Monthly Archives: July 2013

TT: He didn’t quit

The Tears of Tyria – The Chronicles of J’Rontia

He didn’t quit

J’Rontia was just below the water and breathing through a Thristle stem that she had poking up throw the reeds. This was a difficult exercise and all of the candidates, except one young man, had surfaced. Most of them came up fast choking and sputtering. Some of them she even felt sorry for, well for a little while.

She probed out with her mind and did not see the young man. He was very close so she should have connected right away and not being able to “see” him in her mind made her curious. She increased her efforts and found his body. His mind was not lit up and it took a moment for her to realize that he did not have advanced mental abilities.

She changed techniques and started to probe for a mind that was not enhanced. She did not find him. She went back to her first probe and investigated deeper. How strange. He had the design of an advanced mind but it was as if it was turned off. No, it was like it was blocked. Even more curious.

Her probe had gone deep enough that she recognized him as Resurt from Trewst. He was a candidate without special skills and he was able to participate in their training due to a condition of the Trewst Corridor Treaty. She searched her memory for the details on the treaty and found little. She had overheard two instructors talking and they only said that the original family bloodline was allowed to attend Kuli training but that no one had ever graduated. In fact, most of the candidates from the family dropped out right after they started. Resurt had been here for years and they said he did great on all the non-mental ability trainings.

She was having trouble staying focused. It was as if he was resisting her and the deeper she probed, the greater the resistance. She noticed that her probing was disturbing him as his heart rate increased in direct relation to the depth of her probing. This was causing him to increase his breathing and the tube he constructed was not large enough. She needed to back off.

Several times, during the long night, she repeated her probe and her curiosity increased as she discovered in him a calm determination to win this contest. He knew that he was going up against her and that she almost never lost. Still, he didn’t quit and was even convinced that at this event he could beat her. He knew that no one in the contest had ever gone past the next morning and he wanted to break at least one record while at the academy.

When morning came, she could sense his pride at lasting longer in the contest than any others before this time. It was not arrogant and he had no intention of using it to advantage with anyone. She smiled as she came to understand the quality of character that she was competing against. He was a very worthy opponent.

The day was almost over and the sky had started to darken when she felt the creature. It was a water creature swimming toward them. The creature was not deadly and could cause very little harm. Perhaps this little swimmer would panic the young man and this contest could end.

The creature bumped into the young man several times and herself a couple without making any impact. Clearly, this young man was determined to win; however, she had no intention of giving him the win. She knew that most of the records she had broken belonged to her grandfather and she could not let him down. She realized that the contest may last a long time.

Then disaster struck for the young man. The creature bit his breathing tube and his air stopped flowing easily. The young man had to work hard to force the air in and out of the tube. Surely he would give up now.

When morning came, the young man was weakening. He could not draw enough air for his body and she knew that soon he would black out if he did not rise out of the water. She probed once more.

Resurt could not believe that it was coming to this. He finally had a contest with one of the best that he had a chance to win and his tube was damaged. He knew that he was close to blacking out but he could not give up. Maybe her tube is also damaged and one more moment might be all it takes to win. He was representing his family and his people. No, he would have to keep trying until he blacked out, even if it could mean he died.

J’Rontia considered what she just heard. She knew that she was not supposed to be mentally listening in but could not help herself. She wanted to win and sure didn’t want to deliberately give up. Still, she might cause him to die if she continued. She wondered what she should do.

 

Late that afternoon, at the end of the current set of exercises, J’Rontia debriefed with her grandfather.

Tomli asked her, “Why did you quit the water test?”

She looked at him for a long time before answering. She said, “I know I am not supposed to quit.” She paused again before speaking and then said, “The young man in the water with me was a strong man and very dedicated to doing good. I have watched him help many other candidates during the time we have worked together. We need him alive and I could not take the chance that he might die. My job is to save all the lives I can and my ego cannot be allowed to get in the way.”

Tomli smiled and said, “During a Kuli’s training, the Guardians watch for many things. In order to ever become a Supreme Guardian, a young Kuli must demonstrate certain traits without prompting or training. Some Kuli never understand why they are not offered additional training later in life. They never understand the weight arrogance and ego have in determining what opportunities are provided.”

J’Rontia’s face lit up and she said, “You told me to let you know when I decided on the most important characteristic for my Soretto. Well, I have determined it.” She went on, “I want whoever it is to be like that young man – no matter how bad it got, he didn’t quit.

Tomli smiled and nodded.

That evening, on the other side of the compound, there was a small ceremony for the very few students who completed their training and passed all areas except those that required exceptional mental abilities. This was usually a somber celebration as these students would never be a Kuli and most came with family expectations of how special they were. Whatever abilities they showed when they were young did not expand as they grew and they were going to have to face social pressure for failing when they went home.

Technically, it was a huge honor to finish the training as over 80% of all candidates drop out at their own request. Usually this happened due to repeated failures or because they did not want to work so hard. Still, the mood was seldom upbeat.

Tonight was different. The mood tonight was very upbeat and most of those earning a certification of completion held their heads high. This was the first time in the academy’s history when a non-graduate broke an academy record. Resurt was now the record holder for the water exercise. To top it off, he won against the highest scoring candidate ever, J’Rontia.

Resurt was not as excited as the others. He knew how close he came to dying and was not sure what he was going to do when he left the school; however, he did have his name down as a record holder and he might as well enjoy the celebrity. So, he smiled and tried to have a good time as a representative of his people.

Toward the end of the night, an older man came up to him and asked if he might have a moment of his time. He said yes and then went off to the side of the hall where it was quiet.

The man asked, “What do you plan to do after you are done here?”

Resurt answered, “I guess I will go home and ask my uncle for a job.”

“Are you interested in working for the Linthian Intelligence Service?”

Resurt was shocked and took a long look at the man. He recognized this man as one of his instructors. The man had taught a few sessions on the practical aspects of stealth and camouflage. The courses were excellent and exceedingly practical.

Resurt said, “I must first return to my uncle and honor the commitment I made. If he has no work, then I would be very interested.”

The old man nodded and replied, “Excellent. I like a man of his word.” The old man stood and handed him an identity crystal. Then he smiled once again and walked away.

Resurt turned to go back to the party and J’Rontia was standing right in front of him. She was always very stealthy and he thought that she must enjoy startling people. She was as beautiful as ever and he wondered what she was doing here.

J’Rontia said, “I had to stop by and offer my congratulations. You did a great job and I am glad that I was able to work with you.”

Resurt was surprised by her words and did not know what to say. A few of his friends stood nearby and were clearly stunned that J’Rontia was talking to him. He was rather impressed that she even showed up.

Resurt said, “Thank you. That means a lot coming from you.”

J’Rontia smiled and turned toward the crowd. She took his hand and lifted it into the air in a victory spear. Everyone in the whole area cheered. She did it two more times to bigger cheers each time. She turned back to him and gave him a warrior clasp which elicited another rousing cheer from the crowd.

J’Rontia looked him in the eyes and said, “When you are ready, call the old man. It will be the toughest work you will ever have but, in time, it will be the most fulfilling.”

J’Rontia turned and walked to the gate to leave the party with all eyes on her. Everyone was so impressed that she had come to congratulate Resurt. At the gate she turned and said to him loud enough for all to hear, “I am confident that in the future we will work together again.”

After she turned and walked away, the crowd came over and took turns giving him warrior clasps. He was thrilled that she had come by and was touched by her comments. Although he was not too excited about the warrior clasps – he was going to be very sore in the morning.

J’Rontia had not walked far when she realized that the old man was beside her. Without missing a step, she reached out like lightning with her knife and killed the deadly creature that had just dropped on his shoulder. The old man never flinched although a slight smile drifted across his face.

J’Rontia spoke first saying, “I did what you asked. Do you think he will take the job?”

The old man nodded and replied, “You sealed the deal.”

“What about his uncle? He might have a job for him.”

“We spoke with the uncle earlier today and he agreed to release Resurt in exchange for the Psner contract we were negotiating with him.”

“Are you sure he is the one?”

“No. But he has the DNA and the family treaty would indicate that he could be.”

J’Rontia walked beside the old man for quite a while before speaking again. She said, “Is it right for us to manipulate people’s lives?

“No. That is why we always tell all before they finally join, including how we helped them decide. We occasionally have some that back out at that point; however, they usually come back later. Once they understand what we really do, they almost always join.”

“Why can Kuli not join?”

The old man sighed. He knew that this question was coming for a long time but had hoped she would be much older before he had to address it. He stopped walking and turned toward the river. She stepped up beside him.

The old man said, “Kuli take a vow to never display their beliefs in public so that the organization can avoid the politics of religion. It has helped them greatly as an organization but leaves the individual Kuli trapped without much of the spiritual support others enjoy.”

He paused for a moment or two and then continued, “All warriors, especially superior warriors such as the Kuli, take lives at times. This is deeply disturbing to the psyche if not properly prepared for and properly handled afterwards. Having a Soretto helps many but not all Kuli.”

He paused again, this time for so long that she almost began to talk herself. He went on, “The Order left this galaxy tens of thousands of years ago, leaving the Kuli to carry on in their place. Since that time, the Gatekeeper and the Tall Man were the only members from the Order that have interacted with this galaxy. The death of the Gatekeeper when I was a boy changed many things; however, the Order believes that this galaxy will be saved by its own people with help from the Kuli and they do not plan to return. I was assigned the job of findin
g a new Gatekeeper; however, as a Kuli, I cannot join either. I can only help on occasion.”

J’Rontia understood what was being said and what was implied as she had figured out most of it when she read the real history of the Silver Realm using the patterns of the Tall Man. Still, she wished they could tell the young man right now. She asked, “Why can he not be told now who he might be?”

The old man smiled. She was always direct. He answered, “He has not had a chance to become what he wants to be. He doesn’t know what he will be giving up until he has experienced it. Everyone can do more than they think but not everyone figures that out by themselves. He did. He must be allowed the opportunity to find out who he is before he is asked to give it up, especially since there is no going back.”

The old man thought he knew what was next. J’Rontia had not been allowed to choose. Her life choices had been significantly narrowed by a society that did not accept those who were different in certain ways. Once again she surprised him.

J’Rontia said, “I think I understand why so many Kuli candidates drop out of the training now. The religion wars and the KRs have changed everyone’s perception of people with extraordinary powers and quitting training is the only way they have a choice. Of course, then they end up giving up the best parts of who they are for their own perception of choice. How sad!”

Inside he smiled a huge smile. She had accepted her role and her abilities in a way that made him so very proud. He turned back to their path and they walked on in silence. They were almost to her barracks when he stopped and gave her a hug.

J’Rontia hugged her grandfather back and said, “Please let mom and grandma know that I am doing the best I can to make them proud.”

The old man answered with no small measure of pride in his voice, “I will pass the message on but they already know.”

She smiled again, turned, and entered the barracks.

Later that night, the old man looked at his view screen as a response to his message came in, “Why do you believe that this descendent is the gatekeeper when the others were not?”

The old man answered, “Because he did not quit, even when it meant his life.”

An answer came back immediately, “If he didn’t die, how do you know?”

He sat there looking at the screen for a while before answering, “He did die. And yes, I removed the memory when I brought him back.”

The answer came back quickly, “You are authorized to put the Gatekeeper plan in motion.”

Resurt went to the window before bed that night and looked up at the stars. It took a long time but he finally found his home star. He knew that his uncle would not have work for him. The Linthian Intelligence Service would find a way to make sure that there was no work for him, he was sure of it.

He knew who the old man was and he did want to help. Still, the old man did make a mistake. Resurt had a very unusual memory. When he was very young, his grandfather had taught him how to use his brain to store important information in two separate locations. The second location was hidden, even from himself, unless he ran a special algorithm through his mind.

Before he went to bed he had decided to review the exercise that he was being praised for because he could not remember the end of it. With all the excitement and activities he had not been able to find the time to access the hidden memory to check the events of the water exercise. What a surprise to find out that he had actually died. It was an even bigger surprise to find out who entered his mind/body and “restarted” him.

Resurt made mental notes on the section of the brain and the locations on his body that the old man used. He did not know enough to use the information himself but he was sure that it would be valuable in the future. He prepared for bed but could not relax so he went to the window and looked to the stars.

He spent a long time looking at the stars. His grandfather had told him he was different and that his time would come so he needed to be ready. He was six at the time and had thought he was already ready. His grandfather went on and said that in time he would be as Trewst was, but until then, he needed to grow up and have patience.

Trewst was not a location in the beginning; it was a man – his ancestor. Trewst was asked by a Kuli to hold a space channel that protected that sector of the galaxy from invasion by a neighboring galaxy until he could return with help. Trewst had very few old ships and no experienced warriors.

Trewst moved quickly from planet to planet in the area and offered protection from the enemy if the locals supplied minimal assistance and gave him control of the passage rights through that space for the future. Everyone thought he had a great force and so they aligned themselves with him. In time, all the minimal assistances added up and he did have a great force. He held off the enemy in some ferocious battles until the Kuli returned with a Linthian Armada and destroyed the enemy.

During the engagements, there were many times when Trewst was outnumbered and the enemy asked for his surrender. Every time, he refused and then attacked with such ferocity that the enemy was forced to regroup. He was very good at timing his attacks so that his reinforcements would show up at critical moments, often surprising both the enemy and his reinforcements.

He hoped that someday he would be able to assist the Kuli as Trewst had. Resurt had never accomplished anything so impressive. Still, he never gave up during a fight in his life. There was one thing he already had in common with Trewst – he didn’t quit.

That night, J’Rontia dreamed that far away beyond the reaches of space, another man contemplated a message he just received. The man was a tall man. He looked old, but not real old; he had light brown eyes with a gold glint in them 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.

The message read, “We have found a Gatekeeper. We need you to hold.” The Defender of the Realm walked to the nearest window and looked into a dark and empty sky. They want him to hold? Hold what? There was nothing left here to hold. He struggled to fight back against the darkness that was pressing on his mind. Each year the fight became more difficult and his mind tired easier. The truth was that there was plenty to hold and knowing help was coming gave him the strength to go rally his troops once more.

They all came together in the main planet’s largest hall. There were representatives from all the original planets and from the new floating colonies. There was excitement in the air for the first called assembly in decades. When he took to the stage, the crowd came to their feet in anticipation of good news.

He raised his hands and the great hall fell silent. He said, “Yesterday, we received a message from the Order.” Cheers resonated throughout the hall and it was a long time before calm was restored.

Once it was quiet again, he read the message. The cheers rang out again and it took longer for the quiet to return. He raised his hands again and then went to his knees. The entire room followed. After a few long moments, he arose.

He moved back to the podium and said, “It will take a long time to prepare the Gatekeeper and for the Paladin to prepare his army. Can you hold?”

The crowd in the hall answered, “Yes!”

He said, “It may take more than one generation. Can you hold?”

The crowd answered even louder, “Yes!!”

Three days later, an evil, dark warrior stood on a hill on a distant planet confused. He had beaten them at every turn. He pounded their cities and destroyed their planets and still they would not surrender. Most of their original planets were destroyed or under his control. The people left were sharing planets or living on floating colonies. He thought he had them beat. He thought that their spirit was finally broken and then they held their meeting.

His spies told him about the Gatekeeper and the Paladin. He laughed that night. How could a promise so vague, about something so far in the future, affect the battles here?

The days since the meeting were a nightmare. All the years of steady progress were wiped out. He lost three planets in two days and was barely holding on to this one. Even if he stopped them here, which he now doubted, it would take many, many cycles to reclaim the lost ground. He just didn’t understand the man leading the fight against him. His situation was hopeless but he just didn’t quit.

J’Rontia awoke from a nasty dream about an evil, dark warrior and a dark realm. She got out of bed and went for a drink. The dream completed the story of the Silver Realm. Everything must balance. The Sovereign did not remove the Silver Realm from the rest of the galaxies to get away. He used the strange black hole near the Realm to send the Silver Realm in one direction and the Dark System the same distance in another direction.

The myths made it seem as if they left to avoid the wars and responsibilities. They didn’t. Instead they sacrificed their own system to protect the galaxies from a growing darkness. They also sent their best warriors to fight the evil and did it as far away from everyone else as they could. The universe thought he took the Silver Realm and fled when, in reality, he didn’t quit.

Soon, she would join the universal battle against evil. She hoped that she would be worthy of the honor given her. She learned a lot recently about why people were worth fighting for. As she looked at the ceiling from her bed, she considered the young man in the water. The young man was representing his people. His honor for them put him in a situation where, even when it meant his life, he didn’t quit. How much harder would he fight when more than just honor was on the line?

 

The Osgord: Battle Stations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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