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.


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.

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.”


“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.


“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.”


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.”


“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.”


“Feri’Andi?” Lihandii called her copilot to the cockpit as Valkyr 52 exited its last hype out for the Deep Space Navigation Training Program.

“What is it, Liha?” Feri’Andi floated nonchalantly into the darkened cockpit, her towel wrapped loosely around her. She had just finished her shower moments before the hype, and her long, dark blue and brown hair was still wet and spread into tight locks behind her as there was no gravity to pull it down. As she slowed, her hands on the backs of the seats, the hair continued to float forward, past her face. “That was it, right? Now we just sit around and take readings for a few cycles, don’t we? Or are you already getting stir-crazy?”

Lihandii gave Feri’Andi a scolding pinch on the top of her hand for that comment, earning a satisfying hiss and recoil. “Look at that, Feri.” She pointed to one of her screens and looked back at her copilot, who leaned forward, squinting to keep the water out of her eyes. “What do you think we should do?”

Feri’Andi raised an eyebrow at the content of the display, frowning slightly in thought. She plopped herself into her seat, removing the towel and using it to wrap up her hair. She crossed her legs and started tapping her fingers against her knee. Finally, she said, “Well, obviously, we need to investigate it. Someone left that on purpose. Look, see?” She pointed to part of the screen. “The coordinates are changing. It’s in gravitational synch with something. What sort of readings do we have within the region it’s encircling?”

Lihandii swept through her controls with a conditioned precision. In response, the screens switched rapidly before them. After a few seconds, she stopped entering parameters, and they began inspecting the screens. “It looks like a standard stellar system. No, wait. Look.” She gestured toward one of the screens. It’s got a massive rime cloud almost in the interstellar region. Let me see if I can adjust the scans and eliminate the noise.”

“I’ll take care of that.” Feri’Andi deftly worked with her own control array, and a couple of seconds later, she leaned back, quite proud of herself. “I wrote a macro to take care of hydrous interference last month when we were passing that brown star.”

Lihandii gave an appreciating nod, looking back to the screens. “Just as I thought. It’s got at least three iron planetoids; they look like they could be pretty close to the Morridii range. We should probably get a closer look. Can you set up the hype and then get some clothes on? It’s my turn for a shower.” Feri’Andi nodded, and Lihandii unfastened herself from the seat, floating aft toward the showers. “We should both be in the cockpit for when we get out of the hype, so wait until I get back to actually hype out, ok?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Feri’Andi said. “Just hurry up with the shower, Liha. I’m not going to wait forever.” She then set about making the necessary calculations to hype just outside the rime cloud. They’d have to fly through manually, since hyping a long distance into another stellar system would play tricks on the Timids hype computer. It would be fine from a shorter distance, but a 50 light-cycle jump probably shouldn’t end inside a region where one can’t be certain scans are correct. Plus, planetoids move a lot in that time span, so Feri’Andi would have to take heed of more than just the interstellar drift of the system as a whole, which she could do if she were hyping just outside the system.

After setting the parameters, Feri’Andi left the computer to its own devices and headed back to her closet, where all her clothes were. She’d have to put her actual uniform on for this. She opened up the closet and tossed her towel into the washer next to it, where her previous outfit and Lihandii’s clothes were already waiting to be cleaned. As she dressed, the only sound was the low-density fluid pump that drained the shower and even dried off the user a bit. She had almost finished clipping together the outermost layer when Lihandii stepped out of the shower.

“Took you long enough,” Feri’Andi said as she finished the last of the clips. Lihandii gave her the usual look that said she was being immature and finished drying her shorter blue and blonde hair before tossing the towel into the washer and opening up her own closet.

“This is coming from the one who takes forever to get her uniform on,” Lihandii commented as she finished zipping up the Valkyrie undergarment. The zipper was a flexible plastic and had fabric overlapping under it to prevent snagging, but Feri’Andi had a habit of catching the zipper on the cloth, so it took her quite a bit longer than it should have to put on the undergarment.

“Hey,” Feri’Andi exclaimed. “That zipper has something against me.” At this, Lihandii rolled her eyes, and Feri’Andi snickered. While Lihandii finished putting on the uniform, Feri’Andi  headed back to the cockpit. “I’m ready to go whenever you are.” She secured the uniform to the bolts in the seat for security during the maneuvers she was hoping to try out after this jump.

Several moments later, Lihandii showed up in the cockpit and closed the door behind her. “You left your closet open, you know,” she commented as she secured her own suit to her seat.

“Thanks,” Feri’An
di said, nonchalant as usual. “Did you remember to set the washer,” she asked as the two started performing the pre-hype checks and making sure the Timids would be ready for high-speed maneuvering as soon as they exited the hype.

“Of course I did,” Lihandii replied. “You never do. Are we all set? My screens show that we’re good to go.” She activated her helmet and waited for a reply on the wireless.

“We are good,” Feri’Andi finally sounded serious over the helmets’ wireless comm. “Hyping in three, two…”

“One,” Lihandii finished as they both grabbed their flight controls, and she activated the hype, resulting in the typical but ever-unpleasant imploding sensation. Her stomach churned slightly as they exploded out of the hype, but she was ready when the screens showed that they had hyped in a little too close to the rime cloud. In fact, they were already inside the rime cloud. How they had managed not to hype straight inside an ice chunk, she didn’t know, but she was too busy maneuvering through the field now to find out.

She gripped the controls tightly as they tore through the rime cloud, dodging ice chunks left and right, some the size of a small planetoid. When they made their way through the cloud, the Valkyries went ahead and opened the viewports to look at the system for themselves. What they saw took their breath away.

Before them, a system of eight planets encircled a yellow star. The inner four planets were all iron cores, separated from the outer four by a planetoid debris ring which almost made the star look like a giant planet itself this far out in the system. The outer four were all massive, gaseous planets, a common sight that they both had seen as shadows in scans but otherwise had never taken the time to look at. Now looking at them, one of which was very close, the Valkyries understood how beautiful they were.

Snapping out of it, Lihandii said as the helmets deactivated, “How do those outer three iron cores look? They all seem to be inside the Morridii range.”

Feri’Andi took a close look at some of her screens before shaking her head. “No, there’s just the one inside Morridiian parameters.” Lihandii sighed at this news. The chance of a system randomly generating life when only one planet was in the Morridii range was almost zero. “But,” Feri’Andi said, interrupting Lihandii’s line of thought, “I’m picking up all sorts of broadcast signals from the one that is. We’ve got life! Third planet out. It looks temperate. Should we check it out?”

The question didn’t need to be asked. Lihandii gave her usual look and plotted the hype to the planet, which was within a close enough range that the computer wasn’t even needed. “Let’s do it,” she said, activating the hype without even waiting for a countdown.

When the ship emerged from the hype, the first thing Lihandii noticed was the unusually large satellite orbiting the small, blue planet. The first thing Feri’Andi noticed, though, was the ocean. “What do you think it’s called?” Feri’Andi looked excitedly over at Lihandii as she asked.

Lihandii grinned in a mischievous way that rarely crossed her face in the cockpit. She set the ship on course for atmospheric entry and looked back at Feri’Andi. “Let’s go find out.”


A violent buzzing set itself about the room. Out of the pile of sheets in the center, a hand reached out to silence the alarm. Slowly, Michael Shore rose from the cluster of bedding and set about folding up the sheets neatly in the corner. He had to go job hunting again today. Only a few months ago, he had been a private army’s top pilot instructor. Now, with the mercenary force he had served in dissolution, he was jobless, and mercenary pilot didn’t shine too well on a resume. It didn’t show up on his resume at all, actually, but that was a separate problem. In this overpopulation job market, someone who couldn’t account for the past twenty years of their career didn’t look too great.

He turned on the old TV he’d had for the past thirty years and listened as the broadcast continued on the UN summit being held today. It had been all over the news for the past week, and now it just seemed to Michael to be blown out of proportion. He only really kept up with it because his daughter was excited about it as a translator. I must be a terrible father, he thought. After all, he didn’t even know what other languages she spoke anymore.

As he always did, he ensured that his cigarette box was secure in his jacket before even getting ready. He then headed to the bath, filled with water from the night before. He scrubbed himself clean thoroughly before rinsing off and draining the tub. After it was fully drained, he set about drying the tub with a hand towel. While he dried, he overheard the woman on the news talking about the possible prospects of the summit: social reform, counterterrorist action, financial security… It was all the things that had been promised to be resolved in the last five summits. Nothing was getting better. The economies, governments, and terrorism threats all across the world were only getting worse every day. Mercenary armies had done what they could with the terrorists, but the various sponsoring countries refused to let them inside their borders.

Michael rose and turned to the sink, where his toothbrush and toothpaste were smartly facing the east wall. He picked them up and carefully placed a measured dab of toothpaste onto his toothbrush. He then brushed his teeth in a clockwise motion, going in order of tooth number and ensuring he reached every part of each tooth. When he had finished, he rinsed the toothbrush and his mouth and repeated the process twice more before carefully flossing twice. He rinsed his mouth with mouthwash after each floss and added in one last rinse for good measure when he couldn’t remember if he had done so after the first floss.

After he finished his hygeine routine, Michael deftly placed each item back into its original place, marked with a border of waterproof tape. He then moved back out into the bedroom, where he checked his jacket for his cigarette box again. The woman on the television was introducing the delegates now. He wondered if any of them were named Bob or John. Probably not, he decided. Michael then went about putting on his clothes, which had been carefully ironed the night before, right down to the socks and briefs. He made sure at each step of the way that everything was properly aligned. When he had finished donning his garments, he moved over to the kitchen, where he had slow-cooked a beef stew overnight. He poured the stew carefully into a plastic container before taking the slow cooker to the sink to be thoroughly washed. After he had washed and dried the cooker, he put a lid on the container, ensuring it was the lid properly matched to the small tub.

Once the food was properly sealed to Michael’s satisfaction, he placed it carefully into the bottom left corner of his lunch box, into which he also put a banana, an already-baked potato, and his required utensils, tightly held together with a rubber band that matched the color of the lunch box perfectly. After his lunch box was zipped and placed flush with the edge of the counter near the door, Michael went into his refrigerator and grabbed the tub marked for April 1st. He set the tub on the counter three inches from the stove and closed the refrigerator as he read the slip of paper taped atop the lid of the tub.

As described on the paper, Michael pulled out a small skillet, set the stove to 15 degrees past the medium mark on the dial, and opened the tub. Reaching inside, he removed a small cube and unwrapped the wax paper around it. Taking the cube of butter, he placed it exactly in the center of the skillet and began to count to two hundred in two-second intervals. When he had, he removed the baggies of chopped ham, bell pepper, chive, tomato, and potato, carefully emptying the baggies onto the pan in that order and placing the empty baggies neatly atop one another directly opposite the tub. After counting to thirty, he pulled out the small cup of beaten egg and poured it onto the seared ingredients. He finished his omelette and folded it neatly into a traditional napkin fold on the small, square plate he pulled out of the tub. He turned off the stove as he set the plate on the counter where he picked up the baggies, wax paper, and cup. While it cooled directly next to the warm stove, Michael took the baggies, wax paper, and cup to the sink, where he washed them all for reuse and dried them with a dish cloth.

Removing the fork from the tub, Michael picked up the plate and ate his breakfast neatly. Upon finishing, he pulled out the final item: a cup of orange juice, carefully measured and sealed in a plastic container. He drank the orange juice and washed and dried his remaining dishes, placing each item back into the tub and placing the tub in its place inside the cabinet, where it would sit until the 23rd, when he would prepare for May 1st’s breakfast.

Now satisfied with his morning routine, Michael double-check the status of all his switches and knobs, triple-checked his jacket for the cigarette case, and donned the jacket. Walking to the door, he reached into the countertop bowl and retrieved his phone, keys, and wallet. After placing them all in the appropriate pocket, he checked one last time for the cigarette box and grabbed his lunch box. He opened the door and was a
bout to flip the breaker switch to his peripheral electronics and lights when he heard the following words on the television, no longer in the woman’s familiar voice:
“Ladies and Gentlemen of these United Nations of Earth, I come to you on behalf of the Empire of Thorlinthia.”

Michael Shore dropped his lunch box and pulled out his phone, his fingers automatically punching in the number he thought he had forgotten long ago. It rang twice before he heard, “Hello? Who is this?”

Sounding almost mindless, Michael said, “Lieutenant, this is Mickey. The Phoenix is rising.” A quick tumult could be heard over the phone. Then scraping and a clatter as the phone was picked up again.

“Confirmed, Mickey. The Hummingbird is ready. Pick me up at the planned location in one hour. Lieutenant out.” Just like that, the conversation was over. Mickey placed the phone into a random pocket, pulled out the breaker, and retrieved the small key from inside the small hole behind it. He picked up his lunch box and ran out the door, slamming it hazardously behind him, ignoring the sound of breaking glass as his bowl fell off the counter and sprinting down the stairs to his car. It was time. Phoenix Day had come, just as the Lieutenant had told him when they met five years ago. All Mickey could think about was his daughter, who was currently in the world’s most dangerous location.