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The Dream of Atlantis

 

The Dream of Atlantis

P. R. Garcia

  • Copyright © 2016 P. R. Garcia

All rights reserved.

For a list of Europa books, characters, terms and updates go to

http://www.prgarcia1.com

Cover image used with permission of S. Schmidt

ISBN:

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

DEDICATION

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

FOREWORD

1 THE SEEKER

2 I AM ANEW

3 RED FINGER NAILS

4 THE JOURNEY BEGINS

5 AM I AN OONOCK?

6 A HIDDEN TREASURE

7 A DANGEROUS PLAN

8 VAQUITA

9 TERRANCE’S PICTURE

10 THE PRESIDENT’S VISIT

11 THE CONTEST

12 THE DREAM

13 AN OMINOUS QUESTION

14 CONFIRMATION

15 AN UNPLEASANT MEETING

16 AND THE WINNER IS

17 AN UNEXPECTED MEETING

18 FOREST FIRE

19 THE DEVASTATION

20 THE BLUE AMULET

21 GONE TOO SOON

22 TURTLE EGGS

23 TEEPOON LEAVES

24 A VISIT TO THE UNITED NATIONS

25 INJURED DUCKLINGS

26 ANOTHER OUTBREAK

27 DOUBTS

28 THE TRUTH OF JEFFRA

29 SHEIK ABDUL STRIKES

30 THE KILLING STONE

31 SPICE

32 A GHOST NAMED RAGJAW

33 WINDAR’S AWAKENING

34 THE KEEPER AWAKENS

35 A BODY FOR ANEW

36 THE MEDALITHIC STONES

37 SPHERES AND BLOCKS

38 KREE

39 IT IS TIME

40 A SIGNAL

41 HOPE AT LAST

42 THE MESSAGE

43 THE UNITED NATIONS

44 STARSHIP FOURTEEN ARRIVES

45 THE STRUCTURES

46 LESSON LEARNED

47 TWENTY ONE YEARS LATERAUTHOR

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

THE BOOKS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DEDICATIONS

To London. May her life be filled with the songs of birds, the warmth of the sun on her face and the twinkling of dreams in her eyes.

To the San Diego Natural History Museum Whalers, for their love of the incredible cetaceans and other life that calls the Pacific Ocean their home. And for their dedication to the people of San Diego and the world to see the wonder and importance of these creatures through knowledge, sharing and guidance.

To Larraine, who lost her valiant fight against cancer. She truly was one of the most beautiful and gentlest souls I have ever had the privilege of knowing. This world is a sadder place without her bright smile, but God’s gardens have never looked better. Now that you have wings, may you fly with your fairy friends.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Thanks to D. Williams and M. Sixtus for their help in finding my errors in grammar, spelling and typing. To C. Ferrero and W. T. Hoffman for their support and suggestions. And to S. Schmidt, for his permission to use his photo on the cover of this book.

I would like to acknowledge the extraordinary volunteers of the San Diego Natural History Museum Whalers Group for their dedication to the cetaceans and other marine life residing in the waters off southern California.

A new study published June, 2015 in the journal Science Advances states that we are in the beginning of a sixth mass extinction. Pressures on species caused by notably habitat loss, over-exploitation for economic gain and climate change are causing animals to disappear about 100 times faster than usual. Currently, about 41 percent of all amphibian species and 26 percent of all mammals are threatened with extinction. At the current rate of species loss, people will lose many biodiversity benefits within three generations, including honeybees cross pollination and wetland water purification. The study also stated that it very likely it underestimated the severity of the extinction crisis.

The vaquita is a small porpoise found only in the Gulf of California, Mexico. It is drowning in the illegal gill nets used to catch a fish called the totoaba, whose swim bladder is highly prized as a traditional health food and medicine in China. One totoaba swim bladder can bring $5,000 on the black market in the U.S., and sometimes more than $10,000 in Asian markets. A bowl of totoaba fish bladder soup in China may cost as much as $25,000. Few fishermen can resist the temptation. As of the writing of this book, less than 97 vaquita remain. By the time of publishing, that number was down to 60. It will likely disappear forever by 2018.

During the past 40 years, we’ve lost 52 percent of wildlife. There is currently more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than there has been in the past 800,000 years. Our oceans are riddled with over 400 massive dead zones, completely devoid of life due to our pollution. All because of humankind. But what is more unbelievable is the fact that something as simple as the food choices we make every day can be intrinsically tied to this destruction, especially our consumption of meat, eggs and dairy. Animal agriculture is a major contributor of deforestation and habitat loss. It is estimated that livestock account for as much as fifty one percent of greenhouse emissions.

270,000 tons of plastic are currently estimated to be floating in our oceans: the equivalent of 135,000 cars, 130,000 mid-sized boats, or 1,125 freight trains. Though the oceans seem vast enough to stomach a lot of plastic, the level of waste is starting to reach a crisis point. The current terrifying build-up of waste in our oceans may take up to 1,000 years to decompose.

“We don’t inherit the earth from

our ancestors,

We borrow it from our children.”

Native American Proverb

FOREWORD

Six thousand years ago, twenty starships of Oonocks fled the lilac waters of Jupiter’s ice moon, Europa. Two settled on Mars, three were destroyed in their attempt to flee Jupiter’s implosion, twelve traveled far out into space, never to be heard from again, and three starships came to Earth. Choosing a secluded place in the Mediterranean, King Enok and Queen Medaron landed their ships and built a wondrous golden city of advanced technology which became known in history as Atlantis. Unable to hide their existence and advanced technologies, the Oonocks lived peacefully beside humanity for many years. Then one day, the Oonocks received an urgent message from the colony on Mars stating their enemy, JeffRa and his Terrians, had found them and were destroying the planet. In a display of fire and water, the royals sunk their city to the depths of the Pacific Ocean. Over the centuries, the Oonocks lived in their underwater sanctuary and occasionally on land, inspiring many Earthly legends. During one of these times on land, the Oonocks fought a great war with JeffRa and the Terrians at Puma Punku and were able to defeat them. But the cost was tremendous. In addition to loosing over half of the Oonocks, JeffRa had released a biological weapon that prevented their ability to reproduce. Unable to return home, the Oonock race waited for their end.

Then one day Queen Medaron discovered she was with child and a new queen would soon be born. To ensure the daughter would live, the unborn was born on land as a human and named after her homeworld, Europa. To protect her, Europa was never told the truth of who she is or where her parents came from. The day after her twentieth birthday, Europa’s mother is assassinated by their thought-to-be-dead enemy, JeffRa, collapsing Europa’s fabricated world. With the help of her guardian, her brother and a new friend, Europa is able to defeat JeffRa and learn the truth of who her people are. So that she may assume her role as Supreme Monarch and protect her people, the Orbs of FarCore change her into the Oonock she was meant to be and unite her with Kiijon in the Quanundocii, a love so pure, so strong, that it can defeat even death. The remaining Terrians are destroyed. Europa finds a passage through FarCore and takes her people home to the ice moon, where new dangers face Kiijon and her. Europa must prove to the clans’ lords and ladies that she is worthy and qualified to rule the Oonock nation. A new advisory arises and releases an ancient enemy, the Horrturn. Europa and Kiijon endeavor to defeat this invincible creature who is destroying their clans, but it appears there is nothing that can defeat them. When four young Horrturn are captured for study, Europa learns the truth of this formidable creature and the error in their legends: the Horrturn are wondrous, sentient beings also protected by the Orbs and an Ancient named Hygone. Together, they defeat those against them and Europa and Kiijon are embraced as the ruling monarchs.

During this time on the ice moon, Europa and Kiijon have two children: Prince Enok, Jr. and Princess Misso. Her brother, Monarch Earon, has two sons: Princes Terrance Jr. and Giibold. When Prince Enok, Jr, creates a new portal to Earth, Europa quickly announces her desire to return home to the blue planet. Handing over her “Right to Rule” to Lord Jun, Europa, Kiijon and the royal family return to the waiting arms of her father and their friend, Terrance. But their departure is bittersweet, for Jeanip remains behind on the ice moon and transfers the protection of the royals over to a new protector, Jazee.

The Light of the Blue Planet was the first of three books telling Prince EJ’s story. To protect the human race, Oonock technology has never been shared with humans. Global warming is growing and Prince EJ realizes something must be done or Earth will cease to exist, and finds a way around this rule and shares with the world a new form of energy – one that is not dependent upon fossil fuels, is completely environmentally friendly and powered by alien technology. He gives this new energy to the people of Earth for free, hoping to stop global warming, species lost, overfishing, pollution and deforestation. However, the corporations, leaders and the wealthy who have made their empires raping and pillaging the planet are none too happy with this new energy, and will do anything to stop Prince EJ. They form a coalition and offer the unheard of bounty of two-hundred-fifty million dollars to anyone who will stop the prince. Many Oonocks are killed, including members of the royal family and their protectors. But Prince EJ is determined to save Earth and does not give up. Soon, the everyday people of Earth rally behind him, naming him “The Light of the Blue Planet.”

But the prince’s endeavors and the people’s cooperation come too late. The death of Earth cannot be stopped. Ecosystems start failing and the food chain is breaking down. A new form of deadly bacteria emerges from the centuries of garbage dumped into the oceans. And, to complicate things even more, it has been learned that there are still Terrians alive, determined on carrying out JeffRa’s vow of revenge. Now being hunted by both humans and Terrians, Book Nine concludes Prince EJ’s story.

THE SEEKER

EJ watched his beloved protector walk through the portal to Europa, wondering if he would ever see him again. Although he knew Swaybuk was right, that this was something that needed to be done in order for the young prince to grow up, it did not make his heart any less heavy. Suddenly, he sensed a tremendous energy, accompanied by a feeling of great danger. “Hygone,” he shouted, as he stood. “Something is wrong. Swaybuk.” Terror gripped his heart as he ran to the portal, uttering the phrase to open its door. But it did not open. Again he uttered the Ancient words, but still the portal remained closed.

“Mattwa, see if you can open it,” EJ shouted. “Something is definitely wrong. We have to get inside.”

“Ennay Benu Carif,” Europa said, stepping before the painting. She too could feel something ominous, something just outside her consciousness hidden in the darkness of the unknown. As with EJ’s words, the portal remained sealed.

“Why will it not open?” EJ asked, frustration and worry covering his face. “Something is wrong. I do not know how or why, but both Swaybuk and Jeanip are in danger. Can you feel it, Mattwa?”

“Yes,” Europa replied, terror filling her heart also. “It is like a cold chill floating through my body. I have never felt anything like this before.” She closed her eyes and concentrated, sending out an impulse to determine what the problem was. “I can feel that someone or something is preventing the portal from opening. Something powerful.” She opened her eyes. “EJ, stand beside me and take my hand.” EJ did as requested. “Now I need for you to close your eyes and calm yourself. Push away all your worries and fears so only peace fills your being. Then reach through the portal and grab whatever power you can from the Orbs and bring it back here. We must become stronger than the being preventing the portal from opening. Once you have the power, our amulets should glow brightly and I will know you have what we need. Together, we will say the words and open the portal. Are you ready?”

“Yes,” EJ said. He closed his eyes and forced his body to expel all worry, fear and doubt. With each passing second he could feel Swaybuk was in imminent danger, but he had to forget that and concentrate on becoming serene. Taking several deep breaths, he could feel his body relaxing, becoming peaceful. When he reached a place of tranquility, he extended his thoughts through the closed portal to the table of Orbs, absorbing a large amount of their power and pulling it back through. As he did, the amulets worn by the monarchs began to glow brighter and brighter until it appeared they were going to explode.

“Say the words with me now, Enok,” Europa said. Together, in unison, the two spoke the Ancient words and this time the portal opened.

Rushing through and down the hallway, EJ and the others stopped when they saw Jeanip sitting on the ground, holding Swaybuk in his arms, Hygone floating above them. Never had EJ or the others feared Hygone before, but the sight of her filled all with trepidation and fear. Her arms were spread wide, making her appear three times larger than she was. Her eyes and the Orbs embedded in her arms were glowing blue, not their normal lilac color. The blue glow drifted from the Orbs across the lilac waters and appeared to be entering Swaybuk’s body. He laid there motionless, his eyes wide open, almost giving the appearance of being dead as he stared out into nothing. His eyes were no longer lilac but ocean blue. As was the glow of his Oonock body.

“What are you doing to him, Hygone?” EJ screamed, dropping beside the two protectors, looking up at Hygone. He lifted his hands to erect a forcefield to shield the two soldiers when suddenly blue bolts of light flew out of Hygone’s body, sending EJ flying across the room into the wall, knocking him unconscious.

“Hygone, what is going on?” Kiijon demanded, as Europa and he swam to their fallen son. Hygone did not answer, but continued to fill Swaybuk’s body with blue energy. Fearing not only for both Swaybuk and Jeanip’s lives but for his family’s as well, Kiijon hurriedly swam over to Swaybuk’s dropped bag and removed one of his weapons, aiming it at the Ancient. “Hygone, I demand that you stop whatever you are doing or I will shoot you.”

“Silly mortal,” Hygone said, as the weapon flew out of Kiijon’s hand. Unable to prevent it, Kiijon felt his body rising up into the lilac waters, restrained by some invisible force. “Do not interfere. Swaybuk is fulfilling his destiny.”

Helpless to do anything but watch, the small group stared as the blue light continued to fill the body of Swaybuk, until no glow remained in Hygone. Before their eyes, the frightening figure floated down toward the floor, her arms at her side, becoming the Hygone they had always known.

“What have you done to him?” EJ demanded, finally coming to and able to swim. He hurried over to Swaybuk. He could see that, although Jeanip appeared unhurt, Swaybuk was unconscious.

“Although you have greatly tried, Young Prince, your efforts are no longer sufficient to save the Blue Planet,” Hygone said. “Only the Keeper can.”

“The Keeper? Who is this keeper?” EJ shouted.

“An Ancient left to ensure the Blue Planet endured,” Hygone said.

“Then why hasn’t he done that?” Kiijon asked.

“We do not know,” Hygone said. “We fear that somewhere he sleeps, oblivious to what is happening around him, unaware of the time that has passed. Neither I, nor the other Ancients, can leave FarCore to find him. Therefore, it is necessary to send a Seeker. Since Swaybuk no longer protects the young prince, we have made him our Seeker. He must return to Earth and find the Keeper and awaken him before it is too late.”

“He is not yours to command,” EJ shouted at the Ancient. “I demand you release him and my father immediately.”

“You have no power over me,” the Ancient laughed. “Nor do you have authority over me. I am an Ancient, a holder of truths, a being who is commanded by no mortal.”

Remembering what happened last time he demanded something of Hygone, and realizing his anger and outrage was the infant inside him, EJ quickly quieted his inner child. “I am sorry, Hygone. I meant no disrespect. I humbly request that you release my father from your hold. And, although Swaybuk is no longer my protector, as you have said, he is still very dear to me. Perhaps, if you would care to explain what has happened, I can better understand and possibly assist in locating this Keeper you search for.”

With a wave of her tentacle, King Kiijon fell to the floor as Hygone released her hold on him. “I owe you no explanation,” she shouted, rising up into the lilac waters again. “There is no time to entertain your silly feelings or concerns. A Seeker is needed NOW.”

Suddenly, EJ heard an almost silent whisper in his mind. “Your Highness, it is I, Uhl. This is not our Hygone, but an imposter. Keep her busy until I can withstrain her. The real Hygone is on her way.”

EJ momentarily moved his eyes slightly to the right and saw silently emerging from the darkness Uhl, her tentacles outstretched to grab the false Hygone. EJ immediately knew he had to keep the false Hygone preoccupied so Uhl could reach her goal. “Hygone, surely your quest would have a better chance of succeeding if we have all the Oonocks on Earth search for this Keeper and not just one protector. Release Swaybuk and we will send out our army to find him for you. Or, if you insist upon only one, I am sure Swaybuk would be more than willing to assist you in finding this Keeper if you ask him. Please, Hygone, set my protector free. I fear for his life.”

“I need no one’s permission,” Hygone yelled. “I need a strong body for the Seeker to reside in. This mortal’s body should be strong enough to hold the power I have placed inside him.”

“Should be?” EJ shouted, swimming a few inches forward. “Should be? Ancients are supposed to save lives, not take them.”

“Silence,” the Ancient shouted back, a force wave rippling through the lilac waters, pushing everyone back several feet.

“You are a disgrace to your own kind,” EJ yelled back, seeing the anger building up inside the Ancient.

“If you will not stop, then I will silence you myself,” the Ancient roared, as she prepared to raise her tentacles.

“Now, EJ” Uhl silently said, as she reached out and wrapped her two tentacles around the Ancient, catching her totally off-guard. As she withstrained the formidable being, EJ wrapped a force shield around the others.

“How dare you try and stop me,” the Ancient screamed, as Uhl’s tentacles wrapped around her, holding her arms to her side. “You’ll pay for this.”

“It is you who will pay,” came a loud voice from above. As everyone watched, the real Hygone drifted down from above, a stream of lilac power emerging from her fingers and encasing the false Hygone. “Thank you, Uhl. You can let go now. I have him in my grasp.”

“Him?” Europa asked. “Hygone, who is this imposter?”

“One you have met before,” Hygone replied, as the imposter transformed into a hooded figure. “Barook. The keeper and bringer of the Lilac Orbs.”

“Barook?” Europa asked, unable to fathom why this Ancient would attack them as he did. “Why would he attack us? And do whatever this is to Swaybuk?”

“I do not know, Your Majesty,” Hygone said, drifting closer to the Ancient, the binding strands of power still holding him tight. “But I am about to find out. Why are you here, Barook? Why have you attacked these Oonocks?”

“Release me and I will tell you,” Barook replied.

“No, you will simply run off and disappear,” Hygone replied. “Tell me what you are doing here.”

“I have nothing to say,” a disgruntled Ancient said, promptly plopping his butt on the floor.

Seeing her brother was not going to answer her questions, Hygone imprisoned him in a field of energy. She drifted over to the unconscious Swaybuk. “Your Majesties, Jeanip, are you all alright? Is anyone hurt?”

“No, we appear to be fine,” King Kiijon replied. “Except for Swaybuk, There is definitely something wrong with him.”

EJ was knelling at Swaybuk’s side, trying to use his healing powers to bring his former protector back to consciousness. “I cannot get him to wake up, Hygone. What did Barook do to him?”

“I am not sure, but let me see if I can help.” She placed one of her tentacles on Swaybuk’s chest, another over his forehead. Using her powers, she sent impulses into his body in an effort to try to determine what was wrong with him, what Barook had done to him.

“Hygone, Your Majesties, if you no longer need my assistance, I will leave,” Uhl said, as she drifted closer, giving the quiet Barook a warning look.

“Thank you, Uhl, for your help,” Hygone said.

“Yes, thank you very much,” EJ said.

As Uhl floated back to her home, Hygone continued to probe Swaybuk for answers. She felt something strange, yet wonderful, flowing through the protector’s body, something almost alive. Yet she had no idea what it was, what Barook had placed in him. She had never encountered anything like it. She could also sense Swaybuk’s presence, but not on a conscious level. It was more like he was asleep inside his own body. As she continued to search for answers, she quickly withdrew her two tentacles when she heard something inside Swaybuk say, “Hello, Hygone.”

She turned and looked at her brother. “What have you done, Barook? How could you do this? You had no right. Undo this NOW.”

“What?” EJ shouted. “What is wrong?”

“Is he going to be alright, Hygone?” Europa desperately asked.

Barook turned and looked at his sister. “I did what needed to be done, as the Council ordered me to do. I cannot reverse it. What is done is done. Only the Keeper can restore the Oonock back to whom he was.”

“I’ll go to the Council and I’ll make them undo this,” Hygone shouted, anger visible on her face, the first any of the Oonocks had seen on her.

“Hygone, tell us,” EJ begged. “Do not keep us in the dark. Tell us what is wrong with Swaybuk. Is he going to be alright?”

Hygone turned her attention to the forlorn prince. “Your former protector is alive at the moment, Young Prince. And while I believe he will remain so, I do not believe he will be the Swaybuk you know when he awakens. You see, Barook has placed another consciousness inside his body. Your Swaybuk currently sleeps, safe and unaware of what is happening to him.”

“Another consciousness?” Kiijon asked, staring at the Ancient, trying to comprehend what she was saying. “You mean like another being?”

“Not exactly,” Hygone replied. “It’s hard to explain. There is another consciousness, but not one with a corporeal body. It is more of a spirit, a whisper.”

Everyone turned to look at Barook who still sat on the floor, showing no concern over what was going on around him. “Who did you put inside him?” EJ demanded, as he walked toward the Ancient. “Tell me!”

“Or what, Your Highness?” Barook asked. “You’re going to have Hygone keep me inside this little bubble for the rest of my existence? Are you going to torture me? What could you, a mere mortal, possibly do to me, an Ancient?”

“I do not know,” EJ stammered. “Have Uhl chew you into pieces or something.” Frustrated because he knew he did not have the power to harm the Ancient, he swam over to Hygone. “Hygone, can you remove this other spirit?”

“No, Your Highness. Since I do not know who or what the other spirit is, I have no way of knowing how to remove it. All that I can assure you is that Swaybuk is unharmed and will remain so. At least for a while.”

“A while?” a concerned EJ asked. “For how long?”

Hygone looked at her brother. “Surely, Barook, you can tell us that much.”

“If you need to know,” Barook sighed. “The Keeper must remove the spirit within two years.”

“And if he does not?” EJ asked, fear still gripping his heart. “What happens then?”

“The blue planet will die along with this Oonock and the other entity inside him,” Barook commented. “Both will disappear into the dark, lifeless and gone forever.”

“I will show you who will disappear into darkness,” EJ said, as he stepped toward the male Ancient.

Kiijon reached out and stopped his son, silently saying, “Remember, the adult, not the child.” He then addressed the confined Ancient. “Barook, Swaybuk and my son have done their best to safe the blue planet. Already a plan is in place to help slow down global warming. And we have discovered a way to clean up the pollution in the deep oceans. We are on the right track. Give us back our Swaybuk and I will assign all my Oonocks to finding this Keeper you seek.”

“While your son and his protector have done well, it is too little too late,” Barook said, at last seeming to take some interest in the conversation. “Although they may have found a way to save the oceans, they cannot save the land or purify the air. Global warming will increase, melting all the ice caps. Weather patterns will worsen, causing mass destruction and loss of life.”

“Why do you care what happens to the blue planet?” Europa asked, now coming forward.

“You have no idea how rare the blue planet is,” Barook said, rising to a stand. “Although there are many lifeforms across the universe and many worlds that have liquid, only a handful have the liquid H2O, water. It is the rarest of gifts, the creator of life itself. In addition to its water, no other world has the diversity of life that this planet has had in the past or currently has.”

“Is that why there is a Keeper on the blue planet?” Hygone asked. Never had she heard of an Ancient being left on a planet to protect it. She and her other brother were confined to Europa and Mars because of their disobedience, not because the planet was too valuable to lose. Plus, no Ancient, to her knowledge, had ever lived outside of FarCore.

“Yes,” Barook answered. “Sixty-five million years ago when the dinosaurs were eradicated, the Council realized how fragile the blue planet was. Realizing too late that an asteroid was hurling toward the blue planet, they wept as so many lives were lost. It was only because of their and the Orbs’ intervention that any life survived at all. To ensure this would never happened again, a young Ancient was assigned to watch over the unique planet, to nourish her and to assure she continued for as long as the Ancients themselves did. This Ancient was like no other Ancient before, or since. This Ancient, known as the Keeper, could freely roam around the planet and was not restricted to reside inside FarCore, which may have been a mistake. For you see, the Keeper almost never chose to be inside FarCore. He spent his time traveling across the planet in her oceans, in her forests, in her mountains and sky, watching over all the lifeforms, making sure they survived. And, like many young Ancients,” Barook looked directly at Hygone, “he fell in love with one particular species, a species he helped develop into the principal being on the planet.”

“Man,” Kiijon stated.

“Yes, man,” Barook replied. “Although the Council could see what was happening on the blue planet, they could not prevent the emergence of mankind and his dominance over the planet.”

“Why was that?” Europa asked. “I did not think there was anything the Ancients could not do.”

“FarCore is not only our place to live, it is our way of communicating, our way of seeing across the expanse of this great universe,” Barook answered. “Since the Keeper almost never returned to FarCore, the Council had no way of communicating with him or guiding him on his manipulation of man.”

“And things do not always go the way we plan,” Hygone said, remembering her own manipulation of the Oonock race.

“No, they do not,” Barook continued. “But luckily your race, Hygone, the Oonocks, developed into a loving, generous, kind race. But the humans were bred from the beasts of the land, possessing all their traits of survival, dominance, lust, hate and greed. While those things are not part of who the Oonocks are, they are deeply ingrained in the humans. Inside them always lives the primitive beast, ready to strike, ready to conquer, ready to take whatever they want. We believe that as the humans developed and began to spread out across this world, the Keeper realized the flaw in their makeup and tried to instill in them a sense of honor, dignity, empathy and love. He succeeded with some, but not all. He was forced to watch the thing he made enslave their fellow man, dominate the life on the planet, and destroy many of her wonders. Some even declared themselves to be gods and unleashed a plague of pain and sorrow over most of the lands.”

“Why did he not stop man in his early days?” EJ asked. “Before they began to destroy the planet?”

“Because, like all Ancients, life is dear to him,” Barook replied. “Even if it is bad life, he could not destroy it.”

“What happened to the Keeper?” Europa asked.

“That, we do not know,” Barook answered. “As I mentioned, the Council had no way of communicating with him. As man’s acts became worse and his being filled with more evil, the Council realized the Keeper was not directing them. We feared something had happened to him.”

“But we Ancients cannot die unless something terrible happens, such as what happened to our brother when Mars was destroyed,” Hygone quickly stated.

“That is correct,” Barook agreed. “That is why the Council believes he is still alive somewhere on the blue planet. We believe that, as the Keeper watched his creations commit atrocity after atrocity, each one more horrific than the one before it, the sorrow he felt consumed him until he did not have the heart to go on. We believe he is somewhere, sleeping, hoping for the day mankind will become who he designed them to be. Or perhaps, waiting until they destroy themselves and he can again rebuild this planet. Unfortunately, man’s greed is resulting in the death of the entire planet, not just their own kind. And now that mankind has finally realized what they have done and are fighting to save their world, it is too late. The Keeper must awaken and restore the planet’s balance, rid the skies of their excess carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to stop the warming of her atmospheres, cleanse the oceans of their contaminants.”

“He has the power to do that?” Kiijon asked.

“Yes, he has the power to do that and more,” Barook said. “And, even though Prince Enok’s solution of using the piiquid to clean the oceans is a noble solution, it will take ten to fifteen years for the beasts to complete the job. The blue planet does not have that long; plus, it will do nothing to stop the advancement of global warming.”

“But my plan will help with that,” EJ quickly said.

“Perhaps forty, fifty years ago, but not today, Young Prince,” Barook said, a serous and sorrowful look on his face.

“You do not know that for sure,” EJ replied. “My plan can work. Release Swaybuk from what you have put inside him and together we can save this planet and find your Keeper.”

“The Oonocks cannot find the Keeper,” Barook replied. “Only the Seeker can. Both of these former protectors have the makings of a Seeker. Both are disciplined, strong and have a great sense of duty and affection for those they protect. All qualities needed in a Seeker. As is self-sacrifice. Since he does not have a mate or children, the one you call Swaybuk volunteered to be our Seeker.”

“Volunteered?” An astonished EJ asked. He turned his attention to Jeanip. “Jeanip, is this true?”

Jeanip tried to clear his head, to think straight, but everything was still foggy. He remembered walking through the portal and then encountering the Ancient.

“Jeanip, did Swaybuk volunteer?” Kiijon now asked.

“I don’t know, Sire,” Jeanip finally said. “Maybe. I’m not sure. It all happened so fast. I remember seeing the Ancient and Swaybuk said it was Hygone. Then I felt this huge rush of information and words in my head. I couldn’t sort it out and make sense of it. Both Swaybuk and I fell to the ground.” As he struggled to remember, a memory surfaced. “And I remember Swaybuk telling the creature to take him, not me, because of Phameena and GarJen. Then this blue light began to fill Swaybuk’s body and I couldn’t stop it.”

“The true spirit of the blue planet, power from her Earthy Orbs,” Barook stated. “They are needed to help the Seeker find the Keeper. Without their powers, he can accomplish nothing.”

“You lie, Barook,” Hygone angrily said. “There is another entity inside the male Oonock. I felt him.”

“I did not lie, My Little Naive Sister,” Barook answered with a chuckle, seeing humor in the situation. “I just left that part out. The power of Earth’s Orbs do reside inside this Oonock, along with the life force of a newborn Ancient who will become the new Keeper of the blue planet.”

“No, that’s not possible,” a horrified Hygone shouted.

“He is the first newborn in two hundred million years,” Barook smiled. “We are all too old to take on the quest. We are all limited to the confinements of FarCore. None of us can venture out onto the blue planet to find the Keeper. And the Oonock could not succeed on his own. It was necessary to combine the two. He causes no harm to the Oonock.”

“And what happens to the newborn if Swaybuk cannot find the Keeper in the two years’ time and dies as you indicated?”

“If this Oonock fails, the newborn will die just as he does,” Barook said. “And before you ask me again, Young Prince, I cannot remove the newborn. I do not have that ability. Only the Orbs of Earth do, and they will not release him until the Keeper is found.”

“Then if there is no danger to my protector, then why is he unconscious?” EJ quickly asked.

“Just as your mother did when the power of the Orbs first entered her body, your protector will be unconscious for three or four days while his body adjusts to his new powers and entity,” Barook replied. He noticed a surprised and alarming look cross Europa’s face. “Are you surprised, Your Majesty, that we know of your conversion? The Orbs are a part of us, eternally connected to us. We knew the Orbs were transforming you from a human into the Oonock you were meant to be as soon as it began. Just as I currently know that on a small planet on the other side of the galaxy, the Orbs are shielding a small patch of plants from methane rain so they will not all die, causing the elimination of several animal species.” The Ancient looked at the fallen soldier. “When the Seeker awakens, it will be the newborn who is conscious, not the protector. He will remain asleep until that time when the newborn is set free.”

“No, this is not acceptable,” EJ screamed, unable to contain the child within him any longer. “You must bring Swaybuk back.”

To everyone’s shock, the Ancient floated out of the bubble that contained him and immediately disappeared into the Window of Universes before anyone could stop him. As they stood there in shock that he was able to flee, Barook poked his head out, then his arms, holding out three small cages which he abruptly placed on the floor. “As I said before, Young Prince, I cannot do that. I do not have the power. The Seeker will need help to discover what has happened to the Keeper. I have brought him a kachee to explore the skies and mountain tops, a kallis to swim through the waters, and a ruupoor to tunnel through the earth and explore her caves.” Then he was gone again. The small group picked up the cages and examined their contents, intrigued by the alien dragonfly, fish and worm. Suddenly Barook’s arm appeared once more, holding a blue amulet. “Oh, I almost forgot. The Seeker will need to wear this too. It will tell the newborn who he is and what he needs to do.” Then, as before, he disappeared.

I AM ANEW

“Hygone, I know we have asked you several times, but surely this is something that can be done,” a very concerned King Kiijon stated.

“Again, Your Majesty, my answer is the same,” Hygone said. “To my knowledge, there is nothing that can be done. It was the Council who instructed Barook to place the unborn Ancient inside a new vessel. They are the only ones who might be able to help.”

“Who is this Council?” EJ asked. He sat on the floor beside Jeanip and pulled the unconscious Swaybuk into his arms, thus freeing Jeanip.

“Ospree, can you please go and get Gardawyn. I believe he went out to the barn with Neil and the girls to see the new colt,” Kiijon ordered, as he too waited for the answer.

“The Council is a group of elder Ancients,” Hygone replied. “They make policy, determine when intervention is needed and direct our course. The Council is our ruling body. And before you ask, they would see nothing wrong with what they did.”

Kiijon walked over to Jeanip and extended his hand. “Here, let me help you up, Jeanip.”

“Are you hurt at all?” a worried Europa asked.

“No, Your Majesty,” Jeanip replied, rising to an upright position. “Just my pride that Swaybuk and I were so easily taken down. In light of what has happened, I believe I should remain here on Earth for a bit longer.”

“No, Sweet Jeanip,” Europa said, forcing a smile onto her face. “If Gardawyn gives you a clean bill of health, I want you to return to Europa and your waiting family.”

“But, Europa, I am needed here,” Jeanip objected. “I can delay my departure for several days.

“You are needed where your queen says you are needed,” Kiijon reminded the old protector. “Besides, it appears there is nothing any of us can do to help Swaybuk. His life, and the new Ancient’s inside him, is now in the hands of the Fates. They will determine the path that must be walked.”

“Your king is right, Jeanip,” Hygone commented. “All your expertise can’t change what has happened or help the Seeker find the Keeper. Barook gave him everything he needs: his four companions and the blue amulet of Earth.”

“Four companions?” a confused Kiijon asked. “I only see three, Hygone: the kallis, kachee and ruupoor.”

“There is a fourth who has not arrived yet,” Hygone answered. “An ambassador of the Orbs, one who does their bidding?”

“Who?” EJ asked.

“One that will make his or her presence known at the appropriate time,” Hygone replied, as Gardawyn came swimming toward them. He immediately began to scan Swaybuk, but could find nothing wrong with him except that he was sleeping. At Europa’s request, he also examined Jeanip, giving him also a clean bill of health. Once it was confirmed Jeanip was unharmed, he took his leave and continued his journey back to Europa and home.

“What about Swaybuk?” EJ asked.

“We will take him back to the estate and wait for him to wake up,” Kiijon stated. “Hygone, is there anything special we should do?”

“I would suggest, Your Highnesses, that Swaybuk remain here inside FarCore until his body awakens,” the Ancient answered. “Since it will be the new Ancient that will emerge, I do not know how much of Swaybuk’s knowledge she will have or what form she will take. She could emerge as an Oonock, in which case she would flow out if at the estate. Or as a human, which makes the Complex out of the question. She might even emerge as herself, an Ancient, which would put all of you in mortal danger. ”

“She?” a bewildered EJ asked. “Do you not mean he?”

Hygone laughed slightly, amused by the situation yet knowing how serious it was. “Believe it or not, Young Prince, the entity inside your former protector is female, not male.”

“Female?” several gasped.

“Yes, a female,” Hygone stated. “I could not sense the Ancient’s sex before, but she is growing stronger and I am now able to determine more about her.”

“This just keeps getting worse,” EJ sighed. “How is a newborn Ancient female going to survive in a male Oonock’s body?”

“Since she is a newborn, I don’t think she will notice the difference in their sexes,” Hygone said. “If anything, she will bring a more gentle side to the male.”

“You stated, Hygone, that there is no way to know what form she will take?” Europa asked, wanting clarification. “If she has access to Swaybuk’s memories, will she not emerge as an Oonock transformed into human form?”

“I would not want to assume that, Your Majesty,” Hygone stated. “FarCore is the only place where she can emerge as one of the three and survive. Plus, I must be beside her in case she does emerge as herself so I can shield her energy from you. I would also suggest that no more than two people remain with Swaybuk until she awakens.” Hygone floated down and picked up the blue amulet Barook had dropped on the floor and carefully placed it around the sleeping protector’s neck. “And it is very important that she wear this amulet of Earth at all times. Its powers will keep Swaybuk alive while he sleeps and allow the new Ancient to see his memories so she will know how to act, breathe, walk and do everything your Swaybuk does. Without the amulet, neither can exist.”

“If there are no objections, I would like to volunteer for the first shift,” EJ stated. “I think the clock will allow us to remain for at least five hours. Maybe Giibold can sit with me so Ospree can remain outside with Medi and the girls.” He turned to his mate. “Would that be okay with you, My Love?”

Medi walked over to EJ, took his hand in hers and looked at him directly in his lilac eyes. “No, that would not be okay. I would prefer if you left FarCore with me now, give your four daughters each a kiss, and tell them that you are going away for a few days on business. Then return here and remain at Swaybuk’s side until he or she awakens.”

“No, Medi, my place is out there with you and the girls,” EJ quickly objected. “I have already been gone too much and have spent little time with Cho Gin and Kumiko. If something happens, someone can come and get me. Swaybuk told me I need to learn to let him go.”

Medi leaned forward and kissed the Oonock floating before her, her heart filled with joy at what her mate had said. “Yes, you need to let him go, but today is not that day, My Darling. He needs you. Besides, all you will do out there is worry and you will be poking your head inside here every few minutes to check on him. Stay here where you will know what is going on. Cho Gin and Kumiko already know that your business sometimes takes you away from us, so they won’t be terribly disappointed by your absence.”

“I love you so much,” EJ said, this time kissing her. He then turned to his parents, knowing the adult Oonock thing to do was to ask their permission also. “Dattwa, Mattwa, since Medi has asked me to stay here with Swaybuk, is that agreeable with you two?”

“Yes, you have our permission to stay,” Europa smiled. “Medi is right; you will be poking your head inside the portal every few minutes, which will be hard to hide from Cho Gin and Kumiko. It is better if you just stay in here where you want to be anyways.”

“Hygone, will FarCore allow EJ and another to remain inside for three days?” Kiijon asked, worried about the clock.

“I would think so, since it was the Council and the Orbs that created this scenario,” Hygone said. “Plus, I too will be staying here until she awakens.”

So it was decided that EJ, along with Ospree instead of Giibold, would remain inside FarCore. Since there were so many guards on the estate along with Jazee, Kiijon felt Ospree’s place was at EJ’s side. It would give the two time together to bond. And as promised, Hygone remained at Swaybuk’s side, waiting for the new Ancient to awaken. While she waited she studied several Ancient books trying to determine who the original Keeper was and when the Council had lost track of him, but she was finding very little information. To help pass their time, she sent EJ and Ospree into Earth’s FarCore to search Earth’s Orbs for any sign of the Keeper. That too yielded almost no information, except for the fact that just a little over two thousand years earlier the Earth had started to decline. Mankind’s atrocities became worse as the forests began to be cut down, wildlife was lost and man pillaged the earth. For three days Hygone searched for any clue of where the Keeper might be. And all three waited, along with those inside the house, with anticipation and trepidation for the fourth companion to arrive.

Finally, on the third day, Swaybuk’s body began to move. Immediately, EJ sent Ospree out to get his parents, Medi, Jazee and Gardawyn while he and Hygone rushed to the soldier’s side. As they watched, Swaybuk’s eyelids began to flutter, then at last open. He looked around the room, as if trying to get his bearings, the blue amulet around his neck glowing brightly. Then without notice, he sat upright and stared at the Oonock and Ancient before him.

“Swaybuk, can you hear me?” EJ asked, not sure what or who to call the being before him. Would Swaybuk be able to communicate with them? Or would it be the newborn Ancient?

“Although inside me, this being you know as Swaybuk is asleep,” the Oonock said.

“Then I must be speaking to the Ancient inside my friend,” EJ replied. “Do you have a name we can call you?”

“I am a new,” it answered.

“Anew? That is a beautiful name,” EJ stated.

“No, I have no designation,” the being said. “I am a new.”

“I believe, Your Majesty, she is stating that she is new, a newborn, and therefore has no name as of yet,” Hygone explained.

“Yes, I am a new.”

“Well, we cannot call you Swaybuk,” EJ said. “You need a name, a designation. Would you mind if we call you Anew?”

“I am a new, a Seeker,” the new Ancient answered. “I must find the Keeper.” Having said that, she immediately stood, took one step forward and fell forward, her wings frantically flapping in the water. Within moments, she was upside down, desperately trying to return to a standing position but having no luck. EJ laughed, as she reminded him of a newborn Oonocks who often ended upside down when they first learn to navigate with their wings. He swam over, placed his hands between her top and middle wings and right-sided her, then guided her to her cot.

“Anew, do you know who I am?” Hygone asked, a humorous smile on her face also, agreeing with EJ that Anew was a good name for the newborn.

Anew’s amulet glowed a bright blue for a few seconds while its wearer retrieved Swaybuk’s memories. “You are the Ancient Hygone. You are a much older version of myself.”

“That is correct,” Hygone replied. “The body you occupy is that of an Oonock, a marine creature. You do not walk, but swim through the lilac waters of your homeworld. On each side of your body are three wings that you use to propel yourself through these waters. You must open them, then flap them gently to go forward. If you access Swaybuk’s. . .” Before she could even finish her sentence the amulet glowed again as Anew retrieved the necessary memories. “Your Highness, notice her amulet. It glows every time she retrieves one of Swaybuk’s memories.”

“I notice the same thing,” EJ said.

Anew opened her wings and prepared to flap them just as Gardawyn and the others arrived with Ospree. “Wait right there, Swaybuk. Do not try to move or you will fall flat on your face.”

“She already did that,” EJ laughed.

Gardawyn examined Swaybuk’s body with his medical scanner. “Hmm, everything seems to be okay. How do you feel?”

Anew looked at the male, a strange look on her face. After a quick glow of her amulet, she held up her hands and waved her fingers. “I feel with these.”

“Yes, you do,” EJ laughed. “Everyone, this is Anew.” He then introduced each of the small group, telling the newborn their name and a little bit about each. With every introduction, the amulet around Swaybuk’s neck glowed momentarily as Anew accessed the sleeping male’s memories.

“I must begin my journey,” Anew announced, after she met everyone. She flapped her six wings in the water and leaned forward, but since she was not familiar with using wings, they were not in unison and she ended up upside down once more. “I do not understand. Why am I not advancing? These appendages are damaged.”

“I assure you, Anew, they are not damaged,” Hygone smiled. “There is a trick to moving your wings in order to swim, a trick I do not possess. One of the Oonocks will have to teach you how to use your wings. But there are some things I must teach you before you can go off on your quest for, you see, I am not completely like you. I cannot go outside of this existence, outside of this place known as FarCore. It will be necessary for you to spend some time with me before beginning your quest. Besides, your fourth companion has not arrived yet to help you. You need to wait for him or her.”

The amulet glowed as Anew contemplated all that Hygone had said. “Yes, I have much to learn. Teach me.”

Everyone laughed, both relieved that their first encounter with the new Ancient went well and glad to know she was willing to cooperate.

“Dattwa, perhaps one of the younger soldiers could train Anew on how to swim and maneuver her wings like an Oonock,” EJ suggested, as he wrapped his wings around his mate. “I would really like to go and spend some time with my family now that I know that Swaybuk, I mean Anew, is alright.”

“I believe that can be arranged,” King Kiijon answered, giving his son a warm and encouraging smile. “Jazee, assign a guard and trainer to assist Anew. I believe it will be necessary for her to spend the next two or three days inside FarCore learning from Hygone. During that time she will need to also learn how and what to eat, bodily functions and swimming.” He looked over at Hygone.

“Two days should be sufficient time, Your Majesty,” Hygone said.

“Right away, Sire,” Jazee replied. He turned, preparing to exit FarCore, then abruptly stopped. “Your Highness, should I assign a male or female soldier?”

“That is a good question,” Kiijon chuckled. “Even though Anew is apparently female, the body she occupies is male and will therefore possess all the workings of a human male body. I believe for that reason we assign a male soldier to instruct her.” He looked over at his son.

“Why not one of each, Dattwa,” EJ asked. “She might have questions about females that the male soldier would be unable to answer. What do you think, Hygone?”

“I do believe that both would be preferable,” Hygone answered. “Although there is almost no difference between Ancient males and females, she may have some questions regarding the differences in the sexes of humans and Oonocks.”

EJ swam over to where Anew was sitting on the cot. “Anew, I am going to take my leave.” He saw his old friend give him an odd, perplexed look. “I am going to leave this place and will not be here with you. But others of my kind will stay with you and begin to teach you how to swim, walk and other things you need to know. If you need me, one of the Oonocks with you can come and get me.”

Anew cocked her head to the right and stared at the young prince. “What are Oonocks? Why would I need you?”

“Oonock is the name of our race,” Kiijon answered. “It is who we, or I should say, what we are. You and Hygone are Ancients. Medi is a human.”

Anew turned to EJ, awaiting his answer. “And as for you needing me, I guess you will not,” EJ replied, realizing for the first time that this creature inside Swaybuk’s body had no need of him, even if he did need her, or at least the sleeping entity inside her. “See you in a few days.” He turned and left, a little saddened by her response.

“Ospree, please remain here until the new guard arrives,” Kiijon ordered. “Hygone, if anything is needed, please inform Ospree and he will contact me.”

“Is there anything special we should do once Anew comes into our world?” Europa asked, wondering how this innocent was going to survive in the harsh human world, let alone find a lost Keeper.

“Other than to teach her how to walk, breath air and transform, her four companions and amulet should give her everything she needs,” Hygone replied.

“I hope that is true,” Europa answered. “It is not only her life we are talking about, but our precious Swaybuk’s as well. What would happen, Hygone, if she were to die? Would Swaybuk awaken or would he die also?”

“I honestly do not know, Your Majesty,” Hygone replied. “I have never encountered anything like this before; not even in my readings of Ancient text. And to tell you the truth, I do not even believe the Council itself knows the answer to your question. Because all exiting Ancients are too old and unable to leave FarCore or our world, it was necessary for a new life to be created, a life that could transverse the two realms and live in your world. And since time was short, the urgency of Earth’s situation allowed no time to train the newborn or give her all the knowledge she needs to survive in such a harsh world. The only way to do it was to place her inside another being, a being who had a vast knowledge of how to exist outside our realm: a warrior and a protector. We, Ancients and Oonocks, are walking upon a path that has never been tread on before. We can only observe and hope for the best.”

“Your words offer little comfort, Hygone,” Europa stated.

“I fear I have no comfort to give, Your Majesty.”

RED FINGER NAILS

“Are you okay, Enok?” Medi asked, as she lay in EJ’s arms. EJ had not returned to FarCore to see how Anew was doing since he had left her that morning. He was leaving her training and wellbeing to Hygone and the two Oonocks his father had assigned. Medi knew how worried her mate had to be, yet he said little about what was happening inside FarCore.

“I do not think so, Medi,” EJ replied. “When Swaybuk told me he was stepping down as my protector and going to live on Europa, all I wanted was for him to change his mind and stay with us. Now, I would give anything for him to wake up and go live on Europa to write his tales of the Oonock race’s adventure, even if I never saw him again. At least I would know he was safe and well.”

“From meeting Hygone and from what you have told me about the Ancients, I know they are far more advanced than us,” Medi stated. “Do you really think Swaybuk, I mean Anew, can find this Keeper? That Swaybuk will then awaken and come back to us?”

“I do not know, Medi,” EJ said, pulling her closer to his body. Her body close to his always gave him the strength he needed to get through difficult times. He wondered if all couples were that way. “But I fear that the day we said goodbye to him as he stepped into FarCore may have been the last time we will ever see our beloved Swaybuk.”

Her emotions constricting her throat, Medi did not say a word for fear of breaking down. Instead, she tried to crawl even further into his embrace. She prayed that EJ was wrong, but she feared he was right. They might never see Swaybuk again. The next morning when they came downstairs to breakfast with the four girls, they were quite surprised to see Windar sitting at the table.

“Good morning, Your Majesties,” Windar greeted, raising her hand to her forehead and bowing. “This must be Cho Gin and Kumiko.” She bowed to each. “It is an honor to meet you both. My name is Windar. I have been helping your parents in their effort to save our planet.”

“Are you a princess too?” Kumiko asked, as she bowed slightly.

“No, only special people like you are princesses,” Windar replied, noting the huge smile on both girls’ faces.

After placing Mary in her chair, EJ lifted Kumiko up and placed her in her seat beside Medi. “Ok, Squirt, time to sit down and eat your breakfast. Then after you eat, you can go out to the barn and feed your pony while your mother and I talk with Windar. She has been working very hard on saving our oceans and hopefully has great news for your mother.” EJ knew that Windar’s news would have to wait, since nothing of importance was discussed over meals, but he also knew Medi had to be dying to hear what she had to say about the piiquid living in the bacteria.

“That she does,” Windar smiled broadly, looking directly at Medi. She had good news indeed.

When breakfast was almost done, Jazee and Ospree excused themselves and walked down to the Communications Room to check the sensors. Even though there had been no attempts on the monarchs since it was announced that the bounty on Prince Enok’s head was rescinded, there was still the possibility that someone would try to kidnap a member of the family to use for political leverage. And now that the Japanese authorities had been notified that EJ and Medi wanted to adopt the girls, they two might be targeted. To ensure their safety, every time the girls went outside to play or visit their horses, a sweep of the estate was made five and ten minutes before they left the security of the house. Guards were put on alert. Both Neil and Ospree walked the girls to and from the barn.

Once EJ and Medi were sure the girls made it to the barn safely, they picked up Mary and Amber and scampered to the Command Room. Medi was almost floating on air, she was so excited to hear Windar’s news. “Tell me, Windar, how is it going?” the excited Medi asked the moment her foot stepped into the room. “They are doing great, aren’t they? They are totally compatible with Earth’s ocean life.”

“Better than we could have hoped for, Your Majesty,” Windar replied. “As you know, I have been working with Princess Misso on determining what impact the piiquid would have on Earth’s marine life if we allowed them to breed and exist on their own. Since every living organism, from plankton to whales, is consumed by another sea creature, we feared the alien piiquid might compete for food sources, thus putting further hardship on marine life. But from every test we have run, it appears the piiquid eat only the randar plant. Nothing else. Of course, this means we will have to sow the world’s ocean with randar plant seeds before we can actively herd the piiquid in the open ocean.”

“What is the effect of the randar plant on Earth’s plant life?” Kiijon asked.

“None that we have been able to determine,” Windar replied. “It grows beside Earth’ marine plant life with no interference, just as various flowers grow beside each other on land. We have even discovered several green sea turtles eating the randar leaves, as well as several species of fish. We examined them and have found no side effects caused by their ingestion of the alien plants.”

“What of the piiquid in the ocean deep?” Europa asked. “There is no light so plant life cannot survive there. On Europa, where there is little plant life in the upper waters, those piiquid have become omnivores and eat both plants and animals. Since there is a very limited amount of food that far down in Earth’s oceans, will they not consume what does live down there?”

“Luckily, the plants on Europa developed to exist without sunlight,” Windar smiled. “They do not use photosynthesis to live, but ingest nutrients from the water itself. We just learned that, although deadly, the bacteria itself releases nutrients into the water. That, combined with all the nutrients from the decaying corpses and garbage, has created a supper soup of food for the randar plants. They can grow and cover the hills and mountains of this world’s deepest oceans and feed the piiquid. Plus, we are only using the species of piiquid that are herded by the Oonock farmers, which are strictly vegetarians. No omnivore piiquid from the upper waters of Europa are being exported here.”

“We still need more testing before we agree to their release,” Kiijon quickly stated, still not convinced the vegetarian piiquid would remain so if their food supply dwindled. “We must be absolutely sure the introduction of the alien piiquid will cause no harm. Look what has happened in the past when humans introduced feral animals to new locations: the rabbits, pigs and water buffalo in Australia, the cats and rats on native islands, the pythons in the Everglades. All foreign species who were introduced to new homes, which they now dominate, resulting in the destruction of habitat and the mass extinction of the local wildlife. We must be sure that fifty or even twenty years from now we do not discover we were wrong. There can be no doubt.”

“But Dattwa, there is no way to be one hundred percent sure,” EJ commented. “There is always a risk when bringing in an alien species to any land. But, in this circumstance, I do not see where we have any other choice. If we do not allow the piiquid access to the open waters, they cannot clean up the bacteria. The bacteria will continue to grow and destroy all life in the ocean resulting in the people on this planet starving to death.”

“Windar, how sure are you, Misso and TJ on your calculations that the piiquid will not harm this planet?” Medi asked.

“Right now, about seventy five percent,” Windar answered. “Princess Misso is running a new scenario which should give us an even better indication. I came up before it was completed because she stated you needed me for a special assignment.”

“Windar, we do not have an assignment for you,” Europa said, wondering why her daughter would say such a thing. “In fact, we were quite surprised to see you arrive this morning.”

“Did Misso happen to mention what the assignment was?” Kiijon asked.

“No, only that I would be doing a lot of traveling,” Windar said. “She said she didn’t know the details. Oh, she also said I would be taking a worm, butterfly and fish with me on this trip.”

Everyone stared at each other in disbelief. “The kallis, kaachee and ruupoor,” Europa whispered. “Windar is the fourth companion.”

“You have a kallis here on Earth?” Windar asked. “If I might ask, Your Majesties, how is that possible? Most Europa creatures cannot exist on Earth. Plus, a kallis is so delicate it is impossible to keep one on Europa.”

“You might want to sit down, Windar,” King Kiijon stated. “I believe it is the Orbs who have sent for you once again, this time through our daughter. The Special Ambassador to the Orbs is needed once again.” After Windar sat, Kiijon told Windar about the Seeker who had arrived to find Earth’s Keeper.

“So I am the fourth companion, the one that will help her find the Keeper,” Windar said, as she stood. “May I meet her?”

“She is inside FarCore,” EJ answered, a look of sorrow on his face. “She is learning how to swim and transform. She has been waiting for you.” He held out his hand. “Come, Windar, I will take you to her.”

Windar took her prince’s hand and together they walked down to the den and through the portal, Kiijon, Jazee and Ospree right behind them. Europa and Medi waited with KaaZee and the twins in the room. Medi could not bear to see her mate’s forlorn face when he looked upon Swaybuk again.

“Anew, this is . . .” EJ began, as they approached the young Ancient.

“I have been waiting for you,” Anew stated, not letting Prince Enok finish his sentence. Apparently, she knew who Windar was. She reached up and touched her amulet. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, a second amulet appeared. She removed it from her neck and placed it around Windar’s. “This is for you, to keep you safe and to keep us connected.” She floated over to the three cages containing the other three companions. Reaching inside each cage, she withdrew the creatures and carefully placed them inside a pouch that suddenly appeared on Windar’s middle right wing. “You will be the protector of our other three companions. Protect them well and feed them. Each will be needed in the course of our exploration.”

“Anew, when you and Windar leave here she will not have wings or a pouch that the three small companions can be kept in,” EJ quickly stated. “Perhaps it would be better if they remained inside their cages.”

“They will be safe inside her until they are needed,” Anew replied, dismissing the prince’s concern. “I am ready.” She reached out and took Windar’s hand, both of their amulets glowing a bright blue as they swam down the corridor, and exited the portal onto the den floor before anyone could stop her. Kiijon, Hygone and EJ held their breath as she stepped through, wondering if her training would be sufficient for her transformed human legs to support her.

Those waiting in the den were quite surprised to see Swaybuk and Windar step through the portal together. Since no one had expected Anew to emerge so soon, there were no clothes waiting for her. Europa quickly pulled a cover from the back of a chair and wrapped it around Swaybuk’s naked body.

“What is this?” Anew asked, not liking the feel of the cloth against her body. She noticed the others, including Windar, were putting similar objects over their bodies, but none exactly like hers. “I do not like this.” She immediately dropped the cover, standing there naked once more.

“On Earth, all humans wear these pieces of material called clothing,” Europa tried to explain, as she wrapped the cover around the naked protector again. “When we Oonocks take human form, it is necessary for us to also cover our bodies so we blend in.”

Anew’s amulet glowed a soft blue. “No, this is not clothing. I will not wear it.” Once more she removed the cover and threw it across the room.

“I believe Swaybuk left a trunk of his clothes in Ospree’s closet,” EJ said, trying his best not to laugh. He wasn’t sure who was funnier – his mother in her desperate attempt to cover the naked soldier or Anew’s determination not to wear the blanket, reminding him of himself when he was little and refused to wear clothes. “Anew, if you follow me, I will take you upstairs and find you some proper clothes to wear.”

“That is acceptable,” Anew replied, following the young prince.

“Oh, I must remember to tease Swaybuk about this when he wakes up,” Jazee laughed. “Parading around in his glory, buck naked in front of his queen.”

Europa gave a disapproving look at Jazee, as well as Kiijon, who was also laughing. “Just be glad Cho Gin and Kumiko were not here. Anew may be female, but the body she is using is definitely male. If she pulls a stunt like that while out in the real world, who knows what could happen.”

“More than likely she’d be arrested,” Jazee laughed, still seeing the humor in the situation.

“That would definitely cause a lot of problems,” Kiijon stated, now concerned if Anew would be able to function so quickly in the human world and anticipating the consequences if she could not.

“I’ll make sure she keeps her clothes on,” Windar smiled. She thought how much simpler it would be if humans just went naked like Oonocks did.

EJ led Anew upstairs to Swaybuk’s former bedroom. After sitting her on the bed, he walked over to the closet and pulled out a large steamer trunk, then opened it. “I believe these will suffice for now,” he stated, as he pulled out a pair of jeans, a shirt, socks and underwear. “You will need to take some of these clothes with you for when you travel across the Earth.”

Anew carefully scanned EJ’s body to determine where the various clothing went, but she could not determine where the socks or underwear were to be placed. “You have made a mistake, Prince Enok,” Anew stated, as she started to pull on the jeans. “You only wear two pieces of clothing, yet you gave me five.”

EJ held up the underwear. “You put these on first, Anew. Beneath your jeans.” He reached inside his pants and pulled up on his own underwear so the Ancient could see he too was wearing them. “First underwear, then socks on your feet” he slipped off his boot, “and then jeans. Shirt last. And on cold days, you will wear something called a jacket to keep your body from getting cold.”

“My body does not get cold,” Anew said, as she slipped on the underwear backwards.

“No, Anew, the opening goes in the front,” EJ instructed, turning the underwear around.

“Why?”

“I thought Gardawyn explained how the human body works,” EJ said, giggling nervously. He wasn’t sure what to do.

“He did.”

“Well, just trust me for now,” EJ replied, feeling a little awkward. “The opening goes in the front.” He saw the amulet glow a soft blue again and then the look of understanding cross Anew’s face. Like his parents, EJ had real doubts of how Anew was going to survive in Swaybuk’s body in the real world.

For the next two days Anew remained at the estate learning how to live in the real world. She and Windar spent a lot of time on the internet searching for any clue of the Keeper. Wanting to explore the information stored in Earth’s Orbs for herself, she and Medi went through Earth’s recorded time. But the result was the same – no mention of the Keeper.

“Do not be discouraged,” EJ said, upon hearing the lack of evidence in the Orbs. “Hygone said if you searched Europa’s Orbs for mention of her you would find none either. And she has been on Europa for over ten million years. The Orbs do not see the Ancients’ presence important enough to be mentioned in recorded history.”

Realizing the answers she needed were not in the Orbs or on the internet, Anew announced that she and Windar would begin their journey the following day. As soon as she announced their departure, EJ immediately called his parents into the Command Room and closed the door.

“Dattwa, Mattwa, we cannot allow Anew and Windar to leave the estate,” EJ quickly stated, his face filled with worry. “Anew has no social skills. She can barely navigate the social structure here on the estate, which is about as simple as it gets. If she goes out there she is going to be picked up by the police or hospitalized or something horrible. And if she is hospitalized and they do any tests are her, it is all over.”

“For her and us,” Kiijon said, as he paced around the room. “I totally agree with you, EJ. Anew’s departure into the world outside will put our entire race in jeopardy. Neither Windar nor Swaybuk’s memories are going to keep her safe. We need to go inform Hygone that we cannot allow her to begin her quest.”

“You do realize that by denying her the opportunity to leave, we are postponing or possibly even preventing her from finding the Keeper,” Europa said to her son. “If the Keeper is not found, Swaybuk cannot be awakened or returned to us.”

“That is a fact never far from my conscious,’ EJ answered. “But she is too dangerous to our Oonocks. Besides, I would rather see Swaybuk locked away inside his own body and die than be experimented on by humans as they try to figure out who or what he is.”

“I know the child in you wants your Swaybuk back,” Europa said, as she went over to her son. “But I see the adult in you puts the needs and welfare of his race before his own desires. You make me proud to have you for my son. You stay with Medi and the girls. Your father and I will go explain it to Hygone.”

“She is not going to be too happy,” EJ stated.

“Possibly not,” Kiijon said. “But what can she do? She has no jurisdiction over us or Earth.”

“She could stop us from using the portal to go back and forth to Europa,” EJ suggested.

“No, I think that would be beneath her,” Kiijon replied. “I think she will see the immense danger Anew possesses and will agree with our decision. We will see you shortly.” The two monarchs left the room and headed with Jazee down to the den to go and inform Hygone of their decision.

EJ went into the kitchen and out onto the patio where Medi was sitting with the twins. From that vantage point they could watch Cho Gin and Kumiko ride their horses inside the small side corral. Neil was holding Kumiko’s pony’s lead rope as she proudly rode it around the small enclosure, while JaaJew held Cho Gin’s horse. Since there was little laboratory work to do on the bacteria, JaaJew had volunteered to help around the estate and help teach the human girls how to ride their steeds. Cho Gin saw her father step out onto the porch and waved. JaaJew lightly scolded her, instructing her to keep both hands on her reins.

“Neil said both girls are doing well,” Medi said to her mate, giving him a loving smile. “He estimates that next week they can graduate to the larger corral without the lead ropes.”

“Really? They are doing that well?” EJ asked, as he leaned over and kissed his beloved on the forehead.

As they continued to watch the girls, KaaZee and Ospree not far away, Windar and Anew walked up to the porch. “I thought I would take Anew out one more time into the bay so she can transform into different animals,” Windar stated. “I could not find Jazee anywhere to inform him of my intentions.”

“He is, um,” EJ did not want to say Jazee was with his parents inside FarCore and alert Anew to the possibility of a problem. “He is with my parents. I will inform Jazee you two are in the bay. Let Staybo know also and be sure to take a couple of extra guards with you.”

“Yes, Sire,” Windar said. “Anew, why don’t you wait here while I inform Staybo? It should only take me a few minutes.”

“Yes, I will wait here,” Anew said, taking a seat beside Mary and Amber.

“Swa,” both girls said, lifting their hand toward the former protector.

“No, I am Anew,” the Ancient replied.

“They see Swaybuk’s face and think you are Swaybuk,” Medi explained. “They were very fond of him.”

“Human babies are so strange,” Anew said. “So defenseless, so tiny, so needy.” She reached out her hand and both girls wrapped their tiny fingers around one of Swaybuk’s. Immediately, a lilac glow emanated from the girls’ hands and entered the protector.

“Swa,” both girls said again.

“Yes, I’m here, Mary and Amber,” EJ heard Swaybuk say inside his head.

Overjoyed, but afraid to believe what he was hearing, EJ dropped to his knees beside the male. “Swaybuk, it is EJ. Can you hear me? Can you see me?”

“I can hear you and the girls, Sire, but I cannot see you,” Swaybuk replied. “Everything’s all blurry. Where am I?”

“You have been asleep inside your body,” EJ quickly replied, not sure how long the connection would last. “An Ancient known as a Seeker has been using your body.”

“A Seeker?” a confused Swaybuk asked. “Oh, yes, now I remember. When Jeanip and I went to leave, Hygone was waiting for us. She needed one of us to become a vessel for the Seeker.”

“Yes, that is correct. Although the Ancient appeared to be Hygone, it was really Barook,” EJ replied.

“Really? He looked just like Hygone.”

“Are you okay, Dearest Friend?” EJ asked. He turned to Ospree. “Hurry and get my parents.”

“Yes, I feel fine,” Swaybuk answered, as more of his consciousness began to awaken. As it did, his vision began to clear. He looked at the two beautiful princesses who had awoken his spirit, then turned to look at his prince. “EJ, I can see you.”

“What happened to Anew?” Europa asked, trying to figure out what was happening.

“I am here,” she answered.

“So you are the newborn spirit, Hygone, I mean Barook, told me of?” EJ heard Swaybuk ask.

“Yes.”

Kiijon and Europa came running out of the house, as did Windar. “What’s wrong?” Kiijon asked.

“It is Swaybuk,” EJ shouted. “Somehow the girls awakened his spirit. He is talking to me.”

“Swaybuk, is this true?” Kiijon asked, an astonished look momentarily appearing on his face.

“Yes, Sire, I am here,” Swaybuk replied.

Europa turned to look at her twin granddaughters who still held the large soldier’s huge fingers in their tiny grip, the lilac glow very faint as it diminished. Once the glow was completely gone, both girls removed their hands. “Swa,” Mary said, with a huge smile as the two sisters fell into a deep sleep, exhausted from their awakening.

“Hello, Windar,” Swaybuk greeted. “I understand you will be accompanying us.”

“Is that really you, Swaybuk?” Windar asked, also unable to believe the protector was talking to her.

“It’s me,” Swaybuk replied, a huge smile spreading over his face.

“Ouch, what are you doing?” Anew demanded.

“I’m smiling,” Swaybuk answered. “That’s what people do when they are happy.”

“Swaybuk, are you two able to coexist together inside your body?” EJ asked, completely intrigued by the possibility.

“It would appear so, Your Majesty,” Swaybuk replied, as he stood. He began to shift his weight back and forth on his legs, moving his buttock ever so slightly. “Something is wrong here. It feels like my underwear is on backwards.”

“I didn’t like the opening in the front,” Anew stated. “Since it is necessary to wear these things called underwear, I have decided to wear the opening in the back, where it is more comfortable.”

“Maybe for you, Sister, but the opening goes in the front. If you would excuse me, Your Majesties, Jazee, I need to go make a wardrobe adjustment.” Everyone laughed, especially the Oonocks who could hear Swaybuk arguing with Anew on the proper way his body was going to wear his briefs.

“And why in the world are my fingers painted bright red?” a horrified Swaybuk was suddenly heard to ask.

“I thought the red was a nice touch,” Europa laughed, keeping her voice low enough that Swaybuk did not hear her. “I know Cho Gin and Kumiko had a very good time polishing his nails.”

“I have the feeling that won’t be happening again,” Medi chuckled.

THE JOURNEY BEGINS

After a few minutes in the bathroom, Swaybuk returned to the group. They had moved from the side porch to the kitchen, where Doogon had a nice luncheon waiting for them. Cho Gin and Kumiko were exhausted after their ride and cleaning of their horses’ stalls, so like their younger twin sisters, they too laid down for an extra early nap, postponing their lunch until later. The monarchs were grateful for the older girls’ exhaustion, since it would have been difficult to explain why they addressed Swaybuk by two different names.

“Anew, will you join us for something to eat?” Europa asked, not sure how she should address Swaybuk, but believing the proper course of action was to talk with the Ancient. “I am sure both Windar and Swaybuk could use a good meal before you start your journey.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” the figure of Swaybuk replied, taking a seat at the table. Now that Swaybuk was awakened and also occupied his body, it was hard to tell who was speaking: Anew or Swaybuk.

“Will the emergence of Swaybuk be a hindrance to your search?” EJ asked, in a way hoping it would now be cancelled and Swaybuk released.

“Actually, I believe Swaybuk’s appearance will be very beneficial,” Anew said, in a slightly feminine voice. “He will be able to traverse the complexities of human interactions, thus assuring we go unnoticed. Besides, as the stronger being, I have control over the body.”

“Swaybuk, you are okay with this?” EJ inquired.

“While possibly not the best of situations, I believe having both our minds active and coherent is the best solution for Anew,” Swaybuk answered. “I believe the Orbs realized the danger Anew would be in without me and somehow asked the girls to awaken my consciousness, which they did. Otherwise, I don’t think she would have lasted two days out there.”

“I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself,” Anew stated.

“How can you even think that, Anew?” Swaybuk asked. “You couldn’t even put my underwear on right.”

“It wasn’t that I couldn’t, I chose not to,” the Ancient replied.

“Well, choosing to do something wrong can get you in as much trouble as not knowing what to do,” Swaybuk argued back. “Sometimes, in even more trouble.”

“Do you have any idea where you will begin your search,” Kiijon quickly interjected, hoping to stop an argument between the two before it started.

“Since neither the Earth Orbs nor Ancient text gave any indication of when the Keeper stopped protecting this planet, there is no way to know where to begin,” Anew stated. “But I do believe the Keeper is somewhere on land. Even though he has been asleep for what appears to be a long time, I think his original plan was just to rest for a few short centuries, then awaken in hopes things would be better. I don’t think he would have wanted to be too far away from what was happening with humans. And I believe that, due to his connection with nature, wherever he is will be a place of beauty and peace.”

“So, you’re ruling out the oceans?” Kiijon asked.

“Not at all,” Anew answered. “If we do not locate the Keeper on land within a year’s time, we will start to search the oceans. But I do not think the Keeper would have chosen such a dark, isolated place as the deep sea.”

“There are many beautiful places in the ocean,” Medi quickly reminded the Ancient. “Coral reefs, bays and harbors, continental shelves. Not all the ocean is dark and foreboding. Only the deep. Coral reefs contain more life than most areas of land do.”

“That may be true, but I still feel the Keeper would have remained on land, where he would be closest to most of nature,” Anew replied. “Since here is a good a place to start, I thought I would step out into the yard, release the kallis and follow where he leads.”

“That’s a good a plan as any,” Kiijon stated, seeing a few doubtful looks around the table.

Having finished his meal, EJ stood. “I wish you all the best of luck. And Windar, be sure to check in once in a while so we know this big guy and Anew are doing well. If you will excuse me, I have some reports to read on how our plan is going to stop global warming.”

Swaybuk knew the reports could wait, but he also knew his prince could not bear to say goodbye to him again. Even though they would have been separated for years or decades had Swaybuk gone to live on Europa, at least there he would have been safe. Going out into the world of humans with a newborn Ancient, who was a constant threat to their mission, meant there was a good chance Swaybuk would never return. His life would be in danger every moment in the human world, compounded by the Ancient’s naiveness and inexperience.

“Before you leave, Your Majesty, I was wondering if I might ask you for a favor?” Swaybuk asked his former charge.

EJ kept his eyes on the ground as he turned toward the male. Anticipating what Swaybuk wanted, he quietly said, “I do not believe I can give you a hug this time, Swaybuk.” EJ was barely holding it together. This was the third time he had to say goodbye to the big soldier and his heart truly feared the worst.

“While a hug would be nice, I understand why one cannot be given,” Swaybuk warmly smiled. “And that is not my favor. I was wondering if you would keep this for me?” Swaybuk held out his hand, inside of which was a small soobree speeder pin. “It is the pin Runbee took from me when we were disciplined for the Nazca Lines. After we were pardoned, he told me he had thrown it away, that I didn’t deserve it. When Graybin was here for my going away party, she gave it back to me, stating that Runbee had always kept it, but was too proud to admit he had made a mistake about me. It is very precious to me and I don’t want to take a chance on losing it. I thought perhaps you could keep it safe for me until the day I return and continue my journey to Europa.”

EJ stood there, looking down at the shining pin. He knew what an honor it was for Swaybuk to ask this of him. “And what if you do not return?” EJ whispered, his question so quiet and soft only Swaybuk heard him, as two tears escaped his eyes and fell to the floor.

“I do not know where the new path the Fates have put before my feet will lead me, EJ,” Swaybuk silently said, so only EJ could hear him. “Or if that path will lead me back here to you. But my time away will be more joyful knowing that you have this. And that every time you look at it, you will know and remember how much this old soldier loved you and always will. When I become lonely, or disheartened, I will know that you and your family have a piece of me with you, and that will give me the strength to go on. As you said when I left to go to FarCore, this is not goodbye. Although my destination has changed, I am going off to help you as I always have, help you find the means to save this planet for Medi and the girls. I am leaving on a new assignment while you remain here as the light of the blue planet.”

EJ raised his head and looked the soldier in the eyes, wiping away the tears on his cheeks. “You are right, Swaybuk. This is just another assignment, one to help me save this planet.” He held out his hand and Swaybuk dropped the speeder pin inside his palm. “And I will keep this safe until you return to your family. May the Waters of Life keep you safe and help you discover what has happened to the Keeper and where he is.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Swaybuk said. “May the Waters of Life watch over you for me and show you how to restore the greatness of this planet.”

“Are we going to stand here all day talking or are we going to begin our journey?” an irritated Anew asked. “These words you speak accomplish nothing.”

Swaybuk laughed. He kind of felt sorry for the newborn Ancient. She had no idea of what love was, or the wonderful feeling of family. “Okay, Anew, I am ready.”

He and Windar said their goodbyes, then walked out into the yard. Facing south, Windar reached inside her pocket and withdrew the kachee and handed it to Anew. Cupping the creature in her hands, Anew leaned down and spoke in the Ancient’s tongue, instructing it to find the Keeper. She then opened her hands and released the dragonfly into the air. It flapped its wings, circling above their heads, then flew toward the southeast. Without a word to those who were watching, Anew followed the kachee, Windar right behind her. Windar and Swaybuk both waved goodbye as they began their journey.

Those who remained behind watched as the two figures walked across the open grassland, following the blue dragonfly as it gently floated on the breeze. “Remind me again, Jazee, why they are not using a car?” Kiijon asked.

“Anew insisted that the only way to find the Keeper is to follow her helpers and that she could not do that inside the ‘rolling box’, as she described a car,” Jazee replied. “Hopefully, Swaybuk will be able to persuade her to use some sort of transportation. Otherwise, if they plan on walking across this entire planet, it is going to take a long time.”

“Time Earth does not have,” EJ said, walking up behind the group, watching his friend and Windar’s images grow smaller until they disappeared. “Dattwa, you might want to turn the fences off until they are off the property. That Anew is crazy enough to climb over them and electrocute herself and Swaybuk.”

“I believe you are right,” Kiijon laughed, imagining what Anew would think of an electrical shock. “Make it so, Jazee. When they near the fences, turn off the power until they are past them.”

“Yes, Sire.”

____________

As the two approached the electrified fence, Swaybuk tried to steer his body toward the gate, which was a mile further east. Tried as he might, he could not control his leg muscles. Anew did and she was having nothing to do with a detour. She was taking the most direct way, and that was over the fence.

“Anew, that fence ahead of us is a barbed wire fence, filled with barbs that will tear into my skin,” Swaybuk tried to explain. “It also is electrified, which means there is an electrical current running through it which will not only harm this body of ours, but probably kill us. Do you understand? We have to go east to where the gate is so we can safely walk past the fence.”

“Ancients do not die,” Anew replied, as she continued on.

“Maybe Ancients don’t, but Oonocks do,” Swaybuk angrily stated. “And in case you forgot, you are in an Oonock’s body, MY body. And I am not going to let it die because you’re too ignorant to listen to reason.”

Anew stopped for a moment, accessing Swaybuk’s memory, extrapolating what the word ‘ignorant’ meant. “I am not ignorant, Protector. I am highly intelligent and advanced. Far more than yourself.”

“The name’s Swaybuk, not Protector,” Swaybuk sighed. “You are ignorant when it comes to Earthly ways and need to rely upon my judgement.” Seeing his body was not diverting from its course, he turned to Windar. “See if you have any luck with her. I can’t get her to stop.”

“Anew, why am I on this trip with you?” Windar asked the Ancient.

“You are my companion,” Anew answered. “You will help me traverse the ways of this planet and the sentient beings known as humans.”

“So you trust me and depend on me to keep you safe?”

“That is a logical assumption,” Anew replied.

“Then we need to turn east forty eight degrees and follow alongside the fence line,” Windar firmly stated. “The fence is very dangerous for us and our three companions. It cannot be crossed. To continue onward, we must use the gate, a door that allows passage through the fence.”

“As you wish,” Anew said, turning east and walking in the direction of the gate.

“Unbelievable,” Swayback moaned, glad they were finally heading toward the gate.

The two continued on down the road once they had exited the estate, the warm sun shining down upon them from a blue, cloudless sky. For two hours they walked down a road set amongst fields of grape vines, their bodies drenched in sweat. Needing a short rest and some water, Windar suggested that they stop for a while and rest beneath a tree that finally appeared ahead. It was the first tree they had seen in over an hour.

“This body is not sufficient,” Anew stated, as she sat down beside Windar. “It is old and weak, tiring already. If we have to stop and rest every few hours, it will take us years to travel across this planet and find the Keeper.”

“Listen, Lady, my body may be old, but it is in top condition,” Swaybuk quickly argued. “The fact that it has been walking for two hours straight under a hot sun is testimony to that. Besides, we Oonocks are marine creatures, made to exist in water, not walking across the hot landscape. If you want us to go faster, than I suggest you take King Kiijon’s suggestion and we use a car.”

“Here, Anew, you need to hydrate your body,” Windar said, handing the Ancient a bottle of water. “Swaybuk is right. Our bodies are not meant to exist under such hot conditions. To help with your water loss, you also need to drink one of these vials.” Windar opened her hand to reveal a small vial of a purple liquid.

“What is it?” Anew asked, taking the vial and carefully looking at its contents.

“Something to help your body not overheat and collapse,” Windar replied. “Remember, Anew, you are not in an Ancient’s body, but inside a borrowed Oonock’s body, which does have limitations. Being in the hot sun is one of them.”

Seeing the logic in Windar’s statement, Anew took the vial and poured it into her mouth, swallowing the refreshing liquid. She was amazed that, within seconds, she actually felt better.

“Anew, you might want to consider what Swaybuk said about using a car or another form of transportation,” Windar stated, wondering how the Ancient would react to her advice. “We have been walking for two hours and are not even half way to town yet. At this rate, it will be nightfall before we arrive, and we will need to stay somewhere for the night. It is too dangerous to walk out here alone at night.”

“We must go on,” a determined Anew said.

“Yes, we must, but only during the daylight hours,” Windar replied. “The Orbs sent for me so I could be your guide and help you navigate through this world. They also awakened Swaybuk so he could be your counsel. At the rate we are going, it will take us between twenty-three and twenty-seven days to reach the Mexican border and cross into Mexico. We could cut that time down to two or three days if we go by car. Even more if we transform into whales and swim along the coastline to where you want to go.”

“We must remain on land,” an adamant Anew stated.

“We can do that,” Windar replied. “We can stay on land, if that is what you feel we must do. But trust Swaybuk and me when we tell you it is too dangerous to try to walk the entire way. Not only will it take us forever, but it will become very dangerous at times to be on foot. Besides, the little kallis cannot beat his wings forever either. He too has limitations. Inside a car he could rest on the dash and tell you which way to go if we get off course.”

Anew pondered everything her small female companion said. “Do you concur with Windar, Swaybuk?”

“Yes, Anew,” Swaybuk replied. “We can go faster, safer and longer by using a car.”

“I agree,” Anew stated. “But we have no time to return to the estate to obtain one. We must keep moving forward.”

“Windar can contact the estate and request a car and driver,” Swaybuk replied, hoping the Ancient would agree to another Oonock going with them as their driver. “Even though it seems we have gone a long way, the estate is just down the road. Jazee can have a car here for us in twenty minutes tops.”

“We can rest a little longer and eat our lunch,” Windar suggested. “By the time we are done and ready to start again, the car will be here.”

“Very well, make it so,” Anew solemnly said, making both Swaybuk and Windar laugh. “What, what are you doing? Why are you making my chest go up and down?”

“Swaybuk’s laughing,” Windar explained. “It is something we love to do. It makes us feel good.”

“It does not feel good,” Anew shouted. “Stop this instant.”

“Get used to it, Anew,” Swaybuk chuckled. “We Oonocks love to laugh and be happy. Something you still need to learn to do.”

____________

All breathed a sigh of relief when the call came in from Windar requesting a car to be sent to assist with their journey. They wondered how the young female was able to convince the Ancient that walking around the world was too time-consuming, especially since they were quickly running out of time to save the world. Those at the estate were also pleased to learn that Anew agreed to allow Tigbee to accompany them as their driver. Many imagined the argument that ensued over that.

Even though Swaybuk and Windar appeared to now be on the right track, EJ still worried about his former protector. Unlike Hygone, who always seemed to be diplomatic and willing to listen to another’s point of view, Anew was overly confident in her superiority, prone to rash decisions, and completely unfamiliar with the dangers that awaited them. At least with Tigbee with them, the two travelers had a better chance of getting out of any trouble Anew might get them into.

To keep his mind off of Swaybuk’s current situation, EJ devoted a lot of time to interacting with Cho Gin and Kumiko, along with his other smaller daughters. He also spent time with Giibold discussing the power plant projects, how the New York and Sacramento plants were coming along, and how the new interns were doing. He also kept in close contact with Robert, who would fly back and forth between the two locations as needed in a company jet.

Medi divided her time between the girls and her study of the piiquid. She was still monitoring the results of the effects of the bacteria on the piiquid who were living inside the dead zone. But since that experiment was almost concluded, she began to devote the majority of her free time to studying the impact the piiquid and randar plants would have on the native animal and plant life if introduced into the ecosystem. She establishing a small, sectioned-off portion in the bay to allow both Europian species to live and multiply. To ensure they did not enter the open ocean in the event they somehow escaped, an almost-solid screen stretched across the bay entrance, guaranteeing their confinement.

General McDouglas kept an elite team of Special Forces in the forests just past the estate under the disguise of training. It was the area where the assassins had crossed onto estate property and, although heavily equipped with sensors, it was still considered a weak spot in their defenses. The human team had already found three human males crossing over the fence unto the monarch’s estate and had detained them. They claimed to be hiking through the forest and mountains and stated they did not know they were on private property. Fearing they might be assassins who had not heard the bounty had been lifted from Prince Enok’s head, they were taken to headquarters and thoroughly interrogated while the Special Forces team searched through their belongings and their family backgrounds. After three days, all three were released with the conclusions that they were just as they said, hikers. No weapons, except for one handgun and several cans of bear spray, were found. All the background checks showed none had criminal records and were known to be expert hikers who enjoyed nature.

But the thought of more assassins reaching the estate was never far from Kiijon’s mind. He feared his family, especially his son, were still in danger. To help detect any new intruders, he ordered Jazee and Staybo to design new sensors to be placed beneath the ground where they would be unseen by anyone trying to enter the area. Having a five-mile radius, each sensor was planted a foot below, four and a half miles apart, along the entire perimeter of the fence line. In hopes of screening some of the wildlife out of the scenario, the sensors were set to alert the estate of anything over ninety pounds. Any alert notice would be analyzed by the security grid and determined if the intruder was human or animal.

____________

Tigglebree limped into the cave chamber and over to the crystal coffin that held his leader. He could see his broken and battered body repairing itself, as he slept in an induced coma, his Oonock wings gently waving in the lilac waters contained within. The coffin JeffRa had designed for such circumstances appeared to be working perfectly, its intense water pressure allowing its inhabitant to transform into his true self.

“How is he doing?” Tigglebree asked, grimacing in pain as he sat down a few feet away. “Will he live?”

“Yes, I believe so,” Wiiguard replied. “JeffRa’s creation will allow this body to heal and replenish itself. I am sorry that we only have the one, for your body too is in need of repair.”

Tigglebree removed his shirt, revealing a large bandage wrap around his abdomen. Wiiguard would change his bandages and redress his many wounds. “Although slower, this human form does have some regenerative properties. Besides, as our leader, it is he who needs to heal, not me. We three are the last Terrians alive. It is up to us to carry out JeffRa’s orders and somehow ensure our survival.”

“Perhaps when he awakens restored, he will allow you a day or so inside the coffin to heal some of these major wounds,” Wiiguard said, as he examined the large injury on his companion’s side. He poured some lilac healing waters into the wound, then cauterized it with a laser, causing Tigglebree to scream out in pain. Thankfully, they were in a cave far below the surface where no one could hear the screams, a place where the three of them could remain safe until their leader woke.

“If JeffRa has not planned for every conceivable situation long ago, there would only be the two of us left,” Tigglebree stated, his body drenched in cold sweat, his mind spinning. “I can’t believe those Oonocks found and surprised us like that. Our comrades did not stand a chance. And those so-called mercenaries were of no use what so ever.” He held a fresh gauze patch over a healing abdomen wound while Tigglebree wrapped cloth around him.

“There, that should help it heal faster,” the young soldier stated. “I am going to give you an injection for the pain and medicine to ensure your body does not become infected.” He reached over to the nearby table, picked up two syringes, and injected them just above the major injury. He then continued to dress the remaining burns and wounds. “How do you think they found us? We were so careful to avoid detection.”

Tigglebree looked at the young soldier. Wiiguard was the youngest of the Terrians. But in reality, he was an Oonock like Tigglebree and their leader, but born on Earth, the son of two Terrian-Oonocks killed at the battle fought with King Enok at their Third City. For some reason Tigglebree had stepped in and prevented JeffRa from killing the orphan as their law dictated. Instead, he had taken the youngling under his wing, raising him as his own son, teaching him the old ways of the Oonocks, keeping him safe from Zeevinn and Attwa’s destructive ways after JeffRa was killed. He was now very glad that he had, for without Wiiguard’s help, neither he, nor their leader, would have survived the Oonock attack.

“It was those two little girls that the Waters were looking for,” Tigglebree replied. “I told him not to take them, but he insisted. Just like he did when I told him to wear those damn sunglasses when calling EJ Waters. But he never listens, never has, and probably never will.” He looked over at his sleeping leader once more. “How long will he have to stay inside that thing?”

“I am estimating probably a week or two. Possibly a month,” Wiiguard answered. “His injuries were pretty extensive. And he’s not as young as he used to be.”

Tigglebree thought how true, yet not totally correct, the young Terrian’s statements were. Even though their leader was over eight thousand years old, it was the millennia of fighting against the Waters clan that had taken their toll on his body. It was only his ability to bend the powers of Fate, keep his essence together, and return from the dead that allowed him to be with them today, although broken and fighting once again for his life. Once thought lost forever, he had returned to them miraculously one day, ten years after Starship Three had destroyed the Terrian army. He had somehow escaped his prison and found the small group of ten Terrians that still lived, only to learn that Zeevinn, in his arrogance and stupidity, had lead the rest to their deaths. Tigglebree saw something change in his great leader that day, the day he learned all his Terrians and Oonock-followers had been lost. Although still a great leader, filled with confidence and strength, he now seemed quiet, withdrawn, almost a whisper of the Oonock he had been while a youngling. At times, their leader’s demeanor even reminded Tigglebree of King Enok – mild, calm, and serene. Although he still became angry and his eyes glowed red, those episodes were few and far between.

For sixteen years he had searched the planet for any sign of King Enok’s children, but they had vanished, as if they were no longer on Earth. Then, one wondrous day not long ago, who should he see on the news but a young Enok Waters, Jr., the CEO of Waters’ Enterprises. He stated he offered the world free energy to help end global warming. Believing this could not be the grandson of his enemy because he was too old, he gasped when he caught a glimpse of King Enok, his hated nemesis, standing behind the young prince. It was then he realized that somehow the prince had aged at a human rate in order to cover-up his true identity and wondered what other siblings he might have. His vow renewed, he set out to learn all he could about Waters’ Enterprises and the Waters family that owned it. Tigglebree would never forget the look of sheer joy that he saw on his leader’s face the day he learned Europa and Earon were both alive and each had two children, for he had never seen his liege happy. But he also remembered how quickly that look of joy was replaced with a deep look of sorrow when he saw a picture of a human closely associated with the Waters and his family. The human’s name was Terrance Landers, the same last name as JeffRa’s human alias. Tigglebree watched as his leader sorrowfully ran his fingers across the picture of this Terrance, his wife and children, witnessing the unbelievable – a tear slipping down his leader’s cheek, almost sorrowful for the life that could have been his, but wasn’t. Tigglebree often wondered who this Terrance really was, and what was his connection to his liege. But as was proper, he did not ask, even though he thought the forlorn male would have not hesitated to tell him.

“That he’s not,” Tigglebree answered. “When he awakens, he is not going to be happy to learn his plan failed, the two human brats gone, and his small army destroyed once more by the Waters. We need to have a plan in place to eliminate the prince before he awakens.”

“But, Sir, there’s only two of us,” Wiiguard stated. “What can we do?”

His wounds now attended to once again, Tigglebree put his shirt back on and stood. He reached out and rested his hand on the young Wiiguard’s shoulder. “We are Terrians, Wiiguard. Even alone, we can accomplish much. But together, we can bring down the house of Waters and end this filthy prince’s life. And hopefully his sister’s and cousins’ also.”

“But he gave very strict orders that the human and his children were not to be harmed,” Wiiguard quickly stated.

“That order only means we need to be a little more creative when destroying the others,” Tigglebree chuckled. “Come, Wiiguard. Let’s go enjoy a good meal and begin planning how to kill the prince and his family.”

AM I AN OONOCK?

“Mattwa, do you know where Medi is?” EJ asked, as he walked into the living room. His mother was enjoying a moment of solitude, drinking a cup of coffee and reading a book, something she seldom got to do. EJ felt bad interrupting her quiet time. “Giibold and I finished our meeting early. I thought that, while the twins and Kumiko are napping, Medi and I could enjoy some couple’s time together.”

Europa smiled. With all that was going on and the presence of four young girls needing attention almost all the time, it was hard for anyone to find some time for themselves, let alone finding time to spend with their mate. “She is down in the north end of the bay checking on how her piiquid and the local marine life are doing.”

“Is it not exciting, Mattwa?” EJ asked, a huge smile on his face. “Imagine, Europian piiquid and randar plants living alongside Earth’s marine life, cleansing our oceans, solving the overfishing problem.”

“That it is,” Europa said. “Who would have imagined that Creeno’s implosion would eventually lead to the saving of this planet too? Go, enjoy some time with your mate. The girls will be asleep for at least another hour and KaaZee can help me if they wake up before you return.”

“Thanks, Mattwa,” EJ said, hurrying over, kissing his mother on the forehead, then rushing out of the room. He ran out the backdoor, down the steps and across the yard, removing his clothes as he went. When he reached the bay, he dove into the waves, transformed into a dolphin, and quickly located the position where Medi was. He flicked his tail and propelled himself toward her, clicking and squeaking as he went so as not to surprise her. He swam behind her, gently nipping her buttocks with his mouth.

“EJ, stop that,” Medi giggled, knowing only her husband would be brash enough to nibble her buttocks as a dolphin. “I’m working here.”

EJ rose to the surface, taking in a breath, rubbing up alongside his mate. He swam around her, clicking with joy. Suddenly, something caught his eye. Diving down, he gathered up his strength and leapt into the air, over the barrier and into the partitioned section of the bay where Med’s piiquid lived. Quickly swimming after the fish that had caught his eye, he chased and grabbed it, holding it tightly in his mouth as he dove back over the barrier. Changing into human form, he took Medi’s hand and led her to shallower water, the fish still in his mouth.

“EJ, what are you doing?” she laughed upon seeing her mate standing there with the fish.

EJ held his mate’s hand out, removed the fish from his mouth and placed it upon her palm. “It appears, Lovely Lady, that your piiquid pen has been invaded by some aliens – a small school of sardines. They appear to be living quite happily beside your piiquid.”

“I know,” Medi beamed. “Isn’t it fantastic? I also saw some crabs, slugs, anemones and sea cucumbers inside the pen. They are living together and some are even eating the randar plants.”

“What about the natural plants”” EJ asked. “Do any of them show being stressed by the alien species?”

“No, none what so ever,” Medi smiled. “The randar plants seem to be very content living beside Earth’s plants. I’ve been able to detect no lessening of the plant life or a lack of nutriments in them. The randar plants are a little shorter than the native gasses, so they don’t seem to interfere with the native plants’ growth. And since the piiquid do not eat Earth’s plants, there is no impact upon the local marine life.”

“But you said some of Earth species are eating the randar plants,” EJ stated. “If Earth’s wildlife eat the randar plants, what will happen to the piiquid? Will they starve and die out?”

“It appears that the nutrient level in the randar plants is much higher than Earth plants, so the wildlife eats less, leaving more than enough for the piiquid to eat,” Medi replied. “Besides, not all sea vegetarians like it. EJ, this is really going to work.”

“That it is, My Love,” EJ said, taking his mate into his arms, kissing her hungrily and passionately.

“EJ, I don’t have time for this.”

“Shhh. Remember what Grandfather said.”

“That we must always make time so we never forget what we are fighting for,” Medi smiled, leaning forward and this time kissing her mate with desire. EJ scooped her up into his arms and carried her over to the shore, where together, they reaffirmed what they all were fighting to protect. Afterwards, the two lay inside each other’s embrace, the sun shining down upon them. “What a beautiful interruption to a beautiful day,” Medi sighed, feeling safe within EJ’s embrace.

“Something we seldom get to do, now that Kumiko and Cho Gin have joined us,” EJ replied. “I had assumed we would have a few more years to steal away for such activities until the twins grew up, but our new daughters have definitely limited our intimate times together.”

“Are you sorry they’re here?”

“Never, My Love,” EJ said, pulling her closer to his body, relishing the feel of her skin next to his. “We just have to think of some ingenious ways to spend quality time together, just like normal couples do every day.”

“Since Cho Gin is too old to take naps, I fear our times together during the day are going to be very limited,” Medi replied. “And I really need to get back to my experiment, My Beloved.”

“The piiquid will be there later,” EJ said, a mischievous smile on his face. “Besides, if our afternoon times together are limited, I think we should take advantage of this opportunity as much as we can.” He raised her lips to his and kissed her passionately again, delighted to feel her kiss him back.

____________

“Did you have an enjoyable swim?” Kiijon asked, when EJ and Medi came into the kitchen. The girls were having a light snack after their naps. Kiijon felt Europa softly kick him under the table as Medi’s face blushed red.

“Yes, very much,” EJ smiled, a twinkle of delight in his eyes. “You and Mattwa should try it.”

“We did, yesterday,” Kiijon replied, this time being kicked harder. “What? Our son knows we are not celibate, but have a very active sex life.”

“That may be, but I am sure he does not wish to hear about it all the time,” Europa chastised. “And I would feel better knowing our activities remain a secret between you and me, not between you, me and the estate.”

“As does your son,” EJ confirmed

“For Waters, you two sure are prudes,” Kiijon laughed. “Sex is a normal part of Waters’ activity. Something to be enjoyed, not hidden away in secret. You both have too much human attitude in you.”

Ignoring her mate’s teasing, Europa asked. “Midi, how is your experiment coming along?”

“Oh, it’s great,” Medi beamed. “The native marine life is invading the piiquid pen and are living comfortably alongside the piiquid. They are coexisting, neither causing any harm to the other. And the randar plants appear to have no trouble living beside Earth’s plants, causing them no harm. Neither compete for the other’s food source. It’s better than we could have imagined.”

“Have we received a new report from Misso in the past day or two?” Kiijon asked, knowing better than to pursue his line of teasing. “Are her experiments yielding the same results?

“She’s not due to send me a report until two days from today,” Medi stated. “But I am confident hers will state the same – they cause no hardship to Earth’s life.

“So it seems, but we must be positive,” Europa stated. “There can be no doubt that they will not impact upon the indigenous marine life. Where does you experiment go from here?”

“If Misso’s report verifies my findings, then we are going to remove the pen barriers and allow the piiquid to roam the bay freely,” Medi replied.

“If that phase is also successful, we want to allow them access to the open ocean, with your permission, Mattwa and Dattwa,” EJ announced. “We can delay their emergence no longer.”

“And what will you tell the people of this world?” Kiijon asked.

“Nothing,” EJ simply stated. “Since we cannot explain where the piiquid came from, we have decided to tell them nothing. And when they are discovered, we will simply help with the investigation and declare a new food source in the oceans have been discovered. No one never need know where they came from.”

“A risky choice,’ Kiijon stated. “But one I can concur with. Protecting the origin of the piiquid will ensure our race’s anonymity.”

“It will be interesting to see how the people explain the piiquid’s existence,” Europa stated, placing a few more peas on Mary and Amber’s trays. As usual, Mary quickly picked them up and promptly threw them onto the floor where Kitts and Nunz patiently waited for the treats. “I do not think this child is ever going to eat vegetables.”

“It’s amazing the difference between the two girls,” Medi laughed. “Mary will barely touch any type of vegetable. Amber, on the other hand, cannot seem to get enough of them. But yesterday, Doogon cooked some sea bulbs and smashed them up. Mary ate her entire helping.”

“That is because she is an Oonock,” EJ stated, bending down to look at his daughter on her level. “Are you not, Mary? No land vegetables for you.”

“Am I an Oonock too?” Kumiko quickly asked, having never heard that term before.

Too late, EJ realized his mistake of referencing the Oonocks. Everyone was always very careful around Kumiko and Cho Gin, especially Cho Gin, not to mention the words “Oonock”, “humans” or “Europa”. Apparently his afternoon of delight had clouded his mind, thus his slip. But he quickly recovered. “I do not know. Do you love the ocean and everything that lives inside her?”

“Oh yes,” smiled Kumiko. “Especially the sea stars and dolphins.” She grew silent for a moment. “Do I have to love the sea cucumbers too?”

“A true Oonock would,” EJ answered.

“Then I guess I can’t be an Oonock like Mary,” Kumiko replied. “I don’t love sea cucumbers.”

“What’s wrong with sea cucumbers?” her grandfather asked.

“They’re all squishy,” Kumiko answered.

“Do you like sea slugs?” Kiijon asked.

“Oh, yes. Especially the little green one that looks like a little sheep. He’s so cute. I asked Dattwa if I could have some in my room, but he said that they would be happier in the bay. He lets me visit them once in a while.”

“Well, if you really love sea slugs and can at least tolerate sea cucumbers, then you can be an Oonock too,” Kiijon stated.

“And you have to eat raw eel too,” EJ teased.

“Yuck,” Kumiko said, scrunching up her face into a horrible expression. “I don’t like to eat eel either. I think I’ll stay a human.”

The four adults gave each other a startled look upon hearing what the small child said. Apparently, they had not been careful enough about their conversations around the child, something they needed to be more aware of in the future. Although they seldom had visitors, if someone was to hear the small child state she was human, there might be some questioning about what the others were.

“Why do you say you’ll stay human, Kumiko?” EJ asked. “What else would you be?”

“An Oonock like Mary and Spinner,” Kumiko promptly replied.

“And what is an Oonock?” Medi asked, her fear growing deeper.

“Like Grandpa said, someone who loves the creatures in the ocean, including sea cucumbers,” Kumiko answered.

“Did Spinner tell you she was an Oonock or loved ocean creatures?” a curious EJ asked.

“No, she had purple blood,” Kumiko nonchalantly responded, bringing fear now to all the adults’ hearts while she cheerfully ate her melon and sliced bananas.

“Why was Spinner’s blood purple?” a worried Jazee asked, as he entered the room, hearing only the last few sentences of the conversation.

“So I would know that Byakko sent her when she came to rescue Cho Gin and me. And I wouldn’t be afraid that she transformed into the tiger so I could ride her back to her ship.”

Silently Jazee asked, “Who is Byakko?”

“Byakko is a mythical white tiger,” EJ silently replied. “Apparently, Spinner read several stories to the girls about Byakko. And when she transformed into a tiger to rescue them from the Terrians, she told them he had sent her and given her the magical power to transform. She also told the girls her blood was purple because when Byakko blesses you with the gift of transformation, your blood turns purple so all would know who you are.”

“Smart thinking on Spinner’s part,” Jazee said.

“She knew how important it was for us to remain unknown,” EJ stated, a rush of missing his former protector filling his body. “And was always very careful to keep our identity a secret, even when she was dying. She knew that the girls seeing her transform and having purple blood would put not only us, but the girls themselves, in danger. She was a protector until the very end.”

“That she was,” Europa silently responded. “One we will never forget and will always cherish.”

“Can I go outside to the barn and see my pony?” Kumiko asked, breaking everyone’s thoughts of Spinner.

“Do you want some more to eat?” Medi asked.

“No.”

“Then if your father and Jazee agree, I see no objection,” Medi stated.

Jazee nodded, signaling his approval. “Make it so,” EJ said. “Ask Neil if he could come in to get Kumiko. And since I have nothing scheduled for the afternoon, I think we should take the twins outside and play ball with Kitts and Nunz. It’s a beautiful day out there. Then maybe later, Kumiko and Cho Gin can join us and we can all go swimming with the dolphins. Would you like that, Mary and Amber?”

___________

“I believe you can leave the bandages off these wounds,” Wiiguard stated, as he examined Tigglebree’s injuries. “They are sufficiently healed now. But several are going to leave scars.”

“The sign of a true warrior’s exploits,” Tigglebree smiled. “Did you have any luck in securing some new men?”

“Both Master Quinn and Sheik Abdul have men they can send us,” Wiiguard replied. “Although Sheik Abdul stated he is hesitant after what happened to the last group.”

“He blames us for their deaths?” an irritated Tigglebree asked. He truly disliked humans, especially those who thought they were superior over their own kind. Although the Oonock culture had monarchs, lords and ladies, they never considered themselves superior to those they governed or looked down on them with disgust and loathing. It was the lesser Oonocks who actually gave the royals and monarchs their high respect and homage. In reality, all Oonocks were equal and all governed by the same set of laws. There were not rules for the rich and powerful, and another set of rules for the poor or working class. Tigglebree felt that was the way the Maker of all life had meant it to be. “Besides, he got paid handsomely for his help in securing the mercenaries.”

“He mentioned that very thing,” Wiiguard continued. “He feels that since the last group was killed, he should receive a twenty percent payment increase for a new group.”

“Twenty percent?” Tigglebree laughed, not sure at first if his adopted son was kidding or not. “You’re serious? How much money does one human need?”

“I believe he lost quite a bit when the authorities rounded up those who were behind the bounty on young Prince Enok’s head,” Wiiguard replied. “He secretly put up a good chunk of the two-hundred-and-fifty million dollars, all of which got confiscated in the raids.”

“He’s just lucky that his connection was unknown or he’d be using any of his leftover money for a good lawyer,” Tigglebree laughed. “But it will be up to the Master to determine what increase the human will get, if any. Were you able to get any information on the Waters’ estate?”

“Not much,” Wiiguard replied. “The particulars of the estate are carefully guarded. But since a good portion of their property is a privately owned animal sanctuary that has to be registered with the California Division of Fish and Wildlife, I was able to discover that the majority of the property is forest with a section on the southwestern side set aside for living arrangements.”

“There have been a lot of forest fires through that area in the past decade. Has any of the Waters property burned?”

“Not even a blade of grass,” Wiiguard smiled.

“Which means that, with this draught, there is a lot of kindling just waiting to go up in flames.” Tigglebree also smiled, thinking how high the flames would be. “There is no way the Waters could irrigate that much property. And while their technology is advanced, they can’t shield the entire forest from flames, nor protect their homes with shielding without drawing attention to themselves. I believe, Dear Wiiguard, we may have found our way to flush out the Waters. Do you still have a friend that lives in the States?”

“Yes. Cindy. She lives in Ohio.”

“Do you think she might like an all-expenses-paid vacation to California?” Tigglebree asked.

“I’m sure she would,” Wiiguard stating, smiling. “Especially if it involves luxury hotels and a side trip to Las Vegas. What does she need to do?”

“Even though the Waters own that land, they have not lived there forever,” Tigglebree said. “There have to be old maps of the area, showing the layout; where there are hills, lowlands, plateaus. Areas where we can hide shooters for when they are flushed out of their secured homes. I need her to go to the state capital and research the old land maps, give us a detailed layout of the area around the homes. Do you think she can do that? And without a lot of questions?”

“For a free luxury trip to Las Vegas, she’ll personally map it out for you,” Wiiguard replied. Seeing the concerned look on his commander’s face, he quickly added. “But she won’t. I’ll be sure to inform her she is to go nowhere near the property and must be very secretive about what she is doing. Don’t want to tip off the Waters that someone is interested in their property.”

“That we don’t,” Tigglebree agreed. “Just make sure she knows this must remain unnoticed and secretive. How soon can you get in touch with her?”

Wiiguard looked at the clock on the wall. “It’s ten in the morning in Ohio. She should be up. I’ll need to go outside the cavern and, hopefully, get a signal. If no signal is available, I’ll need to go up the mountain higher until I can use one of the human’s satellites to broadcast off of. So, either five minutes or two hours.”

“Make it so.” Tigglebree walked over and looked down into the clear coffin, watching his sleeping Terrian-Oonock leader asleep. “Do not worry, Master. When you awaken, we will have a way for you to bring JeffRa’s vow of revenge to completion. Soon the children and grandchildren of King Enok will flow out into the dirt of this planet. You will succeed this time.”

A HIDDEN TREASURE

Anew, Windar and Tigbee reached San Diego in good time, their time cut dramatically by riding inside a car. They turned east and drove along the US-Mexican border until they reached Imperial County. There, they crossed the border, heading west until they reached the Gulf of California. They planned to hug the coastline all the way down the west coast of Mexico and Central America, cross the Panama Canal, then continue down the west coast of South America. Hopefully, if the Keeper was asleep somewhere within either Mexico, the Central or South American countries, one of the three little advisors would inform them to head inland. On the way, they would take side trips to the Galapagos and Easter Islands. Once they reached the southern islands of Chile and Cape Horn, they would book passage over to Antarctica. They planned to explore King George and Elephant Island, as well as much of the Antarctica continent that they could. If their journey continued, they would travel to the Falkland Islands, then up the east coastline of South America. Once they traveled full circle and found themselves back at the Panama Canal, they would return to the United States, searching it, Canada and Greenland. If the Keeper still was not found, they would select an area in Europe.

As they neared the city of Puerto Peñasco along the gulf, both the kachee and the kallis became very excited. The kachee beat its wings rapidly, flying around the heads of Windar and Anew. Windar’s pocket began to shake from the vibrations the kallis was causing by swimming rapidly in circles in her case. Afraid something was wrong, Windar removed the case from her pocket and stared at the excited creature.

“What’s wrong, Anew?” a worried Windar asked.

“They sense something.”

“The Keeper?”

“No, but something important.” Anew had Windar pour the kallis and its water into her hand. Being very careful not to lose even a drop of water, she whispered to the small creature in her hand then raised it to her ear. “Yes, I understand,” she said, before returning the precious fish to its case. She then held out her hand for the kachee, who quickly landed on her palm. As she had done with the kallis, she softly whispered to her companion, then held it up to her ear so she could hear its response. For several minutes the two talked back and forth, the kachee giving Anew directions of where they needed to go.

“What did they say?” Windar asked, as the kachee took a seat upon the rearview mirror.

“The kallis does not know what, but there is something in the salty waters ahead that is very precious. Something that was thought lost, but now found. In order to assure it is not lost again, we must find it and send it back to the estate, where it will be safe.”

“Anew, we’re in another country,” Swaybuk quickly stated. “We cannot just go off searching for something, then take it back home. There are channels that must be gone through, permits to obtain, and permission to be granted.”

“I know of no such things,” Anew said. “Tigbee, find a place to stay the night close to the water. What we search for is beneath the waves, hidden in a secret cave. We will dive into the salty water and find the lost treasure.”

“Swaybuk?” Tigbee said, asking for instructions on what to do.

“Do as she says,” Swaybuk replied. “There must be something here. Both the kachee and the kallis showed signs of extreme excitement. We have to investigate.”

Doing as requested, Tigbee drove to the gulf and found a nice hotel to stay in. Since they had no idea what they were going to look for or possibly find, they paid for three days. The three travelers went to a local restaurant and had a good meal, picked up a map of the area, and then returned to their room.

Swaybuk spread the map open. “Okay, Anew. Where do we need to look? Can you locate the place on the map?”

“I have no idea where to look,” Anew stated, a tone of irritability in her voice. Did this Oonock not understand it was the kallis who knew?

“Then how are we supposed to find this treasure?”

“We follow the kallis. He will lead us to what must be found.”

“Anew, this area is a protected wildlife sanctuary,” Windar tried to explain. “We can’t just go swimming there. Access is prohibited. We can contact the estate and see if they can get us permission, but it will take time.”

“No, we must go tonight,” Anew firmly stated.

“That’s impossible,” Windar said, looking at Tigbee for support.

“There is no moon tonight,” Anew stated. “We can transform into octopi and swim unnoticed through the waters.”

“That is not acceptable,” Swaybuk said.

“Then I will go without you,” Anew replied.

“How do you expect to do that?” Swaybuk chuckled. “I’m part of you. Unless you can free yourself from my body, where you go, I go.”

Anew huffed, realizing the truth to Swaybuk’s statement. But luckily, she had control of the body, so they were going swimming that night. If Swaybuk did not want them caught by the police, he would transform into an octopus and do as Anew said.

Swaybuk realized he was not going to have a choice in the matter. “Tigbee, contact the estate. Tell them we need King Kiijon to contact the Mexican authorities immediately and tell them we are doing research for EJ. Let’s see. We need something that they won’t dismiss but act on immediately. Ask King Kiijon or EJ to tell the authorities that we believe another body of the deadly bacteria is massing in the Gulf of California. We need to explore the gulf waters and underwater caverns to see to what extent the bacteria has grown and if it poses a threat to human life. Get that sent immediately.”

“Yes, Sir,” Tigbee replied. He quickly dialed the estate and talked with Jazee, informing him of what they needed. “Jazee said he will ask King Kiijon to make the call immediately. They will call us back as soon as they hear back from the Mexican authorities.”

“Perhaps until we hear back from the estate we can search the shoreline,” Windar suggested.

“No. Only the kallis can find what must be found,” Anew insisted. “Kallis cannot travel along the land, but only in the water. Therefore, we must follow him beneath the waves.”

“But we cannot go until we get permission, Anew,” Windar said. “We will have to wait several days.”

“Several days will be too late,” Anew replied. “We must go tonight or they will be lost.” She walked out onto the balcony and stared out over the water lapping lazily onto the beach, the sun beginning to set.

“Why, Anew? Why will they be lost?” Swaybuk asked.

“I do not know,” Anew answered, placing her hands on her stomach. “But something inside this body, here, tells me we must find them tonight. Can you not feel it, Swaybuk?”

Swaybuk concentrated and to his surprise, he too felt the tightening in his stomach, a feeling of ultimate dread and imminent danger, but not danger for them; danger for whatever was out there. He had never felt anything so intense, for he normally did not allow himself such feelings. As a soldier, he was trained to ignore those feelings, but Anew brought those feelings out; and he did not like them. “Yes, I can feel it, Anew. Are you sure we can’t wait a day or two? If we get caught, we can pretty well forget about continuing on our journey.”

“This treasure will help us in our search for the Keeper,” Anew answered.

“This treasure has something to do with where the Keeper is?” a surprised Windar asked.

“Not exactly, but the Keeper is part of this treasure,” Anew answered. “That is all I am able to sense.”

“Then if we are going to break the law and go swimming in the gulf, I suggest we all get some shuteye so we’re at our best,” Swaybuk announced. “Tigbee, I want you to remain here at the hotel, watching us from the balcony. That way if we get caught and arrested, you can contact the estate and tell them we are in trouble.”

“Swaybuk, you’re sure this is a good idea?” Tigbee asked.

“Definitely not, but I believe it is something we have to do,” Swaybuk answered. ‘We can go for a walk along the beach, then slip into the water. No one will see the octopi swimming below the surface. And since sharks don’t like the bay, we should be relatively save in the dark from predators.”

The three slept for several hours, then got up and prepared for their dangerous excursion. Both Windar and Swaybuk dressed in a loose shirt and shorts with sandals, all easy clothes to quickly slip off, then back on when they emerged from the waters. Although they would have some vision under water in the dark, Swaybuk also brought along two low-light flashlights to aid in their search. Checking the beach to see how many people were still strolling down it, Swaybuk determined it was time to go. Windar slid the container with the kallis in her pocket, then quietly followed Swaybuk outside and down to the beach. They strolled down the beach for forty minutes until Swaybuk determined it was safe to enter the water. Quickly undressing, they hid their clothed amongst some rocks, then slipped silently into the water, submerging right away beneath the waves. Windar opened her hand and released the kallis, whose bright glow lit up the surrounding area.

“Anew, tell the kallis to tone down his light,” Swaybuk ordered. “His glow will call attention to us and compromise our search.”

Anew reached out and cupped the kallis in her hand, bringing it to her lips and softly speaking to it. Soon the glow of the kallis diminished to almost nothing as it swam off in a north-west direction. Swaybuk and Windar quickly transformed into octopi and followed the little alien. As they followed the kallis, Tigbee kept track of their progress on his recorder, watching two purple bleeps move across his screen, praying they were not caught by the authorities or eaten by some unexpected predator. He had not informed Jazee of what Anew was doing, a break in security protocol. Swaybuk had asked him not to advise the estate until they had gone, which he was now doing. He knew Jazee and King Kiijon would not be pleased.

___________

Wiiguard almost skipped into the cavern, a huge smile on his face as he placed a large envelope before his commander. “What’s this?” Tigglebree asked.

“The information you requested,” Wiiguard beamed. “And I think you, and our leader, are going to be very pleased. Cindy had no trouble getting the requested information on the estate’s layout. She even rented a boat and took a trip past the estate, which you remember is hidden behind a hill. In fact, it’s so well concealed, that if you did not know it was there, you never would see the entrance to the bay, which is the entrance to the main houses. She even snapped a few pictures for us.”

“Pictures?” a worried Tigglebree asked. “Is she sure no one saw her? Especially taking pictures. That was a risky move.”

“I asked her the same question,” Wiiguard replied. “She stated she was very careful not to be seen. She used a lapel camera, so no one even knew she was taking the pictures.”

Tigglebree opened the envelope and thumbed through the report, his smile become broader with each flip of the pages. “These are fantastic,” he stated. “How was she able to get such detailed reports?”

“She said she just went to the capitol and checked the land surveys from fifty years ago. To avoid anyone being concerned about what she was doing, she investigated the entire top half of the California coastline, claiming to be working on her doctorate on coastal erosion. She even was able to do some research at Berkley. No one questioned her excuse. She even had a young man at the Land Office offer to help her see the difference in the coastline right where the estate sits.”

“That could have been an Oonock plant, a spy trying to determine why she was interested in the area,” Tigglebree quickly stated.

“Although she knows nothing of Terrians or Oonocks, she also thought the young man could be from Waters Enterprises,” Wiiguard replied. “She acted like she had little interest in that area and concentrated on an area further south. He gave her so much information there was no way he was a spy; just a male human hoping to score.”

“Score?” A confused Tigglebree asked.

“Procreate with,” Wiiguard clarified, hiding his smile. For being on the Earth for several millennia, Tigglebree knew little about humans’ social structures.

“We should have no problem launching an assault with this information,” Tigglebree continued. “We can start a forest fire on these ridges here, here and here,” he pointed to three locations on a map Cindy had sent. “The fire will burn down the mountain and cut off their escape route to the north and east. This new queen’s mate must be a poor fighter of battles, otherwise he would not have the tree line so close to his living area. The monarchs will be forced to flee their homes and go out into the open ocean for safety. We can have boats waiting on the waters for them, as well as snipers on this bluff. We will cut them down before they even now they are under attack. At last, Jeanip’s six thousand years old vow of revenge will be fulfilled.”

“A brilliant plan, Commander, one I know our Master will approve,” Wiiguard stated. “There is just one flaw I see.”

“Flaw? What flaw?” Unlike Zeevinn and Attwa, Tigglebree did not become irate when someone saw fault with one of his plans. He welcomed their input, realizing they might see something he did not.

“The human and his children,” Wiiguard reminded his commander again. “With all those weapon discharges, they are bound to be injured or possibly killed. How will we separate the Oonocks from the humans?”

“I have been studying that very problem,” Tigglebree smiled. “Somehow we need to entice the human and his family away from the estate so that only Oonocks remain. We will make sure he wins some prize or receives some award that he must accept in another city, thus assuring his absence. It will be a family prize, one that they all must attend to receive.”

“That could work,” Wiiguard said, as he pondered the idea. He hesitated for a moment, then reported, “Cindy also sent these.” The young Terrian laid on the table several pictures of ground troops.

“What, or should I ask who, are these?” Tigglebree asked, his voice elevated in anger.

“Apparently, a highly trained group of American soldiers protect the forests and the north and east side of the estate,” Wiiguard quietly answered, seeing his comrade’s eyes turning red. “Cindy accidentally stumbled upon them when she went to go hiking through some of the trails off the estate. Apparently, they plan on remaining there for some time.”

Tigglebree pounded his fists on the edge of the table, breaking a huge chunk off. “Damn humans. Always interfering. Sticking their noses in where they don’t belong – or where they are not wanted. Hopefully, when our Master awakens, he will allow us to get rid of a number of them also.”

____________

“What do you mean they’ve gone swimming?” an irritated Kiijon asked as he paced around the room. “I just contacted the President a few hours ago. He probably hasn’t even spoken to the President Hernandez yet.”

“Tigbee stated that Anew insisted they explore the gulf’s waters this evening,” Jazee reported. “That there was something important down there, some sort of treasure they had to find. And it had to be found tonight.”

“Did Tigbee say why it had to be found tonight?” EJ asked, keeping his voice low and calm. Kumiko and Cho Gin were in the next room playing, and Mary and Amber were sitting just a few feet away from her parents and grandparents. EJ did not want to startle or alarm any of the girls.

“No, Your Majesty,” Jazee replied. “Only that Anew was going with or without the others’ help.”

“Damn her! Who’s the king here? Anew or I?” shouted Kiijon, making the twins pucker up. When he saw the girls crawl over to their parents, he realized his voice was too loud and his actions too disturbing. He quickly walked over and sat down on the couch beside his mate.

“We knew this might be a problem with Anew,” Europa stated, also upset. “She is going to do exactly what she wants to do.”

“Not if I order Swaybuk back here,” the defiant king declared.

“And how do you plan on doing that, Dattwa?” EJ asked, hiding his smile. He had seldom seen his father angry, or his mother either. He knew his father was extremely worried about the three Oonocks’ safety if he was acting like this, but there was a tone of amusement in his father’s actions. He wondered if, when he had his outbursts, he looked as ridiculous as his father did now and that was the reason that he often laughed when his son was upset. “Anew has control of his body.”

“I’ll… I’ll…I’ll send Jazee down there to tie her up and drag her back to the estate,” Kiijon announced.

Fearing he might be serious, Europa quickly stated, “And how does Jazee get a tied, six-foot seven-inch grown human male back across the Mexican border without being seen?”

“I don’t know, use a speeder,” Kiijon replied. “Put her and Swaybuk’s body in a duffle bag and carry them over his back.” He looked at his mate and began to laugh, realizing he was being a little ridiculous.

“I would pay to see that,” EJ laughed. “Jazee walking down the beach with a six-foot seven-inch male inside a duffle bag slung over his shoulder.” EJ paused. “Dattwa, I know you are worried. We all are. What Anew is doing is very dangerous not only for them, but for our entire race. But you need to trust in Swaybuk. As he told me when he left, he is a protector and will ensure no one finds out the truth of who they are or what they are doing. If he allowed Anew to do this without our or the Mexican Government’s approval, it must be important.”

Silently, so the older girls would not hear him, Kiijon asked, “EJ, do you realize what will happen if they are discovered and their true identity learned?”

A horrified look filled EJ’s face. Silently, he replied, “Yes, Dattwa. To avoid capture, it will be necessary for Swaybuk, Windar and Tigbee to transform into their true selves and flow out. And if it is over the Earth, we will lose their essence and they will be no more.”

“Yes, we will lose them forever,” Kiijon said. “We will never see Tigbee, Swaybuk or our precious Windar again.”

Europa gently laid her hand on her mate’s. Windar was very special to him, almost like a daughter. She knew Kiijon would have a hard time accepting her demise if that were to happen. “Windar is the Orbs’ Special Ambassador. She does their bidding. I cannot imagine they would send her on this quest only for her to die at the very beginning of it. No, I will not accept that assumption. As EJ said, we must put our trust in Swaybuk and the Orbs. Together, they will bring home our loved ones.”

____________

The small kallis hurried across the gulf floor, scurrying around rocks and plants, dodging predators who thought she would make a nice late night meal. Luckily, she gave off an electrical discharge which kept those who would eat her away. And for any who were not put-off by the electrical shock, she would sting them with her feelers, injecting venom into their system, which immediately paralyzed them for several minutes. Instead of eating dinner, several became dinner for larger creatures.

The two transformed Oonocks swam close behind the kallis, keeping their own wary eyes out for sea turtles, tuna and amberjacks. Although Windar and Swaybuk were much larger than the octopi who were native to the area, they feared their size would not distract a hungry predator from nipping off an arm or two.

They followed the small kallis for an hour until they reached a stone wall. Since they were underwater, Swaybuk did not know if they were still in the lagoon or out in the ocean. He watched as the little kallis swam back and forth along the rock face, as if searching for something. Then in an instant, it was gone.

“What happened?” Swaybuk asked. “Where did she go? Did she get eaten or something?”

“No, no predator of this world can eat a kallis,” Anew calmly stated, not at all alarmed that her little scout had suddenly vanished. “I am sure she will return shortly.” And that she did. Just as quickly as she had vanished, she now reappeared and swam straight to Anew’s ear, whispering the news of what she had found. “She states she has found the treasure and we must follow her.”

“Follow her where?” Swaybuk asked. “Where did she go?” Swaybuk swam along the rock wall looking for some sort of opening.

“It’s right here,” Anew stated, as she placed Swaybuk’s hand through the supposedly solid wall before them.

“I stand corrected,” Swaybuk admitted, staring in awe at the concealed opening. As the kallis swam inside again, Swaybuk with Anew and Windar followed. They swam through a narrow corridor, having to squeeze through in several places. Then, to their amazement, the corridor opened into a large, secluded cave.

“We have arrived,” Anew announced. “You may change back into your normal form.”

Both Windar and Swaybuk transformed into humans, taking in the wonder of the place. There was no beach, no shallow area, just the cave. It appeared to be about a mile long and a half mile wide, but the ceiling was low, only about twenty feet above them. And it was not a solid ceiling, but a partial one; the center was hollow, showing the tiny dots of hundreds of stars above. They could hear no sounds of civilization, so for the moment they assumed they were not close to any cities, towns or resorts.

“Anew, where are we?” Windar asked.

“In one of the Keeper’s treasure caves,” Anew answered, smiling for the first time in her life. She reached down and scoped up the kallis in her hands. “Thank you, dear friend, for finding this treasure.”

“I don’t understand,” Windar stated. “How do you know the Keeper made this? And what is the treasure you speak of?”

Anew held out her hand and pointed to a carving on the stone wall above the waterline. It was the symbol of a porpoise, with a blunt beakless head. A large dark ring encircled its eye and it had pronounced defined black, smiling lips, almost as if a little girl had placed black lipstick on their lips, enlarging them. There was also a dark strip extending from its mouth to its dark pectoral fin. Below the porpoise were two wavy lines, followed by two circles intersecting followed by two more wavy lines. Inside the section where the two circles intersected was a circle with a line extending down.

“A vaquita,” Swaybuk softly said.

“A vaquita?” Windar asked. “I’ve never heard of them.”

“No, you probably wouldn’t have,” Swaybuk answered, swimming over and running his hand across the carving. “They died out before you came up from the Complex. They were such beautiful creatures. Always looked as if they had a smile on their face. I got to transform and swim with them a few hundred years ago when we were looking for a place to build Minnos. The experience was something I will never forget.”

“Why did they disappear?” Windar asked.

“Ahhh,” Anew gasped, as she sensed from the carving the fate of the vaquita. “Mankind. A group of people on the other side of this planet wanted another creature’s swim bladder for presumed medicinal purposes. When the large river was damned, the supply of fresh water diminished here, and the creatures with the bladders began to die. Because of man’s desire for money, they hunted this creature without mercy to sell its bladder. This beautiful creature became entangled in the nets and was lost.”

“I still do not understand,” Windar said.

“When the Colorado River was dammed, it changed the amount of fresh water that spilled into the gulf,” Swaybuk explained. “Some estimate it dropped as low as four percent of what it used to be. As a result, the salinity of the Gulf rose dramatically and the coveted totoaba fish began to die off. As their numbers lessened, the price for their swim bladders soared in price into the thousands, making them an irresistible catch. Illegal fisherman used gillnets to catch the last few totoaba and, in those nets, they accidentally caught the vaquita.”

“Why didn’t someone step in to try to save the vaquita?” Windar asked. “Why weren’t gillnets banned?”

“Many did tried to stop their extinction and gillnets were outlawed. A ‘No Fishing Zone’ was established, but either by design or because they did not have the resources, the Mexican government was not able to stop the illegal gillnet fishing. It only took a few years for the vaquita and their beautiful smile to disappear forever.”

“If the vaquita died thirty years ago, why are we here?” Windar asked.

“That is a good question,” Swaybuk said. “Anew, do you have an answer? And what does this have to do with the Keeper?”

“See this sign here?” Anew asked, running her hand over the wavy lines and circle. “It is the sign of the Ancient: the universe connected by a gate at each end – FarCore.”

“That’s the symbol for FarCore?” an astonished Windar asked.

“Yes, Little Companion,” Anew replied. “But it is also the sign of the Keeper. This second circle with a line in the middle signifies the Keeper – always a part of FarCore, yet separate and distinct. He created this cave so the treasure he found would not be lost forever.”

“What treasure?” Windar asked, looking around. All she saw were bare walls extending up. “Is it hidden beneath the water?”

“That it is,” Anew announced. “And here it comes.” She pointed at the furthest location down the cave. Swaybuk and Windar could see something in the water, swimming toward them. As they drew closer, a broad, wide, black smile could be seen.

“I don’t believe it,” Swaybuk said, treading the water, watching several small dorsal fins coming closer. “It’s impossible. They’re all gone. Vaquita.”

“Yes, hidden here by the Keeper,” Anew said, smiling for the second time. “Somehow, he knew this species would go extinct because of the human race and he preserved them.”

“What do you mean, preserved them? Swaybuk asked. “You mean they’ve been asleep or in suspending animation for thousands of years?”

“Yes, hidden away in this cave until the day when they could be released back into the wild, to reproduce and swim once more through waters of this planet,” Anew explained.

Windar watched as eight vaquita swam up to them. Never having seen humans and perceiving no threat, they had no fear of the two two-legged creatures treading water. “Swaybuk, if they’ve been suspending for several thousand years, do you realize what that means? They are pure creatures, with no contaminants. Their bodies have not been polluted by the chemicals that have been watched into our oceans and water streams these past few hundred years.”

“Which means we have to get them out of here and someplace safe, somewhere free of contaminants,” Swaybuk declared.

“But where is there such a place?” Windar inquired. “What body of salt water has not been filled with debris and contaminants?”

“The estate,” Swaybuk immediately answered. “The estate’s bay is the only place where they will be safe. All the harmful chemicals are filtered out of the bay’s waters. Anywhere else, the pollutants in the ocean will kill them within days. Their bodies will not be able to take the amount of chemicals ocean life now deals with.”

“How can we do that, Swaybuk?” Windar asked. “The Mexican government is not going to just let us take these valuable animals. And we can’t let them swim out of this cover or they will be contaminated and die. How can we possibly get them to the estate?”

“I do not know, Windar,” Swaybuk regrettably said. “Anew, is there a way to place these eight beautiful creatures back into suspended animation until we can figure out how to get them back to the estate?”

“No, I do not have that ability as of yet,” Anew replied. “Perhaps in six months, maybe even four, I could. But not today.”

“Anew, can the kallis remain here and keep the vaquita from leaving the cave?” Windar asked. “It is very important they do not go outside. If they do, they will die. Do you understand?”

A puzzled look crossed Swaybuk’s face as Anew tried to understand what Windar was trying to tell her. As the amulet around her neck glowed a soft blue from accessing Swaybuk’s memories, a look of understanding filled her face. “Yes. This particular kallis is blessed by the Orbs and can channel their powers. She will be able to keep the vaquita inside this hiding place, safe for a while. But she cannot stop the destruction of the cave. That you must do, Swaybuk.”

“Destruction?” What destruction?” Swaybuk asked.

“That I do not know,” Anew regrettably answered.

“Come on, Windar,” Swaybuk said, after Anew explained to the small kallis what he needed to do. “We have to get back and contact King Kiijon and Queen Europa right away. And we need to find out what is going to destroy this cave.”

A DANGEROUS PLAN

“President Hernandez, it is imperative that my people remove this bacteria immediately,” King Kiijon stated, trying to persuade the Mexican President to allow a team from the estate to come down and supposedly remove eight containers of the deadly bacteria. Windar had contacted the estate with their news of the vaquita find. Amazed and overjoyed at their find, those at the estate also knew the importance of keeping this find a secret. If the Mexican government found out what Swaybuk, Anew and Windar had found, they would march in and take over, capturing and possibly harming the precious vaquita, and place them in some aquarium for study. That was not what the Keeper intended for the vaquita. He had hidden this group of eight (five females and three males) away so they could someday be released into the wilds, to multiply and live a good life. He did not intend for them to be put in cement tanks and die lonely, unfulfilled lives. No, Kiijon was determined to save this precious treasure.

“Surely, Enrique, you can see that only Mr. Waters’ team is capable of removing this deadly bacteria,” President Onsted stated, his face remaining calm on the big screen. A three-way call had been established so the presidents of each country could talk together with Kiijon and Europa. “His team members are the only one with experience in dealing with this horrific bacteria.”

“Contractors plan on excavating that land in two days,” President Hernandez replied. “The land has already been marked for a new luxurious motel for the many whale watchers that vacation on our gulf shores. Won’t the bulldozers take care of the problem?”

“No, Mr. President,” Kiijon replied. “They will spread the bacteria into the water, possibly contaminating the entire Gulf area. Instead of a beautiful lagoon filled of wondrous marine life, you will have a cesspool and shore of dead animals and plants. And it could take centuries before the marine life could return, thus ending your tourist attraction.”

“Mr. President, we know that, like most leaders, you are concerned for your people and their welfare,” Europa stated, stepping several inches closer to the screen with the Mexican President’s face on it. “And the revenue that comes from all the tourists that come to Baja to see the Gray whales when they migrate is a great asset to your country. This new luxury hotel will bring in even more tourists outside of Gray whale season, but they will not come if there is no wildlife to see, if they are all dead.”

“If I agree to this, can you assure me you will get all the bacteria?”

“Yes,” Kiijon lied. “This bacteria acts like a ball of fish – it stays tightly together in a cloud. That is why it is so deadly. This patch is young, just beginning to form. Its containment will be simple and decisive, but only if we act now. My people can get in and out before anyone even knows we are there, thus assuring no one ever knows of the danger that lurked beneath the waters.”

“Come on, Enrique,” President Onsted stated. “It’s a win-win situation for you.”

“You give me your word, John, that no one will know what was down there?” president Hernandez asked the American President.

“Yes, Enrique,” the President replied.

“And I can count on your silence and the silence of your team, Mr. Waters?” President Hernandez asked King Kiijon.

“On the lives of my children and grandchildren, Mr. President, I promise and swear that no one will ever speak of what is inside the eight cases we bring up,” Kiijon said, fighting the smile that wanted to cross his face.

The Mexican President sat there on the screen, contemplating his answer, trying to determine if he could really trust this human to do as he said, to remove the bacteria in secret and ensure it was all gone. “If I agree to this, might Mexico be raised to the top of the list to get your son’s new power plants?”

Europa saw the disappointed look on both President Onsted and Kiijon’s faces. They had all known this might happen, that President Hernandez might use the situation as a bargaining chip to get the new power plants sooner than they should. “No, Mr. President. This deal is totally separate from our son’s plants. All we can offer you is the fact that we will dispose of the bacteria with no cost to you or your country. Waters Enterprises will foot the entire bill. But I can inform you that our son is training more technicians to build his plants. This will allow more plants to be built at the same time, so your country’s plants will be built sooner rather than later.”

“By your reply, Mrs. Waters, I can tell you are as noble and honest as President Onsted has said you are,” President Hernandez stated. “To gain what they desire, many corporations will bend the rules or compromise. They would have given me what I wanted without hesitation.”

“That is not in our nature,” Europa said, hoping they had not lost the opportunity to save the vaquita.

“A characteristic I cherish,” the Mexican President promptly stated, suddenly standing and smiling. “You are a man of integrity, a man who can be trusted. You have my permission, Mr. Waters, to bring down your team and remove this horrible bacteria immediately. I will have my Director of Security contact you immediately to talk over the details.”

“Thank you so much, President Hernandez,” Kiijon and Europa both said, just before the screen went blank.

“I don’t know what you two are up to, but I have the feeling it will not be bacteria you are removing from that gulf,” President Onsted said, leaning closer to the camera, a very serious look upon his face. “Care to tell me what is really going on? Am I going to regret what just happened?”

“I don’t believe so, Mr. President,” Europa replied, giving him her best flirty smile. “That is all I can say at the moment.”

“Mr. President, if you can arrange your schedule, I might suggest you pay us an unexpected visit in three days,” Kiijon stated, placing his arm around his mate. “I can assure you, you will not be disappointed.”

“Three days it is,” President Onsted answered. “And Your Majesty, might I suggest you have a few bottles handy of that delicious wine your vineyards make. I have the feeling I might need a few glasses of it.”

“Will do, Mr. President,” Kiijon replied. Then that screen also went blank.

“We did it,” Europa yelled, excitement surging through her body. “We got permission. We are bringing the vaquita home.”

“We have much to do,” Kiijon said, quickly kissing his mate before taking her hand and running from the room. “Jazee, tell TJ it’s a go and to prepare the cargo plane for liftoff. As soon as we hear from the Mexican Director and get the final okay, he’s to take off and get down there.”

“Yes, Sire,” Jazee said, hurrying behind his monarchs.

____________

“Yes, Sir,” Tigbee replied. “We will expect Prince TJ and his team in three hours.” After concluding his conversation with Jazee, Tigbee turned to inform the anxious Windar and Swaybuk of what was to transpire. “King Kiijon was able to get permission from President Hernandez to do the extraction. The President was told we found a small colony of the new, deadly bacteria and that we are the only ones capable of removing it.”

“Did Jazee happen to mention anything about something going on in that area?” Windar asked. “Anew insists time is of the essence, yet we have not been able to discover why.”

“Jazee mentioned that in several days a construction company is going to come in here and start preparing the site for a new luxury hotel,” Tigbee answered. “Had we not discovered the Keeper’s hiding site, the vaquita probably would have been killed during the early excavation.”

“So time really was short,” Swaybuk commented. “How could you have possibly known that, Anew?”

“Know what?”

“That this shore was going to be torn apart?”

“The Earth Orbs are in touch with me at all times through the amulet I wear,” Anew said, reaching up and touching the necklace she wore around her neck. “They told me of the danger. They are part of this planet, sensing every grain of sand, every blade of grass.”

“Amazing,” Windar stated. “Somehow they were able to perceive that soon this shore would be ripped apart and remade into something the humans wanted. And it would put the vaquita in mortal danger.” She paused for a moment, thinking of the past. “I wonder how many other times the Orbs have sent out distress calls to the Keeper, only to have them ignored. How many other species that he hid away were destroyed because he was not awake to hear the Orbs’ pleas for help?”

“I’ve been thinking about that very thing,” Swaybuk said. “If the Keeper took the time to hide the vaquita away so they would not perish, it is logical that he hid others away too. And he had to have realized that, over the decades and centuries, those hiding spots could be compromised. If these lives were that important to him, I don’t think he would have abandoned them, no matter how frustrated he became with humans. No, I fear he is not asleep, Windar. Something happened to the Keeper.”

“I agree,” Anew stated. “He would not have left his treasures alone, without his protection.”

“You said earlier, Anew, that this lost treasure would help us find the Keeper,” Swaybuk said. “Did the vaquita tell you were to look, or possibly, where he is?”

“No,” Anew answered. “They have been asleep for a long time. They have not seen the Keeper since the day he took them from the waters and placed them inside the cave. But it is the cave itself that gives us the clue. If he built one, he built many. We just need to discover which lives he saved.”

A confused look covered Swaybuk’s face as he tried to make sense out of what Anew had said. He turned to look at Windar, whose face lit up with understanding. “Other extinct species. We need to discover what other species of plants or animals have gone extinct in the past two thousand years. The Keeper would have tried to save them and built other secured areas to hide then in.”

“Windar, that’s a lot of plants and animals you’re talking about,” Swaybuk commented.

“Not really. Remember, it is only those plants and animals who went or almost went extinct because of humans. Those that perished due to natural selection or disasters would not qualify.”

“But we are still dealing with thousands,” Swaybuk said. “Two years is not enough time to backtrack all those extinctions.”

“No, but we have our little friends,” Windar stated. “Then can give us a general direction, and then we could determine what animals in that area went extinct because of humans.”

“I’ll ask Prince TJ to bring us a list of North and South American animals, as well as the Antarctic, that have gone extinct in the past two to three thousand years,” Swaybuk announced. “Even though the Ancients have not heard from the Keeper in two thousand years, it seems he somehow foresaw species that would terminate in the future.” Swaybuk noticed a delighted, mischievous smile fill Windar’s face. “What are you thinking, Windar?”

“I was just thinking how wonderful it would be if somewhere on this planet the Keeper hid in suspended animation woolly mammoths and sabretooth cats. Can you imagine if we could bring some of them back to life?”

“No, I cannot. Hopefully the Keeper has preserved nothing any bigger than the vaquita. I don’t even want to imagine what it would be like to smuggle a full grown mammoth out of a foreign country. Or subdue a sabretooth cat. Tigbee, you said the cargo plane with the equipment and Prince TJ should be here in around three hours?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Then I suggest we go enjoy a good meal until they arrive, and possibly an hour or so of sleep,” Swaybuk stated. “I would assume the Mexican police will have to inspect the plane and the equipment, check the passengers’ passports and the team’s permits. I estimate that will make their arrival in about four and a half hours. What do you think, Tigbee?”

“I estimate closer to five hours, Sir. The closest area where they can land is several miles away. It will take almost an hour to drive the big crane and trucks here. And even though we are on a humanitarian mission, I am sure the police will check every nook and cranny for contraband or other hidden items.”

“Anew, I anticipate you will want to start off for a new location once the vaquita are safe?” Swaybuk asked.

“Yes, that would be the logical choice,” Anew replied. “Once the vaquita are safe, there will be no reason for us to remain here. We found this location just in time. Who knows how many locations have already been destroyed or are in danger of being destroyed as we stand here. Time is more important than ever, if we want to discover the clues the Keeper has left for us.”

___________

Forbee landed the huge cargo plane on the dirt road, throwing up a huge cloud of dust as he taxied across the dry dirt. Since it would have taken too long to fly into Tijuana and drive from there, King Kiijon had managed to get special permission for the cargo plane to land just five miles from their needed location. As they suspected, three police cars with armed policemen waited beside their cars in the adjacent field. Forbee steered the plane into the field beside the cars before shutting off the engines. Exiting his seat, he quickly walked to the back of the plane and lowered the tail section. Leading the way with four other guards, they slowly walked down the plank with Prince TJ several steps behind. A tall male in a police uniform came forward, his hand outstretched.

“Señor Waters, welcome to my country,” the male greeted.

“Mr. Waters is walking behind us,” Forbee immediately stated. “My name is Forbee. I am Mr. Waters’ personal bodyguard.”

“I assure you, Señor, Señor Waters is safe here,” the policeman replied.

“I consider nowhere safe,” Forbee said. “Especially with the recent assassination attempts on Mr. Waters and other members of the family. My men will do a sweep before Mr. Waters leaves the plane, but if you wish, you may walk up the plank to greet him.”

Without hesitation, the policeman walked past Forbee, who quickly followed, keeping an eye on the stranger to ensure his prince’s safety. The other four guards proceeded outside to conduct their security sweep. As the human moved upward, TJ stepped forward, his hand outstretched.

“Buenos Dias,” TJ greeted, strongly clasping the human’s hand and shaking it. “I am Terrance Waters, Jr. Thank you for allowing us to land here.”

“My name is Captain Sanchez,” the human stated, as he released his handshake. “Our President has asked me to assist you in any way possible. Might I see your passports and your permits for the vehicles inside?”

TJ quickly handed the officer the requested papers. “We are on a very tight time schedule and need to get to the location immediately. I thought perhaps it might expedite matters if we drive the two trucks and the crane out of the cargo hold onto the field so you can inspect them.”

“Yes, that would be helpful,” Captain Sanchez replied.

“Forbee, make it so.” Forbee whistled and the three vehicles engines started. One by one, they rolled down the plank onto the field, lining up beside each other. After shutting off the engines, the drivers of the two trucks walked around to the back and opened up the cargo door. Inside were eight small boxes resembling coffins, all with their own environmental controls.

With papers in hand, the Captain walked around each vehicle and checked their VIN and license numbers to the documents he had been handed. “Might I see what is inside one of these containers?”

“Certainly,” TJ replied, hurrying over and up into one of the trucks. He opened the lid to reveal a foam-lined container, sitting in which was a large glass cylinder. “We will be removing the deadly specimens and placing them inside these glass tubes. Then the cylinders will be placed inside these cushioned containment boxes. The environmental controls will be set to ensure they remain cold and in an inert state.”

The captain huffed. TJ wondered if he was impressed by the cylinders or if he had no idea what he was looking at. “At what are these?” the captain asked, as he walked over to the side of the trailer and picked up a diving mask.

“Biohazard diving suits,” TJ replied. “The specimens we have come to remove are highly lethal. If we were to try to gather it using regular scuba gear, we would be dead in minutes. The only way to safely remove it is by wearing these specially designed suits.”

“How many suits are there?” the Captain asked.

“Four,” TJ replied. “One for myself, my guard and two others on my team.”

“One other,” the Captain stated. “One of my men will be going down with you.”

TJ’s heart almost stopped beating. One of the policemen could not accompany them down to retrieve the vaquita. It would blow their whole operation and probably land them all in jail or worse. “Captain, these are very sophisticated suits that require a lot of training to use. Plus, it the specimens are not collected properly, they could disperse and kill everything in the gulf. I must insist that only my men, who are well trained in extracting this menace, go down. I am sure if you check with President Hernandez, he will agree to this.” TJ and the others held their breaths, waiting for the Captain’s answer.

“We will see,” was all he said, as he handed the paperwork and passports back to TJ. “If you are ready, we will take you to the site. I will lead and my other two cars will bring up the rear.”

“As you wish,” TJ replied, forcing a smile onto his face. “Forbee, tell the men we are leaving.”

“Okay, everyone, let’s get going,” Forbee announced. “Kliinew, you and your team stay here with the plane.” Silently he added, “Stay close to the radio. I don’t trust this Captain. Make sure the two speeders are waiting inside the gulf ready to swoop in and rescue Prince TJ, Swaybuk and Windar if something goes wrong.”

“Quibomb and Colvin are already positioned in the gulf,” Kliinew replied silently. “They will only be seconds away if rescue is needed.”

TJ looked down the dirt road. “If this goes wrong, do you think you can bring the plane down to where we will be? If we have to make a run for it, I do not like the idea of being so far away from the plane.”

“Don’t worry, Your Highness,” Kliinew chuckled. “You just tell me you need the plane and I’ll get her to you.”

“Make it so,” TJ replied, as he climbed into the back of one of the trucks, several guards accompanying him. Forbee walked up front and climbed into the driver’s seat. He didn’t know what lay ahead, but he was going to be the one to drive the truck there. As Captain Hernandez eased his car onto the dirt road, Forbee followed behind, followed by the other truck, the crane and the two police cars. Slowly driving over the bumpy road, they slowly made their way to where Swaybuk and Windar anxiously awaited.

Once more in silence, just in case the Captain had planted listening devices in the vehicles, Forbee asked, “Sire, what are we going to do if the Captain insists that one of his men go down there with us?”

“I have been contemplating that very question,” TJ silently replied. “We will have no choice but to take him with us. Once down there, we will have to knock him out and keep him below until the vaquita are all brought out. Then we’ll simply say he might have gotten infected with the bacteria and needs to go to the hospital. Just keep your fingers crossed that the Captain will change his mind before we get to the location.”

VAQUITA

In the distance, Swaybuk and Windar could see a column of dust rising into the air, drawing closer. “Looks like they’re here,” Tigbee announced.

“With a damn police escort too,” Swaybuk grumbled. “Anew, I need for you to listen and do as I ask. Our team is here to get the vaquita and take them back to the estate where they will be safe. But there is a military police unit with them, so we must be extremely careful in everything we do and say. One little mistake, and this operation will be over. I need for you to remain silent and give me full control of my body. At least until we get back down underwater to the vaquita. Then you’ll need to take over again so you can talk with them. Please, if you want to save these precious creatures, do not say or do anything, no matter how much you want to. Can you do that?”

There was no answer. “Anew, Swaybuk is telling you the truth,” Windar said. “If you don’t do as he asks, chances are we are going to fail and the vaquita will die.”

“No, they must not,” a horrified Anew quickly said. “I will do as you ask.”

As Anew withdrew inside Swaybuk, he almost collapsed onto the ground as she let go of his muscle control. He quickly stood up straight. “Give me a little warning next time so I’m ready.”

The vehicles drove onto the beach and over to where the three Oonocks stood, stopping just a few inches from their location. Forbee and the other two drivers immediately exited their vehicles and surveyed the area. As requested, there were no boats on the water and no one on the beaches as far as they could see. Seeing it was safe, Forbee went and opened the tailgate and helped his prince down. Swaybuk, Tigbee and Windar immediately walked up to their prince and slightly bowed. Since there were humans present, they did not offer the customary hand to their foreheads.

“Forbee, have the men unload the boxes,” TJ ordered. “Swaybuk, where does the crane need to be?”

“Right where that balloon is placed,” Swaybuk replied. “There’s an opening to a cave below. We can lower the boxes through the hole down into the water. Once they are filled, the crane can bring them back up and place them in the truck.”

“Forbee, Gormee, suit up,” TJ ordered. “Swaybuk, I have got a biohazard suit for you too. Too dangerous to go down there without one. Windar, I am afraid you will have to stay topside.”

“Prince TJ, I have to be in the water,” Windar silently stated. “The kallis is down there guarding the vaquita until we return. The kallis has to return to me once you are done.”

“Since you are very familiar with the specimens, I want you and Beevine to string that net across the gulf,” TJ quickly said out loud, realizing Windar had to be in the water. But since they did not have a suit for her, he had to think of a reason for her to be in the water. “It will catch any specimens that break away. You need to be on the back side of the net where you will be safe.”

“Yes, Sir.”

The four Oonocks quickly pulled their biohazard suits on. As they dressed, Swaybuk quickly explained where the vaquita were and that the kallis was guarding them and keeping them together, sequestered inside the hidden cave. TJ anxiously waited for the Police Captain to state he needed a suit for one of his men, but to TJ’s relief, the Captain remained silent, just watching what was going on. Not waiting for the Captain to change his mind, TJ and the others quickly entered the water. Before he submerged beneath the waves, TJ saw the Police Captain walk over to the hole the boxes would be lowered through and stare down into the darkness. TJ was thankful that it was too dark to see what was swimming through the water. He just hoped the vaquita would remain quiet.

“If you will follow me, Your Majesty, I will show you where the entrance to the cavern is,” Swaybuk announced. Since that part of the gulf was not very deep, the sun in the cloudless sky shown down upon the water. With the water being crystal clear, the group could see far across the gulf floor.

“No wonder no one ever found this place,” TJ commented. “I cannot see any openings or indications along the shoreline to indicate a cave of any kind.”

“If it had not been for the kallis and Anew, we never would have found it,” Swaybuk answered.

“Where is Anew?” TJ asked. “I thought she was inside you.”

There was silence. Anew did not say a word. Then Swaybuk remembered he had instructed her not to speak. “It’s okay, Anew. You can talk now that we are below the waves. The humans cannot hear us down here. This is Prince Terrance, or Prince TJ. Forbee is his bodyguard and the other team member is Gormee. They will help us safely remove the vaquita and take them back to the estate, where they will be safe.”

“This treasure cannot be lost,” Anew stated.

“I assure you, they will not,” TJ replied. “Now where is that opening?”

“Right over here,” Swaybuk answered, swimming to a dark spot on the rock. TJ and the others were astonished when Swaybuk passed right through. The rock face was an optical illusion, hiding the entrance in plain sight. TJ, Forbee and Gormee quickly slid inside, clicking on their lights in the low lit area. Continuing to follow Swaybuk, they swam through the tunnels, amused as Swaybuk struggled to squeeze through one particularly small opening, but soon they all were treading water inside the cave.

TJ and the other two looked around, amazed at the sight before their eyes, surprised at the size of the cave. There was just enough light coming in though the ceiling’s opening to give them an idea of the cave’s dimensions. As they looked up, they saw one of the containment boxes already suspended over the opening, waiting to be lowered and the precious treasure placed inside.

The sound of splashing water averted TJ and the other’s attention away from the overhead box. Slowly swimming toward them was a soft glow, gliding silently beneath the waters. To get a better view, the four ducked beneath the water and saw a fancy, colorful large goldfish swimming toward them.

“Is that the kallis?” an excited TJ asked. He had never seen one before, but had heard stories about them. It was beautiful. He wondered how different it looked from its true self, the way it looked on Europa. He and the others looked around expecting to see the vaquita following, but they were nowhere in sight. “Where are the vaquita, Anew?”

The kallis stopped several feet before the group, waving its fins in the water, neither proceeding nor retreating. “Yes, it is I, Little Friend,” Anew answered to a question. “Swaybuk, we need to take off our helmets. The kallis cannot tell it is us and is therefore unwilling to bring the vaquita out. All must take off their swimming masks and show the kallis we are friendly.”

Immediately, Swaybuk removed the biohazard helmet so the kallis could see it truly was him and Anew. The other three did the same. Now assured they were friendly, the kallis swam off. Within minutes they saw the kallis’ light returning, and several dorsal fins visible behind him. The eight vaquita swam around the group, quietly clicking and whistling, as if they knew their voices must not be heard by those above.

TJ reached out and gently touched one. “I cannot believe it. I am actually touching a vaquita. I feel in love with them the first time I saw a picture of them and their warm smile. My heart ached when I learned they had all disappeared before our return to Earth.” He quickly wiped away a tear. “Okay, let us get them crated up and back to the estate before these eight are lost too. Forbee, have Brayniff lower that box and keep them coming. But tell him to keep the last one suspended up there to block the good Captain’s view of what we are really doing down here. He is too curious and may pose a problem.”

“Aye, Sire,” Forbee replied. He immediately contacted the crane operator and conveyed TJ’s instructions. Within seconds, they heard the gears of the crane moving as the first box was lowered into the cave.

Once the box settled upon the water, it was quickly untied and the signal was given to withdraw the safety ropes so another box could be lowered. Forbee and Gormee quickly opened the lid and withdrew two of the glass pipes. They removed the pipes’ lids and sank them below the waterline, filling each with saltwater. After closing the lids and resealing the pipes, they vigorously shook them and like magic, a fake red bacteria appeared inside each, complete with several fish bones. They quickly placed the pipes back inside and repeated the process with the other pipes. Soon, all were filled with the fake bacteria and back into the container, the illusion complete. Seeing the container was ready, TJ opened the end to reveal another chamber below.

“If our inquisitive Captain opens one of the containers, all he will see is red water, and possibly some dead fish and invertebrates,” TJ said. “The vaquita will be hidden safely in a secret compartment below the water.”

“Are they going to travel that way all the way back to the estate? Swaybuk asked.

“No, once we have them safely aboard and have lifted off, we will open up the containers and remove the false bacteria,” TJ replied.

“Ingenious.”

“Anew, I need one of the vaquita to swim inside,” TJ instructed. “Tell him or her not to be afraid. They will be lying in a few inches of water and will be able to breathe with no problems.”

Anew slipped beneath the water and told the first vaquita and the kallis what it needed to do. The kallis swam forward, leading the first vaquita into the containment box, then quickly swam back out before the end was closed. Anew looked doubtfully at the containment boxes. “I am not sure this is the best way to remove the treasure. It is too dangerous. And too small. They could drown.”

“No, they can’t, Anew,” Swaybuk stated. “The water on top is a decoy, something to hide the true value that is inside. The section where the vaquita lie has lots of air.” He pointed to an electrical panel and tubes at the end of the box. “See these? They will supply a continuous supply of air to the vaquita so they can breathe. There is also a mild sedative mixed in the air that will keep them calm. You need to trust me, Anew. This is the only way to get them past the humans above.”

“Where is Windar?” Anew asked.

“She is above, waiting a safe distance away for the return of the kallis,” Swaybuk answered, hoping that would satisfy the Ancient. Thankfully, it did. The first vaquita safely inside, Forbee and Gormee quickly placed holding straps around the box while TJ set the side controls.

The next six vaquitas were quickly and safely led into the containment boxes by the kallis and secured. Now only one remained, which meant the last box would have to be lowered, giving the Police Captain the opportunity to see down into the chamber. The four Oonocks quickly placed their biohazard helmets back on, thus continuing the illusion of the deadly bacteria. Brayniff lowered the last container into the cave, and as expected, the Captain stepped forward and peered inside.

“You guys doing okay down there?” the Captain asked. TJ nodded and gave the okay sign with his fingers.

“Mr. Waters says they have been able to gather almost all the bacteria,” Brayniff relayed. “They have just one small patch to gather toward the back of the cave. Señor, if I can ask you to move, I need to start bringing up the containers.” The Captain stood there for a moment, trying to see what was going on. As he watched, he saw two of the men float a container box across the water, just below the opening. They connected the cable to the tie ropes, then held on to the box, treading water for what seemed like forever, waiting for the Captain to move so the box could be raised. Finally, he moved, and Brayniff slowly lifted the containment box to the surface. Once it cleared the opening, he swung it over to the side and placed it on the ground for the forklift to pick up and load onto one of the trucks.

“Un momento, Señor,” the Police Captain suddenly said, as he stepped in front of the fork lift. “I need to see inside the boxes before they are loaded onto your truck.”

“Captain, we have no way of opening the boxes,” Brayniff said, as his men unhooked the box. “Only Mr. Waters has the key. Plus, it is way too dangerous to open the boxes. There could be loose bacteria that could become airborne and kill you where you stand.”

“That is a risk I am willing to take,” the Captain said. “Open the box.”

“Mr. Waters, we have a problem up here,” Brayniff announced in his microphone. “Captain Sanchez insists that he needs to see inside the box we brought up before he will allow us to load it onto the truck. He wants it opened now.”

“Does he know how dangerous that is?” TJ asked.

“Yes, Sir,” Brayniff replied. “He still insists on seeing inside.”

“Tell him I will be up on the fourth box,” TJ stated. “Tell him I advise against this and take no responsibility for his or his men’s welfare.”

“I will tell him, Sir, but I don’t think he really cares,” Brayniff said.

“We need to hurry,” TJ announced, as he tied the next box to the cable and signaled for it to be brought up. “I have the feeling something is going to go wrong once we get all eight boxes up there. Swaybuk, I need you to set the controls on the last box. Set them at 4.23 dgi, a flow of 8.3, with a fix of 12. Anew, tell the kallis to go immediately to Windar once the last vaquita is inside. Brayniff, tell Windar to get back to the car as soon as she gets the kallis. Swaybuk and Tigbee, if there’s a problem, like I think there is going to be, you need to get to that plane and take off without us.”

“That is not acceptable,” Anew stated. “We must continue on our journey.”

“Don’t worry, Your Highness,” Swaybuk replied. “We’ll be on the plane if need be. I’ll explain it to her.”

Two more containers were raised up. When the fourth one was ready, Forbee climbed several feet up the cable and grabbed the hand strap, thus keeping his weight off of the box. TJ stood on top of the container and held onto the cable. Together, monarch and protector, rode up to the surface. As soon as they cleared the hole, both Forbee and TJ jumped down. TJ tore off his mask and stomped over to the Captain.

“Captain Sanchez, what is going on here?” he demanded. “Why aren’t my boxes of bacteria loaded onto my trucks? Do you know how dangerous this stuff is? We have approval from your President not to be interfered with.”

“Plans change,” Captain Sanchez said, as he withdrew his weapons. As TJ looked around, he saw all nine policemen had drawn their weapons. “I need for the other four boxes to be brought up. And while we wait, I want you to open the four already up here.”

“Captain, it is too dangerous to open the boxes,” TJ protested.

“I said I want those four boxes opened,” the Captain repeated, taking several steps forward and placing his gun alongside TJ’s head. “And I want it done now.”

“Stand down, Forbee, the rest of you,” TJ instantly said silently to those sworn to protect him. “We can do nothing until the other four containment boxes are brought up along with Swaybuk and Gormee. And we cannot leave without Windar, who I believe is on her way back here. Stay calm and on your toes. Our opportunity to secure the vaquita and get out of here with everyone alive and unharmed will be upon us soon.” TJ, accompanied by his constant protector, walked over to where Brayniff sat the last container beside the first three. “Am I to assume we will not be leaving with our bacteria?”

“That depends of what is inside,” the Captain stated.

“You idiot, it’s deadly bacteria that can kill everything on this planet,” Forbee shouted.

The Captain looked at the tall guard. “You, Forbee? Stand over there.”

“My place is at Mr. Waters’ side,” Forbee defiantly stated, standing taller, puffing out his chest.

“I said stand over there,” the Captain yelled, his patience finally growing thin as he now aimed his weapon at Forbee.

“Actually, Captain, I need Forbee’s help to open the boxes,” TJ quickly stated, fearing for Forbee’s life. “I cannot do it alone.”

“Then get over and help your employer,” the Captain said.

“Captain, I suggest you and your men stand over there by your cars,” TJ stated, as he and Forbee placed their biohazard masks back on. “This could go terribly wrong.”

Forbee and TJ both could see the other policemen take several steps backwards, uneasy about what their captain was doing. Forbee saw a way for them to get the upper hand once the other containers were brought up.

“If you give me one more reason not to open the boxes, or say one more thing to delay, I am going to put a bullet through your guard’s head,” the Captain angrily spat. “Open them. NOW!”

Trying to go as slow as possible, TJ entered his code into the padlock. Forbee stepped forward and entered his code. Both males placed their keys into the two locks and turned them once the light on the panel turned purple. TJ lifted the lid and stepped aside. The Captain stepped forward and peered into the containment box. All he saw were six glass pipes filled with seawater, with splashes of red floating through it – the false bacteria. Taking his weapon, he hit one of the pipes, making the water jiggle inside. Suddenly, three half decomposed fish floated to the surface, their flesh white, the eyes bulging out, portions of their skin and flesh gone. The captain gasped and took a step backwards, surprised by the unexpected appearance of the dead fish.

“As you can see, this bacteria is very lethal,” TJ said, in response to the Captain’s response. “Anything that comes in contact with it dies a horrible death.”

The Captain motioned his weapon toward the next box as the fifth container was brought up by the crane and placed next to the others. Forbee and TJ walked over, repeated the process and opened up the second container. Instead of jostling one of the pipes, this time the Captain reached down and picked up a stick. He walked over and pulled off one of Forbee’s biohazard gloves and placed it on his own hand. He then returned to the second box, pushed the first pipe to the side and jammed the stick down inside the box to see the depth. Holding his finger on the stick at the spot where it reached the top of the box, the Captain took the stick and held it to the side of the containment box and saw that it was the same depth on the outside as the inside.

“Captain, although the pipes are very strong, I highly recommend you not try that again,” TJ stated. “If you break one of them, this entire beach will be contaminated and useless for many years.” Once more the Captain aimed his weapon at TJ, daring him to say another word. “I am sure President Hernandez will not be happy to learn the luxurious hotel, or any hotel, cannot be built on this location,” TJ continued. “And if you are going to do that, then just shoot me now. That would be a less painful death than the one that awaits us if we are exposed to that bacteria.”

“Captain, perhaps we shouldn’t,” one of the soldiers started to say until he saw the look on his commander’s face. The other soldiers once more took another four steps away from the boxes.

“If you value your life, Adolpho, you will not finish that sentence,” the Captain said. “Open the next one, Mr. Waters.”

____________

“Swaybuk, is there anything Anew can do to assist us?” Swaybuk heard TJ ask inside his head.

“We’re working on trying something,” Swaybuk silently answered back. “I’ll let you know momentarily if it works.”

“Whatever it is, do it fast,” TJ replied. “We have to make our move before the last box is brought up.”

“Anew, try again,” Swaybuk instructed. “I know you can do this and I am confident my body can withstand the force.”

“If I do this wrong, Swaybuk, I could blow you apart,” Anew nervously stated. “I have never done this before.”

“But I know, as an Ancient, you have the capability to do it,” Swaybuk encouragingly said. “I know Hygone can do it, and I have seen Prince EJ channel the Orbs’ powers to do it several times.” He pointed over to the rock wall where the sign of the Ancient was inscribed. “Try pushing the water to smack that Ancient’s symbol.”

Swaybuk closed his mind, allowing Anew to take over his body. Although still semi-conscious, he could feel a strange sensation begin to stir inside his body, then flow out as if being expelled from his very skin. Since he was still aware of his surroundings, he assumed the feeling was not of his body exploding, as Anew feared it might. He opened his eyes just in time to see a huge wall of water wash down across the rock face.

“Did it work?” he anxiously asked.

“Yes, I did it,” Anew chuckled. “I was able to create the field.” She swam over to where the blast of water hit the Ancient’s symbol. “Apparently the blast was strong enough to wash away a section of the rock face below the symbol to reveal this.” Anew slid her fingers inside a small impression that was now visible. When she withdrew them, a piece of light no bigger than a tiny pea rested upon her fingers.

“What is it?” Gormee asked, as he now swam over to the wall.

“A piece of the Keeper,” Anew said. “A drop of his blood, placed inside this space to keep the vaquita asleep. This may be why he cannot be found. If he hid plants and animals across this planet to save them from extinction by humans, he may have used too much of his own inner being and became too weak to go on. That may be why he has not awaken.”

“But you think he is still alive?” Swaybuk asked.

“Yes. Unless all of his blood poured out, he will still be alive, in a state of eternal sleep,” Anew answered. She lifted the tiny drop of glowing, Ancient blood and placed it next to the amulet around her neck. Just as a drop of water with a paper towel, the amulet absorbed the precious liquid, causing the amulet to glow brightly for a moment.

“If we put the drops of blood back inside him, will he awaken?” Gormee asked.

“Perhaps,” Anew answered. “But to weaken the Ancient that much, he would have hidden thousands of creatures across this planet. There is no way we can find them all, nor is there enough time to, according to what Swaybuk has told me. But when we find him, I will be able to combine with him and replenish his body.” The sound of chains hitting the side of the rock opening as they were lowered down, brought the three back to the present.

“First, we need to get out of this mess,” Swaybuk announced, as he and Gormee hurried over to connect the next containment box. “Prince TJ, Anew has a surprise for our Captain and his men,” Swaybuk silently said to TJ. “Tell our soldiers that I will be on the next box and to drop when I tell them to.”

“As you request,” TJ replied.

____________

Forbee and TJ stepped over to the next container. Out of the corner of their eye, TJ saw Windar silently crossing behind the soldiers and Captain, unnoticed. Sensing the seriousness of the situation, she quickly scurried over to the car and grabbed several weapons from inside, hiding behind the opened door, prepared to defend her monarch and Swaybuk.

TJ and Forbee stood there, staring at the Captain, neither moving nor saying anything. “Surely you are not going to make me ask you to open every damn one!” the Captain shouted, the stick still in his hand. “OPEN IT.”

Complying with the Captain’s demands, TJ opened the third container, holding his breath as he anxiously watched the stick in the policeman’s hand. If he stabbed between the inside pipes, the Captain would discover the floor was only a few inches thick and laid on top a false bottom. Only around the edges did the floor extend to the very bottom. He walked over and peered into the box, satisfied it was nothing but more bacteria. While the seventh container rose up through the hole, the Captain was too preoccupied with what was inside the containers already brought up to notice that Swaybuk was standing on the box.

“Now,” Swaybuk silently yelled, clearing the opening. Immediately, all the Oonocks dropped flat to the ground. Before any of the police could react, Anew sent out a force wave, knocking all of the humans off their feet and unconscious.

“Tigbee, Brayniff, get those boxes on the trucks and bring up Gormee and the eighth box,” TJ ordered, picking himself up from the ground. “Kliinew, you’re going to have to keep that promise. I need that plane now. We have to get out of here. And find Windar.”

“I’m here, Sire,” Windar shouted from the car.

“Thank goodness you are safe,” TJ responded. “Stay there.” He ran over to Swaybuk who was now kneeling beside the unconscious Captain. “How in the hell did you do that?”

“Apparently Anew has some Ancients’ powers,” Swaybuk chuckled, as he removed the Captain’s handcuffs from his belt and cuffed him. “I wasn’t sure it was going to work.”

“Well, I am damn glad it did,” TJ smiled. “We need to cuff the rest and place them in the shade so they will not cook before the real police get here.”

“The real police?” a confused Swaybuk asked.

“Apparently, these guys thought it was a good idea to intercept us and hold me for ransom,” TJ answered, as he cuffed one of the soldiers not far away. “A decision I believe he will soon regret. You have no choice now; you, Tigbee and Windar must come back with us to the estate. Mexico is not safe for you. We have no way of knowing who was behind this attempted kidnapping or if the government had anything to do with it. It will be something for King Kiijon and Queen Europa to work out. You can pick up your journey in Guatemala.”

The amulet around Swaybuk’s neck glowed as Anew accessed his memories. “I concur. We must leave Mexico. While I do not like the idea of going back to where we started days ago, I too see no other choice.”

“Wonderful,” TJ smiled, smacking Swaybuk on the arm. “Tigbee, follow us and drive your car into the plane. You are coming with us.”

“Yes, Sire,” Tigbee said, jumping down and running to their auto. As he put the car in gear, he noticed a huge cloud of dust barreling towards them, the cargo plane before it. In the distance, the faint sound of police sirens could be heard.

“Let us get out of here,” TJ yelled, as the cargo plane stopped and lowered its tailgate. “Leave the crane. Get the trucks and car up that ramp now”.

Everyone scrambled onto the two trucks, all eight precious cargo boxes secured on board. Leaving the slow, cumbersome crane behind, they drove right into the cargo hold. As the plane lifted into the air and before the tailgate closed, TJ could see out the opening the real Mexican police arrive at the beach.

“I believe we are too late,” the Lieutenant stated, watching the plane soar into the air, too late to stop it.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Captain Chavez replied, a smile spreading across his face. “It appears our American friends left us something to make our trip out here worthwhile.” He pointed to the unconscious humans, cuffed and lying in the shade. “Wake that scum up and throw them all into the back of the wagon.”

TERRANCE’S PICTURE

Overflowing with excitement, Cho Gin and Kumiko stood on the beach and watched as two helicopters hovered over the north end of the bay. Suspended from their winch were two container boxes being lowered into the special section of the bay quarantined off. Waiting below were numerous Oonocks treading water, including TJ, Swaybuk and Windar.

“Grandma, are they’re really por, porses inside those boxes?” Kumiko asked, never averting her eyes from the lowering cargo.

“They are called porpoises, Kumiko,” Europa replied. “As yes, there is a porpoise inside each one of the boxes.”

“Are they our new pets?” Kumiko giggled.

“No, Sweetheart,” Kiijon answered. “These are very special, very rare animals. They are the last of their kind. We are keeping them here so they will be safe. And hopefully, with a lot of luck, they will like living here and have babies so we can have more porpoises.”

“Grandpa, can we go over there by Dattwa and Mattwa?” Cho Gin asked, as she looked over at her parents standing on the shore further down.

“Da,” Mary said, pointed toward her father.

“Not right now,” Kiijon replied. “With the helicopters and all that’s going on, it’s a little too dangerous for you to be out there. But once the vaquita are safe in their pen, I promise we will take you down and you can see them for yourselves. Oh, Look. The first vaquita has been released.”

The two girls strained their eyes to see, but all they saw was a quick blow and then nothing. “Grandma, I’m hungry,” Kumiko stated. No longer enthralled by what was going on in the bay, she had no desire to remain on the beach.

Europa looked at her watch. “It is almost dinner time. I did not realize it was so late. Mary and Amber are probably ready to eat also.”

“I’ll help you take the girls inside,” Teerdomay stated, as she bent down and picked up Mary. “Cho Gin, did you want to go inside and eat now also?”

“No, I’d rather stay out here with Grandpas Kiijon and Terrance,” Cho Gin replied, standing on her tiptoes to see better.

“If you change your mind, have someone bring you inside,” Europa responded, as she lifted Amber out of her seat. “Come along, Kumiko. Let us go get something to eat.”

As the small group headed toward the back entrance to the house, Kiijon noticed Cho Gin standing on her toes. He waited until Kumiko was inside, then quietly announced. “Cho Gin, I believe you are old enough to go with me a little closer. How about we go stand by the big tree along the edge of the bay?”

“Oh yes, Grandfather,” Cho Gin beamed. Taking her grandfather’s hand, she almost ran to the tree. As they arrived at their new location, another two boxes were being lowered down into the water. Although much closer, it was still hard to see exactly what was happening. The vaquita were not very big, only about fifty four inches long.

Terrance noticed that his new granddaughter was still having trouble seeing. He looked around, trying to find somewhere where she could get a better view. Then he saw something and smiled. “Cho Gin are you afraid of heights?”

“No, Grandpa,” the child replied.

“Good, then follow me, Terrance stated, as he walked toward the north side of the large tree beside them. “Jazee, perhaps you could give me a foot up?”

Realizing what the human was up to, Jazee stepped closer, intertwined his fingers to create a foot hold and waited for Terrance to place his foot inside. Once he did, Jazee lifted him up into the air to a large branch not far over their heads. Terrance quickly scooted out onto the branch. “Yes, this will do nicely. Jazee, now Cho Gin.”

“Wait, it will be easier if we are both up there,” Kiijon laughed, hurrying toward the north side.

“And where, Your Majesty, do you plan to go?” Jazee asked.

“Where Terrance is,” Kiijon smiled. “I certainly can’t get hurt in such a big tree.”

“And what if there are snipers hidden somewhere in the hillside, Sire?” a very serious Jazee asked. “You would make a perfect target. Both of you!”

“With the number of soldiers protecting the estate, I doubt any sniper is hiding out there” Kiijon quickly replied, climbing up the tree. “And if there is, let’s hope they’re bad shots.” Kiijon sat down and wiggled across the large branch until he was only a few feet away from Terrance. “Okay, now lift up Cho Gin.”

“I am sure Queen Europa would not approve of this,” Jazee stated, as he lifted the eight-year-old human into the air, her arms held overhead. Both Kiijon and Terrance grabbed a hand and finished lifting their granddaughter onto the branch, sitting her between the two of them.

“Just make sure you don’t fall out of this tree,” Kiijon laughed. “Or your parents will be very mad at me, as will your Grandmother. She’ll probably make me sleep on the couch for several weeks.”

“I won’t, Grandfather,” Cho Gin laughed. “Oh, I can see much better up here. Look, there they are, the vaquita.” As she looked down into the bay, she could now see the distinctive markings of the precious vaquita as they swam along the shoreline, checking out their new home. They even saw them chasing some fish. For the next hour, the three sat quietly on the tree branch watching the remaining four vaquita being lowered into the bay and set free.

“All safe and accounted for,” EJ smiled, as he walked up to the tree, Ospree a few steps behind. A confused look replaced his smile as he looked around. “Mattwa wants us inside for dinner. I thought Dattwa and Cho Gin were over here with you. They were not down by the beach or dock. Do you know where they are?”

“Up here, Dattwa,” giggled Cho Gin, unable to remain quiet any longer.

“What in the world?” a surprised EJ asked, looking upward, following the sound of his daughter’s voice. “How in the heck did you three get up there? No, do not tell me. Just get down before either of your Grandmothers or Mattwa finds out where you are. Your Grandmother will box all your ears, including yours, Dattwa.”

“That she will,” Kiijon laughed. “That’s why this must be our little secret. EJ, Terrance and I will lower Cho Gin down to you.” Each holding onto one of their granddaughter’s hands, the two grandfathers carefully lowered the child down into her father’s arms.

“Oh, Dattwa, we had the best seat,” Cho Gin grinned. “I got to see everything. The vaquita are so beautiful. Can we go swimming with them like we do the other dolphins?”

“Afraid not, Sweetheart,” EJ replied. “These porpoises are very special. They are completely wild. They have never seen humans before Uncle TJ captured them. We must make sure they remain wild so that when they are released back into nature they will know to stay away from humans. Now up to the house and make sure you wash your hands good. And not a word about your grandfathers sitting with you in the tree.”

“I’ll take her up,” Terrance said, taking Cho Gin’s small hand in his. “Let’s go see, Squirt, what Doogon made us for dinner tonight.” Together the two hurried off to the kitchen. Kiijon and EJ, with their guards, followed the two, but walked a little slower so they could talk without the child hearing.

“So the President is still coming tomorrow?” EJ asked.

“Yes, that is his plan when we spoke this morning,” Kiijon replied.

“What do you think he will say about us having the vaquita?”

“I’m not sure,” Kiijon stated. “More than likely, he’ll be as shocked as we were to learn a few still exist. Remember, they went extinct over twenty years ago. Then he’ll probably be upset and possibly angry that we took them from Mexican waters without Mexico’s permission.”

“Well, the attack on TJ and the others can explain that,” Jazee said. “Since they feared for their lives, what choice did they have? They had to leave and bring the vaquitas with them.”

“And why didn’t we notify the Mexican government we had them as soon as TJ arrived?” Kiijon asked.

“We were busy and forgot?” Jazee suggested.

“I doubt the President will believe that,” Kiijon smirked.

“Tell him the truth,” EJ said. “That we didn’t know if we could trust President Hernandez or not.”

“That could work,” Kiijon replied. “The President did say that President Hernandez was very apologetic, stating over and over how he knew nothing about the attack, assuring the President the culprits would be punished.” The king turned toward Jazee. “Any news from Swaybuk yet?”

“No, Sire,” Jazee replied. “They only left a few hours ago. It will take them approximately seven hours before they reach the border.”

“I was hoping they might get to spend a few hours with us, possibly share a meal,” EJ said, keeping a frown off his face as they stepped onto the porch.

“Anew insisted they start pursuing their next location,” Jazee explained. “Now that they have an idea what to look for, Anew feels confident they will be able to pick up the Keeper’s trail.”

___________

Thanks to their advanced medicine and the healing abilities of the Oonock-Terrian body, the Terrian leader’s broken and badly burned body was able to repair itself after twelve days in the incubation unit. Although he would retain several new scars, his internal body was in good condition. A few days of good nutrition and mild exercise would make him as good as new. His outer body, however, was not so lucky. Sitting up for the first time, he stretched out his left arm, making his hand into a fist, trying to determine to what extent, if any, he had lost mobility. He could see that a good portion of the flesh covering his upper left arm was gone, replaced by a deep, hollow indentation. That arm had been pulverized with debris when the Complex exploded, tearing the flesh to pieces. Although able to save his arm, even Oonock technology could not completely repair the muscle or restore all the burned-off flesh. As he opened and closed his fists, he could feel the weakness of the arm and knew that, if he ever needed to transform into an aquatic Oonock, he would have trouble swimming with his top left wing. But he could not worry about that now. He swung his legs over the side. The room began to spin as a cold sweat covered his body, making him curse for probably the hundredth time the weakness of the human body. He closed his eyes and held on tightly to the sides of the table, fighting the wave of nausea that flowed through him.

“Your body has been through a lot,” he heard his Commander say. “Your injuries intensified when you transformed back into a human, so you are going to be weak for a bit. Here is some water. It has some medication to help your body adjust to the injuries.”

The leader opened his eyes to see both Tigglebree and Wiiguard standing on each side of him, a glass of water in Wiiguard’s hand. He reached out and took the drink, quickly downing the cool refreshment, hoping it would help with his cold sweats. In just a few seconds, his nausea disappeared, as did the spinning room. Feeling stronger, he stretched out his legs, testing their endurance, and was quite surprised to see that his right leg, from the knee down, had been replaced with an artificial limb and foot. Apparently, their advanced technology could not save his leg either. He lowered his legs. “Help me down.”

“Sir, it was necessary to replace the lower part of your leg,” Tigglebree stated. “You may find it a bit awkward to walk at first.”

“Help me down,” the leader announced again, this time very loudly.

“As you wish, Sir.” Together, Tigglebree and Wiiguard each slipped an arm beneath their leader’s armpits and helped him stand. Even with their support, he wobbled on the new leg, unable to find his center of gravity. Determined not to be beaten, he took a step forward and almost collapsed. Luckily, his two soldiers were still supporting him and kept him from falling. All three stood there, not saying a word. Even though their leader seemed to be milder since his return, neither soldier was willing to risk his wrath by speaking.

Seeing some papers and pictures on a table across the room, the leader suggested, “Perhaps you can help me walk over to the table.” Again in silence, the three carefully and slowly inched their way to the table, their leader faltering several times as he learned to walk on his artificial leg. Finally, reaching the table, he plopped into the seat, angry at how exhausted he was. He was the Terrian leader, a force to be reckoned with, invincible, beyond destruction. Yet here he was, unable to even walk across a floor without assistance. How times had changed. Once more, he wondered what his life would be like if he had made different choices, if he had accepted the loss of the Oonock female he loved, if he had forgiven, if he had allowed himself to love the brother who loved him so much. He knew that buried deep down inside of him, he loved his brother dearly – and always would. And his son – now a grandfather, which made him a great-grandfather. His third chance for a life that he threw away due to lust and hate. Did it never end? Was it time to give up JeffRa’s revenge? He shook his head, clearing his thoughts. These were the ramblings of an old, senile fool, not that of a determined leader. He had a mission to accomplish. He had come too far to turn back now.

Resting his head on the back of the chair, he closed his eyes and asked, “Tell me everything that has happened. And where are the two children EJ and Medaron were going to adopt?”

“Somehow the Waters found where we were located,” Tigglebree began. “That patoot Jeanip led a raid against us and rescued the girls.”

“That’s not possible,” their leader said, keeping his eyes closed, trying to regain his strength. “Jeanip is dead. He’s been dead for over twenty years.”

“Evidentially, our reports were wrong,” Tigglebree replied. “I saw him myself. It WAS Jeanip. And that caataat Swaybuk was with him.”

“Swaybuk?” the leader anxiously asked. “Was Prince Enok with him?”

“Not that we saw, Sir.”

“What were our losses?”

“Only two Terrians besides us survived,” Tigglebree reported. “We lost over half of the mercenaries. About half of those that survived left our employment after the skirmish, leaving us just twenty. I currently have ten of them exploring the forests outside the Waters’ estate.”

“So after decades of building our army back up, we are back to just twenty five, twenty of which are humans,” the leader sighed.

“I am afraid so,” Tigglebree answered. “But we can always hire more mercenaries.”

“You did not say what happened to the girls.” He held his breath, hoping this too was not bad news.

“As far as we were able to determine, they escaped with no injuries,” Wiiguard stated. The soldier reached across the table and picked up one of the photos and placed it in front of his leader. “One of our scouts was able to take this picture of them when they went into town with their mother.”

“They went into town?” a surprised leader asked, opening his eyes, sitting forward and picking up the picture. “That is highly unusual.”

“Yes. As far as we can tell, it is the only time and we just happened to be there to take the picture,” Tigglebree stated. “Some special celebration for the littlest one.”

“So, this is Medaron, EJ’s mate and Terrance Lander’s daughter,” the injured male said, a tone of awe and regret audible in his voice. Both soldiers noticed and contributed it to their leader being tired and probably in immense pain. “Do you have pictures of others? Do you have a picture of Terrance?”

“Yes, Sir,” Wiiguard said, wondering why their leader had this fascination with the male human. He handed a picture of Terrance to his leader. “Here you can see Terrance and his mate with the children. The rest are all guards. None of the immediate Waters family were in attendance.”

The weakened Terrian stared at the picture in his hand as he desperately fought back the tears that wanted to fill his eyes. He noted that Terrance was a little gray around the temples and his hair had thinned some. He was what, almost fifty now? Of course his hair would be gray. But he looked in astonishing good health for a fifty-year-old human. Then he noticed it – something Terrance was holding in his hand. A banana split. He had taken his granddaughters to town for a banana split, just like his father had taken him so long ago on that warm day. Unable to control his emotions, he screamed, “GET OUT. Leave me alone.”

Not sure what was happening or why, the two soldiers immediate turned to leave the room. Upon closing the door, giving his leader the solace he desired, Tigglebree noticed tears running down his master’s cheeks. Tears? Terrians did not cry, especially their leader. He had never known his master to falter, no matter what was at stake. Why did he falter now? Had his leader outlived his usefulness? Was it time for him to step down or be forced to? He would keep an eye on his leader and see if this weakness continued. Even though there were only five of them remaining on the planet, better to have four with a good leader than five Terrians with a weak one.

THE PRESIDENT’S VISIT

“Okay, what did you really take out of Mexico and how much diplomacy am I going to need to fix this problem?” President Onsted asked, as he stepped off his helicopter with General McDouglas. “And don’t even pretend it was that damn bacteria that has this world living in terror.”

“No sense trying to fool you, Mr. President,” Kiijon said, as he extended his hand and shook the President’s.

“Please believe us when we say it was not our intention to deceive either yourself or President Hernandez,” Europa added, also shaking the President’s hand. “What our team found was of the utmost urgency and required immediate, secret recovery.”

“I ask again, Your Majesty, what did they take?” a serious President asked.

“If you would come this way, we will show you,” Europa replied, slipping her arm inside Kiijon’s as the two walked across the yard and down to the ocean shore.

“Mr. Kruger, if you and your men will wait for me here at the chopper,” the President stated. Before his Secret Service guardsman could object, he added, “Trust me. There is no place safer than this estate. Not even inside the White House is safer than the land you stand on now. Come, Tony. I have the feeling I am going to need your consultation on this one.”

The President and General followed the two monarchs. As they neared the location of the pen, both men could see movement in the water. Then several small blows as the secret treasure surfaced to breath.

“Whales?” a confused President asked. “You brought whales from Mexico?”

The General stepped closer, the tips of his shoes touching the water. He strained he eyes, then gasped. “I don’t believe it. It’s not possible.”

“What don’t you believe” a still confused President asked. “What’s not possible?”

“Vaquitas.”

“Vaquitas?” the President questioned. “No, Tony. Vaquitas died out long ago.”

“No, Mr. President,” the General replied, turning to stare at the monarchs, wondering how they managed such a miracle. “In my younger days, as a college student, I helped fight to save the vaquita. I would know that warm smile anywhere.” He turned toward Kiijon and Europa, tears clearly visible in his eyes. “How did you find them? And where?”

“An Ancient named Anew found them, with the help of a small goldfish,” Europa softly whispered, watching the eight vaquitas swim past.

“What’s an Ancient?” the President asked.

Europa sipped her arm out of Kiijon’s and into the President’s. “Much has happened here in the past few weeks,” Europa said, as she began to lead the President toward the house. “Come inside. I am sure Doogon has some delicious muffins waiting for us along with coffee and iced tea. We will tell you all about Anew and her little friends.”

____________

Tigglebree knocked on the door and entered when he heard his leader announced to enter. He was glad to see him sitting at the table going through the pictures and reports. “Wiiguard’s friend obtained some good surveillance photos and territorial maps,” his leader said, as the Commander entered the room. No mention was made of the earlier emotional display. “Your plan for the forest fire seems sound. Have you devised a way to ensure Terrance Landers and his family’s safety?”

Tigglebree wish he could ask his master why this particular human, a human who was friends with their sworn enemy, was of such interest. But as a subordinate, that was not his business. “I believe so, Sir. We thought of having Young Mr. Landers win a vacation somewhere, but since he never enters contests, they might see the win as someone’s attempt to reach the Waters or Landers families. Plus, the families are still under top security, so it is very doubtful they would leave the estate for an extended period of time. It wasn’t until I saw the photograph of Mr. Landers eating ice cream that I found the perfect plan: a ‘Favorite Trip for Ice cream’ contest.”

“A what?” a perplexed leader asked.

“A ‘Favorite Trip for Ice Cream’ contest,” Tigglebree repeated. “Open to any child under the age of ten that lives in the state of California. Children from across California will be asked to write a short essay on their trip to their favorite ice cream parlor in California with their grandparents or parents. One lucky winner will be chosen and win a year’s supply of ice cream.”

“And I assume either Cho Gin or Kumiko will win the contest?”

“Definitely,” Tigglebree replied. “And they must attend the winning celebration with those who were with them at the time of the original trip.”

“And what if neither child enters the contest?”

“We will make sure they do,” Tigglebree answered. “In addition to commercials airing throughout children’s programs on television, there will also be numerous fliers mailed to homes. The girls are bound to enter.”

“And if they don’t?”

“Then we’ll have to try something else.”

“It is a good plan, one that could obtain the results we seek,” the leader stated. “It would get Terrance, his daughter, and two oldest granddaughters off of the estate. Possibly one or both sons too.” But he knew that chances were against the twins being allowed to attend the celebration. And perhaps that was as it should be. While they were Medaron’s children and part human, they were also EJ’s children and part Oonock – and the next queens of the Oonock race. Cho Gin and Kumiko were not royal, but Mary and Amber were, meaning they might not be able to be spared. “How soon before we can put your plan into action?”

“Wiiguard’s friend that took the pictures and did the surveillance for us was planning on getting more information today,” Tigglebree answered. “Unfortunately, all roads leading out of town and the ocean area outside the estate were restricted. It seems that the U.S. President was making a visit to the Complex, so security was extremely tight.”

“The President?” The leader wondered what business the U.S. President had with the Waters clan. He had heard rumors that President Onsted was friends with Kiijon and Europa, but he couldn’t imagine a diplomat as busy as the President would just stop in to say hi. Something was happening on the estate, something he wanted to know about. “The President’s visit would mean that Special Forces team that now scours the mountains would have moved down to protect the area surrounding the estate. It would have been the perfect time to sneak a team up on that ridge and be in place for when we are ready to strike.”

“Unfortunately, we had no advance warning of the President’s visit,” Tigglebree replied. “Plus, with only an army of twenty-five, it’s a bit hard to mount a good attack.”

“You’re wrong, Tigglebree,” the injured male stated. “With the information we have, we only need a team of eight, possibly ten to accomplish our goal. Are the twenty mercenaries that are left trustworthy?”

“They’ll give us their loyalty as long as the pay is good,” Tigglebree laughed. How easy it was to buy the loyalty of humans. They would turn on their own families if the price was high enough. Although it was a very big planet for only five Terrians to live, he looked forward to the day they could eliminate the race of humans also.

“Regrettably, we must postpone our attack for a week or two,” the leader announced. “Enok’s children and grandchildren cannot die until this retched body of mine heals. I must be the one to end Europa and Earon’s lives, and they must know it is me who does it, who has won. I cannot flow into the Waters of Life until I see the look in their eyes that I still live.”

____________

“Amazing,” the President said, as he took another bite of his raspberry muffin. “And the vaquita were just lying inside the cave, suspended?”

“Yes,” TJ replied. “Somehow the Ancient must have known the vaquita would go extinct, so he preserved eight of them; eight he planned on re-releasing one day after mankind was gone.”

“And you really believe this Ancient, this Keeper, can save the Earth?” The General asked, still trying to fathom all he had been told. It had been hard enough to accept the fact that aliens were living on Earth, but to discover that an ancient alien millions of years old watched over and protected the Earth was harder to comprehend. The General wondered what else he was not aware of.

“Yes,” Europa answered. “Apparently, the Keeper’s entire purpose is to ensure that this planet endures, along with her lifeforms. But something happened; what we do not know. He suddenly disappeared about two thousand years ago.”

“How do you people know these things?” the President asked in disbelief.

“I can only say that we do,” Kiijon chuckled. “And you must trust us that we are telling you the truth.”

“Some time ago, I put the fate of this world in your hands,” the President stated. “I am not about to change my mind now. Do you think Swaybuk and this Anew person has a chance of finding the Keeper?”

“That we do not know,” Kiijon answered. “But, thanks to the vaquita, they now know what to look for.”

“Speaking of the vaquita, what are you going to do about them?” TJ asked. “Do you have to tell President Hernandez that we have them?”

“I believe it would be best that he did not know that,” the President replied. “At least for the moment. Let him think it was bacteria you removed from his land. Your estate is so far removed from human activity that I know they will be safe. Here they can flourish and reproduce, and, hopefully one day, be returned to the open ocean. For now, it is better the world does not know that they exist.”

“That was our thoughts also,” Kiijon stated. “Not only would it be hard to explain how we came to have the vaquita, it would be impossible to explain their physical chemistry.”

“I don’t understand,” the President said. “What’s wrong with their chemistry?”

“Mr. President, you have to understand that these vaquita were put into suspended animation at least a thousand years ago,” TJ answered. “Perhaps even two or three thousand years ago. The world’s oceans were not polluted as they are now. Their tissues and organs are not polluted with lead, mercury and other contaminants as our marine life is now. Many of today’s marine creatures are filled with so many toxins, that one needs a biohazard suite to work on any dead bodies. These eight vaquita are pure bodies, in every way imaginable.”

“What will happen to them when they are released into the open oceans?” the General asked, realizing that the chemicals that now pollute the salty waters could be detrimental to the new vaquitas.

“That we do not know, General,” TJ replied. “If our plan to clean Earth’s oceans does not work, I fear the vaquitas’ fate is sealed. At their current levels, the pollutants and plastics will kill the vaquita within several weeks. And this time there will be no bringing the vaquita back from extinction.”

“So you have come up with a plan to clean the oceans of pollutants?” the President asked. “And not just the deadly bacteria?”

“Yes, Mr. President, a rather radical plan,” Europa now stated. “One that we are going to need your help with to get the leaders of the world to buy into it.”

“Why do I have the feeling we are talking about something alien?” the President asked, almost chuckling. He anxiously awaited the answer, hoping nothing alien had anything to do with their plan, but somehow knowing it did.

“There is nothing that Earth can offer that will clean up her atmosphere, her land, or her oceans,” EJ began. “But there is something Europa can.”

“Europa?” a startled President asked.

“Yes, President Onsted. Europa,” EJ continued. “When my Grandparents came here six thousand years ago, they brought with them a food supply. They had no idea what they would discover on the planets they would settle on, so a form of sustenance was brought on each ship – something that would feed them on their voyage and something that would sustain them when they landed. It is called a ‘piiquid’, a marine animal that we herd on Europa like you herd sheep and cattle here. It looks a little bit like a hooded manatee and weighs on the average of four hundred pounds. It’s a very docile creature that spends its life grazing along the ocean floor. Besides tasting good, its flesh has many medicinal properties. And the most important thing is, piiquid are impervious to the deadly bacteria and radiation. It was the piiquid that saved our race after Jupiter imploded and poisoned our waters. It was. . .”

“At least that is what we hope,” Europa quickly interrupted, but she was too late. In his excitement, EJ has let slip that they knew what happened to the Oonocks after King Enok left, which meant they were in communication with the beings living on Europa.

“No, Mrs. Waters, I don’t believe that is true,” a worried President stated, staring intently at Kiijon and Europa. “You know for a fact that some of your race survived. That means you’ve been in contact with Europa. Haven’t you? How? Through the satellite probe we sent there twenty some years ago? Is that why your Father and Mr. Landers funded most of the project, so you would have a way to talk to those that were left behind?”

“I’m sorry, Mr. President, but we cannot answer that question,” Kiijon calmly stated. “All we can say is that we know the piiquid were able to absorb the radiation and pollutants of Europa and save her people. We have been testing the piiquid with the new bacteria on Earth and they are able to absorb it also, with no ill effect on themselves. They are able to neutralize the bacteria’s effects and make it inert.”

“I am sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Waters, but this is a matter of world security,” President Onsted said, as he stood up and prepared to leave. “I can no longer be privy to this kind of information.”

“Mr. President, you asked me not long ago to save your children,” EJ said, quickly rising also. “This is how I can save them – the piiquid. They can clean Earth’s oceans and have no impact upon Earth’s marine life. And, more importantly, their ability to render harmful pollutants inactive is carried over to those that eat the piiquid. They can purify our oceans, solve our overfishing problem, and feed the world’s hungry.”

“Mr. President, I have been doing extensive studies on the piiquid,” Medi added. “They are a win-win species. They offer so many solutions to this world’s problems, yet bring none of their own.”

“That statement has been spoken many times throughout the history of man,” the President stated, unconvinced at the win-win situation. “I remember a little over ten years, after much protest by the people of the world, a major oil company was allowed to drill in the Arctic. They assured everyone that every precaution had been taken, that there was no way for a spill to occur. But they too were wrong. Six months after they began drilling, an extremely warm summer followed by an extremely cold winter caused the polar ice to freeze unusually fast and thick. The oil rigs could not handle the ice and two pipelines broke. The result was an unprecedented oil spill – one beneath the Arctic ice. It was devastating and some areas still have not recovered today. Millions, perhaps ever trillions, of fish and invertebrates died, drastically reducing the supply of food for seals, whales, walruses and other animals. Many animals starved to death. Others, their bodies covered in oil, froze when their specialized fur and feathers could no longer keep out the Arctic cold. It’s a little hard to go out and get a polar bear, bring it in and wash the oil out of its fur. Nature up there doesn’t work that way. Unable to get enough to eat, most whale species aborted their unborns. That spring and the following two springs, no whale calves were reported anywhere in the Pacific Ocean.”

“But, Mr. President, that was done for monetary value, one to put money in already rich people’s pockets,” Medi protested. “The introduction of the piiquid is to clean our oceans and feed her people.”

“That’s the same thing that was said in the eighteen-hundreds when rabbits were introduced in Australia,” the President argued. “A new, safe food source. After all, how harmful can a cute, soft, cuddly rabbit be? Billions of dollars have been spent over the years trying to remove these pests as they destroy crops and push out native animals.”

“President Onsted, we know there are risks,” TJ now stated. “And we have studied every scenario we can think of to make sure the same thing does not happen with the piiquid that has occurred so many times before on Earth. Remember, we are dedicated to savings this planet, not destroying it. These are desperate times, calling for drastic actions. We are confident in our conclusion that the piiquid will cause no harm to Earth, her oceans or her animals and plants.”

“We are running out of time, Mr. President,” the General said. “If it’s a chance, we must take it.”

“Might I see what these creatures look like?” the President asked.

“Of course,” Medi smiled. “Right this way. I have a tank of small ones in the library.” She eagerly led the President down the short hallway to the small library that had been converted into her laboratory. President Onsted was quite surprised to see numerous tanks filled with various size creatures.

“So these are piiquid?” the President asked. “They don’t look like aliens. Do they look any different when they grow up?”

“No, Mr. President,” EJ said. “If you would like, we can take you down to the bay and show you what a full grown one looks like.”

“The bay?” A surprised President asked. “You mean you have some living inside the bay, free?”

“We have raised piiquid in the bay for the past twenty years,” Europa smiled. “They are a vital source of our nutrition. We eat them quite often. In fact, Mr. President, you have dined on them yourself several times when you have been here for lunch or dinner.”

“Really?” an astonished President asked. “And I liked it?”

“If I remember correctly, you said it tasted like chicken,” Kiijon laughed.

“And during this twenty years, there has been no problem with the other local marine life – animal or plant?”

“None, Mr. President.”

“And they are impervious to this new bacteria, you say?”

“Yes. We have a group that has been living in the middle of the bacteria cloud we found in the deep ocean for the past three weeks,” TJ eagerly stated. “They show no sign of illness.”

“What is the life expediency of an organism that enters the cloud?” the President asked.

“For a fish, about thirty seconds,” TJ answered. “Almost a minute for an air-breathing animal.”

“They’ve really been there for three weeks?”

“Yes, Mr. President.”

“Very impressive,” President Onsted replied, as he watched the small piiquid swim around in their saltwater tank. “And these creatures truly have medicinal properties?”

“Yes.”

“Do the Oonocks on Europa eat piiquid?”

“Yes.”

“And the Oonocks on Earth?”

“Yes, most definitely. As the marine life has become more toxic, our race has turned to eating more piiquid.”

The President looked up from the tank and looked into Kiijon’s eyes. “Tell me, King Kiijon, has any Oonock ever suffered from cancer on this planet?”

“Cancer, Mr. President?”

“Yes, cancer.”

“No. We don’t become ill.”

A paleness suddenly flowed across the President’s face. “Mind if I have a seat?”

“No, not at all,” Europa said, fearing something was wrong.

The President sat down in a nearby chair, keeping his eyes fixed on the monarchs. “What I am about to tell you no one knows except my wife and doctors, and I wish it to remain that way. As I keep your secret of your true identity, I ask you to keep mine. About a month ago, a lump was found in my body. A biopsy showed it to be malignant. It was an early stage of cancer. I was scheduled for surgery to have it removed and plans were made for me to begin radiation treatments. However, shortly before the operation I made a trip out here to your beautiful estate and shared a meal with you. When I went in for my pre-op, my doctor could not find the lump. It had completely disappeared, along with all traces of the cancer. Everyone was at a loss for words. Cancer just doesn’t disappear overnight, yet mine did. I thought it was some Divine intervention, but now I understand it was Oonock intervention. It was you, King Kiijon and Queen Europa, you and your piiquid that saved me.” The President rose, then knelt down on one knee. He took a hand of each monarch in his, then laid his head between them, softly resting his forehead on the hands. “I thank you from the bottom of my heart, for my life and the life of this planet.”

THE CONTEST

Kumiko and Cho Gin were sitting at the kitchen table coloring with Medi and KaaZee when Staybo walked in with the day’s mail.

“It appears, Kumiko and Cho Gin, that you two each got mail today,” Staybo announced, as he handed the girls a postcard.

Kumiko’s eyes grew wide as she saw the huge picture of ice cream desserts on the front of the postcard. She quickly turned it over and stared at the writing on the back. She wasn’t able to read, but she did recognize her first name clearly printed on the back. “What does it say?”

With a huge smile on her face, Cho Gin read, “Thank you for your recent visit to Aunt Faye’s Ice Cream Parlor. We would love to hear about your adventure with us. In two hundred words or less, write and tell us about your day at the Parlor. A winner will be picked from the submitted letters and will win a year’s supply of a new brand of ice cream we will be begin carrying on October 20th. Hurry and get your essay in today.”

“Oh boy,” yelled Kumiko. “Ice cream for a whole year.”

“Might I see that?” Jazee asked. He securitized the invitation, fearful that it was a ploy to get the girls away from the estate by one of their enemies. Although the chance they would win was doubtful, it was too dangerous for the girls to respond.

“Can we send in our essays?” Cho Gin asked, seeing the look of concern on Jazee’s face.

“I will need to show this to your grandparents and see what they have to say,” Jazee replied. “There could be some security issues involved.”

“No, I want to write a letter,” Kumiko screamed. She grabbed the letter out of Jazee’s hand and ran from the room, down the hall, and out onto the porch where Kiijon and Europa were sitting with Mary and Amber, Medi right behind her. “Grandma, Grandpa, I want to write a letter,” the small, upset child yelled as she dove into their lap. “Tell Jazee I can write one.”

“A letter?” a confused and concerned Europa asked, wrapping her arm around the sobbing child. She turned and looked at Medi for some assistance as to what the child was upset about.

“I’m sorry, Mattwa, Dattwa, she was so fast, I couldn’t stop her,” Medi said, breathing heavily, as she stepped onto the porch.

“What is this letter she is talking about?” Europa asked.

“She and her sister each received a postcard today in the mail,” Jazee explained, now also stepping onto the back porch. “Supposedly, there is going to be a contest to win a year’s supply of ice cream. To enter, the girl must write an essay about their last trip to the Ice Cream Parlor. I told Kumiko that we would have to check with you. This could be a ploy, Your Majesties, to get the girls away from the security of the estate.”

“Kumiko, you have ice cream in the freezer,” Kiijon stated, trying to calm the irate child. “Why do you want more ice cream?”

“I want to win it,” was all Kumiko said. “Jazee is mean.”

Chuckling, Kiijon lifted the small child onto his lap. “Jazee is not mean, Kumiko. He loves you, just like we all do. He just wants to make sure that you are safe. Do you remember when the bad people took you and Spinner had to come and rescue you.”

“Yes,” a timid voice said. She did not like remembering that time. It was scary. And the men were mean to them. Plus, Spinner had died saving them.

“Jazee just has to make sure that those bad men are not trying to trick you with this contest,” Kiijon continued. “I’ll tell you what; you can work on your essay if your Mattwa says it’s okay.” Kiijon quickly looked over the postcard in Kumiko’s hand. “It appears the deadline isn’t for several weeks, so during that time, Jazee will do his investigating and make sure everything is okay. If it is, and this is a real contest, you and your sister may send in your essays.”

“Thank you, Grandpa,” Kumiko said, wrapping her arms around her grandfather, her tears now gone.

“It would make a nice homeschool project,” Medi stated. “The girls don’t get a lot of opportunity to correspond with the outside.”

“But you must realize, Kumiko, that there will be hundreds of children sending in their essays too,” Europa added. “Even if you are allowed to send in your reply, your chances of winning the ice cream are very remote.”

“Oh no, Grandmother,” Kumiko broadly smiled. “I know either I or Cho Gin will win.”

“Cho Gin or I,” Medi corrected her, holding out her hand for the young girl to take. “Come, Kumiko. We still have an hour and a half of school left. Let’s go finish your coloring, then we can work on your essay.”

“Okay,” Kumiko replied, hopping down off her grandfather’s lap.

As she went to go back inside, she heard her mother say, “Aren’t you forgetting something?” Kumiko looked up at her mother, not sure what she meant. “You were not very nice to Jazee. Don’t you have something to say?”

Kumiko looked over at the large guard standing by the door. “I’m sorry, Jazee.”

“Tell him what you are sorry for,” Medi instructed.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you,” Kumiko said, fidgeting where she stood.

Jazee bent down on one knee so he was eye level with the small child. “Apology accepted, Kumiko. I promise to make it a top priority to discover if this is a real contest or not. Besides, if I had been you, I would be excited to try to win a year’s supply of ice cream too.”

Kumiko leaned over and quickly kissed Jazee on the cheek, then hurried inside. Jazee watched the little human hurry back to the kitchen to complete the coloring of her picture.

“Do you really think it is a ploy to get the girls?” Europa asked, once Kumiko was out of hearing range.

“It’s a possibility I must investigate,” Jazee replied. “The girls did go with Terrance, Teerdomay, Medi and Earon, Jr. a few weeks back for ice cream. Someone might have recognized one of them and have devised a plan to get the girls or another member of the family.”

“Or it could be what it says – a contest,” Europa stated.

“That is true, Your Majesty,” Jazee replied. Suddenly, he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Quickly turning, he was relieved to see Terrance walking across the yard toward them, waving.

“Hello,” Terrance yelled as he drew nearer. “What a beautiful day.”

“Yes it is,” Europa agreed. “To what do we owe this visit?”

“I have something for the older girls,” a noticeably excited Terrance replied. “Are they around?”

“They’re still in home school,” Kiijon said. “They should be finished in about an hour and a half.”

“Then I can leave this with you,” Terrance said, as he sat down beside Mary and Amber, touching each one on their tiny hands. “Evidently, the ice cream parlor in town is having a contest. They sent me an invitation for the girls to participate in a contest to win ice cream for a year.”

“Someone is very persistent,” a worried Jazee stated.

“What? You think it’s part of some elaborate plan?” Terrance laughed. But then he noticed the serious look on Jazee and Kiijon’s face. “My gosh, you do think that. Don’t you?”

“It is a possibility we are entertaining,” Kiijon replied. “The girls each received one today in the mail also.”

“Well, this time, Kiijon, I don’t think it’s someone trying to get at us,” Terrance laughed again. “I heard about the contest on the news this morning. The announcer said it’s a new company trying to take over the diary business in California. They’re running this contest throughout the entire state. Every ice cream joint from San Diego to Crescent City is involved. Even some grocery stores.”

“It’s a little elaborate for ice cream,” Jazee stated.

“It’s a little elaborate to run a contest statewide just to get at us,” Terrance snickered. “Sometimes a rose is just a rose.”

“That may be, but sometimes that rose comes with thorns you do not see,” Jazee replied. “Thorns that can cause pain and injury.” He turned to his monarchs. “If you have no further need of me, I will take my leave and begin to investigate this contest.”

“Make it so,” Kiijon replied, also thinking that this time Jazee might be overdramatizing.

“Do you really think Jazee could be right?” Terrance asked, as he handed Mary back her ball.

“I hope not,” Europa answered. “But we’ve only survived this long by thinking the worst of situations. If there is an ulterior motive behind the contest, I trust Jazee will find it.”

That night at dinner, before entering the kitchen, Kumiko stopped and motioned for Jazee to come toward her. She remembered the rule that no business was discussed at mealtime. Mealtime was family time, but she couldn’t possibly eat without knowing what Jazee had found out. She watched in anticipation, thinking the Commander was going very, VERY slow, as he approached her.

“Are you in need of assistance, Princess?” Jazee asked.

Kumiko bent her finger, indicating she needed Jazee to come closer. As he often did, the large Oonock bent down on one knee so the little human could address him. “Did you find anything out yet about the contest?”

Jazee chuckled to himself. He thought that might be what was worrying the young princess. “Nothing yet.” He saw the saddened look on her face. “But that is good news. If I can’t find anything, that means there is nothing to find and the contest is real. But you need to give me a few more days to complete my investigation. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Might I ask, Young Princess, what you plan to do with all the ice cream if the contest is real and you win it?” Jazee asked.

Kumiko leaned even closer to Jazee and very quietly whispered in his ear. “It’s a surprise, so don’t tell anyone. I want to have a big party to thank everyone for Cho Gin’s and my new family and for loving us.”

Upon hearing the child’s words, Jazee hoped the contest was real. But even if it wasn’t, he decided right then and there that no matter what, this precious human child would win a year’s supply of ice cream, even if he had to buy it himself.

____________

After breakfast, EJ and Medi walked with the twins out to check on the vaquita, while Cho Gin and Kumiko went for their riding lessons. So far, the vaquita had been doing very well, but there was still concern over what to do about all the toxins in the ocean.

“J,” Mary said as she held her hand out toward an Oonock emerging from the water. And she was right. It was TJ.

“You are out here early this morning,” EJ teased. “In a hurry to head back to Bodega Bay and see a certain female in Sacramento?”

“Not all of us sleep half the day away,” TJ teased back. “Or stay up half the night making love to their mate.”

Ignoring TJ’s remarks, Medi asked, “How are they doing this morning?”

“Great,” TJ replied. “And I believe we do not have to worry any longer about the toxins problem. Several of the smaller piiquid went through the fencing and were quickly eaten by the vaquitas. I believe our little piiquid friends have solved another problem for us.”

“You’re sure?” an excited Medi asked.

“Yes, I saw them eat the piiquid myself,” TJ replied. “When are you going to trust me, woman?”

“I do trust you, TJ,” Medi nervously giggled. “It’s just that I never expected this. This is fantastic.”

“Any word from Swaybuk?” TJ asked. “How is their trip through Guatemala going?”

“Staybo received word this morning from Tigbee that they arrived at the Maya city of Tikal,” EJ replied. “Anew doesn’t feel that there is anything there for them to discover that will help find the Keeper, but she did find his symbol on one stone. So at some point, he must have been there. They are going to check it out before moving on.”

“Archeologists estimate that city could go back to the fourth century BC,” TJ stated. “That is a lot of time gone by.”

“Almost the same time as when Grandfather arrived,” EJ said, more of a notation to himself. He must remember to ask Jeanip next time he saw him if the Oonocks had anything to do with the ancient city.

“Do you really think they have a chance of finding this Keeper?” TJ asked. “If he really has been gone for one to two thousand years, the place where he rests could be beneath a major city, like Washington DC, Paris, or Buenos Aires. Can you imagine going to the government of some foreign country and telling them you need to dig their city up because there might be something important below?”

“No, and I do not even want to think of that possibility,” EJ said. “If the Keeper still exists, he has to be somewhere where he can emerge easily once woken up. He cannot rise if he is under a city of concrete.”

“But how would he know what the world would look like one or two thousand years in the future?” Medi asked.

“How did he know the vaquita would go extinct?” EJ said. “How do the Orbs know what must be done in order to save the future? Somehow they, and the Ancients, like the Keeper, just know. It is a part of their mystery and wonder.”

“Perhaps,” a disbelieving TJ replied. “But from what I have seen, I think a lot of what the Orbs and Ancients accomplish is just dumb luck.”

“That may also be true,” EJ laughed. “But be it seeing the future or plain luck, I am glad for the help they have given me. I do not believe any of us would be here today without their help.”

“And what do you two think, Mary and Amber?” TJ asked the twins, who were content in their parents’ arms. Both cooed and laughed, enjoying the attention from their cousin.

____________

The leader looked over the new reports and the agenda for the forest fire that would drive the Waters from the safety of the estate. The invitations to participate in the ice cream contest had been sent out and he was waiting confirmation that Prince EJ’s oldest two children had entered and won the contest, thus assuring they, their mother, and maternal grandparents would be off the estate when they struck. The best spots from where to start the fire to assure their success had been established, as well as a plan to capture the Waters as they fled out into the ocean. Everything was in order except for one small detail – the Special Forces team that was still up in the mountains. They posed a great threat to the mission. Somehow, they had to be eliminated.

“Wiiguard, is there any way to fake a military message from General McDouglas to that Special Forces Unit in the mountains?”

“I don’t know, Sir,” Wiiguard replied. Immediately, he saw his leader’s eyes grow a bright, flaming red as anger filled his body. Although his leader had mellowed, he still possessed a Terrian rage when not given what we wanted. He quickly changed his statement. “I mean, currently we can’t because we have never tried to. But I am sure that we can devise a way to fake a message. After all, their technology is fairly simple and primitive.”

Satisfied with the young soldier’s response, the leader’s eyes reverted back to their soft blue. “I need to send that SF unit a message instructing them to come down from the mountains. We need those soldiers off the mountain before we can strike at Europa and her family. Otherwise, they have the capability of nullifying our plans. Get to work right away on finding a way to send a message they will believe comes from the General. They will not be able to question a direct order coming from him.”

“Right away, Sir,” Wiiguard said, as he turned and scurried through the door. He knew that one of the other surviving Terrians was a natural at electronics and, together, he had no doubt they would succeed.

The elder Terrian limped over to the chair, sat down and removed the artificial leg. After sitting it on the floor, he massaged his upper leg, trying to work some of the soreness out of it.

“The leg’s still giving you a lot of pain?” Tigglebree asked, as he walked over with a cup of coffee and two pain pills. “We could put you back into the box so you could transform into your real self and possibly heal some more.”

“No,” the leader stated, accepting the cup of coffee and taking a sip. He held it in his mouth for a moment, then allowed it to slide down his throat. He had no idea that this same reaction was exactly what his enemy – the Waters – often did with their coffee. “The pain is tolerable. More of a nuisance, really. Especially when my foot hurts, which is so ironic considering I don’t have a foot.”

“I believe humans refer to that as phantom pain,” Tigglebree replied. “It’s a common occurrence when humans lose a limb. Another indication of how weak their bodies are.”

“Yes, their bodies are weak,” the leader agreed, leaning back into the chair and closing his eyes. “Yet they somehow manage to produce some of the most beautiful females in the world.”

Tigglebree had never found human females to be appealing, let alone beautiful. He wondered if his master was being nostalgic again, remembering the human female he had married. If so, it was another sign that his leader was becoming weak, unable to lead, allowing sentiment to rule his life and overshadow JeffRa’s vow to end the Waters’ lives. There was a distinct possibility that this leader was no longer fit to rule and would need to be replaced.

The elder Terrian opened his eyes and sat up, his face clearly refreshed and focused. “But our mission has nothing to do with human females, unless they are Europa and her death. I noticed in the report that there was no mention of Prince Enok’s bodyguard, Swaybuk. The report mentions that another Oonock has been seen at his side lately, but no name was given.”

“Yes, Sir,” Tigglebree replied, glad his leader was back on track. “Swaybuk has been absent for some time now.”

“I know Swaybuk. He would never leave the side of his charge unless something very dramatic has happened,” the leader stated. “I remember him on Europa. Although just barely an adult, he possessed an extremely high degree of dedication and sense of honor. If he is not at his prince’s side only one of two things could have happened: either he is dead or has been assigned to a more important task.”

“What task would be more important than guarding the prince?” Tigglebree asked.

“What, indeed,” the leader responded. “You said you saw him when the compound was attacked?”

“Yes, Sir. I saw him just briefly with Jeanip.”

“It is possible that the patoot was killed or died later of injuries received,” the leader stated, his mouth watering at the possibility. “But if not, we must learn where he is and what he is up to.”

“Sir, we are already spread pretty thin,” Tigglebree replied, hoping for the anger that would envelope his leader at his statement, a test of his worthiness to lead. Thankfully, he was not disappointed. Instantly, the leader’s eyes glowed red. Although he seldom reverted to violence, Tigglebree was sure he would have received a smack across the face if his leader had been closer.

“Who is the leader here?” the elder screamed, his voice filled with rage at one of his subordinates questioning him. “I say what happens and what is important.” Rising to stand, the leader remembered he had not replaced his prosthetic and plopped back into the chair.

“What would you have me do, Sir?”

“From the few mercenaries we have left, find the two most trustworthy, if there is such a thing. Assign one of our Terrians to supervise and go with them. I want them to find out if Swaybuk is dead or alive, and if alive, where he is and what he is doing. Tell them this is to be their number one priority and want a report every three days.”

“I know of several humans who will give us their best, if the price is right,” Tigglebree replied.

“Double their salary,” the leader announced. “Tell them there is a bonus of five hundred thousand for a job well done. Double that, if they get me an answer within the week.”

“Sir, do not forget that many of our assets were frozen when the various governments launched their investigation into those behind the bounty on Prince Enok’s head,” Tigglebree stated. “Our funds are limited at the moment. We cannot finance this operation and the wildfire at the same time.”

Calmly, the leader reached down and removed a gold ring covered in precious jewels. He nonchalantly tossed it to his Commander. “Here, sell this. It should pay the salaries and bonus for the two mercenaries and Terrian. And if it does not, let me know, for I have a few more pieces put away we can sell. Speaking of our assets, have you had any luck in unfreezing them?”

“Not yet, but we are still working on it,” Tigglebree said. “We have a few men in Asia who are excellent at cracking bank codes and should be able to free our money soon.”

“Very well,” the leader replied. “See to it that I am not disturbed. This body needs to rest to grow stronger.” He replaced his lower leg, then limped over to the couch, where he laid down for a nap. Tigglebree retrieved the now-empty cup of coffee and quietly left the room, softly closing the door behind him. As he exited, he noted his leader was already asleep. He was not surprised, for the two pain pills he had given him were quite potent and often knocked him out. As he walked toward the kitchen, he opened his hand to look at the ring his lord had given him. He knew how special the ring was to his leader and was impressed that he was willing to give it up in order to complete JeffRa’s revenge. It had been a present from an Egyptian queen several millennia ago, shortly after their arrival on Earth. Now that he thought of it, the elder Terrian had always had a fondness for human females. Perhaps it was because he had lost his own true love on Europa because of his father, then later lost his Terrian wife when Ganymede was destroyed.

THE DREAM

The Terrian leader restlessly tossed in his bed, an old memory filling his dreams, filling his heart with regret. Meanwhile, Queen Europa stirred in her sleep, the same dream filling her mind with fear. Instinctively, she cuddled deeper inside Kiijon’s embrace. But his nearness did not bring her comfort as her nightmare continued to unfold:

“Tell her the REASON,” King Enok demanded of his brother, as they stood outside the entrance to the house on Saint’s Isle. Europa still had herself, Earon and Terrance safe within her forcefield. Jeanip laid gravely injured at their feet, just inside her protection.

“You were my big brother,” JeffRa yelled. “I looked up to you. And once you became the future monarch you forgot all about me.”

“TELL HER!” King Enok shouted. “Stop lying to Europa, to me and to yourself. For once admit the truth!”

“Because you took away from me the only female I ever loved,” JeffRa screamed, his face raging with hate, his eyes glowing red as if on fire. “Medaron was to be my life’s mate, not yours. When I went to finalize our union with her father I had no knowledge she had been bound to you and you two would soon become life-mates. All that I knew was she had given me her promise of love and commitment. She and I had made plans for our future, for our children. But when you found out about us you could not stand the thought of me having something better than you, so you offered her something I could never give her – the title of Supreme Monarch. She wanted power more than she wanted me. So she let me disgrace myself by going to see her father, knowing all along she was bound to you. He laughed in my face!”

“She did not know, JeffRa,” King Enok said, a sound of regret and sorrow in his voice. “Enoquin and Medaron’s father made the agreement without either Medaron or I knowing anything about it. It was you she loved.”

“You expect me to believe that?” JeffRa asked. “I am not a fool, Enok. You do not try to kill someone you love,” JeffRa screamed back.

“What else could she do, JeffRa? You led an army against us on Europa. Here on Earth you tried to kill me. Then several weeks ago you tried to assassinate our daughter. You gave her no choice but to end your life.”

“If she still loved me or not is of no consequence,” JeffRa yelled. “I came to hate you more than her. It wasn’t enough that you took Medaron away from me. You had to take my Terrian wife and twin sons away from me too. They died that day you destroyed our village.”

“JeffRa, I never attacked your village,” King Enok said.

“Do not lie, Enok,” JeffRa screamed, his rage rising. “We found the remains of an Oonock ship not far from our village, a royal family’s ship. Only you have the power to authorize the sailing of that ship. You and you alone were responsible. And you, along with your people, will pay for it.” With that said, JeffRa eyes glowed red as he fired his weapon, hitting a surprised King Enok in the chest. A large hole appeared in the king’s chest, purple blood pouring forth as he looked at his daughter, the life draining from his eyes. He fell backwards and tumbled over the cliff to the ocean below.

“No,” screamed Europa, as she sat up in bed, reaching out to grab her falling father. Immediately the alarms in the house erupted, as Jazee and several other Oonocks ran up the stairs to the royal bedroom. As they neared the room, they could hear all four girls crying, startled by the sudden scream of their grandmother and the alarms ringing. Upon entering the bedroom, they saw Kiijon holding their queen, trying to console her, trying to calm her down.

“What is wrong?” Prince EJ asked, as he burst into the room, a bat in hand to defend his parents.

“Your mother had a nightmare,” a concerned Kiijon replied.

“A bat, Your Majesty?” Jazee laughed, calmly walking over to the side wall and entering his code to stop the alarm. He then issued an “all’s clear” alert so the Oonocks outside could either resume their duties or return to bed. With the alarms now off, the twins plus Kumiko and Cho Gin’s cries could now be easily heard.

“It was the first thing close to grab,” EJ replied, walking closer to his mother. “Mattwa, are you okay?”

“As your father said, just a bad dream,” a still shaking Europa replied. “I can hear all four girls crying. I must have startled them. Go help Medi with your daughters.” She saw the hesitation in her son. “I promise, EJ, I am fine. Go, go help get the girls back to sleep.”

“Okay, but I will check in with you once I get the girls back to bed,” EJ replied, reluctantly leaving his parents’ room.

“All is secure,” Jazee said to the other two soldiers. “You may return downstairs.” Silently he whispered, “Have Staybo run a sweep of the estate and forests.” He then walked over to his queen. Europa was not prone to nightmares and he knew that sometimes the Orbs warned her of pending dangers. Therefore, he was not willing to just dismiss her dreams. “Your Highness, can you tell me what your dream was about?”

Kiijon too was concerned, and waited for his mate’s reply. Like Jazee, he felt this nightmare was a vision of something to come. “You’re safe here, Europa. Tell Jazee and me about your dream.”

Held securely in Kiijon’s arms, she told of her dream. “It was that day back on Saint’s Isle, when we learned that Cimbor was really JeffRa. Jeanip was lying on the ground dying, and I had Earon, Terrance and myself in the protection shield. Father and JeffRa were arguing about why JeffRa hated us so much, why he really wanted us dead. Then JeffRa shot Father, but this time Mother did not protect him. This time, the weapon went right through his chest. Purple blood flowed out and he fell over the cliff. I must have screamed in my sleep as I reached out and grabbed for Father.”

“Have you ever had this dream before?” Jazee pressed.

“Yes, once,” Europa answered. “The night Terrance and I had sex. I had the exact same dream. Frightened, I went down to Terrance’s room but he wasn’t there. Then he walked out of the bathroom, naked, and we, well . . .”

“We get the picture,” Kiijon said, kissing his mate on the forehead.

“That was when the Hunger started to awaken in me,” Europa said. “If it had not been for the dream, I never would have sought Terrance out.”

Jazee thought for a moment. “It’s as if the dream served a purpose: to bring you and Terrance together so you could endure the Hunger and meet your true mate and unite in the Quanundocii. Without that first night, the Quanundocii would never have formed and the outcome of the battle with the Terrians would have been very different. Our people would not have returned home. Now the question is, is this same dream trying to tell us something once more? Is it a prelude to something to come?”

“I can’t imagine what,” Kiijon said, holding Europa even tighter, even closer. “The Quanundocii is still in existence. And she can’t go through the Hunger again. Mary and Amber are too young to engage in the Hunger.”

“Perhaps it is an indication that Misso is getting close,” Jazee suggested.

“I do not believe that is it,” Europa quietly said. “Although a woman in human appearance, she is still a newborn in Oonock years. I believe it will be at least another thousand years before she goes through the Hunger.”

“Just to be sure, Jazee, advice Vireena to check Misso’s amulet for any signs of red filaments, “Kiijon ordered. “And to keep a vigilant eye on the amulet for the next month or two if there are none.”

“Yes, Sire.”

There was a soft knock at the door, then EJ entered. “The twins are back to sleep. Medi and KaaZee are with Kumiko and Cho Gin calming them down. They might take a while to get back to sleep.”

“I am sorry I woke them,” Europa said. “After all they went through, the last thing they need is being woken by their grandmother screaming.”

“EJ, come sit with your mother while I get her a glass of water,” Kiijon said, as he slipped his arms for around her. Europa was going to object, to state she didn’t need water, but she knew Kiijon needed to get up and walk. She had frightened him terribly.

“Are you sure you are okay Mattwa?” EJ asked, sitting beside her.

“Yes, I am fine,” Europa replied, offering him a small smile. “You father has always had the ability to make me feel safe, no matter what the reason for my uneasiness.” Europa sensed her son was holding something back, that he was hesitant about asking something. “What is it, Enok?”

“By any chance, were you on top of a cliff with a pair of red, flaming eyes?” EJ asked.

The sound of shattering glass disrupted the silence, as Kiijon dropped the glass of water he was carrying back from the bathroom. “How in the hell do you know that?”

___________

“As I speculated, there is nothing here for us to find,” an aggravated Anew stated for the tenth time. “We should leave now.”

“We will leave first thing tomorrow morning,” Swaybuk replied, as he crawled beneath the sheets on the bed. “After we saw the Keeper’s sign, we had no choice but to send the ruupoor into the ground to check for hidden chambers where the Keeper might have hidden things. Now we know.”

“Well, I knew before the ruupoor went down,” Anew coldly said back. “We have wasted several days at this site. The Keeper may have left his mark on many sites. We cannot stop and investigate everyone.”

“What do you propose then?” Swaybuk asked. “Rely solely on your intuition?”

“Of course,” Anew quickly answered. “I am an Ancient.”

“A newborn Ancient with almost no experience,” Swaybuk reminded her. “What do you think, Windar? Should we continue to investigate areas where we see the Keeper’s mark or rely on Anew’s intuition?” There was no answer. “Windar?” Swaybuk turned and saw Windar sitting on her bed, staring blankly at nothing. He rushed over to her. “Windar, can you hear me?” No response.

“What’s wrong with her,” Anew asked.

“I don’t know.” Swaybuk gently shook her, calling her name. Still, the Oonock stared into nothingness. Not knowing what to do, but hoping perhaps a cold washcloth on her face would bring her around, Swaybuk rushed into the bathroom. He was just emerging with the cloth when he heard Windar speak.

“I thought you two were going to bed.”

Swaybuk rushed to Windar’s side. “Windar, are you okay?”

“Yes. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You were in some kind of trance?”

“I was?”

“Yes, I called your name several times. You just sat there and stared into nothing.”

Suddenly, a horrified look swept over Windar’s face as she remembered the image she had seen moments before. Her look was so intense, that it sent shivers down Swaybuk’s spine. Windar turned and looked at the guard. “There were red eyes, the color of fire,” Windar whispered. “He was staring at us.”

“He had a long scar down the right side of his face,” Anew added.

“Yes.”

“How could you know that?” Swaybuk asked.

“JeffRa,” Anew and Windar said at the same time.

“No,” Swaybuk said, quickly sitting down on a nearby chair before he collapsed. “That’s not possible. King Enok killed JeffRa that day on Saint’s Isle and locked him away where he could never return from.”

“He has returned,” a calm Anew stated. “His men hunt us.”

“I fear she is right,” Windar said, her body trembling in fear. “JeffRa has returned.”

____________

“For the past few nights I have had a dream about a pair of red flaming eyes,” EJ replied to his father. “I thought it was just a flashback to when the girls were being held by the Terrians. I’ll never forget that image of when their capturer’s eyes turned red. But somehow, when I walked back into this room, I knew Mattwa had a dream of the same pair of eyes. My dreams were not flashbacks, but images of the present.”

“Something is wrong, Kiijon,” a worried Europa stated. “If Enok and I are having the same dream about red eyes, then the Orbs are trying to warn us of something, something horrible.”

“What? That Terrians still live?” Kiijon asked. “We found that out already. So apparently a few escaped the Complex destruction. There can’t be many left. Maybe a handful.”

“We have said that before,” Jazee stated.

Just then, a breathless Staybo came running into the room, barely knocking at the door. “Sorry, Your Majesties,” he breathlessly stated. “Just received this message from Swaybuk.” He handed the message to Jazee, who read it, then passed it on to King Kiijon.

“Dattwa, what does it say?” EJ asked, seeing the paleness of both Jazee and his father’s faces.

Knowing how Europa would react to the message, Kiijon stood up, walked over to the bed and sat down beside his mate. “Windar struck with vision of Terrian with red eyes and long scar on face. Both she and Anew state it is JeffRa – he has returned and is hunting us.”

“JeffRa?” Europa cried. “No, that is impossible. Terrance shot him, then Father encased him in that box that he could not escape from. Father took him down into the ocean and buried him where no one would ever find him. It cannot be JeffRa.”

“I agree, My Love, it cannot be him,” Kiijon said, trying to calm his mate. “But let us not rush to decisions based on fears. You, Anew, Windar and EJ have all had the same dream or vision. It has to be the Orbs warning us of something. Perhaps a new Terrian leader. Or maybe JeffRa had children here on Earth like on Europa and one of them is after us. I mean, there were females amongst the group exiled to Ganymede. He could have taken one as a mate or at least the mother of his children after they crashed here on Earth. There’s a lot of explanations and possibilities, Europa.”

“Kiijon, I do not know if I can fight JeffRa again,” Europa softly said.

“Staybo, would you go ask Doogon to bring Europa a cup of coffee?” Kiijon asked. “Jazee, set the protection grid over our balcony. EJ, I believe your mother and I will sit outside on the swing for a while, enjoying the lovely night sky and the freshness of the salty air.”

“Yes, Sire,” Jazee replied, as the two soldiers left.

“Good night,” EJ said. “Call me if you need me.” He, too, now left.

Kiijon knew his mate was too upset to go back to sleep, especially after hearing what Tigbee had radioed them. He took her hand in his and gently led her out onto the balcony on the side of the bedroom, facing the bay and ocean beyond. “Come, My Love. We’ll wait for your coffee out here. The night sky will remind us of how beautiful this world is, a world we have always fought to protect.” Europa followed him without hesitation. As they walked through the French doors, Kiijon leaned over and grabbed the afghan that always lay on a chair beside the entrance to the balcony. When they reached the porch swing, he lifted his beloved into his arms, sat down on the swing, and wrapped her warmly inside the afghan. “There, now you are safe from all that could harm you.”

“You know that is not true, Kiijon,” Europa said, resting her head upon Kiijon’s chest. “JeffRa hunts us once more. And this time I have children and grandchildren he can destroy, along with my husband.”

“That is a possibility, but remember, we do not know for sure that JeffRa is alive,” Kiijon replied. “The chance that he was able to return from the dead is almost minuscule. Before we start assuming the worst, we need to determine if there is any validity in our fears.”

“And how do you plan to do that?” Europa asked, at last feeling safe inside Kiijon’ embrace.

“By going to where Father buried his body and see if the box is still buried and JeffRa’s human body still inside,” Kiijon answered.

“But I do not know where he buried JeffRa.”

“We’ll ask Jeanip. He should know.”

“No, he will not. Jeanip was gravely wounded and lay dying on the floor when Father took JeffRa down to the ocean depths. Father purposely went alone so no one would know where his body was hidden to make sure he could never return.”

“Then I guess we will have to ask Father,” Kiijon said. “EJ and I can go to the cavern and talk with him, determine where he buried JeffRa.”

“I do not want you going down to investigate the site,” Europa quickly said, sitting up straight and staring into Kiijon’s eyes. “I do not want you anywhere near that place.”

Kiijon reached out and pulled her close to his body again, kissing her lovingly on top the forehead. “Do not worry, Europa. I have no intention of going down myself. Jazee and Kliinew will go.” There was a soft knock at the bedroom door, after which Doogon stepped into the room. “We’re out here, Doogon,” Kiijon yelled, but quiet enough so as not to reawaken the girls.

Doogon walked onto the porch carrying a tray with two empty coffee cups, a carafe of coffee, and a small tray of peanut butter cookies. She placed it on the table and poured two cups. “I wasn’t sure, Sire, if you desired coffee too, so I brought each of you a mug. I’m sorry, but I didn’t have any muffins, so I brought up some fresh peanut butter cookies I made last night. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Cookies will be fine,” Kiijon smiled. “Thank you, Doogon.”

“Here you go, Your Majesty,” Doogon said, as she handed Europa a fresh cup of coffee. “Nice and fresh. It will help keep the night chill from entering your bones. Is there anything else you would like before I leave?”

“No, this is more than enough,” Europa replied, accepting the cup of coffee She blew on it slightly, then took a sip, holding it in her mouth for a moment before letting it slide down her throat.

“Then I will take my leave,” Doogon said, as she turned and left.

“What I don’t understand is, if the Terrian on the screen was JeffRa, why didn’t Jeanip recognize him?” Kiijon asked, taking a sip of his own coffee. “He saw what JeffRa looked like before he shot him.”

“Possibly because the thought that JeffRa was still alive never crossed Jeanip’s mind,” Europa replied. “Plus, I believe his appearance had changed. Remember, JeffRa was able to assume the identities of other Oonocks. If it was JeffRa himself that our son talked to, he had to be sure no one would recognize his true identity.”

“I wonder if Terrance could recognize him?” Kiijon inquired.

“Oh, my gosh. Terrance,” Europa shouted, bolting upright, almost knocking the coffee cup out of Kiijon’s hand. “We have to tell Terrance right away. He has been living with the guilt of shooting and mortally wounding his father for years. We have to tell him he didn’t kill his father.”

“My Beloved, it is the middle of the night,” Kiijon chuckled, as he took a napkin and wiped up the spilt coffee from the bench. “I don’t think Terrance would enjoy being woken up even for this bit of news. Besides, what if we are wrong? We would be opening up some old wounds. Let’s wait until we check the burial site first. If the body or box is gone, then we will tell Terrance our suspicions.”

“I suppose that would be best,” Europa said, snuggling back down into Kiijon’s embrace. She felt Kiijon’s hand raise her head as he lowered his lips to hers. He kissed her tenderly and lovingly, but when he did not feel any passion in her kiss, he did not pursue any physical intimacy. Sometimes just sitting beneath the night stars in each other’s arms was all the intimacy they needed. He pulled her closer to his chest, wrapping his arms securely around her. Here she was safe and, thanks to the Quanundocii, always would be no matter who their enemy was. If only there was a way for him to protect his children, grandchildren and the rest of the Oonocks so easily.

“Europa, did you hear that?” Kiijon asked, as the song of a humpback was heard over the night’s stillness.

“A humpback,” Europa smiled. “He must be close for us to hear him.”

“Did you understand what he said?” Kiijon asked.

Europa thought that was an odd question. Kiijon knew she could not talk to animals; not even marine animals. “No. Did you?”

“Yes. He said, ‘Europa, do not worry. Everything will be okay’.”

“He did, did he?” Europa asked, as a yawn escaped her. Kiijon took her coffee cup and sat it on the table, then snuggled down on the bench with her. Soon, with the lullaby of the humpback, both were sound asleep. And thanks to the secured world Kiijon had created for her, Europa did not dream of that horrible day on Saint’s Isle or of red flaming eyes.

AN OMINOUS QUESTION

“How is Mattwa doing this morning?” EJ asked, as his father walked into the kitchen for breakfast without his mate. From his looks, it had been a very unrestful night.

“Better, but still pretty rattled,” Kiijon said, sitting down at his usual spot, taking a sip of coffee. “I’m not very hungry this morning, Doogon. Just oatmeal for me.”

“Have it right here for you,” Doogon said, placing a steaming bowl of fresh oatmeal topped with red raspberries before the king, making everyone wonder once more how the cook always knew.

“I told your mother to stay in and sleep for a little longer, but I would imagine she’ll probably join us within five minutes,” Kiijon added. “She never listens.”

“Do you really think it’s possible, Dattwa, that JeffRa has returned?” Medi asked, having trouble, like the others, believing such a thing was possible.

“I just don’t know,” Kiijon replied, a look of hopelessness briefly shadowing his face. “We’ve seen Oonocks do incredible things, things we didn’t think were possible. And with JeffRa, his ability to do the impossible matches EJ’s; even surpasses it on some levels. There is only one way to know for sure. We have to find out where Father buried JeffRa and go there and see if his body still stays restrained within the box Jeanip and Father made. EJ, I need for you to go with Jazee, Kliinew and me to the cavern right after breakfast and summon your Grandfather.”

“Do you think he will tell us?” EJ asked. “The place where he put JeffRa has always been a secret.”

“He will tell us,” Europa said, as she walked into the room, just as Kiijon predicted. Before she could give her order, Doogon sat a bowl of oatmeal with brown sugar and milk at her place setting. “Because I will convince him that unless he does and we know for sure, I will never be able to sleep again.”

“Your Majesty, I would recommend that you stay here, where it is safe,” Jazee stated.

“Not this time,” Europa definitely stated. She looked at Kiijon, waiting for him to object also. But he remained silent. He knew that look and knew that, unless he wanted to sleep on the couch for a few days, he had best agree.

“Looks like Mom’s coming too,” Kiijon finally said, taking a bite of his oatmeal. “Doogon, this is exceptional oatmeal this morning. Did you add something different?”

Doogon chuckled to herself, knowing her king was purposely changing the subject. And she was surprised that he was able to detect something different. “Yes, Your Majesty. After the happenings of last night, I added a shot of rum to both your and our queen’s oatmeal. I thought you might both need help relaxing.”

“Well, in that case, I’ll have another bowl, Doogon,” Kiijon laughed, lifting his bowl into the air.

“I will have a bowl also,” EJ quickly said. He, too, was uneasy about what they were about to discover. He had survived numerous attacks on his life; now he wondered how many of those were JeffRa’s doing.

The rest of the meal proceeded as normal; no discussion of business. After breakfast, the family broke into their various groups. With Jazee preparing to leave the estate, Staybo was in charge. The older girls’ morning riding lessons were cancelled, their afternoon school lessons switched to the morning. Sunam and KaaZee entertained the twins inside while Medi instructed the older girls. Mary and Amber had started to crawl and now playing tag was one of their favorite games.

After hugs and kisses goodbye, the adults headed down to the bay, entered the water and transformed into dolphins when they were assured Cho Gin and Kimiko were not looking. They swam out through the opening in the bay into the open ocean, then transformed into fin whales, quickly covering the distance to the secret cavern with the Dolphin Patrol as their escort. When they reached their destination, they dove down to the entrance and emerged inside the dark chamber. Both Jazee and Kliinew activated several light stones.

“I forgot how small this cave is,” Europa said, surveying the enclosure. She swam over to the ledge and waited for Kiijon to help her up. As she emerged from the water, EJ removed a beach towel from a water-tight bag and handed it to his mother to wrap around herself. Even before Europa could ask her son to summon her parents, the water began to bubble as two water columns rose into the air. Within seconds, before them stood a water creation of King Enok and Queen Medaron.

“That was fast,” a surprised Europa stated. “It is good to see you two again. I have missed you so much.”

“We heard EJ calling to us as soon as you entered the water,” Medaron replied to her daughter. “Since you seldom summon us, we knew something must be wrong. We are never far from you, Europa, so it does not take us long to make the trip here. It is also good to see you and the others. How are Earon and the grandchildren? And our great grandchildren?”

“All are doing fine,” Europa said, taking several steps toward her parents. “The girls are getting bigger every day.”

“While that is good news, I am sure you did not come here to tell us the latest news about our great grandchildren,” King Enok stated. “How can we be of assistance?”

“No, Father,” Kiijon replied, as he took his mate’s hand. He could already feel her body start to quiver over what he was about to say. “We did not come to discuss the grandchildren. Something unbelievable has happened that warrants us to check on JeffRa’s tomb. We need to know, Father, where it is.”

“I buried my brother’s body somewhere where no one would ever find it, someplace forgotten and dark,” King Enok replied. “No one may know of its location.”

Sensing something was indeed horribly wrong, Queen Medaron asked, “Why do you need to know this?”

“We have proof that some Terrians did not follow Zeevinn and Attwa into battle,” Kiijon began to explain. “Some Terrians still live. We believe they are being led by JeffRa himself. We believe he has returned.”

“No,” shouted King Enok, his voice resonating off the rock walls, creating a huge echo that shook the very walls, causing some small rocks and dust to rain down on the Oonocks. “He is dead. Terrance fatally wounded him, and I put him in that box where he died. I heard him take his last breath. His body rots below, in a hidden grave.”

“You have seen him, have you not?” a frightened Queen Medaron asked her daughter.

“Yes,” Europa replied. “EJ, Windar and I have all had dreams or visions of him. An elder Terrians with red eyes and a long scare down the right side of his face.”

“Many Terrians have scars,” King Enok bellowed.

“No, Grandfather,” EJ said, now walking closer. “The Orbs are trying to warn us. There is an Ancient here on Earth. She is the one who gave the face a name – JeffRa.”

“An Ancient” Queen Medaron asked. “How? Why?”

“We’ll explain in a moment,” Kiijon replied. “Father, you must tell us. The only way to make sure that this Terrian with a scar is not JeffRa is to go see if his body still resides in his tomb. If you will not tell us the location, perhaps you and Mother can go and investigate.”

“No, that will not work,” Queen Medaron said. “We can only take shape together here in this cavern, thanks to Hygone’s blood. And, while I can sometimes take shape outside the cavern, I could not maintain my shape for such a long journey below. Perhaps if you start from the beginning, tell us about the Ancient and the Terrians, your Father might be willing to divulge JeffRa’s tomb’s location.”

“Unlikely,” King Enok grumbled. “My brother is dead. I have no desire to see his bones lying inside his coffin.”

“But you wouldn’t need to go also, Father,” Kiijon quickly stated.

“I would,” King Enok replied. “There are no landmarks by which you can navigate by. Only I, or I should say my essence, can lead you to his tomb.”

Kiijon knew time was their enemy. They had to find out if this new leader was JeffRa or not. But he also knew that, without his Father’s help, they had no chance of finding his tomb. So, for the next forty minutes, Kiijon and EJ explained to the former king and queen what had been happening above – the girl’s being kidnapped by Terrians, the rescue to free them, the conversation with the Terrians and the Ancient Anew taking over Swaybuk’s body.

“So you can see, Father, why we believe JeffRa has returned,” Europa stated, when her mate finished. “All that Kiijon has told you, combined with our dreams and Anew’s statement, leads us to no other answer.” She grew very quiet as she walked to the very edge of the cavern floor and stared into her father’s lilac eyes. “Please, Father. I cannot sleep knowing he might be out there hunting my children.” She turned to her mother. “Now I know what you felt that day you encountered him on the road, Mother. The immense fear and horror you felt when you realized it was me he had planned to kill. I cannot live with this fear.” She turned back to her father. “I beg of you, Father. Tell us.”

“Spare her the pain we had to endure, Enok,” Queen Medaron stated, as she took her mate’s hand. “Give her the one thing we never had – the truth. Do it for me.”

“As you wish, My Love,” King Enok said. “I will lead the Oonocks down to discover if JeffRa is still in his tomb. But it is too dangerous for any monarch to go.”

“That is why we brought Jazee and Kliinew,” Kiijon replied. “They will go with you.”

“Medaron, My Love, you wait up here,” King Enok instructed. “I do not want you anywhere near that place.”

“Still my protector,” Queen Medaron smiled.

“We are ready when you are, Your Majesty,” Jazee said.

“Kiijon, it will take us several hours to swim down and locate the area,” King Enok stated. “That is a long time to wait here, contemplating our possible doom. I suggest you take my daughter and grandson back to the estate where they can at least enjoy the company of their family. Medaron, wait for me at our special place. I will return there when we are finished. Jazee, Kliinew, follow me.”

Although they did not want to leave, all realized the wait inside the cavern would be ten times more grueling that waiting at the estate. At least there, the girls could help occupy their minds. There in the cavern, there was nothing else to think of except of the impossible. Together, the three monarchs re-entered the water, transformed into fin whales and headed back to the estate, the Dolphin Patrol once more protecting them during their journey.

____________

“Is that the right answer?” Cho Gin asked her mother. Medi sat there beside her daughter, lost in thought as she looked up at the clock. EJ and the others had only been gone for a little over an hour. They said it would be several hours before they would return. “Mattwa, is that the right answer?”

Cho Gin‘s voice broke Medi’s thought and brought her back to the classroom. “I’m sorry, Cho Gin. What did you say?”

“I asked if I got the math problem right?”

Medi quickly looked over her daughter’s work. They were working on three sets of three digit numbers being added together. “Almost, Sweetheart. You forgot to carry your last one. Remember, when the three numbers equal more than nine, you have to carry the sum of the first number to the next number.”

“I keep forgetting that,” Cho Gin chuckled.

“Tell you what. We’ll work on math later,” Medi announced, as she stood up. “How about I go fix us a small snack. Until I return, you and Kumiko can work on your cursive letters. Kumiko, KaaZee will help you until I return.”

“When you come back, will you help me finish my letter for the contest?” Kumiko asked.

“We’ll see,” Medi said. “Jazee still hasn’t given his permission for us to enter the contest. Remember, it might be a trick.” Having said that, Medi rushed to the kitchen, hoping someone had heard something.

“No, it’s not,” grumbled the little three-year-old. She wanted her sister or herself to win the contest so badly that she could barely think of anything else. She even talked Neil into helping her write a letter and it was safely hidden in her pants pocket. Neil had even been kind enough to give her a stamp. “Cho Gin, we only have two days left to mail our letters.”

“I know, but we have to wait for Jazee to say it’s okay,” Cho Gin replied. “You don’t want those bad people to take us again, do you?”

“No, but I want to win that ice cream.”

“Dattwa and Mattwa will buy you all the ice cream you want.”

But it wasn’t the same. Kumiko wanted to be the one supplying the ice cream, to everyone on the estate and in town and everywhere. Bad people didn’t have ice cream, so why was Jazee worried? If she wasn’t careful she would miss her opportunity to win the prize. And she couldn’t allow that to happen. As she sat there, practicing her cursive with KaaZee, she intently listened for the sound of a car. The mailperson came everyday around this time. Medi was expecting a package of new school books for the girls, so Kumiko knew the mailperson would drive up to the house and hoot the horn. She just had to be patient, and not wiggle too much in her seat in anticipation. Finally, she heard a car then a car horn. “I have to go to the bathroom,” she announced, as she lept into the air and hurried down the hallway.

“Okay, but come right back,” KaaZee yelled after her.

Kumiko opened the bathroom door, then looked around to see if anyone could see her. The coast was clear. She quickly and silently ran to the front door, unlocked it and ran down the front steps toward the car sitting at the mailbox. It appeared as if the mailperson was going to drive away and she hadn’t given him her letter. “Wait, wait. Don’t go.”

A shocked Sill turned to see the young child running toward them, alone, with no guard. “Kumiko, what are you doing outside without a guard? You know you are not allowed to come outside alone.”

“I have to give the mailperson my letter,” Kumiko said, holding her letter up in the air. “And I’m not alone. You’re out here.” She quickly ran to the car and personally handed her letter to the mail carrier. She stood there, watching the carrier put the envelope in his mail container.

“Okay, now hurry back inside,” Sill ordered. “Otherwise, we will both get into trouble. And no lollygagging. Go straight inside.”

“Yes, Sir,” Kumiko smiled, as she quickly turned and ran back toward the house. She carefully closed the front door and relocked it, being extra careful not to make a sound. She then darted into the bathroom, flushed the toilet, and washed her hands. She was just opening the bathroom door when KaaZee came walking down the hall.

“I was just coming to see what was taking you so long,” KaaZee stated.

“I was making bubbles with the soap,” Kumiko stated, a huge smile on her face. She had made a few hasty bubbles when she washed her hands, so she felt she wasn’t really telling a lie. She happily skipped back down to the dining room, satisfied that at last her letter was on its way to winning the ice cream contest.

Kumiko and KaaZee had just returned to the room when Medi appeared in the doorway with the twins. Doogon was carrying a tray of milk and various fruit slices for the girls, and coffee for the adults.

“I thought it would be nice for Mary and Amber to join us today for snack,” Medi announced, handing Mary to Doogon after she placed the tray on the table. She placed Amber in her highchair, then Mary, giving both girls their sippy cups of milk and several slices of banana and apple.

“Ku, apple,” Mary said, showing her older sister her fruit.

“Yes, Mary,” Kumiko replied. “That’s an apple. They’re good.” Kumiko eagerly took a bite of her apple slice, watching Mary follow her action.

“Mattwa, once recess is over, can we please write our letters for the contest?” Cho Gin asked. “There’s only a few days left to enter. And if Jazee says we can send them, I want to make sure ours are ready.”

Medi saw the anxious look on both girls’ faces. She couldn’t deny another request to write the letters. “I think you’re right, we should have them ready in case Jazee gives his okay. Kumiko, do you still want me to help you write your letter?”

“Yes, please,” Kumiko smiled. She figured two entries couldn’t hurt.

After snack, KaaZee cleared the table and took the dirty dishes back to the kitchen while Medi helped Kumiko write a second letter. Cho Gin wrote her first, although she had written many in her mind. So absorbed were they in writing that Medi forgot about watching the clock. Suddenly she heard the backdoor open and heard EJ’s voice.

“I think that’s enough for today,” Medi announced. “Let’s see if Neil is available. Since your father and grandfather are back, perhaps you can go out for your riding lessons.”

“Yippy,” Kumiko said, excited about visiting her pony.

“There’s my girls,” EJ said, as he poked his head inside the room. He walked around the table, giving each of his five girls a kiss on the forehead.

“Da, apple,” Mary stated, picking up another piece and showing it to her father.

“How did it go?” Medi asked.

“Pretty good,” EJ replied, opening his mouth and allowing Mary to place it inside. He quickly chewed the slice, then swallowed. “He was reluctant at first, but finally the big guy agreed and took Jazee and Kliinew over to the property to inspect it. They will not return for another hour or so.” Since Cho Gin was in the room, EJ had to be careful not to mention his Grandfather by name.

“Another hour to wait?” Medi sighed. Well, at least this time EJ would be with her. “How’s Mattwa doing?” she whispered. EJ stood behind Cho Gin and shook his head negatively, indicating their queen was not doing well.

“So, what is on the agenda?” EJ asked.

“I thought that since you, Dattwa and Mattwa were back, I’d see if Neil was free to give the girls their riding lesson,” Medi replied. “And it’s time for Mary and Amber to go down for their naps.”

“Sounds like a plan,” EJ smiled. “I’ll get Neil and see if he’s free. You and Mattwa can put the twins down for their naps. It will give Mattwa something to do to help pass some of the time.” He left to contact Neil, who was available. EJ helped the girls put away their school supplies, then escorted them to the side porch where Neil and another guard were waiting. EJ stood on the back porch and watched his two oldest daughters walk out to the barn. He thought Kumiko had a little extra skip in her walk. She must be happy about something. Oh, for the innocence of youth. She had no idea a mad man might be out there hunting them all, trying to complete a vow over six thousand years old. Suddenly, he saw Kumiko stop, turn, and run back toward him.

“Is something wrong?” EJ asked, as he stepped down the steps, rushing toward his daughter.

“I don’t have a quarter to buy my pony a carrot,” Kumiko announced, tears starting to fill her eyes.

EJ smiled. He hoped all of his young daughter’s problems would be this minor and easy to solve. He had made a habit of keeping several quarters in his pocket for emergencies such as this. Reaching inside his pants pocket, he removed two round coins. “Here you are, Kumiko. There is one for you and one for Cho Gin.”

Kumiko took the coins, then hugged her father. “Thank you, Dattwa.” She then turned and ran back to where Neil, Cho Gin and the other guard patiently waited for her.

“What was that all about?” Kiijon asked, as he now stepped out onto the porch.

“Kumiko forgot her quarter to buy carrots,” EJ laughed.

“Ah, another crisis averted,” Kiijon chuckled. “By the way, what is Neil doing with all those quarters?”

“He is putting them in a savings account at the bank for Kumiko,” EJ replied. “Although not a lot, it comes out to approximately five to seven dollars a week. He figures that by the time Kumiko is twenty, there will be close to ten thousand dollars in the account, factoring in interest. Plus, I believe Neil adds a few dollars of his own.”

“Surely, Neil knows that Kumiko will not need the money,” Kiijon stated. “After all, we have more than we can ever spend and the girls will all have large bank accounts. Besides, the idea of Kumiko earning money and paying for her carrots was intended as a lesson in responsibility and learning how to work for what one wants.”

“I explained that to him,” EJ replied. “But he said we have given him so much that he just wanted to give a little something back. He’s very fond of the girls, especially Kumiko. I did not have the heart to tell him no.”

“You are such a softie,” Kiijon teased. “Just like your mother.”

“And you would have forbidden him to set up the account?” EJ asked.

“On the contrary,” Kiijon laughed. “At times, I’m even a bigger softie. I would probably have contributed another five a week to the account.”

“I already do,” EJ laughed. “Plus, I started one for Cho Gin too.” EJ paused for a moment, a look of deep worry darkening his face. “Dattwa, what if Jazee finds JeffRa’s body is indeed gone?”

“Then we will have to accept the fact that somewhere out there JeffRa is alive, returned from the grave and is hunting us once more,” Kiijon somberly said. “Together, as a united family, we will fight him. But it will not be easy, for if he has been able to return from where your Grandfather put him, then his powers have indeed grown very strong. So strong, that this time we may not win the war. But more than our defeat, I worry about your Mother. In a blink of an eye, JeffRa took from her almost everything she held dear. I don’t know if she can survive another battle with him.”

“But Mattwa has stood before countless enemies, including Z and Lady SaaTeek,” EJ stated. “Surely she can do the same before JeffRa.”

“I hope you are right, Son.”

“Even though it must have been dramatic and terrifying fighting him, look at the good that came from it,” EJ continued. “She met the brother she never knew she had, she got her Father back and learned of the existence of an entirely new race. Without JeffRa, Mattwa would never have known who she really was, or of the Oonock race. She never would have gone to Europa to save her people. A Quanundocii would not have been needed, so you two would never have met and I nor Misso would never have been born. We would not know of the Ancients, Hygone, Uhl or the Orbs. And without all that happening, this world would be doomed, for neither Anew nor I would exist to save it.”

“All very true,” Kiijon said, placing his hand on his son’s shoulder. “Sometimes bad things happen so good things may arise out of them. Now, we just need to keep reminding your Mother of that.”

CONFIRMATION

“Sir, you asked me to awaken you in two hours,” Tigglebree said, as he walked into the room. His leader was still asleep on the couch, although the sound of the Commander’s voice was starting to awaken him. “Are you awake, Sir?”

“Yes, Tigglebree,” the leader announced, stretching out his arms and sitting up. “Thank you. Those damn pain pills keep knocking me out cold. We need to find me another form of pain medication that doesn’t keep putting me asleep. I wish we had some TeePoon leaves.”

“I’m sure that old patoot Chancee would have some at his place,” Tigglebree replied. “I could send Wiiguard or one of the other two guards to obtain some from him.” A cold smile spread across the Commander’s face. He liked the idea of forcibly taking something from the old Waters’ beetwon.

“While the idea is appealing, I do not want to give away the fact that we are still here and that I am injured,” the wounded leader stated. “Even if we ended Chancee’s life, the Waters would know it was us. They would also ascertain that I must be pretty broken up from their attack if I chanced obtaining TeePoon leaves. All information I do not wish them to have.” He robbed the top of his amputated leg, trying to ease some of the soreness out of it.

“You know there is another choice, Sir,” the Commander announced, uneasy about mentioning the chamber once again. Since his leader did not act upon the suggestion the other time he mentioned it, he decided to offer another choice. “You could go down to the depths of the ocean where you can transform into your true self and heal completely. Although we cannot grow severed limbs, your body would heal and compensate for the loss and end your pain.”

“Unfortunately, that is not an option either,” the leader replied. “Not until we end their lives. Once Europa and the others are dead, I will gladly go below and sleep for a year. Have we received a reply from either of Prince Enok’s new daughters?”

“Not to my knowledge,” Tigglebree answered. “But it does take the individual ice cream store owners a few days to input all the letters they receive and send us the information. The store in the city closest to the estate seems to be especially slow in sending us the requested copies.”

“Perhaps he needs to be reminded that this is a priority,” the leader scowled. “Have Wiiguard contact him and refresh his memory about who is financing this little contest and what could happen if he fails to keep up his end of the bargain.”

“Right away,” Tigglebree said. “Sheik Abdul called while you were sleeping and wanted to know if he could meet with you tomorrow. He insinuated that he has a new plan to end the Waters Enterprises building of the power plants, along with some new financial backers. I told him you were very busy, but he insisted that he meet with you. Said it was imperative.”

“How I hate these humans,” the leader stated, strapping on his prosthetic lower leg and standing up, limping over to the window. “They think their money and power can buy them anything, including me. I could crush them all with a snap of my finger.” He watched an eagle fly high in the air, then swiftly dive, grabbing a fish out of the lake with its deadly talons. “They have no idea who they are dealing with.”

“What do you want me to tell him? He said he would call back at fourteen hundred hours.”

“I will meet with him,” the leader stated. “Last time I didn’t, and the fool went and attacked Prince Enok at that underwater location. But tell him I am out of town and cannot meet with him for three days. I need to prepare something so that he and all the others realize and remember that I am running this campaign and only I. Ask Wiiguard to come and see me after he talks with the ice cream shop owner. I have an assignment for him.”

____________

It seemed like they had been waiting for days for Jazee’s return, instead of hours. Europa spent most of the time pacing through the kitchen and dining room drinking coffee, refusing to eat anything or sit down. Kiijon tried his best to get her to engage in several activities, but to no avail. She could think of nothing except what the two soldiers would find at the burial site.

Finally, she saw two dolphins swimming toward shore. Europa ran out of the house and straight down to the beach, and into the water. She waded out to her waist, not even allowing the men to reach shore and dress after they transformed into humans. She held her breath when she saw Kliinew with a bag of something in his hand.

“Well, was he there?” a frightened Europa asked, a look of despair and fear clearly visible on her face. “Has he returned?”

Jazee looked at Kiijon for guidance. Normally, very bad news was given to the king first, but Kiijon nodded affirmatively, telling Jazee to give both of them his report. “I do not know if JeffRa has returned, Your Majesty, but his body was not there.”

Kiijon quickly wrapped his arms around his mate as she faltered upon hearing the words. Her legs unable to support her, she relied upon Kiijon to keep her erect. “What exactly did you find?”

“It appears that while we were on Europa, there was a huge earthquake in that part of the ocean,” Jazee stated. “The entire cliff inside which JeffRa’s remains were buried was completely gone. All that remains of it is a pile of rocks at the bottom.” He reached over and took the bag from Kliinew, reached inside and withdrew several articles. “All we could find of the containment box were a few pieces of broken metal and glass. And this, JeffRa’s restraining bands.”

“So he is free,” Europa whispered.

“Not necessarily, My Lady,” Jazee replied. “We estimate that the earthquake occurred about ten years before we returned to Earth. That means JeffRa’s body was in the containment box for at least fifteen years, more than enough time for him to die and decompose. When the side of the cliff collapsed, it could have easily disintegrated his bones, leaving nothing for us to find except the now empty bracelets. I do not believe he has returned.”

“Jazee’s right, My Love,” Kiijon immediately stated. “There is no way JeffRa could have lived inside that box for fifteen years. He died within hours of your father burying him inside that cliff. He cannot do the impossible; he cannot return after being dead for fifteen years.”

“No, Kiijon, it is possible for JeffRa,” Europa said. “He has powers that go beyond explanation, beyond the Orbs. Powers that he has cultivated and perfected over the years. JeffRa did not die within that box. Somehow he was able to keep a part of himself alive. He may have even caused the earthquake in order to be set free.”

“Mattwa, that is pretty farfetched,” EJ stated. Europa had not noticed her son’s approach. “Not even Hygone could come back to life after fifteen years.”

“It is no more farfetched than you bringing Phameena back to life the instant you were hatched,” Europa said, unable to take her eyes off the broken bands.

“But that was a matter of seconds, not years,” EJ reminded her.

“To JeffRa, years can be seconds,” Europa said.

“Sweetheart, this is all speculation,” Kiijon interjected. “There is no way to prove JeffRa is back or not.”

“Yes there is,” Europa said, turning finally away from the bands to look into Kiijon’s eyes. “Terrance can tell us.”

“Uncle Terrance?” asked a surprised EJ. “How would he know?”

“We can show him the video of the Terrian that called with the ransom demands,” Europa said. “JeffRa was Terrance’s step-father. Terrance will know if it is him or not.”

“Europa, Terrance couldn’t tell it was his father before when he was just a few feet away from him,” Kiijon said, remembering the story of what happened that day on Saint’s Isle when Cimbor transformed into JeffRa. “How can he possibly know if that Terrian is his father?”

“He will know,” Europa stated. “Terrance has never forgiven himself for shooting his father that day. His act of protection has haunted him every day of his life. There is nothing more he yearns for than to see his father one more time. If this Terrian is JeffRa, Terrance will know.”

“I guess we’ll have to invite Terrance over for dessert tonight,” Kiijon said, trying to put a laugh in his voice tone but having no success.

“No, not tonight,” Europa defiantly stated. “Now. I cannot endure another minute without knowing the truth for sure.”

“Okay, Europa, I will send for Terrance and ask him to view the video,” Kiijon replied. “But on one condition.” He saw her face redden, as her anger built.

“You do not give me conditions. I am the queen.”

“Yes you are, but I am your mate, your husband. All that I ask is that you agree to accept whatever Terrance says. If he says the person is the video is not his father, you will drop this entire notion that JeffRa has returned.”

“And if he declares it is Jeffrey Landers?”

“Then I will accept JeffRa is alive and hunting us.”

“Agreed.”

Kiijon turned to his son. “EJ, would you go tell Staybo to contact Terrance and ask him to come to the house immediately. But do not tell him why. I do not want to give him a preconceived idea before he sees the video.”

“Right away, Dattwa.” EJ turned and hurried toward the beach, then running to the house to deliver his father’s message.

“Let’s go inside, Europa,” Kiijon said, still holding his queen up. Now with a purpose in mind, she had gained most of her strength back and he was able to direct her toward the house. “We’ll wait for Terrance inside the Communications Room. And allow Jazee and Kliinew a chance to get dressed.”

When they entered the house, Doogon walked over to the two with a fresh cup of coffee for Europa. “No, thank you, Doogon. I will pass on a cup. When Terrance gets here, tell him we are in the Communications Room.”

Never knowing his mate to pass on a fresh cup of coffee, Kiijon mouthed the words “get Gardawyn” to Doogon as he walked by.

“What’s wrong?” Terrance asked, as he and Teerdomay came running into the room, Terrance out of breath. Apparently, the two had run the entire way there. “Are we under attack again? Has something happened to Misso, TJ or Earon, Jr.?”

“No, nothing like that,” Kiijon answered, trying to give a reassuring smile. “We need you to take a look at someone and tell us if he looks familiar.”

“Take a look at someone?” Terrance asked. “That’s what you needed me for? That’s what’s so important?”

“You will understand, Terrance, shortly,” Europa said. “And yes, that is why we sent for you.”

“Oh, okay. Who do you want me to identify?”

“You might want to have a seat first,” Europa stated, pulling one of the chairs away from the console and behind Terrance.

“No thanks. I’m fine.”

“Staybo, if you would bring up the video,” Kiijon ordered. “Mute the sound. We don’t need to relive what happened that day.” He then turned his attention to the human. “Terrance, I want you to look at the man on the screen very carefully. He is the leader that kidnapped the girls. Tell us if he reminds you of anyone.”

“The leader?” A surprised Terrance asked. “How would I know him?”

“We don’t know,” Kiijon replied. “Just see if he seems familiar.”

“Try for me,” Europa said.

Terrance could see that something had Europa very upset, and he surmised it had something to do with this Terrian. “For you, My Queen, anything. But don’t be too disappointed in me if I don’t know him.”

“If you do not, I will give you a huge kiss,” Europa replied, unable to find a smile for him.

“Okay, Staybo, I’m ready,” Terrance stated, wondering what exactly was going on. Before their eyes appeared a large image of the Terrian leader. His face was very weathered, covered with the scars of many battles. His hair was almost completely white, straight and a little shaggy. A huge scar ran down his right cheek. His eyes were dull, as if there was not much life left in him. With the sound muted, Terrance and the others could concentrate on his facial features. “I’ve never seen this man before, Europa.”

“Watch a little bit more,” Europa suggested. “Staybo, slow it down a few frames.”

Together, those inside the room watched, barely breathing as Terrance continued to survey the face before him. The male on the screen tilted his head slightly before uttering some alternative, his eyes glowing red, his face clearly showing the anger running through his body. Upon seeing the move, Terrance screamed, “No, it can’t be. It’s impossible.” His body began to tremble and his knees buckled. Jazee pushed the chair forward just in time to catch the falling human. Terrance turned toward Europa, tears streaming down his face.

“Who is he, Terrance?” the queen asked, tears now covering her face. “Tell me who this Terrian is.”

“He’s . . . he’s . . . he’s my Father,” Terrance replied.

“Are you sure, Terrance?” Kiijon asked.

“Yes,” Terrance softly said. “I’d know that tilt of his head with that look in his eyes anywhere. But it’s not possible. I shot and killed him years ago.”

“You shot him, Terrance, to save me,” Europa replied, knelling before Terrance and taking her friend’s hand in hers. “But you didn’t kill him. Father did that. Or we believed.”

“I don’t understand,” Terrance said, looking at everyone for some explanation.

“Terrance, you must be one hundred percent sure,” Jazee said. “There can be no doubt whatsoever in your mind.”

After helping Europa back up, Terrance stood himself. “Staybo, can you zoom in to the left side of his neck, about an inch below his ear?” It took Staybo a few moments to find a frame where the Terrian had his face turned to the right, but at last he found one. “That one. Zoom in.” As the video zoomed in to the specified location, all could see a small “V” shaped scare about an inch long. Terrance walked closer to the screen, pointing at the scar. “I am sorry, Europa, but there can be no doubt. This IS my father. See that scar? He got it when he fought off a dog that had attacked me when I was young. Bit right into my Father’s neck. We always called it his ‘Badge of Honor’, a sign of his protection over me and my mother. I wish I could say it isn’t him, but that scar confirms it.” He turned back to look at Europa. “How, Europa? How is this possible?”

“No, this cannot be, Dad,” EJ shouted. “You have to be wrong. This cannot be your father.”

“EJ, go ask Hygone if she’ ever heard of such a thing happening before,” Kiijon quickly said. Without another word, the prince ran from the room down the hall to the den and through the painting.

“Kiijon, you said if Terrance identified the man on the screen as his father, you would accept the truth,” Europa stated. “JeffRa HAS returned.”

“I believe Terrance, Europa,” Kiijon replied, finally able to put a look of confidence on his face. “But our son does not. Hygone might be able to confirm what we already know is certain. And even if she can’t, it keeps him out of the room so we can discuss this logically.”

“Logically?” Terrance chuckled. “What is logical about this? A man I shot and was buried inside a deep hole at the bottom of the ocean almost thirty years ago is alive and walking around on two legs? I don’t care what universe you’re from, there’s nothing logical about that.”

“Possibly not,” Teerdomay said, trying to remain calm so she could assist her husband. “You told me how JeffRa was able to manipulate his cells to look like another Oonock. Maybe he also learned how to revitalize his cells, how to put them in hibernation or completely suspend them.”

“How he did it is not important,” Kiijon stated, knowing they could speculate for the next century on how JeffRa accomplished it. “What is important is that he has returned. And, more than likely, has been the force behind everything that has been happening. The bounty on EJ’s head, the attacks on TJ, Teegrade and Ocean Blue, the destruction of the power plant in India, the attempt to discredit Waters Enterprises’ reputation.”

“Do not forget the attack at the abandoned power plant in Sacramento,” Europa reminded her mate. “That one that killed Father.”

“Who knows? He might even be behind the deadly bacteria we have recently discovered,” Jazee added.

“That one I believe the humans are still responsible for,” Europa responded.

The sound of tiny feet hurrying across the floor was heard, disrupting the adults’ conversation. Moments later, Kumiko and Cho Gin appeared at the doorway with KaaZee behind them. Seeing that the monarchs were in an apparent tense conversation, KaaZee tried to stop the girls, but Kumiko was able to slip past and ran directly to her grandfather.

“Grandpa, will you come play with us?” the small child eagerly asked. “Come push me on the swing.”

Motioning for Cho Gin to remain outside the room, KaaZee entered and took Kumiko’s hand, preparing to lead her out of the room. “I’m, sorry, Your Majesties. I did not realize you were in a meeting. I will take the girls back outside.”

Kumiko thought of objecting, but instead, she did the grownup thing and took KaaZee’s hand. Together the two left the room. As they did, Kumiko grumbled, “Grandpa’s always in meetings.”

Upon hearing the small child, Kiijon announced, “Not today, he’s not.” He looked around and saw the surprised expressions on the adults’ faces. “I figure it this way: we can either stand around here speculating, or we can go outside and have fun with our granddaughters while we wait for EJ to return. I say we go have some fun. Childhood goes by too swiftly not to enjoy it, especially human childhood.” He took Europa’s hand, who nodded in agreement. They walked over to Kumiko and Kiijon lifted her into his arms. “Thank you, Granddaughter, for reminding us of the beauty of life. Let’s go see how high I can push you on the swing before Grandma tells us to stop.”

“Yeah,” shouted Kumiko, wrapping her arms around her Grandfather’s neck and giving him a huge kiss on the cheek. “I love you, Grandpa.”

“As I love you, Sweet Child,” Kiijon replied.

They started down the hallway when Europa realized Terrance was not following. She quickly backtracked her steps and saw Terrance sitting in the chair. “Are you not coming with us and the girls outside, Terrance?”

Terrance turned and looked at his longtime friend. His face was still stained with tears, and the look of despair was undeniable. “I’ll be there shortly, Europa. I just need a few minutes to collect myself. I don’t want the girls to see me this way and get frightened.”

“We will be out at the swing set when you are ready, Terrance,” Europa quietly replied. She knew how devastating this had to be for Terrance to learn his father had not died that day long ago on Saint’s Isle. And that with Jeffrey Landers’ return, everything Terrance held dear, including his wife, children and grandchildren, were in mortal danger. It also resurfaced the guilt and regret Terrance had struggled with for so long over pulling the trigger that day.

Teerdomay walked over and stood beside her mate, hoping her presence would give him comfort and strength. He leaned his head against her thigh. “How can this be, Teerdomay?” Terrance quietly asked. “How can he be alive again?”

“I do not know, My Beloved,” Teerdomay replied. She knelt down and looked into his eyes. “But we will defeat him again, together.”

“I can’t,” Terrance replied, the tears once more streaming down his face, the guilt he had carried for a quarter of a century bursting free. “Teerdomay, I can’t kill my father a second time, not even to save you.”

“Then I will do it to save you.”

____________

“Hygone,” EJ shouted, as he walked into FarCore. “Hygone, might you have some free time to talk to me. Something very important has happened. Something horrible.”

“I sensed your need to see me a little while ago,” Hygone said, floating down from the upper portion of FarCore. “I was already on my way when you entered FarCore. What has happened, Young Prince? I felt something horrible in both yours and your mother’s hearts.”

“Hygone, do you remember that not long ago you told us that you could feel that something sinister and extremely dangerous had returned into our lives?” EJ asked.

“Yes. Not a day goes by that I do not feel this new danger.”

“Today we learned the possible name of that danger,” EJ announced. “It is an Oonock-Terrian named JeffRa.”

“JeffRa?” an amazed Hygone asked. “The same JeffRa that was your Grandfather’s brother? The same JeffRa that fought against your Grandfather and is the cause for the Oonocks being on Earth and other planets? The JeffRa that was defeated and buried deep inside Earth’s ocean?” That cannot be, Young Enok. The dead cannot return to life.”

“Is there a way, Hygone, for evil to draw power from the Orbs?” EJ tentatively asked.

“Not that I know of,” Hygone replied. Intrigued with what she thought the prince was implying, she drifted down to the floor. “Come. Sit with me, Your Majesty. Tell me what has happened and why you think your Grandfather’s brother has returned.”

“Mattwa awoke early this morning with a terrible nightmare,” EJ began. “She dreamt of that day on Saint’s Isle when JeffRa confronted them and tried to kill her and Uncle Earon. Only this time JeffRa succeeded in killing Grandfather. He was about to kill her, his eyes glowing red, when she woke up screaming.”

“One dream of something that happened long ago does not constitute the realization that one has returned from the dead,” Hygone cautioned.

“No, it does not,” EJ replied. “But I too have been having dreams about someone with red eyes.”

“Terrians. Understandable. You just recently learned that they still exist and held your new daughters captive. Your old protector, Spinner, intervened and saved your daughters, although she paid with the price of her life. That incident also cost you your beloved Swaybuk. One can easily see why their eyes haunt your dreams. As for your mother, she is connected to you through the Orbs and her heart. She could easily have channeled your fears into her own being and resurfaced fears from long ago.” Hygone stopped for a moment, sensing something evil in the waters that surrounded them, something beyond her reach or understanding. “But you two are not the only ones who have seen the red eyes, are you?”

“No,” EJ whispered, hoping if he said it quietly it would not be true. “Windar had a vision while in Mexico. She saw a pair of red flaming eyes. She said only one word – JeffRa.”

Fear spread through Hygone when she heard of Windar’s vision. The young Oonock had an exceptionally strong connection with the Orbs, even greater that Queen Europa and Prince Enok’s in some respects. She was their messenger, their teller of truths. “Was Windar the only one who said his name?” The Ancient held her breath, hoping EJ’s answer was not the one she now feared.

“No, Anew confirmed it was JeffRa,” EJ stated.

Still refusing to accept the truth or the possibility that someone evil was using the Orbs’ great powers, Hygone quickly stated, “Anew is a newborn. She might not know truth from past memories.”

The prince stared at the Ancient. Never before had he seen her afraid, witnessed her refuse to accept the truth. “Hygone, you know that is not true. Anew is an Ancient, the same as you. Even though she was just born, she possesses all the powers of your race. And as a newborn, she does not guess or speculate; she states what is fact. Very emphatically, usually. But even if we could dismiss all of this evidence, there is one more piece we cannot dismiss. Uncle Terrance was shown a picture of the Terrian who had called me. He confirmed, without a doubt, that the person is his father, Jeffrey Landers, better known to us as JeffRa.” Hygone just sat there on the floor, not saying a word, barely breathing. “So I ask you again, Hygone. Is there a way one of evil can use the powers of the Orbs to do the impossible?”

“The Orbs, FarCore and all the rest were built only for good,” Hygone replied. “If anyone has ever used their powers for evil, it is beyond my knowledge.”

“Is it possible?”

“Since light cannot exist without dark, I can only speculate it could be a possibility,” Hygone replied. “But there is one flaw in your speculation. JeffRa never had a connection with the Orbs.”

“You yourself have told me that all living things are connected to the Orbs,” EJ replied.

“Yes, but that connection has always remained unknown and hidden.”

“It has long been speculated that our ability to heal ourselves and to transform into different beings is because of the power the Orbs inside us,” EJ stated. “JeffRa spent several millennia learning how to manipulate his genes so he could transform into a human that did not look like himself. What if during that process he somehow accidentally discovered a way to tap into the powers of the Orbs? That he found the secret to using their powers? It would explain a lot.”

“And used the Orbs’ powers to somehow put himself into a state of suspended animation until the time came when he could break free of his prison and take form again?” Hygone asked.

“Yes.”

“If this is true, Young Prince, not only is the Earth in danger, but every life across this vast universe,” Hygone replied, rising quickly into the lilac waters. “He could even destroy the Ancients. I must go and contact the Council immediately. They must tell me if this is possible. And if so, what I must do to ensure the continuance of life across the galaxies. When I have an answer I will contact you.” Having said that, Hygone rose up into the waters and was gone.

AN UNPLEASANT MEETING

“Any word from Hygone yet?” King Kiijon asked.

“No, not yet,” EJ replied. “Everything she has ever told me about the Ancients and the Council indicates they live on the other side of the unknown universe. Thousands, perhaps millions of galaxies away from Earth. It might take a long time for her to contact them.”

“I thought that was what the Window of Universes was for,” Monarch Earon said, as he walked into the room.

“Uncle Earon,” EJ shouted, running to and hugging his long gone uncle. “When did you return home?”

“A few hours ago,” Earon said. “When EeRee and I heard from Jeanip that JeffRa might be back, we very well could not stay on Europa.”

“Uncle Jeanip?” EJ asked. “How did he know?”

“Thought you’d keep all the fun to yourself?” Jeanip teased, as he now walked into the room, Europa walking beside him. “If that patoot wants another fight, I want to be part of it. I still owe him big time.”

“Uncle Jeanip, what a wonderful surprise,” EJ said, rushing over to now hug his other uncle. “Did Aunt Phameena or GarJen come with you?”

“She had planned on coming with us, but then your mother’s rejuvenation of this old body put a stop to that,” Jeanip laughed. A confused look spread over EJ’s face.

“It seems that Jeanip is going to be a father again,” Kiijon laughed.

“Surprised the hell out of me,” Jeanip roared. “I thought I was lucky to have one son and I’d never have another. But it appears being around both you and your mom kick-started my system again. Kissleweed, our medical assistant, said I seem to have the body of a six-thousand-year old Oonock male, so there’s still life in that old tail of mine.” Everyone laughed, forgetting for the moment the serious reason why the monarchs had returned to Earth. “How’s Swaybuk doing with that Ancient inside him?”

“Pretty good,” EJ replied. “They should be crossing into El Salvador sometime today. They plan to go all the way down through Central and South America on the Pacific side, down to the Antarctic, then back up the Atlantic side until they return to the States. I do not know if they plan on going up into Canada and the Artic or not. Then they are off to Europe.”

“Your mom was just showing us the vaquita,” Earon stated. “Very impressive work for a newborn. Have they found anything else?”

“They found the Keeper’s symbol at some temple ruins in Guatemala,” Kiijon replied. “But the site had already been excavated and many of the artifacts removed. If the Keeper had hidden something there, it must have been something small and something that could stay dormant for thousands of years. Possibly seeds. There appeared to be nothing kept there in suspended animation like in Mexico. No Ancient blood was recovered.”

“But you said the site had already been excavated,” Earon stated. “What if someone dug up what the Keeper had there?”

“I think if someone found some extinct large animals sleeping in some secret cave we would have heard about it,” EJ laughed. “It would be pretty hard to hide a herd of mammoths or sabretooth cats.”

“But they could have been small birds, or insects,” Earon corrected. “Plus, if the site was originally dug up a couple hundred years ago, no one cared about animals in those days. No one would have paid any attention to them.”

“True, but Anew felt confident that nothing of importance ever existed there,” Kiijon stated. “And since we have no way to know what he might have placed in the temples, we can only state he was there.”

“Your mother told me that Mary and Amber were able to awaken Swaybuk before they left.” Jeanip said, more of a statement rather than a question.

“Yes, both he and Anew share his body,” EJ replied, a look of longing overshadowing his face.

“And the two must stay together until the Keeper is found?” Earon asked, trying to understand this strange situation.

“Yes, that is what Hygone said,” EJ replied.

“As much as I love my mate, EeRee, I cannot imagine having a female occupy my body with me,” Earon shuttered, making everyone laugh.

“Uncle Jeanip,” came two small voices, as Kumiko and Cho Gin walked past the living room on the way to the kitchen for breakfast. Both ran to their uncle, hugging him. Jeanip reached down and lifted the smallest one into his arms.

“How’s the pony?” Jeanip asked.

“He’s fantastic,” Kumiko giggled. “I can ride him all by myself in the big corral. Did you come to have breakfast with me?”

“I sure did,” Jeanip smiled. “Doogon wanted to feed me but I told her I had to wait for my four favorite girls. Speaking of which, where’s Mary and Amber?”

“Right here,” Medi said, as she and KaaZee walked in with the twins. “We’re getting a late start this morning.”

“Kumiko, Cho Gin, I want you to meet your Uncle Earon and Aunt EeRee,” EJ stated, pointing to each monarch. “Uncle Earon is Grandma’s brother and Aunt EeRee is his mate. They are Uncle TJ and Uncle Giibold’s parents.”

“Nice to meet you,” Cho Gin said, as the two girls bowed slightly forward.

“You are as beautiful as your Grandmother said you were,” EeRee stated, making each girl beam with happiness.

“Come, let us adjourn to the dining room and have a nice family breakfast,” Europa announced. “Something we have not been able to do for some time.” Everyone followed Europa and Jeanip into the dining room, where Doogon and Sinwee had a mountain of food waiting for them. Since no business was spoken at meals, for the next hour the possibility of JeffRa’s return was momentarily forgotten as Earon told stories of his adventures on Europa and Jeanip described Phameena and Lord Trinn’s reactions to having a new heir to the VeeRay throne.

____________

Tigglebree knocked on the door, then entered, carrying his master’s lunch on a tray. On the tray was also a small bowl filled with a fresh supply of feverfew leaves, a member of the herbal family known to help with pain. Although not as effective as Europa’s TeePoon leaves, the feverfew leaves seemed to help his master manage his pain without being so exhausted. As Tigglebree entered, he was glad to see his leader was sitting at his desk working on the plan to eliminate the Waters. Tigglebree sat the tray down and placed the food around on the small table. “I brought you some fresh feverfew leaves. They seem to be helping.”

“It is nice to know there is at least one thing on this miserable planet that does some good,” the leader scowled, standing up from his desk and walking over to the small table, sitting down to his lunch. “I still wish we could get our hands on some TeePoon leaves, but these will do.”

“It’s not too late to send a couple of our soldiers to Chancee’s to get some,” Tigglebree reminded him.

“Not yet,” the injured Oonock replied. “If the pain becomes unmanageable again, I will consider that option. We are so close to launching our attack, I do not want to do anything to jeopardize that. Has Sheik Abdul arrived yet?” the leader asked.

“He should be arriving in about an hour,” Tigglebree answered. “His protector radioed that they had landed at the airport and would be leaving by car for the drive here.”

The leader took a bite of his fresh eel, savoring the rich flavor. It reminded him of the food home on Europa and of the large worm-like creatures his mate cooked him on Ganymede. Funny, he had not thought of his first mate or his lost twin sons in a long, long time. Another life that could have been his, but wasn’t. Why did he think of her now? Was he getting old and sentimental? Or had her memory resurfaced to give him the hate to destroy his enemy? He took another bite, then added, “I hate humans. I hate dealing with them. This planet will be so much better when they and the Waters are gone.”

“It’s going to be a pretty lonely place, Sir, with just us five Terrians occupying it,” Tigglebree laughed. “You might want to think about keeping a few humans around. At least some females.”

“If those keequans, Zeevinn and Attwa, had not been so stupid as to lose our entire army, we would not need these humans at all,” his master quickly replied. “No, we cannot trust any of them. They have no honor, no sense of loyalty and tradition. Any that we allowed to live would only want to rebel and take our place.”

“As if any human could do that?”

“True, but they would try,” the leader laughed. “How many times have I told these idiots what needs to be done, only to have them go off and do something THEY thought was better? They could not even execute a simple plan like a ransom on Prince Enok’s head. Most ended up getting themselves discovered and arrested. If it was not for the need for their finances, I would eliminate the lot of them. Waging a war for over six thousand years does get expensive.”

“That it does, Sir,” Tigglebree said. “The task you had Wiiguard do for you is in the envelope to your left.”

Without saying a word, the leader opened the envelope and looked inside. “Excellent. These will be more than enough to convince Sheik Abdul that I am serious and that I want him and the others to remain out of this. Make sure Wiiguard escorts the Sheik in. He needs to see his face to appreciate what I am capable of.”

“Yes, Sir. Enjoy your lunch.” Tigglebree left his leader to enjoy his fresh eel and prepare for the sheik’s arrival.

Fifty-eight minutes later, the sheik’s automobile pulled up in front of the habitat. Tigglebree greeted their guest, then showed him and his two bodyguards inside. When they reached the hallway leading back to the office, Tigglebree informed the bodyguards they would be permitted to go no further. Wiiguard stepped forward and finished escorting the sheik down to their leader. Neither the sheik nor his bodyguard complained of the arrangements, for this was how it was always done. Their mysterious ally allowed no one except the sheik back into his office.

“Welcome, Sheik Abdul,” the leader greeted, as he slipped on his sunglasses to hide his eyes just in case he became angry. He remained seated at his desk to hide his leg injury. He leaned over the desk and held out his hand. “I hope your journey was a comfortable one.”

“I don’t know why you always insist on living in such remote areas,” the sheik complained, accepting the foreigner’s hand in friendship but offended his host did not rise out of respect to greet him. “I could fly halfway across the African continent in the time it takes to drive out here.”

“I am not fond of busy cities,” the leader answered. “I prefer the quietness of nature. She offers me an opportunity to think and plan without all that noise.”

“You will be glad to know that I, too, have been planning,” the human said, a huge proud smile on his face as he laid a diagram on the desk. “I’ve been able to put together a new coalition to stop the Waters’ power plants. After what happened to the last bunch, it took some persuading and searching to find anyone who would risk going after them. But I’ve got a group of ten: seven new members and three of the old who were not implicated in the bounty charges. All have committed manpower and a million each to the cause.”

“Good,” the leader bellowed. “Their money is most welcomed. As for your plan, it is not needed. I have everything ready to go and I do not want you or one of your idiots to jeopardize my operation.”

The leader could see the human’s face turning red with anger. “I am sick and tired of you calling me an idiot,” the human screamed, standing up and towering over the male on the other side. “I have worked very hard at this proposal and you will look at it or there will be no money from anyone.”

“Very well,” the leader said, picking up the piece of paper, barely looking at it, then throwing it back down on the desk. “There, I have looked at it. NOW SIT DOWN.”

As the sheik went to object, he felt very strong hands on his shoulders pushing him back into his chair. “You were asked to sit down and I advise that you do so immediately,” Wiiguard said.

Hearing the loud voices inside the office, the two bodyguards in the hallway stepped forward to see if the sheik needed their help. “Sorry, guys, you are to remain out here,” Tigglebree stated, as he aimed his weapon at the two males. “How about we just have a seat over here while our leaders sort out their differences.” Having no options, the two bodyguards reluctantly took a seat.

“Now, Sheik Abdul, I suggest you listen carefully to what I am about to say,” the leader announced. “You will tell your new friends that they are to do nothing. Do you understand? NOTHING. Your kind has only made matters worse, so stay away from the Waters. They are mine. But I will still expect their generous contribution of one million dollars to be placed in my bank account by Friday next.”

“Why would we give you any money?” the sheik snarled.

“Because I tell you to,” the leader smiled.

“And if we don’t?”

The Terrian leader leaned across the table and looked the human directly in the eye. “You and your friends have no idea what I am capable of, what I can do to you. I am more dangerous than you can ever imagine. Wiiguard, show our dear sheik what I am capable of.”

Wiiguard released the sheik’s shoulders, picked up the envelope on the desk, removed a number of eight–by-ten pictures and placed them one-by-one before the sheik. He stared at them in disbelief. Before him were pictures of his three children, each one standing with Wiiguard.

“These are fakes,” Shei Abdul declared, pushing the photos on to the floor. “My children are always protected. There is no way you or anyone else could get near them.”

Wiiguard looked at his leader, who nodded. “I thought you might think that. So I asked my companion to bring back something that you could not deny. Show him.”

Wiiguard laid another picture down on the table. It was a photo of Sheik Abdul’s youngest daughter sleeping in her bed, Wiiguard leaning down beside her. Sheik Abdul instantly recognized his daughter’s bedroom, but still he was not totally convinced. They could have duplicated her room, although he did not know how they would possibly know what it looked like. “Your daughter has a very nice room,” Wiiguard whispered in the sheik’s ear. “And a very beautiful necklace around her neck.” The sheik immediately looked at the picture to see the necklace he had given her for her last birthday. It was a butterfly with a long red ruby for the body and wings outlined in small diamonds, a necklace he had specially made for his youngest. “My congratulations to the jeweler. He did an excellent job creating the necklace. Perhaps your daughter would like it back.” Having said that, Wiiguard held up his fist and opened it, allowing the butterfly necklace to drop down from his fingers while still held in his hand. The sheik gasped, realizing the male standing beside him had indeed been in his daughter’s bedroom; had somehow bypassed all their security measures.

“Thankfully, my companion decided to remove her necklace instead of her head,” the leader stated, an evil smile on his face. He was glad he had remembered the sunglasses, for he could feel his eyes turning fire red as he lavished the moment.

“What do you want of me?” a horrified sheik asked.

“As I said, tell your associates to back away and do nothing unless I ask them to. And to deposit their money into my account by Friday next. If you comply with these requests, I assure you your family will remain safe. Otherwise, there is no place on this planet where you can hide them where we will not find them and complete the job my companion could have done.”

“And if our new associates won’t comply?

“Then convince them. Make them realize I am a force to be reckoned with, one of unbelievable power. Assure them that I will crush them like gnats on a table if they try to double cross me.”

“I will try,” the sheik replied, remaining very still. In all the dangerous adventures he had participated in, never had he been afraid as he was now. He realized that, sitting across from him, was the most evil person he had ever had the misfortune of knowing. And who was more than capable of destroying his family.

“You will do more than try,” the leader stated. “You see, Wiiguard left a little something behind to ensure your cooperation. If the eleven million is not deposited into my account by Friday next, a hidden bomb will go off destroying your home. And in case you opted to just simply abandon your home and allow it to explode, at the same time the bomb inside your daughter will also go off. Wiiguard thought he should not take her necklace without giving her something back in return.”

Sheik Abdul’s heart almost stopped beating. He frantically sped through his memories of his daughter, trying to find out if this was true. Did she have a bomb inside her? Then he remembered two days ago when she woke up in the morning and complained about her right side hurting. Upon examination, they noticed a small mark that they thought was an insect bite. But now the sheik knew the truth – it was not a bite, but the site where this male had placed the bomb inside her.

“I see by the look on your face you believe there is a bomb inside your youngest,” the leader continued. “I warn you, do not try to remove it. If you do, it will detonate immediately and your daughter will be in pieces. Such a lovely girl, too.”

It took all of the sheik’s self-control not to leap over the desk and strangle his host. Somehow he found the strength to sit there. “You said eleven million. There are only ten members.”

“I thought you too were contributing a million, thus making it eleven,” the leader replied. “But tell you what. I am not completely heartless. If at least eight million is placed in my account by the deadline I will allow your daughter to live. You may deposit the entire eight million yourself. I do not care where it comes from. However, I will still have to destroy your home. Only the full eleven will safe your house.” The leader leaned back in his chair, very pleased with himself. “Wiiguard, I believe our guest is ready to leave.”

Sheik Abdul stood, his legs shaking badly. He wondered if he would be able to walk out of the room. Holding on to the back of his chair, he took a step toward the door and was relieved that he did not collapse. He continued to walk, placing one foot carefully in front of the other, until he was out of the room and standing before his two guards.

“Get me the hell out of here, now,” was all he said. Immediately, the two guards each took a position in front or behind him and escorted him out to his waiting car.

“Too bad all meetings do not go that well,” the leader stated, a huge smile of satisfaction on his face.

“You do know, Sir, that I did not plant a bomb inside that little girl,” Wiiguard said. “Only the one to destroy the house.”

“I do, but her father does not,” the Terrian laughed. “Humans are so gullible.”

AND THE WINNER IS

“Come here, you little pollywog,” Jeanip said, as he pretended to run after Mary, who was hastily crawling away across the floor, giggling. Jeanip scooped her up, shouting, “I got you”, making her giggles turn into screams of laughter.

Europa stood just outside the doorway, watching her uncle with one of her granddaughters. She thought she had arrived unseen until Jeanip stated, “I used to do this to you too, Europa. Like your two youngest granddaughters, it was your favorite game when little. Your mother always used to scold me, saying I made you laugh too much and it would give you the hiccups.”

“Did it?” Europa asked, just as Mary hiccupped.

“Yep, just like Mary,” Jeanip said, lifting Mary higher and blowing on her belly, making her laugh even harder and hiccup more. Suddenly a strange look came over Jeanip’s face. “Oops, I think this time I did make her laugh too hard. I think she needs a diaper change.” Jeanip held out the smelly child to his grandmother.

“Not me,” Europa definitely stated. “You caused the mess, so you can clean her up. There is a changing table in the front bathroom.”

“Come on, Mary,” Jeanip stated, holding the still giggling child by her armpits away from himself. Mary thought this was some new game and was thrilled.

Europa followed the two down to the bathroom. “Uncle, you did not say anything last night when Kiijon mentioned you needed to return to FarCore in the event of a battle with JeffRa. I know you have waited many years to kill him, but I need to know you will be safe.”

“Over six thousand years,” Jeanip whispered.

“Promise me you will not engage him, that you will return to Europa at the first sign of trouble,” Europa said.

Jeanip finished closing the new diaper and handed the baby to Europa. “You cannot ask that of me, Europa. I have waited too long.”

“Yes, you have,” Europa replied. “Too long to have a life of your own, a family, sons. If you were to be killed, your unborn son would have no pouch to enter and would die shortly after hatching. You must be there for him, for Phameena and GarJen, just as you were always here for me. I know I am asking a lot of you, Uncle, but your life is no longer yours. Your family and unborn must come first.”

“I’m sorry, Europa, but I cannot promise that.”

“Then, as your queen, I command that you return to Europa at the first sign of JeffRa or a conflict,” Europa said.

“No, Europa. I beg you, don’t give me that order.”

“The order has been issued and I will not take it back,” Europa firmly stated. If Jeanip was not willing to ensure he lived for many more years, she would decree it so. “To disobey a direct order is treason. I hold you to your oath of allegiance.”

Jeanip stared at her hard, anger filling his face. Knowing she had just tied his hands from doing anything, he turned and stormed out of the bathroom, down the hallway and out through the kitchen, almost knocking Sinwee over as he passed.

Upon seeing Jeanip walk out of the house, Kiijon shouted, “Hey, Jeanip. EJ, Earon and I are going fishing. Do you want to join us?”

“No,” was all he shouted, as he marched toward the beach, removing his clothing as he went, throwing it everywhere. When he reached the water, he dove in, transformed into a dolphin and headed out through the pass into the open ocean.

“Oooo, I have the feeling your mom just gave Jeanip an order he did not like,” Kiijon said, looking toward the house. “EJ, Earon, you two go ahead and go fishing. I had best go see Europa and discover how she’s doing. If Jeanip’s that upset, you can bet she is even more upset. I’ll try to join you later.”

EJ and Earon continued down to the dock, Ospree and Feenam tagging along as guards, while Kiijon went back into the house. He stopped long enough at the Communications Room to notify Jazee that Jeanip had gone swimming and to request several guards accompany him. He then proceeded to the living room, where, as he expected, were Europa and Mary, sitting on a couch, tears trickling down her face.

“Hey, Mary. How would you like to go join your Mattwa and Amber outside?” Kiijon asked, as he lifted the small child up.

“Side,” Mary giggled.

“I was just coming to get her,” KaaZee said, as she walked into the doorway. “We saw Jeanip go for a swim, so we assumed he was done playing with Mary. Miss Medi has a snack outside for her.”

“Go with KaaZee,” Kiijon said, thankful the protector had come inside so he didn’t have to leave his mate.

“So that is where he went,” Europa said, as Kiijon sat down beside her. “For a swim?”

“By his actions as he walked across the yard, I take it you told him he could not join in the fight to kill JeffRa?” Kiijon asked.

“Actually, I did worse than that,” Europa said, looking up at her mate, her eyes now flowing with tears. “I ordered him to return to Europa if fighting broke out and reminded him that to disobey a direct order from his queen was treason. Oh, Kiijon, if you could have seen his face. I have never seen him look like that at me, no matter what I did in the past. I believe he truly hates me.”

“I know he doesn’t, My Love,” Kiijon said, taking the weeping female into his arms. “But you have to remember, Jeanip is still a soldier and he has sworn a duty to always protect us, even if he is no longer our protector. For over eight thousand years he knew nothing else. You can’t just order him to forget all that he knows, stop being the Oonock he is and go home. We males don’t work that way.”

“But if something happened to him, his unborn son would die,” Europa said.

“And what would have happened to Misso, the future queen, if Hygone had not brought me back after being killed by Lady SaaTeek?” Kiijon asked.

“Misso would have died,” Europa answered.

“Yes, she would have died,” Kiijon repeated. “You and I together made the decision to go and save our people, because that is who we are. If Jeanip is here with Phameena’s blessing, it is with the understanding that something could happen to him too and he would not be there to take his son into his pouch. We made our decision on what we believed was right; they have made theirs. Even as their queen, you do not have the right to deny them their right to decide their own future. You can ask him, try to persuade him, but you cannot order him home, Europa.”

“Why did you not tell me this last night when we discussed the subject?” Europa asked, still held in her mate’s arms.

“I tried, but you fell asleep on me,” Kiijon chuckled, kissing her on the top of her forehead. “I didn’t think you’d talk to him about it so soon. Otherwise, I would have told you this morning as soon as you got up. But don’t worry. Jeanip doesn’t hate you. He never could.”

“I am not so sure,” Europa replied. “You did not see his face.”

“He’s angry is all,” Kiijon reassured her. “He’ll go for a good swim and work off some hostility, then come back, and you two can make up. And you can tell him you were wrong to order him, but you do request he return and hope he will oblige.”

“I do not understand the difference,” a confused Europa said. “What is the difference is I order him or request him to return?”

“Besides his ego, a death sentence for treason,” Kiijon laughed. “Besides, it’s a male thing. You can’t take away our right to always protect you.”

That night at dinner, the table was empty one Jeanip. Chancee called the estate to inform them that Jeanip had suddenly appeared on his dock and would be staying for a few days. He stated they wanted to get some fishing in, but Europa and Kiijon knew the real reason. Jeanip was still very angry over Europa’s order. Fortunately, Kumiko kept the dinner hour anything but dull. She was extremely happy, talking up a storm, barely able to sit still in her chair to eat.

“Kumiko, did you take some happy pills today or something?” EJ finally asked.

Before answering, Kumiko looked up at the clock. It was six eighteen. “No,” she laughed. “At seven they are going to announce the winner of the ice cream contest. I just know Cho Gin or I are going to win.”

With all that had been going on, the adults had forgotten all about the ice cream contest. Although they allowed both girls to write their letters, they were never mailed. Jazee could find no information about the company that was sponsoring the contest, and with the reappearance of JeffRa, no one was willing to take the chance this was a trick.

“In that case, you had best eat your dinner,” Kiijon stated. “You know the rules: you need to clean your plate if you want to watch the television.”

“But, Grandpa, I’m too excited to eat,” Kumiko replied, giving her Grandfather a forlorn look.

Kiijon reached over and divided the food on her plate into halves. “Tell you what. For this one night, if both your parents agree, you can eat just half the food on your plate and still watch television.”

“That is agreeable,” Medi stated. “But only this one time.”

“For something as important as this, I also agree,” EJ replied. Everyone knew the girls had no chance of winning and how upset Kumiko would be, so they thought it best to give her some joy for the evening.

At six-fifty, the monarchs, along with Jazee, KaaZee and Ospree, moved into the family room and prepared to watch the news. Kumiko sat on her father’s lap, barely able to hold still, telling him about the grand party she planned to have. Cho Gin, excited but trying to act more grownup, sat on the floor with the twins, helping to keep them entertained. Finally, it was time. As the announcer announced that they would soon divulge the winner of the ice cream contest, not a sound was heard in the room. Kumiko was barely breathing.

“Hello, everyone,” a man said. “My name is Michael Allen. I am the owner and president of Mother’s Wonderful Ice Cream. I am happy to announce that we received thousands of replies and we have chosen a winner.”

EJ leaned very close to Kumiko and quietly whispered, “Kumiko, you need to breathe.”

“Okay,” his daughter said, finally taking in a breath as she anxiously awaited.

“It was a hard decision,” the man on the television stated. “There were so many good letters. Every single one of you who entered should be proud of yourselves. And to show our appreciation, each one will receive a coupon for a free pint of Mother’s Wonderful Ice Cream. Now for the winners. The winner of the fifty dollar certificate for Mother’s Wonderful Ice Cream is” – there was a long pause – “Mary Shephard of San Diego. The winner of the one hundred dollar certificate is” – another pause – “London Cooper of Antioch. And the winner for the year’s supply of Mother’s Wonderful Ice Cream and a party at her local ice cream place is” – another long pause with a drumroll – “Kumiko Chang Waters of Shelter Cove.”

Kumiko screamed, jumping off her father onto the floor, scaring Mary and Amber. “I won, I won,” she shouted, as she jumped up and down while the twins cried.

“How?” Jazee silently asked EJ, as he, Kiijon and Europa looked at the prince.

“I have no idea,” EJ replied.

“KaaZee, did you mail the girls’ letters?” EJ silently asked.

“No, Sire,” KaaZee replied. “They are still in my room, hidden safely away.”

“Everyone quiet,” Europa ordered. “He is going to read Kumiko’s letter.” Everyone listened to the announcer read a very touching letter from the almost four year old, talking about the loss of her parents and her adoption by new parents, and how she wanted to win to thank them all for her new life.

“That’s not the letter we wrote,” Medi announced.

“No, it’s the one Neil helped me write,” Kumiko said. “I was afraid you wouldn’t let us write one, so I asked him to help me. I told him you wouldn’t mind, especially since it was my way to thank you for adopting me.”

“Did Neil mail it for you too?” Jazee asked, thinking he might need to set some rules for what Neil could and could not do.

“No, I mailed it myself,” Kumiko proudly exclaimed. “That day the mailperson brought our new school books, I ran outside and gave him my letter.”

“You went outside, by yourself?” a horrified Medi asked.

“It was just a few steps off the porch,” Kimiko answered, the happiness gone from her face as she realized she might be in trouble. “And I wasn’t alone. Sill was out there getting the package. I came right back inside.”

“And where were Cho Gin and KaaZee?” Medi asked.

“They were in the family room,” Kumiko softly said, keeping her eyes on the floor while shuffling her right foot across the floor nervously. “I told KaaZee I had to go to the bathroom.”

“And you went outside without telling anyone instead of going to the bathroom?” an angry EJ asked. “You lied to KaaZee?”

“Not really,” Kumiko said. “I did stop at the bathroom to wash my hands when I came back inside.”

“What you did was very bad,” EJ sternly said. “I want you to go up to your room right this minute. I or your mother, or both, will be up there shortly to talk to you about what you did.”

Tears now filling her eyes, Kumiko ran from the room and up the stairs. They heard her bedroom door loudly slam. “KaaZee, please go and make sure she is in her own room and stays there,” Europa instructed.

“Cho Gin, did you know about this?” EJ asked, anger still written on his face.

“No, Dattwa, she never said a word to me about it,” Cho Gin answered. “I swear.”

“I believe you,” EJ replied, forcing a smile onto his face. He didn’t want Cho Gin to think he blamed her. “Now what do we do? We cannot let her accept the award.”

“It will break her heart if we made her turn it down,” Medi said.

“Can’t be helped, I’m afraid,” Jazee said. “It’s way too dangerous. I’m sure once the sponsor learns who Kumiko really is, he will understand why she cannot accept. At least the results were only broadcasted in the state.”

“Thank goodness for that,” Kiijon stated.

Suddenly Staybo came hurrying into the room, looking around. “Hey, where’s the little tadpole? I wanted to congratulate her on a job well done.” Suddenly, he noticed the looks on everyone faces. “By the expressions on your faces, this wasn’t a joyful occasion?”

“No, not at all,” Jazee replied. Then he realized Staybo should not know about the announcement. “Staybo, how did you know Kumiko won the contest?”

“It’s all over the news and internet,” Staybo stated. “Both the national and world presses have picked up on the story. They’re broadcasting Kumiko’s letter as a human interest story. Giving high praises to Prince Enok and Miss Medaron.”

“Great,” Jazee muttered. “Now everyone in the world will know she is your daughter.”

“Including anyone who still thinks the bounty on his head is in effect,” Kiijon added. “This situation just got a whole lot worse.”

____________

Half way around the world, the announcement also was not appreciated.

“Damn humans,” the leader roared. “Cannot they ever do anything right? Who told that idiot, Michael Allen, to read her letter? Anyone wanting to collect that bounty that used to be on Prince Enok’s head, or who just wants to see him dead, are going to know where he lives and who his daughter is. He may have just cost us our one opportunity to end Enok and Europa Waters’ lives.” The leader picked up his half-empty cup of coffee and threw it across the room in anger, hitting the opposite wall. The cup broke into many pieces while the brown liquid slid down the wall, leaving a dark stain. “Idiot!”

“While this does put a crick in our plans, this might just work to our advantage,” Wiiguard quickly stated, a smile spreading across his face. “The broadcast will definitely put the estate on high alert, meaning Prince Enok and the other monarchs will be restricted to the estate, possibly even to the house. To ensure the sisters’ safety, they will also want to get the presentation over with quickly and will not allow it at the estate.”

“And how is any of this supposed to help us?” the leader roared.

“Have the corporate office of Mother’s Wonderful Ice Cream contact the Waters’ family and apologize for the buffoon’s mistake,” Wiiguard continued. “Tell them that, due to this unexpected development, they want the girls, their parents and grandparents to come down to the ice cream shop tomorrow to tape the presentation of the award, but announce the presentation will be made in three days. That way there will be no press around and the Waters will believe the girls to be safe. Then, in two days, they will simply broadcast the recording as if it were just happening.”

“That makes no sense.”

“Just a moment, Sir,” Tigglebree stated, holding his hand out in front of himself as he began to walk around the room. “I think I know where Wiiguard is going with this. Due to the heightened security, none of the monarchs will go into town; only Terrace, his mate, the two oldest girls and their mother – the exact people you want off the estate. Jazee will insist the others remain behind.”

“We have everything ready for the fire,” Wiiguard said. “We can send General McDouglas’ men a notice first thing tomorrow to leave the mountain, bring in our men and start the fire as soon as the girls leave for town. The Weather Channel is calling for strong coastal winds, which will fuel the flames and bring the wrath of Terrians down upon their homes.”

The leader’s eyes sparkled with delight this time, instead of their angry flaming red. “Can we get our deployment into the hills and ocean outside the bay in time?”

“I don’t believe we can get the boats into place on the ocean, but the men are already waiting a few miles up the coast,” Wiiguard replied. “We can get them to their needed location within ninety minutes, Sir.”

Tigglebree saw the hesitation in his leader’s face. He rushed over to the map on the desk, pointing to the barrier that separated the estate’s bay from the ocean. “I know the boats were an important part of our plan, but I believe there is a better solution. We have a small sailboat nearby. We can disable it and have it sink and block the entrance to the bay, thus cutting off any retreat for the monarchs. If we put a group of snippers here on the ocean side of the barrier, they can easily pick off the monarchs as they try to escape.” He waited for approval, but none came. “Sir, we won’t have a better chance. This plan WILL work.”

“I believe you are right,” the leader stated, a smile finally coming to his face as he envisioned the monarch’s demise. “Tigglebree, I want you to take our two remaining Terrians and several mercenaries and plant yourselves on that hill. If possible, take Europa alive. I still want to be the one to end her life. Kill the rest.” He paused for a moment than added, “I’ll need transportation to be ready to leave in thirty minutes if I hope to arrive there on time.”

“Might I ask where you plan on going, Sir?” Tigglebree nervously asked.

“I am going to go and personally make sure nothing goes wrong,” the leader announced. “I plan on being there to see Kumiko receive her award.”

____________

While the others discussed how to handle the contest situation, EJ and Medi slowly walked up the stairs to Kumiko’s room. As they drew closer, they could hear her crying through the small crack in the door. After knocking, they entered the room to see Cho Gin sitting beside her sister, trying to comfort the sobbing child but having little luck.

“Cho Gin, would you please give us a minute alone with Kumiko?” Medi asked. She and EJ could see the younger sister’s grasp tighten on her older sister upon hearing the request.

“It will be okay,” Cho Gin whispered to her little sister. “I’ll be just outside in the hallway. Remember, I am always here for you.” Having said that, she rose and walked out of the room, barely glancing at her new parents. She softly closed the door and waited, as promised.

“Kumiko, we need to talk about what you did,” EJ said.

Suddenly the small child leapt off the bed and ran to both parents, wrapping her arms tightly around their legs, crying, “Daddy, please don’t make us go away. Please don’t send us back to the orphanage. I promise to be good. I won’t take the ice cream.”

Both EJ and Medi dropped to their knees so they could see the child’s face. “Kumiko, why would you think we would send you away?”

“Because I was bad,” Kumiko sobbed, her body shaking. “And you don’t love us anymore. Yoshi got adopted, but she was bad. So her new parents brought her back to the orphanage. She said they didn’t love her anymore.”

“Oh, My Sweet, Sweet Child,” EJ said, taking the grieving human into his arms and lifting her close to his chest. Medi also rose and wrapped her arms around them both. “We could never stop loving you. You are our daughter.”

“Even if we are upset with what you did, we never stopped loving you, Kumiko,” Medi answered. “And we never will.”

“Do you promise?” Kumiko asked.

“Let us go sit down on the bed,” EJ said, carrying the child over and sitting down, keeping her in his embrace. Medi quickly grabbed a box of nearby Kleenex, then sat down beside the two. “Kumiko, I want you to look at me.” EJ waited. “Please, Kumiko. Let me see your face.” Slowly the child lifted her tear-stained face and looked at her father. He took the Kleenex Medi handed him and lovingly began to wipe away the tears from her cheeks, all the time giving her a warm smile. “There you are, Small Fry. That looks better. Now listen very carefully to what I am going to say. I am your father. Medaron is your mother. There is nothing you can ever do to change that or make us stop loving you.”

Kumiko wrapped her arms tightly around her father, kissing his cheek. She then leaned over and did the same to Medi. “I love you, too.”

“Did you know that sometimes Jazee, your grandparents, and others forget that I am not as old as they are,” EJ began to explain. “And I sometimes do things that make them upset and get me into trouble.”

“You get into trouble?” an astonished Kumiko asked.

“All the time, although I am trying to correct that,” EJ answered.

“Me, too,” Kumiko softly said, lowering her head for a moment. “But I’m not doing very well at it.”

“Me either,” EJ whispered in her ear, making the child laugh. She looked over at her mother, who nodded her head in agreement.

“Sometimes grownups forget that children are children,” Medi stated. “And that they have a reason why they do things. It’s not because they are bad or are misbehaving. It’s just that they see things differently.”

“Why don’t you tell us, Kumiko, why you wrote a secret letter and mailed it?” EJ asked. “That way we can understand.”

Kumiko started crying again. EJ pulled her once more close to his heart. “Just take your time. I promise that whatever you tell us neither Medi nor I will be angry.”

“What about Jazee and Uncle Jeanip?”

“I promise they won’t be mad either,” Medi reassured the child.

Feeling secure, Kumiko began to explain. “Dattwa, Mattwa, you and everyone else here have given up so much. I have all kinds of toys and clothes and my very own pony. You have given me and Cho Gin a very happy life. Of all the lost children in this world, you picked us. I have nothing special to give you back in return.”

“Your smiles and love is more than enough,” Medi stated.

“No, they aren’t,” Kumiko said, sitting up. “When one is shown kindness, it is mandatory that they return that kindness. I wanted to give you, Grandpa and Grandma, Jazee, Neil and everyone something special, something just from me. Something that I didn’t use your money for. That’s why the contest was so important. If I won, I could repay you and the others for all the kindness you have shown us. I was afraid you wouldn’t let me enter the contest, and I just had to win. So I had Neil help me write the letter and I mailed it without you knowing.” Tears began to fill her eyes again. “But if you say I have to give the prize back, I will.”

“No, Sweetheart,” EJ said. “Your intentions were very noble, and I will not ask you to return your reward. We will figure something out. But you must understand how dangerous what you did was. Although you are more than safe here inside the house and on the grounds, those people who took you could still be out there, still wanting to take you away from us.”

“Kumiko, I know this is hard for you to understand,” Medi stated, trying to figure out how to explain this to an almost four-year-old without scaring her. “Your father is a very important man and has many enemies.”

“Why?”

“He is trying to save this world,” Medi continued. “He is trying to bring free electricity to everyone, restore the lost forests, save our oceans, and make the air around the world fresh, as it is here. Some people think that, by him doing this, they will lose their money. Some want to take all the fish, elephants, tigers and trees to make mountains of money.”

“Those are bad men.”

“I do not really think they are bad men, Kumiko,” EJ stated. “Just confused. They think money is the most important thing to have.”

“It’s not,” Kumiko happily smiled. “But I know what is. Love and family.”

“Yes it is,” EJ smiled. “But until these people who want money learn that, they will continue to try to stop me. And that puts you, Cho Gin, Mary and Amber in danger.”

“Mattwa too?”

“Mattwa too. And Jazee’s job is to make sure that everyone – from Grandma and Grandpa Waters and Landers down to your pony – are safe. So sometimes we cannot do things we want to do.”

“Like enter the contest or ride in the big corral before we are ready.”

“Yes,” Medi replied. “And we must always have permission to do special things. For those special things could hurt us. Can you understand that?”

“I think so.” Kumiko grew very quiet for a moment. “It was my fault that the bad men took Cho Gin and me. There was a knock at the door and I ran to open it, hoping it was Ms. Wells. Miss Cheney has always told us never to open the door, but I didn’t listen.” She hung her head. “It wasn’t Ms. Wells.”

“So you can see what can happen,” EJ stated, looking at his mate. Neither of them had ever heard this part of their capture. “And now that you are going to be four in what, five weeks?”

“Four,” the child happily announced.

“Four weeks, you are no longer a baby, but a young lady,” EJ said. “You know the difference between right and wrong and what you can and cannot do. Unfortunately, what you did was very serious and some sort of discipline is called for. What do you think your punishment should be?”

Both EJ and Medi waited for the child’s answer. Her reply would tell them if she did indeed understand the severity of her actions. Both smiled when they heard her response. “As my punishment I cannot ride Blacky for one week and must clean out both his and Cho Gin’s horse’s stalls during that time.”

“Agreed,” EJ smiled. “Double stall cleaning and no riding for a week.”

“But can I still have ice cream?”

AN UNEXPECTED MEETING

EJ and Medi explained to everyone downstairs why Kumiko felt compelled to secretly mail her letter. When they told them how she was afraid no one loved her anymore and that they were going to send her back to Japan, everyone’s hearts broke. None felt they could deny the small child her reward, yet worried how they could allow her to leave the sanctuary of the estate. The call from the Public Relations Director from Mother’s Excellent Ice Cream suggesting they film a private ceremony was a welcome relief, giving them the out they needed.

“We thought we would film her accepting the certificate at her home tomorrow,” the Director said on the phone.

“No, it cannot be done here,” Kiijon insisted. Neither he nor the others wanted cameramen on the estate, taking pictures of whatever they wanted.

“Then we’ll do it at the Ice Cream Parlor,” the Director stated.

“No, too public,” Jazee said. “And too hard to ensure everyone’s safety.”

“Well, then, do you have a location in mind?” a frustrated Director asked.

“There’s a small pavilion on the north outskirts of town,” Jazee said. “A lot of people use it for weddings. It sits on top of a huge cliff overlooking the ocean.” Silently he added, “It is an easy location to defend, with lots of open space. Plus, if something was to go wrong, we can get everyone out without any trouble.”

“Are you sure that location is suitable?” the Director asked. She hated dealing with parents and grandparents.

“Yes, that location will be sufficient for both of our needs. However, I must insist that there be no press or no one but the filming crew,” Jazee replied. “I believe one cameraman and one technician should be sufficient.”

“Whatever,” sighed the Director, realizing this was not going to be the fun project she had been promised.

Fifteen minutes later, after concluding his conversation with the Director ended, Jazee informed the monarchs of the agreed-upon plans. “I have the feeling that is one unhappy woman,” Jazee laughed. “She wanted lots of kids there, a representation from the town and a whole lot of other things, all of which I declined. Then she insisted on having all four grandparents and both parents, which I also declined. I finally made her understand that she gets Kumiko, Cho Gin, Miss Medi, Master Terrance and Teerdomay and about fifteen soldiers and that was it.”

“Did she go for it?” Europa asked.

“She didn’t like it, but when I assured her it was that or nothing, she took it,” Jazee stated, pleased with the outcome. “I am sorry, Your Majesties, but you do realize that I cannot allow you off the estate to attend even this small taping. It is just way too dangerous and unpredictable. I will make sure someone take lots of pictures and films it for you to see.”

“That will be sufficient,” Europa said, trying to hide her disappointment. She had vowed when young that, when she had children and grandchildren, she would not miss their pageants and reward ceremonies, as her mother had. Sadly, she realized that, with age, comes the realization that such childhood promises could not be kept. The scope of danger that constantly surrounded her and her family prohibited such activities. She wondered if her mother regretted not attending her ceremonies as much as she regretted not being able to attend Kumiko’s.

“What time is the taping set for?”

“O-nine-thirty,” Jazee replied. “I figured that early in the morning there shouldn’t be too many newsmen wandering around, anticipating we might try something like this.”

“Is it okay if I go tell the girls?” Medi asked.

“Make it so,” Europa answered, after seeing Jazee’s nod.

“Why don’t you come with me, Mattwa?” Medi suggested, trying to include her mother-in-law in the excitement. “You can help the girls and me pick out something special to wear.”

“I would love to,” Europa replied, a huge smile on her face.

About half way up the stairs an excited Medi stopped. “Sunam, KaaZee, can you feed Mary and Amber if we’re not down in time?”

“Don’t worry, you two,” Kiijon teased. “Their father and I will make sure someone feeds them.” He watched as the two females raced upstairs. It was good to see his mate enjoying life again.

____________

As the limousine pulled into the parking area, the Terrian leader immediately saw why the Waters chose this for the shooting location. It was completely open and easy to defend. A small stone building in a vast field of grass, set on top a large cliff. Behind the building was the Pacific Ocean, with a sixty foot drop to the waters below, thus preventing any attack from behind. In the front and two sides, the land was flat and clear, giving one a view of several miles. Except for the bushes around the front of the building, there were no trees, shrubbery or large rocks within a mile, thus assuring no one could launch a surprise attack from that direction. Only one entrance led into the area, which was now secured by state police. The main road was two miles back, giving them ample time to escape if anyone tried to break the police barricade. He chuckled to himself, for it was those on the estate that would be attacked, not the few here.

The vehicle pulled up alongside the pavilion, parking close to the south wall where it would not be seen. He hadn’t decided if he would watch the activities from inside the building or from outside, watching through the window. Whichever he decided, he had to make sure that neither the girls nor Terrance saw him, for any of the three might recognize who he really was.

The leader looked down at his watch. He estimated the small group attending the ceremony would be leaving within the next ten minutes, flying to this destination by helicopter. Strict radio silence was in effect, but he knew his team was ready to strike as soon as the older daughters lifted off in their transport. By the time the award celebration was over, the Waters’ problem would be eradicated.

As he stepped out of his car, he breathed in a lungful of fresh ocean air. It was the one thing he loved most about the planet he was doomed to live the remaining years of his life on – the smell of her ocean. Even with all the pollutants in her air, the ocean always seemed to smell fresh, clean, bursting with possibilities. Sadness filled his heart for a moment as he remembered that soon this wonderful air would be inundated with the smell of burning grass, trees and Oonock flesh.

____________

Kumiko came down the stairs wearing a beautiful lacey lilac dress, laced anklets and a pair of white dress shoes. Her hair was tied into two pigtails with lilac ribbons matching her dress tied around each. Medi had allowed her to wear lip-gloss for the occasion and had brushed her cheeks every so lightly with blush, thus giving them a warm, healthy glow. She wore small diamond earrings, a gift that morning from her Grandmother Europa. Around her neck was the amulet given to her the day she arrived to be part of the Waters’ family.

Cho Gin came down next, her hair long and flowing just past her shoulders. Unlike her little sister, she had chosen to wear a more traditional Japanese dress made of red silk. She, too, wore the new diamond earrings her Grandmother gave her along with her amulet.

Behind both girls was Medaron, along with KaaZee. As Prince Enok awaited the four females at the bottom of the stairs, he thought his mate had never looked more beautiful. Her hair was up in a bun with several white flowers placed around it. Her body was draped in a simple, yet eloquent, wine-colored, cold shoulder shift dress with shoulder cutouts and short sleeves, which ended just above her knees, thus exposing her beautiful, long, slender legs. The ensemble was completed by black high heels and teardrop diamond earrings. KaaZee wore a special-occasion uniform, consisting of black, straight legged pants, a collared black dress shirt with the Oonock symbol on each collar tip and black boots. She also wore a hand-gun strapped into a shoulder holster, clearly visible for all to see.

“I do not think I have ever seen such beautiful ladies,” EJ announced, as he took Medi’s hand and kissed it. “You four are beautiful.”

Cho Gin blushed. EJ wondered if she had ever worn such eloquent clothes before. But nothing damped Kumiko’s enthusiasm. “Isn’t it beautiful, Dattwa? I feel just like Cinderella. And look what Grandma gave us. New diamond earrings to wear. REAL diamonds.”

“Oh, they are indeed beautiful,” EJ replied. “I hope you remembered to thank her for such a wonderful gift.”

“I did,” Kumiko smiled. “And I gave her a kiss too.”

“Are you sure KaaZee’s gun is necessary?” Medi whispered to her mate. She was used to her guard carrying a weapon, but normally it was hidden beneath her clothing.

“Yes,” EJ replied. “Both Dattwa and I agreed that it needs to be visible so Cho Gin, and especially Kumiko, realize the seriousness of the situation. I truly believe her sending of her letter secretly is because we have sheltered them both too much from the truth of what is really out there, what hunts us all.”

“But they’re just children, EJ,” Medi said. “I don’t want them being afraid.”

“A little fear will keep them safe,” Kiijon said, as he now walked up to the group. “They must never forget to be vigilant and remember that danger can appear at any time, from anywhere.”

“Such a harsh lesson for them to learn,” Medi commented softly.

“But the same we all learned at a young age,” EJ stated, leaning forward and kissing his mate’s cheek.

“Turn around, you two,” Kiijon instructed the sisters, wishing to change the subject. “I want to see how beautiful you look in your new dresses and earrings Grandma bought you.” Both girls slowly turned, showing off their outfits; Cho Gin blushing at the attention, Kumiko giggling with joy.

“Perfect,” Kiijon stated. He knelt down before the youngest girl. “Now don’t forget about what we talked about, Kumiko. Tell your story like you practiced. Don’t add anything and don’t say anything about your family here or where you live. It’s very important.”

“I remember, Grandpa,” Kumiko smiled. “I mustn’t say anything that the bad men can use to hurt us. Today, I get to be a protector.”

“And a good one you will be,” Kiijon replied.

“I believe, Young Ladies, your ride is waiting outside,” Jazee announced.

As the small group stepped onto the back porch, they saw Terrance and Teerdomay were already waiting beside the helicopter, along with Sunam, who had decided to join the group. Terrance and Sunam both wore black suits with lilac ties, while Teerdomay wore a lovely lilac laced dress that extended halfway between her knees and ankles.

“My, don’t you three look dashing today,” Medi commented, kissing both of her parents and brother.

“Hope you don’t mind, Sis, but I thought I’d tag along,” Sunam stated. “Jazee thought it would be good for me, as the twins’ protector, to get some experience in how to handle public events. After all, I will be doing this for Mary and Amber one day.”

“I am glad you are coming along,” Medi falsely smiled, as she noticed the shoulder weapon he was also carrying. “Although I am not sure I approve of my brother carrying a gun also.”

“Extra needed security, My Love,” EJ stated.

EJ helped Cho Gin into the helicopter, then lifted Kumiko up. “Are you sure, Dattwa, that you can’t come with us?” Kumiko asked.

“I wish I could, Small Fry,” EJ replied. “But I need to stay here with Mary and Amber. You go and have fun, but do not eat too much ice cream and get a bellyache.”

“I won’t,” Kumiko laughed.

“Enjoy yourself and have a good time,” EJ told Medi, as he kissed her goodbye then helped her up. “The girls and I will be here waiting to hear all about the adventure when you return.”

Kliinew closed the helicopter door, then climbed into the co-pilot’s seat up front. Another chopper with ten guards would be accompanying them. As they lifted off, everyone waved goodbye.

“Now we wait,” Kiijon stated, as they watched the two helicopters grow smaller in size.

____________

“Their helicopters just took off,” the human mercenary reported to Tigglebree.

“All of the General’s men off the mountain?” Tigglebree asked.

“Yes, Sir,” the human replied. “They left about an hour ago.”

“Perfect.” Tigglebree’s eyes glowed red with excitement at what was about to happen, but due to the sunglasses he wore, the humans with him did not notice the change in his eye color. He wondered what they would do if they had. Probably freak out and abandon their jobs. “Pull the men back and let’s start this fire.” He walked to the edge of the small knoll he stood on and stared off to the south. He could not see the estate from where he was, but he knew it was there, not far from that far patch of trees. “Be prepared to die, Waters Monarchs, for today is judgement day. Today, JeffRa gets his revenge.”

Tigglebree, along with the two remaining Terrians and ten mercenaries, began to scale down the rugged cliff to the ocean water’s below. To avoid both the flames and detection, they would hug the shoreline along the cliff for five miles until they reached the hills across from the estate, then venture back onto land. It was hoped that the fires would set off so many alarms at the estate that their presence along the shore would be considered part of the fire or go completely unnoticed. To help get them to their location quickly and not too exhausted to carry out their mission, a pulley system had been set up along the shoreline. All they had to do was hold on.

Treading water while waiting for everyone to come down, Tigglebree looked up and could already see black smoke and huge flames. He smiled. The fire was set and on its way down to the estate. But they had underestimated the intensity and speed of the fire. The flames leaped across the area within seconds, devouring everything in its path, forcing those still above to jump from the cliff. But the flames were too fast and overtook the last two mercenaries before they could leap off the cliff. Screaming in pain as their bodies were engulfed in flames, they tumbled over the side, plummeting towards the ocean below. As they hit the water, Tigglebree could hear the flames sizzle and go out. There was nothing they could do for the two injured humans. They had no medical supplies, no boat to place them in. Tigglebree nodded to the two Terrians, who drew their weapons and shot each screaming human in the head. He could not take a chance on their screaming giving away their element of surprise. Besides, it put the two humans out of their suffering. Realizing they were losing precious time, he grabbed the pulley and began the journey down the coastline, trying to keep abreast of the fire as he went along.

Since Tigglebree’s team could not step onto the actual estate without setting off motion detectors, they had poured hundreds of gallons of gasoline into the small stream that ran down the hill. When the raging fire reached the stream, the gasoline ignited, giving the fire a swift ride down the mountain, spreading the fire ten times faster than it would normally have spread. The hungry flames leaped onto the banks and across the dry grasses, racing towards the drought-stricken trees. Within minutes, the entire mountain was ablaze with towering flames heading for the monarchs below.

As they continued to speed through the water, Tigglebree could see that the fire was beating them and would reach the base of the mountain before they could get into position. He just hoped that the three mercenaries outside the bay were able to sink their skiff in front of the bay entrance, thus hindering the monarchs escape into the ocean. He wished he could transform into a dolphin or whale so he could go faster, but that was impossible because of the humans on his team.

____________

The helicopter landed softly in the grass beside the pavilion. “Wait here until we get the okay it is safe,” Kliinew announced, as little Kumiko quickly unsnapped her seat belt and ran over to the door. She looked out the window and saw several guards from the other chopper get out and do a sweep of the area, including inside the building. At last they gave the signal that everything was secured and Kliinew opened the door and lifted her down onto the ground. Immediately, a man with a camera began to snap her picture.

Sunam immediately walked up to the man and took his camera. “I am sorry, but it was agreed that all pictures would be taken inside the building. I will return your camera to you once we are inside.”

“I just wanted a picture of her getting out of the helicopter for the paper,” the reporter said. To Sunam’s surprise, the reporter turned and walked inside, giving him no grief about taking his camera.

Holding onto her mother’s hand, Kumiko almost floated to the building and walked inside. She was surprised to see there was only the announcer from the television station who had said she was the winner, the man from outside who had taken her picture, the owner of the ice cream store, another man with a big camera and two ladies. She thought there would be more people. Then she remembered her father had told her that, because of security reasons, they had to limit the number of people attending the celebration and that the real celebration would be done back at the estate.

“Welcome, welcome,” said one of the strange ladies. “My name is Angela Durham. I am the Director of Public Relations for Mother’s Excellent Ice Cream. You must be our winner, Kumiko.”

“Yes,” Kumiko shyly said, suddenly a little frightened. She quickly hid behind her mother for safety.

“You must be Mrs. Waters,” Ms. Durham stated, as she held her hand out to Medaron, who graciously shook it. “Mr. Waters didn’t come also?”

“No, I am sorry he was unable to attend,” Medi replied. “These are my parents, Terrance and Teerdomay Landers, my brother Sunam Landers, my personal assistant, KaaZee and our protector, Kliinew.

“Kumiko, look,” Cho Gin whispered. As Kumiko looked in the direction her sister was pointing, her eyes got very big, for over on the far side of the room was a table filled with bowls of ice cream along with pots of hot fudge and hot caramel, bowls of various topping and nuts and numerous cans of whipped cream. Both girls wondered if that was all for them.

“Unless you have any objections, I thought we would take the pictures of Kumiko receiving her award first,” Ms. Dunham announced. “And perhaps she could say a little something about what it means for her to win. Then we can all fix ourselves some sundaes with our wonderful ice cream, and Gary will take some more pictures of us. Is that agreeable with you?”

“Yes, that will be fine,” Medi replied.

“Okay, Sweetheart, let’s go stand over here so Mr. Allen can present you with your winnings,” Ms. Dunham said, reaching for Kumiko’s hand. Kumiko quickly withdrew it and grabbed onto Medi’s dress.

“It’s okay, Kumiko,” Medi said. “No one is going to hurt you here.”

“You promise. There’s no bad men here.”

“I promise. There’s no bad men here.”

Cho Gin walked up and held out her hand to her little sister. “Come on, Miko. I’ll go with you.” At last, confident she was safe, Kumiko took her sister’s hand and together they walked over to where Mr. Allen waited. Mr. Allen introduced himself, then several pictures for the paper were taken of him giving Kumiko her certificate for a year’s supply of ice cream. The second cameraman recorded the presentation for the six o’clock news that would be aired the following day. Then pictures were taken of the entire family with Mr. Allen. Finally, to the girls’ delight, they moved over to the ice cream table where they were filmed making elaborate ice cream sundaes and devouring them along with their family.

Halfway through the ice cream eating, Terrance noticed Mr. Allen walk across the room and talk to an elderly gentleman sitting on a chair. Terrance hadn’t noticed him before and wondered if he had been there the entire time. The stranger was sitting with his left side toward them, almost as if he had something to hide on his right side. He seemed a bit familiar, and Terrance wondered if he had met him before, or perhaps he was part of the television station and he had seen him on TV. He saw the man stand up, shake Mr. Allen’s hand, then turn to leave, again keeping the right side of his face from being seen. Using a cane to walk, the elderly man took several steps before faltering, turning awkwardly to his right to regain his balance. When he did, Terrance saw it – a long scar down the right side of his face.

Terrance turned to Sunam. “Sunam, get everyone in the helicopter immediately. Have Kliinew be prepared to take off, even if I’m not inside. Hurry.”

Seeing the terror on his father’s face, Sunam immediately walked up to Medi. “We have to leave now.”

“Thank you so much, Ms. Durham, but something has come up and we must leave,” Medi stated. “Come girls. Let’s go get in the helicopter.” To her relief, the girls did not question or fuss about leaving. They did exactly as they had been instructed to do, to leave without question if it was stated they must do so.

“What’s up?” Kliinew asked, wondering what was going on.

“I don’t know, but Father said to get everyone back in the choppers and for you to be prepared to take off, with or without him,” Sunam said.

“Where in the hell is he?” Kliinew asked, looking around the room but unable to see Terrance. As he held open the door and escorted his small group back to the safety of the chopper, he finally saw Terrance almost chasing after some elderly human.

“Sir, may I talk to you for a moment?” Terrance asked, following the man as he walked toward the limo. The man continued walking, paying no attention to Terrance’s call. “Sir?” Nothing. “Mr. Landers, might I have a word?” The stranger’s pace quickened as he desperately tried to put some distance between them. Terrance began to trot, closing the gap. “Please, I must talk to you.” As he drew closer, he saw the elderly man’s leg give out and he fell down onto the ground, dropping his cane. “Here, let me help you,” Terrance said, as he lifted the gentleman up and handed him his cane, during which time the stranger kept his face focused on the ground, trying to hide his face. Very softly, very quietly, Terrance whispered, “Father, I know it’s you. Won’t you please talk to me?”

Even though he believed this stranger was JeffRa, Jeffrey Landers, his step-father, Terrance almost collapsed when the elderly man lifted his face and looked into his son’s eyes. “Hello, Son. It has been a long time.”

“A long time?” Terrance asked, tears filling his eyes. “I shot and killed you twenty-six years ago. King Enok buried you in the deep ocean in a holding box that you could never break out of. How can you be standing here before me?”

“You did not kill me that day you shot me, Terrance,” his father replied. “I was able to survive in the human form Enok trapped me in. Then an earthquake created a landslide some years back and freed me.”

“Freed you for what? To continue your reign of terror?” Terrance angrily asked. “When are you going to stop, Father? King Enok is dead, thanks to your doings. Most of your Terrians died that day Saint’s Isle was destroyed. There are few Oonocks left on this planet. Hasn’t there been enough death? Isn’t it time to put away your hatred?”

“I wish I could, Son, but I cannot,” JeffRa stated. “Jeanip, Enok’s two children and his grandchildren still live, and I cannot allow that.”

“They are your grandchildren also, Father.”

“Only by circumstance, not by blood.”

“Is that what I was? A son of circumstance?”

“You were a son of choice.”

“As are your grandchildren.”

“How is your mother?”

“”My mother?” Terrance asked, anger clearly audible in his voice. “How do you even have the gall to ask about her? How is she? Devastated by your death. She never stopped loving you.”

“Only because she did not know the real me.” JeffRa’s face cringed in agony, as a knife of pain shot up his upper thigh.

“Father, you’re in pain,” Terrance stated, feeling empathy for the shadow of the man he knew standing before him.

“Too many battles, too frail a body,” JeffRa replied. “Jeanip’s attack on the Complex almost took my life for good.”

“You should not have taken the girls. I will not allow you to hurt them today,” Terrance adamantly stated.

“I am here, Terrance, to save them, not harm them,” JeffRa answered, as he rested his hand on his son’s shoulder. “To spare them along with you and your daughter. But I am sorry, for I cannot spare the rest. I wish I could.”

“I don’t understand,” Terrance said, throwing his father’s hand off his shoulder as he stepped back, trying to make sense out of what was happening. To save them? From what? Then a look of pure horror filled his face as he realized why they had been lured away from the estate. JeffRa was going to attack it and kill everyone. “No, the estate.” Terrance turned and ran toward the helicopter.

“Do not go, Terrance,” JeffRa shouted after his son. “You will only die also. You cannot save her.”

“Get us up in the air,” Terrance shouted, as he raced to the helicopter and jumped inside, slamming the door behind him. “We have to contact the estate. They are going to be attacked.”

“How do you know that?” Kliinew asked. “By whom?”

“JeffRa.”

“JeffRa? Who told you that? That old man?”

“That old man was my father, Jeffrey Landers, better known as JeffRa.”

“Krieger, notify the estate immediately that they are in grave danger and that JeffRa was here,” Kliinew ordered, as he veered the helicopter to the west.

“Why are you going back by way of the coastline?” a concerned Terrance asked. “We need to cut across country and get there as soon as possible.”

“We are not returning to the estate, Master Terrance,” Kliinew calmly answered. “I am taking you all to Ocean Blue?”

“Ocean Blue?” Terrance shouted. “I cannot protect my queen and family from Ocean Blue.”

“No, Sir, but you can be safe there,” Kliinew responded. “King Kiijon gave me explicit orders to take you to Ocean Blue after the ceremony unless I heard otherwise. I have received no alternate orders, so we are going to Ocean Blue as ordered.”

“Sir, I cannot reach the estate,” Krieger stated.

“Keep trying,” Kliinew ordered.

“Why would Kiijon tell you to take us to Ocean Blue?” a confused and worried Terrance asked.

FOREST FIRE

“Although I enjoy your company, Jeanip, you are going to have to return to the estate one of these days,’ Chancee stated, as he placed a plate on the table containing the fresh eels the two had just caught.

‘I could always swim down to the Complex and enter FarCore from there,” Jeanip grumbled, filling their coffee mugs with fresh coffee before sitting down at the table.

“That would be highly improper,” Chancee stated. “You cannot return to Europa without taking your leave from her. Besides, you know that she was right. You have a new son waiting to be hatched and you need to be there so he can finish developing inside your pouch.”

Jeanip sat his fork down on the table and sighed. “I know she was. It’s just that I am used to being her protector, not the other way around. It is my duty to protect her.”

“I believe Enok had a saying for such occasions: Your duty is where I, your king, or your queen in this case, says it is.”

“So he did,” Jeanip laughed. “At least Kiijon understands. Eat up, Old Friend. We don’t want to miss the party.”

After they finished their meal, the two old soldiers walked down to the shoreline and into the secret bunker hidden amongst the tall grasses. As they walked inside, the lights came on, revealing two speeders.

“You’re sure you remember how to fly one of these things?” Jeanip teased. “I don’t want you smacking into the side of a cliff or accidentally firing on me.”

“We still have never had that race where I leave you in my dust,” Chancee teased back, climbing into the cockpit. “And if you don’t want to be shot at, then stay out of my line of fire.”

Both Commanders lifted their aircraft silently into the air and out of the bunker. They had only gone a few feet when three more speeders emerged from below the ocean waves.

“Everything is set, Sir,” one of the speeder pilots announced.

“Then let’s go get us some Terrians,” Jeanip smiled, as he pushed his speeder into high gear, plunging below the water to conceal their approach.

____________

Kliinew flew the small group to the new secret location of Ocean Blue. Upon reaching its location, he landed on the water and turned off the rotating blades, folding them together like a hand fan and bringing them inside their storage case. Then to everyone’s great surprise, he slowly lowered the helicopter down into the water.

“Don’t worry, everyone,” Kliinew chuckled. “This is our newest model. It’s submersible and completely water-tight.”

The two girls looked out of the side windows in awe, watching the water close in around them. “It would be nice if we were foretold of these things,” a nervous Terrance said.

Because of the previous attack, it was felt Ocean Blue needed to always remain hidden beneath the waves to ensure her secrecy. Therefore, it was necessary for any arriving transports to enter through the ocean and up into the air-filled chamber. Kliinew switched on the side propulsion engines and carefully guided the helicopter forward into the hanger and up into the air-filled chamber.

“Everyone out,” Kliinew shouted, as he turned off the engine, jumped out and opened up the side door.

“As soon as we get everyone inside, I want you to take Teerdomay and me back to the estate,” Terrance stated, helping Kumiko down.

“No can do, Master Terrance,” Kliinew smiled. “Krieger, make sure to bring in that cold box of ice cream.”

All the way down on the elevator, Terrance continued to object to being on Ocean Blue, while Kliinew just smiled. As they stepped off the elevator, all were surprised to see Europa, Kiijon, EJ, Earon, Jr., Ospree, Earon, EeRee, Skiquam and Jazee standing before them, all wearing funny party hats. Upon seeing her mate, Medi broke through the group and ran to EJ.

“Oh thank goodness you’re here,” she said, tightly hugging him. “Where’s the girls?”

“Down for their naps,” EJ said, glad to be holding his only love safely in his embrace. “They just could not stay awake any longer.”

Following his daughter’s lead, Terrance ran forward and pulled Europa into his arms. “I am so glad to see you. After what Father told me, I feared you were all dead.”

“Your Father?” Kiijon asked, as Terrance pulled him also into his embrace. “You saw JeffRa?”

“Yes, he was at the presentation,” Terrance said, wiping away several tears as he let go of his monarchs. “He said he had lured us there to protect us, so I knew he must have been planning on attacking the estate. How did you guys get away? And why are you all wearing those ridiculous hats?”

Everyone laughed. “It’s a party for Kumiko,” Europa announced. “Since we could not go to her celebration, we thought we would have one here.” She reached over and picked up a party hat and placed it on Terrance’s head, then one on Kumiko and Cho Gin.

“I have the ice cream right here,” Kliinew announced, as Krieger carried over the cold box of assorted flavors to a nearby table.

“Don’t worry, Friend,” Kiijon announced. “We’ll explain everything after the party. Just know everything has been taken care of.”

____________

At last Tigglebree could see the hills ahead that marked the estate’s entrance to the ocean. He was relieved to see the mercenaries had sunk the sailboat in front of the bay entrance as planned, hopefully blocking any retreat into the ocean. Upon reaching his destination, he let go of the pulley and dropped into the waters below, then swam over to the shore. Although steep, the hill before them was ascendable to the top, from where they would have a perfect location to shoot anyone below.

“Okay, everyone to the top,” he ordered, as the two Terrians and eight humans arrived and let go of the line. Together, they climbed the rugged hillside, their weapons secured on their backs, each thinking of the fun that awaiting them at the top. Suddenly, three huge military helicopters with water filled buckets flew over them, carrying lifesaving water to the estate. Tigglebree stared in disbelief. How could they have gotten there so fast to help put out the fires? Needing to know what was going on, he pushed ahead, climbing fast to the top. Raising himself up, he saw below an unexpected sight. Everywhere were firetrucks pouring hundreds of gallons of water onto the three houses and barn. Various aircraft were dropping water and flame retardant solutions onto the forest fire that had been halted at the base of the mountain. They’re plan to burn the estate had failed, but he hoped they had not lost the opportunity to slay the monarchs.

“Hurry, you useless pieces of tang,” Tigglebree shouted. “Get your asses up here.” As he watched his mercenaries try to climb faster, from below the water appeared five speeders. They rose up into the air and opened fired, cutting down the would-be-assassins. The attack was so sudden and unexpected, none on the hillside had time to remove their weapons from their packs and fire upon the speeders. One by one Tigglebree watched his small army fall into the ocean below.

“No,” he shouted, pulling his weapon from out of his pack and firing on the speeders. But his weapon was not powerful enough to penetrate the speeders’ shielding. He watched as one of the speeders rose slightly and aim their weapons at him. A barrage of bullets penetrated his body, tearing through his flesh, penetrating his organs causing his purple blood to flow out. Suddenly, he realized he was in midair, falling to the waters below to die. He had failed his lord and master. As he neared the waves, he noticed out to sea a boat flying an Arabic Republic flag just sitting there, floating on the water. Summoning what strength he could, Tigglebree completed one more act for his master before plunging into the darkness below; he managed to take video of the ship and send it to JeffRa’s hideout.

____________

“Captain, we need more retardant on the north east slope,” came a message over the radio. “We’re losing containment. There’s too much tinder up here and the fire is spreading. If she gets away from us, she’s going to burn straight through to that town to the east.”

“That’s not possible,” Staybo stated. “We keep all of the mountain free of debris. Thanks to global warming, we’ve had a problem with Mountain Pine Beetles killing our pine trees so there could be some branches and dried needles up there. But for the most part, there should be little tinder to burn.”

“Apparently someone has been hauling it in,” the Fire Chief stated. “My men report piles of dried sticks, logs and grass. Those on the south slope have also found evidence of gasoline. Whomever started this fire had one motive in mind – to destroy this mountain and the homes below.”

“Something they would have accomplished had we not been fortunate enough to be warned beforehand,” Staybo replied, wondering once more who their mysterious savior was.

Neil came running up. Sir, embers have flown into the barn and started several of the bundles of hay in the loft on fire. We need to get the horses out.” Several horse trailers awaited close to the barn to take Kumiko’s pony, Cho Gin’s pinto and several other horses to safety. Any that could not fit inside a trailer would be set free to hopefully outrun the fire and would be rounded up later.

“Get Blacky and Lady to safety, along with whatever ones you can,” Staybo ordered. “The girls’ horses have top priority.”

Neil, Skiquam and several others rushed to the barn. They could see the entire north end was already engulfed in flames, the gallons of water being poured on it having little effect. They could hear the horses neighing and kicking at their stalls, trying to escape. Neil hurried in and grabbed Lady and Blacky’s reigns and ran with them outside toward the horse trailer. When they emerged, the intense smell of burning wood and the flames visible in the near distance spooked Blacky and he reared, striking Neil in the hand, causing him to let go of his reigns. He took off galloping across the yard, running blindly in fear.

“Neil, are you okay?” Quipid asked.

“Here, get Lady to in the trailer and to safety,” Neil announced. “I have to go after that pony.” He dashed back to the barn and grabbed a bridle, then ran to one of the estate hands who had his horse. He quickly slipped on the bridle and leapt up, galloping off after the frightened pony.

“Colvin, make sure that security door is closed to protect the lab,” Staybo ordered, as he watched more of the barn burn. Luckily they had thought of the possibility of what would happen if the barn ever caught on fire and had installed fire-proof doors and shielding on the underground lab.

“Jones, get your men to cut that tree down so it falls into the bay,” the Fire Chief shouted when he noticed the top of the tree by the bay catch fire.

“Right away, Chief,” several of the firemen stated, running toward the tree. While one began to use a chainsaw on it, another cut off the tire swing that hung from it. Staybo watched in sorrow as the girls and Europa’s favorite tree to sit under was cut down. As it fell into the bay, he thought he heard the tree cry out in despair as the flames loudly objected with a hiss as it hit the salty water.

“Chief, they need more trucks at the Landers’ home,” one of the firemen announced. Terrance and Teerdomay’s home was the closest to the forest, just a short distance from where it ended. The trees were engulfed in flames, showering the house with glowing, hot embers. So far all the water they had been pouring on the house had stopped any embers from starting the house on fire, but the trucks were running dangerously low on water. And the firehoses would not stretch from the bay all the way to the house.

“Captain, can you have some of your helicopters dump some buckets of water on the farthest home,” the Fire Chief asked.

“No, Chief,” came the answer over the radio. “We’re trying to keep another large wave of flames from traveling down to the estate. If we leave here, it’s just a matter of time before it continues down the west side and takes over the living area.”

The Fire Chief looked at Staybo. “Sorry, Staybo. It looks like we’re not going to be able to save the last house. The fire’s too big and we just don’t have enough equipment or fire hoses.”

Staybo knew that sometimes sacrifices had to be made to ensure the safety of the greater whole. “Have your men pull back, Chief, and concentrate on saving the other two homes. There’s a pond just down the road where they can refill their tanks.”

“George, we’re going to let the last house go,” the Chief stated into his radio. “Concentrate on the middle house and the main house. You can refill your trucks at the pond we saw coming in.”

_____________

Tried as everyone could, the celebration for the girls was not quite the joyous occasion the adults had hoped for. The girls had eaten so much ice cream at the original celebration that even the thought of another spoonful made them nauseous. The adults were worried about the estate, wondering if any of it would still be standing when they returned home. The monarchs also wanted to hear more about JeffRa, while Terrance and Medi wanted to know who warned them of the impending attack. Finally, everyone agreed that, with the amount of ice cream already consumed and the events earlier in the day, it might be best to postpone the family celebration for a day or two.

“KaaZee, why don’t you and I take the girls upstairs to change out of their party dresses,” Teerdomay announced, holding out her hand for the girls. “Then perhaps you could join us, Sunam, in the front family room for a board game or two.”

“Sounds good,” Sunam stated. “I still have to beat Kumiko at Chutes and Ladders.”

“No way,” Kumiko giggled. “I am the Master of that game.” She turned and hurried up the stairs to her room.

“Sunam, if the girls wake up before we come out of the meeting, come and get me,” Medi instructed her brother.

“Will do, Sis.”

“If you need us for anything or if you start to feel uneasy, do not hesitate to interrupt the meeting,” Kiijon instructed. Although he believed they were safely hidden inside Ocean Blue, he didn’t want to take any changes. He knew Sunam’s training had sharpened his intuition and if he began to feel uneasy, it could be important.

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“I’ll bring some water and coffee down to the Command Room,” Doogon stated.

“Please, no food,” Medi said. “If I see another bite of something before dinner I am going to be sick.”

“But there’s always room for coffee,” EJ smiled, slipping his mate’s arm inside his and escorting her toward the room.

“There is always room for coffee, Silly Boy,” Europa laughed, as Kiijon escorted her.

“Kliinew, stay in the Communications Room in case the estate is able to get a message to us. And keep an eye on the perimeter screen,” Jazee ordered before following with Terrance, Earon and EeRee.

“What was JeffRa doing at the girls’ celebration?” Kiijon asked, as soon as the door closed. He held onto his mate’s right hand tightly, feeling her tense at the sound of their mortal enemy’s name.

“Before I tell you that, I must know how you escaped,” Terrance said, looking at his king and queen. “While I am very happy that you are not, you should all be dead. Why aren’t you?”

“Just as your choppers lifted off, we received an anonymous message stating we would soon be under attack and to extend our surveillance another two miles out,” Kiijon explained. “You can imagine our surprise when we discovered a small army on the other side of our normal surveillance. I immediately contacted General McDouglas and requested his men check it out. We received another surprise when the General called back stating someone had falsified his transmissions and had ordered the unit off the mountain.”

“In addition to the anonymous call, our unwelcomed visitors set off a slew of new alarms,” Jazee added. “Thanks to a curious cougar who’s been causing some problems for the Special Forces unit up there, some additional security equipment was installed just a few days ago, including some motion cameras. We saw everything they were doing. When they poured huge barrels of gasoline into the stream that runs down the mountain, we knew what they were up to – they planned to burn us out.”

“We had just gotten everyone out by underwater speeder when a large sailing boat supposedly crashed outside the bay entrance and immediately sunk, cutting off all escape to the ocean,” Kiijon continued. “It was then that we realized they planned to use the fire to drive us into the bay and then shoot us, like apples in a barrel. We assume that any speeder trying to leave would have to go above the water because of the sunken ship, and would be shot down also. It really was an ingenious plan, one that very well might have worked had it not been for our mysterious benefactor.”

“But who is he?” Terrance asked.

“We have no idea,” Jazee said. “There wasn’t enough time to track the message back to its creator. He said he was a friend who believed in our cause.”

“Well, thank goodness for friends,” Terrance sighed.

“Terrance, they have answered your questions, now tell us about your father,” Europa yelled, unable to call her pursuer by his name.

Terrance couldn’t remember a time in his life when he had seen real fear on Europa’s face, but he saw it today. JeffRa had been responsible for killing her mother and many of the people she loved. Had it not been for Terrance, he would have killed her and her brother too, along with Jeanip, Chancee and her father. For twenty-six years she had lived in the comfort that he was dead, gone forever, only to now learn she had been living in a false paradise.

“We were almost done with the celebration when I noticed an elderly man sitting across the room talking with Mr. Allen,” Terrance began, remembering back to that moment a few hours before. “He was sitting rather oddly, considering he had a cane with him. He was sitting so we could only see the left side of his face, and he had sunglasses on. He went to leave, making sure his back was to us the entire time, but his leg gave out and he stumbled, turning to the right. It was then that I saw the scar. Thinking that perhaps this was my father, yet knowing there was no possibility it could be, I ran after him, which made him go faster. But he had trouble with his left leg and couldn’t go fast. I called out his name, but he didn’t stop. Then when I called him ‘Father’ he faltered and fell. I rushed up and helped him back to his feet.” Terrance stopped, suddenly in a standing position that he did not remember taking, his hands outstretched as if helping someone to stand. He lifted his vision and stared at Europa. “He looked into my eyes and said, ‘Hello, Son. It has been a long time.’ It was him, Europa. It was really my Father. I hadn’t killed him twenty six years ago.”

“Did he say anything else?” Kiijon asked.

“Um, yes,” Terrance replied, shaking his head and trying to clear his thoughts. Remembering the past events, he began to pace around the room. “I told him I would not allow him to harm Kumiko and Cho Gin again. He said he wasn’t there to hurt them, but to save them.”

“Save them?” Kiijon asked.

“Yes, he purposely created the contest to get us off the estate,” Terrance said, still trying to fathom what his father had done. “That’s when I realized if he needed us off the estate, then he planned on attacking it. I ran back to the chopper and told Kliinew we needed to warn you, but we couldn’t get a signal through. Then he said we were coming here, but I objected. But when we got here, you were all here somehow. I didn’t know what was happening. I, I . . .”

“What did he look like?” Earon asked.

“What?” Terrance asked, coming back to the present.

“What did he look like?” Earon asked again. “Was he strong and muscular or old and feeble?”

“Oh, so old,” Terrance replied, again directing his gaze toward Europa. “He’s only a shell of his former self. He apparently lost the lower part of his left leg when Spinner attacked his Complex. His body is badly scarred and it appeared he also has trouble using his right arm. He cannot walk without the use of a cane. His hair is thinning, and what is left is snow white. He said he was sorry that he could not spare your lives.”

“And you believed him?” shouted Europa, as she jumped to her feet. “After all he did to us, to you, you dare believed him?”

“Yes, Europa, I do,” Terrance calmly stated. “It was not JeffRa who stood before me today. It was Jeffrey Landers, a being with many regrets for the life he did not lead.”

“Then perhaps you should go join him and be his quanish,” Europa screamed, before stomping out of the room. She looked around, wondering where to go. This place was so damn small there were few places one could go for privacy. Determining the only place to go was her bedroom, she ran up the stairs.

“Don’t judge her too harshly, Terrance,” Kiijon stated, as he rose to go after her. “I’ve never seen her so scared. She could accept anything except for JeffRa.” Kiijon saw Terrance start to object. “Even if you call him by his human name, she only hears the name JeffRa. Now, if you will excuse me, I will take my leave and see if I can calm her down. Earon, you’re in charge.”

____________

“Take me back to land,” Sheik Abdul ordered his captain, a huge smile of satisfaction on his face. From the safety of his sailboat, he had watched Jeffrey’s Landers’ plan to assassinate the Waters fail. Now he would begin to kill the rest of the Waters’ family one by one, each time robbing Mr. Landers of his prize. Mr. Landers had warned the sheik of what would happen if he did not do as he was ordered. Now, he would show Mr. Landers the price of such actions. After he was finished, the arrogant man would never threaten his family again. “Haddid, any word of where the other members of the Waters family are?”

“Yes, Sir. Prince Terrance is currently in Bodega Bay. The one they call Swaybuk is in Bolivia with two other Oonocks. Prince Giibold is New York.”

“Bolivia?” a curious sheik repeated. “What could they possibly be doing in Bolivia?”

____________

“Any word yet?” JeffRa asked, as he entered his compound.

“Give me a minute to check,” Wiiguard replied. Since almost all of their people had gone with Tigglebree on the attack, there had been no one left behind to monitor messages. “Looks like we got something here from Tigglebree. Probably his declaration of victory.”

“Let us hope,” JeffRa smiled. “Play the message.” To both of their surprises, there was no audio. Just a video zooming in on a boat floating on the ocean off shore. It appeared that whomever was taking the video was falling. Then one word appeared on the screen. “Ta”.

“Ta?” asked Wiiguard. “Isn’t that an old war word?”

“Yes,” JeffRa said, stepping closer to the screen. “It was used when a battle was over, but lost. Wiiguard, zoom in on that boat. I want to see what Tigglebree saw.” Wiiguard did as requested, enlarging the picture.

“I still can’t make out who is on it,” the soldier said.

“No, zoom in on the flag,” JeffRa said. As Wiiguard adjusted and fine-tuned his dials, the picture of the Arabic Republic flag came into focus. “Sheik Abdul. Hurry, get me a news report.” As the two Terrians watched, the picture of the flag was replaced with a national news announcer.

“It appears that the fire was deliberately set,” the announcer stated. “While the destruction is extensive, we are happy to report that none of the Waters were injured.”

“Damn that patoot Abdul,” JeffRa shouted, realizing his plan had been stopped, and with it, his last chance to fulfill his vow of revenge. He and Wiiguard were the only two Terrians left. There were maybe six mercenaries left, but he no longer trusted humans and had no desire to recruit more. Besides, who would recruit and train them. He had no army, his body had no strength, his vow had no future. On that night, there in that room, JeffRa finally gave up his vow of revenge against his brother and his mate. He now had a new purpose to fulfill before his body gave out – to destroy the human who betrayed him – Sheik Abdul Haddad.

____________

Europa did not come down to join the family for dinner that night. Still angry at Terrance, she thought it best to stay away from him. How could he possibly think his father had changed? It was JeffRa they were talking about, a cold-hearted killer, the reincarnation of pure evil, the murderer of many of her race. To her regret, she had told Kiijon she was not hungry and not to bring up any food for her. Now, at three in the morning, she was starving. She really hadn’t had anything much to eat since breakfast the day before. Waking Kiijon just enough to inform him she was going downstairs to the kitchen to get something to eat, she quietly snuck downstairs. She was not surprised to see an empty cup and a fresh carafe of coffee waiting on the counter for her, or a plate of food in the frig. Pouring herself a cup of coffee and grabbing some silverware, she carried the plate into the front living room to sit in front of the Observation window. Although it was night, there was just enough light being emitted from Ocean Blue to allow her to see the nighttime activities going on outside in the ocean. She was amazed and delighted to see countless bioluminescent creatures zooming past the glass wall; some chasing their food while other were trying not to become food.

“I thought you were going to make me a liar,” came a voice from the corner darkness. “I told Teerdomay you’d sneak down to get something to eat. That’s what you used to do when we were on Saint’s Isle together.” Even though she could not see his face, she recognized Terrance’s voice. She saw his shadow rise, then walk toward her, stopping at the chair beside her. “Do you mind if I sit down?” he asked, holding his own cup of coffee in his hand.

“Do whatever you want?” Europa coldly stated.

Terrance sat down, watching the scene out the window. “Remember when we first arrived at Saint’s Isle? You, me and Earon used to sit on the beach at night and watch all the animals from the ocean deep come up to feed, their lights flickering through the water?”

“Earon and I wanted to go swimming amongst them, but you would not even consider it,” Europa replied, remember back to that time long ago.

“I was still very much afraid of the water at that time,” Terrance laughed. “Teerdomay hadn’t dragged me through the ocean yet, or stranded me in a worthless boat waiting to die. Now, I can’t even imagine ever being afraid of the ocean. You helped teach me that.”

“Remember the first day we arrived and we went upstairs to see our rooms?” Europa asked. “We were shocked when we saw that each of our rooms was an exact copy of our own bedrooms at home.”

“That really freaked me out,” Terrance laughed. “That was one of the few times I thought I should just go home and forget ever knowing you.” The two friends laughed. There was a moment of silence. “Europa, I didn’t mean to upset you today when I talked about . . . about my father.”

“I know, Terrance,” Europa softly said. “And I am sorry I reacted the way I did.”

“It’s just that I have been plagued with guilt all these years for killing him,” Terrance said. “Even though I know I had no other choice if I wanted to save you, to save us, it has never taken my guilt away. I think that’s why I don’t see my mom as much as I should. Whenever I see her I remember that I killed her husband. She always tells me how proud she is of me, and I wonder if she would still be proud if she knew the truth.”

“As a mother myself, I can assure you she would understand why you did what you did,” Europa said.

“I know he tried to destroy the estate today, but I still believe he has changed.”

“Do you really, Terrance?”

“Yes, Europa,” Terrance stated, looking directly at his friend. “The man before me today was not filled with hate like he was that day on Saint’s Isle. The man I spoke with was calm, tired, ready to give up his vow of vengeance. The old JeffRa never would have tried to ensure Cho Gin, Kumiko, Medi, Teerdomay and my safety. The old JeffRa would never have cared. Europa, for the first time, I felt real regret and love inside my Father.”

“He could have been fooling you, making you think he had changed,” Europa replied, unable to accept JeffRa might have changed.

“No, Europa,” Terrance said. “If I have learned anything from you during all these years, it is how to tell what someone is like inside. They say the eyes are windows to one’s soul. I saw his eyes, and they had tears in them, tears of loss and regret. I’m not saying he’s to be trusted or that he’s not capable and willing to kill you all, but there was a change, a change for the good. I think he’s dying, Europa, and he regrets the paths he has chosen.”

“Terrance, you cannot possibly think that,” Europa said, standing, her voice angry again.

Terrance quickly grabbed her hand and pulled her back down into her seat. “Don’t go and get mad at me again, Europa. I know what I am saying sounds impossible. All I ask from you, as my friend and my queen, is to give me the respect to have my own opinion of him, just as I respect your opinion. We can agree to disagree. Just keep a smidge of an open mind.”

“I can agree to disagree,” Europa replied, her anger subsiding again. “And I will think over what you have said. Now, I believe it is time for us both to get some sleep.” She stood and yawned, stretching her arms before picking up her cup and plate. “Besides, I am sure Sunam over there in the other corner needs to get back to the Communications Room.”

“How did you know I was here?” a surprised Sunam asked.

“Although you did an excellent job secretly watching me, I have been watched by the best,” Europa laughed. “I have had years of practice finding Jeanip’s and Jazee’s hiding spots as they guarded me. But please do not tell either that I always knew they were there. It would make them seem less, what should I say, less guardian-like.”

“I won’t, Aunt Europa,” Sunam laughed. He stepped forward, holding out his hands. “Here, I’ll take your cups and plate. Father, if you would be so kind as to escort our queen upstairs to her bed.”

“My pleasure, Son,” Terrance replied, holding out his arm for Europa to take.

He led her to the stairwell and up the stairs. When they were out of hearing range, Europa leaned close and whispered, “He called me ‘our queen’. Did you hear him?

“That I did,” Terrance smiled. “He has finally accepted the Oonocks and their queen as his family and ruler. He has finally arrived home.”

THE DEVASTATION

The next morning Europa woke in Kiijon’s embrace, a little tired from her late-night excursion.

“So, did you and Terrance patch things up?” Kiijon asked.

“How did you know I talked with Terrance?” she asked.

“Because I know Terrance and he knows you,” Kiijon laughed. “He would have waited downstairs in the Family Room all night expecting you to raid the kitchen. He knows the workings of your body almost as well as I do. He knew you couldn’t get through the night without some coffee and something to eat.”

“We talked,” Europa answered, snuggling deeper into her mate’s embrace. “We finally agreed to disagree.”

“About JeffRa?”

“Yes. He truly believes that JeffRa has changed, grown mellower. He said it was almost as if he wanted to stop his vow and regretted the life his revenge cost him.”

“Do you believe him?”

“No. I do not think so. Well, maybe a little,” Europa confessed. “Everything I know about JeffRa tells me he is not to be trusted, that he is a cold-hearted, ruthless, evil being who will stop at nothing to kill us all.”

“But?”

“Why did he arrange it that Terrance, Medi, Teerdomay and the girls would not be harmed?” Europa asked. “That is not the JeffRa I know, but it is the JeffRa Father knew. Father always spoke lovingly of what JeffRa used to be like. Even on the day he condemned him to death and an eternity of dark, he still loved his little brother, the brother that once loved him too.”

Kiijon let go of his hug and pushed himself back, staring at his mate. “There’s something else you’re not telling me. What is it?”

Europa smiled. Her and Kiijon’s connection was so intense that he always knew what she felt, what she thought, sometimes before even she did. “I sent a small impulse into Terrance to see if I could sense anything.”

“Did you?”

“I think so,” Europa said. “Just a brief feeling of a father’s love, JeffRa’s love. I hate to admit it, but Terrance may be right about his father. Terrance thinks he’s dying and may want to make amends. But he also said that he may still not be ready to end his vow to kill us.”

“Whew, I thought we were going to have to invite him for Thanksgiving Dinner this year,” Kiijon teased. Europa hit him, as she often did when he teased her. He grabbed her and passionately kissed her. Feeling his partner was not totally committed to going further, he suggested, “How about we go down for breakfast and see if we still have a house to go home to?”

“I’d like that, My Beloved.”

The two showered and got dressed, then hurried downstairs to the kitchen. They were surprised to see everyone, including the girls, already in the kitchen having breakfast, all with forlorn looks on their faces. Apparently, the news on the estate was not good. Even Doogon’s eyes were red from crying as she brought their coffee over to the table.

“How bad is it” Europa asked, as she took her seat, breaking with tradition and discussing business. But she could not wait to hear if she had lost yet another home.

“It’s not good, Sis,” Earon replied. “Even though we did everything we could to help the forest with the endless drought, it took its toll. The trees went up like paper. Most of the mountain was devastated, and is still burning. Because of the gasoline the attackers poured into the stream, the fire was more intense that we ever imagined it would be. Our preparations were not sufficient to fight the hungry flames.”

“Is my house gone?”

“No, your house and ours were saved,” Earon continued. “But they lost Terrance’s and half of the barn.”

“The animals?” Kiijon asked.

“They were able to get all the animals out of the barn,” Jazee said. “Some were driven away in trailers, others were just set free to outrun the flames.” Silently, so the girls could not hear, he added, “We lost Blacky. He got scared and ran away as Neil was trying to get him in the trailer. Neil took his horse and went after him. Staybo reports that neither have been found yet.”

Kiijon and Europa looked over at Kumiko, who was busy chatting away with her sister. Both hoped Neil and Blacky would be found save. Kumiko loved Neil and her horse and they could not imagine what she would do if she lost one of them.

“Any idea when we can go home?” Europa asked.

“If we are lucky, tomorrow,” Jazee answered. “There are still too many fires burning to allow your return. Staybo estimates that all the fires below the south fence line should be out by tomorrow. The military and local firemen are fighting the blazes on the mountain.”

“How much of the forest did we lose?” Europa asked.

“Almost everything on the east and south slopes,” Jazee stated. “It appears the wind was with us and the west slope was spared. And about half of the north slope.”

“Might I suggest we finish discussing this after breakfast, when there are not little ears listening?” EeRee suggested, nodding to Cho Gin and Kumiko, who had suddenly become interested in the discussion.

“Are my new toys gone?” Kumiko asked.

“No, they are waiting for you back home, in your room,” Medi said, giving her daughter an encouraging smile.

“The fire didn’t hurt them?” Kumiko asked.

“No, Jazee stopped the fire before it reached the house,” EJ stated. “Now, tell me again about what you said when Mr. Allen gave you your certificate for a year’s supply of ice cream.” He did not want the girls to be scared or worry about their new home. The adults were doing enough worrying for everyone. His mate was devastated at the loss of her childhood home, as were Terrance and Teerdomay. Hidden away in a globe beneath the ocean, they all desperately needed hope, something joyful. EJ hoped his daughter could give them that.

“I shouted ‘Yippee’,” Kumiko laughed. She proceeded telling her story once more of having her picture taken for the newspaper and being filmed for tomorrow’s news. Cho Gin joined in telling about all the toppings and ice cream to choose from on the table.

After a fairly quiet breakfast, EJ took the two oldest daughters down to the pool to go swimming for a while. Although he very much wanted to be with his mate to comfort her, he also knew she needed some time alone with her parents, away from the girls.

Kiijon and Europa took the twins and placed them in their seats before the large observation window, their favorite place to be. They were both crawling now, so the only way to keep them under control was to confine them to their seats. But within minutes, Mary, then Amber, managed to undo their restraints and crawl out of their seats. Both proceeded to the plate of glass then, for the first time, pulled themselves up and stood there, peering out into the vastness of the ocean. In unison, the twins placed their mouths on the glass and began to hum and make sounds, calling to their little whale friend who could no longer come to visit them.

“They are calling for the baby whale,” Europa sadly said, tears filling her eyes.

“I know,” Kiijon said, stepping over and taking Europa’s hand.

“Kiijon, I want to go back to the estate, right now,” Europa said, staring also into the ocean’s vastness. “Jazee said the threat of Terrians and humans is over. Only the threat of fire exists. I want to go and see for myself the destruction done to our home.”

“Are you sure, My Love?” Kiijon asked. “Wouldn’t you rather wait another day or two until Staybo can clean up some of the destruction?”

“No, I need to see it now,” Europa said.

“Kliinew?”

“Yes, Sire.”

“Inform Jazee that we need transportation to the estate immediately,” King Kiijon ordered. “Tell Sunam he is needed to watch the twins with KaaZee.”

“Right away, Sire.” Kliinew hurried off to deliver the message.

“Should we tell the others?” Kiijon asked.

“No,” Europa replied. “They will only want to go with us. I need to do this alone.”

“You mean alone, except for me,” Kiijon corrected.

Europa smiled and looked at her mate, raising her hand to rest on the side of his cheek. “I would prefer completely alone, but I know you would not agree to that. So I welcome your company.” She saw KaaZee walking toward them. “Sunam should be here momentarily to help with the twins. After we have left, you may tell the others where we have gone. Tell Prince Enok that I am leaving the painting of his Grandfather and him in the den. If he must abandon this location for any reason to be sure to take the painting with him.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” KaaZee replied.

As soon as Europa saw Jazee, she bent down and kissed both granddaughters, then turned and headed toward the exit into the air chamber where a speeder awaited. Kiijon lifted his finger to his mouth, signaling to Jazee not to say anything. He knew he had lots of objections on why this was too dangerous for his queen, and Kiijon wanted to avoid an argument. Plus, if there was arguing, the others would come and learn where they were going and want to tag along.

In silence, Kiijon and Jazee followed their queen to the hanger and, within minutes, were submerged beneath the water, flying toward the estate.

Since she had gotten little sleep and having no desire to engage in idle chat or discuss what might be waiting for them, Europa took the opportunity to get some rest. She snuggled into the side of her mate and soon was fast asleep. Not wanting to disturb her, both Kiijon and Jazee kept any necessary talking to a minimum and always silent. It made for a very long hour and a half journey. But finally they drew near to the entrance.

“Sire, the sailboat still blocks the entrance into the bay,” Jazee announced. “It will be necessary to rise up out of the water and go through the air.”

“Very well,” Kiijon replied. “If you can be sure no one is around to see us, make it so.”

Jazee’s instruments did not detect any boats, ships or humans nearby, but he contacted the estate to make sure. They gave him the okay to come in by air. While Kiijon gently woke Europa, Jazee lifted the craft into the air high enough to bypass the sailboat’s mast, and flew through the pass.

Sitting up to view her home, Europa inspected the oceanside hills. They were normally covered with jagged rocks and dirt with little vegetation, so she didn’t see much difference. Her hopes high that the estate was not hurt as bad as she feared, she raised her hand to her mouth to keep from screaming out loud when they passed through and she witnessed the scene before her. She saw a blackened, unearthly land similar to the pictures of war she had seen in books. Although still standing, Earon and her home were covered with black soot and ash, making them appear to be props in some ghostly horror film. The grounds around them were no longer green and filled with flowers, but covered by burnt grass, singed flowers and charred debris. The furniture and porch swing that normally occupied her porches laid strewn about the yard, hastily yanked away from the house in case they caught fire. Some pieces were completely burned, while others were untouched, only blackened by the ash. The trees looked like black goblins ready to pounce, their leaves burned away, their trunks dark, their bare branches reaching out to grab you. Some trees were mere stumps, their once beautiful bodies either consumed by the fire or cut off, now lying on the ground or floating in the bay.

She forced her eyes to look over at the barn and could see the entire north side had been burnt away. Several Oonocks were standing next to a huge pile of blackened, half-burned hay that had been hauled out of the loft. They were raking through it, looking for small embers still glowing beneath, pouring water on the pile whenever they encountered one. She noticed several more Oonocks on the roof, tearing away burnt shingles and boards. As her eyes followed the line of the barn downward, she saw the small corral where Kumiko and Cho Gin had learned to ride. It laid on the ground, also half eaten away by flames, charred almost beyond recognition. Beside the collapsed corral laid a dead horse. She could not tell if it had died from the flames or if it had been necessary to euthanize the animal, for she could see burn marks across its body. Suddenly remembering the horses, Europa looked around to see if there were other corpses or hopefully live animals somewhere on the scorched landscape. She spotted a hastily-made corral in the front yard holding three sheep, four goats, two horses and Cho Gin’s pinto. There was no little black pony, thus indicating the startled animal had not been found yet. Once more she asked the Waters of Life and the Creator of All to bring the small pony safely home.

Europa strained her eyes, trying to see past the barn to where Terrance’s house was, but she could not. Even with the trees gone, she was unable to see the house because it sat down in a small valley. All that was visible was the stone path leading there, the grass beside it blackened and burned.

“Your Majesties, I don’t want to spook those animals in that corral, so I am going to have to set the speeder down in front of Monarch Earon’s house,” Jazee announced. “I can have Staybo bring one of the carts to get you.”

“No, that is okay, Jazee we can walk,” Europa replied.

The protector carefully maneuvered the speeder down to the ground, then helped his queen out of the flier.

“My gosh, it looks even worse from down here,” she said, quickly taking her mate’s hand for support. Needing to see Terrance’s house, she walked around the speeder and up onto the small hill. Down below she could see what was left of the once beautiful home – its foundation, the brick chimney and piles of burned debris. Everything Terrance and Teerdomay held dear was gone.

“I am sorry, Your Majesties, that I failed you,” came Staybo’s voice as he rode up on his stallion and dismounted. “I underestimated the fire’s power.”

Europa turned around and saw their valiant protector, tears in his eyes, sorrow across his face. “No, Staybo, it is Kiijon and I who failed you, and the others.” She waved her hand through the air, signaling everything in sight. “This is all our fault. Like My Father, we dared believe that JeffRa was dead and would remain so. We grew complaisant, optimistic and carefree. Even though we knew there were humans and Terrians after us, we did not even entertain the idea that it could be JeffRa. Just like My Father, we fell into a false security, and now we have paid the price. I, above all else, should have remembered the lesson we learned that day on Saint’s Isle and even on Europa – JeffRa is NEVER gone. As long as we live, so does he.”

“You take too much blame upon yourself,” came another voice, as a second rider appeared. “No one – not King Enok, not you, My Queen – can fight an immortal.”

“Jeanip,” Europa cried, dropping Kiijon’s hand and racing to her former protector, wrapping her arms tightly around him. “I have missed you so. I am so sorry for what happened between us.”

“As am I, My Queen,” Jeanip said, holding her tightly. “I must be feeling my age to react as I did. After all, it is not our first fight, nor will it probably be our last. But I most heartily apologize for not being here to protect you from all of this.” He held his hand out to Kiijon. “It is good to see you, My King.”

“Welcome back,” Kiijon smiled, accepting the old soldier’s hand.

____________

The fire department from two towns over was putting out some small fires along the highway, when suddenly they heard moans. Following the direction of the sound, they discovered an injured man pinned beneath a large tree limb that had broken away from a burned tree.

“Hold on there, Mister,” one of the fireman said, trying to lift the branch but unable to. “We’ll get you free in a moment. Bill, cut some of this limb away so we can lift it off of him.”

“Will do,” Bill stated, turning to run back to the truck to grab his saw.

The first fireman knelt down beside the injured man and gave him some water to drink. “What’s your name, Son? Are you hurt?”

“My name’s Neil, Neil Montgomery,” Neil replied. “I’m a hand at the Waters’ estate down the way. I think my left arm is broken, but other than a few other cuts, I believe I’m fine.”

“Neil Montgomery?” the fireman said. “Private Montgomery from Nashville?”

“Why, yes.”

“Well, isn’t it a small world. It’s me, Sergeant Hicks.”

Neil turned his head to have a better look at the man and recognized his old sergeant. “It is you, Serge. What the hell are you doing out here?”

“I live in the town two over,” the sergeant replied. “I retired from the military and decided to work with the local fire department. I had heard rumors that you stayed on the estate as a worker, but I thought it was just hullabaloo.”

“Nope, I really work there.”

“Why are you out here, all alone in a major fire?”

“A pony got spooked in the fire and ran off. He’s the love of one of the young girls that lives on the estate. I was out here trying to find him when this branch broke off that tree and hit me, knocking me off my horse and pinning me beneath it. I was afraid I was a goner.”

“I’ll have you out of there in a moment,” the returning fireman stated, as he started up his chainsaw and began cutting through the large limb. Once the large section was cut away, the four fireman were able to lift the remaining part off of Neil and help him to his feet.

“Is that pony you’re looking for black?” the fireman with the saw asked.

“Yes, have you seen him?” Neil asked.

“Unfortunately, yes,” the fireman answered. “Some of the men just found him. He’s alive, but pretty burned. They’re waiting for someone to get here with a gun so they can put him down.”

“No, they can’t do that,” Neil shouted. He grabbed the sergeant with his good hand. “Serge, you have to tell them not to kill that pony. I need to take him back to the estate. They can help him.”

“Neil, if he’s that bad, there’s nothing anyone can do,” the sergeant replied. “Best if we end his life now and put an end to his suffering. And you need some medical attention.”

“Please, Serge, I beg of you,” Neil stated. “Just take me and the pony back to the estate.” He looked around and saw his horse across the field leisurely grazing. “Or have someone get me my horse and I’ll ride the two of us back.”

“Neil, there’s no way you can carry that injured pony and ride back with that busted arm,” the sergeant said.

“I have to try.”

The sergeant thought for a moment, then said, “Tim, drive Neil and the injured pony over to the estate. Alex, see if you can round up that horse before it goes and gets hurt too.”

“Thanks, Serge,” Neil said.

“I think it’s a waste of time,” the sergeant said. “No medicine in the world is going to save that poor pony, but if it means this much to you. Besides, you can probably put it down faster at the estate than we can waiting here for someone with a gun.”

____________

Too heartbroken to go down to Terrance’s home, Europa and the others inspected Earon’s house and the barn. From the outside, it appeared that everything was fine with Earon’s place. The examination of the barn revealed that the damage was not as bad as it looked. The north end was totally gone, and some of the roof and side boards were burned and needed to be replaced. All-in-all, the barn was in good condition, with almost no loss of equipment inside. As intended, the security floor kept the underground lab safe and dry.

“Evidently, without our knowledge, some critter or bird of late decided to eat or drill a hole into the loft door,” Staybo explained. “We had the barn well doused with water and secured, but several embers managed to find their way through that hole and landed on top of the hay stored up there. It ignited instantly, spreading down the back wall and the roof. We barely had time to get the horses and other livestock out.”

“There’s been a number of raccoons raiding the grain supply in there,” Jazee said. “They could have made the hole.”

“Is that how Blacky got lost?” Kiijon asked.

“Yes. When Neil took him and the pinto out, Blacky got scared and pulled his reigns out of Neil’s hand. I never seen that little pony run so fast. Neil immediately went after him.”

“And you have not heard from either yet?” Europa asked.

“No, Your Majesty,” Staybo replied.

“What’s the repair time estimate?” Kiijon asked.

“We’ve brought up quite a few Oonocks from the Complex,” Staybo answered. “We should have the barn as good as new in three days. Hopefully by then, we’ll have the rest of the animals rounded up. We’re still missing two cows, three horses, a ram, six chickens and two goats.”

Europa looked around for another corral she might have missed. “Where are you keeping the rest of the animals? I saw only a few in the pen out front.”

“Farmer Kelley down the road was nice enough to offer to let us keep the rest in his barn,” Jeanip replied. “Seemed to be a very nice human.”

As they left the barn and walked over to her house, Europa noticed for the first time that her favorite tree, the one with the girl’s tire swing and the one she always sat under with the girls, was lying in the bay. When it fell, it crushed the fence that kept the vaquita secured. “Oh no, the vaquita.”

“They are fine, Your Majesty,” Staybo said. “Since the fire was heaviest down at their end of the bay, we had already let them out so they could be safe in the bay. We erected the shark netting so they could not escape into the open ocean. Although she will be glad we saved them, I believe Miss Medi will be very upset with us.”

“Why is that?”

“Apparently vaquita like piiquid as much as we do,” Jazee said. “They have eaten a good portion of Miss Medi’s experiment.”

“You Majesties,” one of the soldiers said, as he raised his hand to his forehead and bowed. “Jazee, Staybo, we just received a report that Neil and Blacky were found by one of the firemen’s groups. Both are injured. They are being driven here as we speak and should arrive in approximately twenty minutes.”

“Notify Gardawyn that his medical services are needed,” Kiijon ordered. “Is Kendrew still up on the mountain?”

“Yes, he’s with the crew cleaning the area around the cabin,” Staybo said.

“Advise him his veterinary skills may possibly be needed,” Kiijon stated. “Make it so.”

The soldier hurried off to summon Gardawyn and Kendrew, while Staybo, Jazee and the monarchs walked toward the house. In the little time it had taken the monarchs to walk over and inspect the barn and Terrance’s home, the soldiers had managed to clean the side patio of its soot and black stain. They had even found several mismatched pieces of lawn furniture so the royals would have somewhere to sit. As they drew near, Europa could see someone already had coffee and fresh water waiting outside for them.

“I am sorry, Queen Europa, that we don’t have any snacks,” a soldier standing nearby said. “If you are hungry, we can send for Doogon or Sinwee.”

“Coffee and water will do nicely,” Europa replied, giving the soldier a huge smile. She was amazed at what her Oonocks were able to accomplish in just a few minutes. Fifteen minutes earlier, this patio was a disaster. Now, except for the mismatched furniture and smoke smell in the air, it was as it always was.

While they waiting for the pickup bringing Neil and Blacky, Staybo gave an account of what has been lost, spared or damaged by the fire. A good portion of the forest had been burned, along with their surveillance cameras and motion detectors. As soon as it was safe, the first thing would be to get the surveillance equipment reinstalled. Until then, the estate was vulnerable, so Jazee requested that the monarchs remain at Ocean Blue for a few days. Although the middle and main houses had been spared, they would need a few days to air out due to the heavy smoke smell inside. A thorough cleaning would need to be done. In addition to Terrance’s house, the two building on the mountain and the family cabin were completely gone. Europa knew this last bit of news would devastate her son. EJ loved that cabin and had so many memories there with Swaybuk. One of the last things the protector had asked the prince was for him to always bring his girls there so they too would have wonderful memories. At that moment, she vowed that that too would be a priority – rebuilding the cabin.

“Good day, Your Majesties, Jazee,” Gardawyn said, as he walked up to the porch. “I believe my patient is here.” He pointed up the driveway to a red pickup driving toward the house, a horse tied to the back. When the driver reached the end of the driveway, Gardawyn motioned him to come onto the burnt lawn and closer to the house, which he did. When he stopped, Neil emerged from the cab, dirty and bloody, his arm in a temporary sling, gauze bandages wrapped around his right hand covering the rope burns received when Blacky pulled free.

“The pony’s in the back,” Neil immediately said, hurrying to the truck’s bed, forgetting all about his own injuries. “I am so sorry that he got away from me. I know how much Kumiko loves this pony. He just got too scared by all the flames and smoke and pulled his rope through my hands.”

“Men, four of you carry the pony over by the barn,” Jazee ordered. All were sadden to see how badly the little pony was burned. Unless Europa could intervene, there was no hope for him. Four soldiers stepped forward, grabbed a corner of the blanket the injured pony was lying on and carried the dying pony over to the shade outside the barn. Very carefully, they laid him on the ground.

“Thank you, Mr.?” Jazee said to the pickup driver.

“Mr. Greeley,” the fireman said.

“Mr. Greeley,” Jazee continued, extending his hand. “Please tell your Captain thank you for finding our lost man and pony.” Needing to get back to the line, the fireman hopped back into his truck and took off, leaving the care of Neil and Blacky in the Oonocks’ hands.

“Let’s have a look at that arm and those hands,” Gardawyn said to Neil.

“No, my injuries can wait,” Neil said. “Please help Blacky. I know you’re not a vet, but perhaps you can do something.”

Gardawyn knelt beside the pony, noting his many burns and cuts. He could see the animal was having trouble breathing, probably because he had inhaled too much smoke and damaged his lungs. Gardawyn took his stethoscope and placed it on the pony’s chest and listened to his laborious breathing.

“I’m afraid there is nothing anyone can do,” Gardawyn said. “The best thing to do is to put him out of his suffering. I can get him a shot to put him asleep, if you would like.”

“No, wait,” Neil said, turning to face Europa. “Mrs. Waters, I don’t know how, but I do know that you and the twins have some kind of magic power that enables you to heal things. Please, I beg of you, heal Blacky. Don’t let him die. That pony means everything to Kumiko and I promised he would be here when she returned. After all she had endured, please don’t let her lose him.”

“Why do you say the girls can heal?” Jeanip immediately asked, stepping forward, the soldier and protector in him rising to the surface of his body.

Neil laughed. “I’ve cut myself several times on nails, splinters of wood and the like. Whenever Mary or Amber see my cuts, they always touch them with their fingers. A warm lilac light appears in their fingertips and my cut is gone. I even saw them one day heal a wounded butterfly that fell onto their blanket.”

“How long have my granddaughters been healing your cuts, Neil?” Europa asked.

“Two, maybe three months,” Neil stated.

“And you have kept their secret?” Jeanip asked.

A look of surprise overshadowed Neil’s face. “Of course, Jeanip. Something as beautiful and precious as the twins must be protected, guarded. If people found out that the girls could heal, they would be in mortal danger. As would you, Your Majesty.”

“It appears our secrets have not gone unnoticed by Neil,” Europa said, as she gently took Neil’s hands in hers. “I thank you for your loyalty and for keeping our secret.” A soft purple glow emanated from her amulet, down her arms into Neil’s hands, healing his rope burns, his broken arm and the numerous cuts and bruises on his body. Europa then knelt beside the dying pony and placed her hands over its burned body. “Ennay Benu Carif,” she whispered, but instead of a soft lilac glow, strands of color pulsed out of the amulet, down Europa’s arms and into the small pony. Soon, its entire body was encased in the glowing strands, healing the lungs, replenishing the burnt skin and hair, repairing everything that was wrong in the animal. As the strands and amulet faded, Blacky stood up and butted Jazee.

“I think he’s trying to tell us he’s hungry,” Jazee laughed.

Realizing Europa had healed not only the pony, but him too, Neil fell to one knee, took Europa’s hand, and brought it to his forehead. “For both myself and Kumiko, thank you so much, Your Majesty. I pledge to you my life and allegiance. Your secret will always be safe with me.”

“I know it will be,” Europa smiled, lifting Neil to his feet. “Perhaps you would be so kind as to put Blacky in the temporary corral where he can’t get into any more trouble. And perhaps a few carrots.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Neil said, grabbing Blacky’s rope and leading him to the corral.

“I may have to upgrade that human’s clearance and responsibilities,” Jazee laughed, as he watched the two walk away. “I can’t believe Mary and Amber have been healing his cuts and he never said a word. Not even to us!”

“He is another wonderful example of the greatness of humans,” Kiijon said. “One we are fortunate to know. Tell Kendrew he’s not needed after all.”

THE BLUE AMULET

JeffRa sat there in the room sipping a cup of warm tea, hoping the pain medication would soon take away the ache in his leg and arm. It seemed to be getting worse each day instead of better, especially since his return. Apparently, his body did not like the trip he took in the small plane to witness the destruction of his enemy – a destruction that did not occur.

There was a soft knock on the door, then Wiiguard entered with a tray of food for his master; some fresh trout, Brussel sprouts, sea greens and a salad of fresh spinach to help his body heal.

“Would you like me to turn the news on?” Wiiguard asked, as he placed the plates of food, along with some water, on the table. JeffRa enjoyed watching several news channels each night while he ate to keep abreast of what was going on in the human world. Plus, they often had little tidbits about Waters Enterprises or the Waters family themselves. He wondered what the news would say tonight about the failed attack.

“Yes,” JeffRa answered, rising from his chair and hobbling over to the table, relying heavily upon his cane to walk. Wiiguard heard the moan his leader tried to hide as he sat down at the small table. “Wiiguard, you and I are the only two Terrians left on this planet, and probably in the universe. I see no reason for rank or distinction. Why do you not bring your meal in here and join me.”

In the thousands of years he had served under JeffRa, he had never known him to invite lowly soldiers to dine with him. He wondered if his leader was becoming more sentimental in his old age as Tigglebree had thought, or simply saddened that there were only two of them left. JeffRa had left Ganymede over six thousand years ago with twenty-five-hundred Terrians, eighty-five of which were also Oonocks. Since there were female Oonocks amongst the eighty-five, they were able to raise their number to one hundred and eighteen during the past six thousand years. The true Terrians had also multiplied, and, like the Oonocks, some had been lost in their skirmishes with the humans. But the majority of both were lost at the battle with King Enok in Bolivia. And just as JeffRa’s curse had made the Oonocks infertile, so had his vengeance doomed the Terrians to an inability to bear young. The few that did survive the battle met their end that day King Enok’s hidden island ascended into the sky on top of a starship and was destroyed. Luckily, Wiiguard’s father, Tigglebree, had refused to follow Zeevinn on his foolish quest, thus saving them and twenty other Terrians. When JeffRa returned from his grave, counting himself, there were twenty-three still alive. Twenty-three out of twenty-five hundred. Now there were only two.

Wiiguard walked over and turned on the television, making sure it was on the appropriate station, and then hurried back to the kitchen for his own plate. He rushed back and sat down just as the newscast was beginning.

“We are beginning tonight’s broadcast with a continuation of the story we broke last night,” the news anchorman announced. “The fire is now seventy percent contained and has destroyed close to five hundred acres. Several cabins were destroyed along with eight homes, but thankfully there were no casualties. The fire is under investigation, but it is believed it may have been deliberately started. Thanks to the quick actions of the military and numerous fire departments, the fire was quickly contained as it raced down the mountain toward several towns and private estates. Today begins week seven of Enok Waters, Jr.’s survival plan. . .”

Using the remote, JeffRa switched the channel to another station, only to hear the same story on the fire. It was under investigation and there had been no casualties. “The death of your father and two other valiant Terrians, and not a word about them or the attack on the Waters,” JeffRa grumbled, pushing his plate away. “Can’t these damn humans even give an accurate account of what happened?”

“As always happens when we die, Father and the other two would have left no body to signal their passing,” Wiiguard reminded his leader. “As for the mercenaries, perhaps the Oonocks disposed of their bodies before the authorities got there. It is possible that the Waters do not want it known that their property was the land that was attacked. They continue to hide their existence in plain sight.”

JeffRa clicked through the various news channels, preparing to turn off the television, when something caught his eye. He immediately clicked back several stations and there, on the screen before him, stood the long lost Swaybuk with another Oonock male and female. “Swaybuk, at last you have surfaced.”

The Terrian leader turned up the volume to hear what was being said. They had missed some of the interview, but JeffRa hoped there would be enough left in the broadcast to tell him where the protector was and why.

“I assure you, that our presence here at Puma Punku has nothing to do with Waters Enterprises’ building of the new power plants,” Swaybuk insisted. “I and my friends are here on vacation to see the ruins. That’s all.”

“Do you recognize the other two Oonocks?” Wiiguard asked.

“No, they do not look familiar to me,” JeffRa answered, staring hard at the other two, trying to determine who they might be. “The female is too young to be either’s mate. And by the stance of the male, he is definitely a soldier, possibly a guard for Swaybuk. But what is he doing there? To my knowledge, no Oonock has returned to the site of our great battle. He is up to something. Is there a way to track his movement up to this point? To see where else he has been? He did not return to the estate after the attack, so he has a mission, a purpose.”

“I could try checking the airlines and car rental places to see if I can find his name,” Wiiguard stated. “But what last name would I use?”

“Almost all of Enok’s Oonocks use the same last name,” JeffRa replied, a satisfied smile emerging on his face as he reached out for his plate and brought it back, taking a bite of trout. “Waters. Look for a Swaybuk Waters.”

“Too bad we didn’t have more of us so we could go down there and investigate,” Wiiguard said, as he rose to go start his search.

“Oh, we are going to investigate this,” JeffRa smiled. “You are going to go down there and find out for me what he is up to.”

“But, Sir, there will be no one here to look after you, to care for you,” Wiiguard blurted out before thinking. He did not mean to sound like his great leader was incapable of taking care of himself, even thought that was what he believed.

“Thank you for your concern, Wiiguard, but I will be fine,” JeffRa stated. “Helga will be here to cook my meals and help me if needed. Besides, as the last living Terrian, you are the only one I have to send. And I will not send a human. None of them can be trusted. By the way, have you had any luck in locating that patoot Sheik Abdul?”

“No, Sir,” Wiiguard replied. “Wherever he is hiding with his family, he is buried in deep. Other than that picture of him on the ocean when the attack failed, there had been no sighting of him or his family.”

“I do need to discover why Abdul sabotaged my plans and what he is up to,” JeffRa stated. “But most of all, I need to kill him.” As Wiiguard left the room to carry out his master’s wishes, JeffRa reached inside his shirt and held up a golden amulet with a stone inside. He shook it and saw just a small amount of white light glow momentarily. The Life Force inside was finally dissipating. Soon there would be no Ancient blood alive inside the stone, and on that day he would finally die. He knew there wasn’t enough Life Force left to keep him alive to complete his vow of revenge against his brother, but he prayed there was enough to get him revenge against Abdul.

_____________

Prince TJ sat at the Crab Shake along the pier, enjoying a wonderful dinner with Peppin. He had kept his word to EJ and was getting to know the beautiful Kree Oonock from Europa. She truly was a gifted electrical engineer and TJ marveled at her intelligence. She, in turn, was amazed by TJ’s knowledge of the ocean and intrigued with his attempt to raise piiquid on Earth.

To begin piiquid farming, TJ had moved two of his fish farms to a secluded area outside Bodega Bay, keeping him fairly close to the plant in Sacramento. A request for five farms was given to two companies with the stipulation that, as EJ had suggested, laid-off electric and fishery workers would be trained how to build them. So far, the project was going very well and TJ hoped to have his first new farm in about four months.

Preparations to house and feed the piiquid in the existing two spheres were complete and several hundred baby piiquid had been placed inside the nursery along with ten adults. On Europa, even though the newborn piiquid are basically on their own, they usually huddle around and follow several females, learning what to eat and how to avoid predators. TJ saw no reason not to carry on the same practice on Earth. When the piiquid grew and could no longer escape through the fencing, they would be released into the larger cage. They would then be allowed to freely swim about the large sphere, breed and have more baby piiquid. TJ hypothesized that the pregnant females would lay their eggs along the sides of the randar plant leaves inside the nursery, thus assuring the little ones would remain inside the farm. At least that was the current plan. Since piiquid had never been farmed in an enclosed environment before, TJ was making important decisions as he went along.

His Oonock students had discovered that, by placing the sphere’s on the ocean floor, they could grow the Europa vegetation the piiquid preferred to eat right there inside the farm. They also planted a large area around the sphere so that, as the piiquid ate all the grass in one area, the farm could easily be rotated over to a new crop of randar plants. The piiquid could eat the new plants while the eaten section could be replanted. This assured everyone that there would be ample food for the piiquid.

Having reached a stage in his experiment where he could relax a little, TJ had decided to invite the beautiful Peppin to dinner. He had been trying to hang out as much as possible at the abandoned power plant she was refurbishing, but this was their first official date. TJ hoped it would be the first of many, even if it meant Forbee sitting at the next table each time, carefully guarding his monarch. He was relieved to hear that, like himself, she was devoted to her field of study and had no desire to join with a mate. There would be time for that in the future. Besides, if Peppin was any indication of the eligible females back on Europa, he might have to spend some time back on the moon once the piiquid project was completed.

All too soon it was time to call it an evening. Both Oonocks, especially Peppin, needed to get back to work. Robert was coming in two days to give the power plant its first good inspections, and Peppin, being the foreman, needed to ensure everything was ready. As Forbee led the way out of the restaurant, a female dropped her change purse in front of him, momentarily blocking their path. Unable to help the lady pick up her coins and keep an eye on his charge, Forbee just stood there. Another man bent down and helped the woman pick up her coins.

“Professor Waters, is that you?” asked the man as he stood back up, looking directly at TJ. Not knowing who this man was, Forbee immediately positioned himself between the man and TJ, ushering TJ and Peppin outside. “Professor Waters, if you have a minute, I would like to discuss with you your paper on fish farming. I am about to start such a project in my own country and would love your input.”

“I’m sorry, we are in a hurry,” Forbee stated, trying to block the human.

“Of course,” the human said, reaching into his pocket. Forbee slipped his own hand in his pocket, resting it on his weapon, prepared to shot the human if necessary. He was delighted to see the man pull out a business card and hand it to him. “Here is my card. If you get a chance, Professor, please give me a call. I am here in San Francisco for three days on business. I’d love to have lunch or dinner with you, or even just talk over the phone. I have so many questions to ask.”

“Thank you,” TJ said, as Forbee continued to usher him outside. “Where are you staying?”

“At the Hyatt,” the stranger said, as the doors closed behind Forbee.

“Well, that was rude, Forbee,” TJ stated.

“And that was careless, Your Majesty,” Forbee replied. “I will check out this Mr.,” Forbee looked down at the card “Mr. Bashir and, if he checks out okay, I will personally drive you to meet him. But until then, we must assume everyone is either a Terrian or a human still looking to collect that reward or other bonus. Remember what happened at the conference last time.”

TJ remembered. He always remembered. He had lost not only colleagues, but close personal friends in that bombing, a bomb meant for him. The enjoyment of Peppin’s company had made him careless, allowed him to enjoy the evening, and let his guard down. Thankfully, Forbee was there to ensure his safety. He would not allow himself to be distracted again.

After the party of three left the Crab Shack, the man who had given Forbee his card walked over to the maître d’. “I have a reservation for five.”

“And the name, Sir?”

“Haddad. Abdul Haddad.”

____________

“Swaybuk, we do not have time to sightsee,” Anew complained for the tenth time. “We must move on.”

“I have not been back here for over fifteen hundred years,” Swaybuk impatiently replied. “I told you, I want to look around.” He walked past several large chucks of smoothed rock that had groves on one end. Swaybuk ran his hand over the stone. “This is part of the massive door that kept us safe in our Third City. It only took JeffRa seconds to destroy it with his boulders of bendicor.” He walked over to an indentation in the earth resembling a ravine. “When the bendicor exploded, the impact was so great that the very earth split and huge fissures suddenly appeared.” The soldier looked around, marveling at how much the landscape had changed since that day. “Over the centuries, the crevices have been filled in with rock, dirt and grass until they are no longer visible.” He reached down and picked three small white flowers that were growing around the impression. He threw them inside the former fissure, raised his hand to his forehead and bowed deeply. “This is where JeffRa killed Prince Tiree and threw him over the side before being shot and falling in himself. I am sorry, Dear Prince, your soldiers were not able to give you a better death.”

“What was he like?” Windar asked.

“A lot like Monarch Earon,” Swaybuk replied. “But probably more like Prince Enok. A gentle soul and a natural-born leader, like both his parents. Had JeffRa not killed him, King Enok would have turned the ruling over to him in the next century. He and his mate were expecting their first child when he was killed.”

“I didn’t know that,” Windar said, quickly going over in her mind all the stories she had heard about Prince Tiree. “What happened to the child and his mate?”

“When the newborn hatched, there was no birthing pouch for him to go into,” Swaybuk sadly explained. “There were so many wounded and dying, there just wasn’t an Oonock who could give him a birthing pouch. Plus, Hellnese herself had been gravely injured. The newborn only survived a day. Brokenhearted by the loss of her son and mate, Hellnese followed them two days later. Today is probably the first time her name has been spoken since the day she died. Due to Queen Medaron’s deep depression, King Enok ordered that no one ever speak of Prince Tiree. Jeanip ordered that the fact he had had a mate and child also would never be mentioned. Thus, Hellnese and her newborn were forgotten in history, yet still loved by those of us who knew her.” Swaybuk wiped away a tear from his eyes.

“Can we go now?” Anew asked.

“No, I want to go inside and see if there’s anything left of the old city.” Windar in tow, the old soldier walked back past the door and onto a small cleared-out section that had once been the front of their busy city. As he feared, there was basically nothing left but a few piles of stone and boulders here and there. As he walked forward, he saw a young girl dressed in native attire from when the city existed. She motioned Swaybuk toward her, and he complied, having no fear of this small child. When he grew near, she took his hand, palm side up, and placed in it a golden space ship. Swaybuk stared at the relic, remembering how the local natives who saved their lives that day during the battle with JeffRa used to bring such gifts to the city. He looked up to thank the young girl and ask her where she had found the ship, but she was gone. He looked around, but she was nowhere to be seen. “Did you see where that girl went?”

“What girl?” Windar asked.

“That native girl that was just here?” Swaybuk stated.

“I didn’t see anyone, Swaybuk,” Windar said. “Maybe you imagined her.”

“Did I imagine this?” Swaybuk asked, as he turned and showed Windar the golden space ship in his hand. “She WAS here and she gave me this, something from our past.”

“A spirit of the forest,” Anew stated. “She brought you a gift to welcome you home. It appears she also brought us a clue.” Anew pointed to where Swaybuk had seen the young girl. There, etched into the hard rock, was the sign of the Keeper, with an arrow pointing south. “We evidentially are on the correct path to the Keeper.”

Before Swaybuk could react, he heard the sound of a clicking camera as a male human rushed forward taking their pictures. “Hey, Swaybuk. Small world. Fancy meeting you here,” the human shouted, as he grabbed Swaybuk’s hand and shook it robustly.

“Do I know you?” Swaybuk asked, placing his hand over the camera lens to stop the photo taking.

“We met several times when you were with Enok Waters, Jr.,” the man replied. “I’m Ben Sullivan from the New York Times. I did a piece on Mr. Waters and the India power plants last year.”

“Mr. Sullivan, yes,” Swaybuk replied, barely remember the man.

“Are you here checking out places for the new power plants” Ben asked. “Is Bolivia the next country to get one or two?”

“No, we’re here on vacation,” Swaybuk lied. “I’m here with my nephew and his daughter. I always wanted to see the ruins and thought it would be a good time to come.”

“Come on, Swaybuk, you can tell me the truth,” Ben laughed. “I can keep a secret. No need to tell my newspaper you’re here checking out sites.”

“I assure you, Mr. Sullivan, I am not here on Waters Enterprises’ business,” Swaybuk insisted. “If you will excuse me, we are on a tight schedule.”

“Okay,” Ben shouted, as the three Oonocks broke into a very fast walk, putting as much distance as they could between them and the newsman. As soon as they were out of sight, Ben called his office. “Hey, Frank. You’ll never guess who I just ran into down here.”

“Damn,” Swaybuk cursed, as he jumped into the back seat of their car. “I can’t believe we ran into that man down here.”

“You can bet he’s already contacted his newspaper and informed them you’re down here looking for possible building sites,” Tigbee stated.

“Told you we should have left,” Anew said.

“But if we had, I wouldn’t have this,” Swaybuk replied, opening his hand to once more reveal the golden ship. “And we wouldn’t know we were on the right path.”

“I think the forest spirits are trying to help us,” Windar stated. “Perhaps there will be others along the way.”

“That is a possibility,” Anew agreed. “This land is filled with life. Many spirits live within it, spirits that may know of the Keeper.”

____________

The monarchs were sitting in the Family Room with the twins, hoping they would watch the fish swim by the widow. But that wasn’t going to happen. Now that they could crawl and had discovered how to slip out of their restraining belts, they were more interested in crawling into the various rooms and exploring what each had to offer. It was impossible to keep them in one location, and often each went in a completely different direction. While most of the adults were busy chasing the twins, Medi was in the dining room, giving Kumiko and Cho Gin their lessons. Doogon and Sinwee were busy in the kitchen preparing lunch.

“Uncle Earon, do you know if Mattwa left the portrait of Grandfather and me hanging up?” EJ asked.

“I believe so. It should be hanging in its normal place in the den,” Earon replied. “Why? Are you planning on going somewhere?”

“Hygone wants to talk to me,” EJ answered, grabbing Amber and swinging her through the air before handing her over to Terrance. “Maybe she has an answer for us about JeffRa. Tell Medi where I went and not to wait lunch for me.” EJ hurried from the room, Ospree right behind him. When they reached the den, EJ turned and said, “You can wait here, Ospree. I am perfectly safe inside FarCore.”

“My duty states you must be accompanied even into FarCore,” Ospree replied. “Since I am the only one here, I must go with you.”

“Okay, then stand by my side. Here we go.” EJ announced himself, as did Ospree. After saying the words to open the portal, the two walked through together. Although he had been inside numerous times, Ospree always became disorientated in the total blackness and usually found himself floating upside down in the lilac waters when the lights came on. He quickly flapped his wings to become upright.

“Sorry, Your Majesty,” he said, a little embarrassed.

“Do not be,” EJ laughed. “You should see some of the positions I end up in even after all the times I have come through.”

FarCore always fascinated Ospree, and he looked about in awe. As they swam past the representation of the universe, he reached out and touched each planet, marveling that his hand penetrated each globe. When they reach the Window of Universes, he stopped and stared into the vastness of the void.

“Pretty impressive, huh?” EJ chuckled.

“This place never ceases to amaze me,” Ospree replied. “Imagine the possibilities inside those windows.”

They continued on toward the table of Orbs. It was then that Ospree saw a cloaked figure hovering in the lilac waters. Having never seen Hygone cloaked before, he immediately stepped in front of his prince and drew his weapon. EJ reached out and placed his hand over the gun. “It is okay, Ospree. This is who I came to see. Sometimes Hygone appears in her true form instead of the eight-armed octopus you are familiar with. ”

“Sorry, Hygone,” Ospree stated, bowing slightly. “I did not recognize you in that form.”

Hygone returned the bow. “I did not mean to startle you, New Protector. Since my true form is almost pure energy, it is necessary to shield you from its effects.” She turned to the Young Prince. “Thank you for coming, Your Majesty. I have grave news.

“If you are going to inform me that it is indeed JeffRa who haunts our dreams, we already have positive ID” EJ stated. “He revealed himself to Terrance, his son. Jeffrey Landers, better known as JeffRa, is alive and well.”

“It is not who he is that has me concerned, but how he came to be,” Hygone stated. “In my search to discover how someone who died is still alive, I discovered something beyond anything I imagined, beyond fear itself. It saw the possible destruction of the Ancients themselves.”

“I do not understand, Hygone,” EJ replied. “What could be that horrible?”

“I need for you to come with me,” Hygone said, leading the way down one of the tunnels. “Ospree, you may remain here.”

“I am sorry, Hygone, but where Prince Enok goes, I go,” Ospree responded, following close behind.

Hygone said not a word, but continued to lead the way toward a small speck of light in the distance growing closer. As they neared the location, the two Oonocks could see it was a door, from which was emanating very large sounds.

“Your Majesty, you need to remain out here until I determine if whatever is making those sounds is dangerous,” Ospree said, raising his weapon once again.

“Protector, this is FarCore,” Hygone said in irritation. “Nothing in here can harm us. It is the safest place in the entire universe.”

“It doesn’t sound very safe.”

“It will be okay, Ospree,” EJ said, smiling. “Continue, Hygone.” As they stepped through the doorway, they saw before them a large green valley filled with all kinds of huge animals. Mountains and active volcanoes could be seen in the distance, with a brilliant blue sky overhead. A large lake glistened in the sun, a light breeze causing small waves to wash upon the shore.

EJ recognized the animals immediately as long extinct animals from Earth’s past. He could see triceratops, stegosaurs and hadrosaurs. Several brachiosaurus emerged from the lake to join the remainder of their herd already grazing on land. Their enormous weight caused the ground to shake as they walked forward. Also grazing on the plains were saurolophus, several forms of hadrosaurs and a family of gargoyleosaurs. In the distant they could see two t-rex. As they stared down at the scene before them, a pteranodon flew over their heads and landed several yards away where her young waited for the fish in her mouth, causing Ospree to draw his weapon again.

“This is Earth in the distant past,” EJ excitedly said. He had never been inside Earth’s FarCore, but his mother and Terrance had told him about it. “It is okay, Ospree. These are illusions, holograms of animals that once roamed Earth. They are not real and cannot hurt us.”

“They sure look real,” Ospree nervously replied.

“We have no time for this nonsense,” Hygone said, waving her hand and evaporating the animal images. Ospree scanned the area, expecting the enormous dinosaurs to return at any second, but there was only stillness. Still uncertain as to what was really happening, they continued to follow Hygone as she led the two over to the table of Earth’s Orbs. There, suspended above the Orbs, was a golden necklace from which hung a blue amulet. “Tell me, Young Prince, what you see?”

“It is an amulet,” EJ replied. “Similar to the ones Barook gave Windar and Swaybuk.”

“See if you can take it,” Hygone asked.

EJ swam closer to the table and reached out to grab the necklace. But as his hand closed, if encountered only air. Although he could see the amulet, he could not touch it. “I do not understand. I can see the amulet, yet I cannot touch it. Is it a hologram, like the dinosaurs?”

“No, it is not,” Hygone stated, fear still audible in her voice. “I hoped it was just me that could not grasp the amulet because I am not of this planet. But you are part human, meaning the power of Earth lives inside you. You should have been able to obtain the amulet, yet you, too, cannot take it.”

“Should we bring Master Terrance or perhaps Miss Medi in to try?” Ospree asked, thinking perhaps they needed a human.

“No, I fear the results would be the same,” Hygone answered. “We, they, or no one else can obtain the amulet because it is only half there.”

“How can something be only half here?” EJ asked.

Hygone turned to speak directly to the prince. “This amulet belongs to the Ancient whose duty it was to protect this world,” Hygone began. “We were wrong. He did not fall asleep. He was captured and imprisoned, his amulet of power stolen. In order to protect this world, the Ancient tried to send the amulet back to FarCore where it would be safe and could not be used by evil. But he was only able to send part of it here for safe keeping. His jailer was able to subdue him before he completed the transfer, meaning he now possesses the amulet of Earth and half of its great power”

“Power to do what?” EJ asked, fearful of where Hygone meant.

“To do whatever he wanted,” Hygone answered. “The power to conquer a world, the power to defeat the greatest of enemies, the power to alter one’s looks, power to cheat death and return to the living.”

“Are you saying JeffRa has the Ancient’s amulet?” EJ asked in horror.

“Yes, Prince Enok,” Hygone replied. “That is why your Grandfather could never kill him. JeffRa learned how to tap into the amulet’s powers, and, by doing so, into the Orbs themselves, and accomplish the impossible. He can manipulate his cells to keep them from dying. He has the Ancient’s secret of immortality.”

“Then we have no defense against him,” EJ stated, realizing why Hygone was so upset. With such a power, JeffRa could practically eliminate them with one thought. “It is over.”

“No, there may still be hope,” Hygone stated. “JeffRa does not have all of the amulet, so there is a limit to his powers. Plus, if he had been able to destroy you, I believe he would have done so by now. The fact that he is using humans to help him eliminate you tells me he does not have the power he needs to destroy you himself. But it also means there is no way to find the Keeper. He did not purposely go to sleep, leaving clues that another could follow to find him as we had surmised. No, he was hidden by JeffRa somewhere where he can never be found. For Anew to find him is an impossible task, an act of sheer luck.”

“So it is hopeless,” EJ signed.

“Not completely,” Hygone smiled. “As long as the amulet hovers over the Orbs, the Keeper is alive somewhere. As on old worlds, there are spirits on Earth who have the ability to help its creatures accomplish the impossible. If they so choose, they can lead Anew down the right path.”

GONE TOO SOON

When EJ emerged from FarCore, he was surprised to see Earon, Sr. and Medi waiting for him. “Please do not tell me there has been another attack,” EJ sighed.

“Not an attack,” Earon replied. “More of a scrimmage. But this time it did not involve us.”

“Then who?”

“A fight broke out in China when several boats from the fishing fleet decided to go out fishing,” Earon stated. “A number of citizens tried to stop them. There was also a fight in Kenya when two elephants were poached. And plans are being made for a demonstration in Washington, D.C. to protest your restrictions.”

“The people are starting to feel like they have been forgotten,” Medi added. “They say you are not keeping up your end of the bargain.”

“And they are right,” EJ replied. “I have allowed myself to be manipulated into hiding instead of being out there where I belong. I cannot save the world behind these walls. Have my parents returned yet?”

“No, they are still at the estate,” Earon said. “They should be back later tonight.”

“I cannot wait that long,” EJ answered. “I need to talk with them and Jazee immediately. Ospree, prepare a speeder and a small detail.”

“Might I ask where you think you are going?” Earon asked.

“I am going to New York to address the United Nations and the people of this planet,” EJ answered, as he hurried toward the Communications Room. “Medi, ask Sunam to contact Giibold at the Complex and get me the latest news on those new recruits.” He continued down the hallway, then up the stairs to his room to pack. “Uncle Earon, I need for you to tell my parents about what I just learned from Hygone.” While he quickly gathered his belongings, he explained to his uncle everything that Hygone had said and expected.

“So that is why we have not been able to kill him,” Earon stated.

“Yep,” EJ replied, grabbing his suitcase and hurrying down the stairs to the Communications Room. His appearance was so unexpected that he momentarily startled Kliinew. “Kliinew, I need to speak with my parents immediately, then Jazee.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Kliinew said. “It will take just a moment.” Fifty-three seconds later, both sovereigns were on the line.

“I am leaving as soon as I am finished talking with Jazee for New York,” EJ informed his parents. “I must speak to the General Assembly at the United Nations. And do not tell me it is too dangerous to go. Every time we get attacked, we retreat, hiding in our secured locations, disrupting everything we are trying to do. All this does is show our enemy that we are afraid and gives him more encouragement to keep doing it. It is time that we show JeffRa and the others that we are NOT afraid and that they cannot intimate us. We will accomplish what we set out to do. The people of this planet have done what I have asked of them, but they have not been told what their hard work and sacrifice has accomplished. If I do not act now, everything we have accomplished; no, everything THEY have accomplished, will be lost.”

“Do you want me to go with you, Son?” Kiijon asked, offering no objections to his plan.

“No, I need you to watch over Mattwa and my family for me,” EJ said. “When you return here, Uncle Earon has important news for you regarding Hygone and what she discovered about JeffRa. Now, if I may speak to Jazee.”

“Jazee here, Your Majesty.”

“As you probably heard me tell my parents, I am leaving immediately for New York,” EJ said. “I do not have time to stop by the estate, so I am taking the two guards from here with me. I need you to send replacements. Three members of the Dolphin Patrol will fill in until they get here. I also need a small detail to meet me in New York and secure me a place to stay. I may be there a day or two.”

“The replacements for Ocean Blue are on their way and your escort in New York will be in the air within ten minutes,” Jazee stated.

“I do not suppose Jeanip is there?” EJ asked, wishing there was a way to speak to his uncle before he left.

“Yes, I am here, Enok,” Jeanip replied. “Do you wish me to meet you in New York?”

“No, Uncle, but I do need for you to return with my parents to Ocean Blue to hear what Uncle Earon has to say. You are the only Oonock alive who knows JeffRa well and may be able to determine where he may have hidden something very important. I need you and my parents to solve an unsolvable mystery. I am sorry I cannot say more, but this is too sensitive a matter to tell you over the airwaves. You will understand when you get here.” EJ handed the mike to Kliinew to discuss with Jazee any security issues. He hurried down the hallway to the Family Room where Medi was. “I am sorry, My Love, but I feel that I must do this.”

“I understand,” Medi replied, determined not to show the fear surging inside her. “You need to go. Just please be safe and hurry home.”

“I love you SO much,” EJ said, taking her into his arms and giving her an arousing kiss goodbye. When he finished his kiss, he looked into her eyes and whispered, “We will finish this kiss when I get home.”

“I’m going to hold you to that promise,’ Medi whispered back. She watched as he kissed the twins goodbye, then Kumiko and Cho Gin, telling both to take good care of their sisters and mother for him. Waving goodbye to the others, he dashed over to the elevator and was gone.

“He’ll be back in a few days, Sis,” Sunam said, trying to keep his sister’s spirits up.

“That’s what I tell myself every time he leaves,” she said, finally allowing her tears to fall upon her cheeks. “But one of these days the odds are going to be against him, and he is not going to return.”

____________

“You look exceptionally lovely tonight,” TJ stated when Peppin opened the door to her hotel room. Due to an issue with one of the fish farms, TJ had not been able to visit Peppin in Sacramento. Rather than cancel their pending date, the two chose to meet in San Francisco.

Peppin wore a simple, yet elegant, sleeveless, A-line lilac dress that ended just below her knee. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail, thus revealing a string of pearls around her neck with matching earrings. Since she was only a half-inch shorter than Terrance, Jr., Peppin had chosen a dressy pair of flats to complete her ensemble.

“Thank you,” Peppin said, closing her door. “You are very handsome yourself.” This was their third official date and there were still some dating necessities to be observed, along with a little trepidation, even though they saw each other almost every day at the plant. TJ claimed he was keeping an eye on its progress for EJ, which was partially true. He did send EJ a text several times a week stating everything was okay.

“I thought, if you have no objections, we would try that new Italian place down by the wharf,” TJ stated. “The reviews have been very good.”

“I love Italian food,” Peppin smiled. “I adore all the spices, their flavors and smells. I wish there was a way to spice up Oonock food.”

“Yeah, Oonock food is pretty bland,” TJ chuckled. “Not much you can do to improve the flavor of food when you live underwater. Any spice you try to use just kind of floats away.” Both laughed as they left the building and walked to the car, where Forbee waited with the door opened. As usual, he would be their chauffeur, as well as their protector, for the evening. Once the young couple was safely inside, Forbee closed the door and scurried around to the driver’s side. As he pulled into traffic, he glanced in his rearview mirror and noticed a black sedan behind him also pulling out. When he reached the intersection, he turned left, noting that the black sedan did the same. He drove for two blocks and made a right turn, the sedan mimicking his moves. After another three blocks, Forbee turned right again, but this time the car continued to go straight.

“Going a different way to the Wharf today, Forbee?” TJ asked.

“Just making sure we weren’t being followed,” Forbee replied. “Everything seems to be in order.”

Both Peppin and Prince TJ knew that if Forbee was driving down random streets, he had a suspicion about something or someone. TJ thought of cancelling their date, but Forbee stated everything was fine. He would just be extra vigilant at dinner.

The two Oonocks had a wonderful dinner together, their guard standing against the wall not far away. Breaking with tradition, Peppin told TJ about the progress at the plant, stating they hoped to have their first final inspection within a month. Things were moving much faster than they had anticipated, something TJ was not thrilled to hear. He hated to think where Peppin would be sent next. She might be sent to South America, Europa or Africa, and, even though humans stated “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, he did not like the idea of her being so far away. He had always sworn that he would not settle down until he was at least two or three thousand years old, but the thought of this beautiful Oonock not being in his life was something he could not accept. As he listened to her speak, he wondered if she felt the same way toward him. He thought he saw the same twinkle in her eye that he saw in Medi’s when she looked at EJ. Was it really there, or was he imagining it? Should he tell her about his feelings toward her? Was it too soon? Grandfather had always said never to delay in telling someone you care for them for you never know what tomorrow will bring. And after what had happened to the family lately, that was sound advice.

As they finished their meal, TJ could see through the glass wall that there was a large full moon shining down upon the water. He decided it was a perfect night to walk along the beach, tell Peppin of his feelings and finally kiss her. Upon leaving the restaurant, TJ informed Forbee that they would be walking down to the beach and he could follow in the car. Forbee adamantly objected, stating it was not safe for him to be that far away from his prince, but TJ insisted, finally ordering Forbee to comply. Under protest, Forbee did as asked, but with the stipulation that the two wait right there on the sidewalk until he was able to bring the car up. TJ agreed.

Forbee raced to the car, but some idiot had parked behind them, making it impossible for him to back the car out. Furious, he searched for the attendant and demanded that the car be moved immediately. Wondering if the attendant could possibly move any slower, Forbee watched as the young man searched for the keys to the car, then slowly walked over, dropping the keys as he tried to unlock the door. Unable to leave his charge unprotected any longer, Forbee placed his hands on the rear side of the car and pushed it out of the way, smashing it into several cars parked along the side. Paying no attention to what the human was yelling, Forbee backed up and sped off toward his prince. Fear gripped his heart when he saw a crowd forming around the two Oonocks.

Prince TJ wondered what was taking Forbee so long, and the thought of starting without him crossed his mind, fearful he might lose his nerve if he didn’t get to the beach soon. But years of Security protocols being drilled into him made him stand and wait for his protector. Not sure exactly what to do or say, TJ gently brought Peppin into his arms and softly kissed her. He was delighted to feel her kiss him back.

“I wonder what is taking Forbee so long” TJ stated.

“If his absence gives us more time for this, then he can wait until tomorrow to arrive,” Peppin smiled, pulling TJ back to her lips. As their lips met TJ felt a searing pain tear through his chest. Immediately, he fell to his knees, purple blood pouring from the hole in his chest.

“Terrance,” Peppin shouted, grabbing the prince as he collapsed. “Forbee, hurry. Terrance has been shot.”

“I’m here, Your Majesty,” Forbee shouted, pushing his way through the crowd. After hitting his emergency button indicating an immediate air withdrawal was needed, he scooped the injured prince into his arms and raced to the car. Peppin ran and entered through the opposite side so Forbee could lay his prince in her arms. “Hold on, Sire. Help is coming.”

“I am sorry,” TJ said, as he looked into Peppin’s eyes.

“Shhh, don’t talk, Terrance,” Peppin said, noting the purple blood now seeping from TJ’s mouth. “Forbee, the speeder is not going to make it in time. We have to get to water, like now.”

Forbee frantically looked around. The car entrance to the beach was six blocks away. Buildings lined the street, blocking their entrance to the ocean. There had to be a way to get to the ocean faster. He had failed in his duty to protect his charge; he would not fail in his responsibility to return him to the Waters of Life. Finally, he saw a small alley between two of the buildings and remembered there was a pier behind the stores. Barely missing several on-lookers, he drove down the narrow alley, scrapping the sides of the car along the way against the brick. He emerged onto the boardwalk, causing people to scramble to get out of his way.

“Forbee, I do not want to flow out on land,” Forbee heard his prince say silently, too weak to verbally voice his request.

Blowing his horn to make sure the humans moved, he floored the accelerator and raced down the pier, flying off the edge and plunging the car and them into the ocean. The flying car hit the surface of the water with a loud thud. Immediately, Forbee pressed the button to blow the top of the car off, then quickly crawled into the back to place his prince in his arms. As the car sank to the bottom, Forbee sank below the surface, staring at the glowing light growing inside TJ’s chest.

“Thank you, Forbee,” TJ said. He then looked at Peppin. “I could have loved you for the rest of my life.”

“And I you,” Peppin replied, her salty tears mixing with the salt water of the ocean. She leaned down and softly kissed his lips, knowing this would be the last time their lips would meet.

TJ’s glow spread further and further throughout the ocean until it was no more. Beneath the waters, hidden from human view, Forbee screamed in rage, devastated by the loss of his prince. His death had been so fast and unexpected, that no Oonock essence had come to greet him and welcome him home. When the helicopter-speeder landed above them several moments later, Forbee continued to drift there, unable to move even though his lungs were now begging for air. He prayed for death, but such relief would not be his today. Somehow, Peppin managed to pull him to the surface, where they were both able to refill their lungs with oxygen. Dragging Forbee over to the hidden side of the chopper, Peppin was able to get him within reaching distance of Kytree and Piinew. The two Oonocks lifted Forbee into the aircraft, then helped Peppin inside. When Kytree asked about Prince TJ, Peppin could only shake her head. In silence, the four Oonocks flew to Ocean Blue, to deliver their horrible news.

As they lifted off, the police and harbor patrol arrived. The police had multiple accounts of what had transpired, but no blood, no crime scene, no bodies. As it had always been, the young Oonock passed with no trace he ever existed, thus assuring his race’s presence remained a secret to humans. But for the Oonocks, another member’s essence was added to the Waters of Life, a member taken way too soon, never having a chance to live.

____________

“Your Majesties, Ospree has informed us that Prince Enok made it safely to New York and is secured within his habitat,” Jazee stated.

“That is excellent news,” Europa smiled. “I believe it is time for us to return to Ocean Blue. Chancee, would you like to come and spend a few days with us?”

“Thank you, Your Majesty, but I really need to return to my home,” Chancee said. “I left some eel fermenting in the frig and I am afraid it will be spoiled if I wait several days to process it.”

“How can you tell?” Kiijon laughed. “Your version of Sillrig smells worse than the real thing.”

“That is does,” Chancee laughed. “I have more than enough if you would like me to send some to you.”

“No way,” Europa immediately stated. “I am not having that foul-smelling stuff stink up Ocean Blue or the house, whenever I get to move back in.”

As the four Oonocks were laughing, Kiijon saw out of the corner of his eye Jeanip walking out of the house and toward them. He had a very disagreeable look on his face. “Perhaps you can share it with Jeanip and put a better look on his face.”

“I don’t think anything can do that,” Chancee said. He leaned a little closer to the males. “Except perhaps Phameena.” The males laughed some more, while Europa gave Chancee a chastising look.

“What’s got your nickers all crunched in a bunch?” Chancee teased his old friend.

In a very businesslike, serious voice, Jeanip stated, “Your Majesties, you need to return to Ocean Blue immediately.”

It was then that Europa saw the tears in her uncle’s eyes. Fearing the worse, she said, “Something has happened to EJ.”

“No, thankfully he is alright,” Jeanip stated, clearly having trouble controlling his emotions. “But there has been another attack.” Jeanip’s throat tightened, the tears left his eyes without permission. He stood there, unable to say what must be said. The two monarchs, Chancee and Jazee waited to hear what horrible news this commander had to say. Closing his eyes to regain some composure, Jeanip sorrowfully said. “Prince Terrace was attacked in San Francisco. He has returned to the Waters of Life.”

“No,” Europa screamed, as Kiijon pulled his weeping mate into his arms. “Not TJ.”

“How?” was all Kiijon could say, as he fought to hold back his own tears, but also having no luck.

“I don’t know,” Jeanip replied. “Kliinew reports that Forbee and Peppin arrived at Ocean Blue a few moments ago. Both are so distraught that he could not ascertain what had happened. The two guards with them stated they received an emergency pickup signal from Forbee and, when they arrived, he and Peppin were in the ocean and TJ was gone.”

“Chancee, in light of this new development, perhaps you could forgo your eel Sillrig and return with us to Ocean Blue,” Kiijon requested, holding his sobbing mate tightly in his arms. “Perhaps you too, Jeanip.”

“Of course, Your Majesty,” Chancee said. Jeanip nodded his head.

“Jazee, if you would be so kind as to get the estate put back in order so we can return here as quickly as possible,” Kiijon said. “We’ll take Staybo with us. While Ocean Blue is a wonderful place, it is not the place for grieving.”

“As you wish, Sire,” Jazee said. “I will have a speeder brought around immediately. Jeanip, are you capable of flying or would you like a pilot?”

Jeanip cleared his voice, then waited several seconds before saying, “I can fly her.”

Suddenly one of the communication’s soldiers came running out of the house. “The President and General McDouglas are calling. Teegrow reports there are three police cars at the front gate demanding to be let in.”

“Tell the police we will be issuing a statement as soon as we learn what happened and they are not to enter our land,” Kiijon stated, as he saw their speeder land a few feet away. “There is no one here involved with whatever happened in San Francisco. Put a message on the phone that, due to a family tragedy, we are unable to answer their call but that a statement will be released in two hours.”

“What about Prince Enok?” Jazee asked. “Should I notify Ospree that they are to return?”

“No,” Kiijon replied, much to Europa’s disappointment. She wanted her son home where it was safe. “EJ was right. If we hide every time something horrible happens, we are never going to accomplish anything. Contact Ospree and tell him something has happened and to keep EJ away from any news media and the television. I will contact EJ and tell him of our loss as soon as we arrive at Ocean Blue. I will also be contacting Misso and Giibold at the Complex, if they have not been notified either.”

“As you wish,” Jazee said. He watched as his sovereigns and Chancee crawled into the speeder and took off, then hurried into the house to do as his king commanded. Once everything was done, he left Gormee in charge and retired to his room. There, in the silence and security of darkness, he cried for the young prince they had just lost. Prince TJ had always been one of Jazee’s favorites, although no one knew. He was such a fine Oonock, so intelligent, able to so easily blend in with the humans. Jazee had looked forward to seeing what all of the young princes would accomplish in his lifetime, for he knew it would be as great as Prince Enok’s accomplishments, only in a different direction. But now that was all gone, destroyed in a brief moment by some unknown assassin. No, not unknown. JeffRa.

When they arrived at Ocean Blue, all were surprised to see Giibold and Misso had already come up from the Complex through FarCore. Misso rushed into her mother’s arms, unable to believe that another loved one had been taken from them.

“Jeanip, please take Misso and her mother into the Family Room to be with Earon and EeRee,” Kiijon quietly asked. He then turned and slowly walked down to the Communications Room to call EJ to tell his son the tragic news. As he shuffled his feet across the floor, the king wondered if the killing would ever stop. How many more precious lives would be lost to accomplish a dream to save a dying world? Once more he thought perhaps he should take his people back home and forget this planet. Allow it to destroy itself, then return in a thousand years or so to a world without humans. But then he remembered Medi, Kumiko, Cho Gin and the others. What about them? He couldn’t just leave and abandon them. They were his family too. Caught between two impossible choices, he picked up the phone and called EJ.

Jeanip led Misso and Europa over to where Earon and EeRee were on the couch, inconsolable, weeping for their oldest now gone. Upon seeing his sister, Earon lept into her arms and cried, his body shaking with emotion, unable to speak, not even silently.

“I am so sorry, Earon,” was all Europa could say, as she fell back onto the couch with Earon as he collapsed.

“Have you been able to discover what happened?” Jeanip asked.

“Forbee still hasn’t spoken a word,” Teerdomay replied. “But Peppin was able to give us an account. Apparently, she and Prince Terrance went out to dinner. Afterwards, Prince TJ stated he wanted to go for a walk along the beach. There was a full moon tonight, in case you didn’t notice. Anyways, as protocol dictates, Forbee objected, but Prince TJ gave him a direct order that he and Peppin were going to walk and he could follow them with the car. Peppin said Forbee went to get the car, but was gone for an exceptionally long time. While they waited, she said Prince TJ suddenly kissed her.”

“Kissed her?” a surprised Jeanip asked.

“Yes, apparently their first,” Teerdomay continued. “They exchanged some conversation, then Peppin kissed him. Suddenly she heard Prince TJ scream in pain as he fell to the ground, blood pouring out of a hole in his chest. She screamed for Forbee and somehow he was there. He scooped the prince up and put him inside the car, in her arms, then drove down an alley, onto the boardwalk and down the pier, straight into the ocean. She said Forbee requested an emergency evacuation, but there wasn’t enough time. Prince TJ was dying fast. Forbee was able to get the prince into the ocean before he passed, thus assuring his place in the Waters of Life.”

“Where’s Forbee now?” Jeanip asked.

“He’s waiting for King Kiijon in the den,” Teerdomay replied.

“And he hasn’t said a word?”

“No, Sire,” Teerdomay answered. “I think he’s preparing himself to die.”

“To die?” Jeanip asked.

“Law dictates that if a Protector’s charge dies on his watch, the Protector will forfeit his own life for his failure of duty,” Chancee sorrowfully said. “Forbee would expect King Kiijon to do no less.”

“I know what the damn law states,” Jeanip yelled. “It’s a stupid law. Always has been. It was written so charges didn’t die out of neglect. There is now, nor has there ever been, anything neglectful about Forbee. He dedicated his life to TJ and he does not deserve to die.”

“That is King Kiijon’s call,” Chancee reminded Jeanip.

“I will not allow it,” Jeanip silently shouted, walking away from the room so those grieving did not hear him. “Too many good Oonocks have already died because of JeffRa and his vow. I will not stand by and let another innocent die. I don’t care what the damn law decrees.”

“I concur,” Kiijon said, suddenly walking up behind him.

“Did you talk with Enok?” Jeanip asked.

“Yes.”

“How did he take it?”

“Like everyone else,” Kiijon replied, looking into the Family Room at the many grieving family members. He so wanted to go in there and try to comfort his brother and mate. But he still had royal duties to fulfill, the first of which was dealing with Forbee.

“Chancee, I believe your expertise may be needed with Forbee,” Kiijon stated. “You somehow seem to have the ability to help Oonocks see their worth and realize they are not a failure. Such a gift is going to be needed with Forbee. He is an exemplary soldier and a fantastic protector. He will never accept the fact that he is not responsible for TJ’s death.”

“I will try, My King,” Chancee said

“I would like to go with you also,” Jeanip said. He saw Kiijon give him a curious, yet stern look. “I know what it’s like to be a protector and feel like a complete failure. Forbee may have lost a prince on his watch, but I lost our queen, along with everyone who was under my command and the monarchs’ estate. If any Oonock in this place, or even on this planet, knows what Forbee is going through, it is I, Your Highness. If King Enok taught me anything, it is that we are often not responsible for things that happen, even though we believe we are. Forbee is not responsible for TJ’s death, just as I was not responsible for my sister and queen’s death. JeffRa was and still is. With time, and help, Forbee will realize that, just as I did.”

“Very well, you may come,” Kiijon said. As they prepared to leave, Gardawyn came walking out of the den, a water glass in hand.

“I’ve given him several sedatives, so he may seem a little groggy,” Gardawyn stated. “He’s in pretty bad shape. I would not relieve him of duty, but he should be watched for a few days. Although suicide is not a practice amongst Oonocks, his depression could result in foolish actions, such as swimming in the ocean alone or seeing how fast one can fly a speeder before it disintegrates.”

“I forgot about those thoughts,” Jeanip quietly said, remembering back to his bad days. “Thankfully, I had a future queen, a prince and a human to protect to keep my mind active.”

“Something we may have to use with Forbee,” Kiijon said. With the two elder Oonocks at his side, the king walked into the den and was shocked when he saw Forbee. He almost didn’t recognize him. Forbee was easily six feet seven, with a broad chest and muscular arms, but the Oonock sitting on the chair, sobbing, looked like a shell of a man – small, capable of nothing. Kiijon walked over and pulled a chair beside the fallen soldier. “Forbee, it’s King Kiijon. Can you tell me what happened?” At first there was no response. Gardawyn said he was sedated, so Kiijon was not surprised there was no reaction. Kiijon rested his hand on Forbee’s knee. “Forbee, it is I, King Kiijon. Can you look at me?”

Slowly, Forbee raised his eyes, staring at his king, yet not really realizing who he was. Suddenly, Forbee leapt into the air, knocking his king over, landed on his feet and pulled his long knife, shoving it toward his king, the blade pointed at himself. “My King, I have failed you. I have failed my charge. The law demands my death to account for his. Please end my life now, and allow me to flow out onto this floor, to become nothing for eternity. I beg you, Mighty King, take away the torment in my heart.”

Chancee helped Kiijon up from the floor while Jeanip carefully approached Forbee and took the weapon away. “Please, My King. I do not deserve to live another moment.”

Jeanip gently pushed the soldier back into the chair while Kiijon retook his seat before him. “You, My Dear Soldier, have more right to live than many. The death of Prince Terrance is not on your head, but on the head of JeffRa. You did everything expected of a protector. I find no fault in you.”

“No, My King,” Forbee pleaded. “I AM at fault. I should never have allowed him to go for that walk without me.”

“Peppin said he ordered you to allow it,” Kiijon replied.

“But, as his Protector, I could have overridden his orders,” Forbee objected. “I should not have obeyed them.”

“Did you perceive any danger?” Kiijon asked.

“Not at the restaurant, but I thought we were being followed earlier,” Forbee stated. “I should have put my foot down.”

“You released his soul into the Waters of Life,” Jeanip said, kneeling down beside the grieving soldier. “You saved Peppin’s life. You did everything a good soldier and Protector could do.”

For the next two hours, the king and two elders talked with Forbee, trying to get him to see TJ’s death was not his fault. Finally, exhausted with emotions, Forbee feel asleep. With Jeanip’s help, Kiijon lay him on the couch and placed a blanket over him.

“I’ll take the first watch over him,” Chancee volunteered.

“I’ll relieve you in four hours,” Jeanip said.

TURTLE EGGS

Terrance, Sr. picked up the carafe to refresh his coffee only to discover it was empty. He carried it into the kitchen where he knew Doogon or Sinwee would have another pot ready. As he sat down the container, his phone began to vibrate. Wondering who could possibly be calling him since everyone was there with him, he looked at disbelief at the name displayed: “Jeffrey Landers”. He debated about answering the phone or not, but he had a few choice words he wanted to tell his father.

“You’ve got some nerve calling me after what you just did,” a hateful Terrance stated.

“I had nothing to do with Prince Terrance’s death,” JeffRa’s voice said. “That is why I am calling you, Son. To let you know someone else hunts the Waters this time. I swear to you upon my mother’s soul and yours, Terrance.” Terrance knew from the stories King Enok had told him about JeffRa, that he cherished their mother dearly. JeffRa was many things, but he would never desecrate his mother’s memory “It was not me.”

“Then who was it?”

“I do not know,” JeffRa replied. “Not yet. I needed to warn you, because I knew you and the others would blame me for his death.”

“Okay, so you’ve warned me,” Terrance sarcastically replied. “Are you responsible for the fire that destroyed my home?”

“Yes, that was my doing. “Terrance?”

“What?”

“Be careful, Son. I do not wish for you to die.” The phone went dead, leaving a puzzled Terrance with many questions.

___________

It took some doing, but Wiiguard was finally able to pick up Swaybuk and Windar’s trail. He followed them down to Antofagasta, Chile and located the hotel they were staying in. He was able to get a room right across the street from where they were staying. On his second day there, Wiiguard witnessed the three Oonocks get into their van and drive down the coast. He hurried to follow them, trying to remain unnoticed, but that was not easy to do. There were not many vehicles traveling down the road along the coast. He wondered if perhaps they were going to go out into the ocean. After about an hour, Tigbee pulled off the road and parked on the beach. As he passed by, Wiiguard saw their destination – La Portada, the stone arches. Noting that there were several other cars of sightseers, Wiiguard turned around a few miles up the road and drove back, pulling next to the last car. From there he could watch what the three were doing.

His weapon securely hidden, Tigbee accompanied Swaybuk and Windar out to the end of the beach. Windar walked out a little ways, then bent down, removing the kallis from her pocket and setting it free. The disguised kallis swam out to the arch, circling it, investigated the structure. Swaybuk walked out further and dove beneath the waves, swimming through the waves, allowing Anew to surface. She submerged beneath the water, watching several little fish go by. Suddenly she heard Swaybuk tell her that she needed to swim out to the arch. With all the fish around, the little kallis could not return in fear of being eaten. Windar at her side and Tigbee watching from the beach, the two Oonocks swam out to the arch, where a scared kallis quickly swam to the safety of Anew. She whispered in Anew’s ear what she had discovered. After hearing about her discovery, the Ancient carefully scooped the kallis up and placed her in Windar’s hand, who quickly returned her to her pocket.

“She says there is the Keeper’s mark on the west side of the arch, just above the sand,” Anew stated. “It appears there may be something hidden beneath the stone. She also says there is a drop of the Keeper’s blood with the carving.”

Swaybuk looked around. “How are we going to dig beneath the rock without being seen? This arch is a national treasure. The authorities aren’t going to just let us dig beneath it.”

“Let’s go back to the room and wait until dark,” Windar suggested. “We can come back and swim out to the rock and see what we can find. Hopefully, no police or federal agents patrol this beach at night.”

“This is Chile, Windar,” Swaybuk said. “There are more dangerous humans out there than police or Federales. I suggest that to avoid detection, we enter the ocean by our room and swim down here through the water. No one can detect what they don’t see. If we drive down, our van will be a sure giveaway.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Windar said, turning and heading back to shore. The tide was already starting to go out and already the tourists were entering the water. Soon the water around the arch would only be about knee deep and the tourists would flock to the arch.

Wiiguard waited until the Oonocks were gone, and then walked through the water to the arch. Smiling to the various tourists, he walked around to the west side and began to examine the rock. It did not take him long to discover the symbol carved into the rock. It was the same symbol that was on JeffRa’s blue amulet. He wondered if his master had carved the symbol on the rocks. He must remember to ask him. Satisfied that he found what the Oonocks were looking for, he waded back through the water, got back into his car and returned to town. Keeping an eye on the hotel entrance, Wiiguard settled down for a night of watching to make sure the Oonocks did not leave. Around ten o’clock, the lights in their room went out, but no one exited through the front door. Wiiguard assumed they were in bed for the night. He decided to keep his vigilance for a few more hours, just in case. He had no idea that as he patiently waited inside his room with his telescope, the Oonocks had already exited through the backdoor, snuck down to the beach and were swimming as dolphins toward the stone arch.

“You do know, Swaybuk, that both orcas and great whites patrol these waters,” Tigbee stated. “And one of their favorite foods is dolphin. We three are not going to be able to mount much of a defense if one of those bad boys comes around.”

“The water is too shallow here for us to transform into whales of any size,” Swaybuk answered. “At least as dolphins, we’ll have some speed. Besides, if we are attacked, Anew can erect a forcefield to save us.”

“Only if she sees them before they hit us,” Tigbee replied, closing the distance between him and Windar. Swaybuk knew this was a dangerous operation, but they had no other choice. They couldn’t excavate during the day for fear of being seen. Night gave them the cloak of darkness needed to elude the humans. Unfortunately, it brought with it other dangers.

Before long, they reached the arch. The tide had come back in, so the symbol was under water once more. Tigbee remained above, keeping a watchful eye out for predators. Swaybuk and Windar dove to the bottom, examining the area. Using their beaks, they began to dig through the sand, hoping to find something. But all the found was more sand

“Anew, I don’t think there’s anything down here,” Swaybuk said. “Just sand.”

“No, there’s something here,” Anew argued. “I can sense it. Windar, release the ruupoor. He can tunnel down and find what I am feeling.” Doing as requested, Windar brought the Europian worm out of the pouch around her neck and sat him on the ocean floor. Immediately, he began to burrow through the sand. The two Oonocks took turns rising to the surface for air, waiting for the worm to return. Finally, after ten minutes, he returned. Anew lifted him up to her ear.

“He says there’s a chamber beneath the arch,” Anew said. “It is filled with water, but then it empties into a large air-filled cavern. He said it is filled with hundreds of eggs.”

“Eggs?” Windar asked. “From what?”

“He does not know,” Anew answered. “He has never seen anything like them. He would have no idea what Earth animals’ eggs would look like.”

“Guess there’s only one way to find out,” Swaybuk said. “We’re going to need to go down there. Tigbee, keep watch. Windar, help me dig down further. Once we find the opening, I’ll transform into an octopus and squeeze in. You remain up here with Tigbee in case the opening closes up and I need you to dig me back out.”

“Okay,” Windar stated, a little nervous that Swaybuk would be going alone. “Just be careful.”

“I will,” Swaybuk replied, smiling. Rising to the surface for some deep breaths, the two Oonocks transformed into humans and dove down, scooping large handfuls of sand away from the rock base. They repeated this action numerous timed until they finally broke through and a small hole appeared. Immediately transforming into an octopus, Swaybuk squeezed through before the hole closed.

Even though the tunnel was dark, Swaybuk had no problem progressing forward, thanks to the octopus’ ability to see with its skin. He continued along the corridor for seventy feet, where it opened into a huge cavern, just as the little ruupoor stated. The water cascaded over the ledge into a waterfall, making it an interesting drop for Swaybuk. Once on the cavern floor, he transformed into a human and broke the light stick he had brought with him. He was amazed to see hundreds of eggs behind a veil of blue mist. As he walked closer, he saw the Keeper’s mark clearly scratched into the floor before the veil.

“It appears another suspended animation chamber,” Swaybuk said.

“Can you tell what these eggs are?” Anew asked.

“I believe they are turtle eggs,” Swaybuk said, trying to get a better look. “But I need to examine one to be sure. Can you shut down the field?”

“If I do, I might not be able to get it back up,” Anew responded. “It would then be necessary to remove all these eggs. Do you think we can do that?”

“No way,” Swaybuk chuckled. “It would take us three days to carry these out. Is there any way we can get just one?”

Anew thought for a moment. “I may be able to erect a forcefield around your hand and arm so you can penetrate the veil. You can then slowly push your arm through and grab one of the eggs closest to us. But you will only have twenty seconds to grab it.”

“And if I don’t?” Swaybuk asked.

“My shield will fail, the veil will reset and sever your arm,” Anew calmly stated.

“Great,” Swaybuk said. “Okay, time is short. Let’s give this a try.” Swaybuk walked over to the closest egg, getting as close to the blue mist as he could. He could feel the electrical charge it omitted. He hoped this worked.

“When I say go, put your hand through,” Anew instructed. Swaybuk saw a lilac glow forming around his arm. It stretched down to cover his hand and up his arm to his shoulder. “Now,” Anew shouted.

Swaybuk slowly pushed his hand through the veil, hearing the electrical sparks as they struck his arm like little lightning bolts. He grabbed one of the precious eggs and slowly brought it back out. As he pulled his wrist through, he could see the forcefield collapsing. Not wanting to lose his fingers, he yanked his hand free, but the sudden action caused the veil to crack, sending a lightning bolt into Swaybuk, knocking him across the room. He laid there motionless, unable to move for several minutes.

“Swaybuk, are you okay. Are you alive?” Anew asked over and over again, but without a response.

Finally, she heard a weak voice say, “You couldn’t give me ten more seconds on that damn forcefield?” He sat up, shaking his head to clear the fuzziness. He opened his hand to see all five fingers and a leathery egg. “Yep, turtle egg. Don’t know what kind.” Suddenly Swaybuk heard in his mind Tigbee stating they needed to leave right away. “We’ll have to leave the rest down here.”

“I can’t take the Keeper’s blood then,” Anew said. “His blood is what keeps the eggs in suspended animation.”

“Hopefully, we’ll figure out a way to come back and get these. Now, we’d best go see what has Tigbee upset.” Holding the turtle egg in one hand, Swaybuk transformed back into an octopus and climbed up the rock wall behind the waterfall and back down the tunnel. As he feared, most of the opening had reclosed, but there was just enough for him to stick one tentacle through. Upon seeing the arm, Windar quickly dug the sand away and Swaybuk emerged and floating to the top, transforming back into a human. “What’s wrong, Tigbee?”

“I’m picking up a small pod of orcas headed this way,” Tigbee said. “And a patrol boat has passed three times already, each time shining their light on the arch. It’s almost as if they know someone is out here.”

“Okay, let’s head back to our room,” Swaybuk announced.

“Did you see the eggs?” Windar asked.

“Sure did.” He opened up his hand to show the precious egg. “There’s probably six or seven hundreds of them down there. Maybe more. For now they’re safe, so we’ll just leave them there until we can figure how to safely remove them. Now, let’s see how fast everyone can swim and if dolphins can outswim orcas.”

The three swam as fast as their dolphin tails would propel them, each knowing that if the orcas caught up to them, they wouldn’t have much of a chance. Finally, they saw their hotel and beach ahead. Swimming as close to shore as they could, they transformed back into humans when they could go no further. Running to where they hid their clothes, all three quickly dressed.

As they prepared to leave, Tigbee heard a splash. He turned to see four dorsal fins breaking the water, then the unmistakable colors of black and white. The orcas. They had been much closer than they realized. If their exit point had been another six minutes down the beach, one or all of them probably would have been orca dinner.

“That was cutting it a little close,” Tigbee stated.

“A little too close,” Swaybuk replied. “I suggest we not try that again.”

“I second that motion,” Windar laughed. Together, the three snuck back into their rooms. Windar created a small incubation chamber for the egg made out of towels, two bowls, a lamp and some tape. Once the egg was secured, all four fell sound asleep, exhausted from their ordeal.

____________

Kiijon and Jeanip walked back out into the Family Room. Since the hour was late, they were not surprised that everyone had gone up to bed. But then there was a slight movement, and Kiijon realized that Terrance was still sitting before the Observation Window, staring into the darkness.

“Terrance, why aren’t you in bed like everyone else?” Kiijon asked.

“I needed to talk to you, Your Majesty,” Terrance softly said.

“Oh, if you’re calling me ‘Your Majesty’, this must be pretty serious,” Kiijon chuckled.

“It is. My Father called.”

“What do you mean your father called?” Jeanip demanded, forgetting to keep his voice down. “On what?”

“What do you think, Jeanip?” Terrance shouted back, anger in his voice. “My phone.”

“Jeanip, quiet,” Kiijon ordered. “You’ll wake everyone. Terrance, when did your father call you?”

“Right after you left to go talk with Forbee,” Terrance said.

“How in the hell did he get your number?” An angry Jeanip asked.

“I don’t know,” Terrance said. “That’s not important. What is important I that he said he did not kill TJ and that someone else is now hunting us.”

“Did he say who?”

“No, he didn’t know. But he assured me it wasn’t him.”

“And you believe him?” Jeanip asked, remembering to keep his voice low.

“Yes I do, Jeanip,” Terrance replied. “My father has done a lot of horrible, despicable things, but the one thing he has never done is lie. Jeanip, you’ve known him longer than anyone alive. You played with him as a youngling, you’ve fought him in several wars, and you’ve been defending your monarchs against him for over six thousand years. In all that time, have you ever known him to lie? I mean to purposely say something that he knows is not true.”

“He’s damn well right,” Jeanip chuckled. “JeffRa never lies. Not even as a kid. Got him into a lot of trouble with his father. He may bend the truth, manipulate it to suite his needs, but to say something he knows is false, no. That would be beneath him. He may be a mass murder, a scoundrel, the most horrible being in the universe, but he has been all of this with honor. I cannot think of one instance that he lied. He has always been truthful about what he is doing or what he plans to do. Always thought that was just his arrogance.”

“What about the fire?” Kiijon asked. “Was he responsible for the fire?”

“Yes,” Terrance answered. “I asked him outright and he confirmed it was his doing.”

“I see no reason why he would confess to one and lie about the other,’ Kiijon said. “I believe you, Terrance. This time, JeffRa is not responsible for our loved one’s death.”

“But why would someone else kill TJ?” Jeanip asked. “It makes no sense. TJ posed no threat to those in power and the wealthy. His fish farms aren’t going to topple empires. If anything, they are going to make them stronger and bigger.”

“It is late,” Kiijon stated. “I suggest we get some sleep. Tired minds don’t think well. We’ll start investigating the murder tomorrow when we’re more alert. And I understand EJ left something with Earon that I need to know, something about Hygone. With the loss of his son, I didn’t have the heart to question him about it this evening.”

“Kiijon, someone needs to inform Phameena,” Jeanip said silently. He knew how devastated the news would be to her. “I don’t want her hearing about it through gossip. TJ was her first born, the real next ruler of the VeeRay Clan. She needs to know so she can prepare herself to show the grief of an aunt, not that of a mother. The grief response of a mother could cause suspicion, and I do not want Lord Trinn or Jun learning the truth of who TJ was.”

“I agree, Jeanip,” Kiijon said, as they reached the stairs. “She needs to be told immediately, and it is her mate who needs to tell her.” Kiijon raised his hand to stop Jeanip from objecting. “I know we have a new enemy to find and you want to be here, but we must think of what’s best. You are Phameena’s mate. You are the one that needs to tell her this terrible news.”

“But I will be gone a minimum of six or seven days,” Jeanip replied.

“Ask her to come to the castle, or better yet, to meet you inside FarCore,” Kiijon suggested. “Since she is implanted, she cannot cross over through the special portal into our world, but she can cross into FarCore through Europa without harm to your unborn son. It would also allow us to help her with her motherly grief. Europa, even Earon and EeRee, could go inside FarCore and cry with her. And it would allow you to remain close to her and us.”

“But the clock,” Jeanip stated. “FarCore has a limit of what time may be spent there.”

“True, but we have learned that, when needed, FarCore disables the clock and allows individuals a limitless amount of time to stay there,” Kiijon said with a smile. “Go, contact her. Tell her she is needed. Then try and get some sleep. Remember, you’re supposed to relieve Chancee in four hours.”

____________

“So, what’s on the agenda for today?” Tigbee asked. “Are we staying here or moving on?”

“I’m too hungry to think,” Swaybuk replied, slipping his shoes on and tying them. “Let’s discuss it over breakfast.”

“I should be ready in about ten minutes,” Windar shouted from the bathroom.

“Then we’ll meet you downstairs,” Swaybuk hollered. “We’ll order your breakfast for you. The usual with coffee?”

“Yes, please,” Windar shouted back. “And orange juice too.”

“Okay, we’ll see you in a few,” Swaybuk said, as he and Tigbee left the room. Tigbee had to almost run to keep up with the big guy. Apparently, he really was hungry. Must have been all that swimming they did last night because he was famished too.

Luckily, it was early enough that the dining room was fairly quiet. The hostess led the two males to a seat next to the window, pouring each a fresh cup of coffee after seating them. She left an empty cup for Windar.

“I don’t know how you can drink that stuff every morning,” Anew said inside Swaybuk’s head. “It smells and tastes horrible.”

“You’re crazy, Anew,” Swaybuk replied. “Coffee is one of the things that makes this planet great. It is probably the best thing that humans every invented. Now, if you want to smell something putrid, there are a few choice dishes on Europa that would knock your socks off.” He and Tigbee both laughed, thinking of Sillrig.

“Would you gentlemen like a newspaper?” the hostess asked.

“Leave one for our friend,” Tigbee replied. “She usually likes to see what is going on in the world. Just lay in on the table by her cup.”

Swaybuk looked at his watch. “Where is Windar? It’s been over ten minutes.”

“Told you we should have waited,” Tigbee teased. “She probably either feel back to sleep or is still trying to arrange her hair. I don’t’ know why women take so long to comb their hair.”

“Wrong on both accounts,” Swaybuk chuckled. “Here she comes.” He saw Windar get off the elevator and head toward the dining room. Tigbee held up the newspaper so she would see that they already had one for her so she wouldn’t stop by the guest desk to pick one up. As he set the paper back down on the table, he inadvertently turned it over. There on the front page, was a huge picture of Prince Terrance. Swaybuk grabbed the newspaper and tried to make out what it said, but it was in Spanish. Fearfully, he recognized one word – “Muerto”.

“Tigbee, do you read Spanish?” Swaybuk asked.

“No, but Windar does,” Tigbee answered. “Why?”

“Because I believe something is wrong.” Swaybuk showed Tigbee the picture of their prince on the front page.

“Wow, I can’t believe I beat our food,” Windar chuckled, taking a seat. Then she noticed the strange looks on both males’ faces. “You two look like you just lost your best friend.”

“I fear we may have,” Swaybuk said, as he handed Windar the paper. “Can you read this and tell us why Prince TJ’s picture is on the front page?”

Windar took the newspaper and began to read it quietly out loud, tears soon filling her eyes and dripping down onto her cheeks. The article told of the confirmed death of the prince, the strange drive of the car into the ocean and a helicopter retrieving two people. It was unknown who the two were or what their relationship was to Prince Terrance. It was reported that there was a third person, whose whereabouts were unknown. The article went on to say that after the devastating fire that destroyed most of the Waters’ estate, this newest tragedy was a hard hit to both the Waters family and the scientific community. Although there was more to the article, Windar could not continue to read it.

“A fire?” Tigbee asked. “When did that happen? And why weren’t we informed?”

“Because there was nothing that we could do,” Swaybuk said. “For our safety, it was agreed that we would maintain no communication. In lieu of this, we need to return to the estate.”

“No, we cannot abandon our mission,” Anew argued. “We must go on.”

“To where, Anew?” Swaybuk argued back. “We are never going to find the Keeper. We have already searched through thousands of miles of land, forest and oceans and have found nothing except his carved symbol stating he was there, several handfuls of seeds and some turtle eggs. He didn’t leave us a map to follow, or any clues. We don’t even know if we are on the right continent. But I do know that our monarchs need us. Someone is hunting them and we need to assist in ensuring no one else dies. And since you live inside MY body, you’re just going to have to tag along, like it or not.”

The waitress brought them their orders; pancakes for Windar, an omelet for Tigbee and Huevos Rancheros for Swaybuk, along with a fresh canister of coffee.

Windar looked at her blueberry pancakes, smelling their alluring aroma. “I’m not that hungry anymore.”

“The first priority of a soldier in the field is to keep up his or her strength,” Swaybuk stated, the soldier in him emerging. “We might not feel like eating, but we cannot protect our sovereigns with weak bodies. We will finish this meal, then I will notify Jazee that we are heading back and request transportation.”

“You don’t want to fly back?” Tigbee asked.

“Not on a plane,” Swaybuk said. “If the fire on the estate was intentionally set, which I suspect it was, that, added with Prince TJ’s death, means JeffRa is hunting all Oonocks. It is possible we ourselves are being watched and are in danger. We need to return to the estate as quickly and as safely as possible.”

TEEPOON LEAVES

It would take a speeder from the Complex three hours to reach the small group in Chile. Suddenly feeling it was unsafe to remain in the hotel, the three packed their bags and decided to start driving down along the coastline. If anything happened, they could always retreat into the water and transform into ocean creatures, meeting their transport somewhere along the way.

Swaybuk and Windar waited outside with the suitcases while Tigbee ran to get their rented van out of the lot. Windar stepped closer to the curb, smelling the delightful smells floating on the breeze. “I’m going to miss all these wonderful places; their tantalizing smells, their wondrous sounds, their intriguing architect and ruins. I was especially looking forward to visiting Antarctica.”

“You can always take a vacation down there after things settle down,” Swaybuk suggested.

Windar sighed. “Do you really think, Swaybuk, that day will ever come? Our lives seem to be getting more complicated and dangerous every day. It appears as if the only safe place at the moment is the Complex, and I’m not sure how long that will remain safe.”

“We have had hard times before, Little Windar,” Swaybuk stated, trying to cheer up his companion. “Besides, you have a least another ten thousand years to live. I am sure that somewhere in that time period our lives will be quiet enough so you can visit the Antarctic.”

“As long as global warming doesn’t melt all the ice first,” Windar chuckled. She leaned to her left to bump into Swaybuk. A burning pain suddenly erupted in her left shoulder. She looked down and saw purple blood starting to pour out. “Swaybuk, I think I’ve been shot,” Windar said, as her knees buckled. Swaybuk quickly grabbed her and pulled her onto the porch behind the bushes and railing.

He took her hand and held it against the wound. “Keep pressure on it until Tigbee gets here.” He looked around, but he could not see where the assassin was hidden. He did see, however, Tigbee turning the van and heading toward them. “Tigbee, we’ve got a shooter and Windar’s been hit,” Swaybuk said into his communicator. “Drive up as close as you can to the porch, but don’t get out of the van. Open up the driver’s side door.”

“What about the luggage?” Tigbee asked, seeing their suitcases laying on the ground.

“Leave them,” Swaybuk said.

“No, I need mine,” Windar stated. “The ruupoor is sleeping inside one of the pockets.”

“Very well, we’ll get the suitcases IF POSSIBLE after I get you safely inside,” Swaybuk said, as he continued to watch the empty windows in the building nearby. The shooter could be anywhere. Tigbee pulled up as close as he could, then opened the van door for Swaybuk and Windar. As Swaybuk stood, a barrage of bullets pinged through the air, hitting the building and bushes. People were screaming and running in every direction. It appeared that some had even been shot. To Swaybuk’s dismay, none had hit him, Windar, Tigbee or the van. Then he saw the forcefield that Anew had erected around them.

“Hurry,” Anew yelled.

Swaybuk ran as fast as possible with Windar in his arms, blood dripping across the wood and pavement. He jumped into the back seat and carefully placed Windar on the other side. He noticed she was growing pale, possibly from the amount of blood she had lost. Tigbee maneuvered the van by the suitcases, opened his door, grabbed them and threw them onto the floor. He then sped off down the road toward the ocean.

____________

Wiiguard was woken by the sound of a car horn. Opening his eyes, he was irritated to see it was daylight and he was still sitting on his balcony in a chair. Had he slept there all night? So much for his surveillance. He imagined the three Oonocks were already off somewhere and he’d have to start searching again for them. He stood and stretched, figuring he’d go take a shower and get something to eat. Just as he turned to leave, he saw Swaybuk and the female walk out of the hotel and down to the curb. Apparently luck was with him today because the Oonocks had not left as he thought. Suddenly, he noticed Windar double over and falter, Swaybuk catching her before she hit the ground. He grabbed his binoculars and zoomed in on the pair. Purple blood was oozing out of the females shoulder. Zooming back out, he saw Swaybuk desperately looking around for a shooter. Using his binoculars, Wiiguard searched through the balconies and empty windows, trying to see if he could see the assassin. As a van pulled up in front of the hotel, Wiiguard kept his eye on the possible shooter locations, hoping he would fire a few more shots and give away his location. To his surprise, a hail of bullets emerged from the shooter’s gun. He was on the fourth floor of a building about two hundred yards down the road. It was an excellent location for the shooter to get a good bead on the Oonocks, but it was also a good location for Wiiguard to do the same. Grabbing his advanced weapon, he zeroed in on the shooter, momentarily holding his shot until he could see the shooter’s face. Even though he knew it was an impossibility, he wanted to make sure his master had not sent another. Wiiguard’s eyes narrowed in disgust when he saw the assassin’s face – it was Sheik Abdul’s right-hand man. Without hesitation, Wiiguard pulled his trigger. The bullet sped across the distance and entered the human’s forehead right between the eyes. He fell forward and slumped over the balcony.

When Wiiguard turned around to see if the two Oonocks had survived, he was surprised to see a van pulling away from the scene. He surmised the three Oonocks were inside. Luckily, he had kicked his camera equipment on and it had recorded what he did not see. Rushing back into his room, he quickly replayed the video. He watched as a van pulled up in front and Swaybuk stood with the female in his arms. Within seconds, the sound of bullets could be heard hitting the bushes, the fence and sidewalk as Swaybuk ran forward to the van. Something wasn’t right! How could Swaybuk possibly run that fast with the amount of bullet hits he must have acquired? Wiiguard rewound the tape to where Swaybuk stood up and played it again, but this time zoomed in on Swaybuk and played it in slow motion. To his dismay, not one bullet penetrated Swaybuk or the female’s body. But that was impossible. As he zoomed back out, he noticed the van also had no bullet holes. What kind of bullets was the assassin using? Then he saw it – a blue glow surrounding the van and the fleeing Oonocks – a forcefield. But from where? And by whom? Answers he did not have time to discover, for he could hear the sound of police sirens. He grabbed his equipment and threw it into a bag, along with his clothes. Breakfast would have to wait. Throwing some money and the room keys on the nightstand, Wiiguard hurried out the back and rapidly walked over to where his car was parked. He did not wish to draw attention to himself, especially since he had a weapon on him that had just been fired. Although the dead human hanging over the balcony should keep the police busy for a while, they would be looking for the human’s killer. Taking the back roads to avoid detection, he calmly drove out of town.

He thought of trying to follow the Oonocks, but the recording he had was too valuable not to send to his master. He would need to find a safe place along the road somewhere where he could pull off and contact his leader. Perhaps JeffRa could determine how a lowly soldier erected a forcefield.

____________

“How’s Windar?” Tigbee asked, as he continued to drive down the road, the suitcases brushing up against his legs in the cramped front seat.

“Not good,” Swaybuk said. “Thankfully, she leaned left just as the assassin fired. The bullet was meant for her heart, but her shifting put its entry over her shoulder. There’s no organ damage, but she’s lost a lot of blood.”

“Do you want me to pull over?”

“No, just get us to the ocean,” Swaybuk said. “It is not safe for us to be on land. If that shooter doesn’t find us, those police might. And I don’t want to have to explain why Windar’s blood in purple. Anew, please tell me you possess the power of healing like other Ancients and you can help Windar.”

“Of course,” Anew answered nonchalantly.

“Then do it,” Swaybuk yelled.

Swaybuk relinquished the control of his body to Anew. She reached up and grabbed the amulet around Swaybuk’s neck with one hand while placing her hand above Windar’s wound with the other. She began to chant the words of the Ancients. Soon a blue light emerged from the amulet, down Swaybuk’s arm, through his hand and into Windar’s body. She gasped, as she felt the surge of power enter her body. The muscle tissue reconnected, new veins were formed, blood began to pump through that part of her body again as the wound closed. When the blue light was gone, only the hole in Windar’s blood-stained shirt remained. She was healed.

“Thank you, Anew,” Swaybuk said, pulling the young Oonock toward his chest, carefully holding her securely in his arms.

“I have mended her body, but I cannot replenish the blood she has lost,” Anew stated. “She needs to rest and rebuild her blood supply.”

“There is no time for her to rest,” Swaybuk stated. “We have to go into the water and transform.”

“She is too weak to swim on her own,” Anew said.

“Then I’ll carry her,” Swaybuk said. “Tigbee and I will transform into sperm whales and I’ll carry her inside my mouth until the speeder arrives. Oonocks have carried humans before in their mouths. Is that agreeable with you, Windar?” She did not answer. Swaybuk leaned her back so he could see her face. She was still very pale and her eyes were closed. Swaybuk leaned down very close to her mouth and nose and was relieved to hear her breathing. She was asleep. He laid her down on the seat beside him, then reached over for one of the suitcases. “Tigbee, anything inside your case you need to take?”

“Just the recorder that I have been recording all our findings on,” Tigbee said. “And I’ll need to take the weapon I have in my pocket. Nothing else is of importance.”

Swaybuk removed the recorder from Tigbee’s case and placed it inside a bag. He threw the suitcase to the back, then he grabbed his own and removed a special container that held the precious turtle’s egg. He looked inside and was glad to see that the egg was still intact after all the dropping his suitcase had endured. He also removed four small seashells that he had picked up for each of the girls, along with the golden starship the forest spirit had given him at their Third City. After tossing his suitcase to the back, he opened Windar’s. He wasn’t sure what she would want, but he didn’t think she would want any clothes. He found the small bag that contained the ruupoor and decided to add the kallis and kachee to the same bag. Carefully rolling Windar to one side, he reached into her front pants pocket and brought out the two helpers where they had been warmly sleeping. Giving him some grunts of disapproval for being awakened, Swaybuk slipped them inside the small bag with the other helper. Soon, all three were huddled together, sound asleep. Swaybuk looked at what was left in the suitcase. Windar had collected a number of items and at least a third of her suitcase was filled with souvenirs and trinkets. There was no way they could carry all that. He began to sort through the items, trying to pick out the ones Windar would want the most.

“She has worked so hard collecting these things, it is a shame to deprive her of them,” Anew said.

“We can’t possible carry all of these items,” Swaybuk said. “I will have her in my mouth and Tigbee will carry the helpers and a small bag of items we must take.”

“Since Windar will remain human, the helpers can ride with her in your mouth,” Anew suggested.

“No, that’s too dangerous,” Swaybuk immediately said. “I might accidentally swallow them. It will be hard enough not to swallow Windar.”

“Keep the helpers in their little bag and slip the bag back into her pocket,” Anew said. “That will free you to carry the small bag of essentials and Tigbee can carry the larger bag of Windar’s items.”

“I can carry both bags,” Tigbee said.

“It’s going to be a good three hours before we encounter the speeder,” Swaybuk replied. “That’s a long time to drag the bags through the water on ropes.”

“Then I’ll just have to carry them in my mouth,” Tigbee said. “Please, Commander, I can do it.”

“As you wish,” Swaybuk said, placing Windar’s things in another bag and tying it securely. “Any sign of where we can go in yet. We really need to get off of this road.”

“It appears there’s a spot coming up,” Tigbee said, looking down at his tracker. “Easy beach access from both the road and ocean with a small group of trees to hide in along with some large rocks in the water. We should be able to enter there and go out. According to my map, it gets deep pretty quick, so we won’t need to go that far off shore.”

“Make it so,” Swaybuk stated.

Just as Tigbee had predicted, five minutes ahead was the perfect exit location. He drove the van off the road, across a small patch of grass, out on to the beach and down in amongst some trees. With any luck, the van should not be visible from the road.

Tigbee quickly sent a message that they were proceeding up the Chilean coastline as sperm whales and would rendezvous with the speeder. He also informed them that Windar had been injured and was not able to transform, so she would be riding inside Swaybuk’s mouth as a human. Placing the van keys beneath the floor mat, he locked the doors, then hurried to where Swaybuk was waiting on the beach. He had already undressed and was holding the semi-conscious Windar in his arms.

“Windar, we have to go into the ocean,” Swaybuk explained. “I know you’re too weak to transform, so I am going to carry you in my mouth, along with our little helpers that are in your pocket. Do you understand, Windar?”

She did not have the energy to respond verbally, but she was able to silently say, “Okay.”

“If you need us for anything, or if you get too uncomfortable, just call us. We’ll hear you,” Swaybuk assured her. Swaybuk handed Windar over to Tigbee then walked to the edge of the drop-off and dove in. Beneath the waves he transformed into a sperm whale, then swam over to the ledge, resting his chin on the rock. He opened his mouth and Tigbee gently placed the sleeping Windar on his tongue. He closed his mouth and wiggled his way off, waiting a little ways of shore for Tigbee. As he waited, he noticed two police cars with their lights and sirens blaring race down the road, more than likely looking for them. They had made it to the ocean just in time. Holding tightly onto the small and large bags, Tigbee dove into the deep water and transformed, swinging around and grabbing the two floating bags in his mouth. The two sperms whales swam out further and began their journey north to the estate. They were out about a mile from shore when something made Swaybuk look back. He was not surprised to see two red lights flashing in the area where they had left the van.

____________

The witnesses to the shooting had stated that one of the Americans had been shot and that all three left in a blue van. Unable to locate the van, two police cars decided to race down the highway in hopes of finding them. In addition to seeing if medical attention was needed, they needed to know who the dead assassin was and if they knew who might have shot him.

Speeding past the location where the Oonocks had entered the water, one of the policeman thought he saw a light reflection inside the trees. About five miles down the road, he decided to turn around and check it out while the other car continued forward. As they drove off the road and drew closer to the trees, both officers saw the van.

“Tomas, Miquel here,” the policeman called into his radio. “That was their van I saw in those trees. We’re going to check it out.”

“Be careful, Miquel,” the voice said back. “They may be armed. We’re turning around now and should be there in a few minutes.”

Miquel and his partner, Guillermo, stopped a few feet from the trees, and exited their patrol car, their guns drawn and ready to fire. They cautiously approached the vehicle. “Get out with your hands up,” Miquel called, but nothing happened.

Moving closer, the two officers realized there was no one in the van. They tried the doors, but they were locked. Looking inside, they saw two opened suitcases thrown in the back, their contents scattered everywhere. Smeared across the passenger’s side on the middle seat was some kind of purple liquid. As they watched, they could see it disappearing fast.

“Señors, Señorita, can you hear us?” Miquel called. “We are the police. We are here to help you.” Once more, there was no response.

“Miguel, footprints,” Guillermo said, as he pointed to two sets of prints in the sand leading down to the ocean. They followed the prints and came across two piles of clothes. “Where did they go? And why did they get undressed?”

“I don’t know,” Miguel said, shading his eyes with his hand as he scoured the ocean. “We need to radio in and have them send a boat down.”

“You think they went into the ocean?”

“They must have,” Miguel replied. “Unless they transformed into those two whales out there, they probably plan on swimming either up or down the coast and then exit again. A boat can cover more ground along the coast than we can. Come on, let’s go call it in.”

____________

JeffRa hobbled across the floor, impatiently waiting for Wiiguard’s video to come through. He hoped there would be no problem for the Terrian and Human technology to interact this time. He so wished he could use only Terrian communications – it would make life so much easier. But he knew that humans would soon detect his superior technology and would be breaking down his door, wanting to investigate what he had and how he got it. No, for now it was necessary to rely partially on humans’ primitive components, just like the Oonocks did.

Upon hearing what had transpired in Chile, JeffRa had ordered Wiiguard to return and to send him his recording immediately. He knew it was risky sending the information over the airwaves, but he couldn’t wait thirty hours for Wiiguard to arrive by airplane. Wiiguard said the Oonocks had been saved by some kind of forcefield and he had to see it NOW. To his knowledge, only he, Europa and her son had the power to construct shields; a power granted to them because of their connection to the Orbs. No soldier had that capability. And Wiiguard had said it was a blue shield, not a lilac one, so it was of Earth, not Europa. The entrance to Earth’s FarCore was still lost, so there was no way anyone could tap into its powers except an Ancient. JeffRa was able to use some Earth Orbs’ power because of the Keeper’s amulet he had stolen.

JeffRa finally sat down, his leg aching from all his walking. He tried over and over to solve this riddle. The Keeper was still locked in eternal sleep, so he could not have created the forcefield. The female was gravely injured, so it couldn’t’ have been her. That left only Swaybuk, but there was no way he could have created it. Was there someone else on Earth he didn’t know about?

Finally, the recording came through, but it was fuzzy. JeffRa so wished Wiiguard was already there to help with the transmission. He knew little about electronics and he did not trust any of the few humans he had left to help. As he stared at the screen in anger, he heard Wiiguard’s voice.

“Sir, if the image doesn’t come through clear, turn the second dial on the control panel two notches, then turn the red knob at the top until the picture becomes clear,” Wiiguard instructed. Thankfully, Wiiguard knew of his master’s lack of knowledge when it came to computers, so he had left instructions. JeffRa did exactly as Wiiguard had instructed and the image became crystal clear. Luckily, the master at least knew how to play, forward and rewind the video.

Wiiguard had been right. A blue forcefield surrounded the two Oonocks and the van, in which he presumed the other Oonock was. Enlarging the picture to see if he could detect anything unusual about the two Oonocks, JeffRa was disappointed when the image became blurry again. Hoping Wiiguard’s solution would work for this too, JeffRa adjusted the knob and received another clear picture. He scrolled down Windar’s body and saw nothing out of the ordinary. He then did the same to Swaybuk. Nothing. Then something caught his eye. He zoomed in further and saw a golden chair around Swaybuk’s neck, but he could not see if anything was on it. Keeping that section enlarged, JeffRa slowly advanced the video. Then there it was. As Swaybuk ran with the female in his arms, he turned to look around and his shirt opened just enough to show a blue stone beneath the chain. The Commander wore a Keeper’s amulet and, with it, had the power to erect the forcefield.

But how could Swaybuk have a Keeper’s amulet? He wore the Keeper’s amulet and there was only one Keeper. The only place to obtain another amulet was in FarCore. FarCore! Was it possible that the Oonocks had found a way into FarCore? Images of getting into FarCore danced in JeffRa’s head, imagining the power he would have. He could rid the Earth of all humans and Oonocks and live the rest of his life in peace. In peace, yes, but it would be a very lonely life, he thought. Wiiguard and he were the only two still alive. If JeffRa wanted to survive even another fifty years he had to submerge into the ocean’s depths and rejuvenate, thus leaving his loyal soldier all alone. Once more he personally regretted going after Europa those twenty-six years earlier. If he hadn’t been so zealous in his quest to kill her and her brother, he would not have been slain by Enok and Zeevinn and Attwa would never had ruled his vast army of Terrians. They would still be alive today and, together with FarCore, they could wipe out both races in one sweep.

JeffRa sat there, looking at the picture on his screen – an Oonock Commander and a young Oonock female. Chances were there were other Oonock females on Earth of breeding age, and he and Wiiguard could build their army again. Oh, he must really be getting old. He was supposed to be thinking about annihilating the Oonocks, not living with them. And why did he warn Terrance before the fire? Was it possible the good JeffRa was trying to emerge after all these millennia and he was trying to make amends before he died?

There was a knock on the door. His housekeeper entered with a cup of tea and a package. “This just arrived for you, Mr. Landers,” the keeper stated. “I thought you might also like a cup of tea before dinner.”

“Thank you, Helga.” He took the package while Helga set the tea down.

“Dinner will be served at six, Sir,” the housekeeper stated. “I picked up some fresh sushi and shrimp at the market earlier today.”

“Okay,” JeffRa said, intrigued by the package in his hand. It was from his son, Terrance. Terrance had sent it Express Delivery to Mother’s Wonderful Ice Cream, who forwarded it to their parent company, who forwarded it to JeffRa’s post office box. Helga had apparently picked up the mail when she was in town.

He gently shook it and heard something barely move inside. “What have you sent me, Terrance?” Having no fear of what was inside, for he believed Terrance would never intentionally hurt him, he reached inside his desk and withdrew a golden letter opener with one of the stones he had created with Queen Medaron’s image on it. He carefully sliced open the box and picked up a note.

Father,

I cannot forgive nor forget all the horrible things you have done. But I am grateful for saving me and my family. I couldn’t help but notice that you seemed to be in a lot of pain when we met. I am sending you something that I believe will assist with your pain.

Terrance

JeffRa laid the note down on the desk and lifted up a sheet of tissue paper. He was amazed to see a box full of fresh TeePoon leaves. There were also two small circular jars partially filled with lilac water. Suspended above the water through a small hole was a living TeePoon plant, its roots spreading out inside the water, the start of its leaves budding above. With these two plants, JeffRa would never have to experience pain again, nor take those horrible human pills. Suddenly, JeffRa was startled when something wet splashed on the desk. Thinking one of the little containers had a leak, he carefully examined them, but his vision was starting to blur. It was then that he realized he was crying. He had not cried since that day he found the charred bodies of his mate and twin sons on Ganymede, over six thousand years ago. He didn’t even think he could cry, yet here he was, water rolling down his cheeks and onto his desk. And act of kindness by a human had softened his cold, uncaring heart.

Shaking his head to clear away the silly sentimental feelings coursing through his body while placing one of the TeePoon leaves beneath his tongue, JeffRa returned to examine the amulet around Swaybuk’s neck. Could it be? He reached over and grabbed the reports Wiiguard had sent him about where the small team had been, where they had visited, and so forth. Although a little chaotic, it appeared Swaybuk and his team members were systemically searching for something, methodically going down the west side of Central and South America. Occasionally they ventured out into the ocean to check out some island, but for the most part they remained on land. But what was their purpose, what were they looking for? Could the amulet be guiding them? A startling thought popped into JeffRa’s mind. If the amulet WAS guiding them, they would be looking for only one thing – the Keeper. But that was impossible. Only he knew of the Ancient living on Earth known as the Keeper. Yet before him, before his very eyes, was the proof of his belief. And with that belief came, once more, the realization that somehow the Europian monarchs had access to FarCore. But there was one flaw to his thinking. Even if they had access to FarCore, there would be no record of the Keeper. He was part of Earth’s history, not Europa’s. If his existence was recorded, it would be in Earth’s Orbs.

Suddenly realizing his leg no longer ached, something he attributed to the TeePoon leaf, he stood up and began to pace around the room. Somehow, pacing always seemed to make one think better. He began to replay in his head everything he knew about who would know of the Keeper. There would be no record of him on Europa. Earth’s Orbs might have a record of him, but the entrance into Earth’s FarCore was still closed and hidden, so the Oonocks could not have learned there. What about King Enok and Queen Medaron? Could their essence have found a way into Earth’s FarCore? But FarCore was not a place in this dimension, so he didn’t think that was possible. Then who else? He had never told anyone about what or who he had found several thousand years before, so no Terrian or human knew. What was he missing? Someone else knew about the Keeper. He continued to hobble around the room, amazed at how great his leg felt, when the answer came to him. He stopped and stared into nothing, a look of complete and utter surprise on his face. An Ancient. Another Ancient would know about the Keeper, which meant Queen Europa or Prince Enok or both knew and communicated with an Ancient. It was unbelievable, yet incredible news. No wonder he couldn’t defeat them. They had an Ancient protecting them. And he was pretty sure the Ancients were part of the Orbs, or the Orbs were part of the Ancients. That connection prevented any Orbs’ powers from harming the monarchs, and, in turn, the Oonock race. Sure, occasionally one could be killed, but for the most part they were invincible. This meant he hadn’t been a failure as a Commander all these millennia, as he feared. He had been fighting a battle that could never be won, no matter how long he lived and no matter how long he fought. Just as the Keeper’s amulet kept him alive all these years, the same Orb power protected Queen Europa and her people. Possibly even King Enok and Queen Medaron, which explained his defeat at the Third City. The Oonocks would always be triumphant.

A VISIT TO THE UNITED NATIONS

Safe behind the barrier, Prince Enok waited to be announced. The loss of his cousin and best friend weighed heavy on his heart and he had to keep wiping away tears from his eyes. He and TJ had been together since the day he was born. He had never lived a day without TJ in it. How would he or his family survive this horrific loss?

Hearing his name announced, EJ stepped out from behind the barrier, crossed a small walkway and stepped behind the microphone inside a special, bullet-proof shield. Once inside, Ospree quickly closed the door, thus sealing him inside. EJ looked out over the audience at all the faces. Today there were no cameras broadcasting his speech to the citizens of Earth. Today, it was just him and the ambassadors from various countries around the world. There had been no announcement of him being there, so some delegates were missing. He did notice, however, an ever-growing presence in the news section. Apparently, word had leaked out that he was there to address the Assembly and some news agencies had sent reporters

Taking a deep breath, the prince began. “Thank you, Mr. President. Dear Assembly delegates and nation ambassadors, I stand before you today a being in grief. Some of you may already know that Dr. Terrance Waters, distinguished professor at Berkley, was killed yesterday by an unknown assassin while in San Francisco. Dr. Waters was not only my cousin, but my best friend and brother.” He reached up and quickly wiped the tears from his eyes, trying so hard to keep them from rolling down his cheeks. “Dr. Waters was a courageous individual who dedicated his entire life to only one thing – ending world hunger. His death is senseless and a waste. His only crime was that he supported me in my endeavors to save this planet and its beings from annihilation. Those who have built their empires of wealth and power saw him as a threat to those empires and took from this planet something very dear to us all.”

“I also stand before you as an apologetic being, for I have prized my life and my family’s over the welfare of this planet. Afraid of being assassinated, I hid in protection, trying to accomplish what I could from a place of safety while the people of this planet struggled and sacrificed to do as I asked. My hiding stops today.” To the Assembly’s surprise and Ospree’s horror, the young prince stepped out of the bullet-proof booth and walked over to the main podium. “If my death is needed to end world corruption and save this planet, then so be it. I will gladly give my life. In return, all I ask is that you leave my family alone. They have done nothing. I am the guilty one, the one behind the Plan, behind giving the world free energy, behind stopping fossil fuels and overfishing.”

“There has been some outbreaks around the world because I have failed to be present. While I do not condone these outbreaks, I do understand them. For four weeks the people of this planet have diligently followed my Plan, yet have seen or heard of no results. I am now going to tell you the results of your hard work.”

“In just the four short weeks, global warming has slowed by thirty-three percent. The pollutants in the air have dropped nearly eighteen percent and in the ocean by six percent. For the first time in decades, the Antarctic ice shelves show signs of stabilizing. Sea levels have not risen. And with no commercial fishing, there are numerous reports of sightings of huge schools of fish and other marine creatures throughout the oceans. With some habitats restored and deforestation halted, land animals are recovering and returning to some areas where they have not been seen in years. Although baby steps, it is a beginning. The Plan IS working.”

“As for my power plants, I know they have been slow in coming. I currently have eight fully trained technicians to refit and build power plants. Another twenty are in training. But I do realize that is not enough. Even at the rate of a new energy efficient plant every three to six months, it will take forever for each country to get at least one plant. So I have a proposal I would like you to take back to your governments. I will share with any country willing to build a new plant or convert an existing one, the specifications on how to do that. The country will be responsible for its own labor and materials. When the time is ready to bring the plant on line, I will have enough technicians trained to come out, inspect your plant, and install the new energy source. I ask only one thing in return. That the laborers are hired from within each country or surrounding area. No big construction companies should be paid exorbitant fees while the local people are in need of work and food.”

“Now for the fishing industry problem. We had planned on making this announcement several months from now, but in lieu of Dr. Waters death, I believe now is the appropriate time. Dr. Waters, along with some other brilliant scientists, have been working on fish farming a new species of fish Dr. Waters discovered. It is called a piiquid. It is about the size of a yellow-fin tuna, produces abundantly, is impervious to diseases like sharks and is, in fact, resistant to the new deadly bacteria that killed so many marine animals and plants off the Eastern Pacific coastline a few months back. Testing even indicates it is able to absorb harmful chemicals and toxins in the ocean and nullify them without passing the pollutants on to the consumer. In fact, eating the piiquid, which, by the way, taste delicious, improves the consumer’s general health. Their only drawback is that they must be eaten cooked; they taste horrible raw.” There was a chuckle in the audience.

“Where did Dr. Waters find these piiquid?” came a question for the audience.

“Probably when Dr. Waters discovered this fish, he told me where he found them. But with all that has happened of late, I honestly don’t remember where he said it was,” EJ replied, finally seeing some good that could come from TJ’s useless death – a way to hide where the piiquid came from. “It is possible one of his colleagues may know. If not, the secret may have died with him. But I do know his hopes were to soon release the piiquid into all the oceans and allow them to roam free. Since they mature quite fast, the fishing industries could concentrate on fishing for piiquid and allow the other native fish to repopulate. And if you are wondering about the effect on our local marine life, I do remember what Dr. Waters told me. Since the piiquid already exists in some oceans and, from his research, he felt confident that the piiquid will not compete for food with local life in areas where they are introduced. Some of our oceans’ predators have even shown a liking for the piiquid, which would also help in restoring those fish species in danger of extinction due to overfishing.”

“That is all I have to say today. I would like to get back to be with my family in this time of mourning, but I am willing to stay and answer any and all questions you may have. If need be, we can continue tonight and through tomorrow. People, please see that we ARE making a difference. This planet is starting to heal, thus assuring our and its existence. We are on the right track. It is just going to take time.”

EJ stepped back from the podium, signaling his speech was over. He was quite surprised that, instead of a question, the entire audience stood up and applauded. Not one delegate or ambassador remained seated. The applause lasted for three minutes, after which time EJ asked the assembly to be seated. For the rest of the day, and into part of the night, EJ answered questions, elaborated on plans and listened to the pros and cons of the current plan. The discussion continued the next day and, to his surprise, EJ saw that every seat was filled inside the hall, plus many more were standing in the back or sitting in the aisles. News cameras and reporters filled the sides, recording what was happening for the multitudes around the world. The death of TJ had united the humans even tighter, making them determined to reclaim their planet from those who had used her for their own capital and power gain for centuries. At last there was real hope of a brighter tomorrow. The majority of the human race was ready to put aside their differences, their prejudices, their hates for the survival of the planet.

During one of the breaks, EJ received a message from Waters Enterprises. Over half the countries in the world had already contacted the company requesting the details to build or refurbish the power plants. It was far more than EJ had hoped for. Knowing Jazee had his hands full trying to restore the estate for their return, EJ send Staybo a message, with a copy to Jazee, asking both Giibold and Robert to start sorting through the requests, verifying their validity and assuring they were legit. He did not want some underhanded operation coming in and grabbing the plans to the plants. It was also his hope that the project would help keep Giibold’s mind off the loss of his only sibling.

____________

“You are right, Wiiguard,” JeffRa said, as he watched the recording of the assassin on the screen. “That is definitely one of Sheik Abdul’s top men. Do you know if the female survived?”

“No, Sir,” Wiiguard replied. “After I killed the shooter, I hightailed it out of town. There were federales and police everywhere. But I was able to learn that the van Swaybuk was using was found along the ocean. More than likely, they went into the sea and were picked up.”

“More than likely,” JeffRa said. “And you believe the shooter was alone?”

“Yes, Sir. I saw no one else, although I had never seen this male before in town. It is possible he had an accomplice that I did not see.”

“Could the target been someone other than the Oonocks?”

“Doubtful, especially since the female was the first one hit. All of the bullets centered on whatever area the Oonocks were; as they moved along the sidewalk and porch, so did the barrage of bullets.”

“Have the Chilean police given a motive for the shooting?” JeffRa asked.

“No,” Wiiguard answered. “Since the shooter was dead and their intended victims gone without a trace, the police are at a total loss as to the shooter’s reason.”

“As am I,’ JeffRa said. “Why would Sheik Abdul want these soldiers killed? They is nothing to be gained by their deaths. They are not like Prince Terrance.”

“So, you believe Sheik Abdul is responsible for the young prince’s death too?”

“The extremist group ECHO has claimed responsibility for Terrance Waters’ death,” JeffRa announced.

“ECHO? I’ve never heard of that group.”

“That is because they do not exist,” JeffRa said, bringing up on the screen a picture of Sheik Abdul Haddad. “ECHO was the secret name I used when corresponding with the sheik regarding the elimination of Enok Waters, Jr.”

“Do you think he has decided to go after the Waters by himself?” Wiiguard inquired.

“A possibility,” JeffRa said. He stood up and walked toward the screen, staring at the human displayed. “But again, Prince Terrance and the others’ deaths served no purpose.” JeffRa stood there a moment, then a thought began to grow in his mind. “No purpose but one – to get my attention.”

“For what reason?”

“I am not sure. Perhaps to show me he too can reach the unreachable. Or that he is completely capable of striking down those I hate, thus robbing me of the joy of destroying them.” Then a horrifying thought came to the once prince. What if Abdul’s plan was not to strike down the ones JeffRa hated, but the ones he loved? What if somehow this human learned that JeffRa had a human son living with the Waters? And grandchildren? JeffRa had threatened to destroy Abdul’s wife and children if he did not comply with JeffRa’s wishes. What if Abdul was now doing the same with JeffRa?

There was a soft knock at the door. Helga poked her head through to announce lunch would be ready in five minutes. She also handed her employer an envelope that had just arrived special delivery. Then she took her leave.

JeffRa examined the envelope. He was not expecting anything. There was no return address or indication where the envelope had come from. He wondered if it might be something from Terrance again. He tore off the top section and reached inside to remove only one item – a picture of Terrance with a large red “X” drawn through his heart. His hands trembling, JeffRa turned the picture over to see the word “ECHO” written across the back. The foolish human had threatened his son. Abdul had no idea of the wrath he had just brought upon himself.

___________

Swaybuk and Tigbee’s journey was much slower than they anticipated. For some unknown reason, there was an unusually large number of cargo ships in the shipping lanes, making their journey treacherous. Although they could dive down and remain submerged for forty minutes, they had to surface for air and chance a possible ship strike. To avoid such a travesty, the two sperm whales rose very slowly to the surface, using their sonar to scan for any possible ships too close. Their delay in surfacing meant they could not remain underwater as long. In addition to watching for ships, there was no way for either male to know how Windar was doing. Since she was unconscious, it was necessary to stop every hour so Tigbee could transform and check on her.

It was drawing close to the third hour when Swaybuk heard a familiar whale sound. It was their ride closing in on their location. He and Tigbee waited until the speeder surfaced and Windar was safely inside before transforming back into human form. Once everyone was secured, the pilot sank beneath the salty waters again and pushed the handle forward, speeding toward Ocean Blue.

“Commander, we’ll be taking you to Ocean Blue,” the pilot reported. “The monarchs are currently residing there until the estate can be repaired.”

“How bad was the estate damaged?” Swaybuk asked.

“Just about everything north of marker 328 was lost,” the pilot replied. “The fire also gave us the slip on the east slope, and it was able to reach the main houses. Master Terrance and Teerdomay’s house was lost, but we were able to save the other two homes. Some embers drifted in through a hole in the back barn door and caught the stored hay on fire. It took out about a third of the barn before it was extinguished. The bay has some pretty big trees in it, but for the most part it survived.”

“And the vaquita?” Swaybuk asked.

“Queen Europa’s favorite tree fell into the bay and crushed the pen holding the vaquita. None of them were injured. But I heard that they did manage to eat most of Miss Medi and Windar’s piiquid experiment once they were free. Apparently, they like piiquid as much as we do!”

“Our piiquid?” asked a groggy Windar, opening her eyes upon hearing the pilot.

“Don’t worry, Windar,” the pilot chuckled. “Some of the soldiers rounded up the escaped vaquita and put them back inside an enclosure. There’s enough piiquid that found places to hide in the bay to assure your experiment will continue.”

“How do you feel?” Swaybuk asked, helping the young female to sit up.

“Really weak,” Windar confessed.

“You lost a lot of blood,” Swaybuk said. “Thankfully, Anew was able to heal your wound and repair your veins. But it is going to take a few days for your body to replenish your blood supply. Hopefully, Gardawyn will have something to help with that.”

Windar gave Swaybuk a small smile. “Thank Anew for me.”

“She says you are most welcomed,” Swaybuk smiled back. He watched Windar lean her head back on the seat and fall sound asleep again. She remained asleep until Swaybuk lifted her out of the speeder upon reaching Ocean Blue.

“Take her to the Library,” Europa ordered. “We have a bed all set up in there for her.”

“I can walk,” Windar softly protested. “You don’t need to carry me, Swaybuk.”

“Tomorrow you can walk, Little One,” Swaybuk replied, giving her a big smile. “Today you will be carried. Indulge an old soldier the joy of carrying someone as beautiful as yourself.”

“You’re not old, Swaybuk,” Windar replied, resting her head on his shoulder, thankful he had insisted on carrying her. She was very weak.

As ordered, Swaybuk carried Windar directly to the Library and placed her in the bed. Immediately, Gardawyn checked her vital signs and the bullet wound. The indication of where the bullet had entered and exited her body was barely visible. Had the medical assistant not known where to look he would have missed the site.

“It does appear as if her wound has completely healed on the inside and only a small blemish remains outside,” Gardawyn stated. “But you will need to stay in bed for the next few days, Windar, to replenish the blood you lost.” He injected her with two syringes of mediation. “This will help your body produce blood faster. I recommend you drink a lot of water also.”

“I have a nice bowl of homemade chicken soup for you and a nice cup of herbal tea,” Sinwee said, as she stepped forward with a tray. “Doogon is in the kitchen making those chocolate brownies you like so much, with some hippus leaves and tangel roots mixed in to help build up your strength.”

“It is very important for Windar to get lots of rest, so I ask that there be no more than two or three visiting at a time,” Gardawyn instructed, looking at all the faces in the room. “At least for today.” One by one, the visitors wished Windar a speedy recovery and left the room.

“Windar, if you need anything, just let someone know,” Queen Europa stated. “Swaybuk will be with us in the Command Room.”

“Your Majesty, how are Monarchs Earon and EeRee and Forbee?” Windar asked. “We saw in the Chilean paper the news about Prince TJ.”

“None are doing well,” Europa replied. “But do not worry yourself about such things now. You just concentrate on getting better. We will tell you everything you want to know tomorrow when you are stronger.” She leaned down and kissed the young Oonock on the forehead, as did Kiijon, both extremely happy that she, too, had not been killed.

Together, with Tigbee and Swaybuk in tow, they walked down to the Command Room to learn what had happened down in Chile. They, in turn, told Swaybuk the little they knew about Prince Terrance’s death, the estate fire, and why Prince Enok and Ospree were in New York. They also relayed to Anew and Swaybuk the disheartening account of what Hygone had told EJ and the futility of continuing the search for the missing Keeper. When the briefing was concluded, the hour was late. After checking on Windar, the monarchs retired upstairs and Staybo began the night watch in the Communications Room. Swaybuk made a little detour to check on Forbee.

“Hi, Forbee. I was wonderiung if you could do me a little favor?” Swaybuk asked, as he entered Forbee’s room. He was not surprised to see the shattered Protector sitting in a chair, staring at the floor, his night meal on the table beside him, uneaten. When Forbee did not respond, Swaybuk walked over and grabbed another chair, pulling it in front of the male. He sat down and rested his hand on Forbee’s shoulder, shaking it slightly. “Forbee, it’s me. Swaybuk. I’m in a bit of a pickle and I was wondering if, by any chance, you could help me? What do you say?

“What do you need?” came a fragile voice.

“I don’t know if you heard about it or not, but we were attacked down in Chile and Windar was shot,” Swaybuk stated. Forbee immediately responded, raising his head to look at his Commander, terror filling his eyes as he feared another Oonock had been killed. “She’s okay, thanks to Anew. She has the gift of healing just like Queen Europa and Prince Enok. But Windar lost a lot of blood and is recuperating in the den. She is very weak and needs constant supervision. I’m supposed to take over the watch in a few minutes, but I’m beat and don’t think I could possibly stay awake. I was wondering if you could take my watch for me?”

“Sir, I’m really not up to it.”

“I know I’m asking a lot, Forbee, but there isn’t anyone else,” Swaybuk continued, hoping to bring the soldier out of his depression. “It’s just that after all that has happened in the past few days, I’d hate to fall asleep and Windar need me and something happen to her. I don’t think this family can take another tragedy. I wouldn’t ask you if there was someone else. We are spread a little thin here at the moment.”

“How long is your watch?”

“Only six hours, but I can relieve you after four,” Swaybuk smiled. “I just need four hours of sleep, then I should be good. I’ll crash on the extra cot in the Communications Room, in case you need me.”

“Okay, Commander,” Forbee said. “I can cover your four hours. Windar was special to Prince TJ and he wouldn’t want anything to happen to her.”

Swaybuk watched as Forbee stood and slowly walked over to the library, relieving Gardawyn of his watch. Gardawyn explained what needed to be done if she woke up in pain and instructed him to call him immediately if anything happened. Swaybuk was delighted when he saw Forbee sit down next to the fallen female and take her hand in his. He then turned and walked down to the Communications Room.

“Pretty slick move, Commander,” Staybo chuckled.

“I don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about,” Swaybuk said, crawling into the cot in the nook at the back of the room.

“If anyone can draw Forbee out of his depression, Windar can,” Staybo added. “Would you like me to wake you up in four hours?”

“No, I think it would do Windar and Forbee good to spend some time together,” Swaybuk stated, as he turned his back to the soldier and closed his eyes. He knew Staybo was right. Windar had a way with Oonocks, a calming, soothing way that often brought out the best in them. She was deeply loved by all the soldiers. Perhaps it was her connection to the Orbs that made her so unique, so loveable.

Swaybuk was woken by the sound of laughter. Thinking he had just fallen asleep, he turned over to yell at Staybo for the noise only to find Kliinew on duty. He quickly looked at the clock and saw that he had been asleep for seven hours. Jumping out of bed he stated, “Someone should have woken me up.”

“You were exhausted, Commander,” Kliinew replied. “Gardawyn gave strict orders that you were not to be disturbed, that you needed the sleep.”

“Apparently, Gardawyn was right, if I slept that long,” Swaybuk said, running his hands through his hair. “Who’s giggling?”

“Forbee and Windar,” Gormee answered, a look of deep joy on his face. He, too, had been worried about his friend’s state of depression, but it seemed that Windar had worked her magic once more.

Swaybuk walked into the hallway and looked toward the Library, where the sound was coming from. As he drew nearer, he saw that not only was Forbee laughing, he was actually eating breakfast with Windar. He debated about interrupting the two. Decided it was best for Forbee to make the decision, he stepped inside. “Sorry I slept so long. Would you like me to relieve you?”

“No, Commander,” Forbee said, smiling. “Why don’t you go join the family in the dining room for breakfast? I don’t mind staying here with Windar for a while longer.”

“Very well. I am hungry,” Swaybuk replied. He stepped closer to Windar. “How are you feeling this morning?”

“Like a humpback slapped me with its fluke,” Windar laughed. “My shoulder is quite sore. And I smell like I slept in whale saliva.” All three laughed. “But thankfully my energy is returning. I should be ready in just a few days to start our journey again.”

“Always a trooper,” Swaybuk replied, giving the young female a warm smile. He wondered how she would take the news that they were abandoning the quest. After what EJ had learned from Hygone, there was no sense continuing their search. It was an impossible mission, for the Keeper had been secretly hidden away, not simply lost or sleeping. Swaybuk hated to admit it, but with the Keeper’s amulet, JeffRa was almost as strong as Hygone herself, capable of putting all kinds of enchantments on the Keeper’s location so he would never be found. “Then if you have no further need of me, I will take my leave and enjoy some of Doogon and Sinwee’s delicious cooking.” He turned, and headed into the kitchen, where the family was gathered. He wasn’t surprised to see Monarchs Earon and EeRee’s places empty.

“Swa,” Mary and Amber giggled, holding out their arms, their fingers full of oatmeal and berries. The twins had decided several days before that they were now old enough to feed themselves and would not let anyone else feed them. Thus, during meals, their hands were always covered in goopy, clumped, smooched food. “Up, up.”

Swaybuk was able to avoid the sticky, dirty fingers and kissed both newborn on top their heads. “Good morning, Mary. Good morning, Amber.” He then raised his hand to his forehead and bowed. “Good morning, Your Majesties, Terrance, Teerdomay, Cho Gin and Kumiko.”

“Good morning, Swaybuk,” many replied. Somehow Swaybuk’s presence made the day a little less sad; his presence felt like old times when everyone was welcomed and alive.

The large soldier walked around the table and pulled out the chair next to Kumiko. “Would you mind if I sit next to you this morning?”

Kumiko looked up at the large soldier. She thought that perhaps he was even taller than Jeanip, and he was the tallest person she had ever met. “Are you going to cry?”

“Cry?” A confused Swaybuk asked. “I don’t believe so.”

“Cousin Giibold was sitting here earlier,” Kuniko explained. “He started crying and left. That made my Mattwa and Grandmas cry too. Everyone’s sad because Cousin TJ died.”

“They are sad because they loved him very much and they miss him,” Swaybuk calmly said. He wasn’t sure if the small human’s reaction to his prince’ death was because of her innocence or because of all the death she had already seen in her four years of life. He had heard that after the tsunami hit Japan, there were bodies everywhere. Swaybuk looked over the small child’s plate to see what she was having for breakfast. Hoping to deter her train of conversation, he asked, “I am not sure what to eat this morning. What do you have that is good today?”

“Is the lady in the Library going to die too?” Kumiko asked, ignoring Swaybuk’s question.

“Kumiko, remember what we discussed before coming down to breakfast this morning?” Medi asked. “In our tradition, mealtime is a happy, family time. Even when bad things have happened, we do not discuss them at the table, but wait until after we are done eating. Now answer Swaybuk’s question.”

“I’m having scrambled eggs with some bacon and hash browns,” Kumiko replied. “With some pancakes on the side.”

“I think I’ll have the same as our young Princess here, Doogon,” Swaybuk said, with a deliberate smile. “And perhaps after breakfast, if you have no duties, you can go with me to visit Windar, Kumiko. If that is okay with your Mattwa?”

“Oh, can I?” Kumiko asked Medi. She had not been allowed into the Library and was dying with curiosity.

“As long as you don’t stay too long,” Medi replied.

INJURED DUCKLINGS

Prince EJ arrived back at Ocean Blue just in time to give the twins a kiss goodnight and read the older two a story. Starving from not having much to eat that day, he went to the kitchen to find some leftovers and was surprised to see that Sinwee had a fresh meal waiting for him. Adjourning to the dining room with Medi and Ospree, he was soon joined by his parents, Misso, Staybo and Swaybuk.

“How is Uncle Earon and Aunt EeRee doing?” EJ asked his father.

“Horrible. After what they experienced, Ocean Blue was just too confining,” Kiijon replied. “They returned to the estate today, under the protection of Skiquam. Forbee will relieve Skiquam this afternoon and become their protector, at least until we return to the estate.”

“How’s he doing?”

“Doing his duty as a soldier should,” Swaybuk answered. “Windar has seemed to work her magic once more, and I believe he is more than capable of protecting Monarchs Earon and EeRee.”

“I hope you’re right,” Staybo replied. “Prince TJ’s death hit him hard. If I had my way, he and Monarchs Earon and EeRee would remain on Ocean Blue with the rest of the family. The estate is still too dangerous a location for any monarchs to be.”

“Earon and EeRee need privacy to grieve,” Europa stated. “Something that has always been in short supply here.”

“And Jazee is there,” Swaybuk added. “Forbee needs purpose in his life right now, and guarding TJ’s parents will give him focus. A Protector’s entire being is geared to protecting, and when their charge is killed, their very existence is shattered. I know what Forbee is going through. I felt it when King Enok was injured and died on my watch.” He looked directly at Prince EJ. “And again when I had to leave my charge because he loved me too much. Without another being to protect, we Protectors will cease to exist in a matter of days.”

EJ gave his former Protector a warm, loving smile. “And how is Giibold? Did he return to the estate with his parents?”

“No, he is still here,” Kiijon replied. “He’s been going through the requests for the power plant blueprints, as you asked. More requests are pouring in every day. He has been able to weed out a few undesirables.”

“That’s good,” EJ replied, pushing his empty plate away and pulling toward him a dish with fresh strawberry shortcake.

“Did you not eat at all while you were away?” Medi teased her mate, seeing the enormous amount of food he was eating.

“Very little,” EJ replied, holding up his coffee cup for a fresh refill. “Ospree and I were so busy meeting with the delegates that we barely got bathroom breaks, let alone time to eat. For the most part, food was brought in. Mostly sandwiches and such. Certainly nothing like Sinwee and Doogon’s cooking. Right, Ospree?”

“Um,” Ospree responded, nodding his head, his mouth full of food. He too had hungrily been devouring the food on his plates.

“So the talk in New York before the United Nations went well?” Europa asked at last, thankful her son was back safe.

“Oh, Mattwa, it was unbelievable,” EJ stated. “It is like TJ’s death inspired the human race and turned a light bulb on. At last they are no longer willing to stand by and be part of the annihilation and destruction of this planet. While I would do anything to bring TJ back, his death has served a purpose I never would have imagined.”

“In what ways?” Kiijon asked.

EJ sat his fork down on the table and looked at the faces in the room. “Something incredible happened before I left New York. As we were preparing to return here, a security guard came up and said there were two young men who wished to speak with me. They were the leaders of two rival street gangs, who the police have never been able to get to stop fighting. They have been sworn enemies for almost a hundred years. Well, curiosity got the best of me and I agreed to see them, much to Ospree’s discomfort. Both leaders shook my hand and said how sorry they were for TJ’s loss and thanked me for trying to save this world. In memory of TJ, they had ended their feud and were, in fact, standing together outside the United Nations with several other gangs and the city police, making sure that I was protected and safe.”

“Do you think the peace will last?” Swaybuk asked.

“I do not know, but it is a start,” EJ replied. “And it is not just here. I received a news release in the plane that Israel and Palestine have agreed to extend their cease fire and have agreed to bring in a third party to negotiate a permanent peace. Both sides said if one as noble as TJ was killed trying to save them, then the least they could do was honor his memory by ending their conflict. And I am sure there are other instances around the globe. People are caring.”

“I saw when I was leaving the Communications Room a posting on the internet stating that one of the middle-Eastern countries is going to release their nonviolent political prisoners out of respect for Prince TJ,” Staybo said. “I didn’t get a chance to read the article or determine which country.”

“Are humans finally rising above their need for power and wealth?” Europa asked, a glimmer of hope in her heart. “Could it truly be possible that TJ’s senseless death has sparked in them the need for peace and coexistence with nature? Are they ready to fulfill the destiny that was always meant to be theirs? A world of peace and joy, without crime or hate or lust.”

Kiijon reached over and took his mate’s hand. “I don’t think it will happen overnight, but I do believe they finally have their feet on the right path. Now, I am sure Ospree and EJ are very tired after their trip. I suggest we all turn in for the night. If all goes well, Jazee may let us return to the estate tomorrow.”

Medi helped EJ carry in his dishes to the kitchen while the others headed to their rooms. Wishing to speak with EJ, Swaybuk offered to take in Ospree’s dishes.

“Here, I can rinse those off for you, Swaybuk,” Medi said, taking the dishes from the former protector’s hands.

“Did anyone tell you about what Hygone told me?” EJ asked, then finished his last bit of coffee before handing Medi his cup.

“Yes, your father informed me,” Swaybuk replied.

“So, are you going to go back out there and try to find the Keeper?” EJ asked.

“No, I don’t see any sense in it,” Swaybuk answered. “We could search for the next millennium and not find where JeffRa hid him.”

“What about Anew? She needs the Keeper’s body to transfer to.”

“She doesn’t know. We had two years to find him. I guess we’ll use the remainder of the time in trying to find some way to separate her from me and give her a body. Although Hygone may not have a way to remove her entity from me, perhaps that Council of theirs does. After all, they’re the ones who did this to us.”

“And if they can’t?”

“Then she or I or both will cease to exist,” Swaybuk said, apathetically.

“Let us hope it does not come down to that,” EJ sorrowfully stated. He looked at his former protector, the love in his heart still very strong. “I have missed you, My Friend. How have you been?”

“As I have missed you, Young Prince.”

“EJ. Not Prince or Your Majesty. Remember?”

“EJ,” Swaybuk smiled. “I am doing well. The constant bickering with Anew on what we should and should not do has kept my mind from missing you, Miss Medi and the girls too much.”

“I wish we could say the same,” Medi stated, placing the last dish in the dishwasher. She then walked over to the soldier, stood up on her tippy toes and kissed him on the cheek. “We all miss you so much. Especially Mary and Amber. They asked for you all the time. Don’t get me wrong – Ospree is wonderful and the girl adore him, but he’s not you, Swaybuk. Are you going to stay with us for a while, I hope?”

“That depends on Anew and what she needs to do,” Swaybuk replied. “I have no definite plans at the moment. Plus, I would like to be around until Windar is up and about.”

“Then I’ll see you tomorrow morning,” Medi said. She walked over, took EJ’s hand and kissed him lovingly. “Why don’t you and Swaybuk stay down here a little longer and catch up on things? I am sure you both have lots to tell the other. I’ll be waiting in bed.” She kissed him again, then headed down the hall. “Good night, Swaybuk.”

“Good night, Miss Medi,” Swaybuk said.

____________

Wiiguard handed JeffRa a printed sheet of paper. “I was able to hack into the Fuzio’s reservation computer like you asked, Sir. And guess whose name was on the list?”

“Abdul Haddad,” JeffRa answered, an evil look on his face as his eye glowed a crimson red.

“Right at the top, for a special VIP room reserved for five people,” Wiiguard said. “He arrived four minutes before the Young Terrance was shot, although I doubt he had the gall to pull the trigger himself. I believe he was there to witness the event and take pleasure in the young prince’s demise.”

“As do I,” JeffRa said. “Excellent work, Wiiguard. You found nothing with regards to Enok Waters, Jr.?”

“The Sheik’s plane landed in New York the second day of Enok, Jr.’s speech with the United Nations,” Wiiguard said. “However, I could not ascertain if the Sheik was aboard or not. To my knowledge, there was no assassination attempt on the prince’s life, so this may be a coincidence.”

“I do not believe in coincidences, Wiiguard,” JeffRa loudly shouted. “And I can assure you, the Sheik or his men go nowhere they do not have business. The prince is still alive only because the Sheik, or his assassins, could not get close enough to the prince. He is stalking the Waters family one by one, eliminating them.”

“So it would seem.”

“Where is he now?”

“The plane is in Kabul.”

“So, he is hiding in Afghanistan,” JeffRa announced, rising and briskly walking around the room The TeePoon leaves still continued to do their wonders, and his leg was free of pain. He felt five hundred years younger, and the excitement of the chase to catch the Sheik invigorated him. The old JeffRa had returned, but this time, instead of Oonocks, he had vowed to rid the Earth of the scum bag known as Abdul Haddad. “And our Prince?”

Wiiguard gave his master an odd look. He had never heard JeffRa refer to Enok Waters, Jr. as “our” prince. Now that someone else hunted his great nephew, had JeffRa’s feeling changed toward the young prince? Toward Europa and the rest? Or had the fact that Sheik Abdul was trying to beat JeffRa to his goal diverted JeffRa’s attention away from the Waters family?

“Luckily, when traveling in human transportation, even the Waters must file flight plans,” Wiiguard chuckled. “From all indications, he is back on his estate, safe and well protected.”

“Hopefully, he will stay there while we complete our plans,” JeffRa stated. “I need for you to concentrate everything you have on Sheik Abdul. I want to know when he sleeps, when he eats, even when he sneezes. This human patoot will not rob me of the prize I have stalked for so long. He, the Sheik, is now our primary target. And this is what we are going to do.”

Wiiguard listened to his leader, a sense of pride welling up inside him. It had been a while since he had seen JeffRa so focused, so energized. Wiiguard wished his father was here to see the old JeffRa return again.

____________

Cho Gin and Kumiko were so excited to step foot back on the estate. After getting permission, both girls ran to the barn to see how their horse and pony were doing. The barn had been completely repaired and there was no sign that a fire had destroyed the back half, so the girls had no idea how close they came to losing their beloved steeds. The horse and pony whinnied and neighed upon seeing the girls, sticking their heads out of their stalls.

“Blacky, I was so worried,” Kumiko said, wrapping her arms around her pony. “Is he really okay?” she asked Neil.

“He’s perfect,” Neil replied. “I’ve got some fresh carrots you two can give them.”

“But I didn’t bring a quarter,” a sorrowful Kumiko stated, frantically feeling around her pockets in hope one was somehow hidden in one.

“Since today is kind of like a ‘homecoming’ day, no quarters are needed,” Neil announced, handing each girl several carrots.

While the girls feed their animals, Europa and Kiijon accompanied Terrance and Teerdomay over the small hill to see what was left of their burnt out home, Jazee and Niizen accompanying them. Even though both monarchs had told the two what to expect, they were shocked to see nothing left of their home except for the brick chimney, which had now fallen over.

“The soldiers went through the debris in search of anything that might be salvageable,” Europa said. “As you might expect, there was not much; only a small box of items. I have them back at our place for when you are ready to look at them.”

“Thank you, Europa,” Terrance said, holding his crying mate in his arms.

“If you let Jazee know what type of house you want, they should be able to start building it in about a week,” Kiijon announced. “Until it’s ready, you will be staying with us.”

“I’m not sure we are going to rebuild,” Terrance replied, shocking both monarchs. “To tell you the truth, I’m not sure what we are going to do. We might move back to Hawaii to be close to Mother. Or perhaps travel around the world for a while.”

“Terrance, you do not mean that,” Europa said, trying to imagine their life without him and Teerdomay in it. “And what about the girls, Terrance? The twins need you, as do Cho Gin and Kumiko.”

Terrance turned to look at Europa, an angry look upon his face. “How long before we lose one of them, Europa? Or Medi? Or Misso? I’m tired of the killing, of the despair, of the destruction. I am tired of the constant fear of who will be killed next.”

“I know, Terrance, but . . .”

“No you don’t,” Terrance yelled. “It took me many long, agonizing years to deal with the fact that I killed my own father to protect you, something I never regretted. But now he’s back and, with him, all the guilt, sorrow and doubt I felt then, along with the realization that all of you are going to die. My father said he has changed. I don’t know if that’s really true or not. He also said someone new is hunting you. I’m not a soldier or an Oonock, Europa. I can’t pull the trigger again.”

“We often forget that you are not one of us,” Kiijon replied, taking Europa into his protective arms. “While fighting has been a part of our lives for many millennia, it is not of our choice, but of necessity. And none of us have had to endure what you did, Terrence, killing your own father to save your queen. Perhaps you are right. Perhaps you should take some time away from this place, go somewhere where you are not witness to those you love being hunted every day. Go somewhere where there is joy and peace. Perhaps the time has come once again for our paths to part, as yours and Europa’s did once before. But today is not the day for such decisions.” Terrance turned his angry glare to his king now. “Today is a day of venting, of high emotions, of remembering what was and is now gone – your home, young Prince Terrance. Let us postpone your decision until tomorrow when we will think a little clearer, feel a little less. Just know that whatever you decide, to stay or go, we will support your decision. And you will always have a home here whenever you want it.”

A very soft, “Thank you, Kiijon,” could be heard. Terrance reached out and took Teerdomay’s hand and walked toward the back of what used to be their home, Niizen accompanying them. The two monarchs turned and walked back towards their own home, taking a slight detour to Earon and EeRee’s house. Neither were surprised when EeRee answered the door.

“How is he doing?” Europa asked. She had not heard from her brother in three days and was worried about him.

“He’s holding in there,” EeRee replied. “Returning to the estate has definitely helped. He spends a lot of time up in TJ’s room and walking outside through the burnt out hills and along the bay. He doesn’t say a lot, but he is at least eating and sleeping through the night.”

“May we see him?” Europa asked.

“I am sure he would love to see you,” EeRee said. “He’s out back at the small stream, where that big red rock is. He discovered a mother duck and her ducklings there yesterday. They must have been driven down from the fire. A few of the ducklings had burnt feathers. He’s been putting healing cream on their wounds and feeding them.”

“By the red rock you said?” Kiijon inquired.

“Yes. That’s where the ducks usually are.”

Europa turned to her mate. “Kiijon, if you do not mind, I would rather go see Earon by myself. Maybe you could wait here with Teerdomay or go back to our house. I will take Jazee with me.”

“Sinwee just made some fresh lemonade,” Teerdomay stated. “There’s also coffee and some fresh strawberry shortcake.”

“I will wait here with Teerdomay,” Kiijon replied. As he watched his mate walk around to the back of the house and across the semi-charred grass, he contacted Staybo. “Have the security heightened in the area behind Earon’s house, especially around the stream. Alert me the instant anything is detected on the screen.”

“Yes, Sire.”

Jazee walked beside his queen as they strolled across the charred grass and onto a worn path leading down to a small stream that ran behind their house. Earon was exactly where Teerdomay had predicted, sitting beside the large red rock. As they neared, Jazee stopped and leaned against a tree while his charge continued the few yards down to the water. From that advantage point, he had a good view of the area and would be able to see any danger coming.

“How many ducklings does Mother Duck have?” Europa asked, as she drew nearer.

“She had ten, but one died from his injuries,” Earon said. He was holding one little duckling that had lost about a third of its feathers. “I am not sure this little guy is going to make it either.”

“Give it to me,” Europa said. She took the duckling from her brother, cradling it in her hands. Saying the Ancients’ healing words, a soft lilac light glowed inside her hand, healing the small creature of his injuries. She then handed the duckling back to her brother. “Are there any more needing healing?”

“Three,” Earon said, tears filling his eyes. He sat the healthy, yet still slightly featherless, duckling down in the water and quickly scooped up one of the other injured one. Europa did the same with the second one, then the last two. The two sat there watching the mother duck fuss over her babies. “Thank you.”

“So many of the forest animals were injured,” Europa replied. “I wish I could find them all and cure them so easily. I wish I could heal you.”

“Did Jeanip go tell Phameena about TJ?” Earon asked.

“Yes. He felt the news needed to come from him and not from some gossip. He should be back in three or four days.”

“She had not seen him for almost four years,” Earon stated. “The last time she came with Jeanip to visit, TJ was in Europe at some conference. He told her he would take a trip to Europa to see her, but he never did. Now he will never get the chance.” He paused for a moment, throwing the last of the bread crumbs and corn pieces into the water for the hungry ducks. “Europa, since you are part human, do you believe in heaven or hell?”

“I have embraced the Oonock belief that when we die we return to the Waters of Life, which I guess is a kind of heaven,” Europa replied. “But I do not know where bad Oonocks or humans go. I know Father encased JeffRa in that box so his essence would not contaminate the Waters of Life, so perhaps bad beings go nowhere. Why do you ask?”

“Because I fear that I will go to this hell the human speak of,” Earon suddenly announced.

“Earon, how could you even think such a thing?”

“I was tricked into fathering Terrance,” Earon replied, tears filling his eyes once more. “Phameena used her VeeRay powers and venom on me so I would implant her. When I found out that she carried my son, I hated her – and him. I wanted nothing better than for her to lose that egg, and my unloved son with it. I even asked the Waters of Life to end that child’s life, promising them that I would not seek solace in their Waters when I died, if they would grant my wish.”

“But you came to love TJ deeply.”

“Yes. After EeRee lost our own son, I took comfort in the fact that I had another son growing inside Phameena. I embraced him finally as my own. And when he was born and crawled inside my pouch, I thanked the Waters of Life for not listening to me, for giving me my first born. But what if the Waters of Life heard me back then, Europa? What if TJ died because they did as I asked them to, to take his life away? I keep thinking that my action of when he was inside his egg is the reason for his untimely death. And if so, then I must pay the price when I die.”

Europa reached over and took her brother’s hand. She remembered all the times her own father had given her this exact same speech regarding guilt for another’s death she was about to give her brother. “Listen to me, Earon. You are not responsible for TJ’s death. Nor is Forbee, who also believes he is responsible. No, the only responsible one is this person that now hunts us all.” She looked at her brother, giving him a smile of encouragement and love. “Besides, even if the Waters of Life had heard your request, they would not have waited almost thirty years to answer your prayers.”

“Do you believe what Terrance’s father said, that he did not kill TJ?” Earon asked.

“I do not know what I believe yet,” Europa confessed. “I know Terrance believes his father, or should I say JeffRa, for that is who he is.”

“Why the change of heart?” Earon questioned. “JeffRa tries to eliminate us by burning down the estate one day, only to warn us someone else is hunting us the next day? It makes no sense! JeffRa is a cold hearted, ruthless, uncaring, calculating murderer.”

“Father always believed the good JeffRa still lived somewhere beneath JeffRa’s hardened heart,” Europa answered. “He never gave up hope that the good brother he loved would conquer his hate and return. Perhaps that is what has now happened. Maybe for some reason JeffRa has changed.”

“If you think JeffRa has changed, you are a fool, Little Sister,” an angry Earon shouted as he rose to his feet, scaring and scattering the ducklings in numerous directions. “I do not know what, but he is up to something. And you can rest assured that something has to do with more of our deaths.”

“If that were true, why did he warn Terrance?” Europa asked. “Why go through that elaborate scam of an ice cream contest just to get the two girls, Medi, Teerdomay and Terrance off the estate so they would be safe? And why did he go there to the ice cream shop? Surely he knew there was a good chance that Terrance would see and recognize him?”

“Because he is a cold, conniving patoot that has no heart, only plans and strategies,” Earon replied, his face red with anger. “And who knows? He might have hoped he could retake Kumiko and Cho Gin again. Do not forget that he was the one that kidnapped them in the first place.”

“That is not true, Earon, and you know it,” Europa corrected her brother. “Spinner was the one who first kidnapped the girl. JeffRa took them from her.”

“Took them or were given them by Spinner?” Earon asked, his face still red. “How do we know Spinner was not a member of his team? There are a lot of unanswered questions when it comes to Spinner.”

“Do not let Swaybuk hear you say that,” Europa cautioned. “He is positive Spinner’s actions were to protect us, not harm us.”

“Well, perhaps Swaybuk should reconsider that decision,” Earon yelled. “Her actions were no different than JeffRa’s actions now. Both are traitors. Both deserve death. And I hope you realize that before you, too, lose a child.” Having said that, Earon stormed off, walking further into the woods, needing the solitude of even a burnt-out forest over the company of other Oonocks.

ANOTHER OUTBREAK

Misso was helping her mother replant the flowers around the house. Many of the flower beds had been destroyed by being trampled upon by those fighting the fire or were washed away by the tremendous streams of water poured onto the house to keep it from burning. It was Europa’s hope that having some color around their home would bring some joy into their somber lives. As Misso handed her a purple and white petunia to place in the hole she had just dug, Europa noticed out of the corner of her eye Kiijon walking toward them. She could tell by his walk that once more something had happened.

“Please do not tell me something else has happened,” Europa sighed, sitting back on her legs and staring into the empty hole.

“No Oonocks have died, but we do have a situation, My Love,” Kiijon replied, reaching down to help her stand. “One that we need Misso’s help on. Another large patch of the deadly bacteria has struck; this time between Taiwan and the Fujian Province of China in the Taiwan Strait. Just as with the one in Southern California, the ocean is littered with dead or dying marine life. The corpses have already begin to wash up along the shores of Taiwan and the Fujian Province.”

Without a word, both women left their flowers and hurried into the house, straight to the Communications Room. Neither were surprised to see everyone already gathered inside.

“Apparently the event started about three hours ago, but neither country issued a statement until about ten minutes ago,” Staybo said, while fine-tuning the image of numerous bodies floating on the surface of the ocean. “This may be why they hesitated to inform the world of what happened.” Staybo zoomed in along the coastline of China to show a different type of body floating amongst the dead fish and marine mammal.

Misso took a step closer to the screen. “Is that what I think it is? Humans?”

“Yes,” EJ replied. “It appears this time human lives were lost. China is stating a hundred were loss, but I think the death toll will go much higher. Anyone in the water was struck down immediately. Those who came in contact with the dead animals or vegetation died within ten minutes of being contaminated.”

“Those poor people would have had no idea of what was happening,” Kiijon said. “It’s possible that the first few dying fish were grabbed by those in boats or along the shoreline, a gift from the heavens.”

“A gift that soon ended their lives,” Misso said. “Staybo, can you scan back out.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Staybo replied, doing as requested.

“It appears to be mostly fish and invertebrates,” Misso said, studying the screen. “I see no whales and only several dolphins. We need to contact the governments of both countries and advise them not to send any rescue crews or ships into the area. Everyone within ten miles of the coast needs to be evacuated and placed in special containment locations until they can be decontaminated. If anyone has the bacteria on their clothing or body, they could spread it to uninfected individuals. Also inform China that I am on my way to assist.”

“Excuse me?” Kiijon asked, not sure he had heard his daughter correctly. “You cannot possibly think we are going to allow you to go there. Besides the danger of being infected by the bacteria, there is a madman out there somewhere hunting us.”

“Yes there is, Father, but I cannot allow that to stop me,” Misso said. “And before you, Mother or Jazee object further, might I remind you two once again about what you did on Europa when Lord X was hunting you? Mother was ready to deliver my egg when you two went to seal the pass with the lilac Orbs. You did not let the danger of possible death interfere with what needed to be done. Neither will I. Besides, you only got to go because Grandfather was not there to object.” Misso saw the worry on everyone’s face. “I know this is dangerous. But with TJ gone, I am the only one who knows this bacteria like he did. I have to go investigate.”

“There is another Oonock, your Majesty,” came a voice from the back of the room. Everyone turned to see Forbee standing there. “Working with Prince Terrance every day, I have ingested a vast knowledge of the bacteria. Since my life is worth less than yours, it is only logical that I go and do the investigation. I can take a small team of the Oonocks who worked on the samples with me.”

“Your life is not worthless,” objected EJ.

“She is a princess, our next queen,” Forbee stated, walking toward the front of the room. “I am but a soldier, a protector whose charge has been lost. There is no comparison. Allow me to do my job of protecting by completing this dangerous mission while keeping our future queen safe. Allow me to honor Prince TJ by carrying on his work.” He turned to address his future queen. “You, Princess Misso, are needed to carry out Prince TJ’s work in farming the piiquid. Your knowledge far exceeds mine in that area. And I know Prince TJ would be happy knowing you stepped into his shoes.” He now turned to Kiijon. “Take away my assignment to protect Monarchs Earon and EeRee, My King. There are others just as capable as myself to protect them. But this, this is something only I can do.”

“Make it so,” King Kiijon announced, thus signaling Misso would stay and Forbee would go to China. “Staybo, get me President Onsted, the CDC and the Minister of Health in China and Taiwan. Forbee, get your team together and be prepared to leave within the hour. Jazee, make sure two transports are ready to fly Forbee and his team to China. And assign a new protector to Earon and EeRee.”

“Since we will not be going out to try to locate the Keeper, I might suggest that Windar accompany Forbee,” Swaybuk stated. “She is as much an expert on this deadly bacteria as Princess Misso, Miss Medi or Forbee. She would be a great asset to Forbee’s team.”

“I agree, Your Majesties,” Forbee replied. “Windar would be most useful on this endeavor.”

“Granted,” King Kiijon said. “Swaybuk, since Windar is still under your command, inform her of her change in duty. Advise her she is reassigned to Forbee and be prepared to leave within the hour.”

“Yes, Sire,” Swaybuk replied, leaving the room to inform his former partner. He hoped the trip with Forbee would help ease her disappointment in their cancellation to find the Keeper. But even Windar had to admit that there was little hope in finding the Ancient once they learned it was JeffRa himself who had hidden him away somewhere.

Princess Misso walked over to her parents. “Forbee is right. I need to continue TJ’s work, and therefore ask permission to return to Bodega Bay.”

“You do not wish to return to the Complex?” Europa asked, hoping her daughter would opt to return below where she was safe.

“No, Mother” Misso replied. “I have learned all I can from the bacteria and piiquid below. At last report, the bacteria had diminished by another fifteen percent, bringing its entire reduction to forty-eight percent, all thanks to the piiquid. The Oonock studying the bacteria at the Complex can function fine without me and will continue to monitor the bacterial swarm. If my presence is needed they will notify me.”

Europa looked at her daughter, then at her mate. As queen, she could forbid Misso from going, but her daughter was an adult, capable of making her own decision. Europa could not keep her hidden away forever to ensure her safety. And, as both her children liked to remind her, she put herself in countless dangers over the years. “Ask Jazee to assign a small group of soldiers to keep the waters around the fish farm patrolled. And to put another three guards on her protection detail.”

“Jazee will make sure I am well protected, Mother,” Misso smiled, giving her mother a kiss on the cheek. “Perhaps if Swaybuk doesn’t have any immediate plans, he might like to accompany Vireena and me.”

“We can ask him when he returns,” Kiijon replied, liking the idea of EJ’s former protector guarding his daughter. But he did not know if Swaybuk would be available. He still had the Ancient inside him and he knew the soldier was trying to figure out what to do about that situation. They had discussed the problem again with Hygone, but once more she stated there was nothing she could do. She did not have the power or capability of removing the young Ancient. She also informed Barook, who in turn informed the Ancient Council, why they had lost touch with the Keeper, that JeffRa had somehow captured and imprisoned him. Kiijon believed that Hygone hoped that, by giving the Council that information they, in turn, would free Swaybuk from the Seeker, but so far they had not. Hygone had heard nothing from the Council or her brother since delivering her startling news.

When Swaybuk returned, he was not alone. Holding each one of his hands were Kumiko and Cho Gin. “Your Majesties, word has it that several dolphins have entered the bay.” Swaybuk knew it was a group of soldiers doing an inspection of the bay; the third since the fire. “The girls invited me to accompany them swimming in hopes that the dolphins would play with them, like they sometimes do. I thought if you had no objections or needed me for something else, I would join them. Miss Medi has already given her permission. In fact, she and KaaZee are going to bring the twins to swim also.”

“That sounds like a splendid idea,” Europa stated, believing some quality fun family time was just what the doctor ordered. “I believe I shall join you.” She stretched up on her tiptoes and kissed her mate on the cheek. “If anyone needs me, I will be in the bay playing with the dolphins.”

“Have a good time,” Kiijon replied. “Swaybuk, I have no idea where the colored rings are that we normally throw to the dolphins. Ask Doogon on your way outside if she has anything the girls can use. After your swim, there is something I wish to discuss with you.”

“Yes, Sire,” Swaybuk said, then hurried with the girls to the kitchen. Doogon had just given the girls several items to toss to the dolphins when Europa arrived wearing her bathing suit. She looked around. “Did Medi change her mind about bringing the twins?”

“No, Your Majesty,” Swaybuk replied. “She and KaaZee are already on the beach with the twins waiting for us.” Together the four hurried outside and down to the beach, where Mary and Amber were desperately trying to crawl into the water.

For the next two hours the four girls played in the water. To their delight, the dolphins came over and played toss-and-fetch with them. Their time together was so enjoyable that even Queen Europa forgot about the recent tragedies in their lives.

Having never played before, Anew was astonished at the concept and joy it brought her. She wondered why the Ancients did not participate in play. She knew the Ancients laughed and some, like Barook, liked to play jokes on others, but it appeared that they had abandoned the pastime of “play” long ago, something she thought was a mistake. Perhaps they had become too sophisticated, too advanced, too intellectual to engage in such frivolity and foolishness. She vowed to herself if she ever got her own body, she would make sure to engage in play at least several times a year.

____________

“Sheik Abdul, there is a report on the news that another batch of that deadly bacteria has surfaced,” Bahij stated, as he entered the room. “Hundreds of dead animals and plants litter the ocean through the Taiwan Strait.”

“Has there been any mention of any one from Waters Enterprises going to investigate the phenomena?” the sheik asked.

“The newscaster from NBC stated Waters Enterprises was sending a small group to investigate since they had experience dealing with this bacteria,” Bahij replied. “The group is being led by someone named Forbee.”

The sheik quickly picked up his list of Waters names and scanned it for the name “Forbee”. It was not there. “His name is not on the list. But if Waters Enterprises is sending him as the team leader, he must be of some importance. Send two men to the area and tell them that, if the opportunity arises, to take this Forbee out.”

“And the others with him?”

“If there are additional casualties, it is not a concern,” Sheik Abdul laughed.

____________

JeffRa and Wiiguard were just finishing their lunch when a soft alarm began to beep. “Since there are only the two of us, I rigged the receiver to signal when anything concerning the Sheik or the Waters is detected,” Wiiguard said, reaching inside his pocket and bringing out a special receiver he had programmed. He quickly entered his code to silence the alarm. “It appears there has been another outbreak of that deadly virus. This time outside China in the Taiwan Strait. The news is reporting that Waters Enterprises is sending a team to help with the investigation.” Wiiguard entered a few more numbers into his receiver. “We are also getting notice that two of Sheik Abdul’s men have just booked flights for the same area.”

“Probably hoping to get another shot at some Waters,” JeffRa said. “Do the news agencies say who the Waters are sending, since Professor Waters is dead?”

“They only state that it’s a small group headed by someone named Forbee,” Wiiguard answered. “There is no mention of who the others are or how many.”

“Forbee. That name sounds familiar,” JeffRa stated. He rose and walked over to a small secretary and opened a secret drawer withdrawing a small pad. He thumbed through the pages, looking over the list of names he had recorded over the years; names of both Oonocks and humans. “Ah, here he is. Forbee. He was the protector of Prince Terrance. Evidentially, not a very good one if his charge was killed. I first wrote his name down about ten years ago. He’s been the protector all this time, so he would have great knowledge of what the prince did. He would be the perfect one to send. He would be extremely knowledgeable in the subject and, more importantly, expendable. After losing the young prince, they would want to keep the other monarchs closer to home and well protected. But even if he is expendable, I do not like the idea of him dying at Sheik Abdul’s hand. He will kill him just to take the pleasure away from me.”

“Do you think that’s why the Sheik is killing them?”

“I see no other reason,” JeffRa said. “Granted, he stands to lose a lot of money if fossil fuels are no longer used, but he is diversified enough to survive. The shooting in Chile and the killing of Prince Terrance tells me this has become personal to the Sheik, a way to make me suffer. Damn, I wish there was someone I could trust, someone I could send to eliminate those two.”

“I could go, Sir.”

“I appreciate the offer, Wiiguard, but I cannot accomplish my goal without your help,” JeffRa replied. “If you were to be killed I would have no one I could depend on.”

“I assure you, Sir, that I can sneak in, eliminate the two, dispose of their bodies so they are never found, and be back in two days,” Wiiguard smiled. “My father taught me well. I will not let you down. I will not leave you alone.”

JeffRa looked at the young Oonock-Terrian and hoped he would not regret his decision. “Very well, make it so.”

___________

When the Sheik’s two men arrived in China, they were surprised to learn that no one was allowed within fifty miles of the contamination zone. And in the zone was where Forbee and his team were working. Since there was the possibility the Waters’ team would only remain a few days, it was imperative that they get through the blockade, but how? The fifty-mile perimeter was heavily guarded, by both ground and air troops. Patrol boats patrolled the ocean at both ends of the Strait, assuring that no one entered by water.

Believing their situation was hopeless, the two men were sitting in a little rundown side street café eating. A stranger entered the café and sat down at their table. “I understand you want to get into the ‘No Enter’ zone.”

“Possibly,” the one mercenary replied. “What’s it going to cost?”

“Forty thousand,” Wiiguard answered.

“Thirty and you supply the hazmat suits,” the human stated.

“Meet me in the alley two blocks down in an hour,” the stranger said, as he stood. “And don’t be late.”

“Do you think we can trust him?” the one human asked the other, as they both watched the stranger walk out of the café.

“Don’t know, don’t care,” his partner replied. “Once he get us out past the sentries, we’ll slit his throat and take his car. We can’t leave any witnesses behind.”

The two humans finished their meal, had a couple of cups of rice wine, and then walked the two blocks down to the alley. Both were a little surprised to see the man waiting there as promised. They thought he was a scoundrel.

“Well, where’s the biohazard suits?” one of the humans asked.

Wiiguard laughed to himself. Did these two think he was a fool? He knew that as soon as he handed the suits over they would try to kill him. “We’ll get those at our next stop. There’s a chance we could be stopped and searched by the military, and I do not want to get caught with biohazard suits in the car. But, before we go any further, I’d like my money.”

The taller human reached into his pocket and withdrew a rolled up wad of money. “Here’s ten thousand. When we arrive safely inside the contamination zone, we’ll wire the rest to your account.”

“That’s not what I agree to,” Wiiguard angrily shouted.

“Take it or leave it,” the tall human said, holding out the wad of bills in his hand.

“Get in,” Wiiguard said, grabbing the money and stuffing it in his own pants pocket. The two humans had barely gotten inside and their doors closed before Wiiguard was racing off down the street, heading for a way through the country, hopefully undetected. Several times they almost encountered the military, but Wiiguard was able to hide until they passed. Before long, they pulled into an abandoned airstrip. Wiiguard pulled over by a plane and turned off the car’s engine.

“What in the hell is this?” the tall human asked.

“The military and police presence is too strong on the ground,” Wiiguard said. “The only way in is to fly and parachute in.”

“The hell it is,” the younger human yelled. “There is no way I’m parachuting in.”

Wiiguard held up the car keys. “Then drive yourself in, because I am not spending the next ten years in a Chinese jail. I guarantee you, you won’t get three miles down the road before you’re stopped and arrested.” When the humans didn’t reply, Wiiguard took that as an affirmative that they were parachuting in. He walked over to the plane and removed three biohazards suits. He handed one to each of the humans, then put his own on. “Get into these. Make sure they’re zipped tightly. You’ll need to put duct tape around your wrists and ankles to make sure the seal holds. You can leave your helmets off until we get closer to the drop zone.”

The two humans did as instructed. Once suited up and taped, they climbed into the back of the plane with Wiiguard. As the plane lifted off, each suddenly wondered how they were going to get back.

“Hey, how do we get back to safety?” the younger human asked.

“There’s all kind of evacuation patrols out there,” Wiiguard said. “When you’re ready to leave, just go to one of the centers and they’ll transport you out to safety.”

“You never asked why we want to go inside the danger zone,” the taller human stated.

“None of my business,” Wiiguard said. “I figured you’re thrill seekers, or the news media wanting the ultimate story. Maybe even robbers. Whatever your reason, I don’t care.” A red light began to blink inside the airplane. “We’re getting close to the area. Put your parachutes and helmets on.”

“You’ve got ten minutes,” the pilot shouted from the front of the plane.

“Gentlemen, I’ll take my other twenty thousand now,” Wiiguard said.

“Give me your bank information and phone,” the tall human ordered. Using Wiiguard’s phone, he quickly entered the necessary code to transfer twenty thousand dollars into Wiiguard’s account. To distract their guide, the human threw the cellphone to Wiiguard as the other human drew a gun. “When it’s time to jump, you go first.”

“That wasn’t part of the deal,” Wiiguard said.

“It is now.”

The red light began to blink off and on again. “Time to go, Gentlemen,” the pilot announced.

Wiiguard just stood there. “Choice is yours,” the tall human said. “Either jump or he’ll shoot you, and I’ll throw you out of the plane.”

Seeing he had no choice, Wiiguard ran and jumped out of the plane. The two humans followed, but not before shouting and killing the pilot. Wiiguard was glad he had decided to jump after all.

As they plunged toward the Earth, Wiiguard was able to manipulate his downfall away from the two humans and remained above them. As Wiiguard pulled his ripcord to open his parachute, he saw the two humans frantically pulling theirs, but to no avail. Their chutes were rigged not to open. As the two humans dropped further away from him, Wiiguard saw the younger one raise his gun in an attempt to shot him. Right on time, his assailant’s hand began to tremble, making it impossible for the human to pull the trigger. Wiiguard turned his attention to the taller human and was glad to see that his body also was shaking uncontrollably. The poisonous bacteria in the air had entered their suits through the tiny slits in their masks, caking the inside of their lungs and making breathing impossible. Both humans would be dead long before their bodies smashed into the ground.

Wiiguard reached down and pulled out a collapsed glider hidden inside his parachute pack. After unfolding it, he crawled inside the frame, released the parachute and started the glider’s small engine. Next, he looked around for the airplane. He could see it still flying in the distance. Luckily the pilot had done as instructed and had put the plane on autopilot before they jumped. Using the controller on his wrist, Wiiguard instructed the plane to fly closer. He maneuvered himself over to the plane and next to the opened side door. Quickly attaching himself with a line to the plane, he slipped off the glider and allowed it to tumble to Earth. He then pulled himself inside the plane and walked up to the cockpit, hauled the dead pilot to the back and threw his lifeless body overboard. Wiiguard then sent a message to his Master, “Mission accomplished. Be home on time.” He took over the controls and flew the plane out into the ocean, far from the contamination zone. Once he was far enough out, he placed the plane back on autopilot and dove into the cold, salty water. As the plane spitted and sputtered as it ran out of gas, Wiiguard watch it fall from the sky and hit the ocean’s surface, bursting into flames. He then transformed into a whale and swam back toward his leader’s home.

The contamination zone assured that the human bodies would not be discovered for months, possibly even a year. By that time, there would be nearly nothing left of their corpses. The wind, elements and wild beasts would see to that. He laughed, thinking how angry the Sheik would be when he learned his assassins had simply disappeared once more. And the best part of all was that there was nothing to tie the missing two to his master.

DOUBTS

“It’s the exact same strain of bacteria,” Forbee said, his image larger than life on the big screen in the Communications Room. “Since this time of year the current is traveling from the South China Sea, we speculate that is where it originated. There has to be a large section of garbage somewhere at the bottom of the China Sea. That huge typhoon last week must have churned up the deeper waters and brought the bacteria up toward the surface of the ocean. It then traveled into the Strait of Taiwan, where, due to the Strait’s shallowness was brought to the surface.”

“We need to get down to the bottom of the China Sea and see what the size of the dead zone is, Your Majesties,” Windar added. “Unfortunately, that section of the China Sea is too deep for humans to traverse. And I’m not even sure their unmanned submersibles can accomplish what needs to be done. I would like to request that we use the specialized speeders we used with the Pacific dead zone and explore this one.”

“And how do we explain our findings to the humans?” King Kiijon asked.

“Sire, they already know we have some type of submersible that we used in the Pacific,” Forbee replied. “If they ask, we just say we used the same vehicle.”

“And if they ask to see it?”

“Tell that what Prince TJ told them last time,” Forbee answered. “It’s classified, property of Waters Enterprises.”

“Your Majesties, we cannot stress the importance of knowing the size of this dead zone,” Windar stated. “The countries in this part of the world have used the China Sea and Pacific Ocean as their dumping grounds for centuries longer than the North American countries. It is possible the garbage patch is even bigger than the one we found earlier in the Pacific. If it is, it is imperative that we bring the piiquid over immediately and introduce them to this part of the world. They can neutralize the bacteria and destroy it, just as they did at the first patch discovered. Otherwise, every major storm and typhoon is going to bring the bacteria to the surface and kill everything until the Taiwan Strait is a dead zone on both sea AND land. Thousands of humans are going to die.”

“Do we have any estimate on the fatalities this time?” Europa asked.

“The Chinese government is trying to keep the total under wraps, but from what I have been able to ascertain, the count is a minimum of five thousand and could go as high as twenty thousand before this is over,” Forbee said. “A lot will depend on how long this bacteria remains lethal while airborne. If offshore wind shift and carry it over Taiwan, the death toll could well be in the hundreds of thousands.”

“That many?” Europa asked, shocked to hear of the exorbitant number.

“I’m afraid so, Your Majesty,” Forbee replied.

“How soon before you will know how long the airborne bacteria can live?” EJ asked.

“Apparently, we lucked out when the bacteria hit the California coast,” Forbee answered. “There was almost no offshore breeze that day or the next, so the bacteria remained over the ocean. But here, the wind has not stopped blowing and are churning the ocean into six-foot waves. The bacteria is constantly being thrown up into the air.”

“But how long?” Kiijon asked.

“We don’t know,” a sorrowful Forbee replied. “We’ve never tested that aspect of the bacteria before. It’s a whole new territory. It’s too dangerous to take manned fliers in to collect samples, and drones can’t fly in this wind.”

“What about an unmanned speeder?” EJ inquired. “A speeder would have no problem maneuvering in that wind.”

“The Chinese government would never allow an unknown flier over their airspace,” Kiijon stated. “Plus, the speeder would be visible to the humans. Even if we brought it in under the cloak of darkness, their radar would detect it.”

“What about the hurricane planes?” Medi suggested.

“The hurricane planes?”

“Yes, the ones who can fly in hurricanes to gather information,” Medi clarified. “Um, NOAA’s plane. They can withstand the winds.”

“But the plane needs a human to fly it,” EJ reminded his mate.

“Yes, but what if they could use hazmat suits and fly the airplane above the deadly bacteria,” Medi stated. “They could drop a canister down into the air and collect the needed samples. It could be done without harming the humans.”

Kiijon looked at his son. “She is the scientist, Dattwa. If Medi says it will work, it will work.”

“Staybo, get me President Onsted,” Kiijon ordered. “Tell him we need to borrow one of his planes.”

____________

Windar left the underground lab beneath the barn and walked over to the main house. Forbee and she had just compiled their report on the latest bacteria outbreak in China and Forbee asked her to hand-deliver the results to Medi and fax a copy to Misso in Bodega Bay. After receiving permission to enter the house, she first went to the Communications Room and ask Kliinew, who was on duty, to fax the report immediately to Princess Misso. She then left and walked out to the back porch where Medi was sitting with Kiijon, Europa and the twins, while Kumiko and Cho Gin where playing in the yard with EJ, KaaZee, Neil and Sunam. Jazee was leaning against the wall not far away, keeping an eye on his charges.

When EJ saw Windar approach the porch, he made an excuse to leave the game and hurried up to the porch. He arrived just as Medi finished reading it. “You double checked your results?”

“Triple checked them, Miss Medi,” Windar replied.

“How bad is it?” EJ asked, taking a seat beside Mary and Amber.

“As we feared, the bacteria is changing,” Medi replied. “Although still related to the strain that killed so many animals along California, this strain has mutated just enough to give it a longer life so it can be spread through the air. That’s why there were so many human causalities this time. And, according to this report, the next time could be even worse, easily doubling or tripling the human fatalities.”

“Tripling?” a horrified Europa said, sitting forward. “How can it be changing so fast? Does it not normally take an organism centuries to change?”

“No, Your Majesty,” Windar confirmed. “Bacteria can mutate at an alarmingly fast rate, unlike other forms of life. Plus both bacteria, the one along California’s coastline and the one from the China Sea, have had hundreds of years to mutate and develop independently, formed by the subtleties in their own ocean’s environment. These subtleties makes the makeup of each strain of bacteria completely different, making the destruction of each unique.”

“Which means there may be other patches of the bacteria still hidden in the deep oceans that we have not yet met, that are even more different, possibly even more deadly,” EJ stated.

“A real possibility, Your Majesty,” Windar replied.

Medi looked at the two monarchs, a serious look covering her face. “In light of this report, we cannot wait to go through diplomatic channels to eradicate this bacteria. With this being prime typhoon season, we run the risk of an even larger disaster striking. There is no way feasible to evacuate everyone on the island of Taiwan and along the Taiwan Strait coastline. We need to flood the area with piiquid so they can begin to destroy the bacteria now.”

“She is right,” EJ added. “You are talking at least thirty million people.”

“We were lucky this time, Your Majesties,” Windar stated. “Had the wind been blowing over the island, the death toll would have been in the millions. The next time the bacteria come to the surface we might not be so lucky.”

“It would be a little tricky, but I believe we could sneak the piiquid in by deep-sea speeders, but where would we get the piiquid?” Kiijon asked. “We can’t possibly bring that many here from Europa. And any we would bring would have to be quarantined for several months before releasing them into the ocean.”

Medi laughed. “We don’t need to bring them from Europa, Dattwa. They’re already here, in the farm pens outside Bodega Bay. There are thousands in the cages, ranging from newborns to breeding adults.”

“And if need be, we can always gather some from the group we have in the Complex and at the other bacterial site,” EJ added. “The way these little guys reproduce here, they would eliminate the danger of contamination in just a few months.”

“Even if we agree to this, it still leaves us with the same problem we have here in the Pacific,” Kiijon commented. “How to dispose of the garbage down there that is causing the growth of this bacteria.”

“Unfortunately, we still don’t have a solution for that,” Windar answered. “Several marine biologists at the Complex are trying to solve the problem. They’ve figured out how to remove the garbage, the problem is where do we put it? We can’t put it on land, and land or water are our only choices.”

“Not necessarily true,” the quiet Jazee stated. “There’s always space, or the moon.”

“I fear that would only be switching one problem for another,” Europa said.

“And could result in us contaminating our own solar system,” EJ added. “Or even beyond. We know bacteria can live in space. Can you imagine what would happen if we released this stuff out there to ride the cosmos winds to heaven knows where? They have already mutated with just small environmental changes. I cannot imagine what they would do with a whole universe full of new environments. It is too horrible to even contemplate.”

“If only we had been able to find the Keeper” Windar sighed. “I bet he could have come up with a solution for all this garbage.”

“Wishing for what could have been will not help us,” Kiijon stated. “For now, let’s concentrate on the crisis at hand. It appears as if our only defense against this deadly bacteria is the piiquid, so I concur with your recommendations. But it’s going to be very tricky to get our speeders in and out without being detected. Every speeder will have to be equipped with a scrambling device to hide their approach. Unfortunately, the Strait is very shallow; only about two hundred and thirty feet deep. We can’t chance taking the speeders inside. Since the current runs mostly northward, the piiquid will have to be released in the South China Sea, as deep as possible. Unfortunately, that does not guarantee the little critters will swim into the Strait or up to the surface to devour the bacteria.”

“And that’s where we really need them,” Windar stated. “At the surface.”

“The Chinese government has to be desperate,” Medi announced. “And we already have a good working relationship with them, thanks to EJ and the free power plants he gave them. What if we tell their government we have these sea creatures we have been testing here that have shown encouraging signs of getting rid of the bacteria? They might be willing to try it. Then we can openly release some piiquid at the surface, while the speeders release the majority of them in the deep.”

“That might work,” Kiijon said, a smile coming to his face. “EJ, do you think you can reach some of the officials you, Giibold and Robert worked with over there and get them to agree to this?”

“It’s worth a try,” EJ answered.

“What about our own government?” Jazee asked. “Fish and Game? Permits are going to be needed.”

“I would suggest we deliver the piiquid THEN notify the necessary authorities of what we did,” EJ stated, a huge smile on his face. “There’s not much they can do once they are already in the water saving lives.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that,” came a familiar voice, as Jeanip stepped through the backdoor. “Believe me, those permit guys can make your life a living hell.”

“Jeanip,” everyone shouted upon seeing the old soldier. Even Kumiko stopped playing to come running up to the porch, hugging her friend when he lifted her up into his arms.

“I’ve missed you,” Kimiko said. “You were gone a long time this time.”

“Sorry, Tadpole, but I had some important work to do,” Jeanip replied, sitting the small human back down. “You run off and finish playing while I talk with your grandparents and parents.” He saw the disappointed look on the child’s face. “After I’m done, I promise to give you all my attention.”

“Okay,” Kumiko stated, running back out into the yard to finish their game of freeze-tag.

“How is Phameena?” Europa immediately asked, once Kumiko was out of hearing range.

“Not good,” Jeanip stated. “She took TJ’s death really hard. So hard that I almost didn’t return here to Earth. I tried to get her to come into FarCore like you suggested so everyone could visit her, but she declined. Said she didn’t want to take a chance with the unborn. She’s staying with Lord Jun and Lady Abrow, so she’s in good hands. They’ll let me know if I need to go back. Being the soldier Phameena is, she insisted that I return here until I am no longer needed. How’s Earon?”

“About the same,” Europa replied. “He’s withdrawn and doesn’t leave the house. We try to visit him every day, but so far it doesn’t seem to help.”

“Maybe a visit from me might,” Jeanip suggested. He saw the look of disapproval in Europa’s eyes. She feared what Jeanip might do or say. “Don’t worry, Europa. I’m not going to give him the ‘You’re a soldier’ speech. Phameena gave me a special message for him. She pretty much anticipated how he’d react and hoped her words might give him some comfort. I promised I’d spend the evening with Kumiko, so maybe you and I can go tomorrow morning first thing.”

“Kumiko is usually in bed by eight-thirty, nine o’clock,” Europa replied. “But after all that playing in the yard, she may even be asleep tonight by eight. We can go as soon as she falls asleep. I would prefer if you talked with Earon sooner, rather than later.”

“As you wish,” Jeanip replied. “So, what have I missed since I’ve been gone?”

____________

As JeffRa sat there enjoying his viewing of the nightly news, he wondered if the bodies of Abdul’s men had been discovered yet. Probably not. With so many fatalities along the coastline of both China and Taiwan, it would be some time before rescuers searched the inland areas for dead bodies. He chuckled to himself, thinking of Abdul waiting for news that the Waters had been assassinated, news that would never arrive. Surely by now the Sheik must know something happened to his men. The Waters were already back at the estate, safe and secured.

JeffRa’s good mood quickly vanished when he saw on his television a picture of Misso Waters. Scooting to the front of his chair, he turned up the volume and carefully listened to the announcer.

“After much speculation of what would happen to Doctor Terrance Waters’ marine research, it was announced today that his cousin, Misso Waters, would be taking over his work. Miss Waters is the daughter of Kiijon and Europa Waters, and a brilliant scientist herself. Ms. Waters was in the midst of writing her PhD paper on marine fishing when Doctor Waters was shot and killed. The police still are pursuing their investigation into that shooting, but so far no suspects have been arrested.”

“So, the future queen of the Oonocks is leaving the safety of the estate,” JeffRa said, a dark shadow filling his face. “The work Prince TJ was doing must be critical if the Waters are willing to chance her assassination too.”

“Surely, Sir, they must have enormous security protocols in place,” Wiiguard stated.

“I assure you, Wiiguard, that no matter how good their security protocols, they CAN be broken,” JeffRa answered, remembering the times he had broken through Enok and Jeanip’s procedures. He clicked off the television and stood. “Tell Helga to close up the house and pack. We’re moving to Bodega Bay. You’ll need to shut down the security console so we can take it with us. But keep a portable unit operating. I need to know the minute Abdul or his men leave for California.”

“You really think he’ll go after Princess Misso?” Wiiguard asked, thinking perhaps his master was overreacting.

“I would not be surprised to learn he has already bought his tickets,” JeffRa replied. “Ask your female friend to locate a private home we can rent that overlooks the area where the fish farms are being kept. Preferably something on two levels. Someplace where the master bedroom is high enough to overlook the open ocean, where I can use the spy telescope to watch the farms from the house. Tell her money is no object, whatever the owner or property manager wants to charge.”

“As you wish,” Wiiguard stated. “How soon do you wish to leave?”

“I’d like to leave within the next two hours.”

“Two hours?” a horrified Wiiguard asked. “Sir, I can’t possibly disassemble the security console in two hours. Maybe in two days. And Diene can’t find a place to stay that fast. That’s a very popular area.”

“I am sure that for the right price she can talk someone into leaving their home for six months so we can stay there,” JeffRa said with confidence. “Abdul is not going to wait long before going after her. So neither can we. You have until tomorrow morning at eight to take apart as much of the console as you can. Rig explosives to destroy it and the house if anyone should try to break in. My brother was wrong about many things, but not letting Oonock technology fall into human hands was not one of them. Also, add a security code of ‘JeffRa-1-2AB’ so either you or I can detonate it from anywhere in the world. Be sure all the alarms are set and tied in to your portable console.”

“Yes, Sir,” Wiiguard replied, hurrying off to call Diene with her new assignment. He wondered how she’d like the task. He also wondered if his leader was doing all of this because he wanted to be the one to kill the future queen, or if there was another motive? His master almost acted as a protector, not one bent on exterminating his race. Once more he wondered if it was possible that, after all these millennia, JeffRa had let go of his vow of revenge. As he dialed Diene’s phone number, he wished his father was still alive so he could talk to him about his doubts.

____________

“EeRee told Teerdomay this morning that she and Earon are returning to Europa with Jeanip tomorrow,” Terrance said, as he walked up to the porch where Europa was sitting with Kiijon, enjoying a cup of coffee, looking past the blackened willow to the ocean beyond the security hills.

“EeRee thought it might do him some good to get away from here for a while,” Europa replied, patting the seat next to her for Terrance to sit on. “Nothing we try seems to be helping him recover from TJ’s death. The only thing that has helped was a message Phameena sent him. EeRee is hoping that Phameena can help him find the strength to go on without his son and embrace life again.”

“How long will they be gone?” Terrance asked, taking a seat and pouring himself a warm cup of coffee.

“Anywhere from a few weeks, to a few months or even a few years,” Europa sadly replied. “They have been talking of having more children, so they might take this opportunity for EeRee to become implanted.”

“Swaybuk was right when he said Oonocks, especially male Oonocks, have a tendency to love too much and too hard,” Kiijon added, looking over at his mate. “I think that royal-borns have an even deeper tendency to love that way. Prince Tiree’s death almost ended Queen Medaron’s life, if you remember the story of the battle at the Third City.”

“Yes, I remember,” Terrance said. “With King Enok’s help, she was able to come out of her depression and live a long life. But I do find it a little odd that it would be Jeanip’s mate, Phameena, that can help and not his own mate. I never realized Earon and she were close.”

Instantly remembering that Terrance had no idea that Prince TJ was not EeRee’s, Europa quickly stated, “When we lived on Europa all the boys were close in age. EJ and TJ were only weeks apart, and GarJen was less than a year younger, so they were always together. Phameena often watched over TJ and EJ while Earon, EeRee and we had monarch business to attend to.”

Thinking that was not a very good explanation but having his own bad news to deliver, Terrance let the subject drop. “In lieu of Earon and EeRee leaving tomorrow, I hate to give you more bad news. Teerdomay and I will be leaving in three days to visit my mother in Hawaii and stay with her for a while.” He watched his queen’s face, hating to see a look of sorrow cover it, sorrow that he was causing.

“I am sure your mother is very excited to have you come and stay with her,” Europa said, tears starting to flow from her eyes as she stared hard at the waves she could see through the pass.

“Had I known Earon and EeRee were leaving too, I would have waited a while longer before leaving,” Terrance quickly stated upon seeing the tears. “But Mother has already made plans for us to be there.”

“It is right that you go,” Kiijon said, as he put his arm around Europa and pulled her close to him, kissing her on the forehead. “You haven’t seen your mother in quite a while. Plus, we understand the need you and Earon both have to get away from all of this for a while.”

“I feel like I’m abandoning you,” Terrance said, as he reached out and took Europa’s right hand.

“No, do not feel that way, Terrance,” Europa replied, lifting her head to look at him while wiping away her tears. “As the king and queen, we have to stay, but you and Earon do not. You four need to go find some happiness somewhere. Some place where death is not always around you.”

“But what about you two?” Terrance asked. “Can’t you two get away from here? Go down to the Complex or spend some time on Ocean Blue?”

“We might,” Kiijon said, but he and Europa knew they wouldn’t. They could not leave the four grandchildren, Medi and EJ to fend for themselves on the estate. And it was too hard on the older two granddaughters to keep taking them to Ocean Blue or even the island. They were humans and, as such, needed grass to run on, fresh air to breathe. Besides, in the near future it might be necessary for everyone to move to Pacific Blue and they wanted the girls to enjoy the Earth for as long as they could.

“Hey, Teerdomay and I are going to stop in Bodega Bay before going to Hawaii to visit Misso and Giibold,” Terrance announced. “Why don’t you two come with us? It would be like old times on Saints’ Isle. Come on, say you’ll join us.”

“I do not think we could,” Europa replied.

“We’d love to,” Kiijon stated. “It would do Europa good to get away for a bit also. And Misso asked for a few things to be sent to her. This way, her mother can take them.”

“But, Kiijon, there is so much happening here,” Europa objected.

“Things that can wait for a few days,” Kiijon replied, this time kissing her lips. “Do I need to get Gardawyn to issue a medical order that you need some R & R? Or will you simply grant the wishes of the male who loves you dearly?”

“How can I say no to that?” Europa asked, kissing her mate lovingly. She turned to Terrance. “Looks like you will have company on that flight.”

“Wonderful,” Terrance replied. “I’m going to go tell Jazee right away so he can start making arrangements. That way you won’t be able to change your minds.” Her hurried into the house, almost colliding into Doogon as she brought out a new carafe of fresh coffee.

“I’ve always wanted to see the fish farms TJ developed,” Europa said. “I guess now I will get my chance. I wish, though, that I had taken time to do it when TJ was alive.”

“If his death taught us anything, it’s that we can’t postpone things,” Kiijon stated. “As EJ said when he went to New York, we can’t hide away in fear of our deaths; we have to live life. If by living that life we lose it, so be it. But at least we’ll have a lot of great memories to take with us for our journey through the Waters of Life.”

“That we shall,” Europa answered, kissing Kiijon for a long time.

THE TRUTH OF JEFFRA

Diene did well. The house she found for JeffRa far exceeded his expectations. It had a balcony off the master bedroom on the second floor and a downstairs’ dining room that both looked directly over the Pacific Ocean. From either location he had a clear view of the science pier, which led out to the small living quarters at the end, where he assumed Misso and her guards were staying. He could even occasionally see a group of dolphins encircling the living quarters, no doubt transformed Security Oonocks. He understood why Kiijon and Europa allowed Misso to come down to the pens – it was the perfect spot to defend. There were only two ways to reach her – by water, which the Oonocks controlled, or by the long dock, surely rigged with security devices. And since the area was a “no-fly” area, there was no threat of aircraft either.

Using his telescope, he panned past the living quarters, out over the ocean waves, to where a small platform was visible, which branched off into two smaller platforms making the structure look like a lazy “Y” – the paths to the farming pens. Beneath the smaller platforms, hidden beneath the waves, were the pens holding fish. It had been Prince TJ’s dream to use these farms to safely breed fish and feed the world, thus eliminating the necessity to harvest fish in the wild. He wished he could transform into something and sneak out there and have a look at this technological wonder, but he was sure there were all sorts of alarms and motion detectors guarding the farms. Especially with Misso out there.

As he watched the commotion, he saw a mesh door flip open and two humans crawl up onto the platform. As he watched, he realized they were not humans, but female Oonocks. He quickly moved his telescope to check out the others on the platform, and realized they were all Oonocks. Although humans could not tell the difference, he had always been able to tell a transformed Oonock when he saw one. All Oonocks could. He moved his vision back to the two that had just emerged. One was very tall with long, red, curly hair. He had only seen Europa that one time on Saint’s Isle and, although he did not remember the details of her face, he did remember the color of her hair. Bright red. Could this be the Princess Misso? He watched her give orders as she held her poise in a regal manner, but it was when she turned in his direction that he knew it was her. He gasped as he saw a young Medaron standing there. Misso looked so much like the love of his life. “I promise you, Medaron, no harm will come to her,” he said to himself.

JeffRa wondered if the female with her was her protector or another scientist. He didn’t remember seeing her before. As he looked over the other Oonocks again, he saw none that held a regal poise giving him the impression all were soldiers. Yes, Princess Misso was the only royal on the platform.

“Would you like me to unpack for you?” Helga asked, as she entered his bedroom with a fresh cup of coffee.

“No, I can do that,” JeffRa smiled. “You have enough to keep you busy downstairs, I am sure.”

Helga handed him the cup, then stood there for a moment, breathing in the air. “Oh, isn’t this a beautiful location. Just look at that ocean. So beautiful. They say we humans are always drawn to the ocean because that is where we began. What do you think, Mr. Landers? Do you like the ocean?”

“More than you can imagine,” JeffRa replied, chuckling to himself. He wondered what his gentle housekeeper would say if she knew the reason why he loved the ocean, that he was an aquatic being from another place, an alien who had been stranded on her planet for over six thousand years.

“I am so glad I decided to come with you,” Helga stated. JeffRa was glad she had opted to come also. Although he could have made due with just Wiiguard, it would be much easier with her here to do the cooking, shopping and cleaning.

“Do you happen to know where Wiiguard is, Helga?”

“He’s downstairs in the den,” Helga replied. “He went in there as soon as we arrived and has not come out. He said I was not to enter that room.”

“That is correct, Helga,” JeffRa confirmed. “We are going to be studying the air quality here and he’s installing some very sensitive equipment. It’s very important that you do not enter that room, even to clean it, because it could disrupt our readings.”

“Don’t worry, Mr. Landers, I won’t go in there,” Helga smiled. She knew how important scientists’ studies were and how irate they could become if someone contaminated one of those studies. “I had best go back downstairs and put away the groceries and make a list of what we need. Dinner’s only a few hours away.” Concluding her need to be upstairs, the faithful servant hurried down to the kitchen and began to unpack the many boxes of supplies.

JeffRa had just finished his cup of coffee when Wiiguard knocked and entered the room. He walked out on the balcony with two small cameras and a motion detector in his hand.

“Your female friend did a good job,” JeffRa stated. “If she keeps doing such outstanding work as she did here and her surveillance of the estate, I may have to put her permanently on the payroll.”

“I don’t think we can afford her,” Wiiguard casually stated, as he fixed the motion detector and the two cameras to the railing on the balcony. “She has VERY expensive tastes and has probably funded her entire year’s spending account with what she charged us for this assignment.” He stepped back and looked at the mounted camera, inspecting his work. “The motion detector has three eyes inside which will pick up any movement on the pier, outside the living quarters and the surrounding waters. If anything bigger than fifty pounds moves, it will send a signal to the security console and the cameras will zoom in to see what triggered the response.”

“And the Oonocks will not be able to pick up our sensors?” JeffRa asked.

“No, Sir, not from this distance,” Wiiguard said, stepping back and screwing in the last clamp.

“What about at night?”

“The cameras have night vision, so darkness will not be a problem,” Wiiguard replied. “I am, though, a little worried about Helga. I asked her not to go into the downstairs den where I have the security console.”

“You do not have to worry about her, Wiiguard,” JeffRa assured him. “I already had a talk with her and explained that we have delicate weather equipment in that room and she could really mess up our findings if she goes in there.”

“And she bought it?”

“Of course,” JeffRa smiled. “I am a very good liar.” Wiiguard laughed. “Any news on Abdul?”

“So far I haven’t been able to detect any travel by him or any of his men,” Wiiguard stated. “But it is possible that he’s sending someone I don’t know, and therefore will not be notified when they leave. Or arrive.”

“No, if he has decided to give me the ultimate insult, Abdul will come personally and pull the trigger,” JeffRa stated, staring across the ocean to the red haired female getting into a boat to return to the living quarters. “Princess Misso is too big of a prize to allow someone else to kill her. Me knowing it was him who killed her is his main objective, his ultimate insult.”

“Are you going to notify the estate of your suspicions?” Wiiguard asked, wondering what his leader intended to do. Had he really changed that much that he was protecting the next Oonock queen? Or was it his pride that compelled him onward, determined not to let a mere human rob him of his ultimate future prize?

“I am sure they would not believe me if I did,” JeffRa sighed, turning to walk inside his room to refill his coffee cup. “Helga will have a list of things she needs from the store. Can you make arrangements to have them delivered?”

“Yes, Sir,” Wiiguard replied. “No problem. If you’re feeling up to it, we can go out on the boat later and go snorkeling. Although we can’t get very close to the fishing pens, we might be able to use the long-range scanners to get a pretty good view of them.”

A smile came over the weary leader’s face. Perhaps he would get a glimpse of TJ and Misso’s experimentation after all. “Maybe we shall. Tell Helga I am going to take a short nap and to be sure to wake me when it is time for dinner.”

“Yes, Sir. Have a good nap.”

____________

“You look like you just lost your best friend,” Kiijon commented, as his son walked into the kitchen, kissing his mate, four daughters and mother on the foreheads before taking his usual seat. “You okay?”

“I took a ride up the mountain early this morning to see the cabin,” EJ sorrowfully stated. “It was just as Jazee stated, completely destroyed. Only the old stone fireplace is still standing.”

“Did you think I was not telling the truth?” Jazee asked.

“No, Jazee,” EJ replied, giving their protector a small smile. “I was just hoping it was not as bad as you said it was. But it really was totally gone. I had planned on taking Kumiko and Cho Gin up there in a few weeks and teach them how to fish and live off the land – a special father-daughter event. I promised Swaybuk I would take all the girls up there, just as he used to take me.”

“Fish,” shouted Mary, as she held up a strawberry before putting it in her mouth.

“No, Mary,” Kumiko giggled. “That’s a strawberry.”

“Berry,” Mary laughed.

“Perhaps, when Swaybuk returns, you and he can build another one,” Europa suggested. “After all, it was you two who built the one that burned.”

“I was about Kumiko’s age when we built it,” EJ laughed, remembering back to that time. They had only been on Earth for a few months, and his parents were very busy taking care of important royal matters. To keep him and TJ out of everyone’s way, King Enok had suggested that Swaybuk take the boys, along with several other Oonock soldiers, up the mountain and construct a cabin for future use. Although his family and cousins had often used the cabin, it mostly was a place for Swaybuk and Prince Enok. “But Swaybuk could be gone for a long time, especially now that he’s helping to protect Misso. And he could still decide to go searching for the Keeper again.” EJ paused for a moment. “Besides, Swaybuk wants me to make memories separate from him, and that is what I think I should do. Dattwa, perhaps in a few weeks you could go up with Kumiko, Cho Gin and me up there and build a new cabin together. You too, Ospree. Maybe if Mattwa and KaaZee could watch the girls, Medi, you could come to. It would be a family project.”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” Kiijon replied. “Jazee, have a detail of soldiers go up there and clear away the debris and bring in some new lumber.”

“Make sure they leave the old fireplace, though,” EJ quickly added. He desperately wanted to keep that. It had taken Swaybuk and him weeks to carry up the stones from the mountain stream, a project he remembered with great fondness.

“And tell them to reinforce the old fireplace so it can be incorporated into the new cabin,” Kiijon ordered.

Content knowing they would soon have a new cabin where new memories with his daughters would be born, EJ changed the subject. Since everyone was finished eating except for him, he thought it would be permissible to speak about important matters at the table, but first he needed Kumiko and Cho Gin not to be present. “Sunam, would you mind taking Kumiko and Cho Gin out to the barn? I am sure Neil should be ready for them to help clean the stalls.” He saw the frown on the girls’ faces. “And after they have cleaned their stalls, Sunam, tell Neil to take them for a ride along the beach.”

“Yeah,” both girls shouted, as they stood up and carried their dishes over to the sink. After giving their parents, grandparents and two little sisters kisses, the two females ran to the barn, Sunam right behind them.

“Poop duty,” EJ laughed. “How I hated getting up early in the morning and doing that when I was young.”

“Yet you make your own daughters do it,” teased Kiijon.

“Let me think,” EJ replied. “What was it that you told me when I was young? It builds muscles and teaches one about responsibility.”

“I guess we did use that excuse,” Kiijon laughed.

“You do know, Sweetheart, that it’s a school day,” Medi announced, as she washed Amber’s hands and face. “They’re supposed to be learning math and spelling today, not horseback riding along the beach.”

“Sorry, My Love,” EJ apologized. “I should have checked with you first. But I know Dattwa and Mattwa will be leaving soon to visit Misso and I had several issues I wanted to discuss before they left. Time was getting short.”

Medi now washed Mary’s hands and face. “I’ll forgive you – this time.”

“So what is the latest on the deadly bacteria situation and bringing in the piiquid to combat it?” EJ asked.

“Forbee reports that they’ve been able to transport about three thousand of the little critters to the Taiwan Strait,” Jazee reported. “They have been bringing speeders into the area and secretly removing the piiquid from the Bodega Bay pens at night. So far the operation has gone undetected by humans in either country.”

“Three thousand?” a surprised Europa asked. “Does that leave any for Misso to study?”

“Actually only two thousand came from the fishing farm,” Jazee replied. “The other thousand came from the group at the first bacterial sighting below and some from the Complex.”

“So none have been released into the surface waters?” Medi asked.

“Not yet,” Jazee confirmed. “But thanks to President Onsted and Prince EJ, China has agreed to let us release some on the surface. Forbee and Windar are going to start transporting them by plane tomorrow.”

“I think it was more President Onsted,” EJ laughed. “I did not have to do much convincing when I talked with China’s president. He was very agreeable.”

“Possibly because he feared you would turn off his new power plants,” Kiijon laughed.

“That is possible,” EJ replied. “Doogon, are there any more pancakes or bacon left? I am starving this morning.”

“Always, Your Majesty,” Doogon said, bringing over a new plate of food, sitting it down in front of the young prince, and removing the old plate.

“Any word from Uncle Jeanip on how Uncle Earon and Aunt EeRee are doing?” EJ asked, taking another sip of coffee.

“They left King Jun’s palace and are heading for a vacation spot not far from the VeeRay clan’s habitat,” Europa answered. “They are going to stay there for a few days before completing the trip to Lord Trinn’s abode. Jeanip said Earon is doing better.”

“I was so glad he allowed Giibold to remain here on Earth,” EJ sighed. “I do not know how we could have proceeded with the power plant project without him.”

“I believe that, even in his great sorrow and depression, Earon understood the need for his son to be here with you,” Kiijon said. “With the danger that still looms over us all, his decision to leave his only son here is a great testament to his leadership as a monarch, his willingness to put the needs of others before his own.”

“When he returns, you must personally thank him for allowing it,” Europa instructed. EJ wanted to ask if they thought Earon and EeRee would return to live on Earth, but he did not want to make his mother’s burden any greater.

“While you guys are gone, Giibold and I are going to choose the next five sites around the world,” EJ announced. “The Sacramento plant should be ready for its first final inspection in about nine days. The New York plant in about another month. Giibold’s new recruits should be arriving tomorrow morning at the estate, and we will work with them for a few days before sending them off to one of the two American plants. Then we’ll start sending the new teams out to the old plants now being converted by the various countries around the world.”

“How is that going?” Kiijon asked.

Before EJ could answer, Kliinew walked into the room. He looked around to ensure no little, or big, humans were around.

“The girls are in the barn,” Kiijon stated. “You may talk freely.”

“Sire, we may have a problem,” Kliinew announced. “We just received a message from the Complex that there is a human submersible only sixty miles from the Complex.”

“That’s not good,” Kiijon replied, standing up, turning to his mate. “Sorry, My Love, but looks like I won’t be able to go with you and Terrance to visit Misso.”

“I had best remain behind too,” Europa said.

“Nonsense, you go,” Kiijon encouraged. “It will be the last time for you to spend time with Terrance and Teerdomay for a while. There’s not much we can do up here anyways, except monitor the situation and hope for the best.”

“We can always cut their cables,” Jazee stated.

“The humans have a lot of money invested in those machines, so I would rather not make them lose it,” Kiijon answered. “But put the Complex patrol on alert. If the submersible gets much closer we will sabotage their cables, not destroy them. It will force them to bring the vessel to the surface for repairs and hopefully choose another location to explore. Jazee, I’ll need you to stay here with me. Inform Staybo that he will need to go with Queen Europa as her protector. And that his ride is leaving within the hour.”

“Right away, Sire,” Jazee replied.

____________

After dinner, JeffRa invited Wiiguard upstairs to his balcony for dessert and coffee. It was something he never would have thought of doing a year ago, but rank no longer seemed important. Plus, he had a few things he needed to discuss with the young Terrian-Oonock. Helga was busy downstairs cleaning the kitchen and dinner plates, so there should be no interruptions. JeffRa took a bite of the delicious dessert Helga had made. “My, that human knows how to cook. What did she call this?”

“I believe she said it was known as ‘Overeaters Delight’,” Wiiguard replied, placing a forkful in his mouth and savoring the taste. “She said it is also known as ‘Better Than Sex’ dessert.”

“She could be right on that,” JeffRa laughed. Together, the two Terrians enjoyed watching the sun slowly sink toward the horizon, a soft breeze blowing in from the ocean, bringing with it the sound of sea birds and the smell of salty water. In silence they watched the scene before them while they enjoyed every bite of their dessert and coffee. When finished, JeffRa sat his plate down on the table between the two.

“I am sure you are wondering, Wiiguard, why I asked you to join me this evening,” JeffRa began. “Sheik Abdul should be arriving any day to try to assassinate Princess Misso. And when he does, I will confront and kill him. In doing so, I too will more than likely die.”

“Sir, you have at least another two or three thousand years left of your life,” Wiiguard replied, astonished by his leader’s statement. “Why would you think such a thing? Sheik Abdul or his men are no match for us.”

“Although that may be true, I cannot shake the feeling that my life on this planet will soon be over,” JeffRa answered. “I will cease to exist for real this time, and it will be at the hands of an Oonock, not a human.”

“An Oonock?” Wiiguard asked. “Who?”

“Who does not matter,” JeffRa said, giving the youth a warm smile. “Just know it is okay. I am ready. I have cheated death many times during my life. It is now time for death to win. But that is not why I asked you here. I wanted to tell you that your father was a great Oonock, one that I was proud to call my friend and protector. He never believed in my vow to destroy King Enok and Queen Medaron, yet he never faltered in carrying out my orders. When we were banished to Ganymede, he willing came with me and suffered greatly at the hands of the Terrians, as we all did. He was a superb commander. Just as his son is. I know your father dissuaded you from believing in my vow of revenge, something I held against him until now.”

“Sir, My Father told me when you returned this last time, you were a changed Terrian,” Wiiguard said, at last having the nerve to speak to his leader about the subject. “He said your thirst for blood seemed to be gone. And while you still tried to attack the Waters, your heart was not in it.”

“Your father was correct.”

“Might I ask what changed you?”

“Twenty-two years of nothingness,” JeffRa replied, a single tear sliding down his cheek. “When I tried to kill Queen Europa almost twenty-seven years ago and failed, my brother condemned me to die in a small glass box in human form. But Enok did not know that I wore this.” JeffRa lifted the blue amulet from beneath his shirt. “The amulet that I stole from an Ancient the day I imprisoned him. This blue stone gave me eternal life, so even though my blood emptied from my body and I had no air to breathe, I did not die. My body and organs went into some kind of suspended animation, but my mind remained alert and active. Imagine, being an active mind trapped inside a world of eternal blackness, of nothingness, with nothing but your own memories and dreams.”

JeffRa took a sip of coffee, then continued. “At first I was filled with so much hate and anger. I devised every horrible way imaginable to torture Enok, his children, and the rest of the Oonocks. I yearned for nothing except the screams of Enok in pain. Then, after some years, at least I think it was years, it is hard to tell when you have nothing but darkness, my hate turned to sorrow. Although I had no tears to shed, I cried over what I had lost, the life that could have been mine had I chosen a different path to walk down. I cried over the loss of Queen Medaron, my first mate and twin sons that died on Ganymede and my human wife and son I was too consumed with hate to love back. Finally, unable to grieve anymore, I remembered one day what my brother had told me that day on Saint’s Isle; that it was our father that had betrayed us. Enok said neither he nor Medaron had any idea that our father had made arrangements for the two to be joined until it was announced to the clans, that it was I that Medaron had loved and wanted to join with. He said he had sent supplies and medicines with us to help in our exile and that Father was responsible for the implosion of Creeno and the death of my mate and children. As I went over everything Enok had said, I began to finally see the truth in his words. Enok’s words, along with other things my father had done that I had forgotten, made me see at last how wrong I had been. Enok was innocent. And so was Medaron. All my millennia of destruction, hate and pursuing had been for nothing, except to turn me into a worse monster than my father had been. And I vowed to, if my brother was still alive, beg for his and Medaron’s forgiveness, and accept whatever punishment they deemed fitting for my crimes.”

“But the acknowledgement of my error did not end my imprisonment. No, I was still trapped in total darkness, hidden away in a tomb of rock. Then one day the Earth freed me. A huge earthquake shook the region and caused a massive underwater landslide. My prison door was opened and the box I had found salvation in was smashed to pieces. I was free. Somehow my body awoke, restored to its full Oonock capabilities.”

“But when you returned you learned King Enok had been killed and your once great army reduced to a mere handful of Terrians,” Wiiguard added.

“Yes, thanks to those idiots Zeevinn and Attwa,” JeffRa replied. “Your father warned me about them. He begged me not to name either as the next Terrian leader, for he knew how bloodthirsty those two were. But in those days, bloodthirsty was what I wanted and I flipped a coin to see which of the two would take my place should I be killed in my endeavors to kill Europa and her brother. I had no idea Enok was still alive and had planned on living many more years. But, as we both know, that did not happen. I was killed, Zeevinn took over command and launched the armada of ships to annihilate the Waters.”

“I remember when the call went out for all Terrians to report to the ships in Peru,” Wiiguard said. “Father said we, and a handful of his followers, were not going, that Zeevinn or Attwa were not their leaders. I was so furious with Father. I was a Terrian soldier and my duty was to fulfill your vow of revenge. I tried sneaking out of the house, but Father caught me and shackled me to my room until after the army was destroyed.”

“Had he not, Zeevinn’s stupidity would have claimed your life too,” JeffRa stated. “Something I am very grateful did not happen.” JeffRa reached inside his jeans pocket and removed an envelope, handing it to the young Terrian-Oonock.

“When I am gone, I want you to abandon any thought of continuing on this stupid vow of mine,” JeffRa stated. “Find yourself some happiness in this world and hold on to it. Perhaps settle down with that female friend of yours, Diene. Or better yet, become the Oonock that lives within your heart. Like your father, you are no Terrian, but an Oonock with an Oonock soul that followed an old fool. Inside that envelope are the deeds to my houses and the numbers and passwords to my many bank accounts. One does acquire a vast amount of money when one lives for almost nine thousand years.” He chuckled. “All of the houses but two and a third of the money has been signed over to you. The house in Germany goes to Helga for her years of service to me, along with a living allowance. The house in Paris is to go to my human wife along with another third of the money. The last third is for my son, Terrance.”

“Your son?” a very surprised Wiiguard asked.

“Yes, Terrance Landers is my son, or, I should say, stepson,” JeffRa confessed. “In my rage to kill Europa I turned against him and disowned him. I wish to correct that mistake now.”

Wiiguard humbly took the envelope. “I will do as you ask, Sir. But I must object to what you have left me. I do not deserve it. It should go to your wife and son.”

“You deserve even more,” JeffRa replied. “You have become the son I foolish threw away. Besides, I owe your father much. Had he not remained loyal to his vow to always protect me, he could have had a much better life. One free of pain and suffering. I cannot properly thank your father for all he did, but I can honor him by seeing his son wants for nothing.” For the next thirty minutes, JeffRa went over his last wishes, instructing Wiiguard on what to do.

A very solemn look came over Wiiguard’s face. “Sir, if you die, what will I do? Another nine thousand years is a long time to live by oneself.”

“That it is, and even if you join with the human female, her life is but a blink of an eye in our lifespan,” JeffRa replied. “The only suggestion I have is for you to go to Queen Europa and King Kiijon and present yourself. As I mentioned earlier, you are Oonock, not Terrian, and Queen Europa will see that. They will accept you into their fold and you can live your life out as a real Oonock.”

Suddenly Wiiguard and JeffRa’s portable receivers began to beep. “He’s on the move,” JeffRa grinned.

“No, Sir, he’s HERE,” Wiiguard yelled, pointing to several boats on the ocean drawing near to the fishing farm.

SHEIK ABDUL STRIKES

“I thought they were transporting the rest of the piiquid tomorrow evening,” Misso said.

“They were,” Forbee stated. “But something came up and they need the boats so they switched the pick up to this evening. They should be here any moment.”

“Who did you say these guys were?” Swaybuk asked, seeing two boats in the ocean slow down and begin their approach to the pens.

“Some people from NOAA that have experience in transporting fish,” Forbee replied, as he watched the same two fishing vessels draw closer. “They’ll help us load the fish onto the ship, then transport the containers over to a cargo dock, where they’ll be lifted off and placed on flatbeds. Then they’ll be driven to the base where there’s a big cargo plane waiting to transport the lot to China and the Taiwan Strait.”

“I would feel better if our guys were doing the loading,” Swaybuk stated, rubbing his hand across his weapon to make sure it was still readily available.

“Me too, but since we’re working through the various agencies and governments, we have to do it their way,” Forbee yelled back, trying to be heard over the sound of the two boats.

“Perhaps you two should wait inside,” Swaybuk suggested to Queen Europa and Princess Misso.

Misso laughed. “Swaybuk, it is okay. The U.S. government has authorized these boats and the personnel on board. No one is going to try to kidnap me or kill us. Besides, I am in charge of this facility and need to be present to authorize the transfer and ensure the right amount of piiquid are taken. Relax, Big Guy.”

Swaybuk turned his attention to his queen for guidance. “It should be alright, Swaybuk. Just stay on high alert.”

“You heard the queen,” Swaybuk yelled. “Everyone on high alert. Keep a watchful eye on these humans.”

“They don’t look like NOAA boats,” Terrance whispered to Europa. “I don’t see the NOAA insignia on either of them and they’re not flying the right flags.”

“I don’t believe NOAA has fishing boats,” Misso stated upon hearing her uncle’s comments. “They probably had to commission these from some local fishing companies. Most vessels do not have the necessary equipment to transport a large number of fish.”

As the ships pulled up, the commander of the operation was a bit surprised at the number of armed soldiers guarding the pens. These were fish, for Pete’s sake, not precious gems or gold. Why all the security? Then it dawned on him that maybe they were there to protect Misso Waters. Was she more important than he imagined? Is that why JeffRa was so intent on killing her?

The man on the bow of the first ship threw a line to the soldier standing on the small dock while a second man in the stern did the same. The captain maneuvered the boat alongside the dock while the two humans securely tied the vessel to the platform. A tall, Eastern man jumped over the side and walked over to where Misso, Europa and Terrance were standing.

“You must be Miss Waters,” Abdul said, extending his hand in a show of friendship. “I’m Derek Johnson from NOAA. I will be supervising the collection of the fish and their transport to the airport.”

“Hello, Mr. Johnson,” Misso said, accepting the human’s hand. “Welcome aboard. This is my mother, Europa Waters and my Uncle, Terrance Landers. They have stopped by for an unexpected visit. I hope you do not mind.”

“Not at all,” Abdul replied, grinning broadly. How delightful. He not only would deprive Jeffrey Landers of ending the young female Waters’ life, but her mother’s as well. And she said the male’s name was Terrance Landers. He wondered if, by any stroke of luck, this male was related to his archenemy. “It is a pleasure to meet you all.” He shook each one’s hand. “I used to know a Professor Jeffrey Landers when I attended U of M many years ago. Are you possibly related?”

“He was my father,” Terrance replied, intently watching the male’s face. But Abdul hid his surprise and excitement well, even though his knees almost buckled at the reality of having Jeffrey’s son.

“I believe you have some paperwork for us,” a nervous Swaybuk stated. He did like the idea that this human knew JeffRa.

“Yes, of course,” Abdul replied. He searched his pockets, as if searching for it. “I must have left it on the boat. To save us some time, would you like to accompany me on board.”

“No, she does not,” Swaybuk replied, stepping in front of the princess. “I suggest you go aboard and get it.”

“Easy there fella,” Abdul laughed, staring at all six-feet-seven of the protector. “Just asking. I’ll go get it right away.”

As he turned, Europa sensed something was not right. “Something is wrong. These men are not from NOAA.” But her warning was too late. Abdul grabbed Misso while the men on the boat fired tranquilizer darts at the Oonock soldiers. Swaybuk took three hits in the chest before he could take four steps, getting off only three shots before falling over into the bay. Vireena, Teerdomay and the others were as quickly struck, either falling into the ocean or collapsing on the deck before they could discharge their weapons. Upon seeing there was trouble, the soldiers on the beach came running down the dock, taking out several humans on the boat before scuba divers appeared from under the dock and immobilized them. Within minutes, all of the monarchs’ protection lay paralyzed.

“What is the meaning of this?” Europa asked, as a human jumped off the boat, walked over and zip-tied her hands behind her back. Another one did the same to Terrance.

“Just paying back an old friend,” Abdul replied. “Someone who has longed to see this fine young female dead.” He ran his tongue alongside Misso’s face, making her try to break free. “If you want to live, don’t move,” he whispered in her ear. “But you, Mrs. Waters, have always been the real trophy he lives to collect. Imagine his sorrow when he learns I, Sheik Abdul Haddad, has robbed him of his prize.”

“If revenge is what you seek, take me and spare my daughter and the others,” Europa replied.

“No can do,” Abdul smiled. “For now I also have Jeffrey’s son, a most welcomed surprise. What part of your body should I send your father, Mr. Landers? Your finger, your heart, your head?” Abdul laughed, reveling in his triumph.

____________

“What do you mean they’re here?” JeffRa shouted, staring at the two boats.

“I don’t know, but my instruments are telling me Abdul is on one of those boats,” Wiiguard replied. “For some reason we never picked up his departure from the Middle East.”

“Perhaps because he was never in the Middle East but here in the United States this entire time,” JeffRa said, as he began to quickly undress.

“Sir, might I ask what you’re doing?” Wiiguard asked, but he had a pretty good idea what his leader was up to.

“We have to get out there right away,” JeffRa said. “The only way we can possible get there in time is to jump over the balcony into the ocean, transform into dolphins, and swim like hell.” He ran to his bed and withdrew a small bag from underneath the mattress. Inside was a small Terrian weapon and a round stone with Medaron’s image on it. “You do not need to come, Wiiguard.”

“Where you go, I go, Sir,” Wiiguard said, removing his own weapon from his pants and undressing.

JeffRa smiled. He was so much like his father. “If the fall does not kill us, transform and swim out to the pens. Do not wait for me. Save the queen and princess. And my son. Do not try to save me, Wiiguard. Promise me.” There was no reply. “Promise me!”

“I promise, Sir,” Wiiguard said.

“Then let’s go save my queen and son.” JeffRa began to run and dove over the balcony’s railing, plummeting the fifty feet into the ocean. Wiiguard followed several seconds later. Both executed the dive flawlessly, taking in a breath before plunging beneath the salty water. Immediately they both transformed into bottlenose dolphins and sped toward the fishing pens, offering their lives to the Waters of Life that they arrive in time.

Moments after their dive off the balcony, Helga knocked and entered the room. She was very surprised to see the room was empty. She was sure the master and Wiiguard were in there. She walked over to the balcony and collected the dirty plates and coffee cups. Upon hearing splashing, she looked over the side and saw two dolphins swimming. Such a beautiful site, she thought.

____________

“Akma, bring the camera,” Abdul shouted. “I believe I shall let you, My Lovely, live a little longer so I can enjoy the pleasures of your beautiful body. I promise you a night you will never forget.” Holding his hand rightly around her neck, he ran his other hand across her breasts.

“Keep your hands off her,” Terrance shouted.

“So, Jeffrey’s son speaks,” Abdul laughed. “Unfortunately, I will not be able to take either you or Mrs. Waters with us. As soon as Akma returns with the camera I will gladly execute you both on film, then remove your heads for Jeffrey.”

“The only thing you will enjoy is your own death,” JeffRa shouted, as he suddenly leaped onto the deck, his special Terrian weapon in his hand, aimed at Abdul’s heart.

“Jeffrey, where in the hell did you come from?” a surprised and nervous Abdul asked. “And naked too!!” He stared at the battered body of his nemesis, the artificial leg, the deformed arm, the scarred body. “It would appear as if your endeavors to accomplish what I did today have not been kind to you. But I am really glad you’re here. Now you can enjoy first hand their deaths instead of watching on film. But I do believe I will still take their heads.”

“The hell you will,” JeffRa replied. Silently he said, “Europa, I need for you to trust me. I need for you to erect a forcefield and take Terrance and yourself over the side. My assistant is waiting underneath to untie you both.”

“I will not leave Misso,” Europa silently replied.

“I promise, I will save Misso,” JeffRa answered. “But in order to do that I need Terrance and you to be safe first. Please, Europa.”

“How do I know I can trust you?”

“On my love for my son and your mother, I swear to you,” JeffRa replied.

“Trust him,” came another’s voice.

“Mother?”

“Medaron?”

“Yes, it is I,” Medaron’s voice replied. None had noticed the swirling sparkles of light beside the dock. “Trust JeffRa, Europa. He speaks the truth.”

“Hold on,” Europa whispered to Terrance. As she erected a forcefield, the two humans holding them were knocked overboard. She instantly grabbed Terrance and flung both of them over the side of the dock. Just as JeffRa had promised, Wiiguard was there. He quickly grabbed the two and brought them under the protection of the dock, where he cut their ties. He held up his fingers to his lips, indicating for them to be quiet. As the two looked around, they were surprised and relieved to see Teerdomay, Swaybuk and several others safely secured beneath the dock. Apparently, JeffRa’s assistant had been able to save them also. Although the tranquilizers had been strong enough to stun the soldiers, they were not potent enough to keep them unconscious. All were beginning to regain their senses. Several of the guards grabbed the two humans splashing in the water and took them down to the depths where they would drown.

“What in the hell is going on?” Abdul asked, as he suddenly found himself standing alone with Misso and JeffRa. “What happened to my men?” He stared at JeffRa in defiance. “If either of these two move, shoot them.” He smiled as he saw his men on the boat raise their rifles and aim them at the two Oonocks.

“What is going on is your imminent death,” JeffRa said, a huge smile spreading across his face as he stared into the human’s eyes, sensing and seeing his fear. To Sheik Abdul’s horror, JeffRa’s eyes began to glow a fiery red, as if hell itself lived inside him. “I warned you what would happen if you ever double-crossed me, that I would be more powerful than you could ever imagine. Regretfully, I do not have the time to peel your skin off layer by layer, so I will have to settle for simply taking your head.” Silently he said, “Princess Misso, when I say ‘Now’, drop and erect a forcefield around you like your mother did. Do not move or remove the field until one of your protectors tells you to. Nod if you understand me.” He saw Misso nod slightly.

“You and whose army?” Abdul laughed, raising his gun, his hand shaking as he stared at the red eyes staring at him. Realizing he may have underestimated JeffRa, and trying to boost his confidence, he announced, “I’m tired of you, Old Man, and your pathetic body.” As Abdul pulled the trigger, the creature before him transformed into a large grizzly, standing nine feet tall. Abdul was so startled, he loosened his grip on Misso, the moment JeffRa had waited for.

“Now,” JeffRa shouted. Misso dropped to the deck, covering herself with a forcefield as JeffRa charged forward. Abdul desperately fired his gun at the charging beast in an attempt to stop the demon, as did the men on the boat. But their bullets did not stop him. JeffRa used his huge paw to tear off the human’s hand that held his weapon. He then came down on the man, pinning him to the dock as he leaned down and sunk his teeth into the hated human’s neck, delighting in the screams he heard and the look of disbelief and terror in his eyes. At last, Abdul realized what he was capable of. At the same time, he used one of his massive front paws to rip open Abdul’s chest and pulled his intestines out of his body. In a spasm of unbelievable pain, Abdul’s body twitched as JeffRa bit through the neck and severed the human’s head from its body. As the head rolled a few inches away, Abdul blinked several times, trying to fathom his own death. Then it continued to roll over the side and plopped into the water, floating, nibbled on by countless fish as it bobbed up and down in the ocean.

Seeing their leader killed in such a horrific way, Abdul’s men abandoned their conquest and sped away, trying to escape the monster standing over their headless leader. But the dolphin patrol had been making their rounds of the fishing farm and had witnessed the attack. Unable to arrive in time to help their queen, they now transformed into sperm whales and smashed into the speeding boats, sinking both within minutes, dragging any survivors down to their deaths. Never again would Sheik Abdul or any of his thugs threaten their monarchs again.

Seeing the danger was over, JeffRa transformed back into a human, blood escaping from the bullet holes in his body. He leaned over and picked up the weapon he had designed to kill Queen Medaron and her family and stood tall, ready to defend Misso from another attack. “Are you okay, Your Majesty?”

“Yes, I am fine,” Misso replied.

“Keep your forcefield up until your protectors return,” JeffRa told her. “I am not sure Abdul’s men are all gone.”

“You are bleeding,” Misso said. “You need help.”

JeffRa diverted his gaze from the ocean and looked at the young queen. “You look so much like your grandmother. If I did not know better, I would swear it was Medaron I was protecting.”

Just then Swaybuk, Teerdomay and several other Oonock guards leapt up onto the dock. Upon seeing JeffRa standing beside their future queen with his special weapon in his hand, they feared the worse and opened fire, putting several more bullets into JeffRa.

“No, Swaybuk, stop,” screamed Misso, jumping to her feet as JeffRa collapsed on the dock, his life force oozing out of his body. “He was protecting me.” She hurried over to her fallen savior and dropped down beside him. Just then, Europa and Terrance emerged from beneath the dock and climbed onto the deck. Not sure what was happening, both ran to Misso and JeffRa.

“Thank the Waters of Live,” Europa said. “I thought we lost you for sure.”

“You would have if it had not been for this Oonock,” Misso softly said, holding the elder Oonock, unaware of who he was. “Help him, Mattwa.”

“That Oonock is JeffRa,” shouted Swaybuk.

“He is Jeffrey Landers,” Terrance said, as he took his father from Misso and placed him into his own arms. “And he is my father.”

“JeffRa?” a confused Misso asked. “But he saved my life.”

“He saved all our lives,” Europa replied, kneeling down beside the dying Oonock. She didn’t know why he had saved them, but she knew his heroism deserved the reward of being healed. Grasping her amulet, she placed her hand over JeffRa’s bloody body, preparing to heal his wounds.

“No, Your Majesty,” JeffRa said, grabbing her arm and removing it before the lilac strings of life could travel down her arms into his dying body. “Do not save my life. I have been reborn too many times. It is time I finally die.”

“No, Father,” Terrance said, tears dropping from his eyes. “Please don’t die. Not now. Not after what you just did.”

“Why did you shot him?” Wiiguard screamed at Swaybuk, hitting him hard on the chest and making him stumble a few steps back. “He came to save his queens.”

“We feared for Princess Misso’s life,” Swaybuk answered. “JeffRa held the weapon he had used to kill Prince Tiree and Queen Medaron. I, we, thought he was going to kill the Princess.”

“Stop, Wiiguard,” a weak JeffRa said. “Swaybuk and the others did what was expected of them – protecting their future queen. Do not hold it against the, for I would rather die at their hands than that patoot Abdul.” JeffRa coughed as his lungs filled with liquid. A small amount of purple blood trickled out of his mouth and down his chin. Wiiguard hurried over and knelt beside his fallen lead, wiping away the purple blood. He had promised his master that he would allow him to die, but he wished this queen would save him, if she could. Using what little strength he had, JeffRa removed the blue amulet from around his neck and held it out in his hand. “Swaybuk, here. It is the Ancient’s amulet I stole long ago. Take it to the dead tree that stands in the middle of the blue pool inside the mountain. The coordinates of where the tree stands is written on the back.” Swaybuk took the amulet and turned it over, seeing several very faint numbers, the coordinates of the Keeper at last. “Now if I may impose upon you to carry me up to the beach and allow my essence to empty into the dirt.”

“No, Sir,” Wiiguard shouted. “I will keep my promise and let you die, but I will not allow you to flow out into nothing.”

“I do not deserve to live eternity in the Waters of Life,” JeffRa replied. “For the things I have done, my punishment is to flow into nothingness.”

The waters beside the small platform began to bubble and churn. A water column began to rise and take the shape of Queen Medaron. “No, JeffRa. That will not be the ending to your life.”

“My Beloved Medaron,” JeffRa whispered, the deep love he still had for her visible in his eyes.

“Enok told you the truth, JeffRa,” Medaron stated. “It was you I wanted to join with. I had no idea my father had given me to Enok until your father announced it. I tried to find you, to explain, but you were gone. A part of me has always loved you.”

“I know,” JeffRa smiled. “Enok told me that day on Saint’s Isle, although I did not believe him at the time. I am sorry, Medaron, for everything, especially for the death of your son, Tiree. If I could, I would take it all back.”

Seeing his end was near, Medaron addressed the soldiers on the dock. “Lower him into the water so he may go home.”

“No,” Swaybuk said, stepping forward. “King Enok placed him inside that prison so he could not contaminate the waters of this world. If he joins with the Waters of Life, we will never be able to defeat him.”

“His king has pardoned him for the sacrifice he has made to spare our queen and future queen,” Medaron announced. “His brother awaits to be rejoined with him, so they may once more share adventures together. Come, JeffRa, come and join Enok and I and be one with us.”

JeffRa turned to look at Europa. “Yes, go, Uncle. Father is waiting to greet you. Go to him and Mother.”

Tears filled JeffRa’s eyes. At last, he was going to have a family, be with his beloved brother once more. So many years of hate and waste because he loved a woman and a brother too much. Several of the soldiers jumped into the water and waited while the others gently lowered JeffRa into their arms. As his body began to glow, JeffRa smiled at Wiiguard, then turned to Europa. “Take care of Wiiguard for me. He is the last Terrian, but he is an Oonock at heart. Welcome him into your clan, My Queen.” He turned his vision back to Medaron as the glow in his body spread further and further out into the water, his essence mingling with the dancing lights and sparkles that surrounded him. His brother had come to meet him, to welcome him back, to embrace the brother he had never stopped loving.

“Once torn apart by love, the two brothers are together once more,” Medaron stated. “Just as you are, Swaybuk. Welcome Wiiguard into your midst, the son of Tigglebree.”

“Tigglebree?” Swaybuk asked in astonishment. “You’re Tigglebree’s son?”

“Stepson, actually,” Wiiguard replied. “I was still an infant when my parents were killed at the battle in South America. Tigglebree adopted me and raised me as his own. I believe it was the only time he ever disobeyed his leader.”

“Disobeyed?” Misso asked.

“Since I was but an infant and could not fend for myself, Terrian law decreed I must be killed,” Wiiguard replied, turning towards the future queen. With all that had happened, he had not noticed how beautiful she was. “Father refused the order.” He turned his attention back to Swaybuk? “Did you know my father?”

“He, he was my older brother,” Swaybuk said, unable to believe his own ears. He allowed himself to fall onto the deck, still weak from the tranquilizers and this latest news. “But he was banished to Ganymede with JeffRa. He was a traitor and I never saw him again.”

“My father was no traitor,” shouted Wiiguard.

“He speaks the truth, Swaybuk,” Medaron said. “Your brother was the same as you – a protector. He vowed to protect a young prince no matter what. When JeffRa turned and was banished to Ganymede for his crimes, Tigglebree was obligated to go also to protect his charge. But he always remained an Oonock.”

“A protector? Tigglebree was Jeanip’s protector? Why didn’t anyone ever tell me this?” Swaybuk asked.

“Because it was never known before,” Medaron replied. “It was not until Tigglebree was killed along the hills outside the estate’s bay that King Enok and I learned the truth. He had become JeffRa’s protector only days before JeffRa’s attempt to kill Enok and King Enoquin. Queen Messor had arranged it without King Enoquin or Enok knowing anything about it. She feared for her son’s life and wanted him protected, as all mothers do.”

“So, you’re telling me, Your Majesty, that I did the same thing JeffRa did?” Swaybuk asked. “Hated my brother for something he never did?”

“Not exactly, Swaybuk,” Queen Medaron replied. “JeffRa hated his brother personally, as well as all the Oonock race. He made it his mission to eliminate us from the universe. You, on the other hand, hated the act your brother did, not the person. You turned your hatred into serving the monarchs and the Oonock people with every fiber of your being, thus becoming one of the greatest soldiers of all time; equal to Jeanip. You, too, have been given a second change to right a wrong. Do not waste it.” As they watched, the column of water flowed back into the ocean. The sparkles of light also disappeared, as the two brothers descended down into the ocean, ready to begin a new adventure together.

“You’re really my uncle?” Wiiguard asked, afraid it wasn’t true. Was he really not going to be alone?

“If you will have me, young Wiiguard,” Swaybuk said, wiping away a tear from his eyes. “I am an old soldier with no family. I am set in my ways, often pigheaded about things. But I would be honored to call you nephew.”

“Welcome to the family,” Terrance said, holding out his hand to shake Wiiguard’s. “I’m Terrance, Terrance Landers.”

“You are JeffRa’s son,” Wiiguard replied. “You are the reason My Leader changed. Even though my time on this plant has been brief, never did I see JeffRa care for or love anyone or anything until he refound you.” He could see his words brought comfort to his leader’s son. “When you have a moment, I need to speak with you. Somehow JeffRa knew he would die on this mission, so he entrusted me with something for you and your mother.”

“We need to find out what happened to the real NOAA ships,” Misso announced. “And make sure Windar is safe at the airport.”

“Gormee, contact Windar and advise her what has happened here,” Swaybuk ordered. “Tell her to stay alert. I don’t think there will be any trouble at the airport with the military present, but she needs to stay alert just the same. Vireena, contact NOAA and see if they really do intend on taking the piiquid tonight or if this was all a lie. Your Majesties, please forgive me. I have not inquired about your wellbeing. Are either of you hurt?”

“No,” Misso answered.

“I, too, am okay, Europa said.

“Then might I suggest we retire into the shack where you will both be safe,” Swaybuk replied. “We need to notify the estate of what has happened and see how many injured or missing Oonocks we have.” Missing Oonocks meant they had been killed and had flowed out into the Waters of Life. The one major drawback of their inability to maintain their transformed shape was there were never any bodies left behind to account for those lost. Anyone unaccounted for were presumed dead. “Won’t you join us, Nephew?” Swaybuk asked, as he put his arm around the young Terrian’s shoulder.

“It would be my pleasure,” Wiiguard said, as he took a step forward, accidentally bumping into Princess Misso. “Excuse me, Your Highness.”

“No, it was my fault,” Misso replied. “I think I am still a little unsteady on my feet.”

“Then let me help you, Princess Misso,” Wiiguard said, as he slipped his arm around the female and helped steady her walk. “I have not introduced myself, Your Majesty. My name is Wiiguard, the last Terrian on Earth.” As they walked toward the shack, Terrance looked at Europa and smiled.

“Do not even think of it,” Europa warned. The last thing she needed right now was to have JeffRa’s right-hand Terrian as her daughter’s love interest.

“One never knows,” Terrance laughed.

“Not funny,” Swaybuk immediately stated, realizing what Terrance was referring to. “Not funny at all.”

“Ah, come on. You have to admit it’s a little funny,” Terrance laughed, as he followed the rest into the sleeping shack. “If Jeanip was here, I bet he would think it was funny.”

“Bet he wouldn’t,” Swaybuk replied. “At the mere suggestion of such a thought, he’d probably throw you overboard and leave you to drown.”

THE KILLING STONE

As soon as Kiijon received word of the attack, he and Jazee were on the fastest speeder they had at the estate, zooming to the fish farm. Gormee was waiting at a secluded rendezvous point with a speed boat to take them the rest of the way in. With all that was happening, neither Kiijon nor Jazee wanted to explain what the speeder was or where it came from.

Gormee pushed the throttle as far forward as it would go, creating a huge wake behind them, the water spraying high into the air. They made the thirty minute trip in fourteen-point-eight minutes.

Gormee had told his king and Commander about what occurred after the attack. How the local police arrived first, guns drawn, sirens blaring, flashers lighting the night sky. Since there were only human bodies and none of the Oonocks were injured, they believed the Oonocks were the aggressors and were prepared to take Europa, Misso and the others to jail. Europa informed them they had diplomatic immunity, but the police chief did not seem to care. Luckily, just as they were ready to try to forcibly take the Oonocks downtown, the U.S. military showed up and took over the investigation, removing all of the police from the area. As they drew closer, Kiijon could see numerous Coast Guard boats circling the area, several tied up to the dock. He also thought he saw several frogmen in the water.

Gormee slowed the boat to a crawl, drifting toward two Coast Guard boats. When he was within range, he put the boat in idle and allowed one of the boats to come to them. Gormee handed one of the soldiers his pass to allow him to enter the secured area. Upon seeing the signature of the pass, Gormee and his party were immediately allowed passage. What seemed to Kiijon like forever, they finally were close enough for him to see his beloved wife and daughter. Europa raised her hand and waved, signaling she was alright. Kiijon didn’t even wait for the boat to be tied off. As soon as it was near enough to the dock, he leapt over the side onto the platform and ran to his mate, taking her in his arms, holding her securely, thanking the Creator of All for sparing her life.

“Thank goodness you’re alright,” he said, kissing her on the forehead. “You’re not hurt?”

“No, I am fine.”

He then pulled his daughter, then Terrance into his arms, asking each the same question. Both assured him they were fine. Taking Europa back into his embrace, he extended his hand to Swaybuk. “Thank you, Swaybuk, for once again protecting my family when I was not here to do so.” He looked down at his mate. “This is the last time I am allowing you to go anywhere without me. I almost lost you.”

“While protecting the royal family is my duty, it was not me who saved them,” Swaybuk replied. “In fact, all of us were rendered useless by the human. I was the only one who was even able to get off a shot.”

“Then who?”

“JeffRa.”

“JeffRa?” a shocked king asked. He did not know the particulars of the attack or how they were saved, only that some humans had appeared with weapons and his family was safe. Kiijon quickly looked around for their archenemy, but he saw no unfamiliar Oonock faces. “Where is he?”

Silently, Europa replied, “Mother came and took him into the Waters of Life,” as a tanned, blonde U.S. commander came walking toward them.

“Mr. Waters, I am Major General Grayson,” the human announced, extending his hand. “General McDouglas asked me to ensure you that my team is here to serve you and to make sure everything is taken care of.”

“Thank you, Major General Grayson,” Kiijon said, shaking the young human’s hand. “We very much appreciate yours and the General’s help in this matter.”

“I was in the middle of questioning your wife and the others when we received word from the Coast Guard that you had arrived,” Major General Grayson said. “Might we return to the enclosure so I can continue our investigation?”

As they followed the Major General, Kiijon once more silently asked his mate, “You really are okay? You didn’t get hurt and heal yourself and are withholding the information?”

“No,” Europa silently chuckled. “I was never hurt.”

“Did we lose anyone?”

“We believe four,” Europa sadly replied.

“Would you please be seated,” the Major General announced, as he entered the room, which was crowded with several Oonock soldiers plus one face he did not recognize.

“Who’s that?” Kiijon asked.

“Swaybuk’s nephew.”

“I didn’t know Swaybuk had a nephew.”

“Neither did he.”

For the next hour, the Major General asked questions about what had happened: what happened to the boats and their crew, what were the attackers after, who and where was their leader, and many others. Finally, satisfied that he had as much as he was going to be able to ascertain, he allowed the Oonocks to leave, with the stipulation that they remain in the vicinity until told they could go. Wiiguard immediately offered JeffRa’s place. It was close by and offered adequate protection and secrecy. Both Kiijon and Jazee agreed.

Although preferring to remain with the piiquid, Misso accompanied her parents and allowed several of the Oonock soldiers to keep a watchful eye over them for her. She would return early the next day to supervise the real NOAA’s transportation of the fish.

Anew protested to Swaybuk, stating that since they had JeffRa’s amulet, they needed to retrieve the other half from FarCore and go release the Keeper. Swaybuk tried to explain to her that they could not leave but were confined to the area. He assured her that within a few days they would go release the Keeper. After thousands of years, Swaybuk didn’t think a few more days would matter, something Anew totally disagreed with.

To ensure their safety, the Major General had several armed sedans drive the Waters to their overnight accommodations. He also assigned several soldiers to keep patrol outside.

Helga was quite surprised when Wiiguard arrived with eighteen guests. She profusely apologized for having nothing for them to eat except a small batch of cookies, but, to Europa’s gratefulness, she at least had coffee. So that they could talk in private, Wiiguard asked one of the soldiers to take her to the store so she could buy some items for sandwiches and food for the next day’s breakfast.

As soon as Helga was out the door, the Waters quickly gathered in the dining room and gave Kiijon and Jazee a full account of what had happened and explained how JeffRa had saved them all.

“My Master knew it was Sheik Abdul’s men that had tried to kill Swaybuk and the female in Chile, and Prince Enok in New York the last time he addressed the United Nations,” Wiiguard stated.

“Prince Enok?” Kiijon asked, looking at both Europa and Jazee, both of who shook their head negatively. “There was no attempt on the Prince’s life.”

“That’s because My Master prevented it,” Wiiguard answered. “It was also Sheik Abdul that killed Prince Terrance.”

“Why didn’t he tell us?” Kiijon asked.

“Would you have believed him?” Wiiguard said, a subtle look of anger on his face. “My Master knew you would never accept the fact that he had changed and wanted to save the monarchs. He determined his only option was to wait for the Sheik to come here. Our plan was to strike before he could, but somehow he bypassed our security notification and was able to get within striking distance before the alarm went off notifying us he was here. We dove over the balcony and went to rescue our queen.”

“Our queen?” Jazee said. “I can’t imagine JeffRa ever referring to Queen Europa that way.”

“He did a lot in these last few days,” Wiiguard said.

Swaybuk walked over to the main floor balcony and looked over the side to the ocean waters far below. “You two jumped over this?”

“Actually, we were on the balcony upstairs,” Wiiguard replied.

“Dang, JeffRa MUST have been desperate to make that jump,” Swaybuk whistled. “A little bit too far to the right or left and you’d hit those rocks and it would be all over.”

“I don’t believe he even thought of that,” Wiiguard said. “The only thing he knew was that Queen Europa, Princess Misso and his son were in danger. And he had to save them.”

“I don’t get it,” Jazee stated. “I can kind of understand why he would want to save his son, but why Queen Europa and Princess Misso? He’s done nothing for the past seven thousand years but try to kill us all every chance he got.”

“Maybe he didn’t like the idea of someone else assassinating them,” Gormee suggested.

“No, he had no desire to kill any of you anymore,” Wiiguard quickly replied. “He had changed.”

“But why?” Terrance asked, desperately needing to know what had changed JeffRa into Jeffrey Landers, why he gave up his vow of revenge. “Do you know, Wiiguard?”

“He told me shortly before our Queen and Princess were attacked,” Wiiguard replied, remembering his last conversation with his master, his eyes tearing. “He told me he sensed he would not survive the encounter and wanted me to know the truth. I think he wanted me to know so I could tell you, Master Terrance.” The group intently listened as the new Oonock retold JeffRa’s story and how he changed inside that small box, locked away in darkness for so long.

“It still doesn’t make sense,” Swaybuk said, walking around the room. “If he no longer was hunting us, why did he kidnap Kumiko and Cho Gin? And demand that ransom, swearing to kill them if Prince Enok did not pay it?”

“JeffRa did not kidnap the girls,” Wiiguard tried to clarify. “He rescued them. It was some female Oonock that originally had the girls kidnapped. My Master learned that the Coalition of Oil Owners had learned of Prince EJ’s desire to adopt the girls and had discovered where they were being hidden. It was they that wanted to harm the girls. JeffRa took them into his protection to save them.”

“But why the ransom demand?” Europa asked.

“He had to make the Coalition believe he was on their side,” Wiiguard answered. “Especially Sheik Abdul. He was the one most determined not to let the human race lose their dependence on fossil fuels. JeffRa had to make sure he believed My Master was on his side.”

“So we were right. Spinner was the one who originally took the girls,” Kiijon stated, looking at the forlorn Swaybuk. Another mystery regarding the former soldier that had no answers.

“What about the ransom on Prince Enok’s head?” Jazee asked.

“Yes, JeffRa contributed his share to the assassination fund,” Wiiguard answered. “Again, so those against the Prince would believe he was on their side. It was My Master who informed the authorities of who many of the perpetrators were. Without his help, many would not have been caught and there would still be a price on the Prince’s head.”

“The fire,” Swaybuk stopped and shouted. “I know JeffRa had a part in that. Both Jeanip and Chancee stated the assassins they fired at on the ocean side of the hill were humans AND Terrians.”

“Yes, they were three Terrians, the last,” Wiiguard sadly said. “Including my father. JeffRa sent them there to protect the family. A mercenary group funded by the Coalition was closing in on the estate.”

“Tigglebree was amongst those killed?” Swaybuk asked, not wanting to believe that Jeanip and Chancee had killed his brother.

“Yes,” a teary eyed Wiiguard replied. “After they were killed, JeffRa and I were the only two Terrians left. Now it is just me.”

“I assume he was not behind the attempted murder of Prince Terrance or the bombing of the restaurant where his colleagues were killed?” a mournful Misso asked, feeling empathy for this lost and sole Terrian.

“You are correct, My Lady,” Wiiguard stated, giving the Princess a warm smile.

“Now, I know you’re lying,” Jazee shouted, slamming his fist onto the table, leaving an impression just as King Enok use to do when angry. “Bendicore was used in that explosion. Humans don’t have bendicore, only Terrians and Oonocks. And Oonocks were not responsible.”

“Too late we learned after Sheik Abdul had visited the compound that was later destroyed, that our weapons room had been robbed,” Wiiguard replied. “Two small bombs, a leveler and three weapons were taken. Luckily, the robbers did not take any ammunition with them, so the Terrian guns were useless to them. But they were able to use one of the bombs in the Sheik’s attempt to kill the Prince.”

“And what of the other Terrian bomb?” Europa asked, the thought of humans having possession of a Terrian bomb causing her to shiver.

“Unknown, Your Majesty,” Wiiguard said. “Although the explosion was massive by human standards, it was not large enough to be caused by two bombs. The two bombs together would have expanded the power tenfold and leveled everything in a ten-mile radius.”

Kiijon looked at Swaybuk. “You’re the bomb expert, Swaybuk. Is he correct?”

“Yes, Sire,” Swaybuk replied. “The two bombs combined would have easily destroyed everything within a ten-mile radius. But what has me more concerned is the leveler. It’s the weapon JeffRa used on the Third City. If the humans try to use that, even without additional bendicore, it could easily level everything within a fifty-mile radius, level all of New York City in one blast. Or London, Paris, any big city. If ignited in the ocean, it would easily cause a tsunami a hundred and fifty feet high, making the tsunami wave created when the Complex blew look like a ripple on the ocean.”

“I don’t understand,” Europa said. “If JeffRa used this leveler on the Third City, how did anyone survive?”

“Our city was an Oonock city, made of hard stone,” Swaybuk answered, turning toward his Queen, fear clearly visible on his face. “Built to be indestructible, it crumbled under JeffRa’s leveler. Our walls were able to absorb a substantial amount of the leveler’s energy and therefore diminished the pyroclastic cloud that emanated from the explosion. Human buildings are fragile, easily destroyed by Oonock measures. The leveler’s blast would destroy everything near it and its pyroclastic cloud would easily disintegrate everything in the area, including plants, animals and humans.”

“My gosh, if that weapon falls into the wrong hands,” Misso stated.

“It already has,” Kiijon added, turning to Wiiguard. “And JeffRa had no idea where that weapon is?”

“No, Your Majesty,” Wiiguard answered. “My Father was working on locating it, but anything he discovered was lost when he was killed.”

“Misso, I know climate change is your brother’s expertise, but do you have any idea what might happen if a human ignorantly detonates that weapon?” Kiijon asked. “Could it affect the fragile stability of Earth?”

“As you said, Father, EJ is the expert,” Misso replied. “But from what I know, and depending on where the weapon is detonated, it could totally disrupt the Earth’s air flow, finish destroying what’s left of the ozone layer, and possibly even change ocean currents. It could be the catalyst that breaks the Earths ecosystems.”

“Are you sure, Wiiguard, that the leveler was stolen?” Jazee questioned. “That JeffRa didn’t accidentally give it to Sheik Abdul or some other human group so his vow of revenge could be fulfilled?”

“You still don’t believe I am telling the truth, do you?” Wiiguard asked, staring across the table at the protector.

“My Oonocks have been fighting against you Terrians for almost seven thousand years,” Jazee said, staring back at the youth. “You have done everything possible to end my race. Why should I believe you now?”

“Because My Father and I were not Terrians by choice,” Wiiguard shouted. “And My Master sacrificed his life to save your queen and princess. Even Queen Medaron herself said she and King Enok had pardoned JeffRa and allowed him to flow into the Waters of Life. What more proof do you need?”

“Is this true?” Kiijon asked.

“Yes,” Europa said, rising from her seat, forcing all the males at the table to stand also. She motioned for them to be seated as she walked toward the angry Terrian. “Mother said Father was waiting to welcome JeffRa into his arms. I saw their essence intertwine as they embraced each other once more, brothers together again.” She reached out her hand and placed it on the young Terrians chest, over his heart. “Do not be afraid, Wiiguard. I am going to send an energy pulse into your body that will tell me if you are indeed speaking the truth. It will not hurt. All you will feel is a sense of warmth and love.” Europa sent the impulse into Wiiguard’s body and was pleased when it returned. She turned to Jazee and Kiijon. “He speaks the truth. I sense only frustration at us not believing him. There is no hate, deceit or malice in his body. And, as JeffRa said, he is not a Terrian, but an Oonock, just like us.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Wiiguard smiled, glad to finally be believed.

“If my mate states you are telling the truth and are honorable, then it must be true,” Kiijon said, as he walked over and placed his hand on the young Oonock’s shoulder. “I cannot offer you a position of security, but I can offer you a place amongst us.”

“Perhaps, Sire, Wiiguard could accompany Windar and I to free the Keeper,” Swaybuk suggested. “It would give us a chance to know each other.”

“A possibility,” Kiijon replied, quickly looking at Jazee, visually telling him not to object. The matter was over. Wiiguard was to be trusted.

A knock at the door interrupted the conversation as Helga entered with a tray of sandwiches, the soldier with her carrying some other snacks. “I hope this will be sufficient. I didn’t know what you would like, so I got a variety of breads and cold-cuts. I have some more coffee and water that I’ll be right back with.” She quickly left to retrieve the drinks, while the hungry males patiently waited for their monarchs to begin eating.

“After all we have been through today, I give you permission to eat before us,” Europa said, gesturing her hand through the air. “Today is not the day to stand on protocols.” Immediately the soldiers hurried to the food, allowing Princess Misso to have cuts at the front of the line when she walked over several minutes later.

“Jazee, if everything’s secured here, I will return to the fish farm,” Swaybuk said. “Tomorrow, I’ll be returning with you to the estate to get the rest of this.” Swaybuk opened his hand to show his Commander the amulet JeffRa had given him. “Another present from JeffRa.”

“Granted,” Jazee replied.

“I will see you tomorrow,” Swaybuk informed Wiiguard. “Take care of my monarchs, Master Terrance and Miss Teerdomay for me.”

“I will, Uncle.” Both Swaybuk and Wiiguard thought that had a nice sound to it. In his eighteen hundred years, Wiiguard had never had any family except his father. And even though the little ones referred to Swaybuk as Uncle, the Commander had never had a real nephew before. Yes, an uncle-nephew relationship was something both Oonocks looked forward to.

The next day after breakfast, at O-nine-hundred, Major General Grayson returned with typed copies of the Oonocks’ statements. He needed each one to read the statement he or she had given and sign it. Swaybuk was with him, having witnessed the statement signing by Princess Misso, Vireena and the others back at the shack and fish pens. The Major General questioned Europa and Terrance a little more, still trying to figure out how they escaped being killed and what happened to the leader of the attack and the bodies of the Oonock soldiers that were killed. He stated that the divers had not been able to find any corpses on the ocean floor.

Once the Major General was satisfied that he would get no more information from the victims, he informed them they were free to go, and if he had more questions, he would contact them at the estate.

“When you speak with the General, please extend to him an invite to visit the estate,” Europa stated. “It has been a while since we have seen him and Lilly.”

“Tell him also that I have a new business deal I would very much like to discuss with him.” Like Europa, Kiijon forced a smile onto his face. Both wondered what the General would say when they told him that somewhere on the planet was a Terrian war device capable of killing millions.

“I would not be surprised if the General paid you a personal visit within the next few days,” Major General Grayson said. “Both he and the President took an active interest in this event. I believe he wishes to discuss it with you further.”

“Thank you again, Major General, for all your help,” Europa stated. “I feared I might still be sitting inside a jail cell had you not come to our rescue.”

“Just doing my duty, Ma’am,” the Major General replied.

____________

“Master Terrance, if you and Miss Teerdomay have a moment, I would like to speak with you up in My Master’s room,” Wiiguard said.

“Well, since we already missed our flight to Hawaii, I guess we have lots of time,” Terrance stated, a little irritated and saddened that they had to postpone their trip to his mother’s. But since the Major General had forbidden them to leave the area, they had no choice but to postpone their flight. “I’ll go get Teerdomay and meet you upstairs.”

“As you wish, Sir,” Wiiguard said.

Terrance smiled at the young Oonock. “It’s Terrance, Wiiguard. Or if that’s too informal, Master Terrance. But never Sir.”

“As you wish, Sir, I mean, Master Terrance. I will wait upstairs.”

When Terrance and Teerdomay arrived upstairs, they were surprised to see Wiiguard packing JeffRa’s clothing and other items. “I hope you don’t mind, but I thought I would pack your father’s things so you can take them with you.”

“I don’t mind,” Terrance said, walking over to the bed and running his hand across his father’s shirt. Before, when his father died, or thought to have died, there were no clothes to pack. All he had last time was the guilt in his soul over taking his father’s life. This time it was so different; this time instead of guilt there was gratefulness for saving his life and deep sorrow for losing his beloved father.

“I can finish this later,” Wiiguard said. He raised his hand and motioned toward the balcony. “I thought perhaps we could sit out on the balcony while we talk.” Terrance nodded, and he and Teerdomay followed the young Oonock outside.

Before sitting down, Terrance peered over the side of the balcony at the crashing waves below. “You and My Father really jumped from up here?”

“Yes.”

“I am well familiar with the greatness of the Oonocks, but this is even something for them. I can’t believe My Father was able to do it, especially considering the physical shape he was in.” Terrance remembered seeing his Father’s battered body, misshaped arm and half leg.

“It is amazing what one can do when one’s queens and son are in danger,” Wiiguard replied.

“That it is,” Terrance replied, taking a seat beside the young Oonock, taking comfort once more in the young Terrian’s words.

“I know you aren’t feeling up to it today, Master Terrance, but if you ever want to know things about your father, or have questions, I will gladly answer them for you.”

“Thank you.”

“I asked to speak to you and your mate in private because My Master gave me specific instructions of what to do if he died,” Wiiguard began, handing Terrance an envelope. “Inside are two lists of bank account numbers and their passwords. One is for you and one is for your mother. There is eight hundred and thirty three billion for each of you.”

“Eight hundred and thirty three billion?” An astonished Terrance asked. “Are you sure its billions and not millions?”

“Yes, Sir, I mean, Master Terrance,” Wiiguard replied. “Human currency goes hundreds, thousands, millions and then billions. Is that not correct?”

“Yes, it is. But where did my father get so much money?”

“That I do not know. Perhaps living for over six thousand years on the planet enabled him to accumulate this wealth.”

Terrance thought that was possible. Look how much the Oonocks had acquired. “I am sure my mother will appreciate this, but I really don’t need this money. King Enok set an account up for me years ago. I have no need for additional money. Why don’t you keep it?”

“My Master allotted me the same amount, so I do not need it either,” Wiiguard replied nonchalantly, as if it were a normal thing to be given almost a trillion dollars. “If you do not want it, perhaps you can give it away. Or give it to those poor countries who do not have the funds to refurbish their power plants so Prince Enok can give them his new energy.” Feeling as if the subject was closed, Wiiguard continued. “There is also the deed to a house in Paris that he signed over to your mother and one in Australia he signed over to you. And, even though he knew the Waters’ fortune far exceeded his, he also established scholarships for the twins, Kumiko and Cho Gin. As their great grandfather, he wanted to do something for them. The details of those accounts are also in the envelope. There are also other things of his you might want. There are numerous paintings, some quite valuable, he said. There are some urns and vases dating back to the Shang Dynasty in China some three thousand years ago. There are several necklaces and broaches that Queen Cleopatra wore. A sword belonging to a male named Mark Antony. There are some simple tools that belonged to a Nazarene carpenter that lived a little over two thousand years ago. And so much more.”

“It sounds like My Father was a great collector,” Terrance surmised, imagining the accumulated wealth of such artifacts. “And that most of these items should belong in a museum.”

“He may have collected these items, but I don’t believe he ever took joy from them,” Wiiguard replied. “I think they were just a means to an end, a way to finance his searches for his brother and his mate.”

“But when he was with My Mother, we just barely scraped by financially,” Terrance said. “We weren’t poor, but we were never rich. And I certainly never saw any treasures.”

“I know nothing of such things, Master Terrance,” Wiiguard said. “There was one more thing he asked me to give to you.” The young Oonock reached inside his pants pocket and removed something. He held out his hand and waited for Terrance to do the same. When Terrance did, Wiiguard placed something cold in Terrance’s palm. When Wiiguard moved his hand away, Terrance saw lying in his hand an oval purple stone. His hands trembling, Terrance turned it over to reveal a picture of Queen Medaron etched into the surface. “Your father said you would know what that is. And that you did the right thing the day you used it. He was proud of you.”

Terrance clenched his fingers tight around the power stone, a stone identical to the one he used in the Terrian weapon to kill his father on Saint’s Isle. Terrance broke into sobs, unable to control his sorrow.

Wiiguard stood, wanting to give the grieving son some alone time with his mate. “He said that, by using that stone, you not only saved your queen that day, you saved your father. For had he not gone over the edge and had his brother not locked him away for eternity, he never would have realized how wrong he had been. Or how much he loved you and your mother. I will take my leave. Stay as long as you’d like.”

SPICE

Medi hugged her parents tightly when they stepped off the helicopter. EJ did the same with his mother.

“Thank God you are both safe,” Medi said, not wanting to let go of either parent.

“We were so worried,” EJ said, holding his mother.

Kumiko and Cho Gin didn’t know what all the fuss was about. They were just glad to see their grandparents, especially Grandma and Grandpa Landers. They were supposed to be going away on vacation for a long time.

“Did you change your mind about leaving?” Cho Gin grinned.

“We still plan on visiting with your great-grandmother, but instead of us going to see her, she is going to come here for a few days so she can meet you,” Terrance answered. “Then she, your Grandmother, and I are going to go see some special houses for a while.”

“Can we go too?” Kumiko asked. She liked visiting new houses.

“Not this time, Sweetheart,” Teerdomay said.

“Are you going too?” Kumiko asked Kiijon and Europa.

“No, we are going to stay here with you two,” Europa smiled. She had had enough excitement to last a while. She had no plans on going anywhere for at least the next year, if she had her way.

“Neema,” shouted Mary and Amber, as KaaZee and Sunam carried the twins over. Both girls grabbed onto their Oonock grandparents, not wanting to let go. But then they saw their other grandparents. “Gma, Gpa,” they yelled, holding out their arms for hugs.

“It appears you have been greatly missed,” Kiijon teased.

“Always, Dattwa,” EJ said. It was then that the prince saw Swaybuk standing back a few feet. EJ immediately rushed over, taking his large former protector into his arms. “Are you ever going to stop scaring me? You may not be my protector any longer, but I still need you, Swaybuk.”

“Sorry, Sire,” Swaybuk answered. “This time the danger was not of my doing.”

“I cannot wait to hear all about it,” EJ stated. “And who might I ask is this?”

“Believe it or not, Your Majesty, this is my nephew, Wiiguard.”

“Your nephew?” a surprised EJ asked. “I never knew you had a nephew. Where did you find him?”

“Neither did I. He was with JeffRa,” Swaybuk answered, waiting to see his prince’s reaction.

“JeffRa?” an astonished EJ cried. “He was the one behind the attack?”

“No, he was the one that saved your sister, mother and Terrance,” Kiijon replied, deeply amused at his son’s reaction.

“Wow. We are doing nothing until I hear the entire story about what happened,” EJ declared, as he searched all the Oonock faces around. “Is he here too?”

“Unfortunately no, Your Majesty,” Wiiguard replied, hanging his head in sorrow. “My Master died saving Princess Misso. He has returned to the Waters of Life.”

“The Waters of Life?” a really confused prince asked. “But Grandfather said JeffRa could never be allowed to flow out into the oceans, that the damage and destruction he could inflict would be tremendous.”

“Things have changed. Your Grandparents welcomed him with open arms. Your Father and Swaybuk can tell you what happened,” Europa stated. “I am going to stay out here and enjoy life and my grandchildren.”

“Medi, feel free to go with Enok,” Teerdomay announced. “Your Father and I will watch the girls with Europa.”

“Thanks, Mom, but I think I’d rather stay out here with you,” Medi said. “Having your parents almost murdered makes one want to spend time with them.” She walked over and kissed EJ on the cheek. “You don’t mind if I skip the briefing, do you, Sweetheart?”

“Not at all, My Love,” EJ replied. “I will see you in a little bit.” He hurried toward the Command Room, almost tripping over Ospree, who was standing behind him. As he hurried into the house, he heard Swaybuk cough silently, “Adult”, and immediately slowed his canter into a fast walk. Although his heart was pounding with excitement and anticipation, he made himself act like the adult he was supposed to me. Upon reaching the room, he took a seat and calmly waited for Swaybuk and his father. He barely noticed that the new Oonock, Swaybuk’s nephew, accompanied them.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather wait until after dinner to hear this?” Kiijon teased.

“Dattwa, I am trying to do what you and Swaybuk have told me and handle things like a mature Oonock,” EJ said, forcing a smile onto his face. “But the youngling in me is about ready to explode, so I would really appreciate it if you would tell me about JeffRa and what happened.”

“He has been acting very mature, Your Majesty,” Swaybuk stated.

“That he has,” Kiijon laughed. “This is what happened.” For the next fifteen minutes, Kiijon explained to EJ about the attack, JeffRa’s heroic saving of his sister and JeffRa’s pardon by his brother. Both Swaybuk and Wiiguard filled in any sparse areas, giving the young prince a very detailed account of what had transpired. So much so, that EJ had only a few small questions to ask.

“We owe General McDouglas big time,” EJ stated, imagining what would have happened if the military had not intervened.

“That we do,” Kiijon agreed. “And we will have a chance to do so tomorrow or the next day when he arrives. We also learned that JeffRa was not behind the attacks, as we presumed he was. It has been mostly Mr. Haddad and possibly a few other humans.”

“But what about the explosion in San Francisco?” EJ asked. “Bendicore was used. Humans do not have bendicore.”

“Unfortunately, that is no longer true,” Swaybuk stated. “Wiiguard has informed us that two small bendicore bombs and a leveler were stolen from the Complex that Spinner attacked. One was used in the first attempt to kill Prince TJ.”

“While the second bomb is of some concern, it is the leveler that has us the most worried,” Kiijon said.

“I do not know what a leveler is,” EJ replied.

“The much larger leveler is what JeffRa used to destroy Mars and reduce it to the lifeless rock it is today,” Swaybuk explained. “The one the size of the leveler missing is probably what JeffRa used to destroy the Third City. It’s capable of disintegrating the hardest things available on Earth – steel, granite, even diamonds. Its blast was so powerful at the Third City that it not only destroyed half our fortress in one blast, it caused the ground to literally open up and swallow people. If a human used the leveler and the small bomb together, he or she could reduce New York City, LA, London, Paris or even Mount Himalaya to a layer of fine powder in twenty seconds.”

“Why would JeffRa have such a weapon if he did not intend to use it?” EJ asked, looking directly at Wiiguard.

“Actually, JeffRa was trying to do what you do,” Wiiguard replied. “About a year ago, My Master went and cleaned out an old weapons bunker he had buried in the Middle East. With all the fighting in that region, he feared what would happen if the humans ever discovered what he had buried there. He disassembled almost everything, except for the two small bombs and the leveler. I’m not sure why he kept the bombs, but I know he hoped to use to leveler to help the locals around the Complex with electricity. It’s a very poor region, and he knew it would be years before they would get the free electricity, so he thought he’d help them, although he used the pretense that it was for our compound.”

“How do you know it wasn’t?” Swaybuk asked.

“My Father told me,” Wiiguard smiled. “Father always saw through most of My Master’s plans and he knew how fond he was of the children in the village. I am sure you will find this hard to believe, but your great-grandfather loved children.”

“Then why did he kidnap and threaten my two oldest daughters?” EJ demanded.

“Actually, that wasn’t JeffRa either,” Kiijon said. “Spinner was the original one who kidnapped the girls, as we already knew. What we didn’t know was that JeffRa rescued them before some Coalition took them. He had to act like he wanted to blackmail you so the Coalition would believe he was on their side.”

“I still find it hard to believe that Spinner was behind it,” EJ said, now standing and pacing the room. “And unless there is some proof that it was her, I refuse to believe it.”

“Actually, I believe there is,” Swaybuk sadly stated. “Both Kumiko and Cho Gin told us that Spinner had brought them new toys and clothes at the cabin, all of which were left behind when they were kidnapped. And how did she know that the girls were missing unless she knew where they were supposed to be? No, Spinner knew because she was the one who hid them away somewhere.”

“But why?” EJ asked.

“I don’t know, but we can speak with Cho Gin,” Kiijon said. “She’s older and will know what happened, if Spinner ever visited them before they were taken to the Complex.”

“I supposed JeffRa was innocent in regards to the huge price on my head too?” EJ asked.

“Afraid so,” Kiijon answered. “From what we’ve learned, everything that has happened within this past year has not been JeffRa, but humans.”

“So what do we do about this leveler thing?” EJ asked.

“Pray,” Kiijon replied.

“If you will excuse me, Your Majesties, I need to retrieve the other half of this amulet,” Swaybuk said, placing JeffRa’s amulet on the table.

“The Keeper’s amulet,” EJ said. “Did JeffRa give you that too?”

“As a matter of fact, he did,” Swaybuk said, smiling at his confused Prince. “Along with the coordinates of where to find the Keeper. I need to talk with Hygone and find out how to awaken him once I find him. Sire, would you mind taking Wiiguard to Jazee so someone can show him where to bunk. He’ll also need to be evaluated so we can determine where would be a good fit for him.”

“Do you have any expertise?” EJ asked.

“I’m pretty good with electronics,” Wiiguard stated. “Hacking into top-secret, unbreakable servers, surveillance equipment, and the like.”

“Really?” an interested EJ asked. “We are going to have to talk. But first, I am going to go with Swaybuk to visit a friend of ours, Hygone. Dattwa, can you tell Medi I will be gone for a short while.”

“Sure,” Kiijon laughed, wondering why the king was suddenly the messenger boy. He watched as his son left the room, both his former protector and his new protector at his side. “Come on, Wiiguard. Let’s go find a place to lay your head tonight. And then after that, I believe it will be lunch time.”

____________

Upon his return from meeting Hygone, Swaybuk met with EJ, King Kiijon, Jazee, Ospree and Tigbee in the Command Room to discuss the trip to free the Keeper.

“Any idea when you plan to leave?” Jazee asked.

“I have to wait for Windar,” Swaybuk replied. “I understand she should be returning to the estate the day after tomorrow?”

“Yes,” Kiijon answered. “She has been a great asset to Forbee in transporting the piiquid from the fish farm to the Taiwan Strait.”

“Did Forbee report anything new in his report today?” EJ asked.

“Not really,” Jazee replied. “Everything seems to be going well. The deadly bacteria is still dispersing. There was one interesting little tidbit, though. The Chinese government have asked those living along the coasts of China and Taiwan NOT to catch and eat the piiquid. Evidently, word has gotten out about the new food source and how delicious it is. Humans even like it raw, although I don’t know how anyone could eat piiquid that way; the taste is horrendous. Anyways, the Chinese government has requested two more deliveries of piiquid.”

“Can we afford that much?”

“Unfortunately, no,” Kiijon answered. “We’ve already drastically reduced the population at the original bacterial site, as well as at the Complex and the fish farm. At most, we can offer them a half shipment.”

“So if another bacterial outbreak happens somewhere else in the world, we have no piiquid to combat it?” Swaybuk asked.

“That is correct,” Kiijon replied.

“What about bringing more from Europa?” EJ asked. “That is where TJ got the lot for the fish farms.”

“A possibility, but we would have to bring them as fry, just as TJ did,” Kiijon stated. “It would be necessary to keep them in a pen, like the farm, until they can grow big enough to survive or not be eaten by everything out there in the ocean. We talking several months before they could be released into the wild.”

“What if we teach the Chinese how to farm them themselves?” EJ asked.

“Have you been talking to your sister?” Kiijon asked. “That was her number one suggestion.”

“No, but she is right,” EJ commented. “It is the perfect solution. And since the Chinese government already wants the critters, they should be willing to pay for the whole operation. Think of it, Dattwa. We want the humans to embrace the piiquid as a new food source so the oceans can be restored and not overfished. We thought we would have a hard time selling the idea, yet here is China practically begging for the piiquid. It is a win-win situation.”

“No entirely” Kiijon said. “Your sister also has suggested that she be allowed to go there and supervise the farming.”

“That is not acceptable,” Jazee immediately stated.

“That is something you, Mattwa and Jazee need to decide,” EJ replied, not wishing to get caught in that problem. “We have gotten a little off course. Might I suggest we return to Swaybuk’s problem for the moment?”

“Yes, by all means,” Kiijon answered. “Swaybuk, please continue.”

“With Hygone’s help, I was able to retrieve the partial amulet from Earth’s FarCore,” Swaybuk continued. “When I placed JeffRa’s amulet beside the one in FarCore, the two immediately combined into one amulet. While the coordinates were faintly visible on JeffRa’s amulet, when the two became one, the new amulet clearly showed the location of where JeffRa supposedly imprisoned the Keeper, bringing a new set of problems. If we can reach the location, we will still need to follow the few clues JeffRa gave me as he laid dying: a dead tree that stands in the middle of the blue pool inside the mountain.”

“Why do you say the coordinates give you a new set of problems?” EJ asked. “Where is this tree located?”

“In the Amazon jungle,” Swaybuk replied. “Smack dab in the middle of the Upper Envira River region, where the indigenous tribe of Korubo Indians live. The entire area is protected by FUNAI, Brazil’s Indigenous Affairs Agency. It’s strictly off limits. Not even airplanes are allowed to fly over the area. The Korubo Indians have had almost no contact with the outside world, and FUNAI and the Brazilian government want to keep it that way.”

“Perhaps President Onsted could help us get permission to enter the area,” Jazee suggested.

“No, not even the President can help here,” Swaybuk reported. “And even if he could, it would takes months, even years, to cut through all the red tape involved with entering that area. I fear we are going to have to sneak into Brazil, get as close to the area as possible, then walk the rest of the way in undetected.”

“And how do you propose to do that?” Kiijon asked.

“Once we reach as far as civilization will take us, I believe we will need to transform into jaguars or tapirs and hope some native doesn’t shoot us,” Swaybuk laughed.

“Well, I do not like the sound of that,” EJ immediately commented.

“Nor do I,” Kiijon said. “There has to be another way.”

“None that I have been able to discover,” Swaybuk. “We’re not invisible. And we can’t travel through that part of the Amazon in human form.”

Kiijon stood and began to pace around the room, deep in thought. He stopped, a big grin on his face. “Maybe you can’t travel through the jungle as humans, but you might be able to travel as Oonocks.”

“Oonocks, Your Majesty?” a confused Swaybuk asked. “I don’t understand.”

“Bird Men, to be precise,” Kiijon replied. “I wish Jeanip was here. He’d know about this. I only know from hearsay. And you are probably not that aware of it, because you were always out on patrol at the Third City.”

“I remember the term ‘Bird Men’”, Swaybuk stated. “It’s what the natives around our Third City called us. ‘Bird Men’, because we flew.”

“That’s right,” Kiijon said. “And, apparently, our legend spread throughout the indigenous people in that area and along the Amazon, for several years ago I saw a documentary on several of the tribes. Many of them had drawings of very tall men in speeders. They called them ‘Bird Men’ and told of how they came down from the sky and how a great battle was fought with other ‘gods’ from the sky when their grandfather’s grandfather lived. They told how these Bird Men transformed into horses, jaguars, tapirs and other forest animals; how they were able to do extraordinary things; how their city glowed with light without heat at night; and much more.”

“Do you really think, Dattwa, that the natives that far into the remote Amazon would know of us?” EJ asked, a smile now on his face. “The Third City was destroyed a long time ago.”

“And a ways away from their locations,” Swaybuk added.

“True, but our legend still lives,” Kiijon said. “Some years after we returned to the Complex, Jeanip and Chancee returned to the area to search once more for our Indian friends that saved our lives. This time they found them and stayed with them for several weeks. Word of Chancee and Jeanip’s visit spread throughout the jungle, and members from several tribes came to see the Bird Men for themselves. They would have carried the legend back to their people.”

“Again, Your Majesty, I do not see how that will help us,” Swaybuk stated.

“Because you can go in by speeder,” Kiijon replied. “You can travel over to the East Coast and pick up one of the hidden speeders, then speed underwater down the Atlantic to the Amazon River. The river averages about a hundred and thirty feet deep this time of year, so you should have no problem flying up her. Once you get as far as you can go, you can exit the water and travel above the canopy, avoiding detection. If you run into any indigenous Indians, they will recognize the speeder and believe you are Bird Men returning to the area. You can even transform into something for them. And the best part is, with Anew’s powers, she can keep you protected, if need be, with a force shield.”

“This could work,” Swaybuk smiled, reaching into his pants pocket and removing something. He placed his closed fist on the table, then opened it to reveal the shiny golden starship the native girl had given him when at Puma Punku. “When we stopped at the ruins of our Third City, there was a small native girl who motioned for me to come towards her. When I did, she gave me this, then disappeared. No one else saw her.”

“Who was she?” EJ asked.

“Anew said she was a forest spirit, sent to guide us,” Swaybuk replied. “Maybe she was trying to tell me how to find the Keeper, to become a Bird Man.”

“Do you really think the natives will believe that you are a Bird Man?” Jazee asked.

“They will if I bring them spice. Queen Medaron used to have us drop packages of spice over the villages. It was her way of thanking the natives for all the gifts they left at our gates. I am sure if we brought some and dropped it again, they would not question who we are.”

“Do you remember what it was?” EJ asked.

“No, I don’t” Swaybuk confessed. “But it’s a familiar smell. I smell it sometimes in Doogon’s cooking. Maybe she would know.”

Jazee pushed the buzzer and, within minutes, Doogon was at the door. “Did you need something, Your Majesty? Coffee, water or something to eat?”

“Some coffee would be nice, but that is not why we sent for you, Doogon,” Kiijon replied. “I was wondering if you remember back to the Third City when Queen Medaron used to have the soldiers drop little packages of spice over the Indian villages.”

“Yes, Sire,” Doogon answered. “I used to help her with the packages.”

“Do you remember what spice the packages contained?” Kiijon asked.

“There were actually several kinds, but the natives seemed to enjoy an Europian spice called ‘gashmere’ the most. That and ‘toolrig bark’.”

“I don’t suppose you have any gashmere and toolrig bark handy?” Swaybuk asked.

“I have a canister of each in the pantry,” Doogon said, wondering why the males wanted to know about spices.

“Is there enough to make a hundred or so of Queen Medaron’s little packages?” Kiijon asked.

“No, Sire,” Doogon replied. “I don’t keep that much on hand. But Chancee would. He grows it up at his place. Not quite as good as Europian grown, but pretty close.”

“How much would you need?” Jazee asked.

“For a hundred bundles? I’d say at least ten to twelve pounds of each,” Doogon stated.

“Jazee, notify Chancee right away that we need fifteen pounds of both gashmere and toolrig bark,” Kiijon ordered. “If he doesn’t have enough, see if we can get some from the Complex. As a last resort, we’ll ask King Jun to send us some.”

“Right away, Sire,” Jazee said, leaving the room to go send Chancee the message.

“If I am no longer needed, Sire, I will go get the coffee,” Doogon announced. “Would anyone like anything else?”

“Is there any lemonade?” Swaybuk asked.

“Always,” Doogon said, smiling, as she hurried from the room.

“And maybe some muffins,” EJ shouted after the housekeeper.

For the next two hours, the group developed their plan, refined it and refined it again until all believed it was flawless. Rather than using one of the hidden speeders, it was decided Swaybuk and Windar would use one of the speeders housed at the estate and travel across land from California to the Gulf of Mexico, then over to and around Florida into the Atlantic. It was the same route the Waters had been using for decades when they needed to be on the east side of the Americas.

To help with the journey, a speeder was modified to look like the speeders from several thousand years before – something the natives would more readily recognize and accept. Although the Oonocks had not mastered the art of invisibility yet, this speeder contained the latest Oonock technology, allowing it to send out disruptive pulses that confused radar and made it almost undetectable. It also contained a more advanced force shield to protect those inside. It was faster, lighter and more maneuverable. Its only drawback was the inside dimensions. It was designed for two fliers, with a possibility for a third crew member if absolutely necessary, making it a very tight squeeze. None of the Oonocks knew what form the Keeper would take when he awakened and how much room inside the speeder he would need. Also, if he released Anew from Swaybuk’s body, there would be four passengers returning in the speeder – an impossibility at the moment. The engineers worked around the clock redesigning the inside of the craft, rerouting critical systems, cutting down on the thickness of the seats, making the sides thinner while maintaining the ship’s integrity. After just two days, they had managed to find an additional six inches on both sides of the craft, making it plausible for four much crunched passengers to fly together. Thankfully, they would only have to fly that packed until they reached the open ocean, where one or two of the passengers could exit and continue on as a whale.

It was also decided that, due to the limited space and the necessity for one or two to eventually travel outside the speeder, they would return home by way of the Pacific Ocean. It was estimated that the journey would take between six and seven hours to complete, increasing the chance that their speeder would be seen or detected on advanced military radar, even with the new scrambling device, but it was felt the risk was necessary. Besides, a lot of the area they would be flying over was uninhabited. And, with luck, they would be able to make the flight at night, thus shielding their presence from the naked eye in the more populated areas.

While a good plan, the one major flaw was that, even with the inside modifications, no more than four passengers could return, meaning only two could go. And it was too dangerous to take two speeders – the second one would raise the possibility of being detected tenfold. Either Tigbee or Windar would have to remain behind. Tigbee was their protector, their guard who assured they survived their trip. But Windar was the heart of the expedition, keeping Anew grounded and approachable. Due to those facts, it was decided that Windar would still be the one to accompany Swaybuk. Tigbee, along with another guard, would escort them as far as the mouth of the Amazon. After that, the Oonocks were on their own.

With every believable scenario planned for and the packages of spice ready, Swaybuk waited for Windar’s return.

A GHOST NAMED RAGJAW

“Any word from Swaybuk?” Medi asked from the bathroom, as EJ walked into their bedroom.

“Not since yesterday when they reached the mouth of the Amazon,” EJ replied. “Now comes the worse part of the mission – radio silence. We will hear nothing from them until they leave the Amazon River, and then it will only be a double ping letting us know they are over land. When they reach their coordinates, there will be another double ping, and another one if they find and release the Keeper.” He walked over to their bed and sat down. “What is this?” he asked, as a box slid down the blanket into his hip.

“Your Mother sent it up for you,” Medi replied, as she dried her freshly washed face. “You know she, Doogon and Sinwee have been cleaning Uncle Earon and Aunt EeRee’s home. Besides cleaning up after the fire, Mattwa is packing up TJ’s items for Uncle Earon. She wants you to go through the things in the box and see if you want any of them. For some reason, she thought you might.”

Curious, EJ opened the box and began to sort through the items. They were mostly mementoes TJ had collected over the years that meant something to him – a rock, a butterfly inside a glass case, his favorite marble, several pictures, including several of him, TJ and Giibold as boys. As he lifted the pictures, EJ suddenly came across one of just him and TJ, standing beside their Grandfather on the old dock that used to stretch out from the beach. The two boys were standing there buck naked, their fishing poles in one hand and a string of caught fish in the other. Immediately, EJ’s eyes filled with tears. This was taken shortly after they had arrived on Earth because EJ had refused to wear clothes. The boys often went fishing with their Grandfather as a bribe to get EJ to dress. He could fish as long as afterwards he put on at least a shirt for the remainder of the day.

He wiped the tear away from his cheek and set the precious picture on the bed beside him. When he averted his eyes back into the box, he saw two fishing flies – the ones in the picture. Immediately, the sorrow of his loss overwhelmed him and he began to sob loudly.

“Enok, what’s wrong?” Medi asked, as he raced from the bathroom, her mouth covered in toothpaste. She sat down beside him, making the contents on the bed roll everywhere. “Are you hurt or sick?”

Unable to speak at first, he held up the precious fishing flies. “He’s, he’s really gone. TJ,” EJ sobbed, gasping for breath between his sobs.

“Yes, My Love, TJ’s really gone,” Medi replied, taking EJ into her arms and carefully placing the box in his hands further up the bed so the items did not become damaged. She held her mate, allowing the sorrow he had been holding inside him to finally be released. Although he had grieved some, he had never really accepted TJ’s death or mourned his loss. For ten minutes she held him, saying nothing, just being there to comfort him. Finally, he stopped sobbing and raised his head off her shoulder. As she let go and he sat back, she saw the two fishing flies still in her mate’s hand.

“Grandfather taught us how to make these,” EJ stated, using one of his hands to wipe the tears from his eyes so he could see them. “We used them every time we went fishing for years. I never knew what happened to them or that TJ had kept them.”

“They must have been special to him,” Medi said, lightly touching them with her fingers. She picked up the picture of the two young boys. “That time you two spent together must have been a special time for him.”

“For us both,” EJ replied, giving a slight chuckle. “We often talked about going up to Uncle Chancee’s and running around naked and fishing again. But we both were always so busy we never took the time for the trip. We figured we had another ten thousand years to go fishing. Even the bounty on my head never made us think that one of us could be lost; something I deeply regret.” He raised his eyes to look into his mate’s. “Promise me, Medi, that you will never let me make that mistake again. No matter what the crisis, make me spend time with those I love and make time for the little things in life, like camping and fishing.”

“I will, My Beloved,” Medi replied.

“Why are humans so greedy, so hateful, so heartless?” he somberly asked. “There was no purpose to TJ’s death except to make someone’s purse fatter than it already is.”

“Thankfully, not all humans are that way,” Medi softly replied. “Some of us aren’t too bad and do value life – all life.”

“That they do,” EJ replied, raising his eyes to look at hers. “I love you, Medi, so very, very much.”

“As I love you, Enok.” She leaned forward and gently kissed him, softly at first, then allowing their kiss to grow stronger until it blossomed into a desire of want and need. Once more the two lovers consummated their love, both grieving for the loss of their prince, both determined to live their life better and richer in remembrance of him.

____________

Swaybuk issued two pings as he hovered above the jungle, looking for a mountain or a body of water as in the clue JeffRa had given him. But neither were visible; only mile after mile of trees could be seen. He could see up ahead, perhaps a good ten or fifteen miles, the peaks of mountains poking their heads above the canopy, but not where they hovered.

“These are the right coordinates, but I don’t see a damn thing except trees,” Swaybuk said.

“That canopy is so thick, there could be an entire city down there and we’d never see it,” Windar replied, staring down at the forest. “We need to find a spot and sit down on the ground.”

“Where? I don’t see an opening anywhere,” Swaybuk stated. “And there’s no way I can maneuver through all those branches. I wonder how JeffRa managed it.”

“For one thing, it was several thousand years ago and the area could have looked a lot different,” Windar said. “Could we somehow land on top the trees?”

“It wouldn’t be my first choice,” Swaybuk chuckled. “If a good storm came along it could topple the speeder to the ground, and I, for one, do not relish the idea of having to walk out of here.”

“What about blasting a section clear?” Windar suggested. “Something just big enough for us to land in.”

“Might have to,” Swaybuk answered.

“No, Swaybuk,” Anew hurriedly said. “You’ll injure the forest and all those that live beneath her cover.”

“Then what do you suggest?”

“Drift over to that large tree to your left, the one that’s taller than the rest,” Anew instructed. As Swaybuk did as requested, he noticed the branches beside the tree on the right begin to sway and move, opening up to show a clearing below.

“Are you moving the trees?” a surprised Swaybuk asked.

“This forest is alive,” Anew stated. “Its trees are old and have acquired an intelligence and life of their own. Somehow I am able to speak to them. They will allow us to enter their world. And Swaybuk, there’s something else.”

“What’s that?”

“I can sense the Keeper,” Anew replied, joy in her voice inside Swaybuk’s head. “He’s here.”

“Anew says she can sense the Keeper,” Swaybuk relayed to Windar, who was watching in amazement as the huge tree limbs were parting, creating a passage to the forest floor below. “And that the trees will allow us entry.”

“Unbelievable,” Windar stated, as she continued to stare at the opening growing before her eyes.

Carefully, Swaybuk began to descend, carefully bypassing the branches and leaves. It was a tight squeeze, but somehow he managed.

“Stop,” Anew said. “Hold the speeder here for a moment. There are several families of gray mice that need to move before we can land. And the other animals are moving some of the debris so we’ll have a soft surface to land on.” As Windar and Swaybuk looked below, both were amazed to see the floor was filled with all types of birds and land animals picking up rocks and tree limbs, creating a clearing for the speeder.

“I don’t believe it,” Swaybuk said, watching the critters. “It’s like something out of a magic book – all the animal working together to clear some land. Anew, are you making this happen?”

“No,” she answered. “The trees are. They, the birds and all the rest of the animals are glad we have come to rescue the Keeper. Apparently, they know him and have been protecting him all these years.”

“I see it, but I’m having trouble accepting it,” Windar said, as Swaybuk and her amulets glowed bright blue. “There has to be over a hundred birds down there of every imaginable color, working with jaguars, kinkajous, anteaters, tapirs, monkeys, snakes and everything else to clear the area.”

Once the area was cleared, Anew told Swaybuk it was safe to finish their descent. He landed the speeder softly on the forest floor. As they looked out the window, all the animals were gone, returning to their places in the forest.

“Do you think it’s safe to get out?” Windar asked, scouring the area for some sign of the life that had been there moments before.

“We’re not going to find the Keeper staying in here,” Swaybuk said, reaching under the seat and removing his weapon. “But keep alert, just in case.” He opened the hatch and stepped down from the speeder. He then helped Windar down. Using his locator, he pointed toward the area where they had seen the mountain peaks. “Looks like we go in that direction.”

Before Windar could respond, she felt something prick the back of her neck. So did Swaybuk. Within seconds, both laid unconscious on the forest floor, poison darts dangling from their necks, their drugs coursing through their blood. After several minutes, a group of six nomadic humans emerged from the forest.

_____________

EJ and Medi, along with Europa and Kiijon, were out in the bay playing with the girls. Since Earon, EeRee, Terrance and Teerdomay’s departures, the family spent a lot of time together, trying to take comfort from each other to combat the loneliness they felt without the other members of their family. Sunam was watching from the shore with Jazee, while KaaZee, Ospree and Gormee swam around the girls as dolphins, making all four giggle with excitement. Kumiko knew that next to her pony, this was the best reason to live on the estate – to play with dolphins. The twins slapped the water in glee, grabbing and hugging the dolphins as they came near. Although trying to not act like a kid, Cho Gin loved throwing the rings out across the bay for the dolphins to go chase.

“Prince Enok, when you have a moment, you have a message,” Staybo said when he was close enough for the prince to hear. “It is nothing urgent. Just a report from NASA.”

“Did you happen to bring it with you?” EJ asked.

“Yes, Sire,” Staybo replied, wondering why the prince would ask such a question. He always had messages with him.

“Well, read it.”

“Yes, Sire,” Staybo said, as he took out a piece of paper from his pocket and opened it. He read:

Dear Mr. Waters,

I regret to inform you that today the last remaining section of the Larsen B shelf in the Antarctica has disintegrated. The Larsen C shelf is also gone. The temperature recorded at both sites was recorded to have risen another .6 degree Fahrenheit, making the mean temperature 6.5 degrees warmer than 1950. With the collapse of both ice shelves, there is nothing to hold back the glaciers. We expect to see a dramatic rise in sea levels as the glaciers dump in to the Antarctic Ocean. Our scientists estimate that, the ocean levels could easily reach three foot rise within our lifetime.

Kyle Glasmer

NASA

“Thank you, Staybo,” EJ said.

“Three feet,” Europa stated, as she tried to keep a smile on her face for the girls. “That will be devastating to the coastal areas. Already we have seen many coastal areas abandoned because of the rise in sea level. Parts of New York, Florida, Louisiana, and other coastal states have lost valuable land. Vanuatu practically no longer exists. Several Hawaiian Islands are gone, as are the Kiribati Islands, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Micronesia, Palau and many islands around India and New Guinea. A rise of three feet will make hundreds of islands disappear, leaving their inhabitants with nowhere to go.”

“For over ten thousand years, the Larsen Ice Shelves had held back the glaciers,” EJ replied. “Scientists warned the human race for years what would happen if they were lost, but they did not listen. Now they are paying for their ignorance and there is nothing I can do to stop it.”

“I know some of the countries that were lost were able to purchase land from neighboring countries to relocate their people,” Medi said. “You don’t think these new lost islands could do the same?”

“Not with a loss of this magnitude,” Kiijon answered. “There won’t be enough land available for purchase. And with the increase in droughts and horrendous storms, that land that is habitable is becoming less and less. EJ, have your drastic measures helped at all?”

“Some, Dattwa,” EJ replied. “My last report stated that global warming has slowed considerably, but not at the poles. Their warming rate is three times as fast as the rest of the world. And since some of the horrific storms have started to subside, the fossil fuel industries are pushing to return to the way things used to be.”

“All they care about is how much money is in their pocket,” Medi angrily stated. “They don’t care how much their fossil fuels are destroying this planet.”

“That’s not completely true, My Love,” EJ objected. “Not many, but some companies have seen the truth and are doing everything possible to cut down on emissions. Some have invested large sums of money into my new power plants, helping fund the plants for those countries who cannot afford them. They continue to find alternate energy sources, such as wind and solar power. Even Ford and GMC are now working with Giibold on how to design a car that can work on bendicor and needs no fossil fuel at all. These cars are even better than electric cars.”

“How close are they coming to a product?” Kiijon asked.

“Last I talked to Giibold, he estimated they were about nine months away from testing their first vehicle,” EJ replied. “In an attempt to help save the planet, Ford and GM have united and are working together to engineer the car.”

“The rising sea levels will also affect us,” Kiijon stated. “Already, we’ve lost about four inches of our beach. A three-foot rise in sea level will put the water past the house. Since the forest fire cleared out a lot of the trees on the mountain, we might want to think about building our new residents up higher.”

“A dramatic rise in sea level will also mean a possible reduction in food and resources,” Medi said softly, making sure the older girls did not hear her.

“True, meaning our time to relocate to Pacific Blue may be fast approaching,” Europa stated.

“Then you will be happy to know that I received word from Dar that Pacific Blue will be completed next week,” Kiijon replied. “And if need be, she is ready to accept her new passengers as early as today.”

“Enough talk of future Armageddons,” Europa announced. “The sun is starting to drop down to the ocean and I believe it is time for us to return to land. Kumiko, Cho Gin, it is time to head back to the house.”

“Not yet, Grandma,” shouted Kumiko. “Can’t we stay for a few more minutes?”

“Not today,” Europa answered.

“You heard your Grandmother,” EJ shouted. “Besides, you two still have stall duty to finish in the barn.”

“I hate poop duty,” Kumiko grumbled, as she said goodbye to the dolphins and swam past the adults.

“We can always sell Blacky and Lady so you two do not have to shovel horse poop,” EJ commented.

“We love poop duty, Dattwa,” Cho Gin said, quickly grabbing her sister and rushing toward the shore.

“I thought maybe you did,” EJ laughed.

____________

Swaybuk began to open his eyes. His thoughts were foggy and he grasped at reality, trying to determine where he was. As his memory cleared, he remembered bringing the speeder down through the opening in the trees and exiting with Windar. Then there was nothing.

“Anew, are you awake?” Swaybuk asked.

“Yes, Swaybuk,” she stated. “You have been the one unconscious, not me. I have been awake the entire time waiting for you and Windar to awaken.”

“Windar, where is she?” Swaybuk shouted, trying to sit up, but having little luck as the room spun, making him dizzy and sick to his stomach.

“Just lay still, Swaybuk,” came Windar’s voice, as she rushed into the hut after hearing Swaybuk call her name. “It takes about five minutes for the effects of the poison to wear off.”

“We were poisoned?” Swaybuk asked, desperately trying to clear the fogginess from his mind.

“Yes, as soon as we stepped foot on the ground,” Windar explained. “Apparently, the locals thought we could be a threat and neutralized us until they were sure. The only reason they didn’t kill us is because of the speeder. Apparently King Kiijon was right – the legend of the Bird Men is known amongst the indigenous tribes. Fearing the wrath of the gods if we were Bird Men and they killed us, they only knocked us out until they could determine the truth.”

“How did you manage to convince them we were Bird Men?”

“I didn’t. It was Anew.”

“Anew?”

“Of course, Swaybuk,” Anew replied. “You and Windar were in no shape to explain to these people who we were. Since I have no body, the poison did not affect me, so I was able to talk to them through your body, while you lay there on the ground.”

“But how did you know their language? These people have been isolated for thousands of years. Their speech is specialized to them.”

“While you lay there, I listened,” Anew replied. “After a while I was able to understand certain words. Then the rest fell into place. Perhaps it is the Ancient in me. Or perhaps I am channeling the Keeper’s knowledge. I have no way of knowing. All that I do know is that I can speak their dialect.”

“Something I am very grateful for,” Swaybuk said, slowly rising to a sitting position. Thankfully, this time, the room did not spin as before. “Were you able to learn anything?”

“I learned much,” Anew answered. “They have many stories about the Bird Men and what they were able to do. But they do have some reservations, even with the packages of spice they found inside the speeder. Bird Men have not been seen for many years.”

“No, were you able to find out where the mountain, pool or dead tree might be?” Swaybuk asked.

“They did not mention them.”

“You didn’t ask?”

“No. Should I have?”

“Yes, if we want to find the Keeper.”

“Would you like me to ask them now?”

“The sooner the better.”

“Better than what?” Anew asked.

With Windar’s help, Swaybuk was able to stand, although he was still a little shaky. “Just ask them, Anew.” Slowly, he walked out of the hut. As his eyes adjusted, he saw that the building was a large, oblong hut made of saplings and a roof of palm leaves. At the far end, sitting before it, was a group of natives, presumably the Indian tribe that had kidnapped them. Swaybuk estimated there were thirty-five individuals, including several babies and eighteen younglings ranging in age. As he drew nearer, he was somewhat surprised to see one of the elders holding a scepter upon which was a hand-carved wooden image of a speeder with a jaguar sitting inside.

The male holding the scepter said something that Swaybuk did not understand. “He wants to know if you are ready to prove you are a Bird Man.”

“How am I supposed to do that?” Swaybuk silently asked Anew.

“I think they want us to transform into some kind of animal,” Windar said. “They’ve encountered outsiders before, always with disastrous results. They wished to make sure that we are who we say we are.”

“Very well,” Swaybuk said, as he began to remove his shoes, his socks and the remainder of his clothing. Standing their naked, he effortlessly transformed into a jaguar. He took several steps forward, growling, showing his canines in an effort to scare his audience. But the natives didn’t move and showed no sign of fear. In fact, they were smiling, shaking their heads in enjoyment, clapping their hands together in excitement.

The elder spoke again. “They want you to change into something, Windar, but not a jaguar.” Windar thought for a moment, thinking of transforming into a tiger, a hippo or a bear. But the Indians would not know such animals and might become frightened. Quickly running through her mind what large animals lived in the Amazon, she settled upon a large wild pig. Following suite, she removed her clothing and transformed into the wild pig. Again, the natives laughed and clapped.

The Indian women and children ran over to the two animals and began to run their hands over their fur, feeling the warmth of their bodies. Two of the children even climbed on top of Swaybuk, riding his back. After several minutes, the elder spoke and the children climbed down. They and the women returned to their seats before the long hut. Now the elders and warriors came forward, the warriors holding out in front of them primitive stone spears. They jeered and jabbed at the two Oonocks, mocking a hunt and kill. Not wanting the situation to escalate into something worrisome, Swaybuk transformed back into a human just as one of the warriors pushed his spear forward. The tip of the spear punctured Swaybuk’s skin, causing several drops of purple blood to flow down his stomach. The elder shouted something and immediately the warriors took several steps back, their spears still pointed at the two Oonocks while the elder stepped forward and ran his finger across the purple blood.

“He says his father’s father spoke of the Bird Men and their purple blood,” Anew translated. “As does the Grandfather of them all. He wants to know if you have come to stay.”

“Tell him no, that we are seeking a great Bird Man that was hidden here long ago when the Bird Men’s city was destroyed.” Swaybuk did not know when JeffRa had hidden the Keeper, but he didn’t think it mattered. He just needed a general reference of time for the elder to understand. “Tell him we have come to take him home.”

A very old female came forward and spoke to the elder. She looked at Swaybuk and asked something. “She wants to know if we come to take the Bird Man home like the Bird Men took those they hid beneath the lake long ago.”

Swaybuk looked at Windar, a huge look of surprise on his face. “They know what happened, Swaybuk. Could it be possible that these are the descendants of those that saved us at the Third City?”

“I don’t know,” Swaybuk replied. “Anew, ask them how they know about the Bird Men hidden at the bottom of the lake far away.” Anew translated. The elder laughed, then motioned to the long hut. Immediately the women and older girls hurried off.

“The elder asked that you join them for meal,” Anew stated. “He said all your questions will be answered shortly.”

“When? Today?” Swaybuk asked, eager to learn the truth of what the natives knew of the battle at the Third City and what happened afterwards.

“I remember hearing that you did not have a grain of patience, Swaybuk,” came a voice from inside the long hut. As he stared into the darkness beyond the hut’s entrance, he saw movement. Slowly a figure walked toward him, a tall, auburn-haired Oonock. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost, Commander.”

“Ragjaw?” Swaybuk asked, unable to believe his eyes. “Is it really you?”

“Here I am known as ‘Tinow’, which means Grandfather,” the stranger stated. “But I am Ragjaw, the son of Commander Clawtip of Their Majesties King Enok and Queen Medaron’s army and Highjaw.”

Ragjaw was quite surprised when Swaybuk suddenly grabbed him and hugged him tightly. “I can’t believe you’re alive. We searched for you and some of the other missing Oonock children for days. You were the only one we never found. What happened? Why didn’t you come back and join us?”

Feeling awkward, Ragjaw managed to slip out of Swaybuk’s embrace. He told the natives, who had their spears aimed at Swaybuk, ready to defend their Grandfather, that he was safe and that Swaybuk was not a threat, but an old friend.

“While I appreciate your excitement that I am still alive, there is no need for such a display of affection,” Ragjaw stated. “You’re lucky my Indian soldiers did not kill you.”

Swaybuk laughed. “Sorry, Ragjaw. You will find out that our new queen and king actively encourage such displays and tell us they love us quite often.”

Ragjaw took a step back, giving Swaybuk an unusual look of astonishment. “Surely, you are kidding?

“Afraid not.”

“You said new queen and king. Have King Enok and Queen Medaron stepped down already?”

A sorrowful look overshadowed Swaybuk’s face. “Both King Enok and Queen Medaron have returned to the Waters of Life. Their daughter, Europa, is now our queen, ruling with her mate, King Kiijon.”

“I’m sorry to hear of their passing,” Ragjaw replied. “I always hoped to see them again one day.” He turned to look at Windar. “And who, might I ask, is this lovely sub-adult?”

“This is my partner, Windar, daughter of Glendow and Essla,” Swaybuk replied. “Sister to Monarch EeRee. Speaker and Representative to the Orbs.”

“The Orbs?” Ragjaw repeated. “The Orbs my mother used to tell me stories about? You are very young to be their representative, Windar. I vaguely remember your mother. She and my mother used to pick berries together outside the city’s walls and I used to go with them as their lookout. It was forbidden to go outside the city, but they could never resist the taste of fresh grown berries. Said that those grown in the forest always tasted better than the ones grown in the city garden. I see you are as beautiful as your mother. Are your parents well?”

“Yes, they are living on Europa,” Windar innocently said.

“Europa?” Ragjaw asked, his knees almost buckling under him upon hearing his homeworld mentioned. He looked at Swaybuk. “Europa? Really? How? Did the other ships come back?”

Swaybuk laughed. “It appears we have a lot to discuss, Young Ragjaw. Let’s have that meal the elder spoke of, during which you can tell me how you are still alive and well, and Windar and I will tell you all about what has happened these past few thousand years.”

“Has it been that long?” Ragjaw stated, as he led both Oonocks to a place of honor at the meal.

WINDAR’S AWAKENING

Around a big bonfire, late into the night, Swaybuk explained to Ragjaw the major events that had happened to the Oonocks since the fall of the Third City. He didn’t mention the fact that he had an Ancient living inside him until the lost Oonock asked how he managed to speak to the natives in their own language while unconscious. Seeing no other way, Swaybuk explained about the Keeper and the Seeker inside him. Ragjaw laughed, thinking it quite amusing that Swaybuk had a female entity within him. After Swaybuk’s explanations, Ragjaw explained how he came to be with the natives and why he stayed all these years.

“A lot of what happened that day is a blur,” Ragjaw explained. “I remember the city coming under attack and us younglings being told to run into the forest and find somewhere to hide. I exited with a few others and we ran into three Terrians. Fortunately, my Mattwa and another youngling’s had accompanied us and were able to fire on the Terrians killing them, but I was injured. I think my Mattwa was killed, but I’m not sure. The only other think I remember is someone carrying me and placing me in some fracture, telling me to remain quiet until they returned. I must have lay there for days. When I finally was able to crawl out, everyone was gone. I was all alone and badly injured. To keep from bleeding to death, I packed my wounds the best I could with mud and grass, then dragged my retched body the long way to the lake. Sensing there might be predators at the lake, I transformed into a jaguar and finished clawing my way to the water. But as I grew nearer, I realized the lake edge was covered with natives. I didn’t know they were there guarding the injured Oonocks below. I saw a young Indian run toward me, his spear drawn, ready to end my life. But he didn’t kill me. He later told me that it was my packed wounds that led him to believe I was a lost Bird Man. He had no way to place me below with the others, so he carried me back to their camp, where he nursed me back to health. It was a slow process, and by the time I was well enough to return to the lake, the soldiers had already returned and removed the injured Oonocks below. I was still weak and knew I could not make it down the mountain by myself. Plus, I didn’t know the way back to the Complex or if there were still Terrians in the area. So I decided my best bet to survive was to remain with the natives and, perhaps in a few years, walk out with their assistance. But their kiiwon felt the area was cursed and no longer would provide shelter for his people, so the group moved further into the jungle.”

“That’s why when Jeanip went back to thank them, they were gone,” Swaybuk stated.

“So, he did come back,” Ragjaw said. “Now I wish I had waited by the lake.” The three Oonocks laughed. “Before I knew it, one year turned into ten, then a hundred. I lost track of all spans of time. A couple of times I thought I heard speeders overhead and climbed to the top of the trees to see if I could contact them. But, upon seeing them, I realized they were not speeders, but flying machines created by the humans. They had evolved greatly since the last time I had seen them and I feared for my natives’ safety. I knew the greed of men and knew that one day they would come to cut down the forest and destroy the natives. So I led them even further into the jungle, away from civilization and all its corrupt ways. So I have stayed with them, never having to hide my true identity, keeping them safe and well.” Ragjaw paused for a moment, a somber looking filling his face. “Might you know, Commander, did either of my parents survive? And what about my two brothers?”

“I’m sorry to report that many Oonocks were killed during the battle,” Swaybuk replied. “You said your parents’ names were Commander Clawtip and Highjaw?” Ragjaw nodded, holding his breath. “Neither of those names are familiar to me. But that does not necessarily mean they perished at the Third City. What were your brothers names?”

“Prezin and Lootip.”

“I don’t know anyone by that name either.”

“Wait, I think I do,” Windar said. “When I was on Europa, I met a medical assistant by the name of Lootip. Now that I think of it, he had your facial features, Ragjaw. He said his parents and two brothers were killed at the battle at the Third City. He could be your brother.”

“Something we will check into when we return to the Estate,” Swaybuk announced. “But what I need to know now is, do you know where we can find the Keeper?” Swaybuk at last asked.

“There is a place not far from here where the natives do not go,” Ragjaw answered. “It is a valley where strange things happen. The natives believe the forest gods live inside the valley. There are some caves that go inside the mountain.”

“Is there possibly water around it or inside it?” Windar asked.

“I do not know, Young Windar,” Ragjaw said with a smile. “I have never been down there. It is forbidden for anyone to enter the gods’ domain. But, as I said earlier, strange things have happened there. The trees in the valley seem to be alive. They move and are able to communicate. Sometimes a strange howl can be heard floating through the valley. The natives say there are strange creatures that protect the valley and will kill anyone who enters. If your Keeper is here, I would bet that is where he is.”

“How long would it take to go there?” Swaybuk asked.

“Not long,” Ragjaw replied. “But for now, it is late. Let us get some sleep. Tomorrow we will decide our next course of action.”

The next morning, to the sound of singing birds and flying insects and to the smell of food cooking over open fire pits, Swaybuk and Windar awoke inside the long hut. It was where the majority of the natives slept at night. Both were surprised at how well they rested on the pile of leaves they had been given.

Ragjaw had stated the night before that the fact an Ancient lived inside Swaybuk should remain a secret. The natives had many superstitions, and he was not sure how they would react to such news. Since they knew of the Bird Men’s powers, they did not question the fact that Swaybuk had spoken to them in their native tongue while unconscious.

As Swaybuk emerged from the hut he was surprised by the amount of sun light streaming in through the canopy. Evidently the morning sun was at just the right angle to shine through the opening in the tree canopy. By noon, the daylight would be gone and the canopy would block most of the light out again, putting the forest floor back into twilight. He blinked his eyes several times until they became accustomed to the unusual amount of light. When they did, he saw several of the older women were busy making some kind of cake from an unknown ground vegetable and some of the spice he had brought, placing the cakes over sticks hung above the burning embers of a pit fire. He also saw several fish cooking over the coals, their heads down, the stick entering through their mouth. An assortment of fruits and nuts lay in large palm leaves inside the eating area. Swaybuk wondered if the natives ate like this every day or if the feast was in honor of his and Windar’s arrival. Whichever it was, he had to admit it sure smelled good.

While the women were busy cooking, the children were running around the camp playing. The elder males were watching the activities of the tribe, chattering amongst themselves, often pointing toward Swaybuk and Windar. The younger men were sitting off to the side sharpening their spears, preparing poison darts, making rope and various others daily tasks. Ragjaw stated that the warriors were going to go out hunting after breakfast and were preparing their weapons. He said if Swaybuk liked, he could join them on the hunt. But since women were not allowed, Windar would need to remain behind. Not waiting to be separated from his companion, Swaybuk declined. He was hoping they would be able to persuade the elders to allow them to go into the forbidden valley and hunt for the entrance to where the Keeper was. But the elders were not so easily convinced. As far back as they could remember, they had been told never to step foot into the forbidden valley. Nor were they to allow outsiders into the valley. The gods would punish them and those who allowed them to enter. For five days Ragjaw, Windar and Swaybuk explained to the elders their need to rescue the Bird Man imprisoned inside the valley but no explanation, no pleading worked. Passage was withheld.

“I’m sorry, Swaybuk,” Ragjaw stated. “They can be a stubborn people. I don’t think they are going to budge, and if they don’t, you can’t enter the valley.”

“What if we just sneak in one night?” Windar asked.

“You’d be killed before you reached the bottom,” Ragjaw replied. “Now that they know of your intent, you are watched continuously to make sure you don’t try such a thing.”

“Is there nothing we can do?” Swaybuk asked.

“Only an act of the gods showing them they are wrong would make them change their mind,” Ragjaw said.

“But without the Keeper’s help, this planet is doomed,” Windar stated.

“Not for them,” Ragjaw replied. “They will be safe inside the protection of the forest, no matter what happens out there. No matter if the majority of life in the sea and on land dies off, life will continue here. We are so isolated, so protected from the outside world, that nothing can harm us.”

“But what if those on the outside begin to flock into the jungle as their food sources dwindle and die?” Swaybuk asked. “Humans are going to search for alternative food sources when the oceans and fields collapse. And, as you said, the forest here is protected and will continue to produce food. Outsiders are going to come here, taking everything they want, bringing with them disease. When that happens, your natives will not last over a few months.”

“We will go further into the forest,” Ragjaw replied, realizing Swaybuk spoke the truth. The outsiders would come.

“Eventually the outsiders will come from every direction,” Swaybuk stated. “There will be nowhere the forest people can go. They, like the rest of the world, will cease to be.”

“Do you really think, Swaybuk, the ecosystems around the world and the food sources will collapse?” a fearful Ragjaw asked.

“Both human and Oonock scientists have confirmed it.”

“How long do we have?”

“At best, ten years. Here, deep in the jungle maybe twelve or thirteen. They can’t escape what’s coming, Ragjaw. Only the Keeper can save them and this planet.”

“Then they must be made to see the future,” Ragjaw said. “The Oonock legends spoke of the Ancients and their great abilities. Do you think the one that is inside you could manage something extraordinary that would make the elders believe they have no future unless you enter the forbidden land?”

Swaybuk smiled. “I think she could come up with something.”

On the fifth day, in honor of the Bird Men’s arrival, the warriors killed a young tapir to feast upon. Cooked slowly in a pit of coals, it was ready to eat in the afternoon. As they sat around in the customary circle to partake of the tapir together, a strange sound began to emanate from the trees. Fearfully looking around, the natives were horrified to see the trees surrounding their living area begin to sway and move, parting their branches and allowing the afternoon sunlight to shine down upon the village. Never had such a thing happened before. The warriors immediately lept up, grabbing their spears, and positioned themselves around the women, children and elders, trying to protect them from what, they did not know.

One of the females screamed and pointed to the sun. When the others followed her pointing finger, they were horrified to see the sun turning black.

“Swaybuk, is your Ancient causing the eclipse?” Ragjaw asked, a little fearful that the Ancient had such enormous powers.

“No, only the moving of the trees and branches,” Swaybuk smiled. “I believe the eclipse is courtesy of Mother Nature herself.”

The natives huddled together, some crying in terror. Ragjaw knew if this did not persuade the elders to allow Swaybuk to go to the valley, nothing would.

“Elders, the forest gods are not happy,” Ragjaw said. “They wish for the Bird Man imprisoned inside the valley to be set free. They have sent for these two Bird Men to free him, yet you stop them. To show you their unhappiness, they have taken away your sun. They will not give it back unless you give your approval to their trip to the valley.” Ragjaw knew he only had a few minutes to convince the elders the eclipse was the work of their forest gods. After that, the eclipse would reverse and he would lose his advantage.

“How do we know it is the forest gods?” one of the more skeptic elders asked.

“Because they have told me,” Ragjaw replied. “You all know me, Fathers. You know I have lived with you for many years, have revealed to you the wishes of your gods. They have seen you have not believed me these past days, so they are showing you their might. Allow the Bird Men to go into the valley and search for their friend. If you do not, you will live in darkness forever.”

‘If we agree they will give us back our sun?” another asked.

“Yes, Father. They have given me their word,” Ragjaw replied. He watched as the elders briefly talked amongst themselves. Then, at last, he received the news he had been hoping for.

“Tell the forest gods we will allow these Bird Men to go into the valley,” the oldest elder stated. “But that you too must go with them to see that nothing is taken or harmed.”

It took all of Ragjaw’s power not to laugh. “I will tell them.” He knelt upon the earth, spread out his arms and began to hum. The eclipse had reached full coverage and had not started toward dissipating yet. Ragjaw had to stall for time, so he pretended to pray and speak to the gods. After a very long five minutes, he heard a cheer arise amongst the natives as the darkness began to leave the sun. Their gods had heard him.

Early the next day, Swaybuk and Windar said their goodbyes to the natives, thanking them for their hospitality and the elders for their permission to rescue their friend. As a token of their appreciation, Swaybuk presented the lead hunter with his soobree bush knife, telling the warrior it would never rust and would never grow dull. The hunter promised to take good care of it always and to pass it down the line in years to come. Swaybuk hoped the hunter and the other natives would have years remaining.

It was a two-day trip to the valley. To ensure their safety, three hunters accompanied them. They would go as far as the ridge of the valley, but no further. They would then wait at the ridge for three days, after which they would return to the village.

On the second day, as they neared the entrance to the valley, Ragjaw finally found his courage to speak to Windar about a subject that had been on his mind. “Windar, I hope I am not being too forward, but I have a question I would like to ask you.”

“What is it?” Windar asked, smiling.

“I was wondering if you have endured The Hunger yet?”

“The Hunger?” a very surprised Windar asked. That was the last thing she expected to be asked.

“Yes.”

“No, I am too young to enter into The Hunger,” Windar answered, wondering why the young male wanted to know such a thing. Was he afraid she might enter it while there and infect the natives with her desire? “I only reached tiipow a few years ago. It will be several centuries before I am old enough to suffer The Hunger.”

“I did not realize you were that young,” a disappointed Ragjaw replied. “By your actions and assigned duties, plus the fact that you are a representative of the Orbs, I mistakenly believed you were past the age of being a youngling.”

“I am not a youngling,” Windar immediately stated, a little tone of anger in her voice. She hated being referred to as a child. Did he not hear her say she had reached tiipow?

“No, you are not, but you are not an adult either,” Ragjaw said, smiling. “You are barely a sub-adult. Forget that I inquired.”

“Why did you ask?” Windar inquired, her curiosity now aroused.

“I am sure that many male Oonocks have told you how beautiful you are,” Ragjaw replied. “And that, even at your young age, many have pursued you as their future mate.” Ragjaw took a deep breath, knowing it was now or never to say his intentions. “I was hoping that, if you were not promised to another, you might wish to remain here with me, as my mate. But now that I know how young you are, I realize that is an impossibility. Please forgive the desires of an old patoot.”

“Your mate?” Windar asked, flattered that Ragjaw would wish such a thing. “Why would you want me for your mate?”

Ragjaw stopped and took Windar’s hand into his, looking deeply into her eyes. “Because you are the most beautiful Oonock I have ever seen. You are smart and caring. For too long I have lived with the natives alone, without someone at my side to share this wonderful life with. At first, in the beginning, I did take a human mate, but the Forest People do not live long; a mere forty years or so, which in Oonock time, is just a blink of an eye. One day we were together, making each other happy, the next she was inside the earth. But you are Oonock, like me. We could live together for many millennia. And during that time I would love you like no other, cherish you every day, devote my life to making you happy. And, although we could never bear an egg together in human form, I would have filled your nights with the greatest of passion and pleasure. We could have roamed this vast forest transformed into all manner of beasts, fulfilling our needs of intimacy in every way possible. Here, you could shed the clothes of civilization and exist as we were meant to be – naked and happy. Oh, My Most Beautiful Windar, how happy I could make you here in my jungle.”

“Hey you two, keep up,” came Swaybuk’s voice from in front of them. “I don’t want you two getting lost.”

Ragjaw dropped Windar’s hand, Swaybuk’s words snapping him back to reality and the present. His face blushed for just a second, as he realized how he had rambled on. “He’s right. We need to stay together.”

As they walked rapidly to close the gap, both remained silent. At last, Windar spoke. “Ragjaw, I am honored by your words. And you are wrong, I do not have lots of male Oonocks after me. They usually don’t even notice I am around.”

“I doubt that is true, Windar,” Ragjaw replied. “Perhaps you have been too busy to notice them. Slow down and look. You will see they are there.”

“Truth be told, I would like the life you are offering,” Windar said, her cheeks blushing a soft pink. “And it would be a great honor and privilege to be your mate. But I have much to do in the outside world. I cannot be selfish and think of myself, but of what is needed to save this planet. I am the ambassador of the Orbs, a responsibility I take seriously. The monarchs depend on me and I cannot let them down.”

“That you cannot, My Beautiful Windar,” Ragjaw said. “But if one day you wish for another life, my offer stands open.”

“Why don’t you come back with us?” Windar suggested. “There are many female Oonocks at the Complex and on Europa who would be more than willing to be your mate. Someone who has already endured the Hunger, someone whom you could love.”

“Ah, My Innocent Windar, I see you have not learned the ways of an Oonock male’s heart yet,” Ragjaw softly replied. “Once a male gives his heart to another, he cannot take it back so it can be given away again.”

“You’ve given me your heart?” Windar asked in astonishment, tears filling her eyes.

“The moment I saw you,” Ragjaw confessed. “And every day since.”

Not knowing what to say, Windar pushed past the hunters until she was at Swaybuk’s side. He looked down and saw her tears. He turned and looked behind him at the hunters and Ragjaw, but saw nothing out of the ordinary.

“Is everything alright?” Swaybuk asked.

Unable to speak, Windar only nodded her head affirmatively. She remained at Swaybuk’s side, walking in silence, the remainder of the trip. Several hours later, they arrived at the rim of the valley. Below them, stretching for ten miles, was a deep depression in the earth, filled with an endless array of trees. Although he could not see any water, Swaybuk was sure it was down there for he saw an abundance of brightly colored macaws, toucans and other exotic birds, as well as several monkey troops. Although the birds could easily fly somewhere else for water, he was sure the monkeys were a clear indication that a steady supply of water existed in the valley.

“It’s too late to start the descent today,” Ragjaw announced. “We’ll camp up here on the ledge tonight and start down at first daylight tomorrow.” He spoke to the three hunters in their native tongue, after which two hurried off to catch something for dinner while the other one made camp. Before long, there was a large lizard on a stick cooking over a fire, along with several oblong vegetables that reminded Swaybuk of potatoes. Windar had also found some avocadoes and berries to go along with the meat.

“Did something happen between you and Windar?” Swaybuk asked Ragjaw. He noticed that every time the commander came near Windar, she lowered her head and moved away.

“I might have upset her,” Ragjaw confessed. “I told her how beautiful she was and asked if she had endured The Hunger yet?”

“The Hunger?” a furious Swaybuk shouted, his voice echoing across the valley, causing the birds to squawk and take flight and the monkeys to screech and howl.

The three hunters rose, their spears drawn and pointing at Swaybuk. “Keep your voice down,” Ragjaw ordered. “Unless you want to end up like that lizard.”

“You asked her about The Hunger?” Swaybuk asked again, this time his voice quieter and softer, but no less angry. “What in the hell were you thinking?”

“I was thinking she was a lot older than she is,” Ragjaw stated. “At least twelve or thirteen hundred years.”

“She’s still a child,” Swaybuk angrily said.

“I am not a child,” Windar stated, as she stepped toward the two males. “And I wish Oonocks would stop saying I am. I reached Tiipow several years ago. I am a sub-adult, almost an adult.”

“Even so, Ragjaw had no right asking you that question,” Swaybuk replied.

“He had ever right,” Windar stated. “It is a legitimate question. Ragjaw is right. I was a little embarrassed. But I am fine now and I wish to put this behind us. Let’s drop the subject, enjoy this delicious-looking lizard (the thought of eating it almost made her gag) and get a good night sleep. It’s going to be a rough climb down there tomorrow.”

“I agree,” Swaybuk announced. Silently he added, “Make sure you sleep close to me tonight.”

“You know, Commander, I can hear you speaking even if it’s not out loud,” Ragjaw smirked.

“Do you think I care?” Swaybuk asked. In truth, he had forgotten for a brief moment that Ragjaw was an Oonock just as he was. But Oonock males ask about The Hunger for only one reason – if they are sexually interested in an Oonock female. Windar was like his little sister, and he did not like the idea of Ragjaw making advances toward her. Suddenly, this mission could not end soon enough.

By the time they were done eating dinner, the light in the forest was fading fast. It would be some time before the light above the canopy dwindled so the stars and moon were visible, but where they were the shadows were filling in the light quickly. It was necessary to get everything done before the last of the light was lost. Windar gathered a bunch of leaves and twigs and placed them over a grassy area, lying her blanket on top. As she settled down for a good night’s sleep, she saw Swaybuk pick up his bed and move it just inches away from hers. The three hunters were scattered about; each one would take turns during the night standing guard. She searched the area for Ragjaw, at last seeing him as he disappeared into the twilight behind some trees. She didn’t know if she was the reason or if it was Swaybuk, but for some reason Ragjaw decided it was best to sleep away from everyone.

Windar lay there, listening to Swaybuk’s gentle snores as he slept. But sleep would not come to her. She kept thinking about what Ragjaw had said, how he wished her to join with him. She had never had anyone tell her that they loved her, not the kind of love between a male and female. Sure, her parents and the monarchs had often told her they loved her. But this was different. This was a mature love, the kind that brings babies. She had reached the age of tiipow and was now allowed to participate in adult activities, but she had never had the urge to do so. She was always too busy. And no male had ever interested her like that – until now. She felt an attraction to Ragjaw the moment she met him. He was extremely handsome and had a fine, strong, muscular body. And to think he was attracted to her too – it was almost too much to believe. She continued to lay there, imagining a life with Ragjaw until the moon and stars finally appeared in the sky above the valley. She giggled, as she wondered if his lips would taste as good as they looked. He had nice, full lips that she was sure were capable of giving the most fantastic kisses. But, alas, she would never know. Tomorrow they descended into the valley to find the Keeper, and, once they did, they were leaving. She would never see Ragjaw again. Suddenly, never knowing what his lips tasted like was unacceptable, almost physically painful. Every fiber of her being cried out, needing to know if his lips were sweet or not. She had to know, or regret not knowing for the rest of her life.

Quietly, she sat up and looked around. Thankfully, there was a full moon, and its radiance lit up the valley and surrounding ridges. She listened to Swaybuk’s snores to ensure he was still asleep. Carefully and without making a sound, she stood and silently walked in the direction she had seen Ragjaw go earlier. She just hoped he was still in that direction for it was far too dangerous to go wandering around the jungle at night. She would go as far as the tree, and if he was not there, she would turn around and return to her bed. She just hoped he was there. When she passed one of the hunters, she saw him open his eyes and nod, acknowledging her passage. She continued to the tree, then stopped. There, just a few feet away, was the sleeping Ragjaw. The moonlight shone down upon his body, making his skin glow while accentuating the chiseled muscles in his arms, abdomen and thighs. She once again looked at his full lips, trying to imagine what they tasted like. Suddenly she realized she was being childish and turned to leave. But her departure was not quick enough. Ragjaw was awake and looking right at her.

“Windar, is anything wrong?” Ragjaw asked.

“No,” Windar replied, staring into his eyes. They were lilac, like King Kiijon’s. She hadn’t noticed that before. “I, I.” Say something, she told herself. Don’t stand her like a dang fool. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay,” she lied.

“I am fine, but you shouldn’t be out of your bed,” Ragjaw stated, now rising to a stand. “It is too dangerous to go walking about the jungle at night. I saw jaguar tracks not far back on the trail as we were coming here. It could still be hunting. Come, I’ll take you back to your bed.”

“No,” Windar said, as he took her hand. “Did you mean those things you said?”

He raised her hand to his lips and softly kissed it. “Sweet Windar, this is not the time or place to discuss such things. You need to return to bed.”

“Did you mean them?” Windar vehemently asked. “I have to know.”

Ragjaw stood there, looking at her beautiful face. Yes, he meant it. Every word. He couldn’t understand why this sweet female affected him so. He had never felt this way about any other female – human or Oonock. But then, he had never known a grown female Oonock as an adult, only as a child. “Yes, with all my heart,” Ragjaw confessed. “But I would have not said them had I realized how young you were.”

“Many Oonock females my age have already engaged in their first Kyzin,” Windar stated, her cheeks blushing slightly, a trait Ragjaw thought enduring. “I have not, even though it is allowed, because I have found no one with whom I have had such an interest in.” She paused, watching the expression on the male’s face. “Until now.”

“Windar, what are you sayin