Category Archives: Finding Earth

Everything Must Balance

Everything Must Balance

The Watcher appraised his past as he contemplated his next steps. He was the last Kuli left in Tyria after the galaxy’s destruction and the expulsion of the Linthian system from normal space and time through the Galactic Tear. He had spent thousands of years watching the Galactic Tear for signs of the lost Linthians. The rest of the Kuli had taken the remnants of the galaxy, in cobbled together ships, across the gulfs of space to the eight nearest galaxies. The Kuli that came before him worked to prevent the destruction of the galaxy but failed. Ultimately, the end of life in the galaxy was due to the ministrations of the Great Deceiver and complicated by Kuli mistakes.

The Kulis’ last Supreme Guardian, J’Rontia, directed the remnants to seed the surrounding galaxies and do all they could to restore the Linthians to Tyrian space. During his watch of the Tear, he received the Journal of the Traitor and learned that a Deceiver’s apprentice lived and the Deceiver’s poison had spread across what was left of Linthia creating a violent and vengeful population that now considered themselves Thorlinthians.

When information came to him about an opportunity to remove the legacy of the Deceiver forever, he went deep into Thorlinthia to destroy the reconstitution chamber that allowed the evil and knowledge of the Deceiver’s apprentice to transfer to additional generations. His mission was a success and he was also able to terminate the use of an ancient archive of forbidden knowledge by exploding the device along with the reconstitution chamber. He knew his mission was a one-way trip and fully expected to die, probably after serious suffering at the hands of the Thorlinthians.

To his surprise, he was rescued by J’Rontia and her Soretto and then, for unknown reasons, was dropped onto this ship only to find that it was one of the seed ships tens of thousands of years in the past and in the middle of nowhere. This ship was the first seed ship finished and his command ship before he decided to be the Watcher and now it full of mysteries and dead crew men. After many primitive repairs, he finally had enough energy flowing so that he will be able to check the Captain’s log to find out why the ship is in such bad condition and so far in the past. Reading the log is not his only option and he could contact the Kuli of the time he was in for help; however, Tomli’s instructions were to do what “he” thought was best. So, with an understanding of the weight his decisions may have on the future he relaxed in the commander’s chair and connected with the computer and the captain’s log.

The captain’s log is very thorough in its descriptions of the planets that were seeded and in providing details on the disasters that befell the expedition at various points. The New Beginnings 8 was actually the first of the seed ships to be completed and the seed ship builders designed most of the on-board protocols for the long trips using this ship. It was good to see that the captain and the crew used the protocols, thus allowing him to understand the structure of the log.

His interest, at this time, was in how the ship ended up so far in the past and what happened to its crew. The thought of the crew caused him to stop his scanning of the log and he turned to the monitors. The command control center was a mixture of several battleship command control centers. They had taken them out of the original ships and set them up in the seed ships to control the section of the seed ship that was built from that particular battleship. The control centers were covered with monitors that allowed the user to see the various outputs as directed by the ship’s main computer. The ship’s main computer hooked all of the various computer systems from so many ships together and acted as a translation interface to a standard control room computer. This allowed for synchronized command and control through the use of seven pedestal interfaces in the primary control room.

Each of the seven pedestals has their own control orb to allow simultaneous control for separate components of the ship in a battle or planet seeding. Each of the pedestals was positioned in front of a hatch that covered a stasis pod. The control room was in the middle of the ship for protection and away from any escape modules. Thus, each operator had their own emergency stasis pod that they could enter in mere moments if the ship was in peril.

He told the computer, “Display the status of the stasis pods.” The monitor lit up with seven sections, each showing the status of one pod. He was surprised when he realized that six of the pods contained some sort of life form. “Display the information on the contents of the pods,” he commanded the computer. The monitors showed that the pods contained four Linthians and two Murhans. He asked the computer, “Display the Kuli energy levels.” The monitors now showed that all six were Kulis and two of them were Guardians, at least in their energy generation ability. It was exciting to know that some of the crew survived and that he may be able to learn a lot from them.

Each of the six outputs showed flashing symbols indicating that there was a problem. All six of the monitors showed errors on the recovery charges. This meant that he could not restore any of the people in the pods without replacing the recovery capacitors. To use external power would be extremely dangerous and if anything went wrong the occupants would die. He needed to replace the capacitors and recharge them.  Still, the monitors showed that they were safe for now.

He returned back to the Captain’s log and continued his search.  The results showed three sections of interest. The first was an extended stay in orbit around the last seed planet. Then there was a crisis on a nearby planet with an attack by the Thorlinthians, which he was sure dealt with the ships he saw from the Station. The third section of interest dealt with a time period after the crisis and consisted of the latest entries. The rest of the log was the largest and seemed to be rather boring data about the trips between seedings. He did tag the times in the log when the seedings occurred so that he could review those areas to form some idea of how successful the landings were.

He decided to target the area that he believed dealt with the Thorlinthian attack on the people called Fehmadadi by the Captain in his log. He told the computer which areas he wished to review and went into the kitchen to eat a snack while the computer was loading the Kuli reader. Kuli readers are rather fascinating devices as they match the data outflow to the user’s maximum brain processing ability. The ship still had his readings from before the destruction of Tyria and was almost done building the review when he stopped it. He had completely changed since he was this ship’s commander, especially after his visit from Tomli, and now his abilities needed to be diagnosed again.

It took quite a while on this huge ship to find where the diagnostic equipment was and even longer to set it up. The ship did not have day or night and he just ate when he was hungry and slept when he was tired. He could have set the timekeepers for days and nights but he could neither find a reason why nor could he decide what system to set the clocks by. So, he just went by feel and made sure that each waking cycle had time set aside for appropriate exercise and studying. During his search for the diagnostic equipment, he had traveled through almost the entire ship. It was sad to see the number of crew members that lay dead everywhere. At first he thought to move them and proceed with proper disposal; however, after doing that with three of them he realized that the people in stasis had not done that and there might be a reason. So, he only moved those who were in areas of the ship where he now had life support running as they would decompose. They were moved to the nearest area of the ship with no life support and a note was left on them indicated exactly where he found them. Every day brought more mysteries.

The diagnostic was not a fun process and usually Kuli only did this three times. The first time usually was when they became an apprentice, unless they were a Soretto who processed through their Kuli. The second time ordinarily was after they graduated and became a Kuli. After that is was mostly at the times when they were promoted due to a better understanding of the lifeforces, such as when one would become a Guardian, a Healer, or other major change. There were also other more exotic reasons to use the equipment, such as preparation for a core build to use for reconstitution, preparation for certain surgeries on the brain, and other times when the entire body’s input/output system needed to be measured with extreme accuracy.

These tests are not often given by the individual being tested as they can be very disruptive to the nervous system and may leave a person incapacitated for an unknown period of time. Unfortunately, he had little choice. Using a properly attuned reviewer, he could skim through the tremendous amount of data in the Captain’s log in minutes and review only the areas he needed in perhaps one or two sleep cycles. Without the synchronization, he might take up to a standard year to find only part of what he needed and, for some reason, he felt that he needed to work as fast as possible.

The equipment was in one of the medic offices and, after a small snack, he settled into the examination chair. He attached the connectors to his naked body with care. He then strapped himself in and adjusted the pressure to the highest level he could tolerate. He knew from previous experience that the process would not be fun and that the body, on occasion, revolted on its own. Naturally, as a Kuli, he would attempt to control his body throughout the tests; however, only a few Supreme Guardians had enough control to prevent the body from responding on its own. Of course, that is also part of the testing.

He hesitated before pushing the start button. Pain is always different when you know what is coming. He pushed the button and time stood still. This diagnostic was different from before and it seemed that the tests went on forever. He had taken some of the tests before and mainly reacted to the probes. This time he was able to anticipate and prepare his body for most of the trials and responded quickly enough to negate the worst of the body’s reactions in all other cases. His new understanding of his body and the world around him allowed him to finish the tests without losing control once. He stepped out of the chair astonished with how much he had changed. The diagnostics showed that he had the instincts and abilities of a Supreme Guardian but with the lowest training level on the charts for a Supreme Guardian. He would have to find some of the Supreme Guardian training and fit it into his schedule. He smiled a rather mischievous smile and silently thanked Tomli followed by J’Rontia and her Soretto. They believed in him before he believed in himself.

Back in the control room, the new data was fed into the interface and it adjusted for his updated abilities. He started with the “Fehmadadi” incident. The various data points flowed across his mind with the corresponding audio or video context, including advanced data analysis such as emotions from the Captain and crew entries. It was his most intense review he ever experienced and he began to understand why the Supreme Guardians were able to comprehend events at such a greater depth. The story was both fascinating and frightening as he came to realize how vulnerable the nearby seed colony was.

He turned off the review and leaned back in his chair as he contemplated what he had learned. The pieces did not all fit together but he did learn enough to understand how the seed ship ended up in the past. The ship seeded the planet called Terira but there was a problem with the seeding. It turned out that there were already Murhans on the planet and had been for a long time, although they did not have all of the advanced genetics the current Murhans had. In addition, there was a race from the planet with the same DNA ancestry of the Murhans that evidence showed developed on the planet. He was not sure how this was possible as the Murhans supposedly developed in the Galactic Wing of the Tyrian galaxy.

He understood why the ship’s crew would want to spend time there to resolve the issues the DNA brought up. Still, the Kuli running the ship did not have the answers when they left Terira and something about the whole situation stirred an old memory that he could not quite grab on to. He queried the part of his brain where the Tomli memories came from but there was no recognition or vision that came forth. His curiosity demanded answers that were not forthcoming. The temptation to review the logs about Terira was huge, but his present needs demanded that he move on with the information he had already found.

He summoned the computer and asked, “Consider the coordinates from the log that I highlighted and access all archives the ship is connected to and find any related histories.” He went off to the kitchen and ate some troger root. When he returned, the computer had the data ready and there was only one entry about the area in question. The entry had limited information as the complete entry had a security block. What was being shown indicated that the entire section of Galaxy 8 where Terira was located had been marked off limits by the Linthians long before the Murhans separated from them genetically. He tried to access the restricted information but the data was not on the local archives and he was too far out for a system connection. He could use a hype connection, except that they had security protocols that he was thousands of years out of date with, in the reverse.

He went back over the Captain’s log on the Fehmadadi incident. The seed ship had found a perfect planet for seeding, the third planet, and entered the solar system. As they entered, they recognized that the fourth planet was already populated. The planet’s occupants, who called themselves Fehmadadi (pronounce using Linthian standard phonemes), came out to greet them near the seventh planet. The Fehmadadi thought they were returning to visit their planet and welcomed them as old friends.

The confusion continued when they reached the planet. Across most of the planet were extremely primitive settlements of Murhans and other related peoples. The Fehmadadi introduction shows that the seed ship settled in orbit around the third planet for thousands of standard years. It did not contain the information on the exploits of the ship, its crew, and why they stayed although that is in another section of the logs. On the other occupied planet in the system, the Fehmadadi were not silent but did not interfere as they believed in a hands-off approach to other life forms. The Fehmadadi were a private people who explored the galaxies for information only and did not interact much with the people of Terira or any other planet, until the visit to Thorlinthia.

He remembered, when he was at his station back in Tyria, how the Fehmadadi accidentally went through the Galactic Tear to Thorlinthia.  When they came back out they were being pursued by what later turned out to be Thorlinthians. The home defenses were able to repel the little ships that came but the thought that more would come was difficult for the Fehmadadi and they did not have the mental aptitude for war preparations. They asked their friends, the Kuli, for help.

The Kuli had notice the skirmishes and recognized the Thorlinthian technology as an offshoot of Linthian.  The voice recordings from the Fehmadadi ships of the Thorlinthians also showed a language that was closely related to Linthian. When they examined the damaged components of the Thorlinthian ships it became obvious that the equipment was Linthian based but had many pieces of banned technology in it. The crew searched their on-board archives and came up with the Journal of the Traitor as it had been retransmitted by himself as The Watcher.

They explained to the Fehmadadi what they knew about the Thorlinthians and reviewed the resources at hand. There was no way out except to turn their economy to war and prepare for the Thorlinthian attack that was sure to be coming. The Fehmadadi refused and indicated that they would rather die than turn their society into a war machine. They had many advanced skills but refused to consider an option that would change their fundamental nature.

The Kuli explored many defensive options with them and came to the conclusion that the technology the Thorlinthians possessed would surpass any defensive stance they could take. The Kuli sent a shuttle back to Tyria to see if any help was available and then set about working on the only answer they could find – the preservation of a small group of Fehmadadi through the use of a temporal lever.

The mathematics of a temporal lever is a bit beyond his current training in space-time but he understood the fundamentals. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This axiom works in all dimensions of space-time. The Kuli decided to eliminate all evidence of their presence on Terira and to help the Fehmadadi use a temporal lever to send some of their people into the future in the hope that the calls for help will be answered in time to save at least part of their race.

The Kuli knew that they were not supposed to use a temporal lever as it was forbidden technology. Still, the only other choice would be to allow an entire civilization to fall. They sent their request for help and proceeded with their plans, hoping against hope that help would arrive in time. It didn’t.

The Kuli withdrew all of their members from Terira to work on the project and left a group of trained Terira members to continue the lifeforce schooling for the peoples of Terira. The original crew of the seed ship had grown many times as they all had families. For this project, the families were left on Terira and the crew worked with the Kuli to help the Fehmadadi build the lever.

The theory of a temporal level is simple, to go forward in time, an equal amount must go back in time. The Kuli of the seed ship and the crew were dedicated to the preservation of life and volunteered to go back in time. The ship had the main stasis pods in the control room and they also had the sleep chambers from the original journey in the back. The sleep chambers were inexpensive stasis pods that were not designed for more than one use so they needed to be restored to their original state. Part of the crew went to work on rebuilding enough of the sleep chambers for the crew to use.

Their plan was simple. In order to send a small group of Fehmadadi forward in a self-contained city, they would have to send the seed ship back in time. The formula is extremely complex but the underlying logic is simple. Mass times distance in one direction must equal the mass times distance in the other. Then, there is the rather significant matter of opening a portal and providing momentum for the journey. Based on the technology from the first assault, it was believed that the Thorlinthians would use a form of nuclear bomb to destroy the cities of the Fehmadadi. They built the lever right near a city so that they could use the energy from the blast to open the portal and provide the momentum. This plan fit with their desire to wait until the last possible moment in case help did arrive.

The plans called for the Fehmadadi to go forward one hundred local years and to move in space to near where the solar system will be at that time. The seed ship was to go back in time approximately six hundred standard years and would move into an unknown area of space in a direction that balanced the equation for the Fehmadadi. The sleep chambers had been design for one sleep of up to one thousand standard years so they should have plenty of capacity to park the ship, go into stasis for six hundred years, and come back into the system right after they left. One group worked on the weapon systems to see what they would be able to help with when they returned. Most of the weapons had been left in Tyria and as a seed ship it was only armed with defensive weapons and shields. The group was planning on gutting the ship where possible and using as many materials as they could for building offensive weapons. The outlook was not very positive but based on the weapons in the scout ships, they were pretty confident they would be able to defend their own ship.

He had skipped a lot of the data dealing with the years of preparation; however, two things became very clear. First, they were not able to fabricate offensive weapons. Second, the Fehmadadi refused to build any offensive weapons. Still, they did manage to greatly increase the number of defensive weapons and the planet may be able to hold of the attack until help came.

The temporal lever was completed less than one standard year before the Thorlinthians arrived. Once the lever was finished, they started working on disguising the seed ship and the Fehmadadi city that was to be moved. They had barely finished when the Armada arrived. When they saw the size of the ships and the number in the Armada, they knew they had miscalculated. In addition, the technology they were looking at was thousands of years improved over the scout ships they had seen before and their defenses would not hold. As the Watcher, he understood how the time difference through the Tear can be confusing to those in normal space/time.

He took note of the exact time of the attack by the Thorlinthians. His son used/will use the information to sneak into the past and rescue two Fehmadadi, not knowing that an entire city was being rescued. He pondered for a moment the intricate threads that wove together throughout these events to make a web that continued to draw important people into the continuing story that was the Tyrian disaster.

The crew took their positions as did the Fehmadadi in their city. All of their plans for the temporal lever were about to come to fruition when the Thorlinthians surprised them again. The Thorlinthians brought an Armada with over 200 ships, including one that was a forbidden judgment ship. The Kuli did not have enough power to support the jump without external power and as the Thorlinthians attacked it was clear that they planned on something other than dropping bombs. First, the Thorlinthians deliberately destroyed all of the defenses that the Fehmadadi set up. It was as if fire raged across the sky for days in their local time. The Fehmadadi civilization learned quickly that all that they were or ever would be now rested with the temporal lever.

The battle raged on as the Fehmadadi defended their homes with the courage of champions. As the last defenses fell, the Captain of the Kuli seed ship reviewed his monitors with a grim expression on his face. All of his emotions were recorded in the log and the Watcher could feel the anger and frustration rushing through him. The Thorlinthians had plenty of conventional weapons and did not need the judgment ship. The hatred could almost be tasted after the mental broadcast from the Thorlinthians. He wanted to radio the Fehmadadi city in the lever to let them know what was about to happen but that might have drawn the interest of the attackers. Once the Captain realized what was about to happen, he only had time to tell his crew, “Prepare for a long jump and a rough ride.”

The Captain and his control room staff knew what was about to happen and they could do nothing about it. The judgment ship used a forbidden technology known as Glascing. The technology was forbidden for many reasons but one was its use of unstable power sources intermixed with lifeforce. There was no way to calculate the amount of energy to be released and this completely changed the temporal lever’s effects. The amount of energy that would now be absorbed by the opening of the portal was beyond control and their previous destinations were now a joke with no humor.

The Watcher hooked back up to the computer to review the jump once more in regular time. He was connected to the Captain’s input channels. The Captain tasted fear in his throat as thoughts swirled in his head about being tossed into a star or too close to a black hole or any number of other situations that could extinguish all life on his ship. When the Glascing happened, the energy released was over one thousand times what their computations had showed for a nuclear bomb. The transition into the portal was smooth but the massive energy release threw them tens of thousands of years into the past and off course into the abyss between galaxies. The last thoughts of the Captain before he blacked out concentrated on the Fehmadadi and if they survived their thrust forward in time.

The Watcher unhooked from the computer and sat back again to consider what had happened. The condition of the ship made more sense with this information as did the number of dead crew members he had found all over the ship. Plus, the sleep chambers would not have been able to withstand the energy that flowed with the Glascing in the unshielded parts of the ship and even in the shielded areas the electromagnetic forces would have shorted out the controllers on almost all the chambers, not to mention the destruction to the ship’s engines, life support, and defensive systems from the huge, high intensity energy waves. The same was true of any living things in areas of the ship with limited protection eliminating the hydroponic atriums and other live foods as the Glascing destroyed all unprotested life forms. Any of the crew who did not die immediately would likely have perished before help arrived as there were only six in the protected command center at the time of the Glascing.

The Watcher had witnessed the energy waves that had flowed out of the system from his station near the Tear when the monitoring devices laid by the seed ship sent him their data. He also received some information from his son’s trip, although his son did not yet understand the time dimensions he traversed with wormholes in the experimental ship he used so he did not have the equipment set to record properly. There are very good reasons for all of the Linthian decisions to ban research in certain areas and that ship was full of banned technologies. Not that it really mattered. His son did as was expected and even brought new Kuli to the station, even if only for a short time. His son’s performance ranked up there with some of the best Kuli and he did not have anywhere near their level of training. On the first diagnostic his son took, his skill was up there in the range of Guardians and he was still getting better. His mother felt that he could reach the level of Kuli such as J’Rontia and she was seldom wrong.

He refocused his mind on the present and reviewed the events to calculate time. J’Rontia and her Soretto had fought and slept for over seven thousand years before they died. He had been The Watcher for over fifteen thousand years when the Thorlinthian Armada surged forth to exterminate the Fehmadadi dragging their time distorting fields with them making any relationship to real time impossible to calculate exactly. He was sure that they fixed the time leakages in later models; however what came through the Tear for the invasion of Fehmadadi pulled the fabric of the anti-verse with it. All his calculations indicated that they went about two to four thousand years in Terira’s past when this happened. It must have been a shock when the Thorlinthians returned to the Terira system to find out how much time had passed while they were gone since they thought that time dilation only happened on their side of the Tear.

The Watcher’s calculations brought him to the conclusion that the ship had been drifting for over six thousand years and those in the stasis pods must have known the capacitors would run out long before they made it back. It was time to figure out what to do with this ship and then get to work. He smiled a rather mischievous smile as he considered his options.

The remote space dock he approached seldom had visitors. The repair facility was built during an earlier war when the Linthians needed their ships fixed as close to the battle front as possible. After the war, the facility was sold to a private ship builder who kept a skeleton crew on board and made a respectable profit. The operators of the remote space dock ran a check on the credentials given by the strange ship with the Kuli Central Command. Instead of an instant approval or denial coming up on their monitor as usually happened, they received an audio contact. “Please describe the ship’s model and manufacturer along with their system of registry” the voice commanded. The two operators looked at each other and the bearded one answered, “The ship corresponds to no known model and has no registry. The Commander said to tell you, if you did not approve the repairs, to contact Supreme Guardian Tomli and let him know that the two the Commander was asked two save are alive but one needed serious medical attention.”

The pause on the other side was long and the operators were starting to worry when their screen lit up with the message, “Approved. You can repair jump, minimum life support, essential electronics, one kitchen, one Captain’s Cruiser upgrade, and stasis capacitors only! This is an eyes only – no paperwork and the repairs are to be done by drones and robots only. All billing will go directly to the Kuli High Command.” The operators’ eyes widened as they checked the list from the Commander. The two lists matched exactly and yet they had not transmitted the specific requests. Who and what was on this ship?

The Watcher smiled as the approval details came in. He could hear the fear in the operators’ voices as he communicated with them about the repairs. They definitely wanted him out of the dock as soon as possible but knew he would be there a long time. They also kept his bay completely closed so that no one even knew he was there which saved him from asking. It was amazing how Tomli just knew. He wondered once again how all the threads fit together. The smile returned and he went back to work.

The repairs took two standard years. All the main external engines were now working making a jump easy. The stasis pods took the longest to repair as the capacitors he needed had not been invented yet. He had to remove one from the unused pod and send it to the Kuli High Command so they could prepare specifications to send to one of their manufacturers who now had the most advanced capacitors in the galaxy. He smiled as he wondered if Tomli was the one who selected the manufacturer receiving the job.

He had expected a visit every day from one of the Kuli but it never happened as the ship was repaired and now it was time to go. He fired the engines and prepared to move out of his bay. The exit was perfectly timed so that no one would be in the vicinity and his mood sobered as his lonely existence was about return once more. It is true that the conversations with the operators were brief and that they did not talk about anything except what was absolutely necessary. Still, they were people and he did speak with them. Now he was back to being The Watcher, this time of an almost dead ship that he still didn’t know for sure what to do with.

Later, the Watcher turned his viewer toward the space dock and watched as it disappeared off the monitor. He had left any vestige of civilization behind as he moved out into the void between Tyria and Galaxy 8. He had just sat back to consider his next move when his proximity alarms went off.

The viewer showed an experimental ship that J’Rontia had taught him about. The ship had special characteristics and perfect stealth capabilities but poisoned its crew so it was banned. Yet here it was in front of him. He brought his ship to a halt as the strange craft matched his movements. He was wondering how he would be boarded when a beautiful woman appeared right in front of him.

She was as tall as he was and looked very much like his wife. The thoughts brought tears to his eyes as he realized how much he missed her since she died. The woman in front of him smiled as her thoughts drifted across his mind calming his sorrow and enlightening him. This was J’Rontia mother and she was very pleased with the help he gave her daughter. Knowledge flowed from her directly into his mind and he became overwhelmed rapidly so she switched to speech for a while to let him catch up.

“It is good to finally meet the famous “Watcher” in person,” she said with a huge smile that warmed him to the core. She reached over and gave him a huge hug that brought tears back to his eyes. She stepped back a bit and went on, “My missions required me to know some of what you have done and will do. This made me the perfect person to contact you about your current mission and to answer what questions I can.”

The Watcher asked, “What am I supposed to do with this ship?” She looked at him and said, “You already know the answer to that.” He thought a moment and then nodded that he did and continued, “Okay. How do I move this ship into the future and what do I do about the Thorlinthians?” She smiled one of those devious smiles and said, “A much better question. Or shall I say two?” After a short pause she continued, “The ship needs to go back to the Terira system and remain hidden until one of the Matriarch’s warriors finds it.” She let him think about that for a moment and then went on, “You are to take the ship to the Rotrum Black Hole and use the Schripi anomaly to move forward in time.  It will not take you all the way but it will take you past when the fourth planet was shattered and its life snuffed out by the Thorlinthians.”

He told her he understood and asked some basic questions about how to calculate the entry into the anomaly and other related items, such as where he might hide the ship from the Thorlinthians when they come to occupy Terira. Then he grew very serious and asked her, “How do you handle knowing so much from various times and fitting them all together?” Her whole attitude changed and she answered, “I do not try to put any of it together. I once asked Tomli for a huge favor and he granted it at great expense to himself and his plans. My promise was to do as he and his wife, my mother, asked without questions until I die.”

The Watcher was shocked and he asked, “What favor could be so big that you would give up your life?” Her face brightened pleasantly as wonderful memories flew through her mind and she said, “J’Rontia! Would you not give your life for her?” He immediately answered, “Without hesitation and only my own child could come before her!” She smiled a sweet smile and reached out and touched his forehead. She transferred many memories to him of J’Rontia’s childhood and some of what she has done recently. She stepped back as a sad smile stretched across her face, then she vanished. He wished she had stayed longer but with all of these new memories to enjoy he would not be lonely for a long time.

Two standard years later, he was at the Schripi anomaly trying to finish the calculations for his trip to the future and the numbers did not work out. He must have something wrong and he could not figure it out. He reviewed all that she had told him and realized that at one point she had told him he would find out one of the pieces in due time. Well, it was time and he had not found out what the missing piece was. He decided to relax and try to get some sleep.

The vision came in the night. Tomli smiled at him over a drink in the Rsroter café in old Linthia. The café was surrounded by clouds and it floated in orbit around the planet always keeping the setting sun in the windows. He loved the view and had wanted to go there for years. Tomli asked, “Why do you ask questions you know the answer to?” He struggled to reply as he did not think he knew the answer. Finally he said, “I guess I did not recognize that I had the answer.” “Excellent reply,” Tomli said. He continued, “When you received messages as the Watcher on the station, did you receive any that would help now to complete your mission.” He sat up in bed as he awoke with the answer: balance. He was both excited and sad as he hated to leave such a great dream.

The computer asked, “What do you mean?” He was having little luck explaining what he needed. He tried again, “I need you to extend the formula to include the opposite effect on the anomaly.” The computer answered, “How will you generate the opposite effect?” He relaxed as the computer finally understood. “I want to use the Captain’s Cruiser. We can program to travel as we wish and it can go backwards in time as this ship moves forward.” The computer hesitated for a moment as billions of calculations flew through the system and then it said, “You will be sending it far into the past where its technology has not been invented. This is a violation of the Tommotrion Law and my programming will not allow me to do that.”

This could be a problem he thought. And then it came to him, “Your existence and this ship’s in this time line is already a violation of the law and we will be correcting that. Which is more likely to cause a conflict, a secure ship in the past or this ship in the present?” The computer answered, “This ship and the technology it contains, such as myself. I see your point and my programming will allow that if you use a secure encryption from the Kuli to lock down the Captain’s Cruiser.” The Watcher smiled and said, “No problem.”

Two sleep cycles later he was settling the ship into the atmosphere of a gas giant to await its discovery by one of the Matriarch’s warriors. He wondered who the Matriarch was and decided that this was a good time for some more Supreme Guardian training. Fifty standard years later, he decided he had enough training for a while and needed to go into stasis himself as he waited for the ships discovery. Before he entered stasis he broadcast a final message toward Tyria. He remembered when he was working at the station and intercepted the cryptic messages and wondered who sent them, he never thought it was himself. He had been sending messages regularly, although this last message was simple and would provide a memory when he needed it. It read, “Everything must balance. End.” He entered the stasis pod and smiled as it dropped into the floor.

 

 

On a lonely station, in a decimated galaxy, a lone man reviewed the message he just received. Like the ones before it over the past fifty years it made no sense. He assumed the “End” meant he would receive no more. He smiled. The messages had started coming just when he was about to give up his mission. He thought he was the only one left and had decided to just quit the deep-sleep and all the rejuvenation treatments and let nature finish the job with age. The messages gave him hope and he now knew he could continue on as The Watcher. He smiled more as he walked toward the deep-sleep chamber content with the duty he had given himself.

 

 

On a lonely, forgotten planet beyond the edge of the galaxy in a cavern the message was received by the ancient computer and a program was triggered. The program awoke a very old man. He reviewed the message and smiled through his wrinkled face that was wet with tears. Finally, it was almost time. He went across the room to a communications station and sat down. When the equipment had warmed up, he composed and sent a message to a number of locations, including into the deepest and darkest region of the universe where nothing existed. It read, “Everything must balance. Begin.”

She awoke from stasis a bit confused at first and then saw the message on her monitor. The message read, “Everything must balance. Begin.” Tomli, who supposedly was dead, sent her a message just before the end of the war to go into hiding and to use the long sleep stasis to protect her abilities. He had told her she would be needed in the future and what to program the ship’s computer to look for.

The computer finally received the message it was waiting for and woke her. She had been in the long sleep stasis for thousands of years and at first worried that her fitness was compromised. She went through her daily exercises and found that Tomli was right as usual. She had not lost any of her speed or abilities, although she probably could use more practice in some areas. Still, there is no one trained better than her as she had Matriarch and Kuli training. There were even fewer with her abilities, even the legendary grandsons could barely match her and they did not have her training. The thoughts reminded her of her famous niece, J’Rontia, and she wondered what happened to her and the rest of the family.

She reviewed her computer’s data feeds to see what the current year was and felt that she waited too long, but Tomli had assured her that the message would come when her Aunt needed her the most. She set her ship on a course for Galaxy 8 and started an intensive study and practice routine so she would be ready and up to date when she arrived.

 

 

The Matriarch reviewed the report with a growing sadness. Her forces were the best trained and most powerful soldiers ever. They performed exceptionally but her numbers were still dropping.  The birth rates were always low but their lifespans were longer than most and things had previously balanced. Now they no longer did. She had lived too long and seen too much. Her world was so dark and the Monarch only worked to darken things even more. She knew the dangers of the invasion they had planned. It would task her troops even more. She saw no light, no hope, and with her numbers dropping she felt the future fading away from her.

The door opened to her office opened and her secretary walked in. She said, “This just came in and it makes no sense. You said to bring you anything strange. It was broadband and picked up by one of the sensors you had us place outside the Bifrost. I reviewed all of the equipment settings and have no idea where it came from.” The Matriarch thanked her and took the message. It read, “Everything must balance. Begin.” One single tear hit the page. She walked to the window and straightened herself up. She spoke softly to no one, “Tomli, is it possible that you truly did plan for everything?” The sadness was still there when she turned back to her duties as she knew her job did not get any easier nor did the dark responsibilities belong to someone else but now she knew the others did not all die and at least one was on the way to help her.

 

Fire

Beads of sweat poured down Jake Kendrick’s ash-covered face, his teeth clenched as he tried to pull his arm out from under the burning rafter that had fallen on top of him. It was ironic, he thought. He fought fires every time he went to work and never got injured once. Now that it was his own home on fire, however, he had become all too aware of the risks involved in a firefight all too quickly.

He had awoken several minutes later with his house ablaze. Before he had even managed to get out of the bedroom, the fire had grown so much that the building was fallen into pieces around him. Just as he had been opening the door to the hallway, the rafter above him fell down, pinning him to the floor by the arm, where he now was struggling to lift the large shard of broken, burning wood weighing heavily on his now broken arm.

Grunting, he heaved his body backward into the floor again, his uninjured arm pushing up on the rafter in an attempt to lift it as his breath became more and more heavily filled with the smoke surrounding him. After a few more seconds, he gasped in exhaustion, relaxing his body in dismayed defeat. “Well, this is just great,” he thought to himself, his throat too hot and dry to speak aloud. “It figures I’d die in a fire when I wasn’t even on duty. Wish I had a priest, now I think of it.”

Thinking back on all the things he had done wrong since his last confession, Jake put forth what would surely be his last petition to God for forgiveness and absolution. He thought of the times he had passed by someone stopped on the road without helping. He thought of the times he had shouted at friends and loved ones who were doing nothing wrong when he was simply angry for no reason, and he thought of all the sins he had forgotten and neglected in past confessions.

Just as he was silently wording what he surely thought would be his final amen, however, Jake heard a voice past the crackling and snaps of the burning building. “Jake?! Are you still in there?” Trying to call out, Jake realized that he no longer had the ability to speak aloud, let alone shout back in reply. He tried waving his hand and beating it against the floor, but even that was such a weakened movement at this point that he couldn’t even hear the light thump of his fist against the floor beside him. Still, hope had been restored by that voice, though his ears could no longer distinguish who it was. His skin burned against his flesh as he tried again to shout out, pressing his chest out into the smoky air.

Weakly, he managed a light, hoarse cry that sounded nothing like the word he was trying to say, “help.” Nonetheless, it seemed that whoever owned the voice that had called out to him had somehow heard him. “Is that you, Jake?!” Footsteps resounded across the wood of the floor. Jake tried explaining that the rafter was too heavy, but his rescuer didn’t seem to care. After the footsteps reached him, he heard the wood of the rafter groan and split as it lifted off of his arm. Then he felt a boiling pain in his arm and shoulder as circulation was restored, and he found the scream he had lost until now. Before the scream had ended, he heard the wood bashing against the floor, breaking the hardwood planks as easily as it had broken his arm.

Then, Jake felt his weight shift as he was lifted up and onto his rescuer’s shoulder as if he were no heavier than a bag of potatoes. Expecting to head back through the burning hallway, Jake was surprised as his rescuer turned toward the opposing wall, not realizing, certainly, that there was no window through the smoke. Just as the weight of the rafter had been no matter, however, his rescuer seemed unperturbed by the absence of a window on this wall and simply kicked out at the wall, which simply gave way to the kick as if the wall were nothing but paper, its brick and studs flying outward like it had just been hit by a wrecking ball.

As they stepped out over the fallen bricks, Jake looked up at the collapsing house behind him that had once been his own. Then, he saw the stars as he was heaved over his rescuer’s shoulder once more and set upon the grass. Finally, he looked upon the green eyes of his rescuer, her usually blonde and blue hair now powdery gray from the ash and smoke.

“Jake! Are you alright?!” Lihandii’s usually light and calm voice was now faltering as she choked on tears which left a trail of smoky mud down her face. Her eyes were alight as he had never seen them. Smiling, he lifted up his uninjured hand to her cheek, wiping some of the filth from her skin, leaving dirty smudges along the side of her face. Her hand lifted to his own, holding it against her skin with a gentleness that almost seemed to contradict the strength she had so exceptionally displayed only moments ago. As he relaxed his arm in exhaustion, she clung more tightly to his weak fingers, her tears streaming down her face.

“No, no!” She cried out as his lids grew heavy. “You aren’t allowed to go to sleep yet! I have something important to tell you!” Jake wasn’t sure what his young wife needed to tell him, but at this time, could it really be so important that he couldn’t shut his eyes. He started to let his lids fall when he felt that strength of hers against his face. “Not yet!” She screamed out at him, trying desperately to keep him from falling asleep.

Just as the spotlights of Valkyr 52 cast out onto his face, he saw the face of Lihandii say, “I’m pregnant, Jake,” before he drifted off into a dark oblivion, even Lihandii’s strength now unable to keep him awake.

Article #2389

Article #2389, Thorlinthian Newswave
Terrorists’ Attempt to Assassinate Monarch Is Met With Failure.



Early this morning (TSD), there was an attempted assassination on the Great Monarch Fargerre Sheii’Cronell during a public right-to-knowledge forum related to the events surrounding the escape of a prisoner during a transfer from the Hel facility on Lohk to the Nivlahim Static Confinement facility. It is currently believed that the terrorist group responsible for the attack was the anarchist Ginnung movement, so named after the interplanetary alliance formed in the Rebel War.

At approximately 4.23 CD, TSD, an at-the-time unknown spacecraft which is now known to have been a stolen Brieti’Muld Industries 2740 Heavy Shuttle entered into the Thorran atmosphere. Upon attempted communications with the vessel, it was revealed that the shuttle’s wireless communications system was allegedly malfunctioning, though certain experts now theorize that it was intentionally sabotaged by the shuttle’s crew to give them access to the resultant Level 3 Emergency Repairs Service provided by the nearest spaceport, Qzcivden West Interplanetary.

Upon landing, the group then proceeded to disable the spaceport’s communications using an unknown device and to kill any and all QWI personnel who came within line of sight of their shuttle. Security recordings indicate that at that time, the terrorists were offloading a great deal of military-grade explosives from their shuttle along with a great deal of weaponry in direct violation of Code 3271 of the Thor Importation Act, which expressly forbids the importation of foreign weaponry or explosives to any of the core planets.

After the shuttle had been unloaded, it was fitted with 21 vegars of Edividt explosives and rigged to explode simultaneously with the other explosives. Before doing so, however, the terrorists fit each of themselves with similar quantities of the explosive and hid it under their clothing. They then took up their arms and drove a Gruh’din Dreft pulsecar out of the spaceport, whereupon they proceeded to the location where the Monarch was set to take questions.

At the same time, the Monarch was preparing for the forum by practicing ocular games. After being told that the attack had taken place at QWI only rosts from his location, the Monarch was heavily recommended to leave and save himself. He instead chose to stay.

The forum began with a few short questions concerning the prisoner’s possible whereabouts. The fugitive, considered to be highly dangerous and armed, is currently in whereabouts unknown. The terrorists, on the other hand, are now very conveniently in as many pieces as they planned to put the Thorran Forum journalists and the Monarch himself.

When the terrorists arrived, they dispersed evenly throughout the crowd and placed themselves as near to the Monarch as possible. Several millidays later, at about 32.14 CD, TDS, the terrorists revealed their explosives, ordering all persons present with the sole exclusion of the Monarch to put themselves on the ground. When the first terrorist raised his weapon to aim at the Monarch, however, the Monarch began to demonstrate his unique skill set as a Sheii’Cronell.

The first terrorist had been turned to a plume of red mist before anyone had had time to react to the chain of events that had so suddenly begun spiralling out of control by the terrorists and into control by the Monarch. One by one, each dying in an increasingly gruesome manner, the terrorists were picked off by the Monarch in a matter of less than one centiday.

After the Monarch had defeated the terrorist present, he moved forward to identify the men who had attempted to kill him so as to reveal those who had not come along for reasons associated with the possibility of such an event occurring, however unlikely they had thought it to be.

After only a matter of millidays, the other terrorists were on the wireless demanding the immediate advocacy of the Monarchy by the Monarch. The Monarch then tried to explain why it had to be him in order to maintain the correct balance of what little cosmos we had left, and there are still new things being learned about planets and stars that he could lead us to discover, but the terrorists denied his suggestion.

After conversing with the terrorists, the Monarch gathered together everyone who’d had explosives attached to them and removed their explosives before they could be remotely detonated, killing at least thousands. When the other anarchists found the remote detonator and tried to set it off, the Monarch lobbed the explosives to the sky, where they fell just in time to explode both the terrorist’s location and their shuttle.

Investigation into the incident has revealed that the terrorists were Nivlahimi in origin, and the ship was stolen from a homep
ort in the Eastern district of Lohk. The explosives used were allegedly stolen from the large storage facilities of the same area, and the weapons appear to have all or mostly been assembled by the attackers themselves as task-ordinance, just in case.


Through the course of the incident, two hundred twenty-four people were injured or killed. Prayers are greatly appreciated by families of the injured or dead. If you have any knowledge in reference to the escaped prisoner of further information regarding the attempt on the Monarch’s life and those of the others who attended the event, please contact your nearest Armadian representative or Peacekeeper. Any and all information will be greatly appreciated, and repeat information is also welcome.

Written by Felira’di Khuda’Felliangi



Lihandii closed the article when she had finished reading, for once grateful that she had set up newswave relays along the hype path that had been taken to the Solar System. “Well,” she said, “that certainly brightens up the morning a tad, doesn’t it?”

Jake had been listening the entire time as Lihandii had read out the article. Now, he leaned back a bit in his chair and thought. “So,” he said after a few moments, “what do we do now?” As he spoke, he pressed his hand against his pocket, where a now ill-timed ring sat, waiting for a new time to arise.

Second Trimester

“How does this thing work, anyway?” Jake Kendrick had his head stuck almost entirely into the housing for the TMDS on Valkyr 52, Lihandii standing next to him as she tolerated his sheer idiocy at such a risk. A TMDS could be a very dangerous thing, even when fully deactivated, which Lihandii had ensured this one was before letting her fiance stick his head inside it. Still, she understood his curiosity.

“Well, I could tell you, but either you wouldn’t understand or you’d have to sit through two years of lectures on quantum teleportation, extradimensional transport, and certain forms of mathematics that can’t be properly performed in base ten before I could even start on the basics.” She gave his neck a look that said she’d very much like to throttle it as soon as it would pull its attached head out of the ship’s most dangerous location.

Instead, Jake stuck his head in even more, saying, “You could just tell me you don’t know, Lihandii. I’d understand if you didn’t. Or rather, I wouldn’t, but neither would you, so it wouldn’t particularly matter to me.” Somehow, even from his hilariously awkward, backbending position, Jake managed to make Lihandii blush for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

In a mock fury, she tapped his foot with her own. Any more, and he’d had slammed his face into a particularly gruesome bit of machinery or fallen into the main power source of the TMDS, either of which would have made his a much uglier face than it was now. Somehow, though, it still managed to freak him out enough to pull his head out.

“Are you crazy, woman?!” His panic was evident on his face, his eyes wide and his lower jaw slackened. He quickly tapped his hands over his face to make sure it was all still there. Once satisfied, he smacked her shoulder lightly. “You’re going to be the death of me, you know.”

At this, Lihandii’s face turned somber. That was probably something she’d have to tell him at some point. Attempting to cover it up, she adopted a more critical face. “In any case, are you done having your fun poking about my drives? Can I spin them back up now?”

Jake’s grin cocked to one side as his mind went places it shouldn’t have from a simple comment like that. “You can spin your drives up any time you — ow!” Before he could finish, Lihandii had stepped on his foot considerably harder than she had when he had been inside the TMDS housing. As he reeled about in pain, she spun about and headed toward the cockpit, where she started enabling systems one at a time to get the drives purring again. Turning back to the housing, Jake noticed that it had automatically closed when the spin-up protocols had begun. Its whirring was gentler than the ship’s laundry machine, which Jake still had trouble with, even after a year and a half.

“What are you two going on about this time?” Frederick Ayling walked out of the Valkyr’s quarters in his pajamas, a white tee shirt and a pair of flannel pants that he wouldn’t be wearing if it weren’t so cold in the ship all the time. Apparently, Qzcivden was a much colder city than Lubbock, which worked out well enough for the girls, who could just stay in their ship whenever they thought it was too hot. It didn’t work out so well for the men, who felt like they were freezing just about any time they came inside, which was just about whenever they weren’t on duty at the firehouse.

“Oh, morning, Fred.” Jake nodded at his partner, who returned the gesture as he wiped his eyes. “How’s the missus?” Fred and Feri’Andi had gotten married about five months ago, and they had wasted no time in taking the Valkyr for their honeymoon, during which time Lihandii had stayed in Jake’s guest room. Now, they were living a happy married life right onboard, except when they needed ‘alone time’ and spent some time in Fred’s house.

“She’s the same way she has been for almost five months now, Jake,” Fred said, letting some breath escape from between his lips as he breathed out slowly. “Pregnant.” He grimaced a bit and looked back to the quarters area, beyond which was the head. “The morning sickness is over, but she still has some trouble getting up in the mornings.” Fred perked up a bit and headed to the galley. “Do you want some breakfast? I’m cooking an Irish breakfast today. My mom would be proud, but my dad would be horrified.” He chuckled a bit at the idea. His father had always taught that English cooking was the only cooking anyone needed to know, but his mother had been born and raised in the Republic of Ireland, so she had made sure he knew how to cook a good Irish meal, anyway, much to his father’s chagrin.

“You know me,” Jake said, sitting at the table and pulling out his newest binder of notes, opening it and beginning to write what he had learned about the TMDS during his reckless morning endeavor. “I love some good Irish food. It’s usually almost as good as Scottish food.” The two shared a laugh as Fred started up the range, placing a skillet over the flame and moving about to gather ingredients. Jake may have had a Scottish Great Grandfather who managed to pass down the name, but all of his other ancestors were Irish, giving him a majority share in Irish genetics over the Scottish.

“Don’t let your parents hear you say that,” Fred joked. “They might have heart attacks, both of them.” They continued in their laughter and joking, Jake writing and Fred cooking, until the girls came into the room.

“Something smells delicious, Fred,” Feri’Andi crooned, her belly barely showing her pregnancy, even at twenty weeks. It was likely from the baby’s metabolism that it was a Valkyrie just like her mother, but there was no telling just yet as Feri’Andi didn’t want to determine any of the child’s traits until birth. Fred had objected until she had revealed that Valkyrie perinatal mortality rates averaged around one thousandth of a percent. His objections had come to an end rather quickly after that.

“It will be, as soon as you have a seat, my dear,” Fred replied, scooping the last of the cooking onto a plate and turning off the range. She did, and Lihandii walked over to help her do so slowly and talk to her about supposed ‘girl stuff.’ “Jake, can you help me out?”

“Yeah, sure.” Jake put up his notes, stood, and began helping Fred to set the table. When they had finished, Lihandii took her seat next to Jake, and Fred took his next to Feri’Andi, who had received more than twice as much food as anyone else at the table.

“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Fred began the breakfast prayer, and everyone followed suit. After a minute or so, they all started digging into their food.

“So, I heard you start back up the Timids, Liha,” Feri’Andi said as she finished her white pudding. “Are we going somewhere?”

Lihandii took a sip of water before answering quite cooly. “As a matter of fact, we’re going to go check out that hypenet broadcast over in England. I think it was in a county called Wiltshire. Anyway, its putting out a signal that just doesn’t match up with the others in the northern hemisphere. We should look into it.”

Jake and Fred looked at each other. They couldn’t possibly mean — Could they? Their eyes grew wide.

Learning

“Gnome.. edit… Jake,” Jake said, the phrase hurting his brain a little. He and Lihandii had been trying to teach each other their native languages, but Lihandii’s learning was coming along much quicker than his own. He had barely gotten through numbers and basic vocabulary and was only now getting into self-introductions in Thorlinthian, but Lihandii was already quite capable of having flowing conversations about the technical specifications of an M16A4 assault rifle without skipping a beat. Still, Jake didn’t mind. It gave him time to spend with Lihandii, and Feri’Andi made them all, including Frederick Ayling, Jake’s partner, wonderful food just about every day. English cooking had been Fred’s contribution while Jake had been teaching (and eventually learning quite a bit about) the English language.

“No, Jake. It’s ‘Nom edt,’ not ‘Nome edit,’” Lihandii corrected in her most patient voice. Fred had pretty much given up the language thing. He said he had had enough problems with English already, and the Spanish in the Lubbock area made it even worse. Now, he’d just sit and play with Feri’Andi’s metal Kohstr deck whenever the lessons started up. He could name and translate just about every card, but that was because he knew his monsters, not his languages. At least, that had been his claim. Personally, Jake was pretty sure Fred just didn’t want to risk looking bad in front of Feri’Andi, who had acquired a bit of an admiration for him when he demonstrated his cooking skills. The only reason she didn’t want him cooking during the lessons was that she was fairly certain he was actually trying to learn her language, as evidenced by his whisperings to himself, trying to get the sayings right without anyone noticing.

Lihandii continued, “The ‘nom’ sound should be much like the end of the word ‘Vietnam.’ It’s a very light ‘ah’ sound in the middle. ‘Edt’ is more like the sound in ‘pet’ than ‘edit,’ but you don’t want to lose that soft ‘d’ sound in the middle. It’s used to remove the harshness of the consonant sound.” Jake was thoroughly lost, and his forehead drooped as he rose his eyebrows and opened his eyes a bit more, hoping to absorb the information through osmosis. Lihandii barely held a laugh in at the sight, but she continued in her explanation. “That sound is what makes the vowel sound longer. It doesn’t actually add a syllable.”

Jake blinked a few times, holding back a yawn that could be misinterpreted as boredom. He needed to sleep, but it seemed Valkyries didn’t sleep as often as mere mortals such as himself and Fred, who had already dozed off, Feri’Andi’s cards sprawled out across his side of the table, having fallen from his hand in mid-shuffle. The two had been coming to the girls’ spaceship during their off-time for about a month now, and the added activity during their 48 hours of rest time did nothing to detract from their mutual exhaustion. “Ok, so it’s, ‘Nahm eht Jake?’” He tried again, hoping to be right, and Lihandii’s slightly embarrassed smile told him just how close and yet how far he had been that time.

“You’ll get it eventually,” Feri’Andi chipped in as she placed a plate of bangers and mash beside his hands on the table, steam rising gently from the plate. Jake smiled in appreciation and again thought about how odd it was that of all Earth’s many plants, the two Thorlinthians seemed most fixated on potatoes. Apparently, their homeworld, Thor, didn’t have a lot of produce, and what it did have was nothing like the peculiar, starchy root that was so deliciously flexible in preparation and just seemed to go with everything in one form or another.

Certainly, they were amazed at all of the foods available on Earth, but they seemed most amazed at the one so many took for granted. Never had they eaten anything like french fries or baked potatoes. They’d never had the chance to mash up the delicious meat of the root and mix it with an animal’s dairy product to create the simple dish of mashed potatoes. So Jake and Fred had gotten used to seeing potato in just about every meal, and it never seemed to be the same.

“Wake up, sleepybrains,” Feri’Andi cooed at the almost-drooling Frederick, holding his plate near his nose to aid in his waking. Sure enough, after a moment, his nose flared once or twice, and his eyes fluttered open as he tried to figure out how long he had dozed off. “Dinner’s ready, Fred.”

Fred smiled widely, the bags under his eyes coming to meet the smiling lines bordering them, looking up at Feri’Andi like she was an angel who had just saved him from certain starvation. “Thank you, Feri,” Fred said, taking the plate and sitting a bit taller and, looking about for his mug full of water, taking a swig before picking up his saxpun, a Thorlinthian spoon with one serrated side and two teeth coming out over it, creating a veritable all-purpose piece of flatware for any occasion, its smoky translucence giving off a sense of fanciness beyond most things Fred had ever owned in a simple piece of tableware. After saying a quick prayer together with Jake, he proceeded to cut his sausage, pluck it from the plate along with a spoonful of mashed potato, and place it in his awaiting mouth.

“Delicious as ever, Feri,” Lihandii said, already slicing into her third bite of sausage. “Your talent with a flame and a bit of water will never cease to amaze me. You know,” she said, tapping Jake’s elbow to grab his attention away from the entrancing food, “Feri here was always making the meals on the trip here, too. There are things she could do with only pressure variation that I didn’t even know were possible until I tasted the dishes myself.” She nodded slowly as she said all this, attempting to show just how truthful she was being by agreeing with herself as she went.

“Well, I believe it,” Jake said. “This is probably the best mashed potato I’ve ever had. It might even be better than Fred’s.” He added the last bit just to probe Fred for a good response,
which he got only moments later.


“Hey, watch it,” Fred accosted. “My mashed potatoes are the best on Earth…” he let those words sink in before adding, “or off it. And you can take that to the bank.” He smiled with a facetious smugness which, had it been serious, would not have fit his face at all.

“I’m sure they are, Frederick,” Feri’Andi said, using his whole first name to add to the false condescension in her voice, her lips touching his forehead gently before she sat next to him to join everyone else at the table and start eating, herself. Just as Lihandii had done while Jake and Fred had been praying, Feri’Andi kissed her fingers and circled them over the plate before lifting them up to the sky. She proceeded to pick up her saxpun and start eating with the rest of them. “Could you pass a napkin, please?”

Plans

About eight centidays after beginning, Gril’Die finished talking. The Ginnung Council sat in silence, reflecting on all the information they’d just been provided. For several millidays, the Councilors just sat at the table, fingers interlaced or drumming on the wooden table. While they thought about everything he’d just told them, Gril’Die took the time to wonder at the architecture of the room.

The Council Room was a circular room carved out of the inside of one of the Skogr Forest’s many trees. It had two windows, each about a quarter turn of the wall long. The windows were heavily latticed, so that sight was easily achieved outward from the inside, but sight was incredibly difficult to achieve inward from the outside. The wall of the room was clearly maintained with regular burning treatments to prevent the tree from growing inward again, and Gril’Die wondered just how often they had to recarve the lattices in the windows. The ceiling of the room was heavily arched, the central point at least four times higher than the wall.Gril’Die also noticed that the only door was the one leading into the lift that led back down into the city, which jutted out of the wall into the room exactly where one might expect a door leading outside to sit. Gril’Die wondered for a moment what they would do if there were a fire but was interrupted in this thought by the High Councilor, Feriadd Khuda’Salongriell, with whom he had initially spoken.

“Mi’Olnr, what do you expect us to do with all of this information?” Gril’Die snapped out of his thoughts and turned to Feriadd. Feriadd was leaning against the back of his chair with one arm, the other extended outward onto the table. Gril’Die briefly had to remember that these men were not actually politicians but rebel military leaders who were elected to their positions without campaigning. None of the men in this room cared for the pomp and circumstance that would frown on such a stance. He smiled at the thought, encouraged to be surrounded by military men instead of the politicians to which he had become accustomed on Thor. One of the men even had his feet propped upon the table.

“Well, to be quite honest, I would rather you not distribute it to common knowledge just yet, first of all.” At this, a few of the Councilors frowned, but most of them nodded in agreement. It would hardly be surprising if people reacted in a way that no one would much appreciate if they knew half of the information the Council had just been told. “Secondly, I think it would be a very good idea to destroy the Monarch’s… device.” Poison seemed to drip from Gril’Die’s voice as he spoke of the machine. He wasn’t sure how many people knew about it, but he was fairly certain that there weren’t many, though he had a feeling the Valkyries knew about it. Those women were never surprised by anything.

“And how would you propose we go about destroying said device? We don’t even know when next it will be used. Fargerre Sheii’Cronell just became the Monarch a few cycles ago. Sheii’Cronells don’t exactly age quickly.” This time, it was not Feriadd but a Junior Councilor named Qziderien who spoke. He was no older than twenty-three cycles, but he seemed to be one of the more hardened members of the Council. Based on the musculature of his neck and shoulders, he was probably an armored karlsohk pilot, which would mean he’d probably been at the front lines of several more battles than most of the men at this table had even commanded. This meant he also had a much more skeptical mindset than most of these men, making him a good counterweight on the Council. Gril’Die silently applauded the Ginnung for electing such a well-rounded government.

“That’s true, but the Monarch always wants a stronger body. If an even more powerful Sheii’Cronell were to be born, we might be able to use him to destroy the device, assuming we could get him on board with us. All we need is someone willing to reject the Monarch’s transfer without letting the Monarch catch on before the transfer was attempted. The device would be deadlocked and totally useless. All that would be left would be the Monarch himself.” Gril’Die tried his best to make this seem like a passing detail, but he knew better after the previous comment.

“I thought the device would kill the Monarch if the transfer was rejected. His mind would already be in the device when it deadlocked, right?” Qziderien was as quick to this as Gril’Die had expected.

“It was rigged that way initially, but the Monarch’s too careful, and he’s had a lot of time to learn more about that machine. The deadlock reaction couldn’t be removed, but he’s had a lot of time to figure out a way for it not to kill him. To be honest, I’m surprised he didn’t kill me after I found out about the device.” That was certainly the truth. Gril’Die avoided further detail on the matter of that occasion.

“Well, we’re certainly glad he didn’t. I suspect it might have had something to do with the aliens,” Feriadd said. He was now leaning toward Gril’Die over the table, as were most of the other Council members, just as they had when he had been telling them everything he knew about the Monarch, the truth of the Fehmadadi, and the Sheii’Cronells. They had certainly reacted strongly when he got into the idea of genetic alteration. It was something very specifically forbidden in Jalihu’dai’s later sacred texts.

“Nonetheless,” Qziderien said, “how do we find a stronger Sheii’Cronell than Fargerre? He’s the most powerful one history has ever seen. And if we do, how do we get him to join the Ginnung?”

The last Councilor with his feet propped dropped them with a thud, and ever
yone looked in his direction. He had been so motionless during the entire discussion that most of them had thought he was sleeping, his bulky robes covering even his face with their large hood. He hadn’t even introduced himself when Gril’Die had begun, opting instead to sit in silence. “You just let me take care of that.” The Councilors all stood quickly but none so quick as Gril’Die. The voice had not been one of a man but a woman. Looking about the room again, Gril’Die wondered how none of them had noticed that there were only twelve Councilors, yet there were fourteen people in the room, until this moment.


The mystery woman stood slowly, her hood pulling up and away from her face a bit more. Before she even reached up to remove her hood, however, Gril’Die was fairly certain he knew who it was, though they had never met. He could see the green glow of her eyes against the dark interior of her hood as her hands came up to the edge of the hood. She pulled it off to reveal gray and blue hair that had been tightly braided and bunned to disguise her identity.

“Matriarch Khuda’Cronell, it’s a pleasure to meet you at last,” Gril’Die said, cutting through the apprehension in the room full of men who feared only one thing and suddenly found that thing in their midst as if it was just as at home as they were, if not more so. How she had gotten in, no one could be certain, but if Gril’Die didn’t do something fast, she may be the only one leaving it, and he was fairly sure that wasn’t her intention. “Would you care to elaborate on that last comment, please?”

Continuing to remove the heavy Councilor’s robes she had been wearing over her highly decorated Valkyrie uniform, the Matriarch spoke, “Well, you may remember setting a protocol that sent Valkyries out to that mystery beacon you found consistently over the past few dozen cycles.” Grie nodded, and she continued, ignoring the nervous Councilors as she neatly folded the robes and placed them on the table. “Good! Then I presume you’ve been receiving my reports to you on our findings there? You did mention some of those findings in this meeting, after all.”

“What’s your point, Matriarch?” Qziderien seemed to have found his voice again, and the Matriarch turned to him. He stepped back a bit as her gaze set upon him, but he stood a bit taller when he stopped.

The Matriarch smiled. “My point is that the Valkyries have been visiting a planet full of these ancient Murhan for the past several dozen cycles, which has been quite a different extent of time on the other side of the Bifrost. Valkyries aren’t exactly known for romantic indecisiveness, either. Eventually, one of them is going to find a mate, and you may recall what the Mi’Olnr just told you about what would happen if a Valkyrie reproduced with the exact same type of people who are on that planet.”

The men in the room all looked at her with a bit more surprise, if that were even possible, as they realized the extent of her words. Feriadd, nodded, his eyes narrowing as a faint smile grew across his face. “I see.”

But even the Matriarch had no idea just how soon her prediction was about to come true as Jake Kendrick began digging into a pizza in a restaraunt that was a Bifrost and several galaxies away with a Thorlinthian communicator in his pocket.

A Fight

“Grie, are you coming? We’ve got the next five hours free, and we were thinking of swinging by the galley for some extra rations.” A small Dragon Rider gestured to her comrade as the others headed out of the training room, drops of sweat dripping from his chin as he moved through the fundamental motions with a speed and finesse that could only be attained through years of practice.

Of course, Grie Khuda’Mundi had only been a Dragon Rider for about a quarter of a cycle now, but the almost exclusive martial art practiced by the Dragon Riders had been learned from the Valkyries, and Grie had married one of them about six cycles ago. It hadn’t taken long for him to take advantage of that fact to learn Thorla’din as soon as he found out she was an instructor for the art which inspired Thorla’O, the less fine form used by many Dragon Riders as they usually didn’t have the necessary grace and fluidity for true Thorla’din.

Grie’s feet slid quickly over the floor as he focused on his internal energy, his footwork becoming a blur. “No thanks,” he said. “I need to work on my form. I’m not fluid enough yet.” To anyone who had not seen him training with his wife, this was a truly absurd thing to hear. Grie was already a master of Thorla’O, but he wasn’t training his Thorla’O. In fact, he had never really trained Thorla’O. He had simply been recognized as a master by the instructors, none of whom could even get within a leg’s length of him without winding up on the ground.

Of course, the instructors thought that Valkyries practiced Thorla’O and were simply better at it due to their increased power and reflexes. In truth, Valkyries didn’t even recognize Thorla’O as a martial art, merely thinking of it as a cheap imitation of Thorla’din, which it was. Now, as Grie sliced his arms through the air like he was juggling knives, the air almost seemed to move out of his way before he passed through it, silent as a stone and quick as a repeater bolt.

“Grie, you’re the best fighter on the whole ship. Just give it a rest for one hour,” the woman said as she set down her bag. From behind her, however, an arm reached toward her and planted firmly on her shoulder. Then, a voice came from the body attached to the arm.

“Oh, really?” the voice asked. “I’d like to test to see if that’s true.” Drigondii Sheii’Cronell patted the woman’s shoulder a few times as he stepped forward in traditional training garb which matched Grie’s own. He wiped his feet and stepped out onto the floor, where Grie had ceased his motions. “I see you’re working very hard, Grie. Would you care for a spar?”

Grie’s eyes bolted wider twice as fast as those of his comrades, who dropped their bags and quickly lined up around the edge of the training floor. No one had really seen the Monarch fight before, but as a Sheii’Cronell, he’d have to be incredibly powerful. As he looked more carefully into his leader’s eyes, however, Grie noticed a very important detail. Drigondii’s eyes were not alight with the fire of the Sheii’Cronells. He stood tall and gave the traditional salute of Thorla’din, and Drigondii reciprocated. “I welcome the spar.” Grie smiled back at Drigondii’s almost childlike grin.

They each stepped into the starting stance, and like that, their arms and legs disappeared. The Dragon Riders watching couldn’t believe their eyes. For all of Grie’s practicing to improve his speed, he was faster still in a true spar. Drigondii’s motions were actually slightly slower, but it was in this fight that the Dragon Riders saw what Grie meant about not being fluid enough.

Grie’s movements were like water, his body moving with a smooth purpose and energy that none of his fellows could match. Drigondii, however, was like a gas. Wherever the water moved, the gas filled the openings that no one else even saw until after he was there. They then realized that Drigondii wasn’t actually slower. He was simply more relaxed. Grie’s movements had a certain snap to them when he changed direction, much like a whip. Drigondii’s movements didn’t hold that snap, which gave the appearance that he was slower. Truthfully, he was carefully matching speeds with his opponent, who was wearing down from all the snapping and whipping back and forth.

“You’re right, Grie,” Drigondii said, his voice cool and smooth even through the fight, a stark contrast to Grie’s now-ragged breath. “You aren’t fluid enough. You need to relax.”

Finally, Grie found an opening. He managed to grip Drigondii into a choking hold, and it seemed like the fight was over. Then, he just wasn’t in Grie’s hold any more. The Dragon Riders blinked as they tried to figure out how he had wriggled loose of such a solid hold, but they couldn’t figure it out. Grie swung about a bit too widely to counter Drigondii’s sudden attack from behind.

The parry was successful, but as Grie blended his motion with Drigondii’s, the mistake was made plain. Drigondii grabbed the hand and quickly twisted Grie about, flipping the man into a spin toward the floor. Grie’s body turned about as he hit the floor, rolling back into the fighting position, but Drigondii was there to meet him.

“You’re also right about being too slow, Grie,” Drigondii co
mmented as he brought his arm up to flip Grie back to the ground. This time, though, Drigondii was the one seeming surprised as Grie worked around and behind him. Grie soon realized, however, that the surprise was a feint. As soon as he moved to take Drigondii down, he found his legs caught by Drigondii’s own. Drigondii made a perfect dive, taking Grie’s feet up and his head down to the floor.


Grie managed to roll out of harm, but Drigondii was again there to meet him, this time pinning him to the floor with a nerve hold before Grie could get up again. Grie tapped the floor, and the fight was over.

“Thank you, Excellency. It was a pleasure to fight with you,” Grie panted out as he bowed to his leader. Drigondii bowed back and smiled.

“The same, Grie. I do, however, recommend that you go eat with your fellows, who’ve been sitting patiently here for you when they could have been off eating.” Drigondii knew, of course, that they had stayed for the fight because of who Grie was fighting, but he wasn’t about to point that out. “Also, I think you’ve practiced enough today. Take it easy for a while.”

“Yes, sir!” Grie cried out as he saluted the Monarch. The two stepped off the floor and headed off to shower, Grie in the head and Drigondii in his stateroom. It was an interesting sight to behold, indeed, as the Monarch walked across the ship, barefoot and in a plain training uniform. He normally wore his Drigarmr.

“So we’ll see you in five, right, Grie?” The woman called out as the Dragon Riders prepared to leave again, all abuzz from what they had just witnessed.

“Yeah, I’ll be there,” Grie called out from the shower. By the time he’d changed into his armor, they were gone. He picked up his bag, sighed, and headed for the galley. He pulled out a picture as he walked. It was a small photograph of his wife and newborn. Grie reminded himself that his son wasn’t so small anymore and slipped the picture back into his bag, taking longer strides. Now, he was hungry.

Pri and Grie

“So, Grie, why don’t you tell me about yourself?” Feri’Andi said from across her dinner table table in Qzcivden. “How did you and my daughter meet?” She gave Grie a suspicious glance as she bit into her boiled sea felgr, careful to cover her mouth as she did so.

“Well, ma’am, I was on leave, sitting at a table at a restaraunt on top of the Beacon City Hotel on Osgord, completely zoned out and thinking about work when Priha’Di came up and started talking to me–”

“About the fact that he hadn’t eaten any of his food,” Priha’Di finished. “I decided he had a bit of charm about himself and sat down with him to eat my own lunch while I was waiting to continue my mission tracking a weapons runner who had been supplying some dealers with military Timids. He didn’t know that at the time, of course, so he was completely surprised when–”

“When she just gets up on the railing and jumps off the top of Beacon City Tower, saying she’d be right back,” Grie continued, each of the pair making time for the other to get in a few bites of food. “Now, of course, most guys would have assumed she wasn’t coming back, but I had a good feeling about Priha’Di, so I ordered us some more food–”

“And he just sits there, waiting for me to get back for twelve centidays!” Priha’Di came in as soon as she had swallowed her food. She briefly smiled at Grie before continuing. “So I just finished my mission and head back, assuming he’ll be gone, and he’s still sitting there like a real gentleman, even though he ended up missing the cyclical firework show with his family in Gordten. When I got back and saw him there, just looking up at me like I’d only been gone for a milliday–”

“I just knew,” they both said in perfect unison, looking into each other’s eyes like there was an entire galaxy of interesting things just waiting to be discovered behind them. Priha’Di reached out her hand, and Grie took it, the two squeezing each other’s fingers.

While it was still a significantly remarkable thing that the two were able to complete each other’s sentences, it was in large part due to the fact that the two had formed a type of mental link influenced by Priha’Di’s power as a Valkyrie. Each of them was capable of sharing the other’s thoughts, though not necessarily read the other’s mind. It was something that required openness from both parties. Grie and Priha’Di just happened to be very open with one another.

Feri’Andi smiled. She had been very early on in her pregnancy with Priha’Di when they had returned from Earth, so Priha’Di had no memory of her father. Still, Feri’Andi did, and it was heartwarming to see a connection so reminiscent of her own with her husband. She knew why Grie had asked for this dinner, but she wasn’t going to push the subject. She knew that it would bring itself up in time.

“It was so kind of you to have me over for dinner here, ma’am. I’m sure I couldn’t have offered such a fine dinner at my home. It’s all very delicious. I’ve never had cooking quite like this,” Grie said, marvelling at the lines across the sides of his own sea felgr, marks left by Feri’Andi’s grill, which was something she had built herself for lack of availability this side of the Bifrost.

“Yes, I learned it from my husband,” Feri’Andi said. “He fought fires, professionally, but he always did like to dabble in cooking.” She picked up a steamed korn, which was more like Earth broccoli than corn. She smiled at the odd coincidence in names.

“He fought fires, ma’am?” Grie looked curiously at Feri’Andi at this comment. Fire extinguishing systems were fully robotic in the Linthian system, the firefighting profession having been briefly reintroduced for a few centuries after the Ragn’Rouk but since unheard of. “Where was he from?”

Priha’Di stopped eating at this question. She wasn’t entirely sure herself, though she knew her older sister remembered. She had never managed to get the answer to this particular question, so her own curiosity was also piqued when Grie brought it up.

“My husband was from a far outer planet.” That sentence was more true than Feri’Andi could admit at the time. Earth was very far out of the Linthian system. “The firefighting robots on his planet are a bit disfunctional at times.” The firefighting robotics on Earth were, after all, very primitive.

“What planet is he from? I’m not too familiar with some of the outer worlds.” Grie’s head tilted slightly out of curiosity, but Feri’Andi knew her way out of this question well. With a quick mental jolt, she knocked a picture off the wall on the staircase behind Grie. There was an unpleasant crashing sound as the frame hit the ground, the viewpane shattering.

“Oh, my! Let me just get that cleaned up quickly. Terribly sorry about that, Grie!” Feri’Andi stood quickly, moving to pick up the pieces and take them to the trash, leaving the picture itself on the table.

As she was gone, Grie and Priha’Di took the time to look at the photograph. It was a chemically bonded slip of paper, an odd thing to be laying around in a Thoren’s house. As the heart of technology and society, Thor wasn’t exactly known for things as primitive as this sheet of paper. That alone would have been enough to spark Grie’s curiosity, but he was also a bit startled by the content of the photograph.

In a strange, uncomfortable-looking garment, a man leaving his prime with light orange hair and light blue eyes looked out from the photo, several ribbons and medallions on his chest, though he wore no sash indicative of the Armada. His appearance was a bit odd, and Grie had never seen a hair color quite like his, though the orange in Priha’Di’s hair led him to believe that this was a picture of her father. He was holding a young girl in one arm, his other arm over the shoulder of a young woman with dark blue and brown hair, who Grie quickly recognized as Feri’Andi.

“Is that your sister he’s holding?” Grie pointed to the young girl, her light blue and blonde hair very much like other pictures Grie had seen of Terira.

“Yes,” Priha’Di said, smiling gently. “I’ve never met my father, but I know he was a very compassionate man.”

“Everyone’s clothes are a bit odd, though, aren’t they?” Grie marvelled at the yellow dress Terira was wearing, with blossoms printed on the fabric. The black and white layers of her father’s garments were all sharply pressed, a look that seemed fitting for a high-ranking Armadian, not someone who fought fires. The silver and gold medallions on his chest shone brightly, somewhat reminiscent of military commendations. Feri’Andi, on the other hand, was wearing a green, woven sweater that fit snugly against her, her eyes shining to match it. “It’s a wonderful picture,” he finally said, looking to Priha’Di, who he now noticed was building tears in her eyes.

“It’s my favorite picture,” she said, her voice cracking a bit from the tears she was holding back. Grie leaned over and embraced her, and she leaned into his shoulder for a few moments before her mother returned.

“Sorry about that,” Feri’Andi said. “Anyway, Grie, was there a particular reason you wanted to have dinner tonight?” She didn’t really want to force the topic, but it was something to get their minds off Priha’Di’s father.

Grie straightened himself, and Priha’Di did the same, dabbing slightly at her eyes with her napkin. “Yes, ma’am. As you know, Priha’Di and I have been together for over six cycles now, and we’re very eager to spend even more time with each other in the future.” Feri’Andi raised an eyebrow at this, smiling slightly.

“Anyway,” he continued, “I’d very much like your blessing tonight toward taking your daughter’s hand in marriage.” Priha’Di gasped. Grie had made it a point to hide the thought from her so that it would be a surprise. She brought her hands to her mouth and the tears she had just held back began to finally escape. Grie looked to Feri’Andi for a few moments before she nodded.

Once she had, Grie rose from his seat and lowered himself to the ground, presenting the box containing the traditional Osgordian necklace of betrothal to Priha’Di. “Pri, will you marry me?” He held the box a bit higher, and Priha’Di leaned past it to kiss him, her answer clear even before he had been able to ask with all of her nods reaching a nearly comical level.

“Of course I will!” Priha’Di said as she brought her lips away from Grie’s long enough for him to place the chain around her neck, the Khuda’Mundi seal hanging from it. She hugged him tightly as they both stood while Feri’Andi merely smiled compassionately. She shed mixed tears as she thought of the joy this was bringing to her family and the sadness that Priha’Di’s father could not be here for this. She missed being known as Mrs. Ayling.

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.”