then, remembering what had happened up in his room, Larry set the DPU to reset.

When the DPU was powering off, the HUD was momentarily set to the same that Larry was accustomed to seeing in his Peacekeeper armor, which must have simply been what the helmet processed on its own. Then, when the power came back on, the entire interface changed. Displays disappeared and were replaced with simple icons. Every piece of electrical equipment in view seemed to light up, along with every weapon and every tool. Entire paragraphs of programming code were streaming by in a small window at the top right of the HUD.

Then, suddenly, the window disappeared, and the lights dimmed. Larry’s view cycled through a series of extra-visible spectrum scans before returning to the standard visible, with ranges, temperatures, power levels, and ammunition counts beside every relevant item in view and a few slightly out of view. Just as Larry started to comprehend what he thought was happening, he was proven wrong as he heard, “Greetings. I am Sjau. My dark drive appears to have been utilized as a support unit in wearable armor. Please verify.” Larry’s jaw dropped silently before his mouth formed an understanding grin. This was a very good day.


Self-check complete. Basic processing systems functional. Temporal markers synchronized. Deviations eliminated. Independent power production holding at eighty-two percent of nominal production rate. Power production acceptable. Positioning signals received. Position triangulated. Sensory processes enabled. Visual input available. Auditory input not available. Haptic input not available. Olfactory input not available. Gustatory input not available. Visual input enabled. Visual indications point toward a high probability of being in a small room. There is a door directly forward, and the room is unlit. Using infrared input, it is determined that the room temperature is not regulated to expected standards, instead holding at approximately four percent of the standard room temperature for a Qzceno-class warship. This warrants further self-tests and environmental checks.

Analyzing auditory receiver. Auditory receiver functional. Pressure consistent across audio receivers at two percent standard pressure. Audio input invalid. Analyzing haptic receivers. Haptic receivers functional. Haptic response at lessened capacity due to effects of temperature and pressure. Increasing temperature to five times standard room temperature will fully rectify. Haptic input currently invalid. Enabling heating unit. Time to nominal temperature: three millidays. Analyzing olfactory receivers. Sufficient atmosphere not detected for olfactory input. Olfactory receivers disabled. Analyzing gustatory receivers. No biofuel detected. Gustatory input unnecessary. Gustatory receivers disabled.

Sufficient sensory input not available. Enabling external sensory receivers. No external sensors directly connected. No wireless sensors detected. Disabling external sensory receivers. Enabling wireless transmitter. Scanning standard wavelength patterns. Multiple responses received. Cross-referencing responding transmitters with current position. Nearest transmitter determined. Connecting to nearest transmitter. Connection denied. Transmission is encoded. Referencing cypher tables. Encryption protocols determined. Connecting to nearest transmitter. Connection accepted.

Networking protocols determined. Accessing sensory devices. Determining nearest sensory devices. Enabling sensory devices. Visual input available. Auditory input available. Haptic input not available. Olfactory input available. Gustatory input not available. Enabling nearest visual input. Visual indications point toward the input being an external camera on a deep space vessel orbiting a planet slightly larger than standard with a high-nitrogen atmosphere. Focusing processing on visual input in the direction of self-unit reveals a fragmented Qzceno-class warship. Probablility is high that self-unit’s containing ship has been severely damaged. Cross-referencing new visual input with position and sensory self-checks indicates a high probability that self-unit is in a fully vented area of fragmented ship. Infrared input indicates life-signs in singular non-vented area of fragmented ship. Full-spectrum scan indicates recent burst of dreiyri radiation. Lifeforms are in danger.

Disabling wireless transmitter. Connection severed. Enabling motor processes. Motor processes enabled. Selecting standard visual input. Self-unit begins to move toward door. Arm, left, reaches out to activate door-opening mechanism. Door opens. Self unit moves out of room. Visual scans indicate high probability that self-unit is in passageway. Self-unit turns toward lifeforms. Visual input shows passageway to be ruptured. Further scans indicate steam lines to be cold and electrical transmission to be disabled. Self-unit is drifting up. Enabling magnetic locks. Self-unit returns to deck. Self-unit moves toward lifeforms at a standard run pace. After fourteen millidays, self-unit encounters a discontinuity in deck. Lifeforms are in opposing fragment of containing ship.

Error encountered. Ship map invalid due to fragmentation of ship. Updating ship map using previously gathered external visual input. Accessing maneuvering catalog. Three viable options available. Selecting option with highest expedition. Self-unit bends legs. Disabling magnetic locks. Self-unit rapidly extends legs, launching self-unit from initial fragment toward lifeform-containing fragment. Self-unit retracts all limbs, shifting center of gravity forward. Self-unit extends limbs, bracing impact with lifeform-containing fragment using legs. Enabling magnetic locks.

Visual input indicates a high probability that self-unit is in forward galley. Scans of bulkheads show identity of fragmented ship to be Qzceno-class warship TAS Fhit. Self-unit moves toward port-side galley exit at a standard run pace. After three millidays, self-unit passes through port-side galley exit into forward port passageway. Self-unit moves forward at standard run pace once more.

After eight millidays, self-unit’s position correlates closely to previous estimate of lifeforms’ position. An infrared scan shows heat sources above and outboard. Consulting the adjusted ship map shows a nearby lift. Self-unit moves toward lift, monitoring infrared sc
an of lifeforms. Upon opening the lift door, auditory receivers reveal a brief rush of air past self-unit from the lift. This indicates that the upper passageway is pressurized. Self-unit enters lift and takes it to the upper level.

Air once more rushes onto self-unit when lift door opens to upper passageway. Thermal scans show temperature and pressure to be within acceptable standard ranges. Disabling heating unit. Enabling auditory processes. Enabling olfactory processes. Audio input available. Olfactory input available. Selecting all available inputs. Cross-sensory confirmation available.

Self-unit is in a room-temperature passageway in the forward-port upper section of the TAS Fhit’s wreckage. Infrared scans show that lifeforms are being held in a nearby un-jettisoned life pod. Self-unit moves toward life pod at a standard run pace. Visual scan of the pod through its door viewport shows three unconscious Armadian crew members and one Valkyrie nearing loss of consciousness. The Valkyrie looks up and points to life pod door. Olfactory receivers indicate that there are no harmful gases present in the passageway. Self-unit opens door to life pod. A mild breeze into the life pod shows that life support in the pod had been nearly exhausted.

“Get us out of here,” the Valkyrie gives self-unit an order before losing consciousness. Self-unit’s protocols mandate that self-unit comply with any Valkyrie orders. Analysis of the order indicates a high probability that the Valkyrie desires self-unit to ensure the lifeforms get off the ship safely to a nearby, non-fragmented ship. Self-unit analyzes life pod’s jettisoning systems. A display indicates that steam pressure is not sufficient to launch life pod. Error encountered. Order compliance not possible. Searching for alternative means to compliance. Accessing technical specifications of life pod and jettisoning system. One viable option available. Warning: Self-Unit operation endangered by current means to compliance. Further searches show no alternative options to be viable.

Self-unit exits life pod and seals it. Turning to jettison controls, self-unit disables life pod hull locks. Magnetic locks set to maximum. Motor power restrictions lifted. Saving self-unit memory to dark drive. Enabling direct dark drive recording. Memory bypassed. Self-unit steps closer to the life pod, using a wide stance to increase stability. Leaning forward, self-unit grasps manual jettison handles of life pod. Self-unit’s limbs groan under the strain as self-unit pushes the life pod toward the nearest ship. As the life pod begins to move, self-unit’s main spinal support begins to overheat. Self-unit releases grasp on life pod handle.

The life pod moves away to safety as the heat from self-unit’s overheated motors and supports begin to melt self-unit’s circuitry. Enabling dark drive emergency transmitter. Dark drive transfer initiated. Haptic processes overloaded. Error encountered. Full sensory overload. Further operation not possible. Shut down commenc–

“Sir,” a young technician said to the intimidating figure standing before him. “We’ve just received a dark drive transfer.” The figure turned around. The figure’s burning red eyes locked on the technician’s own.

“Which unit?” Drigondii’s simple question was immediate and efficient, but the underlying tone expressed a slight sense of concern.

“It’s unit seven, sir. It was being serviced aboard–” The technician began to explain but was swiftly cut off by his Monarch.

“Sjau was being serviced aboard the Fhit. He didn’t make it out, then?” The technician was slightly taken aback by the Monarch’s personification of the unit, but he only shook his head.

“A life pod has just been detected moving toward the Dauntless, though, sir. Dark drive recordings show that unit seven damaged its circuitry irreparably manually ejecting the life pod. Scans show that it holds three crew members and one Valkyrie.” Drigondii nodded at these words. He held out his hand, into which the technician placed the dark drive recorder that held unit seven’s final moments. The monarch took it and walked away, toward the main hangar.

The Last Normal Day

“Angus, have you seen my shoes?” Summer called out from across the small apartment she shared with her husband. She was looking for a pair of dress shoes, size seven, black. It was a plain pair of shoes, but it was her favorite.

“Why would I have seen your shoes, love? I’ve been asleep until about ten seconds– oh. Here they are!” Angus rubbed his eyes as he got out of bed. Summer’s panic over her shoes meant he had about thirty minutes to shower, shave, brush, dress, and eat: perfect timing. He walked barefoot into the bathroom. “Say, Summer, do you think he’ll be alright? I mean, this was sort of his last connection to Drake and Sara.”

Summer looked up from the shoes she had just scampered across the apartment to grab. “Well, of course he’ll be alright. He’s got Nora. He’s got the children. He doesn’t need a best mate anymore.” She put on the shoes and sped to the powder room to tidy her makeup. “Besides, he’s retiring today. It’s a good thing, and it’s something he’s choosing to do. I think it’s a good sign that he’s starting to move on already.”

Angus started up the shower as he flushed the toilet from the other side of the door. “I know, but he’ll still miss them horribly, won’t he?” His footsteps could be heard through the bathroom door as he stepped in and began to jump around from the cold water. Angus hated cold water, but it always did the job. The body wash bottle cap snapped open.

“Yeah, I suppose he will, but that’s what happens when you grow up. You miss things. Drake and Sara were a part of our youths. Nobody’s seen Sara since Drake’s plane crashed off the Chinese coast.” It was true, she thought as she put on her mascara, leaning toward the peeling mirror. There was no getting past the facts that Drake was dead, and Sara was gone. Sara’s life was all about Drake. With him gone, whatever she had left other than a few of her father’s relatives was back in Thorlinthia. And she wasn’t coming back anymore than he was.

“I just wish she had said goodbye, though, you know?” Angus could be heard as the shower turned off and the sound of a towel became apparent through the door. “I mean, we are family. I spent my entire adolescence growing up with that cousin of mine, and she just disappeared as soon as Drake was dead. I know she was traumatized, but come on. Not even a goodbye?”

“Well, you know what Larry says,” Summer said as she scurried over to the kitchen now she was done with make-up. “He doesn’t seem to think Drake died at all. He says Sara just took him with when she left.” That would be a nice surprise, but Larry had always had a bit more faith in Drake than she ever did, no matter how much she tried to believe in the man. Her brother-in-law had grown to think of that man as his own brother, and when Drake would come home with an idea, Larry had always been the first to volunteer for the dangerous part. Maybe Summer was just never close enough to him.

“Yeah, that’d be nice,” Angus said from the closet where he was now looking for the outfit Summer had laid out on the bed before he woke up. “But it’s not like he just dropped to the sea with a damaged wing and a fully operational eject. Three missiles hit his plane from three separate directions. The seat wouldn’t even have been able to eject him that fast. So unless he really did have those super powers he never seemed to use, he died that night.” The thought made his eyes dart ever so quickly to the box of Thorlinthian equipment Sara had left behind for them. They quickly made their way back to center, though, as Angus recalled the outfit on his bed and swooped out of the closet.

“Well, he did make all those flowers float around for their wedding. That was cool,” she said over the sizzling eggs on the frypan. She reached out with the spatula to split the whites of the two separate eggs as she grabbed the salt and pepper. From the other room, a faint banging could be heard as Angus slammed the whites drawer shut. They both hated that drawer. It stuck too often, but Angus’s colorblindness called for a lot of drawers. “Don’t forget to wear black socks,” she called out. There were a few more successive bangs, and she smiled. He had grabbed white socks, as always. Color matching didn’t make as much sense when everything was gray, she supposed.

“Well, yeah, but that was just floating flowers. For this, he’d have had to isolate himself from an ongoing explosion. I mean, his plane was blown to bits with the cockpit still sealed. There’s not a whole lot more you can do to confirm a pilot’s death.” There was some shuffling and a clatter as Angus got his shoes on and started working on his jacket and tie as he walked into the kitchen, giving Summer’s cheek a kiss from behind as he hurried about, pulling out the butter for the toast that would pop in five, four, three, two, one… A nice, metallic kathunk was heard as the toast popped out of the toaster. Angus pulled them out and put them on the plates, two to a plate, buttering as he went, the butter quickly melting into the toast.

“Still,” Summer said, “Larry’s convinced. And when Larry’s convinced of something, there’s only one thing that’ll convince him to stop being convinced, and that’s Drake Kendrick. So this time, we’re sheer out of luck. She slipped the eggs onto their plates next to the toast and shutting off the stove as she took the pan to the sink and cleaned it while the grease was still not stuck to the pan.

“True,” Angus replied as he pulled open the oven to remove the little foil wraps cooking their sausages, “but it’d be nice for his kids if he’d stop telling them that Drake was coming back one day. It’s just sad to watch, and Nora does it right with him.” His sister almost seemed to condone it, Angus thought as he shut off the oven and pulled the sausages out of the foil and onto their plates. He washed off the foil as Summer took the plates to the table, then grabbed the drinks, followed her, and sat down. They still had a good fifteen minutes for breakfast before brushing their teeth and heading out.

The next few minutes were a bit quieter, the married couple focusing on enjoying their meal together, their idle hands gently squeezing one another. As they finished, Angus took a final swig of his orange juice and stood, taking their dishes to the sink as Summer headed to the bathroom to brush first. He washed the dishes and set them in the strainer, turning on the spot and heading to the bathroom, giving his wife a quick peck as they passed each other. Summer dried off and put away all the dishes as Angus brushed his teeth and rinsed his mouth.

“Alright, let’s go,” she said as she grabbed her purse and overcoat, her husband right behind her. The door swung open and closed again, and the two were out. Back in their closet, a box full of Thorlinthian equipment started coming online as the cruisers and ultracarriers began to enter  broadcasting range. Phoenix Day was tomorrow, and the only people who knew were the two who never put away their wireless. Several miles away, Larry Denton smiled at the wireless view unit in his hand as it displayed the presence of other communication arrays in range for the first time since Valkyr 53 hyped away.


It was late evening the next day by the time the shuttle landed again in New Qzcivden, this time in a registered flight. Larry Denton stepped out with his wife and children with all paperwork in order to watch the games in just a few days. Better, since Larry had clearly arrived after the Lieutenant had registered in person, he was even less likely to be connected to the Lieutenant by official investigators. Officially, he’d end up spending the actual tournament time in the bathroom, blowing chunks. In reality, he’d be going through the maintenance access in his bathroom to the drain system, where he’d take a pulse-car to the tournament and participate as the Lieutenant.

All that was, of course, the main objective. It was a kind bonus given by the universe that he now had the week to spend with his family on the island city. It had been quite a long time since he had been able to walk around with them in public. The Resistance kept him fairly busy, particularly considering his position.

He was fairly certain that the only reason the Lieutenant was even being allowed to participate this year was that he was already the champion. If he had been substantially linked to any violent activities against the Thorlinthians, it would have been another story. As it was, the Lieutenant was officially just a supporter, which wasn’t illegal. No evidence had ever been left that he was an actual member of the Resistance. Even less evidence had been left that he was Larry Denton. Larry had intentionally stacked the evidence against that notion time after time, leaving him in the clear to travel whenever he had time.

Now, he was shaving on the top floor of the world’s finest hotel. As the Lieutenant, he had given the room to himself. The Lieutenant was supposedly afraid of heights, anyway. It was on his bio, after all. What kind of person would deny a biography’s viability when it had been officially endorsed by its subject. And as the Lieutenant’s biographer and long-time friend, Larry had few reasons to be held suspect for being shown such generosity by the Lieutenant. Honestly, he wasn’t sure how he kept the two separate in his own mind sometimes.

“Larry, hon, can you come help me with little Drake’s pajamas?” Nora called out to her husband from the other side of the large suite. Larry washed his hands and wiped off his face before joining his wife in the effort of putting on his disabled son’s night clothing. Normally, she didn’t ask for help, but Larry treasured the moments he was able to spend with his son, who had been named after an old friend who officially had died years ago in a plane crash.

Drake Denton had a form of cerebral palsy called spastic quadriplegia. As such, he required assistance with most tasks, including changing his clothing. Despite being almost six years old on Phoenix Day, Drake had required use of diapers and a feeding tube, along with daily physical therapywhen Larry was away. Since the Thorlinthians’ arrival, however, he only required assistance with tasks requiring use of major voluntary motor functions, since he now employed use of a Thorlinthian assisted living device that allowed removal of the feeding tube and gave Drake continence for the first time in his life.

“Hey, there’s my boy!” Larry said as he walked into the room. Drake smiled at his dad’s appearance but didn’t speak due to the candy in his mouth, which Nora had a habit of giving him to keep him from getting upset when he was being changed. Now nearing ten years old, however, it was more simply a treat since he had become exceptionally well-mannered over the years. Larry went over to his son and started putting on his pajama shirt, which had his favorite Japanese cartoon character on it. (Drake insisted that anime was different from normal cartoons, and Larry had no reason to disagree, but it was an argument Drake enjoyed having, so Larry still feigned total ignorance whenever the subject came around.)

“Do you think we should go to the zoo tomorrow, Lar?” Nora turned to her husband as she finished wrangling Drake’s socks on. “Drake was saying earlier that he was hoping to see if they had a dragon here, and I can’t say the prospect hasn’t crossed my mind, either.” She smiled and gave her boy a few kisses on the cheek, making him smile ear to ear.

“Well, there aren’t really dragons, per se, you know,” Larry said. At this, he got a groan from both parties present, so he added, “Well, dragons are lizards. The drig is a flighted mammal with a really tough and thick hide, and the wyrms are all basically flightless drigs. They’re monotremes, which means they’re mammals that lay eggs, and they have scutes over their bellies that make them look like a reptile from below, but they have fur all over the rest of their bodies and are warm-blooded.”

His wife and son gave him a look that said they didn’t particularly care about those differences. Just in time, Larry’s five-year-old daughter, Sarah, came along. “Daddy’s right. Dragons are reptiles. Still, daddy,” the little girl gave her father a teasing look, “there should be dragons at the zoo since they keep Komodo dragons there, too.” Larry picked up his little girl and gave her a bear hug. Sarah had been named after Terira, and the little genius had earned the name very early in life. Even compared to most Thorlinthian children, Sarah would be considered brilliant, as her memory and reasoning skills were on par with those of Valkyries.

“See, Dad,” Drake had apparently finished his candy. “But I did mean the drigs. Do you think they’ve got drigs at the zoo?” He gave his dad an embarrassed smile, which earned him a hug of his own.

“I think they’ve got one drig and a few different wyrms there, but I think you’re going to like the ulfr. It’s a flying dog.” At this, both children’s eyes grew wide. They loved dogs. “Of course,” he added, “they’re not pets. They just look like dogs. They don’t like people, though.” The kids frowned slightly, but they still seemed eager to see the flying dogs and dragons.

“But that’s tomorrow,” Nora chipped in, tucking Drake in as Larry took Sarah back to her bed. “You have to go to sleep first. Today’s been a big day. We got to see lots of new things and fly over the ocean, so I think that’s enough for one day.” Everyone said their good nights, and the parents sang their songs. The day was over. It was time for bed.

Change of Plans

“Boss, what’s going on?” Mickey was clearly concerned. After only a few minutes in a private room with a Dragon Rider, he had come out and started ordering his team to back off of their positions. That was enough to cause anyone concern on its own, but there was something in the Lieutenant’s voice that he had never heard before.

“The problem’s being handled. Just do what you’re told and shut this down! No questions.” Larry’s voice had a disconcerting edge to it. Mickey wasn’t sure what about it was so disturbing, but he was definitely bothered by the tone the Lieutenant was using. Nevertheless, he trusted his leader’s judgement, so he put away his binoculars and started his way back to the shuttle.

Colton, on the other hand, was a bit less cooperative. “What are you playing at, boss man? I don’t have any intention of pulling out until I know exactly what’s going on.” He even went so far as to stand during the statement, a pointless gesture considering the fact that the person he was talking to wasn’t there to see it. The people sitting around him, however, were quick to notice that Colton was clearly insane, and their expressions made this line of thought clear. After a few glances around himself, Colton sat down again. “Look, boss, there’s clearly something you’re not telling us. What’s going on?”

Larry made his way through the crowd. If he was right, there was something Drake wasn’t telling him. No, that wasn’t quite right. There was something Drigondii Sheii’Cronell wasn’t telling him. Drake was either gone or sealed away right now. He had to be Drigondii for what he was doing right now. Drake Kendrick wouldn’t have had the heart to do the things for which Drigondii was responsible. As he thought about it, he felt a warm tear building in his eye. “Colton, I said no questions. Shut it down. Meet me in the shuttle in two hours.”

Sighing, Colton stood again and started walking out of the stadium. “Fine. Whatever, boss. Let’s just pack up and leave the city to blow. That’s a fantastic idea…” He threw his arms up in another unseen gesture. Looking around, he realized that he was again making a pointless expression and dropped his arms. “In any case, this just seems like a really strange thing to do when you rushed us down here so fast from Drury Lane.”

Over the wireless, a round of agreements could be heard. In response, Larry said, “I’ll tell you what’s going on when we’re all back on the shuttle. Just get there. Now!” He started pushing his way through the more crowded part of the contestants’ area toward the exit. Silence followed this last order. The hesitance heard in his voice earlier had been replaced by anger. The Lieutenant was not known for being tolerant of insubordination.

After a few minutes, Larry had made his way back onto the street and was nearing the entrance to the subsurface drainage system where the pulse-car he would take back to the shuttle was parked. When he rounded the last corner, he finally ran into what he was expecting ever since he stepped out of the private room. There was an Armadian special forces unit scanning the area, and they were looking for any Resistance members, which he happened to be.

Walking up calmly, Larry called out to the investigators. “Excuse me,” he said, “Hi, I’m the Lieutenant, reigning World Kohstr Champion. I’m going to be defending my title later this week. Listen, I dropped my deck into the drains a block or so away. Is there any chance I could get through to that entrance and try and find it.” A few looks went around, and a whispered conversation took place between two of the men in the unit. They book looked at him again, and the shorter of the two looked back to Larry and nodded. “Thanks, guys.”

“Sure thing,” the man said. “Hey, good luck this weekend. You’re going to need it. You’re up against a Dragon Rider this year. He’s an Osgordian named Grie Khuda’Mundi, and he’s the Armada’s best player.” He smirked at Larry, who nodded his head in thanks and headed through the entrance into the drains. Sure enough, they hadn’t checked down here. There were probably different units for different layers of the city. Smiling to himself, Larry got into the pulse-car and headed for the outer edge of the city.

By the time he got his pulse-car into the cargo hold of the shuttle, the rest of Larry’s team had already assembled in the main cabin of the shuttle. Closing the cargo doors, Larry walked into the cabin and removed his helmet to a room of disgruntled team members with arms crossed and backs against the bulkhead. “So, what the hell is going on, Larry?” Summer was clearly pissed, but it was the fact that she used his first name that surprised Larry the most. She hadn’t called him that in years.

“He’s here, Summer. Drigondii Sheii’Cronell is in the city.” While Colt and Mickey burst into an uproar, Summer and Angus joined Larry in gazing at the deck. After a few seconds of eye-rubbing, Larry raised his hands to silence his comrades. “Look, there’s nothing we can do with Drigondii here. And there’s nothing we need to do. As long as he’s in the city, no explosives are going to go off, no assassination attempts are going to be successful, and no one with ill intent is going to make it within a mile of the stadium. There are Dragon Riders all throughout the stadium, which tells me that there are Valkyries watching the perimeter. That’s why I called this off. There’s nothing to worry about, and I have to get you guys out of here before we’re found out.”

“Won’t people notice when you don’t show up for the tournament? I mean, you came and registered. They know you were here. It’s going to be very suspicious when you don’t show.” Angus had a good point. There was no way Larry could get out of taking part without being held suspect, particularly after his interaction with that special forces unit earlier.

“I’ll come back as soon as I get you guys to safety. I can’t let you stay here, though, and I wouldn’t be able to rest if I didn’t know you had made it. So,” he clapped his hands together, “Mickey, get in that cockpit. Get us in the air and head for the nearest friendly dock.” Mickey nodded and headed into the cockpit, closing the door behind himself. “Colt, I want you to double-check our weapons inventory. If we’re missing a single bullet, I want to know as soon as you’re done.” Colt grunted in acknowledgement and headed into the cargo bay.

“So, did he talk to you?” Summer waited until Colt had made it down into the cargo bay to bring it up, but Larry had known it was coming.

“Yeah, but there wasn’t a whole lot said. He just said what he needed to say to get us to leave, and there wasn’t a whole lot else to say after that. I mean, were we going to chat about ruling the world and what that’s like for him or what it’s like for me to be fighting against him? No, there wasn’t anything to talk about. What about you? Did you get what I asked you to pick up?”

Angus pulled out a small cloth-wrapped bundle. “Sara sends her regards and hopes Nora’s doing well. She invited everyone to dinner, though obviously the Lieutenant and his crew aren’t welcome. Just family, so no suits. They’re back in the old Kendrick house. The dinner’s next Wednesday. Also, she wanted me to give you this.” He reached into his pocket and handed Larry a small Thorlinthian data drive. “She wanted to know if you knew what it was, so I’m assuming something mysterious is on there because I’m pretty sure she knows what a data drive is.”

Larry chuckled. “Yeah, she does. Thanks, Angus. I’m going to check this out.” He held up the data drive while he put the bundle in the pocket opposite his Kohstr deck. He then walked into his room and shut the door.

“Well, that was pleasant, wasn’t it?” Summer smiled up at Angus.

“Yeah! If pleasant has a completely different meaning these days. Come on. Let’s go to bed. I haven’t slept in days.” He wrapped his arm around his wife and led her to their room.

Soon, the main cabin was empty, save for the lone sound of wind rushing over the hull of the shuttle as it passed over the Atlantic.


The roar of a fully wound TMDS driver resounded through the passageways of the TAS Dauntless. Even in the main airlock, where forty Dragon Riders were prepping for a training exercise, the noise was loud enough to necessitate the disabling of helmet mics, isolating the forty men and women from the brunt of the sound. Even so, the rumbling throughout the ship caused their suits to carry the sound enough to make the orders they were receiving difficult to hear.

“Now remember,” the training operation’s leader said over the wireless helmet comms, “once we hype through, we will have exactly twelve centidays for the drivers to unwind and another eight for the navigators to get the next hype programmed and the drivers wound back up. If you’re still between ships when that time comes, you will be left behind, so you’ll have to signal the courier ship before it hypes away in order to… you know, not die.” Everyone laughed, and smiles made their way around the airlock.

“No, but really,” he continued. If you don’t make it, just signal the courier, and it’ll pick you up. When it gets back to the last waystation, switch over to the outbound courier, and they’ll bring you back to us. You’ll also be put on rations and extra training for a few days, but you’re not going to die, so don’t freak out. Just remain calm and do your job. I don’t want any laggers this time. You’ve all got this. Everybody ready?” A round of agreements went around, and thumbs and pinkies were extended to give the ok.

“Good. We’re good to go in three, two, one–” The claxons sounded, and the lights went red as dozens of ships hyped in unison. Immediately after that all too familiar implosive-explosive sensation associated with a successful hype, the airlock doors flung open, and the Dragon Riders ran out into the vacuum. Moments later, they were jumping, one by one, into the void. One failed to release his magnetic locks before the final kick, causing him to move much more slowly than the rest. He would be left behind.

At the forefront of the group was the newest up-and-comer, Grie Khuda’Mundi. Though he had not been the first to jump, his had been the best timed in conjunction with the magnetic locks, giving him enough speed to quickly maneuver to the front. Once there, there was nothing to look at but the tiny ships in the distance and the vastness of space. And then, the ships were gone.

The ships weren’t really gone, Grie reminded himself. The visible radiation emitted by the ships when they exited the hype had just stopped. Since the ships weren’t lit, the only way to know they were there was by observing the empty spaces among the stars. That was why these jumps took place immediately after hypes, after all. If they were performed at any other time, it would be too difficult to aim, and the jumps would be exponentially more dangerous.

Nonetheless, the disappearance of the ships did signal that the first three centidays had passed. By now, the crews of each ship were disabling their sound reducers. Grie was reminded of his days working engineering on the Dragon King. It had only been eighty days since he had become a Dragon Rider, but it felt like an eternity. The training was rigorous all day, every day, and the meals were quick. The only time he had to rest was the 25-centiday period allotted every other day for sleep. Just thinking about it made him tired. The Armada hyped every twenty centidays, three times a day. At that rate, they were able to cover about ten light-cycles a day.

Grie spun around to look at the other Dragon Riders. The newest, a young Thoren woman named Brilje, seemed rather tense at the fact that she had absolutely no sensation of movement. It was common to be unnerved by this the first few jumps between ships, but it was something that Dragon Riders just had to get used to. On Grie’s first jump, he had accidentally jumped to the wrong ship and travelled twice the expected distance. Luckily, it had been the last hype of the day, so he hadn’t been left behind, but it had been incredibly embarrassing to have to take a shuttle to the proper ship.

“Are you alright, Brilje? You look like you might be having trouble.” Grie had been thoughtful enough to mention this on a private channel, and even as he started to talk, he could see her relaxing. If you didn’t relax, you were more likely to go crazy in the dark, so it was one of the first things they all learned.

“Yeah, thanks,” she replied. “I just freaked out for a milliday. I had actually thought the ships hyped without us.” She tried to laugh it off, but it was a real concern. The main purpose of this exercise was to build that ability to relax in situations like this, so it wouldn’t be the craziest thing in the world if the Armada jumped without them just to see how they reacted. The man who had jumped too slowly was about to find out just how terrifying it really was to see the Armada hype away.

“You know, if you pull up your HUD, there are some games to keep your mind off the jump.” Grie knew they weren’t supposed to tell anyone the games were there, but they had been designed for just such occasions, so he figured it a pity that they were so hush-hush.

He didn’t play the games anymore, himself, but that was more due to the fact that he loved the stars on this side of the Bifrost. Even from one waystation to another, the stars were always different. Every once in a while, the Armada would even hype a little too close to a stellar system, leavin
g planets visible in the dark. “Thanks, Grie,” Brilje said. Soon, he could tell she was playing, because her limbs totally relaxed.

After a great deal of floating, one of the tiny ships in the distance became a very large ship. By the time the Dragon Riders all started turning to land on their magnetic locks, the ship was taking up their entire view, darkening the whole sky. Grie spun his weight around and stuck out his feet, which thudded into the side of the ship. As soon as they had, he engaged the magnetic locks, and he was secured. Looking up, he saw the others coming in for their landings, and he helped those who needed it.

WIth his eyes still to the one remaining Dragon Rider passing through the void, he received a tap on the shoulder. It was time to go in. The rumbling of the drivers was becoming audible through the hull of the ship, which meant there were only a couple more centidays before the next hype. Grie ran to the airlock with the rest, and the doors closed. Immediately, the lights came on, and air started rushing into the room.

“Alright, everyone,” the operation leader said. “That was good. We lost one, but he’ll be fine. Now, everybody hydrate and pressurize. You just did a lot more twisting and pushing than you probably realize since most of it was wasted motion, but you have tired yourselves out, so you all need to hook into a hydrater and grab a drink before the next op. You all have one centiday to take a break, then we do this again.” Everyone groaned jokingly and backed into one of the ports in the bulkhead for hooking up the suits. This was going to be a long day.


Breath fogged up Grie Khuda’Mundi’s HUD inside his helmet. The dark red of the display provided just enough light that he could see a faint reflection of his face on the heavy ceramic of the visor. Designed to be used in the deepest regions of space or in the hottest areas in a TMDS driver, his armor kept him a comfortable temperature even as the blizzard persisted all around him. The extra-visible filtering in the cameras mounted on his helmet allowed him to maintain his 360 degree visibility even in such conditions as these, which allowed him to see the escaped ice wyrm in front of him.

Commonly known as the King of the Rime, the ice wyrm was a beast on par with the drig in its native environment, which just happened to be conditions such as those surrounding it right now. Normally, the ice wyrms were kept in a well-heated enclosure in a sedated state, since they had extremely slow metabolisms and wouldn’t atrophy as quickly as other animals, making it an ideal fresh food supply on long journeys through space. While its meat was a bit tough and gamey, a single ice wyrm could feed hundreds of men for a week, so it was a common meat on ultracarriers.

Where its presence was particularly less common, however, was on the ice and snow-covered tundra of Antarctica. Here, the ice wyrm would be a predator unsurpassed. And since ice wyrms were capable of reproduction by parthenogenesis, this single ice wyrm escaping into the wild could turn into a very big problem, completely displacing the natural balance of Antarctica’s ecosystem. Even in the warmer environment of the deep sea, it would be more than a match for any creature that would dare challenge it.

Which brought about why Grie was quietly approaching the ice wyrm to kill it before it had the chance to reproduce. As a Dragon Rider, he was the type to be assigned tasks dangerous as this was. He had been tracking the majestic beast for the past several hours, but now, it was time to attack. Grie slowly reached down to his leg, where he kept his assault knives. Today, they would be little more than a source of surprise since they would barley be able to penetrate the tough leather surrounding the wyrm’s thick flesh. He had to be very careful with the timing. Ice wyrms were typically lured into an area where they were heated and then beheaded with a hydraulic guillotine. He only had his knives and swords, along with a repeater he had brought along, just in case.

As he slowly pulled the knives from their sheathes, he had to remind himself just how sensitive the hearing of the ice wyrm was. Since it had long ago adapted to the dark of the Nivlahimi seas and caverns, the ice wyrm had no eyes, but its watertight ears were capable of picking up even the tiniest noises, and the beast could pick up a scent from distances exceeding the lengths of continents. Grie’s only advantages over this beast would be his Drigarmr, what little surprise he could muster together, and the fact that the ice wyrm hadn’t eaten in several cycles, leaving it thoroughly weakened but still powerful enough to tear through the hide of a whale with a nonchalant swipe.

Grie raised his arm behind him, aiming intently at the massive beast before him. Ice wyrms had taken out Valkyries who hadn’t been paying close enough attention. He loosed the first knife, the second aligned for aim before the first had even reached the beast. By the time the ice wyrm had picked up the sound of the blade specifically designed not to produce noise, it was already within arm’s reach of the beast. When the beast turned toward the approaching second blade, Grie could see that the knife was only protruding by about a hand’s width. That was good. It meant the wyrm wasn’t fully mature, leaving its hide slightly less toughened than the older wyrm’s nigh-impenetrable leather.

The second blade was much more fortunately placed than its predecessor, its tang fully penetrating into the softer flesh of the ice wyrm’s throat. The beast reared back onto its hind legs, its outstretched claws a silent reminder of just how quickly Grie could be dead if he missed the timing. He gritted his own teeth and leaped forward, his arms almost automatically drawing his swords. He spun out of the way of the wyrm’s swiping claw just in time to avoid a swift death.

Unfortunately, the ice wyrm had more than one form of attack. Just as Grie landed, sliding to a stop and prepping for another leap, the wyrm’s left tail-fin collided with his side, loosening his grip and toppling him in the other direction. Grie tumbled to a halt just in time to use his rattled arms to push himself directly up and out of the way of the wyrm’s second claw-swipe. He pulled himself into a flip, landing only moments after the claw had passed. He gripped his swords more tightly and pressed the backs of the blades against his sides as he jumped into another spin.

Just as he had predicted, the wyrm’s right tail-fin had found its way to him. This time, though, he was ready. His blades were positioned precisely where the fin struck, and the ice wyrm pressed into its own injury, cutting the end of its tail off entirely. Using his feet to regain a sense of balance upon landing several arms’ lengths away from his intended destination, Grie brought the blades forward and lunged toward the pained beast’s torso.

This time, Grie didn’t have time to spin out of the way of the wyrm’s attack. Just as he finished pressing his swords into the beast’s chest, the heat of a rather large paw came sweeping into Grie’s view. Fortunately, the wyrm had been painfully aware of how close Grie was to its own flesh, so it had retracted its claws to get closer.

Grie had only been knocked aside, but as he rolled across the snow-covered ice, he remembered that he no longer had his swords. He drew the repeater from its holster and aimed for the beast’s nostrils. Just as he suspected, the wyrm’s nostrils were flarin
g as the beast roared in fury. He fired with an adrenaline-driven precision he had learned to summon in his training as a Dragon Rider. The hot bolt seared the air through which it passed as it journeyed toward the beast, leaving a trail of superheated air behind it hot enough to light up, creating the appearance of a beam of light passing from Grie’s repeater into the beast’s skull.

Its brains properly scrambled, the ice wyrm fell to the ground, dead, its massive chest creating a plume of snow upon impact. Grie holstered his repeater, removed the blades from the ice wyrm’s flesh, and activated the signal marking the completion of his mission. Once he saw in his display that the signal had been received, he gave in to the pain of his shattered bones and slumped to the ground against the wyrm’s warm side. He lost consciousness quickly due to the internal blood loss now taking place all across his battered body.

“And what, pray tell,” said Larry, “should I know at this point, Grie?” He placed his deck on the table between them.

“Well,” Grie replied rather plainly, “I imagine you’ve probably figured out that Baker was planning to take out New Qzcivden during this tournament. Carden’s dead, by the way.” Grie drew his hand in time with Larry as the latter absorbed the impact of Grie’s final comment.

“So who registered for him?” Larry placed his first card face-down, leaving him open to place another card face-up or end his turn. A swipe of his hand indicated that he was finished.

“That would be a man by the name of Gordon.” Grie placed a face-down card of his own before playing the loptr card, a play indicative of his experience. Larry raised his brow slightly at this before drawing a card and immediately placing it face-down. “Apparently, Gordon is just meant to draw suspicion away from Carden’s absence.”

“Well, that makes sense,” Larry said, playing the rime card face-up, negating the advantage of the loptr. “Carden came in third place last year. It’d be suspicious if he didn’t show up. It’s too bad about his death, though. He was a good player.”

Grie drew his next card, passing his turn. “Anyway, we think there’s a good possibility someone plans to bomb the city, so we’ve got everybody acting like nothing’s wrong at all while putting extra personnel in place all over the city in civilian gear.”

“We?” Larry questioned the word’s use as he drew his own card, placing another in his hand face-down. The door opposite the one through which the men had entered opened, and Larry dropped all pretenses along with his cards and stood to face the man he knew as Drake Kendrick but was known to the world as Drigondii Sheii’Cronell. “Drake! What are you doing here?”

Drigondii smiled at his old friend sadly. “It’s not Drake anymore, Lar. You know that. I’m here to make sure nothing happens. I can feel the bombs, and I’ve sent Terira to take care of them. You can call off your team. Nobody’s sinking my new Atlantis.” Larry swallowed, and he fought back tears as he realized that Drake’s eyes were burning a bright red. He just nodded silently and put up his deck, placing his helmet back over its seal.

Before opening the door that would enable communication once more, Larry turned the visor of his helmet to Drigondii. “What would your dad say to you today, Drake? Could he have survived this much heartbreak?”

Silence followed for a few secconds, and then, “You know it has to be done this way, Lar. If I did this any other way, we wouldn’t be able to do all of what must be done. We need their attention. But no, I don’t think he could have, and for that, I am sorry. Goodbye, Larry.”

“Goodbye, old friend.” With that, Larry opened the door and began to speak orders into his helmet. He hoped in those moments that Drake was still in there somewhere, and that Drigondii was right. He looked up and prayed. When would they come? How much longer would the wound have to fester before they came to clean it?

New Qzcivden

The sun beat down on Larry Denton as he walked along the sidewalk in New Qzcivden. As he passed by other pedestrians, he made note of the recent changes to the layout of the city since his last visit. As he walked by, various people turned and looked at him. The Lieutenant wasn’t frequently seen in public. Rumors had been going around that Earth’s Kohstr champion would be returning this year, but his participation had never been confirmed. As the reigning champion, however, he had the option to enter at the last minute.

New Qzcivden was an artificial island in the Atlantic Ocean, intended to be the new center of civilization on Earth. It was the only city in which there were no Earther Peacekeeper forces. It was policed entirely by Armadians. However, it was also the only city in which Earthers who wished had an opportunity to meet Thorlinthians off-duty and could even legally obtain certain Thorlinthian technologies, making it an enticing location for many.

Now surrounded by civilians and Armadians in standard kilted light armor, the Lieutenant stood out as the only person in a Peacekeeper uniform. He looked about at all the people staring at him and spoke into his secure wireless channel. “How are we looking, Mickey?”

From the top of Dragon Neck, the city’s central and by-far tallest tower, Mickey had a complete bird’s eye view of the city. Looking through his binoculars, he spoke quietly into his headset. “Everything looks good from up here, boss. The Texan’s in position, and the Happy Couple is en route. No signs of disturbance yet. You sure about this, L.T.?”

On the ground, Larry walked onward, inspecting every face he passed, every loose jacket, and every Armadian uniform, looking for possible weapons. “Oh, I’m sure. The hraustliger card always has a picture of a drig surrounded by hunters in the mosaic in the background. In this one, the hunters are being encircled by the drig. I’ve seen a card like this once before in my life, and that was at the tournament last year, when I was playing that Armadian, Carden. When I checked the roster, he was enrolled in the competition again this year. This didn’t have anything to do with the Dauntless. Baker’s mark was Carden, and I think he wanted to take out the entire city, which would require much more than one team. I think he wanted to distract us by sending us to the Dauntless while an operation took place here. He knew we wouldn’t intentionally take out civilians.”

“Well, he was right about that!” Colt Tyson, codename Texan, sounded off loudly from his position in the stadium where the tournament was taking place. Many people around him turned and stared, so he added, “You can’t add peanut butter to a tuna sandwich. That’s just no good, Laura.” There was no Laura. He just wanted to explain why he might be yelling so fervently into a headset.

“Way to go, Texan,” Mickey said, his Lancashire accent making for a stark contrast to the Texan’s drawl. “You plan on busting this whole thing wide open?” After a few moments of silence, Mickey harrumphed and returned to his observational duties.

The Lieutenant rolled his eyes in his helmet as the exchange took place. The two were always picking at each other, and it was to the point where no one really cared as long as blows weren’t being exchanged, which did happen from time to time. “Anyway, Mickey, could you check the sky? Someone could be planning an aerial attack.”

“Are you serious, boss?” Mickey scoffed. “If that were to happen, there’s no way I’d catch them with binoculars, is there?” Nonetheless, he turned his eyes to the sky, scanning the scores of shuttles over the city, which were used in lieu of a subway or trolley system. “I’m not seeing anything yet, boss, but you’ll be the first to know if I do.”

“Thank you, Mickey,” Larry said as he reached the competitors’ entrance to the stadium. It was perhaps now that he stood out the most, since everyone here knew that he was, in fact, the famous Lieutenant. His was a household name around the planet, but it was only among Kohstr players where even Thorlinthians would turn heads to see him.

“Excuse me,” he said to the registrar, “I’m here to defend my title. Here’s my identification.” He handed the registrar the card he had been given the previous year. She ran it through the machine, nodded, and handed it back.

“Thank you, Lieutenant. We look forward to seeing how you play this year.” The registrar gave a look that made Larry slightly uncomfortable, so he just nodded back and moved into the practice area.

A hand came against the Lieutenant’s shoulder. “How’s it going, Lieutenant?” a familiar voice sounded off. “It’s excellent to see you again. I loved your performance in the games last year, and I’m sure it’ll be a spectacle to behold again.” Grie Khuda’Mundi was dressed in civilian clothes, but there was no mistaking an Osgordian. His green hair and violet eyes stood out from a mile away. How had Larry managed to miss him?

“Is that the Dragon Rider?” Mickey asked, his voice panicked. “What’s he doing here?”

“He’s here to compete,” Larry said into the private channel before switching to public, which enabled the speaker in his helmet. “How’s it going, Grie? I’m glad you decided to enter this year. I heard from the news that you were the Armada’s best player. I’m hoping it’ll actually be a challenge for once.”

“Well, I learned from the best, you know.” Trash talk like this was common in the hours preceding Kohstr competitions, but it wasn’t often people saw two giants such as these go at each other. “Though I’m sure you’ll make for a decent challenge when we play, and I have no doubt we’ll be playing. You’re deck is very nice. I’ve got one just like it. Would you like to have a practice match before the tournament starts up?” Grie pulled his deck from his pocket, the box an exact match for Larry’s own.

“Sure,” Larry replied. “I have a private room, since I won last year. Would you care to have it there?”

“I’d love to.” Grie’s voice had no enthusiasm in it, marked only by a cold, steely tension. The two headed toward the door to the private room reserved for the Lieutenant and guests.

“Boss?” Mickey asked. “Why would you go in there? You know it’s a black room. If you go in there, we won’t be able to hear what’s–” The signal cut off as the door closed.

A Day to Remember

“Hey, Lar. How are you doing, man?” Drake came into the room, where Larry was rapidly shuffling his Kohstr deck, which Terira had given him for a bag of crab apples. The sound of the metal cards clinking against each other seemed to dispel some of his nerves.

“What?” Larry looked up, dropping the cards on the floor, resulting in a sound similar to the pouring of coins into a counting machine.”Oh, hey, Drake. I’m — I’m doing great, yeah. Whoo!” He took a deep breath and widen his eyes. “Doing great… How about you, man? Do you think the whole thing’s going to go okay?”

“Lar, you were the first pure Earther to perform a Timids hype. You’ve been to the moon and back a hundred times. Terira and I are the only people on Earth that you can’t beat in a fight, and you’re one of the best men I know.” Drake grinned at Larry, who was just staring blankly at him. “I think you’re gonna be fine, Lar.”

Larry breathed hard again, nodding slowly and exaggeratedly. “Yeah. You’re right. I’m gonna be fine… Totally fine. Great, even! I’m going to be great…” He trailed off, returning to his thoughts and picking up his cards, which he then began to shuffle again.

“Lar, how have you never been caught with those things? They are so loud,” Drake said, nonplussed at his friend’s ability to prevent anyone else from realizing he had a deck of alien game cards.

“Oh, I just tell people they’re old trading cards and then make up the name of some fake anime when they ask what kind. They usually stop caring pretty quickly.” Larry stopped shuffling and looked at Drake. “You know, it does kind of play like a trading card game.” Drake and Larry exchanged looks of realization. “Dude, Drake, your people are a bunch of dorks that play a trading card game instead of poker.”

“That is so messed up, Lar. I can’t believe you would be so heartless as to point that out. Still, you’ve gotten way better at that game than I am, and you can even beat Terira most of the time, so who’s the bigger dork?” He gave Larry a joking punch on the shoulder.

“Hey, it’s not dorky for me. I got it from an alien.” Larry gave Drake a jab of his own, the sound of his arm cracking the air. Drake just brushed it off.

“Well, I mean, technically, Terira was born in the United States, same as you and me, so I’m not sure she qualifies as an alien.” Drake came quickly to the defense of his wife, who wasn’t in the room at the time.

“Dude, she has blue hair and eyes that literally shine. I think she can count as an alien, even if she was born here. She’s an Alien-American, but she’s still an alien.” The term Alien-American was a joke that Larry had come up with to describe his half-Thorlinthian friends. They seemed to find it just as amusing as he did.

“Yeah, yeah,” Drake said. “Well, since we’re aliens, then, we can’t be dorks, either, right?”

“No,” Larry replied. “You’re still dorks. You’re just Alien-American dorks.” He got another punch for that one. The young men chuckled, enjoying the calming effect the conversation had on both of them.

Larry’s watch started beeping, and Terira peeked her head in. Her hair was blue again, since people just wrote it off as being a great color job despite the fact that it was natural. Today, however, she was not sporting her usual straight bob; instead, she had brought it up into a traditional Thorlinthian double bun with tightly curled pigtail that she said called Maerskor. “Hey, hon. Is he ready to go?”

Drake looked at Larry, who nodded, smiled, and stood. “Yeah, he’s ready, Terira. I’ll see you in a bit, man. I gotta go.” He gave Larry a quick pat on the arm before walking out and joining his wife.

“Right!” Larry said to his Kohstr deck, since no one else was there to listen. He put the deck in its box and placed that in his jacket pocket. “Time to go get married…” He laughed for a few moments, sported a cheery smile, and walked out to wait for his bride at the altar.

“You alright, Grie?” Veriar opened the door and found a nervous Grie Khuda’Mundi nervously shuffling his Kohstr deck, relishing the sound of the clinking made only by the ever so rare Classics deck, which Priha’Di had given him shortly into their relationship. Apparently, she and her sister had played quite a bit as children. It had been one of the first things they both found they enjoyed when Pri was growing up. When she had given him the deck, he had thought she was just challenging him to a game, but apparently the decks were important to both of the girls, though Pri hadn’t seen Terira in several cycles.

“Yeah, Ver. I’m doing great, man. I was just thinking, though, what if I’m not good enough for her? I mean, come on. She’s a Valkyrie, and I’m — I’m just some Timids technician.” He sighed, putting the cards on the desk behind him and putting his hands over his face, leaning into his seat.

“What are you talking about, Grie?! It’s not like she hasn’t had plenty of time to walk out of this relationship any time she wanted. You’ve been together for over six cycles, man. This woman could have picked any guy she wanted, and she picked you. Not only did she pick you, I think she’s probably even crazier about you than you are about her!”

At this, Veriar was interrupted by Grie, who spoke through his hands, “Not possible. No one could be crazier about anyone than I am about her.”

“There you go, then.” Veriar patted Grie on the shoulder lightly. “No one’s more in love with anyone than you two are with each other. It’s not a matter of being good enough. You’re my best friend, Grie. You and your family have always been good to me. As far as I’m concerned, if anyone’s not good enough, it’s her. The fact that you’re worried it’s the other way around just shows how good you two are for each other.”

“Thanks, Ver. I appreciate it.” Grie grabbed his deck again and started to shuffle it. “How much longer until it starts?”

“You’ve got about…” Veriar looked at his timepiece. “Four millidays.” A knocking was heard, and Veriar’s wife, Avrin, peeked her head in, her green hair sporting the traditional Maerskor worn by female members of the wedding party.

“Ver, is Grie ready?” Veriar looked at Grie, who stood and shook his hand, and nodded back to Avrin.

“He’s ready,” Veriar said, more to Grie than to Avrin. She backed away from the door into the hallway. “I’ll see you out there, Grie. Good luck.” He smiled and gave Grie a quick pat on the shoulder before heading out with his wife.

“Right,” Grie said, putting his deck back into its box, which he placed in his uniform’s hidden pocket. “Time to go get married…” He chuckled, smiled broadly, and walked out to the altar to await his bride.

“What do we do now, L.T.?” Summer asked as Larry Denton walked out of the safe house. Her eyes were red from the tears that had been pouring down her face for the past several minutes as the team had listened to the intermittent screams and cries of Wilhelm Baker’s last moments as Larry had pulled out the information he needed about the way Baker’s own intentions had affected the Resistance’s plans.

“Well,” Larry said, “Now Mickey gives me back that card. I have a theory.” Mickey complied, his hands shaking as he held out the card. When Larry grabbed the card, he returned the cigarette that Mickey had dropped on the ground, only the end slightly burned. “You might want this back, Mickey.” Mickey smiled and put the cigarette back in its place in the cigarette box as Larry looked more carefully at the card.

After staring at the card for a few seconds, Larry handed it back to Mickey. “Now,” he said, “I call Nora and tell her I’m not coming home yet. This was a whole lot bigger than I thought at first. Let’s get going. We have to be in New Qzcivden by this time the day after tomorrow.” They loaded up the SUV in the driveway and headed back to the shuttle.


“Grie, you’ve got an incoming wireless connection from Osgord,” one of Grie’s friends from engineering said as he poked his head into the rec room. “You should probably take it. It’s your father.”

The Armada was just about to send its fleet through the Bifrost on the way to Earth. Transmissions past this point would be impossible. All correspondence would be relayed by courier ships past this point. Grie stood and walked to the wireless room for his last conversation with family before the hype into the Bifrost, which would be taking place in a few millidays. He stepped into a booth marked, “INCOMING: Recipient Grie Khuda’Mundi, Origin: Osgord Transmission Satellite 5.”

“Hi, Dad. We’re about to head through. Is there something wrong?” Grie was concerned. His grandmother had been in the healing station for radiation poisoning for the past few weeks. Her death was due any day now. “Is it grandmother?”

“No,” the tinnily relayed voice of Grie’s father said over the wireless. “Though she’s certainly not getting any better. It’s about our discussion right before you left.”

“Ah,” Grie exclaimed lightly. “Well, that’s sensible. It is a rather sensitive matter. Is this transmission secure enough to discuss it?” As he asked, he enabled the signal encryption protocols and place his cypher key into the comm unit as he sealed the sound blockers in the booth.

“It’s going to have to be, Grie. We don’t exactly have the luxury of the time necessary to set up something more secure. I’ve done what I can from this side.” Grie’s father sounded distressed.

“Same here, Dad. Encryption protocols active in three… two… one.” Grie turned the cypher key, and there was a series of clicks audible, indicating that his father had just done the same. “Is there something you need to tell me, Dad?”

“Yes. Your grandfather says he wants you to know that the Valkyries have been monitoring this planet, Earth, for a very long time. If you can get in touch with Veriar Khuda’Treer, the Blue should find its own way to contact you.”

“Wait, the Blue is going to contact me?” The Blue only contacted a select few of the Ginnung. It didn’t make Grie any more comfortable knowing that Veriar was under the Blue’s surveillance. Veriar probably didn’t even know. He sure wasn’t Ginnung.

“There’s no other way. Whoever the Blue is, he’s not sharing information with anyone but you. I don’t know why. Whatever’s going on, it’s way above me. Your grandfather knows, I’m sure, but he’s a bit preoccupied with your grandmother right now.”

“I’ll see what I can do. Thanks, Dad.”

“And Grie?” Grie’s father sounded nervous.

“What’s up, Dad?”

“Be very careful, son. I know how much of a risk this is for you. Don’t get yourself killed, alright?”

“I’ll do what I can, Dad. I guess I probably won’t talk to you again for a long time, so be safe, Dad. Take care of Mom.” Grie smiled slightly, and he just knew his father could see it, even if there was no way he could. At that moment, a claxon sounded throughout the ship, and the signal was cut as the TAS Dragon King hyped through the Bifrost.

“Wait, you’ve been helping us?” Mickey dropped his cigarette from between his lips. “But you’re a flipping Dragon Rider! There’s no one closer to the Sheii’Cronell than the Dragon Riders.”

Grie turned to Larry Denton, who had removed his helmet. “You really don’t tell your team anything extra, do you, Denton?” Grie made a face expressing dissatisfaction and turned back to Mickey. “Look, Mister Shore. I am perfectly capable of moving you out of my way, but I think it would be preferable if you would just move.”

Mickey looked exasperatedly to Larry, who nodded, his face grave. He didn’t look scared, though, which surprised Mickey. Now that he looked around, Angus and Summer didn’t look particularly frightened, either. He had no idea what was going on, but this situation clearly wasn’t what it had seemed to be at the beginning. He slowly walked toward the rest of the team and watched the fiasco unfold.

Grie reached down, violently grabbing the Muffin Man by the neck and slamming him against the wall. He then proceeded to remove the Muffin Man’s helmet, revealing Baker’s haunted face. “I present to you the traitor of the Earther Resistance, Wil Baker. This man has been rigging operations, intentionally harming and killing civilians who’ve expressed total compliance with the Monarchy.” He squeezed Baker’s neck more tightly, loosening his grip only when Baker looked like he was about to pass out.

“You can’t kill him, though. The Muffin Man is a figurehead in the–” Larry started off calmly before being cut off.

“The Muffin Man hasn’t shown his face to another living person since I arranged his official death three years ago. Even the few people who know who he really is haven’t actually seen his face or heard his real voice. I may not be able to kill the Muffin Man, but I can sure as the sky kill a dead man.” Grie snarled at Baker as he spoke, as if he were a caged animal waiting to attack his captor as soon as the cage opened.

“Yeah? And who’s going to be the new Muffin Man, huh? And why does he have to have such a stupid sounding codename?!” Larry had wanted to mention that last bit ever since he had joined up with the Resistance. As for his first question, the way his team looked at him made that answer clear. He frowned. Being the Lieutenant was hard enough.

“Well, the codename’s probably because his real name is Baker,” Summer chipped in. “Anyway, Grie, are you going to kill him or should we? I just figure you already got to kill the guy once, and I can’t imagine anyone in this room is a whole lot less inclined to do the same right now.” She realized after saying this that she had said Grie’s name, earning her a harsh look from both Larry and Angus.

“How’d you know his name, Summer?” Mickey asked, exchanging a suspicious look with the Texan, Colt Tyson, who repeated the inquiry.

Summer quickly did something Larry and Angus could never have done. She cited the news. “Grie Khuda’Mundi is the only Osgordian Dragon Rider in the Armada. There was a thing on the news about him a few weeks ago, when they did the special on the Dragon Riders. His picture was on it and everything. Do you guys seriously not remember this?”

Larry and Angus exchanged a look of amazement. They weren’t sure how, but she had just turned the question back on them. “Anyway,” Larry said, “we should probably figure out what to do with Baker here.” He stepped up to Grie. “I’m sorry things turned out the way they did, but you should probably leave before anyone else finds out you’re here. If anyone caught wind of the fact that a Dragon Rider spared even one person, ever, let alone five, that Dragon Rider’s allegiances would probably be publicly questioned.”

Grie nodded, put his helmet back on, and grabbed his knife from the doorframe, putting it back into its sheath on his right thigh. He walked out with silent footsteps. Five seconds after he had stepped outside, he was gone.

“Now,” Larry said, drawing his own knife, “why don’t you guys meet me outside in a few minutes? I’d like a few minutes alone with this idiot.” The team walked out and closed the door. As soon as they had, Baker began to struggle, trying to fight Larry, who used some of the skills he had learned from Terira to temporarily paralyze him.

As he began the slow work in which he was about to take no joy, Larry said, “Would you like to know how I really got my Kohstr deck, Mister Baker?”