Kowan the Technumage (Segment 01)
By Zachariah Wahrer
Copyright 2016 Zachariah Wahrer
All Rights Reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Wahrer of the Worlds Publishing
Kowan drove his charged blade through the chest plate and into the guard’s chest. The sizzle of burning flesh filled the broad corridor with a sickly sweet aroma. The man, a member of the King’s Weard, slumped to the rough stone floor. I forced him to sacrifice himself for the greater good, Kowan thought, placing his hand over the heavy wood door. Just as Destrum forced me.
He hadn’t wanted to kill anyone other than the target, but his cloaking widget had power ducked at the worst possible moment and he’d been spotted. Fighting through the mass of King’s Weard had been desperate, even for a Technumage with his skills.
Focus, Kowan thought, drawing fully on his connection to elemental fire. He concentrated on a point, a space inside the complicated locking mechanism. As moments passed, Kowan had to shut out the sounds of approaching boots behind him. You have time. He could feel the power flowing out of him, binding the surrounding energy. The lock began to glow, first orange, then red, then white.
Finally, when he felt it was hot enough, he kicked the door. Kowan triggered a pulse through the leg of his combat suit’s augmentation system as he did so, increasing his kick’s force. The lock exploded in a shower of sparks and the door flew into the room, heavy hinges groaning.
“Stop!” a deep voice yelled behind him. When Kowan turned, he was confronted by the largest human he’d ever seen. The Weard Captain, he thought, remembering the times he’d seen that armored form stand next to the King during the Festival of Union. The Captain was far down the hall, but brought up a heavy, tech augmented bow. Before Kowan even realized what he was doing, he raised a gauntleted fist and bound the elemental air before him. Once the mass solidified, he grasped and hurled it at the Captain, using a pulse of his suit to speed it faster than any arrow.
Then the Captain’s projectile slammed into Kowan. He looked down in disbelief at the arrow sticking out of his abdomen. How did it defeat my armor? he wondered. Pain exploded the next instant and Kowan fought hard to remain on his feet. When he looked up, he saw his air mass had done its work: the Captain was motionless on the floor, ten feet back from where he had been standing. His chest plate was caved in and a pool of blood formed around him. Further down the hall, Kowan could see light dancing off the armor of more reinforcements. Get the arrow out of you and finish the job before they get here.
When he pulled out the Captain’s gift, he saw a miniaturized cavitator built into the arrow’s head. How did he have access to one of those? And that bow? It looked like technumage apparatus. No time, Kowan thought, turning back to the doorway.
He rushed into the room, barely able to believe what he was about to do. Remember what Head Mage Destrum told you, he thought. Inside, the King blocked his path, frail body barely able to hold up his great sword. This was the closest Kowan had ever been to the sovereign. The demands of Technumage training were great and he’d barely left the grounds in the eight years he’d been there.
The King stared at Kowan, taking in his black technumage combat armor and augmented weapons before finally locking eyes. His gaze, though worn, still had power. “What are you doing here, mage? Why do you assault your countrymen? Come, show me your best!”
Kowan didn’t know what to say. He’d always looked up to the King, especially since he’d learned of his sacrifice during the war. He wasn’t here for this man and didn’t have time for a conversation. Before the King could react, he sprinted past the monarch, desperately looking for the bassinet Destrum had briefed him about. Then he saw it, across the room, along the wall next to the broad window. As Kowan charged towards it, he raised his sword, imbuing it with the same elemental electricity he’d used earlier. The Head Mage had warned him not to even look at the newly born prince, that he was no ordinary child. “He will charm you, will fill your head with lies. All of your sacrifice will be for nothing. He is the child of his mother, a spawn of Darkness.” And Destrum would know. As head of the Technumages, it was his job to lead the fight against the force that had nearly killed the King and destroyed the Red World in the First War.
Kowan swung the blade towards the bassinet, the strike aimed to cut it, and the spawn, in half. Before the blade could do its work, he stopped. You have to check, have to make sure! He carefully peered over the edge, catching a glimpse of something dark and scaly.
A scream made Kowan jump and he felt something glance off his neck armor. Spinning, he caught the Queen’s wrist as she brought a dagger towards his eye. “You will not kill my son!” She yelled, fighting against his grasp. Destrum had told him about this woman, how she had seduced the King, how the spawn of their union would bring about the Second War and destruction of Red World. “But do not kill her, at least not first,” Destrum warned. “Her energy will transfer to the Dark whelp, and then it may prove too strong for you. Kill the spawn first, then its incubator.”
Back in the hall, Kowan could hear more King’s Weard yelling about the death of their Captain. They were getting close. Hurry!
Thrusting the Queen away, Kowan looked back in the bassinet. His first impression was confirmed. It wasn’t a child. The spawn was a hideous, scaled creature with pointed teeth and huge, lidless eyes. The white iris-less orbs stared at him, mouth turned up in a snarl. Kowan had been too young to fight in the First War, but this was a small version of what all the stories had talked about. It was one of the things that had killed both his father and older brother. It was why he had wanted to become a Technumage. It was of the Darkness.
Kowan raised his sword again. As he brought the blade down, he screamed a battle cry, a remembrance for all those lost. His electrified blade sheared though the light wicker easily, cleaving the spawn in two. Kowan felt something strike him in the head, and he reeled back from the slain creature. When he looked around the room, he couldn’t see what or who had struck him. The Queen was still picking herself off the floor, and the King was leaning on his great sword, staring wide eyed at the smoldering bassinet. “You’ve killed my one and only heir,” he stammered feebly. “You’ve doomed Red World.”
Something was wrong. Kowan’s mind felt as if he had just woke from a dream. Nothing seemed real. Instead of a feeling of triumph for having destroyed a threat to the kingdom, all he felt was dread. When he turned to look back at the dead spawn, all he could see was red blood and pink flesh. It was human, a baby.
“No, no, no,” Kowan pleaded, “I saw it. It was Darkness.”
“What are you talking about?” the King snapped back. Kowan was too stunned to answer.
A spell, he thought, the realization striking home. Head Mage Destrum tricked me. He made me Darks pawn. And I killed the King’s only heir because of it. No one will believe me. Just what he wanted.
The Queen rushed over to the bassinet, hurriedly batting away pieces of smoldering wicker. Her wails of grief were too much for Kowan to stand. The King’s Weard were closing in. He could hear their shouts just outside the door.
The only way to escape was out the open window, but Kowan was torn. He felt guilty, felt he deserved the execution that would happen after his capture. Yet he was the only one who knew of Destrum’s corruption and treachery. If the Head Mage was left in power, Red World would most certainly fall to the Darkness. If Kowan lived, perhaps he could balance his terrible act by killing Destrum.
Kowan ran towards the window and dove through. The sheer castle wall slid past him, illuminated by Red World’s two moons. Soon, the wall transitioned to the canyon cliff. Kowan had just enough time to wonder if his combat armor would save him as he slammed into the river.
Thank you for investing your time in my fiction! You can find more Kowan the Technumage segments . If you enjoyed this short story, make sure you check out my latest full length novel, Breakers of the Dawn: Book 1 of the Dawn Saga. I’ve included a couple chapters below for your enjoyment.
If you’d like to get in contact with me, you can email: . My website, , is a great way to find more of my writing. If you are more of a social media person, I’m on , , , and .
May the fires of the black star be quenched in your life,
Breakers of the Dawn: Book 1 of the Dawn Saga is available at:
Zachariah Wahrer spent the first twelve years of his adult life doing various jobs around the United States, such as eBay salesman, punk rock musician, horse halter craftsman, and rock climbing gym route-setter.
Near the end of 2014, Zachariah moved into a Honda Odyssey with his wife Sarah and began traveling the United States and Canada, seeking inspiration and adventure while writing and rock climbing full-time. His first novel, Breakers of the Dawn: Book 1 of the Dawn Saga, was electronically published in December of 2014.
When not deeply immersed in imaginary worlds, Zachariah loves to experience the outdoors as well as read about science, futurology, and trans-humanism. He also enjoys home-brewing and creating digital art to accompany his writing.
While writing this story, Zachariah lived in Bozeman, Montana.
Breakers of the Dawn:
Book 1 of the Dawn Saga
By Zachariah Wahrer
“Chase the sun as hard as you can, but remember it will always rise behind you.”
- Dygar Proverb
“Chaos, that need deep inside.
The end is here, you can’t hide.
Ascension, where I’m going.
Blood is coming, deep and flowing.”
- Lyric excerpt from “Ascension” by The Black Fire
“Violence is despicable, except when your enemy is despicably violent.”
- Alnos Azak-so
Felar enjoyed the feeling of fitting a rail weapon stock snugly against her shoulder. To her, it was unlike anything else in the world and she loved it. The joy and elation was just as strong now as when she had first picked up the weapon, even after all the time she had spent training.
“For as far back as I can remember, I’ve wanted to wield this weapon as a Founder’s Commando,” she told the latest group of Initiates. “I devoured the histories and legends of that elite group of warriors as I grew up on the underworld streets of Qi-3. My parents were poor and barely able to provide food for our large family. This made me tougher, and when we had to go hungry at Dog School, it felt just like old times.” The Initiates watched her with awe, obviously engrossed in her story.
“When I was old enough and had learned some FC training protocols, I tried to replicate them on my own, training my body to be resilient and strong. I fought the local toughs to gain experience. My defeats helped me learn more than my victories ever would, just as yours will. Then, on the day I turned 19, I joined the Ashamine Forces. I was exemplary in my Initiate class and was sent to the FC qualification course. I passed and was given the option to continue on with full FC training, known as Dog School.
“Becoming a Commando requires an extreme amount of determination, especially for a woman. The selection process is stringent and the number of Dogs passing each successive portion of the course dwindles. The wash out rate is high. Of my starting class of 192, only 54 successfully graduated the school and earned the right to be called a Founder’s Commando.” Felar eyed each of the Initiates in succession, wondering if any of them had what it took.
“For now, focus on getting through your Init training, but keep the Commandos in the back of your mind. Some of you might just be good enough to make it to FC Qualification.”
Felar pushed all thoughts out of her consciousness and looked through her scope at the target downrange. She triggered the weapon and a tungsten alloy projectile blew a ragged hole through the target exactly where she had been aiming. Deftly moving the rifle to the left, Felar focused and fired on the next target instantly. The results were the same. She repeated the procedure until all the targets were hit.
“Shooting like this requires dedication and focus. Practice is key. You will now break into squads and your instructors will demonstrate technique and safety. If you have any inclination towards wanting to join the FC’s, make sure you are in the top percentage of your Init class for marksmanship. Give up hope if you are anything less.”
The Initiates saluted Felar until their instructors started barking orders at them. Her demonstration was over. Hopefully some of these bright eyed, fresh faced Inits will have what it takes to be a Commando. If not, the Ashamine Forces always needs front line troops.
Felar left the shooting range, moving towards one of the many indoor training buildings. It was a large, hangar like structure that had been built many years ago at the beginning of the Ashamine expansion. She had a few more demonstrations to give before combat maneuvers began in the afternoon.
Entering through a small door, Felar breathed in the reassuring smell of sweat and physical toil. There were row upon row of new recruits going through part of their daily conditioning. She reflected back on her own time in training, not long in the past. The commanders had pushed them to—and in some cases past—the breaking point. Remembering the few Initiates in her class that had died in the process made her sad, but the memories of camaraderie between those that had survived lightened her mood. All that excruciatingly hard work paid off in the end, she thought. I’m actually one of the Founder’s Commandos. She could hardly believe it, even though her black camo fatigues and crimson beret proclaimed it to anyone who saw her. A burst of pride welled up in her as she observed that many of the new recruits took notice of her passage.
“3rd Class Enlightened,” a voice hailed, “May we have a moment of your time?” She turned towards the voice and saw, to her annoyance, Initiate Trainer Harmoth and his flock of trainees. They stood by one of the facility’s many training rings, apparently in the middle of a sparring session. The rings weren’t anything more than a large circle drawn on the dull gray cement, their purpose solely for teaching unarmed physical combat.
She could feel their animosity radiating towards her in waves as she walked towards the group. It wasn’t unexpected. Harmoth had been in the same class as Felar in Dog School. While in the school, Harmoth had been antagonistic towards Felar and the few other females in their class. He had been fond of saying the women in the group were good for only one thing, and it wasn’t combat. When those same women scored higher than Harmoth, he had raised allegations of them giving sexual favors in turn for good marks. The fact he had been cut from Dog School, while all those women graduated, had soured him even more.
She stopped in front of Harmoth, close enough to hear him over the racket, but far enough away to be respectful. She waited for him to salute, his requirement as a junior officer, but all she received was a condescending smirk. None of the men in his group saluted either.
Their lack of respect disgusted and enraged her. It wasn’t just a formality, but an honored tradition. She was an officer and a Commando and deserved respect from this subordinate and his underlings. This wasn’t the first time she had faced this kind of disrespect. Macho, male soldiers often assumed since she was an attractive woman, she had paid her way through Dog School with sexual favors. Felar felt anger boil up in her, just as it had every other time she had been confronted with this type of situation. She would teach them respect and prove to them she had earned her crimson beret.
“Look at that rack!” she heard, followed by low laughter. More remarks about her appearance were exchanged, brazen and obvious. This infuriated her. How dare they! Stifled laughter and smirks made her realize her emotion was plain to them. A scream of rage resounded through her mind, then the declaration: I’ll beat down every single one of them if that’s what it takes. I’ll rip off their arms and gouge out their eyes. I’ll break every bone in their body. At this point, Harmoth broke into her thoughts.
“Enlightened Haltro, I was wondering if you could show these soldiers a thing or two, since you are a Founder’s Commando,” he said, a jeering tone in his voice. “Your physical prowess is known to many,” he continued. “I thought you could demonstrate to these recruits how you do it.” He raised his eyebrows and licked his lips.
Felar quit grinding her teeth long enough to growl, “As you wish.” She felt the need to prove herself propelling her into a situation it would be best to avoid. She took off her tactical combat belt—a few whistles and lewd comments greeted this action—and moved to the center of the circle. In the process, she emptied her mind, going into the trance like state the FC’s were trained to adopt before combat. She began to breathe deeply and embraced the uncertainty of battle.
“You don’t mind if I pick your partner, do you?” Harmoth’s voice grated against Felar’s void state, condescension infusing every word.
Her response was almost inaudible as she said, “Your choice, IT Harmoth.” Harmoth shouted to his group of trainees, ordering them to form up. Moving along the line of twenty men, he selected out the largest and most imposing of the group.
“This is Initiate Alexhion. He is one of my top trainees. I’ve drilled him personally and he has sparred against, and beaten, every opponent in this group.” As he was selected, Alexhion moved to his side of the ring. The difference between us is ludicrous, Felar noted calmly as she sized up her opponent. Huge, hulking, and very intimidating, Initiate Alexhion overshadowed and outweighed her.
Felar, however, was unaffected by the imposing man standing in front of her. She looked him up and down with an appraising eye, as she had been taught and had practiced many times before in drills. She came away unimpressed. Despite his large size and menacing demeanor, he was soft. Even with his training and long hours of PT, he was inexperienced. He didn’t have the hard look of a veteran. He had no scars. And despite all this, his biggest weakness was underestimating his enemy. Alexhion was too busy making jokes and smart remarks to even give Felar a second look.
Harmoth brought Alexhion’s antics to an end by stepping into the middle of the circle. “Lets try to keep anyone from getting too injured, OK gentlemen? Oh—sorry, I mean gentleman and lady.” He stretched out the last word, turning it into a jeer. “First one to tap out, go unconscious, step out of the ring, or sustain a fight stopping injury loses the match.” Felar bowed to the IT, though she hated to give him respect, and Alexhion did the same. This formality completed, Harmoth left the ring and the combatants turned to face each other. Felar started to bow to Alexhion, but as she did so, he moved forward to engage her.
OK, so he is going to continue his disrespect of the Ashamine traditions, she thought as she moved quickly away from him. He pursued her around the edge of the ring, but she easily kept out of range. This fight would be on her terms and by her rules. After a few minutes of this, he tired of pursuing her, and stopped in the middle of the ring. “Afraid of me, pole sucker? Don’t want to let a drop of blood soil your pretty new fatigues? I wasn’t aware they let weak little pink holes into the Commandos, even if they do have such hot bodies. How many officers did you have to pleasure to get through Dog School?” He made a suggestive gesture and looked to the audience for approval. It was at this moment, while he was looking away and playing to the crowd that Felar made her first strike.
She deftly closed the distance and drove her fist into Alexhion’s lower back, punishing a kidney for his lax attention. A flicker of pain crossed his brutish face, but he quickly controlled it. Felar wasn’t bothered. She knew how that pain lingered there, how it bored deep into you. Aim here, she remembered a trainer telling her, just before he had driven a solid fist into her kidney. It hadn’t been a crippling blow, but over the course of the instruction, each subsequent hit had added up.
Felar quickly moved back to a safe distance from the hulk, her mind still void and her face composed and serene. She knew she had the edge in this fight, but she wasn’t getting over confident. That would be a huge mistake and would likely end in a painful loss.
Alexhion began grunting and bellowing like some kind of incensed predatory animal. He was no longer strutting around with a proud look on his face, waving his arms in the air as if he had already won the fight. Spittle was flying from his mouth as he breathed and his eyes had a crazed, maniacal look in them. Good, Felar exulted, the madder he gets, the more mistakes he will make. Sure enough, Alexhion charged, and this was another opportunity Felar was ready to exploit.
Dodging to her left, she dropped low to avoid his grappling arms and kicked out her right leg, tripping up Alexhion as he ran past. His forward momentum kept his upper body hurtling forward, while his legs, having made contact with Felar’s trip, stopped abruptly. Her body shuddered from the impact of his massive, tree-trunk legs, but she was well braced.
His arms kept him from smashing his face into the cold, hard cement, but the strain of his bulky frame was too much for the bones that supported it. With an audible snap, Alexhion’s left arm broke below the elbow. As he rolled to that side, the splintered and shattered bone tore its way through his skin. The wound shone, glistening red and white, the blood already starting to flow.
Felar looked down on the prone form with regret. She had not wanted to hurt him like that. Of course she had meant to win the fight, but not with this result. Now this man would be out of service for at least a week while the nanomachines helped his body knit the bones back together. And whether she supported the war or not, every Conscript, Initiate, Enlightened, Separate, and Ascended was needed for the final, massive offensive.
Felar felt guilty for needlessly injuring Alexhion. She didn’t enjoy his pain. Someday he would be a good soldier… Hopefully… Maybe… She approached him, intending to assess his injuries. Her conscience would not allow her to watch this man suffer, even if he had wished her so much harm. IT Harmoth and all of his Initiates were just standing around the circle, doing nothing, looking shocked. He is losing blood. Their squad medic should be doing his job, Felar thought, becoming irritated.
She reached the fallen man and bent down to start first aid procedures. At this range, she realized Alexhion was mumbling something. At first she thought the man was delirious and speaking incoherently, perhaps having sustained a head injury as well as the one to his arm. Once she leaned in closer however, she could make out what the words were. He was cursing her, using livid, horrendous profanities, some of which Felar had never heard before. She considered herself well versed in swear, so hearing new curses was quite a surprise. She’d have to make sure to use a couple of the more colorful ones. They were actually pretty good.
Not touching him and remaining out of his reach, Felar looked closely for any additional injuries. She saw nothing. His head seemed to be uninjured as well, as evidenced by his vocal abilities.
Her initial assessment complete, Felar decided there was nothing she could do for him. If the squad medic wouldn’t help Alexhion, she would have to call in support from the medical unit. They would do a more thorough examination, set the arm, and see if it would require direct surgery or if nanomachines alone could repair the damage.
Rising back to her feet, Felar became aware of the malicious looks of the men standing around the combat ring. Earlier, they had all worn expressions of perverse delight at what they thought would be a fast, brutal fight. The fight had been fast and brutal, but the result had not been what they were anticipating. Now they were furious. None of them appreciated she had bested and injured Alexhion in combat.
The Initiates began closing in around her, eyes burning with vengeful intent. Felar tried to regain her void state, but she was finding it impossible to maintain the cool demeanor that had served her so well through the fight. Panic shone in her beautiful green eyes. Her body started tensing up. Her head swiveled around furiously, trying to anticipate who would strike at her first.
Felar regretted having taken off her tactical belt, knowing if she hadn’t, she would now have access to her twin combat swords. Their vicious, tungsten alloy blades would cut through these horrible monsters and she would be able to break through their circle before they injured her. She knew they wouldn’t kill her, but that knowledge didn’t comfort much. Killing her would require much explanation and would most likely result in a court martial. The sentence to Bloodsport would be more brutal than the murder that brought it about.
No, they won’t kill me, she thought desperately, but who knows what they’ll do to me once I’m down. A flash burst through her mind as the whole world turned into a black, warm mass that engulfed her.
Wake stared out across the jagged, snow covered peaks of Traynos-6, his gray eyes taking in the panoramic vista below. He found the barren landscape comforting. The bleakness helped him forget the events of the past two days.
He felt responsible and knew the deaths were his fault. When he inadvertently looked in the direction of the accident site, his eyes slid past the point and his mind tried not to recognize the familiar landmarks.
“Wake!” a friendly voice said, breaking him from his reverie. He turned to face the doorway that accessed this small perch on the great icy mountain. Raimos, his superior officer, stood in the entryway.
“Oh—hey,” Wake said in reply, his tone distracted and lacking enthusiasm.
“It’s almost time for third meal,” Raimos said. “Just wanted to make sure you didn’t forget to eat, like earlier today.”
“I’m not too hungry. Maybe I’ll get something later.” Wake responded, turning back to the desolate vista. He knew Raimos wanted to help, but right now he needed to be left alone, needed time to think.
“Well… OK,” Raimos responded after a brief pause. “Look, I know you’re torn up about the miners, but they were just miners. They signed up for duty here and were compensated well for taking that risk. They knew the dangers and they still came to Traynos-6.”
“You don’t think I know that?” Wake shot back, his tone harsh. After a brief pause he continued, but this time his voice was softer, more conversational. “I understand they knew what it was like here. What they didn’t realize was there would be danger in using a well maintained, Ashamine built structure.”
Raimos didn’t say anything for a while, his gaze fixed on the mountains. “There is something I need to tell you,” he finally said, his voice taking on an official tone. “I was going to wait until you healed up and recovered from the shock a bit more, but the Elder Council is moving quicker than I anticipated. I’ve done all I can to block it, but it will go through anyway. They are going to put you on trial for the accident. So you need to pull yourself out of this slump and start thinking about how you’re going to defend yourself at the hearing.”
Wake felt as if he had been punched in the stomach. A flood of new emotions merged with those he had been dealing with earlier. It produced a rancid cocktail of grief, remorse, and, interestingly enough, suspicion.
“Anyway,” Raimos continued after several ticks of silence, “I’ll keep doing all I can to stop the trial. It may or may not help, but I’ll do my best.” Wake smiled weakly at his friend, feeling gratitude. “Oh and one more thing: Orders came through not to reopen the area of the incident. I don’t know why, but Command says it’s not to be reestablished.” He gave Wake a moment or two to respond. When Wake didn’t reply, Raimos continued, leaving the deck as he spoke, “Wake, pull yourself out of this blightheart. Grief is one thing, but beating yourself up is another. It was an accident. Come down and get something to eat.”
Wake sighed heavily, his breath misting even though the observation perch was climate controlled. The outside air was so frigid that it was hard to keep the fully windowed room much above freezing. He tried once again to lose himself in the barren landscape outside, but after a few minutes he realized it wasn’t going to happen. Raimos’ revelation had pushed him over some unknown edge and now it was impossible to not think. Wake decided he had to reason the whole thing out, had to find a better way to deal with his grief and guilt. Maybe it was time to quit mourning and start processing. He felt his attitude shift.
The twelve miners had died on a structure Wake was charged with maintaining. That would mean he would be held liable. He hadn’t anticipated the trial though. These types of accidents weren’t rare. With an empire as big as the Ashamine, things went wrong quite regularly. What was rare was a trial. It was strange. Also out of character for the Ashamine was the decision not to reopen the affected mining area. Wake didn’t know much detail about the mining operation here on Traynos-6, but he had heard the effected area contained some of the richest frozen gas deposits on the planet. Why would they leave it closed?
His mind drifted back to the events leading up to the accident. He recalled typing a report that used the words “unsuitable for use” and “obvious manufacturing defects” in reference to the materials he had ordered for maintenance. The reply had been: “Requested material was inspected before and after shipment. No flaws were found. No new materials will be sent. Use previously shipped materials.” He had up-channeled more reports and requests, but each time he did so, increasingly strong orders came down to use the original parts. In the end, he had been forced to do so.
Am I completely sure it was the bad parts that caused the failure? Wake thought about the plans, maintenance schedule, and memories of time spent on site. His workmanship had been good, he was certain of that. It had to be the materials. There was nothing else left. Then a new thought, something buried deep in his mind, rose to the surface. Why did they force me to use faulty materials? Why didn’t they just send new ones like procedure dictates? His sense of unease rose as he thought about the implications of those questions.
Wake had been raised to be devoted to the Ashamine. All the meetings, rallies, and his time in Youth Core had showed him just how great the human interplanetary government was. His parents were diplomats and had wanted Wake to follow in their footsteps. He had been sent to several elite schools in preparation for his “great service”, as his parents had put it. But Wake didn’t want to be a government functionary, going to formal events and fighting for political power. He wanted to make a real difference by helping people and making their lives better. So Wake had rebelled against his parents and enlisted with the Engineering and Building Division. “We are extremely disappointed in you,” his mother seethed at him the day she found out. “You were meant for bigger things. Building colonies? You’re wasting all your potential and everything we invested in you. You could do so much more for the Ashamine!”
He had been with the Engineering and Building Division for six years and his parents hadn’t contacted him since he had left home. He knew initially they had been shunning him with the hope he would change career paths. As time passed however, they had forgotten him in their fervor for the Founder and the war against the Entho-la-ah-mines.
When Wake had left home, his devotion to the Ashamine had equaled that of his parents. He had chosen the EBD because he knew he could help both the people and government of the Ashamine through his service there. Once out in the real world however, he had seen many things that had caused him to rethink his absolute faith in the government of humankind. Not that he was ready to forsake the Ashamine—or even wanted to—but he felt like he had a more balanced view now. He was still very impressed by the Founder, feeling a deep conviction that he was a great man and faithfully did what he could to help humankind advance in the Akked Galaxy.
Slowly, thoughts about the building materials returned. Was he being set up? This added a new crack in the weakening structure of his faith in the Ashamine. He was truly sad the miners had died and wouldn’t try to duck the responsibility for his workmanship. He would not, however, take the blame for careless manufacturing, inspection, or shipping. He wouldn’t allow himself to go down for a crooked bureaucrat’s gain.
Raimos would do his best to stop it, but Wake knew there would be a trial. He also knew it would be pivotal to his continued belief in the Ashamine. If he was tried justly and fairly, based on his maintenance of the structure, he would be able to keep his faith in the colossal government. Otherwise… Well, if it was handled otherwise he would fight against the injustice as hard as he could.
Maxar Trayfis drove the thin metallic spike through the faceplate of the environmental nominizing suit, shattering it. The man inside began to suffer as all his air was sucked violently into the void of space. Inexperienced, Maxar observed as the man attempted to hold his breath. It was a major mistake. His lungs would burst. He also failed to bring his weapon to bear on Maxar. Rookie. Almost immediately the man dropped his rifle in shock and opened his mouth. In another twelve seconds, he lost consciousness and fell limp. Maxar figured the man had two minutes of painless rest before the final oblivion took him. Lucky, he thought, his emotions a mixture of remorse, boredom, and envy.
Maxar slid stealthily back into the shadows of the ridge, a ghost of darkness. As he moved, he spotted a momentary glint of light near the edge of his faceplate’s vision field. He dropped prone. Sniper, he thought, wondering how he had been spotted. He brought out his optical enhancer and looked for the threat, but saw nothing. He waited several moments more, dialing up the magnification, zoom, and all other enhancements the device was capable of. Nothing. He knew if there was anything to see, he would have spotted it. His pale blue eyes were abnormally sharp and with his optical enhancer there was little chance of missing anything as large as a human. This left only a few options, mainly that of either a communications satellite or a personnel observation drone. Both were extremely hard to spot, and as long as it wasn’t an opposing player, it really didn’t matter anyway. Maxar rose to his feet and cautiously continued on. His skills were leading him through the process of ending human lives in a methodical, precise way.
Back on the move, his thoughts crowded in. He wished it hadn’t been necessary to kill the man. The death had been quick and painless relative to what usually went on during the games, but Maxar would have rather just let him be. That wasn’t an option though. Had the man spotted Maxar, he would have called in reinforcements to this sector and it would have complicated Maxar’s mission. The man, whoever he had been, had never sensed Maxar’s approach. Focus, he thought, dragging his mind back to the processes that had kept him alive for so long in such a deadly environment. He had work to do.
The match had begun only a few hours ago, but to Maxar it felt like a lifetime. “This game is pretty standard,” their team leader had said. “Each side has a secure terminal in their base. First team to hash the opponent’s terminal wins. All vehicles except space craft are permitted. All weapons except for nuclear are allowed. There will be a hundred players to a side. All the new players will form infantry quads. I have assignments for all veterans, but they won’t be a surprise to you.”
After the group briefing was over, his squad leader had given him more detailed instructions. “You’re on solo duty Maxar. I need you to go in and soften up the approach to their base. Snipers, anti-tank guns, mines, and whatever else you can take out. You’re the best player we have for this. We need all the help we can get.”
“What about a stealth hash,” Maxar said, referring to a tactic that kept the battle from turning into a bloody frontal assault.
“Nope. The Orator won’t allow it. Apparently there are some important people watching this game and they don’t want it to end too quickly, too easily.” Maxar’s hope sank. The stealth hash had worked a few games ago and both sides had suffered few losses.
“OK, softening duty it is.” And that was what he had been doing ever since.
This is true blightheart, Maxar thought as he worked his way along the ridge. There were usually several snipers in this area. They used the high vantage point to get a good line of sight on the enemy in the valley below and call in troop movements to their officers. I wish someone would kill me like I did that guy. If I was a hardman, I’d do it myself. He hated the repetition and pointless death of the never ending games. No matter how hard you fought, how many you killed, or how many matches you won or lost, there were always more games to come. It was eternal, and the only way out was to die or escape. And with the security on Bloodsport, the only real way was death.
Being in the game always made Maxar remember his past life and what had sent him to Bloodsport. He had been born and raised on Noor-5, a bustling stellar hub full of trade and rich merchants, along with a great deal of poverty and crime. He and his sister Emili grew up in a government care facility which was little more than a prison. Emili joined an indentured servant program when Maxar was 9 and she was 14, taking her out of the facility and sending her to Ashamine-2. She had written him through the Terminal Network for almost a year, but then had gone silent. Maxar looked for her in the Ashamine records when he got older, but there was no trace.
When he was young, Maxar had wondered where his parents were, or if they were even alive. He had been in the facility since his earliest memory and had no recollections of them or friendly adults of any kind. By the time he had the skills to hash the Ashamine records to determine his parents’ fate, he no longer cared to know. They were dead to him, whether living or deceased.
As typical of many low class youth on Noor-5, Maxar began a life of crime. He remembered a time early on when he had been approached by a wealthy merchant’s son. The other boy had offered him a substantial amount of Ashcreds to kill one of the rich boy’s peers. The merchant’s son had said the boy was mercilessly bullying him and Maxar felt inclined to exact justice. After several hours of research and surveillance, Maxar could see the target was actually the one being bullied and viciously tormented. A few hashes later and the truth became apparent: The target was amassing a case against the rich boy, for raping his sister. In the end someone had died, but it wasn’t the original target and Maxar didn’t get paid.
Maxar’s natural talent allowed him to quickly learn the skills needed to become an expert assassin and thief. His reputation grew, and the highest circles of the criminal organization on Noor-5 took note of him. Before long he was being commissioned for high profile jobs, ones that required extreme stealth and cunning. True to his ethics however, he would only accept certain jobs. If the mark was an innocent official, devoted family man, or an honest merchant, Maxar refused. Fortunately there was plenty of corruption on Noor-5, and Maxar stayed busy.
He found his work fulfilling, both monetarily and as a lifestyle. He was free, stable, and controlled his own future. All had gone quite well for almost a standard decade until one of the major officers within the underground had been caught. Maxar never found out all the details, but from what he could gather, the officer had been one of his direct contacts within the organization. This officer had rolled over on Maxar and given the Ashamine more than enough evidence to prosecute him.
Maxar had been captured, tried, and convicted. “Let it be known that Maxar Trayfis has been censured for the malefactions stated at the beginning of this convocation. We shall now move to sentencing. For crimes of this nature there is but one option, the remainder of life spent on the Bloodsport asteroid.” He’d been wishing for the death sentence ever since.
The beautiful girl sat beneath a shade tree, reading. A large wolf-dog lay beside her, sprawled out comfortably in the heat. The girl’s black hair shimmered in the bright light of mid-day, her green eyes intently focused on the book in her lap. The wolf-dog’s gray and black fur swayed gently in the breeze as he napped. It was just the kind of peaceful scene the girl enjoyed so deeply. It was one of the best things about Eishon-2.
Her mind deep in thought, the girl absentmindedly scratched behind the wolf-dog’s ears. His legs twitched in enjoyment, something the girl always laughed at, even after all the years they had been together. She quit scratching to flip a page in her book, and the wolf-dog rolled over so he could warm his other side. Minutes passed, the two enjoying the tranquility of the deep wood.
The wolf-dog heard someone drawing near their secluded spot, but let out no sign. He knew from the scent that the newcomer was friendly. The girl failed to hear the snap-crackling of someone moving through the underbrush, her attention totally focused on the large book in her hands. She did, however, hear her name when a strong male voice called out.
“Tremmilly?” the voice questioned, its tone melodic. She shut the book, careful to mark her page before doing so. After gently setting the book down, she gave the wolf-dog a hearty belly scratch. This time she focused her full attention on him and looked into his large blue eyes.
“Well Beowulf, it looks like we aren’t safe, even way out here.” Her eyes sparkled as she smiled at the wolf-dog. Turning to face the direction where the foot falls were coming from, she called out, “Over here!”
After a few moments and more crackling in the underbrush, an elderly looking man came into the small clearing. Tremmilly began to rise, but he motioned for her to stay seated. The old man smiled at the wolf-dog and sat down on the soft tree needles next to Tremmilly.
The trio lounged in contented silence for several minutes, the humans taking in energy from the surrounding landscape and the wolf-dog dozing lazily in the warm sunlight. Finally, the old man rose to his feet and spoke. “Walk with me, if you will.” His tone was friendly, his manner loving. Both Tremmilly and Beowulf rose and started following the elderly man.
“Psidonnis,” she said, as they had topped the crest of a small rise, “what brings you out so far to find me?” Psidonnis continued walking, his pace brisk. He was silent for a long time. This reticence was unlike him and Tremmilly began to grown uneasy.
“There are heavy matters afoot,” Psidonnis finally replied. His wrinkled face showed care and concern, but also resolve. “I dread having to turn our friendly relationship to one of a religious nature. There are other members of my Sect that Terra could have chosen, but it was I who received the prophecy. And I think it is because of our friendship, rather than in spite of it. I believe Terra wants me to convey it to you.”
A feeling of anxiety crept over Tremmilly and she stopped walking. “You raised me with the knowledge of Terra, and you know I respect your beliefs. You also know I have no wish to partake of the Dygars Sect. If there is a prophecy, how could it apply to me, a non-believer?”
The old man shrugged his shoulders, but Tremmilly thought he knew more than he let on. “I do not know how this came to be, only that it is. As I taught you, our prophecies are always for, and about, a member of the sect. This occasion has been somewhat of an anomaly.”
“Psidonnis, you know I love you, but I really don’t want anything to do with this prophecy. My parents came here for the Dygar Sect, but I have no faith in it. I have my own beliefs, and they aren’t the same as my parents.” She hoped she wasn’t being too strong, but she had to tell her friend how she felt.
Looking him in the eye, she saw Psidonnis looking back, absolutely expressionless. At first she thought he was angry, but no, that wasn’t right. She looked deeper and realized he was vacant, some place else entirely. Tremmilly could see it. The animation seemed to drain out of him, to seep away even as she watched. Each moment, it progressed further, his eyes becoming empty, vapid, soulless. A startled gasp escaped her as his lifeless looking lips opened and the void man began to speak. His voice had lost its normal qualities and had been imbued with a harsh, primitive tone that made Tremmilly shiver.
“When the Breakers rise, there shall be six on whose choices the worlds do lie. The choice of virtue or corruption will bring an ancient existence to many, death to more still. Persevere and strive, the Acclivity will bless those who survive.
“Six shall have great influence, many choices when the Breakers rise. Woe to six, that Breakers have experience when they have none. Six shall have need of all their will.
“The first be of a light most bright, spirit most pure. Her life touched by death before cognition, her desire only for peace. She shall start the fire that kindles the worlds to the Acclivity. Woe to the Breakers.
“The next shall have hands that shed blood, his blood in motion with machines. He does not know his heart, yet through course of life he shall learn what to see. He shall be the strong hands that guide the Acclivity, albeit he is not gentle. Woe to the Breakers.
“She of battle will fight beside the hands, her heart ferocious, yet kind. Her path has been strange, her child not of her blood. She shall be a strong pillar, the Acclivity magnified through her strength. Woe to the Breakers.
“Next is a man of character, the dead that is found, wearing that which is ancient, the icon of legends long past. His heart is good and powerful, a mighty man to lead the Acclivity. Woe to the Breakers.
“He that is green has strength of mind, his people are his weapon. He is dissimilar, but his heart is good; send him not away. He shall unite a people unspoiled, he shall be the salvation of those of his kind. He shall bring his kind to the Acclivity, and the worlds will tremble at their might. Woe to the Breakers.
“Last is he smallest of all, but a boy in the eyes of the world. He is descended from power, full of power, wielding power. His mind is a weapon, though his hands be frail. His heart is strong, though his body may fail. He has the power of life, the gift of death. The Acclivity rests on his shoulders. Woe to the Breakers.
“All six shall have friends and foes alike, some from within and some from out. Many more shall sway the Acclivity, many more essential. Some will live and many more will die. Come forth you adventurers, you seekers of battle. The Acclivity calls, though the Breakers may yet decide the fate of the worlds.
“But to you who would stay in comfort and safety, not yielding to the call: Blightheart shall establish itself on you and the worlds will be sundered by the Breakers.”
After Psidonnis quit speaking, Tremmilly stood in stunned silence, afraid, not knowing what to think. The life slowly returned to his eyes and after several minutes he was fully reintegrated into his body.
“Did it happen?” he asked, his voice sounding dry and papery thin, bereft of its normal joyfulness. She didn’t reply. “Ahhh, yes. I see by your face it did.” He looked down at his feet and sighed heavily, but whether this was out of shame or another, more obscure emotion, Tremmilly couldn’t tell. She was speechless and didn’t know how to react to his strange behavior. She felt violated.
Tremmilly was about to say something, although she was still unsure what it would be, when Psidonnis raised his head and spoke. “I had hoped it would not happen this way, that I could be myself when I told you the prophecy, but it seems Terra had a different plan and wanted to communicate in a more—direct manner.”
“What does it mean?” Tremmilly blurted, finally unable to contain her emotion any longer.
“I don’t know child, I honestly don’t, at least not exactly. We Dygars are an old order and we keep meticulous records, but there have been many times when we lost information. When you are fleeing for your life, dusty old tomes and records are often the last thing on your mind.” With this statement, some of his warm personality and joking humor returned, his voice regaining a measure of its former vitality. This comforted Tremmilly and she felt her own emotions begin to settle, even if it was only fractionally.
“Do you know why I was meant to hear the prophecy?” Tremmilly asked. “I need some kind of frame work or perspective. It doesn’t make sense.”
“You don’t see it?” He had the look on his face she had seen when he tutored her, the one that said, “You know the answer Tremmilly. Look harder!” She thought for several moments. Psidonnis remained quiet and allowed her to think, just like he always had.
“I honestly don’t,” she replied, her mind failing to connect anything in her life to the vague and poetic prophecy. “None of it sounds familiar or connected to anything or anyone I know.”
“Well then,” he said with a sigh, “I suppose it’s time to bring you in front of the elder council and let them explain some things to you. Perhaps you’ll see the connection then.” As he said this he turned away from her and began to head in the direction of the Dygar enclave. Tremmilly looked down at Beowulf, seeking and finding comfort in his familiar pale blue eyes. She gave the wolf-dog a confused but determined expression and turned to follow her oldest human friend and benefactor towards the unknown.
“Before we go to the council Tremmilly, there are a few things I should tell you. I think they will make more sense coming from me than from the elders.” Tremmilly tensed up, sensing she wasn’t going to like what he was about to say. “You are the one the prophecy refers to as being ‘of a light most bright, spirit most pure.’ I think it is time for you to leave Eishon-2. I think you need to go search for the other five people referred to in the prophecy.”
“Arise,” the atonal voice announced, interrupting Lothis’ trance-like sleep. It was the end of his three hours of rest. His vibrant orange eyes flicked open and he was instantly aware of his surroundings. This was simple because the room was his world.
Lothis looked at the space, its features drab and metallic. Every surface was made of brushed stainless steel. He was used to the surroundings, comfortable in them. He couldn’t remember any other place. His eyes ran over the dull walls, seeing, yet not seeing the lavatory area in one corner. More wall brought his eyes to another corner and what he thought of as his training area: a terminal, running device, and several other training apparatus. Another brief section of wall and then he saw the final corner of the room. It contained the device that dispensed his meal of the day, along with a terminal and a table where he could work on projects. In the center of the room sat an angular metal chair and a terminal, this one far larger than those in the training or project area. Everything in the space was as it had been when he had closed his eyes, unchanged, immutable.
Rising from the flat metal platform that was his bed, Lothis walked over to the lavatory area. It was here he started the daily routine that was the entirety of his short life. He knew he was young. His calculations showed he had repeated this daily, twenty-four hour cycle 3785 times.
Finishing up in the lavatory, he returned to the central area of his small room and sat down in the chair before the display terminal. The synthesized, atonal voice returned as the terminal’s large screen came to life. “Lothis, lesson, begin,” it sounded, lacking any emotion. The screen began to display complex math equations which Lothis solved instantly. His orange eyes flicked back and forth across the display, comprehending the information as quickly as it was shown.
After a span of time, the terminal’s display changed, the math replaced by intricate diagrams and specifications. Lothis’ eyes continued to play across the screen, absorbing everything. Later, the diagrams changed to what appeared to be random symbols, scrolling by so fast they began to blur.
Several hours passed and then the screen went black. Lothis rose from the angular steel chair. Moving across the small room, he stood on top of a wide belt that was recessed into the floor. The belt turned and Lothis ran. The pace became furious, but he never stumbled, never missed a single step.
Hours went by, the belt slowed, and Lothis moved on to his other exercises. He did each with superior physical prowess and dexterity. His small ten year old frame was deceptively weak looking, hiding the incredible abilities it contained. His exercises complete, Lothis stretched methodically, from head to toe.
With the day’s physical training finished, he moved on to other tasks. Guided by the voice, he built several small electronic devices, all of which he easily and accurately assembled.
Lothis sat and ate his one meal of the day in silence. He swallowed the protein compound bars and liquid vitamins with no enjoyment, no pleasure whatsoever. They were bland and tasteless.
After his short meal, he sat in front of the main terminal, which once again began to rapidly flash numbers, symbols, and colors in a seemingly random pattern. This continued a while longer, but then the screen went black. The monotone voice spoke saying, “Lothis, sleep, begin.”
Lothis rose from the chair and returned to his metal shelf. His mind was empty as he lay back. He never considered his life, never questioned his existence. Every day was exactly the same. Thoughts and speculation about the past were pointless. Thinking about tomorrow was also futile. It was all so predictable, like knowing the future.
He closed his eyes, slowed his breathing, and fell asleep instantly. The voice would return in three hours to wake him.
Seated in his massive chair at the head of the conference table, the Founder seethed with rage. What more can be done to crush this uprising? He had to find a new tactic. This situation was causing him more frustration than anything else he had experienced in his 130 years of life.
One of the Classad, the Ashamine government’s highest council, made the unwise decision to break the heavy silence, “Perhaps, if we met some of their demands and change some of—“
“We have already discussed that!” the Founder roared, his vibrant orange eyes burning into the man. He felt the fires of the dark star roaring within him. He wanted to release all his rage on these old men, to burn them for their failure to destroy the dissidents.
I must calm myself, he thought, pulling back to diplomacy. These men are of no use to me if I alienate them all. Why had he been so prone to anger lately? He had never been this way as a younger man.
“What I mean to say,” he continued, almost recapturing his usual charisma and poise, “is that we have already thought that idea out to its logical conclusion. The Divisonist’s propaganda is particularity virulent. Their strongest weapons are peaceful protest and the ability to spread false information as if it were a disease. If we give into their demands, we’ll look guilty and they will use that to infect and recruit more of the Ashamine population. We cannot negotiate. We are the ones with the power and we must use it to fight their insidious agenda.”
He paused, his mind once again running through all the history, tactics, and information that had been discussed in prior sessions. This took little time, and his mind leaped to a conclusion it had previously missed. What if… he thought, a sadistic grin touching the corners of his mouth. He would have to approach this carefully though. Most of the Classad would be opposed to it, unable to bring themselves to do what had to be done. That was fine. The Founder was used to issuing such orders. He had the perfect person in mind to perform the task. If not knowing the plan would keep the conscience of the Classad clean, then so be it. They didn’t need to know anyway. Their purpose was to offer advice and carry out his edicts.
The Classad hadn’t always been this weak. The Founder remembered when he’d learned the secret history, how the first Founder had answered to the Classad.
The Ashamine Charter stated: “The Founder is to lead, but he is directed and held accountable by the Classad.” The creators of the Charter had chosen a man much too smart and determined to be ruled by committee though. Twenty years into his term, the Ashamine was under the total control of the first Founder. Of course, no one but the Founder himself knew this secret history, and that was all for the best.
The first Founder would have approved of this course of action, he observed, the thought bringing him out of his reverie. “For the time being,” the Founder resumed, fully back in his relaxed persona, “let’s continue to try to think of alternative solutions. Now we should move on to other, more gratifying business.” He could see the Classad relaxing as he spoke.
“From the intelligence briefings we’ve received, it seems fairly evident the Entho-la-ah-mines are nearly annihilated and the war is almost at an end. They only remain on a handful of planets, and their forces grow weaker by the day. ” This statement brought about a buzz of excitement and anticipation the Founder enjoyed. “Furthermore,” he continued, “I’m told by the Ashamine Forces that we are close to discovering the hidden Entho worlds. The Engineering and Building Division has also informed me they will be ready to start developing these new Entho worlds as soon as they are cleared of the insects.” Everyone in the Ashamine will cheer my name when we annihilate those bugs and open up new colonies. Everyone except for the Divisionists. This thought drove the thorn of the rebellion back into the Founder’s mind and his mood soured again. Humanity needed the resources that were on the Entho worlds, and if the way to get them was to destroy a bunch of interstellar insects, then so be it. The Divisionists can go bugger themselves in the fires of the dark star, the Founder thought. They can protest the war all they want. The Ashamine will take those worlds.
The discussion about the war continued a while longer, a few members of the Classad talking about this or that until all felt the matter had been fully reviewed. The Founder brought the meeting to an end by dismissing each of them personally.
After they left, the Founder returned to his chair at the head of the table and brought out his personal communicator. “Crasor,” he said into the device, and after a few moments a clear, soft spoken voice replied.
“Are you back on Ashamine-2 yet? I have need of my Facilitator.”
“Yes, I just arrived and can be at the Ashamine Complex shortly.”
While he waited for the Facilitator, the Founder thought about the man. Crasor Tah Ahn was amazing. He wouldn’t be the Facilitator if he was anything less.
The Founder remembered the time he had spent meticulously researching personnel who would best fit his newly created title of Facilitator. At the end of the search, he had summoned Crasor and asked, “1st Class Enlightened Tah Ahn, how would you like to be my aide?”
“I will do anything you ask of me”, Crasor had replied, his devotion evident.
“Anything? Anything at all?”
“Of course. You are the supreme leader of the Ashamine. Your word is law.”
The Founder’s Commandos had been sad to lose Crasor, and with good reason. The man’s skills were far superior to any other operator the Founder had researched. Over the eleven years Crasor had been his Facilitator, the Founder had grown quite fond of the man. He wouldn’t call him a friend, but he was certainly closer to him than he was to anyone else.
“Founder,” a voice said, and he looked up to see Crasor entering the room.
“Facilitator,” the Founder replied, using the title because he knew Crasor enjoyed it. “Thank you for coming.” He gestured at the chair to his right and Crasor sat down. “How did everything go on Traynos-6?”
“The bridge fell,” Crasor replied, his excited eyes betraying his calm voice.
“Everyone was taken care of?”
“Yes. The scene was compelling and contrary evidence non-existent.”
“Perfect,” the Founder said, smiling at Crasor. He was glad that, unlike the Classad, his Facilitator could get things done. “I have a new project for you.”
“What do you have need of?” Crasor asked, leaning towards the Founder.
“There is some business I need you to conduct on Noor-5,” the Founder answered. “I have a surprise for the Divisionists, a bit of a message in fact.” As he explained the details, Crasor’s mouth curled up into a sadistic grin the Founder delighted in. He felt the same smile grow on his lips, knowing Crasor would execute his plan perfectly.
Cazz-ak-tak lumbered out of the entrance to the Entho-la-ah-mine tunnel system that lay below the surface of Lith-elo-hi-rosh. The emerald green of his exoskeleton shone brightly in the blue light of the primary star.
The beauty and vastness of the landscape on this planet never ceased to inspire wonder within him. Tall, emerald green grass waved gently in the bright light, looking like a deep green sea. The leaves on the mighty palos trees rustled lightly in the breeze, small groves of the huge hardwoods breaking up the endless fields of grass. In the distance, grand mountains reached for the sky, their heights unknown, unexplored.
Cazz-ak moved out into the long grass, his six legs quickly taking him through the waving plants. He followed a well defined path, one that he could see both with his eyes and his mind.
As he moved out into the prairie, he startled a tak-ai, a small rodent-like animal indigenous to Lith-elo-hi-rosh. Its green body blended into the grass perfectly when it stood still, but the animal was very skittish. As it fled from Cazz-ak, it inadvertently ran full speed into a calath plant. The sharp leaves sliced the poor tak-ai, and after a few moments it fell over, dead. The neurotoxins produced by the plant were fatal to most wildlife on the planet. Cazz-ak walked by both the plant and the tak-ai, not taking any special precautions. His exoskeleton was armor against the sharp leaves and the chemical was a psychedelic for the Entho-la-ah-mines, rather than a neurotoxin.
After a few minutes of walking, a huge canyon appeared before Cazz-ak, the emerald grass growing all the way to the edge. He continued on the path, and soon it wound down into the canyon and entered a tunnel. After a short distance in the narrow tunnel, Cazz-ak reached an enormous, vaulted chamber that housed numerous gleaming ships. Each vessel was made from a substance the Entho-la-ah-mines secreted, a substance that was close in composition to their exoskeleton. It was a very useful material, easily molded into whatever shape was needed, whether it was a food basin for a family or hull plating for a ship.
Cazz-ak thought about how much life had changed for the Entho-la-ah-mines within the past few years. The initial contact with the humans had been amazing. Both species had come together, had exchanged knowledge and information about themselves. Unfortunately, something about the way the humans had evolved caused them to see the Entho-la-ah-mines as resources rather than friends. It hadn’t been long after the Unification and Harmony Tour that the humans invaded their first Entho-la-ah-mine world.
Cazz-ak could hear and feel his fellow Entho-la-ah-mines throughout the galaxy, and they in turn could feel and hear him as well. Everyone was connected through the central mind known as the Great Thought. He felt the joy and harmony of those on peaceful planets still undiscovered by humans. He also felt the pain and agony of those suffering from the human expansion onto the Entho-la-ah-mine worlds. The suffering of his kin was like the edges of many calath leaves being drawn slowly across his mind. The pain was excruciating, yet somehow he and all his people managed to bear it.
It was this call, this alarm, that Cazz-ak-tak was answering. Even though his race was peace loving and had never fought in the past, Cazz-ak-tak was going to war. He felt ill-equipped to perform his mission, knowing the humans’ warfare technology was far advanced compared to that of the Entho-la-ah-mines. It had been just a few decades since the Entho-la-ah-mines had even learned about the concept of war. Now they were being forced to fight for their survival.
Cazz-ak approached one of the many ships arrayed in a triangular pattern inside the cave. They were massive objects, crewed by up to five hundred Entho-la-ah-mines at a time. The ships looked like two pyramids stacked bottom to bottom, a bi-pyramid. They hovered in the space above him, silent, hulking, their organic hull plates shining bright green in the artificial light. The bi-pyramid shape had been chosen because of its efficiency in focusing the mental powers of the Entho-la-ah-mines.
Cazz-ak used his mind to reach out to the hatch on the exterior of the ship above, identifying himself to the security protocols. It was an easy task that he did subconsciously. Stopping below the vessel, he focused hard on drawing power from the Great Thought. Cazz-ak then channeled this force towards the ground below him and he rose into the air.
He floated upwards towards the mind hatch and the aperture lensed open at his approach. It was just big enough to fit his awkwardly shaped six legged body. Once inside the entrance, he began to walk again. The corridors were oval, one body wide by two tall. As he continued through the ship, a few of the crew passed over Cazz-ak’s head, mentally greeting him as they went by. After passing several branching corridors, he finally came to another mind hatch that blocked his passage.
This hatch led to the uppermost area of ship, to the apex of the top pyramid. Cazz-ak went through the mind hatch and the orientation of gravity changed. He now stood on what he previously thought of as a wall. The shift in perspective was easy for him as it often occurred on Entho-la-ah-mine ships. Each of the five points of the bi-pyramid was its own “up”, which allowed them all to be observation points and command bridges in case of damage. Now that he was on the main command deck, he was able to look out through the hull plating on all three sides, seeing the upper points of the other bi-pyramidal vessels. He was amazed they had been able to build so many ships in such a short period.
Images flashed through Cazz-ak’s mind. He saw his people systematically exterminated on Kii-la-ta, the first planet to be taken by the humans. They had been unable to defend themselves and the massacre was still excruciating to remember. He saw the great councils meet, saw the philosophical debates about violence and warfare, about what they must do as a species. None of them understood at the time that they were being killed so the humans could exploit the resources of their worlds. Then more planets fell and the councils had resolved to fight against the extinction of the Entho-la-ah-mine species. They had to do it in their own way though, had to use the tools evolution had given them.
This was where the bi-pyramid ships came in. The Entho-la-ah-mines knew they could not resist the humans in battle. Cazz-ak himself had seen the power of the human ships and it would be many years, even at Entho-la-ah-mine speed, to develop the abilities to fight them. In the end, considering all the circumstances, the Great Thought had decided it would be best to abandon the home worlds and leave them to the humans. The bi-pyramid ships would evacuate as many as possible, but there would still be countless left behind.
Cazz-ak found himself wishing he was evacuating his fellow Entho-la-ah-mines, but he knew his mission was far more important. Instead of saving several hundred Entho-la-ah-mines, he would be attempting to save his species as a whole.
He forced his mind back to the present and hailed his Hax-ax-ons, a group of three Entho-la-ah-mines that controlled the ship’s systems. They returned his salute and he instructed them to begin departure procedures. Each was standing in their control focus point, a Hax-ax-on at each of the three angles of the pyramid. Cazz-ak took up his position in the center of his officers, the focus point known as the Hax-at-tory, his title as commander of the vessel. It was his channel to the Great Thought that would ultimately power and move the vessel.
In his mind, he could feel the readiness of his crew, as well as their nervous apprehension. Transporting the cargo that was on board was dangerous, but it was far more dangerous to keep it on Lith-elo-hi-rosh. It was also an immense honor to be part of this mission, to help bring about the continued existence of their species. These facts created a swirl of emotion that had everyone on edge.
Cazz-ak observed as Ak-lah-hum, the officer in charge of the ship’s mind, soothed and comforted all those aboard, instilling confidence and unity within the group. Cazz-ak was proud of his Hax-ax-ons and his crew. This was not their first deployment, And with the Great Thought’s aid, we will continue to help our people. His orders and what he and his crew had to do would not be easy, but Cazz-ak knew he would do his best to serve the Entho-la-ah-mine race.
He sent out the signal to depart. All around the ship, the Entho-la-ah-mines gathered their thoughts and focused on the apex of the ship. Cazz-ak felt the power enter him and drew it in deeply. Once had pulled in all the power available from the crew, he invoked the might of the Great Thought, bringing it into himself as well. Cazz-ak reflected and magnified the might of both power sources into Raa-alk-mi. As the ship’s propulsion officer, Raa-alk-mi turned the mighty force towards the fabric of space-time around the vessel. He warped it such a way that caused the massive vessel to rise out of the hangar chamber.
Cazz-ak gave the order and the ship accelerated through the atmosphere. As it left the planet, he gave a course towards the edge of the system. Cazz-ak continued to listen to the thoughts of all those who suffered because of the actions of the humans. The more he listened, the more his sorrow and resolve deepened.
Once they were outside the Lith-elo-hi-rosh system, Raa-alk-mi slowed the ship, bringing it to a stop in empty space. The propulsion officer refocused his attention on a point in space just in front of the huge bi-pyramidal ship. The stars visible behind the focal point disappeared, but were quickly replaced by a new, different set.
As the ship began moving towards the distortion, Cazz-ak fervently hoped their return to the Entho-la-ah-mine origin world of Haak-ah-tar would not end in the extinction of their species.
Wake stood on the bridge, getting ready to begin his maintenance routine. This far north on Traynos-6, everything was hidden under a thick layer of snow, ice, and various types of frozen gas. It was bitterly cold, but his environmental nominizing suit kept him warm and safe from the brutal conditions surrounding him.
He gazed at the jagged mountains that encompassed the bridge, then down into the crevasse it spanned. Wonder how deep it is, he thought. He felt the bridge vibrate and looked up to find the cause. As he watched, the last of several large vehicles began crossing to the far side of the bridge. That would be miners on their way to a work shift. He wished the bridge could be closed while he did maintenance, but that would halt production, and was unacceptable to the mining base commander. On the far side, a few huge gas tankers and a couple of transports waited for the bridge to be clear. The roadway spanning the crevasse was only wide enough to allow one way traffic. Usually that was sufficient, but for some reason there was a queue at the moment.
Wake started to make his way across the bridge, his feelings about the work ahead mixed. He was doing routine inspection maintenance, ensuring the bridge remained safe for use. The harsh weather conditions of this polar region and heavy use by the miners put a large strain on the structure. The bridge had needed frequent repairs since it was first put into service nearly a standard year ago.
Wake was particularly anxious to check the new parts he had installed a few weeks ago. He needed to see if they were still in good condition. They wouldn’t be, but he was hoping all the same.
Wake stopped as he reached an inspection point, checking a cable and noting it was starting to show signs of significant and dangerous wear. This was not surprising in the least because it had been one of the new, faulty parts he had been sent. The cable’s yoke end was fraying just as he expected it would. He decided to radio the nearby mining base to inform them the bridge would need to be closed until he could repair it.
He turned to look as one of the huge gas tankers from the far side rumbled by. As Wake began opening the base frequency, he felt the bridge lurch slightly. A lance of panic pierced him, knowing instinctively the bridge should not move in that way. Whirling back around, he checked the cable again. Several of the finely braided strands had snapped. Running through mental calculations, he realized the remaining strands would not be enough to support any of the vehicles that were beginning to cross the span. The cable is compromised, he thought frantically, the bridge is going to collapse!
Involuntarily, he looked over the side of the structure into the chasm below. Even if the drop doesn’t kill them, unlikely as that is, it would be impossible for us to rescue them before they froze. Wake knew he had to act, and speed was crucial. Just as he began to open an emergency frequency, a violent gust of wind caught him and threw him off balance. He tottered near the edge of the bridge, swaying back and forth, trying desperately to maintain his precarious balance. This bridge had no pedestrian traffic, and therefore had no railing.
Just as he thought he had regained his balance, another gust pushed him over the edge. He screamed in terror and felt the reverberation instantly as the sound was directed back by the confines of his helmet. He fell for only a second before his safety harness and tether caught him with a jolt. He swung violently back towards the bridge, staring down into vast drop below. There was only a moment to collect himself before he swung back into one of the thick bridge supports, dealing a savage blow across the back of his head and shoulders. All went dark and he felt himself swimming in a fuzzy haze.
Coming to, Wake stared around, dazed and bleary eyed. How did I get here? he stammered mentally. As his eyes cleared, he realized there was nothing but air in every direction but up. His body continued to swing back and forth in a lazy arc, the wind and his collision with the support creating an erratic path. He blinked hard a few times and then it all came flooding back to him. Horror swept through his concussion addled brain as he looked up and saw the last of the gas tankers begin to cross. If I don’t get them to stop—he thought, cutting off the speculation and forcing himself to act.
He attempted to switch on his comm unit, but it was unresponsive. Thoughts whirled through his mind frantically. Must have been damaged when I fell. Don’t have time to mess with it. Have to climb up and give a visual signal. He fought desperately to get established onto some part of the support structure, but the underside of the bridge was painted with a deicing compound that was as slick as the ice it prevented. Wake couldn’t hold on to anything long enough to climb back up.
Trying a new strategy, he began hauling himself up his tether. He made it up the ten feet by brute strength alone, managing to get an arm up on to the deck of the bridge. Just as he pulled himself up the rest of the way, the gas tanker lumbered by and Wake felt the bridge lurch as more of the flawed cable broke. The moan was audible over the wailing of the wind. It won’t take another stress like that. It’s going to give out. Any moment now, any moment! His mind was spinning. He tried his com unit again, but the result was the same as before.
Wake quickly detached his tether and sprinted towards the mining base. His feet slammed hard against the frozen ground as he left the bridge. An alarm sounded in his helmet and a warning popped up in his head’s up display telling him he was consuming oxygen faster than the suit could refine it from the atmosphere. His lungs began to burn, both from the lack of breathable air and his exertion. Wake lowered his head and pushed harder, fighting the black splotches that threatened to shut out his vision. When he looked up, the distance didn’t seem to be any smaller. I’ll never make it in time. I have to go back and try to wave the drivers down. Why didn’t I do that in the first place?
Spinning on his heels, he looked back towards the bridge. With a shock, he realized there were now two transports on the bridge at one time. Didn’t these foolish miners remember the rule that forbade two vehicles from crossing at once? It had been established to prevent so many different problems that it was practically common sense. The driver of the second vehicle was more interested in getting to his warm shelter three minutes faster than in being safe while doing it. He just wanted to relax after a cold and grueling day’s work running a gas mining machine, but his action was foolish. His haste would kill everyone in both vehicles.
Wake ran back towards the bridge, pushing even harder than he had before. He was almost close enough to signal the driver, but the vehicle was dangerously close to the point of no return. Wake started waving his arms franticly in an attempt to signal the operator of the vehicle. They weren’t stopping. It wasn’t working. He knew he was close enough now for the driver and his backup to see him, but obviously they weren’t paying attention. Most of the drivers set their craft’s auto-nav system and paid only minimal attention while on the return trip.
The lead vehicle crossed over the section of bridge with the weakened cable and the structure gave a massive shudder, girders and supports moaning under the strain. In less than a second, a huge section of roadway tipped to a steep downward angle, the lead vehicle barely holding traction on its surface.
Wake fell as the deck steepened and started sliding towards the drop off. As he shot past an upright that rose out of the road, he tried to catch it. His body was jerked to a violent, bone snapping stop, yet Wake felt no pain. He looked down at his arm, caught between two parts of the upright. The arm was obviously broken and the sight of it made Wake want to puke.
A soft moan escaped his grimacing mouth as he disentangled himself from the upright. He didn’t know why he had moaned. His arm didn’t hurt, so it wasn’t from pain. It was like he was watching everything happen through some amazingly realistic POV cam, feeling no physical sensation.
Somehow, even with the tilting bridge and the broken arm, Wake managed to get his feet under his body, pulling himself up using his good right arm. He took a few precarious steps, using the bridge framework for support. He looked towards the vehicles and found he was close enough to make eye contact with the people inside. That was when he knew something was very wrong. Not wrong in the sense the vehicle was going to plunge into the depths, that was different. He couldn’t put words to his sense of foreboding, but it was strong in the depths of his mind.
Somehow the people just weren’t right. That had to be it, but definition still eluded him. Then he noted the second vehicle was gone. It hadn’t fallen off the bridge, he knew that much, but it was gone all the same. He turned his attention back to the people inside the cab: one man, two women, one child, an Entho, and a huge dog. That was incorrect for a standard mining crew, not to mention totally absurd. The crews consisted primarily of men, maybe a woman or two, but never children, dogs, or non-humans.
Breaking out of his troubled thoughts, Wake realized the situation was continuing to worsen as the seconds passed. The angle of the deck was growing steeper, and soon the transport’s tires would be unable to hold on to it. He had no idea what he could do to save the people in the transport. As his mind was grasping at options, the bridge segment gave another moan and shudder, then began falling. Wake, along with the transport and the people inside it, plummeted down into the gaping maw of the crevasse.
Screaming, Wake’s eyes flew open and he frantically looked around the dark room. It took him a moment to realize he was no longer falling towards the black, cold ice, that he was stationary and warm. He took long shuddering breaths, wiping the sweat from his face on to the lower part of his shirt.
This wasn’t the first time he’d had this dream, but this time it was different. Every time prior, the dream had followed the events of that disastrous day quite faithfully. This time however, the dream had changed. This time, he’d fallen into the crevasse. This time, it had been a strange mix in the vehicle, not the crew who had actually been there. Wake didn’t know what to make of it. He didn’t recognize the people who had replaced the mining crew, yet he could see their faces in his mind as clear as if they were his close friends. Their visages were permanently etched in his memory.
He climbed out of his narrow bed and walked over to a small basin on the far wall. Using a tap, he dispensed some water into a small cup, drained the cup into his mouth and swallowed. He filled it again, and drank it again. His throat shuffled up and down in time to the gulps. His hands shook from the remnants of the dream.
He let out a long sigh. The feelings during the day were bad enough, but the dreams were worse. Setting the cup down, he walked over to the nearby window. It was small, but still allowed him to see the stars and some high clouds moving by at a steady rate. Who were those people? He wished the dreams would stop. He had enough to deal with at the moment without them. His trial date was fast approaching.
Felar’s throat felt like it was full of dusty gravel. Her head was throbbing in sync with her heart, big painful pulses that made her want to cry. She opened her eyes slowly and blinked several times, trying to remove the gritty feeling from them. She experienced a stab of panic when everything remained black, but after a moment she realized the room was in darkness.
Just as she became fully conscious, the illumination came on. The sudden light nearly blinded her, but Felar’s eyes quickly adjusted. A tall, dark skinned male combat physician walked in a moment later. He began checking the various machines she was hooked to, making notes on a hand held terminal. The man looked to be in his middle years, which was old for the position his dress denoted. He had a fit, elegant grace that suggested he could handle himself if the need arose.
“Don’t try to speak yet,” he said, noticing her eyes were open. His voice was deep, melodious, and rich. “You sustained a severe head and neck injury. Some medications we had to gave you have noticeable side effects. Nothing too serious mind you, but one of them causes an inflammation of the vocal cords. We are no longer administering that particular drug to you, so the inflammation should diminish in a day or so. In the meanwhile, you can use this,” he pulled another hand held terminal out of his pocket and handed it to her. “ Use it to communicate as you feel necessary. I’m Doc Hase, by the way.”
Felar began to type on the terminal screen in quick, precise strokes. As she completed each line, a voice emitted from the computer. “How long have I been unconscious? Where am I?”
“In answer to your first question, you have been in a drug induced coma for two weeks.” A slight frown crossed his mouth as he spoke the words. She began to type on the pad once again, but he caught her wrist gently and continued, “I know what you are going to ask. Let me save you some time.” Letting her go, Hase walked over to a small window set in the wall opposite the door.
“No one knows what happened to you. Some witnesses saw you inside the Init training facility on Ashamine-4, but no one is willing to admit who assaulted you. Someone found you in a side corridor, unconscious and in need of medical attention. Medics were called and you were brought to the training hospital.”
Anger filled Felar as she heard his words. No one knows what happened to me? How is that possible? She typed furiously on the pad, the auto-correct having to work hard to fix all her mistakes. “How could no one have seen what happened? That building is always full of Inits and officers. Someone had to have seen something. And why can’t I remember what happened?” Her synthetic voice lacked the emotion Felar felt, and this only increased her anger.
“You’ll have to speak to the officer in charge of the investigation. He can explain the details. I only know a brief overview. You sustained a blow to the back of the head, as well as many other injuries. Your short term memory of that time was erased. Thankfully, all the scans show your brain function is normal and it is unlikely you will experience any long term effects.” Hase gave her a consoling smile, his eyes soft.
“Thank you for telling me,” she typed, and he nodded in response. Hase continued looking at her, and she could tell there was something else he wanted to say. He looked uncomfortable, and Felar guessed whatever it was, it was unpleasant. A sinking feeling began to gather in her stomach.
Hase’s smile faded. “We have reason to believe you were raped,” he said, his voice flat. “The evidence, little as it was, was transmitted to the investigating officer.”
Felar was stunned, felt numb. She didn’t know how to respond. After several moments of silence between the two, Hase resumed speaking. “Since no witnesses stepped forward, Command decided it would be best to get you off of Ashamine-4 and away from whoever did this to you. The theory is that the perpetrator would be caught by the time you returned and wouldn’t be able to try to silence anything you happened to remember. You were issued transfer papers for a new tour of duty, effective as soon as you are cleared for combat.”
The thought of her attacker roaming free made Felar angry and afraid. She was glad Command was reassigning her, thankful she would have separation from the person or persons who had done this to her. Given this new assignment, Felar now had more questions than ever, so she began to type. As she finished the inquiry, the synthetic voice intoned, “Where to?”
“Haak-ah-tar, one of the old Entho worlds.” Hase seemed relived to be off the subject of what had happened to her and his warm demeanor returned. “Things are supposed to be pretty messy in that area. Apparently the Enthos have been gathering forces on the edges of Haak-ah-tar space and seem to be preparing for something. We in turn have been sending ships there in an effort to maintain the blockade. I’ve also heard the Enthos landed some of their forces and are engaging our troops. It would be the first place those alien buggers actually put up any resistance. It’s strange, we take the planet from them and they wait over fifty years to attempt to take it back. Now they face a massive buildup of forces there.”
Feeling some relief, Felar began to write again, “I’m so glad to hear they aren’t going to put me on some blighthearted administrative duty. When do I ship out?”
Hase chuckled, his big smile also shining in his eyes. “Strange you should ask. I’d think an experienced soldier like yourself would feel the ship’s worm drive powering down, but you’re probably still groggy. We are in Haak-ah-tar space and the Separate Commander said we should arrive there in a few standard hours.”
“Arise,” the atonal voice announced, interrupting Lothis’ trance-like sleep. It was the end of his three hours of rest. His vibrant orange eyes flicked open and he was instantly aware of his surroundings. The room was his world, and the world never changed.
But today something was—different. Lothis could feel it, sense it somehow. He couldn’t see it, but the weight of it was all around him. Something was wrong.
There was a new sound. He had never heard that sound before. His routine was filled with only a few noises other than those emanating from himself. The commanding voice and occasionally the sounds of faint footsteps were all that broke into his world. This sound was different though. It was too loud to be his imagination, but not loud enough for him to be able to discern its origin or source. He could feel the sound’s rumbling bass frequencies, and it came from all directions. It set him on edge and filled him with a sense of foreboding.
And the air—something was different about the air. He had never noticed the air before. That was strange.
Another disturbing development was that the room was moving. That was impossible. The room had never moved.
Curiosity flooded his mind. What is causing all this? Why is it happening? And then a new thought materialized: Where am I? That question felt dangerous and he shied away from it.
Lothis began to be troubled. In his whole existence, he could not remember a time when his life had been different, where any day had even the slightest change to it. So many new things were happening, so many new thoughts and concepts were assaulting him. He realized he was breathing faster and shallower than normal and his heart rate was elevated. Clinging to routine, he walked to the lavatory and cleaned himself as he had done every other day. It didn’t bring the calm focus to him as it normally did.
Once this task was completed and his attention no longer buried in routine, his mind quickly returned to his plight. The air was still different, the rumbling noises and oscillations still came and went, and he still felt a foreign emotion his brain tried to classify as fear. He sat down in the angular metal chair in front of the terminal and waited for the voice to instruct him to begin his lessons. He waited. And then waited some more. It was most certainly past the time the voice should tell him to start, but silence still prevailed. Just as his panic began to spill over and take control, the voice spoke. But this too was different, increasing the fear instead of allaying it.
“Lowwwwwthhhhissssssss leeeeeesoooooon beeeeegiinnnnnnnn,” it said, its tone slurred and deepened, words drawn out almost to the point of being undecipherable. Lothis stared at the terminal, horror etched on his face. Never had he heard such a thing. It terrified and fascinated him.
The screen began to display images, but they too were all wrong. They scrolled slowly, the symbols and colors distorted and meaningless. Strange sounds begin to issue from the console, sounds Lothis didn’t recognize. Then, as if some strange mechanical heart was pumping its last, fading beats, it all slowed even further and then stopped.
The panic quickly rose to a level Lothis could no longer control. He leapt out of the seat, a cry of terror escaping his lips. Hearing that sound come from his own mouth scared the small boy even more.
Lothis had to get away from the terminal, but he didn’t know where to go. He ran a few steps then fell, his head striking the edge of his raised metal sleeping surface. Immediately blood flowed from the point of impact and a new sensation filled his head. Pain, he thought dully, then wondered what the word meant. Pain was abstract, something he had learned about, but had not personally experienced. Was this what it felt like? Was this what pain actually was? It was horrible.
The sensation in his head was growing, placing more of a demand on his attention. Blood continued to stream down his face and he finally found the courage to touch its source. “Ahhhhhh,” he yelled, the sound surprising him as much as the surge of pain.
Lothis had no idea what to do. Change was everywhere and he couldn’t cope with it. Before he even realized or understood what he was doing, he blocked the change out. He shut the blood, the pain, the sounds, the air, and the memories of the voice that was not the voice out of his mind. He couldn’t take the change, couldn’t adapt.
He sat down on the metal bed and decided, for no particular reason he could understand, to go back to sleep. True, it was not normal, but at least the action was familiar.
In the short seconds between wakefulness and sleep, he thought maybe the prior events had just been a dream. Then he wondered faintly, in the instant just before sleep, what a dream was. It was his 3,793rd standard day.
Finally, the game was over. Maxar was deeply relieved. He wasn’t happy, but he was about as close as he ever came these days. That was a close one, he thought, remembering the final seconds before victory. Good thing Benson took out that sniper or I’d have been buggered. His whole body hurt and he limped as he walked. The games were always exhausting and this one had been no exception. He was just glad it was over. That was all that mattered.
Finding a seat in the personnel transport vehicle was easier than he would have liked it to be. We lost far too many guys out there. Both sides took a hard hit, he thought, slumping into the most comfortable position the hard composite seat would allow. It’s blightheart! We accomplish nothing but empty entertainment with all this bloodshed. At least if we are to die, send us out against a real enemy like the Enthos. He began to curse under his breath, but none of the vehicle’s few other occupants noticed or cared.
The match had lasted a grueling 48 hours. He had not slept in that whole time and hadn’t been given much to eat or drink. Midway through, when they normally would have gotten a break and a real meal, it was announced that High-Elder Hatcholethis was watching the match and desired a test of endurance. No rest or food had been given and the fighting had continued. What a bastard, Maxar thought in disgust. How could someone promote the suffering of his fellow humans this way, even if we are convicted criminals? As a result of the High-Elder’s presence, the game had been far more brutal and lethal than usual. It had been a spectacular show, but it had come at an extreme cost. Almost all the combatants in this match had been killed in the intense fighting that had been waged underground, on the surface, and in near-asteroid space.
“Hatcholethis should burn in the fires of the black star,” the man next to Maxar mumbled, mirroring his thoughts. Everyone within earshot nodded, curses and expletives flowing freely. It was widely known that High-Elder Hatcholethis enjoyed watching the games, and whenever he watched in person, there was an unusually high death count amongst the participants. It was rumored he had donated large amounts of Ashcreds to Bloodsport. Most likely this was why they allowed him to modify the match rules whenever he liked.
As Maxar drifted in his thoughts, the personnel transport came to an abrupt stop. “Buggering blighthearted Founder’s cursed reception,” he swore under his breath, unable to muster the energy to say it louder. He despised the meeting more than the match itself. All the most powerful fans would be there, asking lots of stupid questions. Just the thought of what he had to do next made him want to puke. Having outsiders glory in his pathetic existence was humiliating. And the thought of the body shackles made him even more nauseous.
He exited the carrier, his stomach tied in knots, on fire, and pierced with daggers. All the surviving combatants made their way from the debarking area into the prep room for the reception. They had done this many times before, but few actually enjoyed it.
Restraints were placed on Maxar along with the rest of the group and then they all moved into the meeting hall, Maxar ending up at the back of the line. Maybe since I’m last they’ll be tired of asking questions and will leave me alone. The thought was a bitter hope, one that was unlikely to be fulfilled. His stomach continued to ache and churn as the line slowly crept forward. He wanted to hold his belly and hunch over in agony, but the restraints limited his movement.
The group of combatants crossed the length of the room to where a line of well dressed people were eagerly waiting for them. Maxar immediately picked out the pudgy High-Elder Hatcholethis along with his stunningly beautiful wife. They were at the front of the line of VIPs, and Maxar desperately hoped Hatcholethis wasn’t interested in him. The two lines met and slowly passed each other, each member of the VIP group getting as much time as he wanted with each combatant.
Time dragged by as the fans got to question their doomed heroes. Maxar failed to recognize any of the other VIPs, but he wasn’t surprised. Most of the really high profile Ashamine officials didn’t have time to visit Bloodsport. He waited in agony, his stomach pains rolling in like waves of fire. Finally, Maxar stood before the High-Elder and his wife. By this time his frame of mind was as foul as his stomach.
“That was an amazing performance you put on out there. Simply amazing! The way you were able to sneak up and kill that man with your bare hands without anyone else noticing was amazing! You were featured on all the displays at that moment. A few of us were following you before then, but it was going to be such a good moment that we told everyone to switch to you. Simply amazing! How does it feel to kill a man like that? Good? I should think that…”
The man is insufferable. I don’t want to relive these kills. They don’t make me proud. Maxar only did these things because he had to, because in this world it was a given that you had to kill. I’m very good at killing, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy it. I’m not like this man. It was as if Hatcholethis’ words were a poison, a sickness that was being deeply injected into Maxar. It was more than he could bear and there was no way for him to escape this verbal onslaught.
“Blood everywhere!! It was fantastic!” Maxar heard the man say, his gruesome accolade never ending. Maxar physically couldn’t endure it any longer. His head was throbbing, his guts burning, and this fool wouldn’t leave him alone. And then he felt the rising bile. The contents of his stomach were going to make an explosive exit. He began to strain against the body shackles, but they wouldn’t permit him to turn away from the High-Elder or his wife. If he spewed his partially digested rations all over this high official, his life would certainly be forfeit, good performance or not.
His throat began to convulse and spasm. He fought desperately to hold his body in check. He clamped his mouth shut and tried to calm his stomach, fighting the urge with all his might. Still, the convulsions and spasms continued. He could feel the burning acid working its way up through his esophagus.
“By the Founder!” High-Elder Hatcholethis blurted in the middle of his never ending description of blood, gore, and killing. “I think this man is ill! Someone send for aid! He is a champion specimen and I don’t want my winnings forfeited because of some technicality.”
A foul, greenish-brown liquid erupted from Maxar’s mouth and Hatcholethis jumped quickly to the side, the stream narrowly missing him. It made a wet splattering noise as it hit the composite floor and began to slowly puddle in the low spots.
“By all that is right and righteous!” Hatcholethis blurted out, his wife emitting a short, high pitched scream. His pudgy, overweight face flapped, his jowls reminding Maxar of an ugly neighborhood dog he had known as a child. “Someone has poisoned my player to invalidate my bet! Where is the medical aid? If I lose so much as one Ashcred, I’ll order an investigation. I have a lot of currency riding on this man. Where are the medical personnel?” He was practically foaming at the mouth, his eyes crazed. Spittle flecked the comically thin lips that contrasted so horribly with the rest of his overweight face.
If there had been anything left in his stomach, Maxar would still be vomiting. Even now he won’t stop blathering, even when I almost blasted him with vomit. He tried to ignore Hatcholethis, but the man’s voice pierced deep into his mind. Passing out would be really nice right now.
Just as Maxar was deciding he had enough will power to make himself spontaneously combust—anything to silence that piercing voice—the medical personnel came rushing into the room. Finally! he thought ecstatically as the techs took him towards the med facilities.
Just as they reached the exit doors, Hatcholethis’ frantic babbling crescendoed as he called after Maxar, “You must stay healthy! You really must stay healthy. I have a lot riding on you. It’s really important you see! Don’t let them kill—” but whatever he continued to say was lost as the large doors closed, finally cutting off the annoying man’s stream of words.
Tremmilly sat in a cramped seat as the engines of the ancient passenger ship powered up. “What are we doing Beo?” she asked, scratching behind the wolf-dog’s ears. The familiarity of the action calmed them both and helped mitigate the stress of the situation. “We are going on an adventure because of a prophecy made by a religion we don’t even believe in.” She smiled at the wolf-dog, and he pulled back his lips into a friendly snarl. Tremmilly loved how happy it made him look. “But we’ll get to see new places, and I’m excited for that.” She paused for a moment, feeling apprehensive. “I suppose we’ll be meeting a lot of new people too.” She’d lived in the same small village for all of her 21 years. New people were intimidating.
“It’s a good thing we know how to take care of ourselves,” she continued. “Psidonnis did a good job of teaching that. I’m so grateful he was there for us after my parents died.” She could only remember small wisps of her parents, but the recollection of their deaths was vivid. Fifteen years had passed, but she could still recall the way the plague had twisted their bodies and made them almost unrecognizable. Death, for them at least, had been a blessing. Psidonnis had cared for her ever since, had raised her like she was his own daughter. She loved and missed him, but not nearly as much as her parents.
Tremmilly’s mind was a jumble of thoughts, feelings, and emotions. She had been studying the prophecy ever since she had heard it and had memorized each word. Unfortunately, even though Tremmilly knew the words so well, the meanings still escaped her. The talk with the Dygar council had been—unsatisfying. They hadn’t answered enough of her questions. She didn’t know if that was because they were ignorant or if they were concealing something from her.
A few parts of the prophecy were very prominent at the moment. The bit about: “The first be of a light most bright, spirit most pure. Her life touched by death before cognition, her desire only for peace,” actually made sense. She definitely desired peace and her life was touched by death, but she wasn’t completely pure or bright. Both Psidonnis and the council said the prophecy was referring to her, but she wasn’t totally convinced. She would need to be on the lookout for someone who better fit that description.
“But to you who would stay in comfort and safety, not yielding to the instruction of this prophecy: Blightheart shall establish itself on your head and the worlds will be sundered by the Breakers.” Now that part was clear and scary. And while it hadn’t been the reason she had left Eishon-2, she couldn’t deny it had played a part in the decision.
The rickety vessel began to shudder, groaning as it lifted off the ground. Tremmilly hardly noticed, despite it being her first time in a space craft. The contemplation of the prophecy consumed all of her attention.
“I don’t even believe in the Dygar faith, or any god for that matter,” she told Beowulf. Somehow she knew the prophecy was true though, its connection to the religious order irrelevant in her mind. Maybe it was her trust in Psidonnis. Perhaps there was a higher power in the universe that had chosen to use her. Maybe it was just the first real reason to leave Eishon-2 and she was using the prophecy as motivation. It could be that it was all of these things. She didn’t know. What she did understand, despite her initial skepticism, was that the prophecy had the feeling of truth. Something bad was coming and she had an obligation to fight it.
Beowulf growled softly and let out a few muffled whimpers, sounding his commentary on the situation. His head was firmly in her lap, his eyes closed, but still awake. The rest of his body lay crunched into the seats beside her. She had never thought Beowulf was large, but when removed from the lush forest and placed in this confined environment, he looked massive.
“I won’t take him,” the commander of the ship had told her when she was trying to book passage. “He’s a threat to the other passengers. Besides, he’s too big. There is no way you’ll get him to fit into a single seat.”
“I can’t leave him behind,” she protested. “I don’t have many Ashcreds, but I can pay for the extra seat.” She was angry the skinny, seedy man was extorting her for more money.
“That won’t make him any less vicious. He looks like he could tear my arm off. If he hurts one of the other passengers, I’ll be liable and they’ll take my ship along with every Ashcred I have.”
“You obviously don’t have many passengers, and I’m offering to purchase three seats. If you don’t take me, you’ll be losing a lot of credits.” Tremmilly was beginning to feel desperate, stuck between leaving Beowulf and not following the mandate of the prophecy.
“Fine,” he said, turning his back on her. “But if that dog barks, bites, or blighthearts on the buggered floor, you’re the one to deal with it. I take no responsibility.”
Hail Terra, she thought, the ship now moving through the upper atmosphere. If he hadn’t changed his mind, I would still be on Eishon and who knows what the consequences would have been. Tremmilly felt the turbulence fade as the ship passed into space.
“Look at all those stars, Beo,” she said in amazement, gazing out the small window beside her. The points of light were far more numerous than anything she’d ever seen back on Eishon-2.
“Hopefully we’ll know what to do once we get to Noor-5,” Tremmilly said, turning her attention back to Beowulf. “Psidonnis said it is located on one of the major shipping lanes. Guess that means there will be a lot of people there.” That made her nervous, but she would push on. There was no turning back now. “It would be nice if we could find all the answers on Noor-5, but if not, we’ll have to keep going. And that means another transport. And that means negotiating for passage with another commander.” Her resolve to pursue the prophecy was strong, but she knew her love for Beowulf would over ride any other conflicting desire. She could never leave her best friend, even if it meant sacrificing the entire Akked Galaxy.
The Facilitator, Crasor Tah Ahn, deftly slid his way through the crowded capital plaza located on Noor-5. He moved in and out, sliding with the grace of an elegant serpent in the grass, barely brushing each blade. No one thought about him or even seemed to see him. He felt like a shadow.
Crasor was on Noor-5 to exact the vengeance of the Founder. He would make the Divisionists pay for their heretical idealism. And he would do it in such a way that no one would realize it had been the Ashamine.
What a blighthearted dump, Crasor thought disgustedly. These are the people that will burn in the fires of the black star. Compared to the glory of Founder’s City on Ashamine-2, it was dirty and run down, a dump ready to be demolished. Once the Ashamine has finished with the buggered Enthos, he thought with a sadistic pleasure, it can turn its might on these small, backwater planets. Founder damn them all.
He continued to make his way towards the front of the large group listening to a preaching Divisionist. The speaker’s rhetoric sounded like the same clichéd garbage every one of them spewed out. Crasor wasn’t paying much attention to what the man was saying, however. His attention was focused on the crowd, and remaining an invisible entity inside it.
The situation between the Divisionists and the Ashamine continued to degrade. The Founder’s Proclamation was clear: “Those who chose to follow the teachings of the Divisionists shall serve five standard years hard labor on the newly established colony worlds. This is education so they might see the justification of the war against the Enthos. For those who lead the Divisionists and cause a rift in the Ashamine, a harsher punishment must be enacted. They know the truth about the Enthos and they know they speak falsehoods. Therefore, all of them will be sent to prison worlds to live out the remainder of their lives.” Crasor didn’t think these punishments were nearly strong enough, but the movement was gaining more popularity by the day. The situation had to be handled carefully.
The real problem, however, lay in the fact that governing officials on certain planets, like Noor-5, were turning a blind eye to the Divisionists, allowing more of their strongholds to spring up. Crasor was happy to tear down the enclave here. He would bring the situation back under control.
“Up until now,” the Founder had told him back on Ashamine-2, “we have tried peaceful tactics in dealing with the Divisionists. But it isn’t working, and they continue to cause disruptive protests and dissension as well as a loss of morale amongst the Ashamine Forces. With the final offensive against the Enthos occurring soon, we cannot afford these types of setbacks.
“I’ve come up with a plan I feel you are perfectly suited to execute. We will fabricate a patriotic organization that will strike against the Divisionists. The Ashamine itself cannot be associated with terrorism, but a group of concerned citizens certainly could. Travel to the worlds with the highest concentration of dissension and strike at them. Make it look like a patriotic group is doing it. You must be extremely careful and let no ties be made to the Ashamine. If all goes as I think it will, the sentiment amongst the masses will swing towards patriotism and the Divisionists will wither.” Crasor, after doing some research, had decided Noor-5 would be the best place to start his retribution against the traitorous group.
As he made his way through the clueless multitude, Crasor broke into an empty pocket quite unexpectedly. A young woman was standing in the center of the void, a massive, wolfish dog at her side. The dog turned to look at Crasor and their eyes met. Crasor could see malevolence in the dog’s pale blue eyes, malevolence directed at him. The dog bared his teeth in a snarl, but emitted no sound. The girl didn’t look at Crasor, didn’t even notice her animal’s behavior. She was completely focused on the adherent and his heretical doctrine of peace towards the disgusting Entho-la-ah-mines.
Crasor quickly merged back into the crowd, hoping the dog didn’t follow. He would find a different path, one that didn’t involve the strange pair. The girl was definitely an oddity. Her clothes, hair style, and most of all, her pet, set her apart from those around her. Maybe she was another of those strange, para-political religious types. So many new groups had been springing up lately, but none were having the success the Divisionists were experiencing. Crasor put thoughts of the girl out of his mind. At this moment, he had more important things to focus on.
It took Crasor a considerable amount of time to get to the front of the assemblage, but that was to be expected. Stealth required caution in this situation. He reached into one of his pockets and pulled out a compact respirator, thinking about his appearance as he did so. His disguise was impeccable and would keep him from being identified by anyone who survived. The security devices recording his image would come up empty if they tried to find matches in civil or criminal databases. He was a non-person.
Crasor would rather have been in the center of the huge crowd, right where the strange girl had been standing. His weapon would have the most effect there, but the Founder had been very specific in his objective to primarily target the Divisionist preacher and his immediate contingent. He also wanted the listeners dead, but that was a secondary concern. It was also important there be some survivors to recount the horror.
In just moments, Crasor thought, the Divisionists will begin to feel the wrath of the Ashamine. This is only the beginning. Those who practiced the heresy would be punished, and perhaps citizens who heard of this event would think twice before listening to seditious speech. The local government of every planet who allowed the verbal insurrection to continue would feel the pain as Crasor assassinated officials who didn’t punish Divisionist adherents. “I have already begun writing a speech to be given after your first strike,” the Founder had said. “It begins: ‘The citizens of the Ashamine are unhappy with the unlawful, traitorous acts of the Divisionists. They seek justice and an end to the divide that grows amongst our population.’ I should add a line about how these patriotic citizens are heroes. That will help shift the public opinion. And also something about how the innocents that perished were martyrs on the alter of justice.” The Founder truly was a genius, and Crasor was glad he could serve him.
Crasor placed the respirator over his mouth and nose and began to breath through it. Immediately, the air had a sterile, stale smell. He reached into his pocket and grasped the triggering mechanism, but didn’t engage it.
This is it, he thought, his mind running through a last minute check of all his preparations and plans. He knew his equipment and tactics would work flawlessly. The small pump and tank concealed under his jacket, the respirator, the decontamination pod on his waiting starship, the packed crowd, the Divisionist scum—all were where they should be, just waiting for him to trip the switch. He was calm, at peace, and ready to serve his Founder.
As he began to pull the trigger, a high pitched scream assaulted his ears and the ground shook beneath him. What is this? Crasor wondered as the noise and the earthquake both intensified. The sound made his head feel like it was going to implode. His hands left the trigger as he attempted to cover his ears, but they did little to keep the sound from penetrating his skull. He stumbled a few steps from the disorienting effect of the noise, trying his best to remain standing.
Fighting through the pain, Crasor could see the surrounding mass reacting to the acoustic assault. First there was disorientation, then the panic grew and people started to scream and wildly flee the area. Those who didn’t keep up with the herd were knocked to the ground and quickly trampled.
The rumbling in the earth worsened as the seconds passed. The square started shaking violently and many of those fleeing fell to the ground. Crasor watched as thousands tried to crawl to a safety that didn’t exist. They’re disgusting, he thought, his well trained body keeping its balance. His composure had returned, and he was able to assess the situation. Knowing the longer he waited, the less effective his weapon would be, he removed his hands from his ears and went for the trigger in his pocket. Once it was firmly in his grasp, he tripped the switch.
Cazz-ak-tak felt a shudder run through the ship as it touched down onto the hard desert of Haak-ah-tar. He could feel the power of combined thought trickle away as each of his crew uncoupled their minds from him. In turn, he lessened the connection between himself and the Great Thought. He could still sense the thoughts of all living Entho-la-ah-mines, the suffering of those under human aggression a dreadful ache in the back of his mind.
This mission was presenting many new challenges to Cazz-ak, and he wondered if he was up to the task. Thankfully, with his leadership and some new technology, they had been able to sneak through the human blockade around Haak-ah-tar. Cazz-ak sent a mental signal to the scientists that had developed the stealth ability. “The humans failed to see the ship, at least so far. The crew was able to handle the demands of the cloaking and all is healthy with them.”
The moment they had passed onto the other side of the worm hole, Cazz-ak had been on edge. The scientists had said the technique would work, but it had never before been tried in a hostile situation. “Ti-el-loth, make us unseen,” he had ordered, and the weapons Hax-ax-on had done just that. None of the human battle starships they passed had attacked. Their invisibility was based solely on the fact they had tricked the human mind into incorrectly interpreting their instruments. It was now a race against time as their ship’s logs would give away the Entho-la-ah-mine presence if anyone decided to review them. They wouldn’t be on Haak-ah-tar for long, but every second they were there, Cazz-ak worried the fleet above would discover the Entho-la-ah-mine presence.
Cazz-ak’s ship had landed near the edge of a slot canyon in the middle of a vast desert. At the bottom of the canyon was the entrance to a complex system of caves and caverns the Entho-la-ah-mines had inhabited for as long as the Great Thought could remember.
The day Cazz-ak had been forced to evacuate Haak-ah-tar had been one of the worst moments of his life. Each planet that had fallen to the Ashamine aggressors was a supernova of pain in the Great Thought, and Haak-ah-tar had been worst of all. It was the home-world, the origin planet, the place where all Entho-la-ah-mine life had begun. It was also the place Cazz-ak had been born.
Growing up on Haak-ah-tar had presented many opportunities to see the history of the species, to be educated at the hub of Entho-la-ah-mine existence. Being hatched in the First Hive was an amazing experience, especially when he was old enough to see it from the historical view of the Great Thought. And to have developed in the same hive as the queen was a prestigious honor. Now, the whole planet was controlled by the humans. The First Hive was destroyed, the city of Entho-hal-is empty, and most important to the survival of the species, the Crystal Chamber was lost. Without the Crystal Chamber, the species couldn’t produce a queen connected to the Great Thought, and lacking that, the species lost its leadership.
Cazz-ak’s mission, even if completely successful, would be a temporary solution. It was also only half of the plan the Entho-la-ah-mines hoped would save their species. All over the galaxy, Cazz-ak could see Entho-la-ah-mine ships evacuating the colonized planets as quickly as possible. They would have to find new worlds to live on, places hidden from the humans. Is that even possible? Cazz-ak wondered. What he did know was his current mission was vital to the continued survival of the Entho-la-ah-mines. If he failed, the species would likely go extinct whether the humans found their new colonies or not. We need a queen to bind us together, to give us hope.
Cazz-ak and his detachment left the craft through the lower mind hatch and headed towards the lip of the canyon. Directly behind him was a female carrying a large Entho-la-ah-mine egg on her back. The egg was a shiny, iridescent green that shone brightly in the mid-day star. Cazz-ak had a hard time taking his eyes off it. He hadn’t seen a queen egg since he had left the hive after his birth. Behind the female were eight other males, all of highly advanced age.
When they reached the lip of the slot canyon, Cazz-ak turned to survey the group. They had everything they needed to perform the ceremony, but did they have time? He felt the weight of the orbiting battle starships far above, their unseen presence menacing. He turned back to the canyon, knowing he had no choice but to proceed.
The black stone of the slot canyon did little to reflect the bright day light, cloaking the canyon’s interior in darkness. Cazz-ak walked over the edge of the precipice and began to plummet. He quickly passed into the blackness that inhabited the lower regions, gaining velocity.
As he fell, Cazz-ak could sense the floor of the canyon rapidly approaching. When the time was right, he began using the power of the Great Thought to slow himself down. He landed lightly on the rocky floor, immediately knowing where he was, both from his memories and those contained in the Great Thought. All of his party gently landed around him, including the female.
Although the darkness was absolute, Cazz-ak could sense a path the Entho-la-ah-mines had traveled over their millennia of existence on this planet. Part of themselves had been left on top of the black, unforgiving stones, like the path had been paved with their mental images and emotions.
Following this winding path, Cazz-ak and his detachment made their way through the blackness. He was grateful for his six legs, and wondered how the humans were able to do so much on just two. This pathway would be extremely hard for humans to navigate, the rocky terrain treacherous to their fragile bodies. Their technology has imparted abilities evolution never would have given them, Cazz-ak thought. He had often compared the evolution of the Entho-la-ah-mines to that of the humans. Why do they hate us so much? What does it gain them?
Abruptly, the pathway ceased. Before them lay The Way, a shaft cut deep into the mantle of the planet. The Great Thought had no memory of how or why the shaft had been created. The bore was perfectly symmetrical and smooth sided, just big enough for an Entho-la-ah-mine body to fit into it. It was one of the Entho-la-ah-mine mysteries, one that, with the human invasion, would never be solved.
Just as Cazz-ak was getting ready to lead the group down The Way, he felt a wave of energy resound through the Great Thought. His mind was bombarded by images of gore and destruction and he fell to the floor under the onslaught. Mutilated Entho-la-ah-mines wished for death and couldn’t find it. His people were tortured by ghastly figures who never left the shadows and delighted in their pain. The Great Thought was perverted, destroyed, and shattered into a thousand agonizing pieces that cut their way through him. Cazz-ak could feel the core of his being slipping away, but he held fast, knowing that to do anything else would mean death.
When it was finally over, Cazz-ak realized none of it was real. The Great Thought was still there, still pure. He could sense his connection to it, and that gave him comfort. When he felt he could stand once again, Cazz-ak rose back to his feet. “Is everyone OK?” he asked of his group, particularly concerned about the egg. All the males responded positively.
“I am alright,” the female replied. “I believe the egg is intact as well, but we will have no way of knowing for sure until we begin the Awakening.” This response worried Cazz-ak deeply, but he knew there was nothing he could do about it at the moment.
He sent a question out to the Great Thought, its intent merging with every other Entho-la-ah-mine who was asking the same question. The response wasn’t good. “We do not know. Nothing like this has ever occurred before.”
Was it some weapon the humans had developed? That seemed unlikely. Their mental capabilities were far from being able to produce such an attack. Maybe the scientists would be able to figure it out, but right now, he had to continue the mission.
“We can’t let this distract us from what we must do,” he sent, mentally gesturing towards The Way. “We must proceed to the Crystal Chamber.”
Cazz-ak dropped into The Way, using the Great Thought to keep himself stable as gravity pulled him down. The shaft was deep, and if possible, even blacker than the canyon above it. It had a feeling of disuse and partial decay that made Cazz-ak despair. This never would have happened if the humans had left them alone. Cazz-ak was still leading the group, and after a long fall, they reached the bottom. He continued following the path paved in mental images, the particularly strong ones distracting him.
Cazz-ak saw the corridor as it once had been, lit in beautiful colors with thousands of Entho-la-ah-mines visiting the Crystal Chamber to see its marvels. He smelled the enticing aromas of foods being prepared by the finest Entho-la-ah-mine chefs. He breathed in the intoxicating aroma of the Enlithas, the young females looking for mates. Everything was so joyous, carefree, and festive. The memories, both his own and those that paved the pathway, made Cazz-ak homesick for a place no longer in existence, a time of innocence forever shattered.
Cazz-ak pushed on towards the Crystal Chamber, trying as best he could to shut out the images he so desperately wanted to enjoy. “We will have peace and harmony once again,” Cazz-ak sent to the group, trying to infuse it with as much positivity as he could. “Someday we will find a place far from the humans. Peace and happiness will once again be our way.” He felt the morale of the group rise, and he tried not to let doubts enter his thoughts. What caused that polluted wave of energy in the Great Thought? he wondered, his shield slipping. No. There is no time for that now. We have to complete the Awakening and get away from Haak-ah-tar before the humans realize we are here.
Whether he was successful or not, Cazz-ak knew the Entho-la-ah-mines would continue fighting for their survival, no matter how scant the odds. He would do anything he could to preserve his species, no matter the personal cost. Cazz-ak shut out both the residual happy memories and the polluted ones, hardening himself. He had to focus. The most dangerous parts of the mission were yet to come.
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