Category Archives: Earth News

The EGC Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Birth of a Sheii’Cronell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dragon Has Been Fed

The Dragon Has Been Fed

Earth – During the occupation

The Kuli appeared instantly with a hype globe in his hands. He looked around at the room he was in. It was a dark and damp room with concrete walls on all sides and no items on any of the walls. There was an opening that led to another room and a star made out of gold on the floor of the room. The ceiling was concrete without any lights.

He considered what he had just seen. The Matriarch’s forces had finally met up with the Earthlings who had higher abilities. He hoped that the meeting would go well and he knew that the occupation had just entered a new stage. He was intrigued by the recent developments with the occupation’s leader and found the leader’s double life to be fascinating.

The Kuli stepped into the adjoining room and looked around. It was a small room with a bed on one side, a kitchen on another, a computer console on the third sitting next to the bathroom fixtures, and then the wall he just walked through. The ceiling had no light fixtures and the room only had three lamps. Everything was a dull gray color except the computer that was glowing light orange.

He sat down at the console and entered his security codes to unlock the system. The report took a short while to write and then he transmitted it. He used the refresher while he waited for an answer. The response came quickly.

The message read, “You have done well. Be careful of the time paradox and remember that you are due to wake up soon.”

Tomorrow he could finally go home. He was tired and realized that he had lived longer than he had ever thought possible. He was happy with his life and had few regrets. The Thorlinthians had much to do before the prophecy would be fulfilled but he had done his part.

The Kuli lay down to sleep and thought back over the years he had been monitoring activity on the planet the locals call Earth. There was so much they did not know about their own planet and their history. He shook his head, rolled on his side, and closed his eyes. Within moments, the Watcher fell asleep.

 

In a distant galaxy, an old man slid back from his computer console. Thousands of years of planning and preparing were finally complete. All of the lives lost and resources spent now required the brilliance of one young man. The threads were in place and the old man’s job was almost complete.

The old man remembered the prophecy well. After all, he was the one who created the Prophecy of the Dragon. His thoughts moved to the four sections most in flux now:

To Red Dragon King,
The righteous dictator,
Shall be born Gold Phoenix,
Her white light the greater

The Red Dragon’s bride
Shall find the great Eight,
And all the old worlds
Shall cast out their hate.

Gold Phoenix, she rises,
Sword of ages in hand.
The Light People follow,
Their worlds again grand.

Red Dragon, his bride,
And Gold Phoenix breathe,
Their breath light the stars
As worlds lost unsheathe.

If the young man chooses properly, the Prophecy’s fulfillment was soon. Of course, like almost everything he dealt with, the prophecy was only the tip of the iceberg and even it had a beginning. He sat back in his chair and thought back to when he turned ten standard years old and he received the first crystal.

His third class of the day had just started when Supreme Guardian Kuli G’Toruid walked in and asked to speak with him. G’Toruid was on the Kuli Council and the current chairman of the Linthian Council so there was never any doubt about the instructor’s response. The Supreme Kuli was very tall, muscular in a wiry way, and had deep green eyes that captivated you. It was easy to find yourself staring as they flashed and glittered in an almost hypnotic way. His hair was amber and short cropped on the top and two sides with the back grown long to his waist. All in all, he was a very impressive and serious Guardian. G’Toruid motioned for him to stay quiet and they walked down the hallway.

It was very intimidating for him to receive any attention from someone so important, let alone to receive a private visit. His mind roiled as it contemplated the possible reasons for the visit. In the time it took to walk to a private room, he was not able to find any possible reason for someone so important wishing to speak with him.

Once they were in the room, G’Toruid took a small device out of his cloak and placed it on the table. It was in the shape of a ball, so small that he could have hidden it in his hand. The ball started to spin and then lifted off the table hovering in the air. After a short time, it returned to the table top and three legs came out. The ball balanced itself on the legs and a green light leapt out of its top and flowed around the room as if it were a liquid. Once the entire room had been swept, the light returned to the ball and a steady orange glow emanated straight up.

G’Toruid said, “It is now safe to speak of the circumstances surrounding your discovery.” G’Toruid related the story of two young children who were found drifting in a damaged ship deep into the abyss of space. When the Kuli was done, the room was silent. He knew some of what the Kuli had said but most of it was new. He was stunned to find that no one knew where he came from.

“I do not wish for you to speak at this time,” G’Toruid said. “We will go over the story of your discovery in more detail when you turn 15. For now, I only tell you this so that you understand the situation that existed when we found you, your sister, the incredible ship, and this crystal.”

G’Toruid took a crystal out of another pocket in his cloak and set it on the top of the ball. The whole room brightened as blue light flowed through the crystal and into the room. He watched as a sphere of blue light formed above his head and slowly descended.

G’Toruid could see his fear building and said, “It is safe. I have used it myself but could not understand the message.”

He relaxed and the sphere settled in front of him. The bright light hurt his eyes but he could not close them. As he reached up with his hands to cover his eyes everything changed. The pain went away and all of the sudden the message was in front of him as clear as the selter board in his classroom. He did not recognize the individual symbols but he instantly understood the message. His brain worked backward and translated the symbols so that he could now “read” the symbols also.

The message was in three parts. One simply said, “Study and become a Kuli.” The second part of the message was a poem that made little sense at the time. It was titled The Children of the Ancients.

The Dragon would come at the end of time before the beginning was ready to happen.
The Dragon would breathe life into the engine of the stars.
The heroes of old would glow blue once again.
The children of the Ancients would be found without ever being lost.

Salvation would rise from the ashes of the Dragon’s fires.
The children of the Dragon and the heroes of old would make the sacrifice.
The Dragon would lead his people back home.

The Ancient ones would cry and finally rest.

Of course, it made no sense to him at the time and was immediately followed by the third part of the message that read, “Tell no one the poem. Select the Archive training on the Ancients as your secondary and the Guardian training as your primary Kuli fields of instruction.”

G’Toruid told him, “You are not to tell anyone about what you have seen, except myself and then only if you wish. I received instructions on a similar crystal when I rescued you and I will return when you are 15 to bring you a second crystal. My instructions do not allow me to answer any of your questions until I return and you have viewed the second crystal.”

G’Toruid could see how disturbed he was and patted him on the shoulder and said, “I have watched your progress for years and you are the best Kuli apprentice ever recorded in the archives. Trust yourself and I am sure the answers will come.” G’Toruid got up, smiled at him once more, and left the room.

He sat there for a while before he returned to class. That afternoon he changed his selections on his fields of instruction as asked. Within weeks, his search of the Ancients’ history led him to the first discovery related to the poem and the start of his creation of the Prophecy of the Dragon. Before he turned fifteen years old, he had read almost everything that was archived on the Ancients and found it interesting that even with all the relics found there was no proof that the Ancients even existed as a race of people. The relics could fit many of the myths and religions as well as they could fit with the definition of a superior civilization.

 

The old man smiled as the memory faded and he turned off the console. Thousands of years later, he now knew more than anyone about the relics and the Ancients and his conclusion was the same.  Not that it mattered now; he had made his decisions years ago and dedicated his life to what he believed.

He sighed and went back to work. The days to come would be difficult and many things could go wrong. Still, the players were in place, the game was ongoing, and the circle was almost complete. He walked over to another console and sent a new message into the Abyss. It was a simple message and it read, “The Dragon has been fed and the end of our time draws near.”

 

In a place beyond space and time, a being of incredible power received the message. The being stretched its mind and connected with the others. The end of time was almost here and their trust had been well placed. They waited for everything to balance once more so that they might be free again.

 

Dirk D Dykstra

 

The Frost was Visible on the Grass

The Frost Was Visible On The Grass

The frost was visible on the grass as she looked out on the plain from her hiding spot in the woods. She had to be careful so that her breath did not give her away and to avoid any sudden movements. The snow around her actually insulated her a little from the harshness of the cold but was starting to soak through her uniform around the joints. She wanted to stand up and shout after three days of laying in the snow and thoughts of better days drifted through her mind. The desire for sleep attacked with a vengeance as she opened her pitiful rations for the morning and saw that this package did not have the stimulators in it. It would be a long day and possibly a longer night.

The morning noises began just before sunrise with the local farm animals awakening with bluster. The birds were relatively quiet as they chirped and warbled out of synch with each other while broadcasting their morning songs into the light wind. At least the wind had died down since last night’s blizzard. Surely no one would expect her to be here after that. Perhaps they would finally let down their guard and she could finish her mission and go home.

Her directions were complex and made little sense. It was only her total respect for her superior’s abilities, knowledge, and experience that kept her on track with the mission. She was a long way from home and had not slept for ten cycles of the local planet. The operation required absolute stealth and the time needed to get in place with that level of secrecy was long. Still, she loved her job and gained great satisfaction from a mission well done. She was due for a promotion and was sure that it would be coming if she completed this assignment in a satisfactory manner. She continued her concentration on the cabin and the surrounding area.

The cabin smelled like an old shoe after it got wet and then you walked in it for hours. The smell permeated every object in the cabin including their clothes, blankets, and even the food. The six of them had been in the cabin for seventy-five days without even a wash and the strain was clearly showing. No one had stepped outside since the proximity alarm had gone off thirty days ago. They knew someone was out there but did not know who or where and the man they protected could not be risked.

They could not stay in the cabin for much longer as they were running out of everything. Seven days ago they ran out of food. As for today, the water was so low that they would have to risk at least going out to collect some snow to melt. This meant that one of them would most likely die trying to collect the snow unless help came soon.

The old man they were guarding smiled when he awoke and sat up straighter in his chair. “Have you finally decided to go for snow?” he asked. One of the soldiers, a short, stocky young man they called Private Johnson, replied, “We’re not sure yet. There may be someone out there and perhaps help will be here today.” The old man asked, “Don’t you think if help was coming they would have found us by now?”  Private Johnson responded, “I don’t think that going a little longer without water is such a big deal and I don’t want to die.” The old man shook his head disgustedly and answered, “We all die. Being afraid of it does not stop it from coming; it only makes for poor decisions and usually allows it to happen faster.”

The tall man with command stripes on, Lieutenant Trapper, laughed and said, “Did you want to try it old man?” The old man said, “Yes. I would be glad to go get the snow.” The lieutenant’s face turned into a sneer as he said, “You old worthless bag of shit. You would die before you got out of the door. Now sit down and shut up before I have to teach you a lesson.” The old man’s smile vanished and a cold, dangerous look came across his face as his eyes seemed to brighten and almost glow a light blue. The old man said in a soft, deep, and deadly voice, “If I go for snow, I will get snow; and I will kill the sniper. If you go, you will die.” He stood up and moved in front of the lieutenant with his face hardening into steel. “I told you that I did not need your protection. Your help is not coming, death waits for you outside the door, and if you stay in here you will starve.  You need my help.”

The lieutenant stared back at the old man and reached out to push him back into his chair. “Sit down old man before you hurt yourself,” he said. As his hand touched the old man the scene turned into a blur. The old man moved like lightening and grabbed the lieutenant’s hand. In a fraction of a second he changed their little world. He stepped back while pulling the arm and twisting the hand. Then in a loop motion he swung his arm and spun his body. He lifted one leg in the process and stepped on the thigh of the lieutenant as the lieutenant fell toward the chair. As he pushed down the leg snapped and the lieutenant landed in the chair just in time for the old man’s other foot to swing around and catch him in the face. The old man continued to spin and ended up behind one of the other men with the lieutenant’s knife across the man’s throat and the lieutenant’s gun pointing at the rest of the group.

The old man spoke – and they listened. “You have a choice. For seventy-five days we have followed your plans and we accomplished nothing. You can continue to follow that path to its conclusion – where you die. Or you can do as I ask and maybe you will survive. In either case, I am no longer doing as you ask.” The group looked at their lieutenant, who was unconscious and seriously injured, and one by one they stood at attention and saluted the old man.

One of the soldiers, a Sergeant named Bull, raised his hand and the old man nodded. The soldier asked, “We were told you were an ambassador of some fame and we needed to protect you until help arrived and now you turn out to be something else. Why have you waited so long to reveal yourself and why were we sent here?” The smile came back to the old man’s face as he spoke, “You were not sent to protect me, you were sent to keep me from leaving until the snipers were in place to kill me.”

The soldiers looked astonished and confused. The old man went on, “I waited because I needed to know what kind of sniper would be sent as that will tell me who my enemies are.” Bull asked, “You decided to be bait? How many snipers do you believe are out there and what can we do to help?” The old man gave a huge smile and his face lit up as he said, “Welcome to the war boys!”

After they received their instructions, Bull asked, “Before we start, I need to know who you really are?” The old man smiled softly with a twinkle in his eyes and said, “I am “officially” an ambassador from Monte Carlo. In reality, I lead a group that has protected Earth from itself for a long time.” The soldiers looked at each other and Bull asked, “What about the Thorlinthians? Can you defeat them?”

The old man grew serious and a dark shadow crossed his face as he said, “No. They are way too powerful; however, it is possible that they may defeat themselves.” The soldiers were confused at this remark and the old man held up his hand for them not to ask what they were thinking and went on, “Our information shows that some of the Thorlinthians are helping the resistance.” He saw their looks, shook his head, and said, “No. We are not the resistance and we do not work with them. However, my attempts to contact this group have resulted in this death trap which I will now use to see who is against us and who is for us. Are you ready?” They all nodded their heads yes.

The old man turned away and a shine came from moisture in his one eye as he realized that most, if not all, of these soldiers would die in a few minutes. He moved the couch over and lifted the carpet off of the floor. The old man tapped the floor seven times and sang three notes followed by two more taps. A trap door appeared on the floor and the locks on it released as they reached down. They lifted the trap door and climbed down into the cellar.

The soldiers clambered down the stair and looked around the cellar at all the food and supplies in awe. The old man handed each of them a bag full of fruit from the shelves and water bottles from a box on the floor. “Eat and drink rapidly as we are running out of time,” he said. He gave them a couple of minutes and then directed them into a tunnel at the end of the basement. “Let’s go.”

They exited on the edge of the plain near the forest. The five of them climbed out of tunnel and sprinted toward the trees. The last soldier collapsed as he reached the trees with a blossoming red section on his chest. When he fell on the snow his blood stained the snow bright red as his life disappeared into the cold. The old man turned back and fired a hyrent arrow toward the sniper who fired. Through his optical viewer he directed the arrow back along the warmed air the bullet came through to its source. He watched, without satisfaction, as the arrow detonated in front of the sniper. The sniper was human.

They were now down to four as they moved through the woods in a circle around the plains. Twice more they were attacked and both times they lost another man and another sniper died. Every time they responded and the sniper died and every time the snipers were human. Bull asked, “I thought these would be Thorlinthians. Why are we only finding humans and who are they working for?” The old man nodded and said, “The resistance would not want me dead but the humans working with the Thorlinthians would.”

They had made almost a complete circle of the cabin and he still felt something was wrong. The sensation came to a head when he detected a slight change in the surrounding magnetic fields. He instantly jumped backwards over fifty feet in one leap as he watched Bull be shredded into bits by a hypersonic disrupter burst. Three armored Thorlinthians appeared out of the snow and a fourth walked slowly from the woods smiling as he said, “So, we have finally uncovered the Kuli presence on Earth. Did you think you could hide from us forever?” He strode confidently toward the old man.

The old man said, “Kuli? I do not understand. What are Kuli?” The Thorlinthian commented, “I am Shan’Delo of the 12th Regiment. Do you take me for a fool? No human can leap fifty feet or has access to hyrent arrows. You followed our bait right into a trap. I always heard how brilliant the Kuli were but you are a fool.” The old man smiled in a very mischievous way as he said, “I said that I am not a Kuli and that is accurate. However, what makes you think you led me into a trap?” The old man laughed and then he disappeared. From behind Shan’Delo the old man pointed his arrow launcher at back of his head and asked, “Could you have your men drop their weapons?”

All three of the Thorlinthians fired at the old man and in the process disintegrated their leader. Yet the old man was no longer there and in a split second he reappeared at his original location where he fired a pulse gun at the rest of the Thorlinthians. When the last Thorlinthian hit the ground he looked to the woods. A line of fifteen Thorlinthians in full armor appeared and one raised his hand for the old man to stop.

The Thorlinthians moved forward out of the woods about twenty feet and stopped. The commander stepped forward and said, “Nicely done! I applaud you. Still, the fifteen of us could slow you down. What do you think? Shall we continue this little war or are you ready to talk?” The old man smiled again, “What is it you wish to talk about? Surrender?”

The Thorlinthian laughed and moved forward. He said, “I will give you the option of surrendering now and we will promise you no torture. Or, we will capture you after a bit of a struggle and then I will guarantee torture. What is your choice?” The old man shook his head and said, “The bullies always are confident when they outnumber their enemies. What would you do if the numbers were different?” The commander smiled, “But this is the situation we have. What is your choice?”

The fourteen Thorlinthians behind the commander started to drop one at a time in rapid succession. The commander turned and the old man leapt across gap between them and struck him below the skull and snapped his neck as the last Thorlinthian hit the ground. He stopped and waited.

The frost was visible on the grass as she looked out on the plain from her hiding spot in the woods. She stood and walked toward the old man. She was glad that this mission was almost over. As she approached she could see he was smiling in a very mischievous way.

The old man spoke first and said, “I am not a Kuli but some of us humans carry on in their place. They monitored the population of Earth for thousands of years for those of us with “special skills” and brought us to their training facilities. A very long time ago, they went to Mars and never returned. Those of us in charge are doing the best we can to carry on the traditions they established.” She walked up and shook his hand with a firm grip and a smile on her face. She asked, “Do you know who I am and who I work for?”

The old man nodded and commented, “Yes. You appear to be a KR2 and probably are working for the Thorlinthians who are helping the resistance.” She answered, “No to both. I am a Valkyrie and I work for someone who is a third party in this conflict with ties back to Linthia. Do you have the authority to speak for your group?” The old man said, “Yes. That is why I am here. We are ready to work with you if you have a plan that will help the humans of Earth.” The two of them walked through the woods to a clearing. She pulled a control out of her uniform and tapped the screen. Her ship materialized in front of them and they climbed aboard. In moments, the ship lifted to the tops of the trees and vanished.

The area next to the nearest tree shimmered and a man appeared wearing light brown robe with silver lining and sandals with no socks. He stepped out of the woods and spoke into his comlink, “They have taken him and all has gone as you predicted.” The voice on the comlink said, “Return to the base after you trace the ship’s path with the Tresonic Beacon you placed.”

He watched his pad for the rest of the morning and half the afternoon. The ship finally stopped at a very interesting location. He noted where the ship stopped and transmitted the coordinates back to the base. Things were going to get lively after all these years of monitoring. The Kuli took out his hype globe, smiled for a brief moment, and vanished.

The frost was visible on the grass the next morning when Lieutenant Trapper dragged himself out of the cabin. A man walked up to him and said, “We do not tolerate failure.” A foot came down on his throat and a loud snap was heard. The man turned and walked across the grass, through a couple of snow drifts and climbed into his helicopter. As he entered, he told the man inside, “All the loose ends are eliminated sir.” The man inside answered, “No they’re not. I’m afraid that the loose ends are just starting to multiply. Let’s go.”

 

Leaps of Faith and Disappearing Acts

“Larry, you’re going to break something if you try this,” Nora Ayling said as her fiance stood atop a three story building, ready to jump. “Or even worse, you could get yourself killed. You know, for most people, this would be a sign of suicidal tendencies, sweetie.” She made a scowling face at him, trying to mask her worry with anger, an effort that wasn’t panning out as well as she’d hoped since her voice betrayed her concern.

“I’ll be fine, Nora. Don’t worry,” Larry said, rechecking his visualization of the fall in his head one more time. Before Nora could argue again, he was in the air. His jump was almost completely vertical, pushing out just enough that when his backflip was finished, he didn’t land directly on the edge of the roof again. Instead, his heels gently scraped against the edge of the building, his knees bent and gently extending through the fall to decrease the acceleration of his descent ever so slightly. About midway down, he pulled himself into a roll against the wall, kicking out and up with barely ten feet to go, slowing his descent to the equivalent of a two-story fall, which was just enough as he hit the ground, tucking into another roll and standing up several yards from the side of the building, a bit disheveled but otherwise unscathed.

Breathing deeply and closing his eyes, Larry looked up to the sky, wondering how Terira would scold his form if she were here. Unfortunately for him (or, perhaps, fortunately), Terira was with Drake on their honeymoon. He wondered if they had gone to the actual moon at any point just to play off of the word itself. He chuckled at the thought. That couple could never stay out of mischief for long, even when they tried, which was rare.

Finally, Nora came stomping over and slapped Larry. “I told you not to DO that,” she shouted at him, pounding her hand against his chest in frustration. After a while, though, she stopped, and Larry pulled her into a hug. “I worry about you so much sometimes, Lar.” She pressed her cheek into his chest as he gently stroked her soft hair.

“I know you do, Nora,” he said, “but I have to master Thorla’din before Drake and Sara head to Thorlinthia. I’ve only got a couple more years before that if Mister Kendrick’s right. I still have to have time to teach Angus and Summer before the Phoenix rises.” Nora’s face contorted to express a sense of disconcerted understanding, and she stepped out of the hug, holding Larry’s hand and starting to head back to the apartments.

“I know, but it’s still going to drive me crazy every time you do something like that. You didn’t exactly have to do it five times, either.” She pressed her elbow into Larry’s ribs. He winced jokingly, and she laughed.

“Yes, I did,” he said, pulling out the last syllable to accent what he was saying. “If I only did it once, it wouldn’t exactly be practice, Nora. I have to know I can do it more than once. Otherwise, it might just have been a fluke.” He pulled her in more closely.

“Well, I don’t see what jumping off of buildings has to do with martial arts, anyway.” Nora looked down the road, her face beginning to soften again. “Couldn’t you just do your rolls on the ground?” This time, it was Larry’s turn to chuckle.

“Well, I could, but it wouldn’t be as effective, dear. The jump is more about directional control in free-fall, and the roll is different, reflecting that fact. There’s also the factor of controlling a slide without applying so much pressure that my foot would snag on the wall. Not only that, but the final jump at the end just can’t be practiced properly any other way.Thorla’din requires a total investment of mind and body, and faith leaps like that one are a way of extending that investment and energy.” His explanation had hit on most of Nora’s objections rather pointedly, but Nora still had one question.

“Well, why does it have to be Thorla’din?” she asked. “Why can’t you use some other art instead to fight these guys? I get that this is just the way training is for Thorla’din, but most martial arts on Earth don’t make you jump off of three-story buildings, you know.”

“I have to use Thorla’din,” Larry said, “because the elites use Thorla’O, which can only be beaten with Thorla’din. I have to be stronger, faster, and more fluid than a group of people who have a massive advantage over me, and if I’m not, I’ll probably die when the time comes to fight them.



Larry remembered those words now, as a Dragon Rider barely missed his head with an assault knife. He twisted smoothly, stepping calmly into the twist to retake control of his own balance even as the Dragon Rider’s second attack came down. Larry parried with a knife of his own.

“You know,” he said to the AI in his suit, “not many people can fight like this, even among the Dragon Riders.” His feet blurred into the steps he had been so careful to memorize, coming dangerously close to the edge of the building, which was significantly higher than three stories.

After winning his second Kohstr championship, the Lieutenant had left the tournament even more of a celebrity than he had gone in. Grie had taken it rather well, too. This Dragon Rider had merely caught a non-Dragon Rider in the armor of a fellow he knew to be dead, so he had responded in anger. Larry was now very glad he had worn his normal armor to the tournament.

“Yes, sir,” the AI replied as Larry moved out of the way of five more consecutive attacks. “We should be grateful, then, that the opponent is emotional, sir. Readings taken from his armor indicate he is much stronger than you, but he’s wasting much of his energy with poor form weakened by his anger.”

Larry grunted as he pushed upward finally, pressing his knife into the Dragon Rider’s chest, being careful not to hit any major organs and using the AI, Sjau, to call in emergency services. As soon as he verified their status to be en route, he double-checked to make sure his opponent wasn’t dead and started to head away.

“Wait, please, sir,” Sjau said as Larry moved toward the entrance back into the building.

“What is it, Sjau?” Larry still wasn’t sure how much he liked Sjau’s personality, but he trusted him/it.

“Perhaps I should purge his memories of this occasion before we leave. Would this be acceptable to you, sir?” Larry gave an appreciable look to the inside of his helmet.

“I didn’t even know you could do that, Sjau.” He was a bit concerned for a moment that Sjau could do it to him.

“Yes, sir, but it will take some time. It’s a highly encoded function.”

“Could that work on everyday people, too, Sjau?” Larry asked, suddenly having an idea.

“Of course, sir. I just need to activate the function first.” Sjau’s usual stoic speech was a bit disturbing to Larry at times like these.

“Excellent. And do you think you could transfer these functions over to my Peacekeeper armor, too?”

“No, sir,” Sjau said, dissapointing Larry for a moment, “But this suit can take on the appearance of your old armor.” Larry smiled again.

“Good,” he said. “I don’t think I want anyone to know they’ve seen me for a while. The Lieutenant needs to disappear for a while, I think.”

“Yes, sir,” Sjau responded. “Function activated. Memory purged. Your opponent will not be able to remember the attack now.”

“Good,” Larry said again, moving through the door now, back into the building. “It’s time to disappear.”

The EGC

“Welcome, everyone, to the twelfth cyclical Earth Games Competition!” The announcer started off with a brief history of the games, as always. “As we all remember, I’m sure, the EGC started out as a simple Kohstr tournament between Armadians of each ship and Earthers of each continent. Now, eleven cycles later, the games have expanded to include many native Earther sports and some traditional Thorlinthian sports, including Zero G Ball, the most popular sport ever played. Of course, the most intrigue still goes to the Kohstr tournament for many, most of whom are still hoping for the return of the legendary Lieutenant.

“Now, as we all know, the Lieutenant was an Earther who managed to claim the Kohstr championship two years in a row at the very start of the games. Since then, he has neither been seen nor heard from by the public, and he certainly hasn’t returned here to New Qzcivden for the games. Nonetheless, anyone who can remember the games, which were even hypecast to the civilian fleet that had still been on its way at the time, can remember the Lieutenant, a man who somehow mastered the game with skills great enough to beat the Armada’s greatest players, many of whom had played since infancy, despite the game having been introduced to Earth a little over two cycles prior to the first games.

“And, of course, many of us remember what has since been called by many ‘the greatest game of Kohstr ever played’ between the Lieutenant and Dragon Rider, Grie Khuda’Mundi, who has championed the game every cycle since the Lieutenant disappeared. The game holds the record for longest Kohstr game ever played at over two whole days, and not a moment of it was still with cards being drawn and set constantly. Legend holds that after the game, the competitors’ hands kept moving to draw and set cards even as they slept for a week. Talk about reflex!

“This year, the games will be starting off with a game of Zero G Ball up on the TAS Dragon King itself, and Drigondii Sheii’Cronell is going to give a short address before the game. I will be your announcer, Frihd Khuda’Rahut.” The announcer stopped speaking as the slides of the Lieutenant and Grie Khuda’Mundi faded away and views of the Zero G Ball court on the Dragon King came into view.

The court was roughly the size of a football field that had been spun lengthwise around its center to form a cylinder. It was close to fifty yards in diameter, and the hemispheres at either end rounded off the court to remove any sense of up and down. The court was located in the upper levels of the bulbous aft end of the ship, and it had no gravitational modifications, giving it a good sense of “Zero Gs”, indeed, while the ship orbited the blue planet.

The players were positioned inside small spheres floating at either end of the court. When it came time for the game to begin, the spheres would open and retract into the edge of the court, which would then seal off, leaving the players to the game. Each player had medium-strength body armor on with small propulsion packs attached. The time limit of the game was enforced by disabling the propulsion packs, allowing split-second maneuvering at the end of the game to continue in the event of a final score.

The objective of the game was to retrieve the spiked ball at the center of the court and pass it through the opponent’s goal. This was made more difficult by the fact that both teams were also armed to the teeth with various near-lethal weapons. Severely injuring a player would result in the injured player being removed from the game, but killing a player would disqualify the killer or killers and result in a penalty shot to goal, discouraging players from simply killing each other.

Despite the extreme danger of the sport, it was an extremely popular game, and it even had a type of laser tag variation with a smooth ball for children and amateur players. The professionals, however, were trained well enough to take more than a few hits and not get too hurt, and they were skilled enough with their weapons not to kill their opponents, many of whom returned to the game after recovery. The cyclical mortality rate of the game was actually lower than Earther boxing, which was not one of the games at the EGC.

The first game was between the North American team and the New Valhal team. Due to the danger of the game, Armadians actually weren’t allowed to play, but Dragon Riders and civilians were, so the game had been introduced to Earth in its full form the same cycle that the first of the Thorlinthian civilian ships arrived. At the first games, it had almost seemed racial in separation between Thorlinthian natives and Earther natives, but now, many Earthers lived in New Valhal, and many Thorlinthians had moved out to more densely Earther areas, increasing the diversity of players on any team.

Now, as the players on each side stretched, that diversity was plainly apparent. In the red, blue, and green uniform of the North American team, there was a young man in his twenties with bright violet hair, distinctive of a Khuda’Vellihad, and a young woman roughly ten years his junior with the blue hair typically found among Valkyries. Lihandii Khuda’Cronell the Second was the youngest person on her team, but she was one of the crowd’s favorites to last the whole game despite this being her first year eligible to participate in the games. She was, after all, the only known child of a Sheii’Cronell in all of history, and she was a Valkyrie at that.

The first buzzer calling everyone to the attention of the anthem sounded, and each of the players found a grip against the edge of the sphere from which they could salute and sing. After the anthem, a very well-known voice was heard over
speakers across the world as Drigondii Sheii’Cronell spoke.


“I’d like to personally welcome everyone to the games this cycle, in addition to introducing the players of the first game. On the New Valhallan side, we have Krehn Khuda’Velast of Osgord,” a green-haired man in the blue and silver uniform of New Valhal waved his free hand from inside his team’s sphere, “Lehadi Crisad of Lok,” a dark-brown-haired woman raised her hand to wave, “Seliad Teros’Cronell of Thor,” a blonde man raised his hand, “Kayleb Forest of Earth,” a young man with black hair raised his hand, decorated plainly with Valhallan marital tattoos, “and the ever-popular Reginald Green of Earth.” At the final name for the New Valhallan team, the tallest of the players raised his muscled arm, and a large part of the crowd in New Qzcivden went wild, cheering on their feet for the last year’s MVP.

After the cheering subsided slightly, Drigondii continued. “On the North American side, we have Trey Weathers of Earth,” a dark-skinned man in his late thirties raised his hand from the North American sphere, “Christina Khuda’Cronell of Earth,” a young woman with dark red hair raised her hand, and a cheer was sounded again before Drigondii could continue, “Krigu’Andi Khuda’Vellihad of Tyrr,” the violet-haired man raised the remarkably darker of his two hands, a characteristic shared by many on his planet, “Gril’Die Kehstr of Valhal,” a man in his late twenties with fiery golden hair and very pale skin raised his hand, “and finally, Lihandii Khuda’Cronell of Earth.” The whole of the stadium roared with cheers and applause as the young Valkyrie raised her hand.

“With that,” Drigondii said, “I wish the players all a fair match and look forward to the results. Let the games begin!” As the spheres retreated from the players, and the countdown to the start of the game began, few were paying enough attention to notice a man placing a late entry to the Kohstr tournament, even if he was wearing a worn-out set of Peacekeeper armor. Those that did certainly didn’t notice the worn-down rank on the uniform as they looked back to the screens to watch the game. Not even the registrar was paying enough attention to see that the Lieutenant had just signed in for the first time in ten years.

Secrets

“There’s something really weird going on here,” Lihandii said, trying to determine the necessary vocabulary needed to comprehend all the information coming at her while taking the occasional sip of water.

“Yeah, tell me about it,” Feri’Andi replied. Valkyr 52 had been parked on top of a large concrete building in the city where they had landed for two days already, and the Valkyries had yet to deactivate Plug Nine or even go outside.

This entire time, Feri’Andi and Lihandii had been analyzing the electromagnetic broadcasts throughout the city. Most of these broadcasts were raw audio, but some were also video. It didn’t seem the locals were actually using the hypenet signals being projected across the planet. In fact, it seemed like the advanced computers that had concerned Lihandii so much two days earlier were barely advanced at all, though still too much so for a non-spacefaring populace.

What struck the Valkyries as particularly disturbing was that, as far as they could tell from the images and sounds on the broadcasts, the natives were closely related, genetically, to Thorlinthians. Their average intelligence was clearly lacking, but there were distinct physical similarities, and even some parts of the local language seemed vaguely familiar. Yet they were also clearly not Thorlinthians. Not only that, but Thorlinthia wasn’t known to have any colonized worlds on this side of the Bifrost, and yet the beacon outside the system was clearly of the same advanced technological origins as Thorlinthia, though further analysis of that showed that its design was considerably older than the TMDS, which had been the first drive system that allowed safe travel through the Bifrost.

“You know those stories your grandmother used to tell us on Linthi’daag?” Feri’Andi looked over to Lihandii as she asked. “They always had to do with the time before the Bifrost, when Linthia shone as the beacon of civilization for an entire galaxy of stars. Didn’t she say something was supposed to happen if the Old War was lost?”

Lihandii’s eyes widened as the suggestion sunk in fully. “You think these people were planted here?” Her eyebrows lifted as she lowered her chin. “Those were just children’s stories, Feri. If this planet had been planted, shouldn’t there be all sorts of advanced technology here?” Then she looked back at one of her screens, where she had taken a picture of one of the hypenet signal sources as the ship had passed overhead, and her jaw slackened somewhat, her face turning a bit more curious.

“There was, though, wasn’t there?” Feri’Andi smiled nervously as Lihandii began to reach the same conclusion. “At some point, this planet had all sorts of advanced technology, even hypenet, though the protocols here are far different from our own.” It was true. The hypenet protocols on this planet were obviously designed for a different hyping system, but the basic location parameters Thorlinthia used were as old as flight. They had been in place in the Age of Darkness, before the Monarch had come.

“So you’re thinking all those stories were true?” The implications were ridiculously vast. All those children’s tales of Kuh’Lii and Sahlter’ra were so fantastical that even a superpowered Valkyrie would discount them as only stories. Seed Ships and the Old War were stories she had known since infancy. If they were all true, then the very identity of Thorlinthia could be nothing but a lie.

“Think about it, Lihandii,” Feri’Andi said, seriously. “Only the first Valkyries of each family ever get told those stories. Remember how much trouble you made for yourself when you told Pri about the story of the Traitor? Your mother was furious. Maybe that’s why she didn’t get picked for this so-called training exercise. Only people who already know the stories get sent here. Maybe it’s so that they’ll only report it to the right people. This whole system is a secret!”

Lihandii scoffed. “If that’s true, from whom are we even keeping this supposed secret, Feri?” She knew that the argument wasn’t exactly sturdy, but she didn’t want to be the first one to say it if this was all leading where she knew it was.

As the question hit Feri’Andi, her face made it clear she didn’t want to say it, either. If what they were thinking right now was wrong, or if there was some major piece of information they were missing, and that made their conclusion incorrect somehow, they would be traitors to Thorlinthia for even uttering the phrase. By law, they would be, anyway. “Well, obviously, if the stories were true,” Feri’Andi faltered as she spoke. Then, after a few moments, she stood taller in her seat and continued. “If the stories are true, then this system would have to be kept a complete secret from the Monarch.”

And there it was: the reason only two Valkyries, always the firstborn in their generation, were ever sent on this exercise. Since they were the only ones who were told those stories as children, they would be the only ones capable of reaching such a conclusion that would keep them from making a complete report to the Monarch as soon as they returned. Instead, the Valkyries sent on this mission, as a mere training exercise, would only report to the High Valkyrie, and there would be nothing suspicious about it.

“I guess we had better start collecting more data, then, shouldn’t we? This is a reconnaissance mission if ever I’ve seen one. I can only imagine how long we’ve been monitoring this place. You know how weird time can act on this side of the Bifrost. There’s no telling.” Agreeing, the two began to rebuff their attempts to make sense of the transmissions coming through the air.

“Hang on,” Lihandii said after several centidays. The ship was listing. She looked out the main viewport and saw smoke, suddenly regretting locking the flight controls. “I think this building is on fire.”

Flying

Fiery wind roared past Valkyr 52’s blast shields as it descended through the atmosphere, a result of the plasma entry shield being superheated as it passed through the atmosphere at many times the speed of sound. As the ship slowed, however, the flames died down, and Lihandii was able to open the blast shields. She and Feri’Andi smiled as they looked upon blue skies and clouds for the first time since leaving Thor.

“I’ve missed this feeling,” Lihandii said in an almost nostalgic manner. “There’s nothing quite like flying a giant rock through the air, is there, Feri?” She gripped the flight controls more tightly as she adjusted the angle of descent, reducing the ship’s speed in the process. As she did so, however, she noticed the navigational screens begin to diverge with multiple paths. “Feri, which of these courses am I supposed to be following here?”

Feri’Andi looked over from her screens, her brow furrowed in sweat from making all the rapid power adjustments to the Timids systems, her hands still maintaining a blur over the controls, unceasing in their attempt to maintain total control over power usage during the ship’s path through the atmosphere. “Follow the one plotted out in green for now. In five millidays, switch to the one plotted out in blue, and another five after that, switch to red for landing. We’re going to map out the hypenet on this planet during the descent, if that’s alright with you.” Her words were strained, and her now fully-lit eyes continued to dart between Lihandii and her screens, the various systems in constant need of adjustment, one of the primary reasons it was typically left to the computer.

“Understood,” Lihandii said, her gaze hardening as she began to plot hype parameters mid-flight. In order to hype to the second course within five millidays, she would have to plot the parameters manually, making calculations more than five times faster than the computer. As she began to undergo the task, her eyes shone even more brightly, the green light beginning to spread even into her hair. Her left hand continued to navigate the ship through the sky as her right blurred to the point of transparency as she entered the necessary parameters for the hype. Unfortunately, the preprogrammed vector hypes were designed for shorter distances than what were necessary for these course changes, so she couldn’t use those like she would if she were just dodging attacks.

As Valkyr 52 screamed through the air at speeds still several times greater than the sound it produced, Lihandii toiled away inside, entering various parameters and moving through the controls as if they were an extension, not only of her own body, but of her very mind. Her fingers became as the air itself as she moved through all the necessary calculations for a custom hype inside the atmosphere of a habitable planet. If it were uninhabited, she wouldn’t have to make so many adjustments for passing through living beings, but as it was, the chance of a hype interfering with the quantum consciousness of another person was too great to just pass through the surface of the planet. The hype she was plotting was actually a composite of multiple hypes performed without exiting hypenet, something that most ships wouldn’t even consider attempting because computers couldn’t handle the vast degrees of parameters involved, with the Timids barely able to handle changing course mid-hype once, let alone six or seven times, which was exactly what Lihandii was currently planning to do.

Feri’Andi smiled, providing the necessary power adjustments as the moment came for the first hype. Only Lihandii, the prodigy pilot who was said to be the most powerful and intelligent Valkyrie who ever lived, could have plotted this hype in any given timespan, let alone only five millidays. Lihandii’s hand moved to the hype activator and quickly glanced over to Feri’Andi, who nodded to indicate the necessary power adjustments had been made. Then, Valkyr 52 imploded, the air around it collapsing in a roaring bang.

A third of the way around the planet, Valkyr 52 exploded into existence once more, pushing the air out of its way as it continued to scream through the sky. Lihandii returned her hand to the control array as she began plotting the next hype. This time, some of the parameters were able to remain the same, though the planet’s rotation, revolution around the sun, movement about the galaxy, and expanse from the rest of the universe had to be taken into account in the altered parameters, as the absolute position of the planet would change considerably in the five millidays before the next hype. However, in only three millidays this time, Lihandii’s fingers ceased their blur, the controls slightly worn by the friction of it all, and her hand red and steaming. The light in her hair ceased as well, her powers calming as she slowed her rapid healing factor that had kept her hand from being torn apart by the rapid movement. Her head gave off steam, as well, her brain well heated from the high density of thought processes it had just undergone.

Lihandii returned her hand to the flight control, now flying with both hands once more, and tried to relax somewhat, her task now all but complete. Feri’Andi continued to work her way through the power adjustments as the moment approached for the second hype. Lihandii quickly moved her hand to the hype activator and looked only for a moment at Feri’Andi, whose nod would have been indiscernible to most. Valkyr 52 imploded away once more, exploding over the planet’s third largest continent.

Feri’Andi’s hands slowed too, now, passing control of power adjustments back to the TMDS computers. The Valkyries smiled at each other with smali-esque grins, sweat pouring down both their faces, which had turned red from all the extra blood flow to their heads. “Well,” Feri’Andi panted, “that was fun, wasn’t it?”

Lihandii chuckled slightly. “Yeah, it
really was. I’m going to pull us down to a subsonic speed now. We’re getting a bit close to the ground.” She pulled the throttle back, checking that the speed was, in fact, reducing to the desired point. “Why didn’t you tell me I was going to have to plot those hypes, Feri?” She gave her copilot an exasperated look, which seemed strange when combined with the utter exhaustion her body did not fail to express, her chest still heaving from the effort. “I could have plotted them out ahead of time, and it would have been much easier.”


“True,” Feri’Andi admitted, a mischievous smirk appearing on her face, “but this was more fun, and we were both able to go all-out. You were amazing, Liha!” Her eyes and smiled widened as she said this. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Valkyrie’s hair light up the way yours did.”

Lihandii grabbed at her hair in response. “Did it?” She sounded a bit self-conscious. Valkyries could all be very touchy about their hair. “I hadn’t even noticed, but it does feel a bit warm.” She passed her fingers through her straight locks a few times before letting go. “In any case, it’s almost time to land. Why here?” She asked as she inspected the area in which she was supposed to be landing.

“This is the best spot,” Feri’Andi said in a matter-of-fact tone. “If we had landed anywhere else, we’d either be too far from a populated area or hypenet signal source, or too close to a military location. This was the planet’s best choice, overall.” She crossed her arms in front of her, clearly proud of herself.

“Well, good, then,” Lihandii said, entering a few commands into the control array and pushing away the flight controls. “You land us. It’s your turn to fly, anyway, and I want to figure out how we can keep ourselves from being noticed once we dust down.” She started to work her way through the various data encryptions in wireless electromagnetic broadcasts in the region, determining their purposes, sources, and varying levels of usefulness.

Feri’Andi groaned as she pulled out her own flight controls, bringing up the navigational displays and grabbing hold of the controls. “Fine,” she said, “but I get the first shower. I’m soaked.”

Extra-Terrestrials

“That’s weird,” Feri’Andi said as she made her way through her many displays, flipping from screen to screen with a blurring pace.

“What’s weird?” Lihandii slowed the ship’s approach toward the planet. Any hesitation from Feri’Andi was a source of concern for her.

“Well, I’m not picking up any ship or shuttle traffic right now. It looks like there might be some low-altitude shuttles, but they’re really slow. That wouldn’t be weird, considering how primitive the civilization seems to be, but I’m picking up strange signals all over the place in hypenet. We only just discovered hypenet, what, two hundred years ago? Something’s wrong with that. Also,” she added, “There are oodles of small artificial satellites in the uppermost parts of the atmosphere, but only one of them is manned.”

“Wait,” Lihandii stopped her from continuing, “You’re trying to tell me they developed advanced computerized technologies before space travel? That’s just backwards. She gave the planet a look that she usually saved for when Feri’Andi had just done something sneaky. “What are you hiding, you strange planet?”

“There’s more,” Feri’Andi continued. “There are all sorts of massive stoneworks all over the planet already, but they’re the oldest buildings here, and I’m not picking up any signs that the people here have technology even remotely close to primary lifters.”

“Well, they’d have to have primary lifters,” Lihandii protested. “We’ve got to find out more about this planet. What do you think? Should we go ahead and head down.”

“Not just yet,” Feri’Andi said, consulting another screen. “I’m picking up some freaky high levels of nuclear radiation in a few spots. I think…” She moved further down the screen with her eyes. “Yes, it’s definitely weaponized.”

“Weaponized?!” Lihandii almost shouted in her surprise. “What do they plan on doing with nuclear weapons if they can’t even leave their own planet? Blow each other up?”

“Actually,” Feri’Andi cut in, “it looks like they may have done that in several spots already. There are signs of old nuclear fallout in a few areas. It doesn’t look like there’s been anything in the past few decades, though.”

“You expect me to feel better flying to a planet with people that use nuclear weapons on themselves,” Lihandii stressed ‘themselves’, “just because they haven’t done it in a few decades?”

“Well, we can’t really turn back now. We need to go down to make a proper report. And someone put that navigational beacon out on the edge of the system for a reason. That was our technology. I doubt these idiots have even made it past their own moon. They sure couldn’t have put it out there.”

That was true enough. Lihandii pondered that thought for a while before making her decision. “Alright, I’ll fly us down, but you’ve got to find me a safe place to land. I’m throwing on all the stealth systems, even Plug Nine.” Feri’Andi gave Lihandii a surprised look.

Plug Nine was an emergency system to be used only when high risk was in place, and one can’t risk someone else looking out a window or up in the sky. It had a nasty habit of stalling TMDS drives, too. “Are you sure that’s a good idea, Lihandii? Do you really want to go through atmospheric entry with Plug Nine on?” It was a reasonable concern. About twenty years later, after all, another Valkyr would, in fact, stall its TMDS due to overtaxation from the Plug Nine system during entry. Fortunately, Valkyr 52 had more than one pilot.

“That’s what you’re here for, Feri,” Lihandii said in a matter-of-fact tone. “I’m going to handle flying us down until entry temperatures subside, and you’re going to manually manage the Timids power distribution as best as you can to keep us flying until we’re through. Do you think you can do it?”

Feri’Andi gave Lihandii a look that belonged on her own face. “Please,” she said. “I’ve been doing this just as long as you, you know.” She flexed her arm in an attempt to show her figurative strength. “I’ve got this. Just let me figure out where we need to go first.” She started a flurry of motions through her controls, her eyes flitting from one screen to the next as she observed air traffic and found what seemed to be military bases and landing strips. She needed something near a population area of a decent size without flying them too close to someone who might shoot them down if something happened to their stealth systems or in case the natives had another out-of-place advanced piece of equipment that they shouldn’t have yet.

Lihandii, in the meantime, went through the various stealth controls, activating every system she thought would be
useful. For good measure, she also made sure she could shut them off in an instant and switch to weapons without skipping a beat in case anything went wrong. Finally, the only system left was plug nine. Lihandii closed the blast shields for entry as she entered the final commands for activating Plug Nine. “I’m ready,” she said, as the system gave the signal that it was fully activated.


“Me, too,” Feri’Andi said as she tapped a few more controls. “I’m transferring the navigational instructions over to you now.” Lihandii checked over the displays that had just changed on her screens. After a few seconds, she gave the signal with her hand that meant she was prepped. “Alright, give me a second to bring up the power controls.” Feri’Andi flew through the controls as she went through the necessary protocols to manually control power distribution. When the screens were all ready, she flipped her controls, revealing a second control array designed for system maintenance. “We’re good to go.”

Lihandii and Feri’Andi exchanged smiles as the Timids roared into life, their hands steady on their respective controls. “Alright, then,” Lihandii said. She punched the throttle forward manipulating the controls fluidly as she brought the ship into the proper course for atmospheric entry. “Let’s go check this place out.”