Quantum Implicitum 01 - What Came Before


Amaranth
QI_Small.png
Quantum Implicitum 01 - What Came Before
by
Stardraigh

Follow Andrew Trell and Cavin Conn as they enter into the world, discover their heritage, and find it within themselves to be heroes.
~-~
Tuesday, July 8th, 1958
Melloxa III, Planetary Administration Center
~-~

Herald first class Maco Wealdu didn’t want to wait, but he did nonetheless

Maco had been ordered to attend the meeting he waited outside of in person rather than remotely by an FTL comm. This forced him to leave on short notice from his unit and spend the last two months on a courier starship that arrived less than an hour before the meeting would start. Two months, in his experienced opinion, that could’ve been better spent training with his command for an upcoming raid into rebel held territory.

He’d made it down to the surface and the system governor's staff had rushed him to the meeting site only to find out he was barred from entering. That was two hours ago. Few things would require a Herald to wait.

Still, he waited patiently for access to the meeting and finally he got in. The door opened and a steward motioned him to enter.

The lights were dimmed since the hologram display was on. Holograms, representing those not able to attend in person illuminated the room in a pale blue light.

Maco scanned the faces of those in attendance. Recognizing them, he stopped and saluted. All nine of them ranked higher than him.

Six of them were star system governors, none he’d ever worked directly with.

Two were Operations Directors. He was familiar with Bres Endonym, a human male who was a sub-director of Starship Logistics. His unit had always had close dealings with his office. The other director was Rashyk Elden, an albaz female, who was an Intelligence Services sub-director.

Maco had never met Rashyk before nor had he any direct dealings with her. He knew she was responsible for intelligence out in the edge-ward fringe of explored space. Maco knew the constant state of war with the rebels prevented her office from ever having the budget they wanted in order to really do something out there.

The last individual was Carios, one of the few remaining Prime Architects the Hegemon had in its service. Maco had long been familiar with him as well. Carios was the one who had designed and implemented Maco’s quantum template and mentored him through his career as a Herald.

Maco now had an idea now of what was going on. The six governors meant whatever this meeting was about, it was important enough that it had the minimum amount of system governors required to authorize a special action. With Rashyk in attendance, this meeting was most likely about an operation in the fringe.

Upon his entry and salute, all focused their attention on Maco. Carios spoke first.

“At ease Maco. Have a seat.”

One station remained open. Maco moved towards it.

Rashyk didn’t wait for Maco to sit before asking a question. “What do you know of the fringe Herald Wealdu?”

“That’s a broad subject, one not easily summed up,” Maco responded.

“Try me. Herald.”

“The fringe is an area of explored and currently uninhabited space around the edge of the Hegemon Core worlds. It wasn’t always uninhabited. The colonies there were closed down as more resources were needed to fight the rebels. The rebels did the same as well for the worlds they initially controlled.”

“A textbook answer.” Rashyk seemed neither pleased nor displeased. “What do you know of Prime Architect Erlan?”

“He’s one of the few architects still alive. Intelligence last reported him exploring the abandoned colony in the Sorbanon system in the core-ward fringe nineteen years ago.”

“You seem to keep up with intelligence.”

“It pays to be informed.”

Rashyk grinned, “That it does. What if I told you that Erlan was no longer in Rebel controlled space, and in fact, he hasn’t been for several centuries?”

“If that is true, I would be inclined to say he’s dead and the rebels are trying to keep up appearances, or we have him in our possession already. Given you’re the one giving the brief, I think he’s in the edge-ward part of the fringe.”

“Perceptive of you.”

The holo display in the table center brought up a map of explored space. It focused in on the edge-ward fringe.

“Two decades ago we discovered the rebels had obtained information on a colony world that had been abandoned during the civil war. It was not abandoned like we thought. It is In fact thriving.”

Maco noticed Carios reach up and rub his chest. He’d often seen Carios do it when he was sad, but when asked, he’d never explain.

The holo display zoomed in on an area roughly 4000 light years from the nearest inhabited Hegemon world. Maco knew from his study of history that official history said all of the colonies had their citizens pulled back before being left to die. He also knew that official history was much different than history as it actually happened.

“This is the Arsana Star System, and this is Arsana IV.”

The holo display switched to a map of the solar system in question with a secondary map of the planet rotating.

“Arsana IV was one of the most promising colony worlds before the rebellion. It was promising enough that even before the terraforming was completed, a full colonization effort was initiated. Five bridge nodes were installed in the system. The colony was thought to be destroyed when the rebel Architect Kusa made her last stand there. The intel we gathered showed that the population was well beyond the maximum Eco-Function protocols allowed. The intel also showed that Erlan was working with the population to improve their technology base and standard of living.”

Maco knew that the highest population planet was Tarvallos VI with 800 million people living on it. To have 1.2 billion people on a planet only thought capable of supporting thirty million was unheard of.

“We estimate the society in existence on Arsana IV is on par with the Industrial age during the Age of Discovery before the Hegemon as we know it even existed. It appears that when they were abandoned, they survived by reducing their need for advanced technology to industrial age levels.”

“You said it’s been twenty years since this data was discovered. Have the rebels taken action to recover control of the planet,” Maco asked

“We do not believe so. Analysis of other intel sources shows this information was so new to the rebels, it never had the chance to be disseminated when we acquired it. The rebels know nothing of this. It has been calculated out and the chance they do know and are playing a long-term strategy is non-existent. Another piece of information we verified is Prime Architect Erlan left rebel-controlled space through subterfuge after working to recover the Vermarn system’s library node. What he discovered that prompted this action, we have not been able to discover. The rebels have established a cover for him, but do not know where he is. The rebels have even gone so far as to establish a special intelligence unit dedicated solely to finding and recovering him.”

“I take it there’s a reason why we haven’t gone in and made an attempt to regain control of this colony world?” Maco asked.

“There are two reasons. We have yet to unlock the bridge node network. We simply do not have the logistics in place yet to support a system recovery operation to such a distant system.”

Maco knew the official history said the bridge node network was disabled to prevent the rebels from sending infiltrators past the front-lines. In reality, the system locked down after the bridge node engineers home, the Fan Bilros was destroyed. After nearly ten millennia the best and brightest of the Hegemon had yet to figure out how to unlock the network.

“If you want, I’ll go and take the system back?” Maco suggested, more in jest, but if they were serious, he would do his duty to see it done. If they were on par with the pre-hegemon industrial age, then even a show of force by a single starship could bring them back in line.

“No. We want you to go and find Erlan and see what he is doing. If possible capture him. I’ll repeat that at this time we do not have the resources to mount an expedition to reclaim the colony world in full. On the other hand, we do have the resources to do a reconnaissance in force. Intel says that Erlan only took one starship but we know from records that there are many starships unaccounted for, and others that were abandoned after sustaining damage with the hope they would be salvaged at a later time.”

“What about my command? Am I to take at least part of them with me?”

“No. You’re being reassigned to my office for this. You’re going to command a single starship provided by sub-director Endonym and head to the Arsana star system.”

The star system and planetary map displayed in the holo-display flickered away to be replaced by a model of a starship.

“The ship being assigned to you is the Allaskin. It’s a Grivvon class armed transport. An obsolete design phased out two centuries ago and placed in mothball but it should be newer than the class of starship we believe Erlan has by almost a century. In secret, we’ve upgraded the offense, defense, and drive systems to modern standards. The power system remains the same.”

Statistics of the starship’s loadout appeared around the model shown on the holo-display for Maco to read. This class of armed transport was at the upper edge of cruiser classification. With its upgrades, it should prove capable of dealing with an equivalent size ship.

“We’ve heavily automated the subsystems and the crew needed is less than one-fifth of the standard compliment. We’ve kept the modifications as secret as possible, going so far as to pull retired service personnel from long-term stasis in secrecy. All are volunteers that have passed current loyalty protocol checks. The captain of the starship and second in command of the mission is one Abri Redan. She's an experienced captain having participated in over six raids and three system recoveries. The crew is just as experienced.”

“Will any of the crew have a template, and am I the only Herald?”

Rashyk answered, “No to your first question. Yes to the second. This brings us to the next part. You will work with Prime Architect Carios to change your template. I know you’re familiar with his work so I trust that wouldn’t be a problem.”

“I don’t think it would be. But would the delay take too long?”

Carios interrupted, “Don't worry, I’m just updating it. Tweaking a few things here and there, and making it more efficient. It won’t be more than twenty-three days before you’re done and if things go right, half that.”

Maco nodded in acceptance to Carios. “Is there anything else I should know?”

“I remind you again that your primary goal is to find out what Erlan is doing. The secondary goal is to recover him. Only under extreme circumstances are you to destroy him. Return immediately when you are done. I bid you safe travels in your mission.”

The lights in the room raised in brightness, while the holo-display and holograms of those attending flickered out, leaving Maco, Carios, and the Melloxa star system governor in the room. The governor left also wishing a safe journey to Maco.

“Walk and talk with me Maco,” Carios ordered.

“Yes, Prime Architect.”

“You know better than to call me that Maco.”

Maco smiled. Carios was never one for formalities and this was something Maco appreciated in him. To Carios, those who served with him were more than just a uniform. Maco had seen Carios keep in touch with everyone he ever gave a template too, sending regular messages not just to see how things were with the template, but also to keep in touch with how their life was going on a personal level. As far as Maco knew, none of the remaining Prime Architects did this.

Maco watched as Carios instinctively rubbed the spot on his left breast again. “A few words before you go into the modification chamber. This planet is important to me. It's where I faced my sister, Prime Architect Kusa, and attempted to bring her part of the rebellion to an end. Sadly the only way I survived was to use a SUN device I’d acquired before that. My action in cowardliness was seen as the correct course of action. So many of my brothers and sisters had already died or sided with the rebels. My survival was seen as a boon to the Hegemon. I’ve been told many times over the course of my life, that we’re worth more than our weight in antimatter.”

This dour mood Carios was in, unlike his normal upbeat self, concerned Maco.

“I believed the reports that filtered in from the fringe. There were no survivors from Arsana. Kusa built a terrible weapon and used it to take revenge on me sacrificing the lives of many citizens on both sides of the fight. Such was her insanity.” Carios looked to Maco. “But it seems I was mistaken. I feel an immense amount of guilt for escaping and leaving the citizens behind that I served. I'm guilty of a lot of things Maco. Things I don't want to remember. When you travel out there, be wary. Arsana wasn't the only star system abandoned in the fringe. There may be other colony worlds thriving on their own. If I have my way, I'm going to try and lead an expedition out there to follow your mission. Once the rebels get wind of our efforts, they’ll try the same.”

“I wouldn’t think they’d let a prime architect go so easily.” Maco tried to bring levity to the conversation.

Carios smiled, “I have my ways. As for when I don't know. So far I haven't been able to garner much support. I am a Prime Architect after all. There's few of us left and the Hegemon doesn't want me out of reach in the fringe. Erlan was always finding ways to do what he thought was best even if others didn’t see it. If he could get away and go, so can I. Bring Erlan back alive if possible? I would like to see my brother again as I have few left. But if you have to, kill him. Survive first. Now if you'll excuse an old fool for a moment, I’ve got to finish a few things here. Head over to the Lamis Building. It’s where the quantum lab, we’ll be using, is located. Any auto-cart will know the way, and my people are expecting you. I’ll follow you within the hour. It’s good to see you Maco.”

“I’m glad to see you as well. It seems it could be better circumstances.”

“Indeed.”

~-~
Friday, September 1st, 1995
Denver Colorado, Sol III
~-~

In the fading light of dusk, Craig Tamerlane drove his compact car through the Barnum neighborhood in Denver. In the passenger seat rode his girlfriend Samara Poulsen.

Since Craig returned from his vacation in Honduras last year to go to school for yet another degree, he managed to strike out with every relationship because of his powers. He kept his power of alt-forming into the world famous hero known as Seraph, a secret, but as soon as he showed a prospective partner the glowing piece of malason, most refused to have anything to do with him.

That was until he met Samara six months ago in a class they’d both taken. Like him, she had powers, but they were of a different type. Where Craig could change his form, Samara could manipulate gravity. Not only had they hit it off, they liked each other. A joke others reminded them of was they were literally the power couple of the university.

Tonight they were both out, going to a party hosted by one of the fellow classmates. Already the street was full of cars. They’d driven past the address trying to find a parking spot.

“Ooh, there’s a spot.” Samara pointed out as they almost reached the end of the block.

“Got it.” Craig drove just past it then smoothly reverse parallel parked his car into the spot.

“You’re good at driving.” Samara beamed at him.

“And you’re not, which is why you take the bus when I’m not around.” Craig grinned as he looked over at her. With one hand she fumbled with something on her leg.

“I’m not going to pay for a chauffeur when I have you.” Sam playfully punched him in his shoulder with her other hand.

“Got your power suppression band on?”

“Yeah, I just turned it on. Yours?”

Although the government of the United States found they couldn’t require those with powers to wear a suppression band all the time, they could put limits on one with powers. If a person were found to have used their powers willfully under the influence of something such as alcohol, then they’d land in a world of hurt with the law. Both knew it was better to not take chances at a party like this.

Craig held up his left arm so Sam could see the blinking LED. “Mine is on.”

“Good,” Sam got out of the car, not waiting for Craig to open her door. She’d never placed an expectation of chivalry on Craig and never waited long enough for him to try. Craig got out as well. He retrieved two six-packs of beer from the back seat to contribute to the party.

Craig saw Sam had already started walking down the street. Craig did his best not to shake the beer as he caught up. Approaching the front yard, the two could see a few other people out front. A few were familiar to Craig, having taken a course with him. He nodded hello. Entering he found the party in full swing. Numerous people were grouped, drinks in hand, talking. Music from somewhere else in the house thumped.

“I brought drinks, where should I put them.” Craig hefted the two six packs after getting the attention of a passerby. They directed him to the kitchen where Craig proceeded.

“Get me a cold one,” Sam asked and then walked away.

Depositing the six-packs in an ice chest, Craig got two cold ones and returned to the front room. She wasn’t there.

A stranger attempted to grab his arm. Craig pulled back and found a girl wearing her sorority colors holding a red solo cup of who knows what.

“Hi there, sunshine,” she smiled, welcome to the party.”

“Do you know where Sam went?”

“Who?”

“My girlfriend,” Craig said hoping the honest truth would disabuse her of giving him attention without him being rude.

“Oh, well excuse me,” the girl seemed miffed and walked away. There was little Craig could do, or even cared to.

Going downstairs, he didn’t find her. Next, he moved to the back yard. Sam sat with several people she apparently knew around a bonfire talking. Sam took the drink Craig handed her then took a seat next to her.

Craig didn’t recognize any of them. Sam made introductions. Almost the whole group were in the same program as her. They talked about many things related to that while Craig remained silent. He only left his spot when Sam asked him to get another drink for her.

As the night wound down, Craig had stopped after his third beer and was already on his way to being sober.

Samara was on her fifth and she’d already become sloshed, slurring her words. If he wasn’t there, holding her up she’d have probably fallen over. This had gone on long enough, thought Craig.

“That’s enough, Sam.” Craig grabbed the beer she held in her hand and took it away, setting it on a table.”

“Hey, thash mine,” Sam tried to grab for it but she stumbled.

“Thank god you’re wearing a power inhibitor.”

“Youth knoy I’d nevers git dunk wishout one.” Sam smiled up at Craig as she clutched onto him so she didn’t fall.

“I think it’s time I take you home.”

“Okies.”

Craig guided Sam to the front of the house and out, mentioning to two of Sam’s friends he was taking her home.

“Can you walk to my car?”

“We’s gonna find outh.”

“Oh no, you don’t,” Craig said as Sam tripped over her own feet. He prevented her fall by sweeping her up in his arms as if she was his newlywed and carried her to his car. Sam giggled and held on. Once there, he managed to get her in the passenger seat with minimal fuss. Just in case she got carsick, he grabbed a plastic shopping bag that was on the back seat and gave it to her. “In case you puke dear,” was all he said.

“Yous so nysh.”

Craig got in and started driving over to her place. Sam attempted to lean over across the center console and hug Craig.

“No girl, stay in your seat.” Craig deftly used one hand to push her back into her seat.

“Aww, come on, I want to snug up to yoush.”

“Stay in your seat while we’re driving Sam.”

“I’m jush gonna unbuttle my seathbell.” Sam struggled with her seatbelt. Craig leaned over slightly and put his hand over the button, blocking her attempts.

“No Sam. You’re drunk. Stop it.”

“Yous no fun.” Sam harrumphed.

“And you’re drunk.”

“I am, aren’t I.” Sam giggled. “Okies, I’ll behathe.”

Sam leaned back in her seat and quieted.

“We’re almost to your place.”

Sam didn’t acknowledge him, merely staring out the window. Craig drove in silence. She might be upset, she might be tired. He’d find out when they got to her place. Every party that Craig had gone to her with, she’d gotten drunk. All she’d ever say for why was that she liked to have fun. Craig didn’t mind taking care of her in a moment like this since he liked her but he’d have a talk with her when they were sober.

Lucky for them, there was a spot open right in front of her apartment and he parked there. “We’re here Sam.”

“Ugh, okies.”

Craig managed to get her out of the car, and again carried her like a newlywed to the front door. He only set her down to fish his copy of the key to the front door and unlock it.

He again carried her in and set her down on the couch.

“Oooh, my hero,” She giggled. She began fumbling with the band around her left ankle.

“You’re drunk Sam, keep your suppression band on.” Craig tried to order her.

It didn’t do any good. Sam had the band off. Numerous lines of power all over her skin flared to life and Sam started floating up into the air.

“Not anymore.” Craig knew she’d burned through any of the alcohol in her system by flaring her power and consuming the otherwise useless calories.

“Why don’t you go to bed, Sam. It’s a late night.”

Sam oriented herself to face Craig. A grin came on her face. “Come here.”

Craig felt a weight pull him towards Sam. He braced himself trying to resist her power, but then he floated up in the air before floating over. She’d used her gravity power on him. When he was close enough, she grabbed his head and planted her lips. He broke the kiss by trying to push her away. “Sam. It’s late. I’m kind of not in the mood. I stink and smell like a bonfire.”

“So what. It’s a manly smell and I want you.”

“I get that, but not tonight. Tomorrow?”

Sam ignored his protests, pulling her shirt and bra off in one go, flinging them to the side. Her breasts floated under the effects of her powers, marked only by the few lines of power that ran across her skin. She worked on unbuttoning Craig’s shirt.

Craig tried to push her away, but the attraction of gravity was too strong between them. She wouldn’t let him grab her arms to stop using gravity to pull them away if he got too close. His shirt tore apart into pieces, all flying in separate directions, and his pants and underwear slid down off his legs leaving him naked. Her pants and underwear came off as well. Craig knew he could alt-form. Sam wasn’t interested in girls, but she wasn’t adverse, and if it really put her off, she’d only be upset later. Rather he decided to placate her.

“Do you have any condoms?”

Sam put a finger to Craig’s mouth, to silence him, “Uh, no, I don’t have any, and I can’t get pregnant anyway. It’s not the right time of my cycle.”

“I have a condom, but it’s in my wallet.” Which was in his pants pocket, laying on the ground out of his reach beneath him.

Sam ignored him, pulling him along behind her as they floated into the bedroom.

“I’m kind of uncomfortable with this. I’d prefer to use a condom.”

“I don’t care Craig. I want this, I know you want this. I can see you want this. We’re both here, so stop fussing. Have you ever had sex in zero-g before?

“Uh, no, you’ve never,”

“Surprise,” Sam interrupted Craig.

Craig decided he'd definitely have a talk with her after she had her way.

~-~
Thursday, March 28th, 1996
Nelsher General Hospital, Vindrikka Arsana IV
~-~

For the last two hours since the birth of the latest royal prince, his uncle Mangmo had sat next to the isolette the boy had been placed in. Mangmo kept out of the way as best he could as the neonatal staff took care of him. He simply watched the tiny child.

The boy’s birth had been a hard one. His mother, the Empress had been sick for the past few days and only last night her health had worsened. She had a sudden high fever and became delirious. Hours later her water broke to the surprise her attendant medical staff sending them into a panic. The child’s due date was not for another month. It was decided by the chief medical officer in the palace to birth the child by c-section and risk taking care of a premature baby.

Mangmo looked away from the prince when he felt a light touch on his shoulder. It was his wife, Mellina there, dressed in medical scrubs just like he was.

“How’s my precious nephew doing?”

Mangmo turned back to look upon the child. “He’s weak. The birth was a bad one.”

“But he survived. He’s a survivor.” Mellina whispered to Mangmo.

“Yes, he is.”

Against all odds, the boy's health had stabilized. The prognosis by the medical staff was a good one. The two of them waited and watched over the prince for over another hour before being interrupted. Arkoh Garbin, one familiar to Mangmo as a staff officer in the Emperor’s royal guards interrupted the two of them. Like them, he was dressed in scrubs.

“Excuse me my prince and princess.”

“Yes, Captain. What is it? Shouldn’t you be at our Emperor’s side?”

“Colonel Gravith sent me. It is with great regret, I inform you that the Empress has passed away.”

Mellina gasped,“No.” Mangmo hugged her in close. The other medical staff in the area who’d been supporting the new child had come to a stop. One nurse started crying.

“Sir, I don’t mean any disrespect but it's the Emperor. He’s distraught. Colonel Gravith would like your help,” Garbin added.

Mangmo without hesitating spoke, “Put a suppression band on him. I do not want to take a chance the Emperor misusing his powers while compromised. If anyone doubts the actions of you and your fellow guards, my wife and the nurses here are my witnesses. As the next highest ranking member of his household, I am giving you the authority to do this. He may hate me, but he’ll understand later.”

“Yes sir,” Garbin acknowledged. He turned and left immediately to return to the Emperor.

Mangmo stood up, making sure Mellina was situated next to the isolette to continue watch over the prince. “Watch over the boy. I’ve got work to do.” Mangmo did not leave immediately for the man he called brother. Instead, he went to the nearest phone in the room. Picking it up, the operator responded, asking him what number he wanted to dial.

“This is Prince Mangmo Conn. Put me through the office of Grell Minorn in the Emperor’s palace. The operator didn’t question Mangmo, putting the phone call through. It rang twice.

“Hello, who am I speaking to?” Grell’s voice came over line clearly.

“It’s Mangmo, Gold Haste Gold Berry,” Mangmo rattled off his identifier. “I’ve got bad news.”

“Is the child okay?”

“Yes, The prince has survived.”

“And the Empress?”

“She’s passed. I have ordered the Emperor to rest, not with any government authority, but only as a concerned brother. This may anger him. You know how he can be.”

With a voice full of sorry, Grell responded, “I understand, My condolences. Empress Telshan will be missed. I’ll begin contacting those who need to know.”

“Thank you. I’m going to go take care of my brother now.”

“I wish you the best of luck, Mangmo.”

Mangmo hung up the phone and left the room to find his brother.

~-~
Monday, November 19th, 2001
Rendale Estate Keep, Arsana IV
~-~

Halloran Rendale the fifth rode his horse up the road to his father’s castle. It was of simple design, the moat, a single wall, and the keep Hal, his father, and their staff lived in.

He reached the bridge over the empty moat that had a long time in the past replaced the drawbridge. He glanced back at the convoy. The two trucks and several wagons drawn by yaks and horses were still plodding their way after him.

He faced again his father’s castle and continued underneath the raised portcullis. Hal couldn’t remember if he’d ever seen the portcullis lowered in his lifetime. He brought his horse to the side of the yard out of the way of the approaching vehicles. Two yard-workers were already moving to guide the trucks and wagons into the courtyard and up to the two warehouses built for holding the trade goods before they were distributed.

The yard foreman, Henvelt greeted him, “It’s good to have you back Hal.”

“It’s good to be home. There were some last minute changes to what we picked up. There are four fewer crates of vegetables, but four more crates of sormberries. I had them marked. Send two each to Gores, and Malloyn . They don’t know it yet, but they’re going to need extra casks.”

“Your father know of this?”

“No. I didn’t send a courier ahead of us. I’ll inform him when I see him.”

“Anything else?”

“Everything went well. Nothing we could complain about. The wagons and trucks held up.”

“Good good. I’ll arrange everything with the casks for the brewers.

Henvelt walked over to his men now working with the caravaneers to unload the cargoes and began barking orders. Not getting off his horse, Hal watched the two trucks drive around then back up to the warehouse doors to unload the wares they carried.

After two years, it still amazed Hal, that such engineering marvels of these trucks were being produced. Hal believed the two trucks had been one of the best investments his father had made while modernizing their lands. Comparing the trucks to their largest wagon, they’d have had to use four wagons with a team of four yaks each to haul the same load.

Several of the workers kept glancing up at the keep. Hal looked up and could see his father watching the ongoings down below. Hal didn’t need to supervise the yard workers, his job of leading the caravan home done. He knew if his father was watching, that meant he was waiting. He dismounted from his horse and walked her over to the stable.

“I hope you had a safe trip, Hal.” Hirmil the stable boy called out. He wasn’t any more of a boy than Hal was, the two of them being the same age and being raised together. They’d been friends since toddlers. Hal removed his saddle and gear and worked on stowing it while Hirmil took care of the horse.

“I did. It’s good to be home.”

Hirmil held up half an apple to the horse, who gobbled it up. The other half was handed to Hal who gave it to the horse.

“You and your father have done well getting the animals used to the trucks. None were scared, or stampeded at the noises this time.”

“Good. I’ll let my pa know.”

“Who do all these other animals belong too?”

Several of the other stalls had other horses, and one even had a riding yak.

“I don’t know. The owners all arrived over the last day. They’ve all met with your father and have been in the keep since. I asked my father and he just said to take care of the animals and not ask questions.”

“Strange.”

“Excuse me, sir.” Hal felt a tap on his back. Turning around he found, Tella, one of the daughters of his father’s steward standing there.

“Don’t you sir me. I’m too young to be sirred.” Hal laughed.

The nine-year-old girl giggled. “Your father wants you right away. He’s in his office. Can I give the horses apples?” Tella asked Hirmil.

Hirmil shrugged and said, “Sure thing. Looks like you’re going to be busy Hal. Hope it’s all good.”

It was uncommon for his father to send someone after him so soon after returning home.

“I’m sure I’ll be fine. See ya around Hirmil.” Hal left Hirmil to supervise Tela feeding the animals a number of treats. Hal walked through the keep, greeting the staff who worked there as he passed. It was another wonder of technology, the electricity that powered the lighting inside. Like the trucks, his father had the keep modernized with the electrical system to provide the lighting and power to other devices. The smell of smoke was no longer pervasive. They’d even worked hard at polishing the stone, removing the buildup of soot that had built up over the ages on the walls.

Hal didn’t knock as he entered his father’s office.

The Baron Halloran Rendale the fourth looked up from the paperwork on his desk. “How was the trip?”

“Everything went well. The trucks are worth their weight in silver as always.” Hal took a seat opposite his father.

“Did anyone give you trouble? I know how Baron Jorn can be.”

“No, Jorn was pleasant. The only thing unexpected was Baron Ellarm’s estate wasn’t able to provide the order of cold roots, potatoes, and cabbage.”

“I was afraid of that.”

“But he had extra sormberries and I took an equivalent measure.”

“They’re not the same, and won’t last as long. Is there a reason?”

His father seemed neither pleased nor displeased.

“I saw a chance. This way Baron Ellarm doesn’t feel indebted to us and we have enough to lay up several more casks of drink. It’ll be worth it for morale when the snows get heavier during winter. The vegetables we did get will be distributed in proportion to what we decided. We can make up the difference out of our own stocks which I know we have an excess of.

“Good call.” Hal tried to keep a straight face at his father’s praise. Inside he was beaming at his approval of his decision. “We have to go do something.”

“Can I go change? I spent all morning on the road to get home.”

“You’re okay as you are. The others we’re meeting with for the most part are in the same position.”

The two left, Hal’s father leading him down to the keep’s cellar, then to the old dungeon where the electricity and the lights it powered did not reach. They stopped only long enough for his father to grab a candle and light it to provide illumination. Like the portcullis, Hal couldn’t remember a time when anyone had been put in it. His father and his grandfather before him used the stockade in town when needed. It was only used as storage now. Still, there were old rusted chains hanging from spots, evidence of the dungeon’s old purpose.

Hal was surprised when his father brought him to a door he didn’t know was there, not that he went down here often. He realized it had probably been a year or more since he’d even stepped foot in this part of the keep.

“Regardless of what you see here tonight. Regardless of what you choose, you must never speak of it to anyone. Promise me that. I trust you son.”

“I promise.” Hal wasted no time answering.

“Hold the candle.” Hal took the candle and watched as his father pulled a necklace from under his shirt. Taking it from around his neck, he held it out to Hal and took the candle back. “This is your copy of the key. Go ahead and open the door.”

Hal examined the key. It was made of a bright red metal, shaped almost like any other skeleton key, only the end differed from a standard one. Rather than rows of teeth, grooved to match the lock, It ended in a block of the metal that seemed to a few spots of a silver metal inlaid.

“It doesn’t matter how you put the key in. It’ll still unlock the door. Hurry up.” His father suggested.

Hal put the key in the door and it did indeed open, sliding forward, releasing pressurized air with a hiss. The door swung outwards, causing Hal to step back out of the way. Revealed inside was not more dungeon or another abandoned section of the keeps lower levels. Rather it was a smooth-walled tunnel that sloped down further into the ground. There wasn’t a light Hal could see, yet the tunnel was illuminated as if there was light emitted from the ceiling.

“Go on. I know you have questions, but hold on to them till we’re done here.”

Hal retrieved his key and entered the tunnel at his father’s bidding. The tunnel turned twice as if spiraling down. It ended in another door that took the same key. Hal unlocked the door.

The room hall found himself in was of the simple arrangement. In the center was a large table with a number of people sitting around it. A fireplace was going on one side. It appeared out of place with the structure of the rest of the room, and Hal could smell no smoke. An illusion of some sort maybe to give the sense of comfort. Another table had refreshments.

Other than his father behind him, Hal only recognized one other man seated at the table. It was his grandfather, who was always on travel. His grandfather smiled at seeing Hal.

“Grandfather, you’re here.”

“Yes, my son. Everyone, this is my grandchild, Halloran number five. Everyone else in the room said hi or at least acknowledged his presence. Hal's father pulled him along to take two seats next to his grandfather.

“So what’s going on?” Hal asked, even if his father asked him to not ask questions.

A peculiar man, with an uncommon style of mustache where it curled up on each side, spoke, “Welcome Hal. We’re all members of the Knights of Aturn. Are you familiar with them?”

“They’re old history. Disbanded about a hundred years ago after attacking the Vindrik Empire.”

“Close. We are in fact, still active, and we think you’re of age to join us.”

Hal looked to his father, who nodded a yes, affirming to Hal, this was not a joke.

“Tell me more about what the Knights of Aturn do. I’m curious.”

“We’re glad you’re interested. Take a seat, and we’ll explain,” The man with the mustache said.

Hal sat right between his father and grandfather as the group explained their purpose.

~-~
Wednesday, June 18th, 2003
KLS Valberyl, Orbit around Arsana IV
~-~

The shuttlecraft locked onto its perch in the docking bay of the starship Valberyl with a clang. The craft’s hatch opened, and seven men hustled out. All seven of them wore a set of advanced combat armor, a model not used in combat in over two hundred years, and not anywhere within a thousand light years.

The seven moved with a surety through the starship to the bridge. Once there, each took up a station. The one who sat in the command chair brought the ship out of standby.

The ship's systems came out of standby, running internal diagnostics to make sure it was functional. All systems came up green and ready to go.

The man in the captain’s chair spoke, “Andrei and Mak, head to the armory on deck eight and retrieve personal weapons for all of us. Githoc and Rendale. Head to engineering and stand by. Brim and Jihao, you’re with me. Brim, you’re on tactical, and Jihao, you’re everything else.

“Aye, Erlan.” Rendale, the father of the current Baron Halloran, spoke. The men quickly went to their assigned duties.

Erlan activated the tactical computer display. The holographic display sprang forth to life, showing a map of the Arsan star system. A gray blip was moving from high above the system’s ecliptic plane towards Arsan IV. The tactical computer calculated that it was a 99.7% chance that the ship was heading to Arsan IV.

It certainly wasn’t a League ship scheduled to be there.

Erlan brought up the comm array and signaled a number of satellites and derelict facilities in the star system to activate and bring their sensors online to get a better read on the unknown starship.

Communication from the sensors was limited to the speed of light in this case. None of the satellites and sites had an ansible. Erlan patiently waited for the sensor readings to filter back to the tactical computer.

After a half hour, the tactical computer changed the threat assessment from unknown to unfriendly. The computer calculated with a 99.99% probability the ship was a Grivvon class starship, although it’s drive signature seemed off. Visual ID was how the identification of the cruiser sized starship was made. Definitely not a starship class local to the fringe nor a design from before the Hegemon civil war that could have been left derelict and recovered by the League.

It was a Hegemon starship, one used only by the Carios faction, and possibly the Shadow Hegemon.

Erlan brought up information on the ship class. It was an outdated design. One that should have been retired well over a hundred years ago.

It broadcasted no IFF signal.

The tactical computer declared another piece of information. It was a 94.2% probability that it was a match for the ghost ship that sensors picked up on in two other star systems in this area of the fringe over the last two decades.

Erlan spoke up, “They’ve finally sent a starship here. Send a notification by ansible to all League outposts that the Hegemon has finally decided to move in the open. It’s either the Carios faction or Shadow Hegemon. The ship is outdated by modern standards but so is most of League our fleet. Also, ask League Fleet command how soon they can have any of the fleet here.”

“Aye, sir.” Jihao worked the comm system and sent the message off.

Brim spoke, “If we can see them, then they most likely know we’re waiting for them.”

Erlan calculated a navigation course and sent it to the nav computer. “Go on that course.”

“Aye,” Brim said as he verified the data and began piloting the starship. The ship began its course change, moving from orbit over Arsan, towards its moon.

Erlan brought up the comm again, this time broadcasting a message to the Hegemon ship.

“Unidentified Hegemon starship, identify yourself. This is Captain Erlan of the Kormault League Starship Valberyl. You are in violation of Kormault League sovereign territory. Bring your ship to an orbit at the following coordinates specified and stand by for an inspection.” Erlan sent off the coordinates to match their destination of orbit over the moon.

Erlan waited for the return com. The clock ticked past the minimum time for a return message.

Finally, a message did come in, one with video, using an encoding known to the comm system. The display came to life.

The man was unfamiliar to Erlan but wore the uniform of a Hegemon Herald, of the Carios faction.

“This is Herald Wealdu of the Hegemon on the Starship Allaskin. We are unfamiliar with the Kormault League. Your ship is clearly of the Melvorn class starship which is of rebel manufacture. Prime Architect Erlan, if it’s truly you, I have been ordered to detain you. Stand down and turn yourself in.”

Erlan recorded and sent another message, “This is not Hegemon space. I repeat, this is not Hegemon space. The Hegemon has no claim on any resource in this star system. Any violation of Kormault League territory may be seen as an act of war and will be dealt with accordingly.”

The message returned from the Hegemon ship. “This is Hegemon space. Sensor readings indicate an active population and infrastructure of Hegemon manufacture. The Arsana star system was colonized by the Hegemon. At no time has the Hegemon released its control over this colony or the resources contained within this system. Hegemon still applies. I repeat, you must stand down and turn yourself in.”

Erlan replied, “The Hegemon abandoned this world long ago and is no longer recognized as having lawful authority here.”

The Herald didn’t budge on his stance, “If you don’t stand down prime architect, we will use force to induce compliance, though we’d rather not. Be a good citizen, and submit yourself.”

Erlan hadn’t given up. “I am no prime architect. The Hegemon doesn’t exist here. It is you who are trespassing. It is my duty as a citizen of the Kormault League to stand against any predation by outside forces. If you do not stand down we will use force to make you comply.”

The Herald came back with one sentence. “If you surrender now there is still the chance of proper re-education.”

To Erlan, the idea of re-education was deplorable. It was a technique long instituted to enforce loyalty. It stamped out any who refused to be a proper citizen. It was brainwashing. Although he could never confirm, it, he believed it had been used by the Shadow Hegemon to ensure the Hegemon as a whole stayed on a course it determined. That was until the civil war exploited an unrecognized flaw in the system and broke it apart.

Erlan retorted, “Any technique outlined in Hegemon protocol 184 are illegal here in the Kormault League. If you attempt any unlawful interference in the citizens of the Kormault League, you will suffer the consequences prescribed by section 45 of the League Charter. You have sixteen standard minutes to change course and surrender. If you do not comply I say again, that your trespass will be considered an act of war.” Erlan sent along a copy of the League charter for good measure.

“This is going nowhere,” Erlan said to the two men with him. “Ignore any further communications.” The three watched the sensors waiting for the ship to change its course.

Jihao, spoke up, “I’ve looking through our entire database. We have no record of this Herald Wealdu. He’s post-departure.” Jihao referred to the fact, Erlan only had a copy of everything the Renyx side of the Hegemon had as far as data, plus what he had scavenged from the Vermarn library.

Sixteen standard minutes passed with the Hegemon starship not making a course change.

“I didn’t want to have to do this. Jihao, spin up the Ansible and make a connection to Prime Architect Renyx using the connection address I’m forwarding you.” Erlan passed the data to Jihao who did as ordered.

On Erlan’s station, the connection opened up displaying in real time the face of Prime Architect Renyx, the face of Erlan’s sister.

“I’m surprised Erlan. What do I owe this rarest of occasions to? Where have you been?”

“It’s a secret sister. I need a favor.”

“A favor? I could ask for many things brother. I could ask where you’re at. I could ask you to come home.”

“Let me ask first and let me know your price.”

“Ask away then.”

“I need all information about a Herald Maco Wealdu of the Carios side of the Hegemon, and if it helps, the Starship Allaskin.”

“Oh, this is interesting. Herald Wealdu hasn’t been seen in decades. He’s shown up wherever you’re at, or you’ve found him. I’ll give you all the information on him I can."

A data stream opened up which Erlan promptly accepted, putting the data into a stand-alone data storage, not connected to any other ship system in case of a trap by Renyx.

“I am not giving this freely. My price which you can ignore, is your location?”

“I’m not going to tell you, but you’ll figure it out, soon enough. How about this. I have a piece of intel that should open your eyes. Our brother, Prime Architect Gurz is still alive and he’s not with yours or the other faction of the Hegemon. I’ve not been able to run him to ground but he’s here somewhere. He works for the Shadow.”

Renyx, more serious replied, “So you believe the rumors? You found something on Vermarn. I wasn’t sure, but I had my suspicions. Probability said you did.”

“I don’t have to rely on rumors. I’ve been fighting the Shadow off for the last few hundred years.”

“It also sounds like you and our brother Gurz are at odds. I know the two of you were close growing up. You were devastated when he died, but if what you’re saying is true, then he’s not dead.”

“Oh, he’s become a downright mean bastard doing horrible things Renyx. Despicable things. He’s joined with the Shadow and proudly works for them. This may be something you want to look into. If Gurz is alive, then maybe some of our other brothers and sisters we thought gone are as well. You really should check into it.”

“I can do that. Are you ever going to come and visit me at least?”

“In all honesty, it will be a very long time before I can. I hold the Hegemon no ill will, sister. Yet I believe it’s doomed to failure on the course it is going. I know you see yourself as loyal, but I deny the claim the Hegemon has on me. I ask you to stay away from me and mine.”

“We’ll see. If I find you’ve sided with the rebels, I’d hate to have you killed.”

“You’d only have me re-educated.”

“Which you think is the same thing.”

“It’s still identity death. The Shadow is real. I don’t believe they’d ever be able to truly subvert you which is why I made this call. Be careful. I love you.” Erlan cut the connection before his sister could say anything further. “Ignore any attempt at a callback. Has League fleet command said how long more ships can get here?”

“It’ll be two weeks sir even with removing the engine limiters. They trust the Vanberyl can withstand the enemy ship and hold out till then. Task Force Gold Three is being readied and will depart as soon as they are able to. They’re the only ships command can send in time.”

“Three escort destroyers and one courier will not be enough to secure the system if we fail, but we’ll make sure we won’t.” Erlan started reading through the intelligence provided by Renyx.

Herald Wealdu was a force to be reckoned with. Before he’d been a Herald with a quantum template, he’d been a legal duelist, then a naval law enforcement officer, and finally a naval raider. Top marks in all tests at all ages. He’d survived in situations that few others could have. His last action before being made a Herald was successfully leading the system defense of the Relloth system when it came under attack from a system recovery attempt by Renyx’s forces. He had been left the ranking commanding officer by luck after a surprise attack. Three of Renyx’s Heralds died because of his quick thinking over the course of the system recovery effort. He’d even gone so far as to turn the city infrastructure itself against the occupiers, something that had never been done before. Herald Wealdu was seen by some as a monster. This would be tough.

The use of Highspire was a definite must.

“Change our course to take us into a geosynchronous orbit on the moon at these coordinates.” Erlan sent the coordinates to Brem who changed the Vanberyl’s course. “Jihao, there is a facility on the moon directly below those coordinates. It won’t be on any maps in the database. Use this channel to open an encrypted data connection by tight-beam laser. Send the list of commands and slave the control of the facilities system to my command station when you’re done.”

Jihao went to work. It was a few minutes before a display on Erlan’s command station changed to show the status of Highspire. Erlan input a command to have the system come out of standby and ready itself for use in mode alpha two. This would make the system non-lethal. It would only generate a single stasis bubble large enough to contain a starship. Erlan refused to use Highspire as a weapon of mass destruction.

Highspire’s systems showed it would be almost half a day as it ran its initial automated startup diagnostic. It would be cutting it close. They might be forced to play a game of cat and mouse if Herald Wealdu started jumping his ship around the system to get them. Erlan calculated the possibility of that. It was low, but it was there. He seemed more apt to watch and wait as he closed the distance.

~-~
Thursday, August 7th, 2003
City-State of Karvanis, Arsana IV
~-~

“I can’t believe you did that.”

Ahtki didn’t face her mother. She focused on folding her clothes she’d finished laundering this morning.

“Do you have any idea what I had to say to Merem’s parents, what I promised them to have their remaining son even give you a chance?”

“I don’t care, he’s a twit, and he doesn’t care about me.

“Love is not important. You will be sadly mistaken if you hold to that notion.”

“Ugh, That’s not what I’m saying.”

“Then what are you saying?”

Ahtki turned and pointed menacingly at her mother. “He’s a womanizer. He’s already had several flings with servant girls, some rumored to have given him a bastard or two. The man is lazy, and he’s a fool who thinks too much of himself.”

“But he’s in an important position.”

“I don’t care. I’m not subjecting myself to that kind of life. I’ll find someone, anyone other than him.”

“No. This is unacceptable You’ll give him a chance.”

“No, I won’t.

“Ugh, you’re so stubborn

“Where do you think I got it from?”

“Why couldn’t you have been born a boy? I wouldn’t have to deal with this mess.”

“If you hadn’t driven father to his death, then maybe you wouldn’t be.”

Ahtki’s mother slapped her. “How dare you. I loved your father.”

“You speak to me of love not being important, and you say you loved my father. You forget. I have eyes. I saw how it was. You didn’t care. You just married into the house for the same reasons you’re trying to get me to get with Merem. I don’t care. It’s not important.”

“It is.” her mother yelled.

No, it isn’t. You’re so blind.” Ahtki screamed to her mother’s face

“That’s it. I don’t care that you don’t care. As head of this household, I’m forbidding you to leave.”

“Go ahead and try. I’m old enough to leave.” Ahtki pushed past her mother and exited her room.

Her mother behind her yelled, “I can disown you!”

Ahtki responded in kind, “And the house would die with you. No one wants a shriveled up hag.” She exited the house into the garden area. She then went to the small shed and retrieved the pitchfork. This wasn’t to do her mother in. There had been times Ahtki felt like she could, she did love her mother, even if she didn’t get along with her all that well.

She went for the pitchfork because she didn’t have a spear since her first her dad had given her had disappeared. She’d acquired a second one but that was gone as well. She took to using garden tools as unwieldy as they were. Her mother tried to have the garden shed locked to stop Ahtki and her hobbies that she’d decided weren’t womanly. Ahtki broke the door so it wouldn’t shut completely and couldn’t be locked. She’d had it fixed and Ahtki broke it again. Her mother had at least given up on that.

She put herself in the first stance of the basic spear dance kata her father had taught her, closed her eyes and tried evening her breath out.

Once she felt ready, she began her dance, flowing around the garden, her stand-in spear blurred around her. At least that’s what she’d like to have happened. Ahtki made it only a third of the way through the basic kata before slamming the pitchfork, fork end down into the ground. She closed her eyes again, trying to center herself, to push the distractions of the world away.

“Ahtki,” a low scratchy voice called out from nearby. “Ahtki,” the voice repeated.

“What?” Ahtki yelled, turning around the interruption to her finding her inner peace.

“You’ve got quite a temper girl. I like that.”

It was a frail old woman, hunched over, wrinkled with age. She was as far as Ahtki knew, the eldest member of her family still alive. Ahtki apologized, “I’m sorry great mother. I’m just.”

The woman cut her off. “Bah, don’t apologize to me for that harpy of a woman. She means well, but she has never been more wrong.”

“I’m still sorry for ruining your time in the garden I will leave and come back later,” Ahtki bowed while making the apology.

The woman rasped out what Ahtki thought was a laugh. “I did not come to see the garden. I came to see you.”

“Am I in trouble?” Ahtki couldn’t fathom why she would have drawn the attention of the oldest family member of hers.

“No girl. Do you know who taught your father how to use a spear?”

“I don’t really know. I think he learned it while with the city guard.”

“They don’t teach the spear there. He learned it at a training hall in the Seven City Alliance.”

“What, really?” Ahtki didn’t know whether this woman was telling the truth or not but if she was, it was something she didn’t know about her father.

“Of course he did. He learned his spear fighting from Master Porvis who last time I checked was the best. And he was the best because I trained him.” The old woman grinned with pride.

“I had no idea my father ever left the city. And you really knew how to use the spear? That’s cool.”

“He did, and he did it because I told him to when he was old enough to do so. He left the city, like his mother before him, and her father who was my son did. Like me. Why it’s almost like a family tradition.”

This was the most Ahtki had ever talked to with the great mother of the household. She’d never heard this before.

“Your mother doesn’t like it that we’ve always been a bit free willed. We’ve always left, and we’ve always come back.”

“You don’t say.”

“I do.” She rasped out another laugh. “You don't want to marry do you?”

“Not really, or maybe it’s that I don’t want to right now. I definitely don’t want to marry anyone my mother tries to set me up with. She has horrible taste in men.”

“Don't be worried. You'll find who you'll like, or you won't. You know, I was like you once. Headstrong, stubborn, a bit of foolishness, pride, and arrogance of youth, but also the exuberance, the zeal mixed together. Come, sit with me a while. I’ve got some stories to tell you while I still can. Your mother won’t like it, but you need to know your family history.”

The two moved over to a bench in the garden. The old woman fished something out of her pocket and handed it to Ahtki. It was a ring with an unfamiliar crest on it.

“You can keep that. You may find it useful. I’ll tell you about it, but let me think. Okay, when I was seventeen, I ran away from home to see the world. It was much the same as you, my parents and grandparents were already trying to find someone to marry me.”

Ahtki’s great mother continued with her story, regaling her with the adventures she’d been on. Ahtki listened patiently learning way more about her heritage than her mother would ever want her to.

~-~
Thursday, April 29th, 2004
Vindrikka National Palace, Vindrikka Arsana IV
~-~

Delin shifted his chair a few more inches out from the wall and leaned back in it. He remained silent while his two younger siblings, Cavin and Isaura, played on the floor in front of him.

The children’s normal caretaker was there as well, watching, waiting for anything she needed to do. Delin thought back to Mangmo’s request that he spend at least a little bit of time with his siblings even if the three of them had different mothers. If he wasn’t so busy, Dellin knew he would.

His youngest sister Isaura, the baby of the family, didn’t seem to care that he was there. Cavin, the next youngest child and Delin’s only brother younger than him, had tried to interact with Delin, but Isaura wouldn’t let him. She wanted Cavin’s full attention.

To his point of view, Isaura was being ruthless. She continued to take toys away from him, and boss him around. The two were only doing what she wanted and if Cavin showed any sign of not going along, she resorted to an occasional slap or push to get her way. It didn’t help that even though Isaura was younger, she was already taller and bigger than him.

Delin noted that Cavin came close to crying several times, but each time he’d sniffle back the tears and keep on going with little complaint. Every time he fell down he got right back up.

Finally, Isaura gave up. She yelled at Cavin for not being fun and stormed off out of the room. Delin knew a maid would chase after her so he didn’t worry much about her.

Cavin sat there watching Isaura’s retreating backside. When she was out of site, Cavin looked up at Delin, then turned his attention back to the toys but seemed less enthused. He pushed and prodded them and sat there quietly.

Delin noticed the caretaker going for Cavin, he motioned for her to stay back. Quietly he moved out of his chair and came up next to his brother and sat down beside him.

Up close, Delin could see Cavin was doing his best to fight back the tears.

“Brother, what’s wrong?” Delin asked. He put his arm around Cavin’s shoulders.

“I’m small and slow. Isaura is mean.”

Delin turned the boy so they could look each other in the face. “Hey there, don’t worry too much brother, Things will get better. You’ll get bigger in no time. Don’t be in a rush.”

“Ok Del. I just wish Jari, Arg, and Andro would talk to me like you do. At least Isaura plays with me as mean as she is.”

“Well, I'm here. What do you want to talk about?” Delin worked to gather in the toys closer to them.

The small boy perked up, “Can we talk about dragons and knights?”

“And why do you want to talk about dragons and knights?”

“When I get bigger, I want to be a dragon slayer.” Cavin grinned, then coughed once

“Well, do you know the best way to scare a dragon?”

“Yeah. With thumps.” Cavin used his hands to signify an explosion and made the sound to match.

“That’s right.”

Delin let his younger brother ask away while he worked on gathering up the toys to put them away. He answered Cavin’s questions as best he could. The boy was curious about everything, from how big a dragon heart was to if you could make a suit of armor from their skin. Cavin would cough every so often. Such was his health. Since birth, Delin knew Cavin had been a sickly child. His body hadn’t grown like other children his age. He was eight years old and he looked like he was five. His sister had quickly outgrown him.

Delin reached a point where he was telling a story about a hunt he’d gone on with their brother Andro and sister Argma when he noticed that Cavin had fallen asleep, his head in Dellin’s lap.

A voice startled Dellin. “That’s adorable.”

“Hi, Uncle Mangmo.”

I haven’t seen Cavin sleep this soundly in a long time.

“Really? Is his health really that bad.”

“It’s nothing to worry about. He’s always been a sickly child.”

“Yes. He was coughing earlier.”

“Oh, I’ll make sure he’s taken care of. Here, let’s get Cavin to bed. I wish to talk with you about work.” Mangmo motioned for the caretaker to come over. Cavin had latched onto Delin’s leg while sleeping.

Delin waved the caretaker off and whispered, “Sorry. I’ll take him to his bed if you don’t mind.”

Mangmo nodded a yes.

Delin made every effort to not wake the boy while detaching him from his leg and picking him up. The four of them left the play room and headed for Cavin’s bedroom. There, Delin placed Cavin in bed and covered him with a blanket.

The two men watched Cavin peacefully sleep for a while yet. It was Delin that broke the silence.

“He’s so weak and fragile.”

“That he is.”

“But he doesn’t give up, uncle. He never gives up, even if his body betrays him.”

“No, he never does.”

“I admire that most of all in him, Uncle. If the Empire had a thousand men, each of them with the will to persevere as strong as this boy, the world would tremble at the great things they would do. It’s a shame.”

“That it is. This reminds me of something the ambassador from Earth said to me.”

“Oh,” Delin was curious about what his uncle had to say about the visitors from the other worlds.

“His daughter has been disabled since birth, and much like Cavin here, a healing coffin was unable to fix her blindness. He told me that the hardest thing hasn’t been that his daughter was disabled. That’s easy to deal with. The hardest part was watching her be excluded by others.”

“I can understand that.”

“It’s good that you spend time with him when you can. He’s too young to appreciate it, but I know I do and I know he will when he’s older. I wish your brothers and sisters would do the same, but it’s their own choice. Now come, we need to go.”

“Sleep well Cavin,” Delin whispered as he left with Mangmo.

~-~
April 2nd, 2004
Yetturb Township, Fahrennia
~-~

“And I’m telling you that we’re in an incredible amount of danger,” Jasma stated.

Harrick, The League liaison to the Knights stationed on Arsan responded, “Everything is on schedule. What proof do you have of this trouble? What is this trouble?”

“I don’t know. But we’re in danger if we don’t adjust our plans somehow.”

Knight Bennel spoke, “Without any facts, we can’t change our course. It’d be foolish to. How can we take vague guesses seriously?”

“It’s probability forecasting, and I’m serious. The risk of failure for us here on Arsan has increased substantially.”

“You’ve always been able to provide us with more concrete information. Yet there’s nothing you can give us now. Explain,” Bennel demanded of Jasma.

“How many times do I need to tell you. I don’t know why. Since I have added the results of the forensic report of Erlan’s starship and the wreckage of the Hegemon starship, the odds of success have tilted against us. I’ve gone over all the data. There is no defining bit of information that makes a difference except the forensic report which doesn’t make sense. It’s a report showing that we found nothing conclusive other than what was evident. Erlan disappeared and so did the Hegemon crew.”

“I’m sorry, but I think I speak for us all when I say the report is useless. It only confirms what we already knew, and that’s not enough. We didn’t have to break from the plan three years ago and why should we break from the plan now?” Bennel said.

Jasma counted to four. “Look, this is a special condition that rarely occurs. There is something obscured from us at play. It’s implied by all the data but not seen. We still don’t know what happened. We do know that the efforts of the Shadow changed since then. If our enemy has changed their behavior, they know something we don’t. All I can calculate is that, here on Arsan, we’ve got something big looming over us and you’re all ignoring it. Why are you all so stubborn?” Jasma was practically yelling at them.

Knight Halloran Rendale the fifth, butted in, “Jasma. We’re listening. We hear what you say, but Bennel is right. This isn’t enough to do anything.”

“Hey, I am calm, But I’m serious about this. You need to listen. We need to,”

“That’s enough Jasma.” Knight Rendale slapped the table, cutting Jasma off again. “You need to go outside and cool off. Everyone, we’re taking a break.” He was one of the younger knights there, definitely not the oldest or one with seniority. The other knights and attendees murmured in agreement and began getting up from their seats.

Jasma glared at Knight Rendale, and he motioned her to go outside with him. Jasma found him outside the building they’d had their meeting in. Before he could say anything, Jasma started in on him. “How dare you treat me like that Hal. I thought you were my friend. I thought you said you believed me, I thought I could trust you. How could you do this to me?”

“Shut up Jasma. Just shut up and listen.” Hal cut Jasma off yet again. “You need to cool it. I know what you’re saying is true, but you’re not going to win anyone over with your behavior. Yes, most of them are a bunch of stubborn fools. You lost control out there. You were yelling at them for no reason and treating them like wayward children. I know you’re older than most of them. You’re older than the League itself, but you know that adults don’t like people treating them like children.”

“I, well, they weren’t listening, and,”

“And nothing. You weren’t listening either. Most of them feel like you’re still in mourning for your father. They think you’re compromised. Desperate for answers. I know you’re serious about this. With Erlan gone, they’re scared. The only reason why the League even exists is because of him. The only reason why the Knights exist is because of him. The only reason we’ve survived fighting the Hegemon and its shadow so long is because of him. He was the man with the plan, and he’s gone. Maybe not forever, but he’s not here right now. They’re scared, I’m scared, and so are you. We’re barely keeping ahead of the dragon chasing us.”

Jasma had lost her bluster. “Okay, you’re right. I was treating them like a child and that was wrong. But no matter what I say, it’s falling on deaf ears. I’ve calculated out everything I can. The most probable paths for the welfare of Arsan are terrifying. It’s not just us and our fight against the Shadow of the Hegemon. It’s not the League. It’s Arsan. I’ve factored in the progress of the meeting so far and the most probable paths haven’t gotten better. They’ve worsened, Hal. They’re terrible. Arsan will be devastated if we don’t fix it, and the others refuse to listen.”

I believe you. I truly do. Understand that. And I know there are others who do as well, but we’re outnumbered. You already know they’re going to stay the course. They’re too scared to change.”

“Then what should we do?”

“I don’t know, but I want you to keep on researching solutions. Don’t bother going back into the meeting. We both know you’re wasting your time there.” Hal looked around to make sure no one was watching. He leaned in and whispered, “Even without the approval of the League, and the rest of the Knights, if you have to, don’t be afraid to instigate a course of action, especially if few will like it, and even less understand it. I know your powers. I know Erlan trusted you. I trust you. Remember, that you’re always welcome in my home. Find a solution and implement it. Now be off with you and good luck with figuring out what to do. I’ll cover for your absence.”

“Okay. I’ll go. I’ll send word when I’ve figured it out. I was afraid there for a good minute you’d turned on me, but I see you’ve got my back. Thank you.”

“Travel safe and be careful.”

“I will.”

Jasma left to call an auto-cart, already using her probability forecasting to pick a destination that’d help. The Seven City Alliance came to mind as the highest chance of success for coming up with a plan.

~-~
Saturday, May 15th, 2010
Trell Family Residence, Longmont, Colorado, Sol III
~-~

Craig Tamerlane, currently alt-formed into his superhero persona as Seraph, drove her car through the neighborhood to her destination. Once parked, she retrieved a heavy baton, her reinforced duffle bag holding her armor, and a present for the birthday boy of the party she was about to crash.

She wore no makeup and had dressed casually in jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers. Nothing truly remarkable other than her skin color and the faint lines of power running along her skin.

Before even getting to the back yard, she could hear the party goers. She let herself in through the gate and dropped the gift off at the table there with presents.

She then moved further into the back yard to get a view. Several young teenagers were swimming in the pool or lounging around. A group of parents were talking with each other.

The side door to the house opened up behind her and an angry voice came forth. “What are you doing here?” it demanded.

Seraph turned around. Before her stood Samara Trell.

“Hi, Sam.”

“Tell me, why are you here?” Samara appeared livid

Seraph didn’t flinch. “You know why?”

Thomas came out of the house and moved to Samara’s side. “Hi, Sara. Honey, I invited her.” Sara was the name Seraph went by in public to her close friends and acquaintances.

“What, Why would you do that?” Samara exasperated in shock at her husband’s announcement.

“I’m sorry, but it was my idea. And Sara agreed to entertain the children. It’s common knowledge that the two of you have worked together before.”

Samara’s jaw muscles clenched, her expression filled with anger, “Only because we had to. Fine, We’ll talk about this later Thomas Gregory Trell.” She glared menacingly at Sara as she passed by on the way to the backyard.

“She used your full name. She didn’t know I was coming did she?” Seraph asked.

Thomas smiled. “Yeah, I didn’t tell her. Better to ask for forgiveness than beg for permission. So, I’ll have to sleep on the couch. A small price. How’re you holding up?”

“It’s gotten worse. Stage III. In my lungs and my liver.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

“Yeah. Doctors say that they’re trying to do what they can but I’m not exactly from around here.”

“How bad?”

“I had another surgery two months ago to cut it out of me, but it popped up elsewhere. Unless they figure something out they’re thinking stage IV soon.”

“How soon?”

“One year. Two at the most. The treatments postpone but don’t stop cancer. When I’m alt-formed, it’s a temporary respite.”

“Why don’t you tell Samara about it?”

“I really don’t want her to worry. She hates me over Andrew. I don’t want to compromise her any more than she’s been. She doesn’t need any guilt. I have enough of it as it is.”

“If you need anything, just let me know. I’ll manage Samara.”

“Thank you. You’re a good man and husband, and Samara knows it.”

“I told everyone that I’d have a surprise for them. How soon do you want to do your thing?”

“Do you have enough bricks for me to break?”

“I made sure.”

Tell me where I can change and we can do it right away if that’s alright?”

“Just go inside and use the bathroom in the hallway. I’ll get everyone ready.”

“Sure thing.” Seraph left Thomas outside and entered their home. In the bathroom, she opened her duffle bag and took out her armor and a few other items. Changing into her costume, she donned the armor which was a breastplate, armored skirt, and armored boots. She then worked on her makeup to give the illusion of slightly different facial features. Taking her baton, she moved back outside and Thomas was waiting there for her. It was much more quiet.

“They’re all ready for you,” Thomas said.

Seraph walked out in view of everyone. The party goers went silent.

She could see Andrew there in the center with a few friends. How tall he’d already grown. Her hearing picked up on a girl whispering, asking her friend if that really was Seraph.

Sara smiled. “Good afternoon everyone. I am Seraph.” She curtseyed in front of them.

I’m glad I could be here today. It was a surprise to me when the Trell’s asked me to come for their oldest son’s birthday party. I’ve know Samara for a long time, and we’ve worked together many times. I couldn’t refuse, so here I am. Happy Birthday Andrew.”

She waved to Andrew.

Now do any of you have any questions?

One girl seemed hesitant to raise her hand while the rest seemed exuberant in their vying for attention. Seraph called on her.

“You, young lady, in the red t-shirt.”

The girl was surprised, “Uh, uh, um, are you really Seraph?”

“Of course I am.” Seraph held up her baton and twirled it around just as well as any gymnast or drum major. Sparks of light trailed from it as Seraph used her power to reinforce it. Seraph then twirled it around, threw the baton up and caught it. The sparks stopped falling off as soon as she lost touch with it, but started immediately when she caught it. “Thomas, could you please bring out a few of the bricks.”

Thomas carried over a few bricks of varying sizes from where he had been waiting.

“Young miss, if you would kindly come up here, I could use your help.”

The girl was surprised the world famous hero would call on her.

“Now don’t be shy.”

With the prodding of several of her friends, the reticent girl, got up and came to the forefront. She was just as tall as Seraph, at around five feet, six inches.

“Here’s the baton. I want you to check it out. It’s a bit heavier than a normal one, so be careful.” Seraph waited till the girl had a good hold on it, before releasing her grip. The end opposite the girl immediately sunk to the ground.

“Oh, my gosh this is heavy," The girl exclaimed.

“It is. It’s about thirty pounds and made out of a durable steel alloy.”

Seraph took a brick and set it in front of the girl. I want you to hit this brick as hard as you can with the baton.

“Uh, okay.” The girl struggled with the baton, and with Seraph's help, raised it above her head like a sledgehammer. Brining it down, the girl managed to land a hit. The brick cracked in half. The other children and some parents clapped and cheered for her.

“You broke the brick, but this was heavy wasn’t it. This is basically like a sledgehammer.”

“It was,” the girl agreed.

Seraph took the baton out of the girl's hands. She then picked up another brick. “Take this brick and tell me if you can break it with your hands. Be careful.”

The girl did and struggled in vain. “It’s a real brick.” The girl handed it back to Seraph.

“As my lovely young assistant has discovered, it is indeed a brick.” Seraph held up the brick and squeezed, cracking it into pieces. Seraph then held the baton horizontal in front of the girl. “Now miss, I want you to hold onto the baton as I lift. I’d ask the birthday boy to do this, but he’s too tall. He could probably lift me up.”

Seraph could see Andrew and the other kids were enthralled by her performance. The girl held on and Seraph lifted Seraph then proceeded to curl the baton with the girl hanging off like it was practically weightless. Once done, she bid the girl to return to her friends and thanked her. Quite a number of demonstrations later, using innocuous objects like a paper plate and a hamburger bun, she demonstrated her powers.

The whole time Samara was pissed, but that didn’t matter. Every time Seraph looked down at Andrew, she could see he was happy and that was the most important thing to Seraph at the moment.

~-~
Wednesday, November 21st, 2012
Residence of Craig Tamerlane, Denver Colorado, Sol III
~-~

Javier sat next to the bed Craig Tamerlane lay on. Asleep, his head resting in his arms, slightly pushing up against Craig’s side. The only noise was the beeps of machines monitoring Craig’s health, and Javier’s occasional snore.

The door into the room opened. In walked, Ingrid Dahlgren, an Albaz like Craig, but from the planet Ormault. She was known to the citizens of Earth as the hero Valkyrie, but here she was a friend to both men. She did her best to make as little noise as possible. In a bag, she had Chinese takeout she’d grabbed on the way here for Javier. She guessed he probably hadn’t even eaten in the last day.

She sat the takeout on a table in the room, and picked a blanket up off a couch and put it over Javier’s shoulders. She moved to a chair by the window to sit and watch. She was quiet enough that neither Javier or Craig stirred.

Ingrid had been a friend of Craig since he first visited Earth, back when he went by Kregg. She’d been there to greet him when he first arrived and she had worked closely with him to create the identity of the original Craig Tamerlane he assumed shortly after his arrival. But Craig got cancer, and even with the help of Erlan and his advance technology, they couldn’t get rid of it. It kept on coming back. There was a limit to how much flesh one could cut out of their body and maintain a functioning quantum template let alone stay alive.

When Craig’s health turned drastically worse three days ago, Ingrid, along with Javier were the only ones who could make it and stay by his side.

Ingrid sat patiently watching over the two for nearly three hours before Kregg roused from his sleep. Drugged against the pain of cancer he managed to move enough to wake Javier who lifted his head.

“How’re you doing,” Javier asked. He held put Craig’s hand in his.

Ingrid moved up to Javier’s side and had a hand on his shoulder. Craig managed to turn his head enough to look at both of them.

“I’m sorry, but I think it’s time,” Craig whispered and struggled to smile.

“Ah, don’t say that. It’s not funny,” Javier pleaded.

“Have you found someone,” Craig asked Javier.

“You know how hard it is.”

“Don’t be like me. Find someone to love and love them. Don’t let anything get in the way of it. Tell me, how’re they doing?”

“The three of them are doing fine,” said Javier.

Ingrid added, “You’d still be proud of them.”

“Look after them.” Kregg turned his head to face the other side of the bed. “Are you the one who will take me?”

An apparition only visible to Craig at the moment answered, “Yes and no.” The apparition reached out a skeletal hand to take hold of the bed-ridden man's other hand.

Javier thought Craig had become delirious, “Take you where? We’re not going anywhere until you get better.”

“Did I do the right thing,” Craig asked the skeleton.

“Don’t worry about it. You’ve done as well as you could. Now come on.” The skeleton pulled Craig towards him.

Javier, unaware of the apparition’s answer, answered Craig’s question. “Of course you did right.”

Craig sat up out of his bed. Javier couldn’t see this. The life support system monitoring Craig Tamerlane showed he’d died. He lay there peacefully.

For Craig, reality washed away, leaving him in a void with the skeleton. He found his body whole again no longer weak and ravaged by cancer and drugs.

Craig asked the Skeleton, “So what now?”

“Well, I’m not sure. I can’t go where I think you're going. My knowledge of the place is sketchy. I think it’s a home of sorts, supposedly peaceful. Before you leave, I want to give you my thanks. You really came through for me, and I can’t even begin to tell you how many lives you’ve had an impact on for the better. I wish you could have been around longer in this branch.”

“Uh, thanks, I guess. Are you finally going to tell me what you are now?”

“Sure, why not,” The skeleton said, but it disappeared from Craig’s point of view before it could explain anything. Reality skipped from the empty void to a well-maintained grass field that appeared freshly mowed. The smell of cut grass filled the air although he couldn’t see or hear anything cutting it. The sun was high overhead, and Craig estimated it was probably noon. There were a few trees scattered about and a tree line further away. In one direction, the spire of a building reached up from behind the trees. A flock of birds flew overhead chirping away.

“What, where am I?” Craig asked. No one responded. He thought that he’d finally have a chance to figure out what the skeleton actually was. With the spire, the only structure he could see, Craig resolved himself to go and hopefully find out where he was.

He walked to the edge of the field, then into the trees, and then out to another field, across it through more trees, and then into another field. Only this time, there were others engaged in what Craig thought to be a picnic. There were nine people he counted, all sitting together, eating food, talking, laughing, apparently having a good time.

Maybe they’d know what was going on. Craig approached. He was a third of the way there when they noticed him. One of them, a young man stood up.

“Kregg? Kregg? It’s you. It really is,” the man yelled.

It was a voice Craig hadn’t heard in a very long time. The young man ran towards him and he recognized who it was. “Hal? Is that you,” he asked. As far as he knew, the man who he’d become best friends with, and in a certain way, even closer, had died almost a hundred years ago. Maybe this was the afterlife.

“Oh man it’s good to see you,” Hal yelled with excitement. Hal didn’t stop running and tackled Craig to the ground with a hug. Rolling twice, he ended up on top, and knelt over Craig, pinning him in place. “You’re the first you to arrive. The others and I have been waiting for you.”

“First me to arrive? And we’re dead right?”

“Oh yes, we’re dead, and it’s definitely the first one of you unless you’ve been hiding. You’ll know when your other selves arrive.”

“Hey, if we’re dead and we’re here, then that means,”

Hal didn’t let Craig finish. “The whole crew is here. Lark, Josto, Galim, Tihr, and even Katima are already here.”

“Really?”

“They are going to be so excited to see you. Come on, I've got to introduce you to my friends over there, and then we can go surprise the rest.” Hal stood up, pulling Craig with him.

Craig wasn’t sure what was going on, but if this was Hal, and the others were here, then maybe this death thing wouldn’t be so bad.



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