By Christopher Goodrum
Copyright 2016 Christopher Goodrum
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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The Legend of the Dragonskinner
The Dragonskinner and the
Hanging Stones of Wiltshire
Addison Jane and the Christmas Chase
Alice’s Strange & Peculiar Easter
The Leaping Lepre of Letterfrack
In a lot of ways, this book wouldn’t be possible without my fellow Disneyland Resort cast members and crew, both past and present. Without their support and genuine interest, the story may have never been completed.
A special thank you, in particular, to Neil Sauvageau, who talked with me for hours about the story; Jenn Chiya, who gave Tempora her last name; and Laurel Shaffer, who kept me company while I was developing the language for this story.
For my kids:
Conner, Sara, Julianna, Grace, and Jayden
“Vrenis jysaht tinon scetilon adaia leiton ly’nontra.
Vrenis ly’nontra leiton ah’tylee soltayr.”
“A galaxy unwilling to accept peace is without hope.
A galaxy without hope is forever lost.”
-Master Yul, former Master of the Nova’Psi
It was no secret that Syntiens were being illegally sold behind the protection of the Black Market Trade Zone: a designated section of space set up by arms dealers and smugglers three hundred light years from the Central Government. Illegal sells of these synthetic lifeforms have been going on for centuries, since the Syntiens’ creation. But the most degrading aspect of these transactions was that some were done through gambling.
Cayl’s eyebrows furrowed at the sight of his opponent putting his Syntien on the table to cover the bet. He realized that it meant one of two things; one: that his opponent had a terrific hand and had great confidence in his victory, or two: he was incredibly stupid to meet stakes that was raised so high. Rykarian poker wasn’t a game for the lightweights. Syntiens were worth ten times as much than what was in the money pot.
And the pot was getting pretty steep.
Cayl knew he had to put up the difference of the bet and the worth of the Syntien. His opponent stared into Cayl’s eyes displaying a stoic expression mixed with a mischievous “I dare you” look. But Cayl had a knack for these kinds of situations and he never in his life turned down a dare. He wasn’t, by far, a lightweight, and he put down the credits to cover the difference.
A crowd had swarmed around them, gathering to the center of the smoky bar, and buzzing with excitement. Surely, they hadn’t seen the stakes raised so high in a long time. And with a Syntien thrown into the pot, at that. Bets were being taken on the results of the dealt hand and everybody had an opinion on it. No one could see what the players were holding. Rykarian poker required that players guard their hand from spectators as if the metallic cards were cash themselves. Credits were being passed to a “trusted” bet keeper (if one could trust anybody in the Black Market Trade Zone) as the noise level in the bar raised several decibels with each passing minute.
The suspense and the tension were building. Cayl was purposely taking his time with calling the bet. He wanted to let his opponent sink into his false sense of security. The game wasn’t over, yet, and to declare a victor, even in the last stages of the dealt hand, would be dangerously premature.
Cayl stared down his opponent: a slime-coated Tazitian with a severe drooling problem. Every breath the smuggler took, it seemed that his grease-covered clothes were going to slide or drip right off of him. The thin layer of slime which covered his entire body, shined like polished crystal, providing a protective membrane from alien airborne viruses.
The Syntien, however, was just like Cayl in the species department. The Syntien had a soft look about her: healthy skin, clear complexion, free of blemishes or scars, shoulder length brown hair, deep brown eyes, stood at 5’8”, and had a bodily frame like an athlete. She was a simple looking humanoid, who looked just as much as a Nerran as any real person could.
And that was what made Syntiens unique. At plain sight, no one could tell Syntiens apart from the rest of the population. They were designed to resemble any species (depending on the specification of the buyer). If Cayl hadn’t known, he probably would have made the mistake of hitting on her.
Making a pass on anyone here was dangerous enough as it was. This was the place where people get killed just for sneezing wrong. Countless of fights broke out here, illegal sells of arms were done under the table here, and if the wrong path got crossed, deadly results happen here. No one cared to ask questions.
Universal law of the land: unless you had a death wish, don’t ask questions.
But Cayl wasn’t interested in asking questions. He was there for the money. His ship needed a systems upgrade. A very expensive systems upgrade. And if he was going to keep a couple steps ahead of the Central Government, he had to have the fastest ship, the most advanced system, and the most efficient equipment he could get his hands on.
Keeping one step ahead of his pursuers was an everyday challenge. For years now, he had been hiding in asteroid fields, nebulas, and gravitational fields of small planetoids. He dared to maneuver through the icy debris of a comet’s tail, fly dangerously close to a dying star, and weaved through plasma storms. He wasn’t out of tricks, yet, but he has never looked forward to running into another squadron of Justifiers: big league fighters of the Central Government.
That was one of the reasons why he came to the Black Market Trade Zone. All smugglers, criminals, and arms dealers have immunity here. It was a safe haven from bureaucratic justice and persecution. The borders of the Black Market Trade Zone ran for light years, heavily protected by the most advanced weapon systems imaginable. Since the technology was invented illegally, the inventors stretched the limits of science to its most destructive properties to protect the area of space they practically call home.
The Central Government could never hope to match the firepower of the weapon system. They had tried decades ago when the Zone was first established, hoping to eradicate the illegal sells and trafficking. But they were helpless to prevent it. Hundreds of ships were lost in the battle while the criminals, smugglers, and arms dealers only lost a handful in a joint effort to protect their mutual interests.
Anyone was welcome to come and perform their transactions or conduct their business as they pleased. How they did it and if they could manage to come out profitable or alive were up to them. No one really cared why anyone was there, whether it was for recreational activities (the Zone had the most extensive and best gun range in the quadrant and the high stakes gambling facilities always drew the crowd. Not to mention the strip clubs, which featured delectable samples of females from over a hundred and thirty worlds) or whether it was for business; or just laying low, hidden away out of reach from the authorities. However, any undercover government officer and peacemaker who ventured into the establishments would pay a deadly price if discovered.
That was the last thing on his mind. He just wanted to collect his winnings once he won, take his ship across the Goliath Expanse, and upgrade his ship. He had more important things to take care of. Wrongs to put right, if he was still alive to do them.
His hand was good. Very good. And judging by the look on the Tazitian’s face, he needed to at least have a hand greater than an Utolus flush, the fourth highest hand one could ever get. And that he had.
It was time to call the bet and he did so with a smirk. No more poker faces, no more mind games and calculating probabilities. He had taken care of that before he received his third hand. The pot was high enough (hell, a Syntien was thrown in. What the hell was he going to do with a Syntien?), and it was time to complete the game.
The Tazitian placed three of his four metallic cards on the table, partially displaying his hand: three High Priestess cards, a very lucky hand. Majority of the heads in the crowd nodded in approval and smirked with satisfaction. Many others lowered their heads with the weight of loss and monetary misfortune. All those familiar with the rules of Rykarian poker knew that the High Priestess cards were among the top-level advancement cards. Only one other set of cards was higher: the Infinite cards. And the Tazitian had it. He dropped the card on the table as a wide, slimy grin spread across his pale yellow face.
The crowd around him erupted into a mix clash of triumphant cheers and defeated moans. The bet keeper started to pass the credits to those you placed the bet in favor of the Tazitian. The winners took them happily and greedily as the losers argued in harsh tones and vicious deadly intent, which was always common after such results, no matter what game it was and no matter how much the bet was.
Cayl, however, didn’t move nor speak. He kept his cards in hand as he watched the reactions of those around him. He didn’t mind that people were happy that he had lost; nor did he care that people were upset that he lost because the fact of the matter was, he hadn’t.
During his observation of the crowd, congratulating each other and the Tazitian, who was now reaching for the credits in the middle of the table, Cayl noticed the Syntien staring at him. Her deep brown eyes appeared to peer into his soul and his thoughts, analyzing him, studying him. He didn’t find it uncomfortable, but he knew that there was some intelligence behind those synthetic eyes of hers.
“Wait,” the Syntien demanded. Her voice boomed through the bar, echoing off the walls and ceasing all activity.
All became quiet and the focus of the bar went to the Syntien. The Tazitian glared at her for speaking so abruptly, and without permission. He owned her. She was not allowed to do anything without him commanding her to do so. But she did it anyway because she knew that the situation was not resolved. Being that she was going to be the most effected by the resolution of the situation, she had the most right (although legally, Syntiens didn’t have rights) to call for a proper and definite resolution.
“He didn’t show his hand.”
And with that statement, the reality of the situation set in and all eyes went to Cayl. The Tazitian froze in his tracks collecting the money. His glare went from the Syntien to Cayl, then back to the Syntien. The grin he once had while he thought he came out victorious was now gone. He reluctantly let go of the money and sat back down. Impatiently he said, “Then show your hand, Nerran.”
“Why bother,” Cayl began, sarcastically. “You have three High Priestess cards and an Infinite card. How can I hope to beat that?”
“Then it is clear. I have won.” Another grin creased the Tazitian’s face, bigger than the last one.
“I didn’t say that.”
“Then what are you saying?” His grin faded, again, with annoyance. Turning to the crowd, he added, “I should have known that Nerrans don’t lose graciously.”
The crowd roared with laughter as the Tazitian laughed with them. His laughter was a sickening audible display of gurgling slime and mucous. A hideous sound to hear.
Cayl continued to focus on the Tazitian, not affected by the remark or the agreement of the crowd. He has dealt with worse with a more unruly crowd and a more dangerous opponent. It was just this time, he wouldn’t get his arm broken if he won.
“You need at least four Infinite cards to win and I have one of them. It is highly unlikely that you will be able to win the hand with it. Unless you happen to have a Nova card up your sleeve. But we all know the probability of drawing the single Nova card in the deck.”
“Astronomical,” Cayl smiled, whimsically. He eyed the Syntien, who was still studying Cayl with a cold stare, her eyes blinking at randomized intervals. “Wouldn’t you agree,” he said to her.
The Syntien merely replied with a simple nod. She was reserved as one could possibly have been, displaying no sign of anxiety or apprehension over the whole gambling process. Her hands were loosely by her side, her posture fully erect, and her face still completely stoic. Inside her artificial brain, she was calculating every possible outcome of the game, wondering which one would come to reality and how it will change her existence.
In retrospect, it shouldn’t have mattered all that much to her. As a Syntien, it was within her nature to expect change (dramatic, or otherwise) and then, adapt accordingly. It was a crucial part of the Syntien’s programming and development. Tailor made with valuable features such as adaptability, versatility, multiple linguistic capabilities, and technical expertise. Although the Syntiens were created for other purposes hundreds of years ago by a now extinct species, those features insured the Syntiens usefulness to the rest of the galaxy.
But as useful as she was and although the reality of her existence was that she was property, she never looked forward to being sold, traded as payment, or lost in a gambling establishment. Each time was degrading.
The Tazitian, beginning to lose his patience, slammed his slimy fist upon the cold, hard, thin steel frame of the table. A small vibration rumbled the cards and the credits within the pot. “I’m not one to irritate. If you cross me, you’ll quickly find that my temper is not to be tested. I will prove to be dangerous.”
Cayl’s smile dropped, focusing his eyes into a stern stare. He locked eyes with his poker opponent, projecting an icy, fierce front. It was a look that could back down the most vicious warrior, that could make the most powerful foe second-guess their actions, and that could make an entire crowd clear the way for safe passage.
The Tazitian held his ground, but it was shaky. He wasn’t about to let a Nerran stare him down and get away with it. He had won; he knew it. He had the second highest hand possible in the entire game. The fact that the Nerran was not willing to show his hand was evidence and testimony to his victory.
Three of Cayl’s cards were laid on the table. Just as the Tazitian had assumed, Cayl had three Infinite cards. The crowd bustled verbally with anticipation and relief from those who placed bets in favor of Cayl winning. The others against Cayl started to become unruly, yelling at each other, and shoving anyone who would taunt them for assuming a win so prematurely. They were all waiting for the final card to be shown.
Aside from the Tazitian, no one wanted to know the outcome of the unveiling more than the Syntien. But it was her nature to wait patiently. She could have waited a millennia if she had to. Although she preferred not to have waited quite that long for a poker hand.
Then it was shown. Cayl tossed the Nova card onto the table as casually as if it was a hat being masterfully tossed onto a hat rack. As soon as the card hit the table, the crowd burst into a mixture of cheers and moans. Money changed hands, once again, as the winners congratulated each other and the losers threaten the winners with deadly actions if they didn’t get the chance to win their credits back.
The Tazitian stared at the cards. He was dumbfounded and angry at the results of the game. He just lost his credits and his Syntien to a gruffy-looking, half-shaven Nerran in a raggedy gray jumpsuit. Of all the low level species to lose a game of Rykarian poker to, losing to a Nerran had to be the lowest he could go.
He slammed his slimy fists upon the table and started to remove himself from it. Without looking at Cayl, he hung his head low in disappointment and waved the Syntien in Cayl’s direction. “Take her. I was going to have her dismantled anyway.”
Cayl quickly glanced at the Syntien as he began to collect his winnings. He looked at her long enough to acknowledge the change in ownership and then went back to keeping his eyes on his winnings. He wouldn’t feel comfortable with the money lying around with this crowd until he had fully secured the credits in a safe place.
As for the Syntien…that was a different matter altogether.
He peered every once in awhile at the Tazitian working his way through the crowd to leave. He wasn’t quite sure why, but he needed to keep his eye on that Tazitian. Tazitians have been known to strike down a poker rival with a pulsar weapon after losing such a large amount of credits. Cayl was hoping that Tazitian wasn’t one of those kinds.
The crowd started to disperse and return to their own business of gambling and illegal trade. At that point, the Syntien approached Cayl.
“I will transfer all my operational functions to acknowledge your command, sir.”
“There is no need,” Cayl replied, not bothering to look at her. “I do not require or desire your…services.”
Cayl finished collecting his winnings, placing the credits within his pockets, and began to walk away. Once again, he didn’t acknowledge the Syntien’s presence, despite that she was right next to him.
“I’m afraid that I do not have a choice in the matter.”
That got Cayl’s attention. He turned around slowly with a perplexed expression. He would have assumed that the Syntien would be very appreciative of having been let go from the obligations of the Tazitian’s bet. His knowledge of Syntiens was not extensive, nor could he say that he was knowledgeable about Syntiens. But he did know what they were capable of doing and what they were used for. In his current position, the need for a Syntien was ridiculous. Then again, he never required the services of one. It was inconceivable.
Cayl drew himself closer to the Syntien and looked her straight in the eye. “What are you talking about?”
“The wager of my former owner was legal and binding.”
“Yes, it was,” Cayl agreed. “He had lost the game and he had lost you as his servant. You are no longer under his ownership. But I, however, have released you from your obligation to serve me. I have no use for you, nor will I. You are free to go and do whatever it is you like to do.”
“I have no ‘likes’, sir. You have won the credits and you have won the ownership of this Syntien. I am yours to command.”
“Fine. I command you to release yourself from your obligations and hit the road.”
“I cannot do that.”
“You’re worse than a lost puppy,” Cayl sighed. Bringing his hand up to his left collar, he activated a small, round communication device. To an unobservant eye, the device merely appears to be a decorative pin of some sort. But underneath the simple design of the “pin” laid a sophisticated network of circuitry and electronic components, squeezed into a circular framework no larger than a dime. “Gar, this is Cayl. I’m going to need backup.”
“I’m on my way,” a deep voice came back, being transmitted to the small, inconspicuous earpiece in Cayl’s ear.
The Syntien questioned the nature of the conversation, but only to herself, making a note of it, and coming up with likeable possibilities for it. Surely, Cayl anticipated an assault. But from whom? And where? And how did he know there was going to be one, if there was going to be one? She found that to be intriguing. Perhaps it stemmed from the fact that she was always able to understand the actions and logical (or illogical, as many cases seemed to prove) thinking of every species she encountered, especially Nerrans. It was part of her programming. Programming which she was able to evolve further from since her seven hundred and some odd years of existence.
But this Nerran was different somehow.
“What is your name?”
“Name?” The Syntien asked.
“Yes, what is your designation? What did your owner call you?”
“Anything else? Anything that distinguished you from any other Syntien or lifeform?”
“Well, then, Syntien, let me put this in a way that will conclude this little discussion. You own yourself from now on.”
“That appears to be a sort of a paradox in my case. And impossible. I believe the correct statement to verbalize is, ‘You’re stuck with me.’”
With a sigh, Cayl replied, “Great!”
His eyes wondered to the upper level of the bar: a second floor gambling area over-looking the ground floor. Colorful tubes of light lined the walls and ceiling. They projected colors of red, yellow, and blue. There purpose was to attract the eyes of potential clientele and customers. The gambling area displayed a wide variety of games with higher stakes and even deadlier consequences if found cheating. High profile games that were the biggest crowd drawers from their respective system of origin spread throughout the entire range of the Ventax Galaxy. Only the best players and the best hustlers played up on that level. Naturally, the noise level was substantially higher and the competition was most fierce.
And from the looks of the crowd swelling up against the railings of the second floor, it was pretty packed up there and the games must have been getting ready to maximize the betting requirements for some big winnings.
But that wasn’t what Cayl was interested in.
“We’ll talk about this later,” Cayl said. “I have a feeling that no matter where I go or what I do, you won’t leave me. But for now, do what I say, when I say it. These will not be commands as in owner/Syntien commands. These will be I-know-what-I’m- doing-and-just-follow-my-lead commands. Got that?”
“Good. Now stay behind me.”
Cayl turned around sharply, extending his right arm out, his fingers slightly fanned out as a golden flash of light created by his hand produced a sword. Its hilt was a mixture of black and silver metals constructed together, given it a unique design. Cayl’s hand wrapped around the hilt firmly, yet comfortably: feeling one with the weapon like he was born with it. As if it was an extension of his own self.
Quickly, without a split second hesitation, he swung his left hand to meet his right and instantly cut through the air in a leftward arc deflecting a laser bolt that seemed to come from nowhere.
The surrounding crowd’s attention was immediately drawn to the occurrence and made a run for cover. Whatever was going to happen was between the unknown and the Nerran and they wanted no part of it unless they found dying for a stranger worth the gamble. The room didn’t clear of occupants, but the room sure gained a lot of dead space.
Every action in the room stopped as another laser bolt shot down from the second floor in a mad dash to strike down Cayl. Effortlessly, Cayl made an upward swipe, batting the laser bolt into a pillar across the establishment.
“Do you want to try that, again,” Cayl called up to the second floor where the all too familiar Tazitian stood armed with a small Tazitian laser pistol. “Or leave while the stakes are still low.”
The Tazitian, as well as the crowd, was astonished by the Nerran’s revelation. The fact that the Nerran had a weapon wasn’t at least the shocking aspect of it. It was the fact that the sword literally came out of nowhere was the most disturbing element. But he wasn’t about to back down. Not to a Nerran. Even if the Nerran was…
Shot after shot jetted out of the laser pistol, targeting Cayl with deadly accuracy. If it weren’t for Cayl’s swift actions, which were masked by blurs and his sword, he would have surely been dead on the spot. But the skills Cayl possessed would never allow that.
Bolt after bolt, Cayl protected himself with little trouble. Each deflection was like knocking away softballs. He did his best to not have the bolt ricochet into another individual or into any of the drinks sporadically placed throughout. The last thing he needed was an explosion and to rescue hundreds of smugglers and arm dealers. They wouldn’t take too kindly to that anyway.
The only person who didn’t flitch or move out of harms way was the Syntien. She stood her ground behind Cayl, doing as she was instructed: remaining behind him. Even if she wasn’t told to stay behind him, she very much doubted she would have moved a single millimeter. Without a doubt, she had been in worse, more dyer situations. And despite her position within the galaxy and the grand scheme of things, she was more than capable of defending herself and others.
Relentlessly, the Tazitian was on his way of empting his entire ammunition clip. Tazitians weren’t known for learning quickly.
A barrage of laser bolts streamlined for Cayl. Flawlessly and with expert timing, he knocked away bolt after bolt, sending each one out of deadly reach of any bar patrons. His actions were a blur, moving faster than a species could see. And he was doing it with finesse. The sword gleamed under the lights of the bar, presenting such an immaculate shine as if it came from a spiritual realm. Not a single residual mark was imprinted upon it by the laser bolts after making contact. It remained clean, sterile, and majestic.
The sword came to a rest at a defensive position near Cayl’s right shoulder as several clickings from the Tazitian’s weapon declared its occupancy. The weapon was thrown down, creating a loud clatter onto the floor. The Tazitian cursed in his own language, pulled out another small weapon from his slimy boot, and leaped off the second floor, landing on top of a table and crushing it flat. He remained on his feet, impressingly enough, and glared at his target.
“You’re a Galactic Peacekeeper,” the Syntien whispered.
“Used to be,” Cayl replied. There was a sense of loss in his voice. Loss from a past he was unable, or unwilling, to forget. Then once again, he was caught in the actions of defending himself, as more laser bolts were unleashed. Five were batted away in quick succession. “Stay behind me.”
The Tazitian had stood his ground for a moment, keeping the weapon leveled at Cayl. So far his efforts weren’t working. He knew this. He also knew that if he didn’t have his weapon, he would be good as dead. At this point, it was quite obvious that his attended target was a Galactic Peacekeeper. He was more than familiar with those that held the title. And they didn’t place themselves favorably in the Tazitian’s mind. They used to cause more trouble for smugglers than the Central Government did. And the opportunity to kill a Galactic Peacekeeper was just a small bonus in his life. Although he was well aware of what Cayl was able to do (the mysticism of what Cayl was hadn’t been lost on him), he also knew that Galactic Peacekeepers were not invincible.
No one else would object to the action of killing Cayl or interfere. Galactic Peacekeepers were no more welcomed within the Black Market Trade Zone than any other police official. If anything, the Tazitian would find himself having some help.
The Tazitian felt his hatred swell within him. At the peak of that rage, he threw his body into a charge at Cayl, triggering the laser bolts to fly with exceptional speed.
Cayl’s countermeasures had to be made quicker and with more precision. Since the laser bolts were being released a lot closer and more frequently than before, the reaction time decreased. More effort to contain and control the ricochets were integrated into his actions. And it took more with each closing of the gap the Tazitian was doing between them.
Swiping a half of dozen bolts into the floor and walls, Cayl freed up his right hand, relying on his control of his left hand (which proved in the past to be weaker than his right) to protect himself as he took a mere second to summon another weapon. A golden flash of light surrounded his right hand. After the dissipation of the flash, a dagger was revealed. The design of the hilt was similar to that of his sword. In a quick motion, he released the dagger with a forceful throw.
Distracted by his own actions to notice, the dagger caught the Tazitian by surprise, inserting itself into the small muzzle of the weapon. The small gun exploded and sent the Tazitian flying back a couple feet, landing with a wet thud upon the floor and sliding another two feet. A wet trail of slime traced his path. A swarm of pain washed over him as he began to realize what just happened.
The explosion did not only disarm him, but it also took his hand as well. The intense heat of the explosion was sufficient to prevent any bleeding and cauterized the wounds. However, the Tazitian was left with a stump of a hand, blackened and charred. Fragments of the gun went into various parts of the Tazitians body as well as spreading several feet throughout the bar. Blood twinkled from his chest, legs, and face. The intensity of the pain was unbearable. It was like a cascade of electricity radically backfiring throughout his body. He felt like passing out and just dying, but there was no way he was going to let a Galactic Peacekeeper get the better of him.
And before the Tazitian knew it, Cayl was standing over him. Cayl’s expression was that of irritation and disappointment. He didn’t truly believe that the Tazitian was that stupid to try to exact revenge for losing a poker game like Tazitian’s were known to do when they lose a good chunk of money. But the reality of the situation differed and the result was less favorable than Cayl would have liked.
The sword vanished in a golden flash as Cayl bent down to speak to the Tazitian.
“I offer you my help if you will accept it,” Cayl said. He looked the Tazitian straight in the eye and held the gaze firmly. “I know that your species are able to grow lost limbs. I also know that it will take several years for that regeneration to be complete. I can help you speed up the process.”
The Tazitian had nothing but contempt for Cayl at this point. Fury was in his eyes and an even more desire to kill him was steaming from them. He had no intention of listening to Cayl no matter what Cayl had to say. He heard the word “help” and tuned out the rest. “Kiss off.”
Cayl smiled. Not only did the Tazitian proved to be stupid, but arrogant as well. There he was offering his help and he was practically being spit on. “The damage was caused by your own actions.”
“At least I will live after this day. You will not.”
Cayl’s attention was pulled away from the Tazitian and directed ahead of him, to his sides, behind him, and above. Every eye in the room was upon him. That wasn’t so surprising. But the fact that every eye was behind the firepower of a weapon was the surprising part. This…he didn’t expect.
“You should have never shown your face in here, Peacekeeper,” the Tazitian remark with great amusement.
The Syntien remained where she stood. For the most part, she stayed behind Cayl. But he moved so quickly to get to the Tazitian when the gun exploded, she couldn’t hope to match his speed. He was like a speeding space vessel. And with every weapon pointing straight at him, staying behind him as recommended was more of an impossible challenge.
“Perhaps it’s time to leave this establishment,” she suggested.
“That’s somewhat of an understatement,” Cayl replied. “But I don’t think that any one of these…respectable…patrons are willing to let us walk out alive.”
The Syntien surveyed the area, analyzing and calculating the possibility of making it out of the bar unharmed or with minimal damage. Despite Cayl’s abilities, it was theoretically impossible. In all likelihood, Cayl would be lucky to escape with one unsinged organ and she would be very fortunate to have someone savage a working servo or two.
Time began to slow. A faint tingle washed over Cayl, relaxing his muscles as the effect of the minor temporal distortion enveloped the entire establishment. Physical actions of those aiming their weapons at him were reduced to gradual slow motions from walking to blinking. It was just enough time for Cayl to close his eyes. He took in a deep breath, exhaled, and balled his hands into a fist.
Then, the Syntien saw something she never saw a Galactic Peacekeeper do before: he smiled.
Suddenly, Cayl broke out of his calm demeanor and spun around as the sword reappeared, putting it to quick work. The sword was a mere blur as it swung out and twisting in defensive action while Cayl was in a spinning motion. Shots were fired while he did this and were deflected back to the assailants, striking the floor and legs, taking down some of them as the others continued to fire.
Cayl completed the turn and pointed to the Syntien to make for the exit, which was unfortunately clear across the room, blockaded by two-dozen people who wanted to kill him. To his amazement, the Syntien was right by his side making the run.
Laser bolts streaked by them from behind and front, dangerously coming close to striking them down. But the lack of aiming and the haste actions made it easy to ignore the possibility of getting hit.
Time began to slow once again, revealing to Cayl the immediate danger ahead of him. A stocky arms dealer had rolled up his right sleeve, uncovering a wrist-strapped quantum rocket aimed perfectly at Cayl. And he knew that the dealer wouldn’t miss.
He grabbed the Syntien by the arm and used as much strength as he could summon to slow themselves down into a skid. Timing was critical and he didn’t want to be in the way of the quantum rocket when it was released. Although, he was afraid it was too late. The time it would take to slow to a stop, or even abruptly stop, and then move out of the way was significantly less than the time the rocket would reach them. No matter how fast Cayl was against laser bolts, he could not dodge something of that magnitude in the distance he was at.
Throwing out his left hand, a surge of bright, golden light covered the area between them and the arms dealer, momentarily blinding him and those next to him.
Reacting to the sudden blindness, the arms dealer released the rocket as he went to cover his eyes, yelling out in optical pain.
The dark blue orb of the quantum rocket raced to its target with great speed, but never made contact. A dark gray figure blurred across the room reaching Cayl and the Syntien before the rocket could, taking them down to the ground and out of harms way for the moment. The rocket quickly sailed past the former position of Cayl and the Syntien, heading straight for the bar at the other end of the room. Patrons-turned-assailants of the establishment rushed to save their own lives by moving out of the way of the rocket before it struck the wall behind the bar. The wall exploded, showering debris for meters and igniting the contents of alcohol in other small explosions. In no time, the establishment was on fire, burning hot and relentlessly.
Cayl, recovering from the sudden drop in elevation, stood up alert and ready for more attacks, but found that the assailants were momentarily preoccupied with the new threat: the fire.
The Syntien stood up, as well, observing the impending disaster of the establishment. If they didn’t get out of there soon, they would soon feel the heat surrounding them, engulfing them in the flames.
They were joined by a third figure, who was securing their location by standing ready to defend them.
“Thanks for coming, Gar.”
“Who’s the female?” Gar’s voice was just as deep as it was over the communication device in Cayl’s ear. He stood back to back with Cayl; his head slightly tilted back and to one side for Cayl to better hear him.
“More than I bargained for,” Cayl said, simply.
“Can she defend herself?”
Cayl looked at the Syntien briefly, asking through eye contact that very question. She nodded, but revealed nothing to indicate that she had any weapons on her. And considering their current situation, Cayl surmised that having a weapon would be preferable than not having one.
Gar caught the Syntien’s nod. “That’s all I need to know.”
Amidst the distraction of the fire, the Tazitian regained his strength to stand, never losing sight for one minute that Cayl was the target for payback. He lost his money, his synthetic, and his hand because of his dealings with Cayl. And the fact that Cayl was a Galactic Peacekeeper added to the pile. While others scrambled for the exit, he stayed put, looking for anyone who could take care of his problem for him.
But it wasn’t just Cayl, anymore. The Syntien was standing by his side as well as a third individual the Tazitian had never seen before, but was familiar with the individual’s likeness. And if the Tazitian wasn’t mistaken, the dark gray, reptilian skinned individual was also a Galactic Peacekeeper.
He quickly scanned the floor for a weapon and found one a couple feet away. With his good and only hand, he gripped the laser rifle, swung around to meet his targets, and wasted no time to pull the trigger, resuming the onslaught of laser bolts.
Gar felt the tingle of a temporal distortion course through his body in a mad rush. In an instant, he closed his eyes and twirled both his hands in a small circle. A golden flash of light surrounded them as two swords appeared. The hilt was fashionably designed in dark blue and black patterns that captured the eye in its magnificence: a holy relic of sorts. The blade gleamed in the low-wattage lights of the establishment as it cut through the air, knocking away bolt after bolt that came his way. The precision of his deflection took down more than a few gun wielding aliens who felt it was more important to vaporize the Galactic Peacekeepers and the Syntien than evacuate the establishment before it completely went up in flames.
The Syntien did nothing more than stand still. She had calculated the risk she was in and the inhuman rate of speed the Galactic Peacekeepers were able to deflect the deadly barrage of laser fire. According to her calculations, she surmised she was quite safe from harm and had every confidence in them to ward off all assailants. There was no need to kill or cause any more harm than necessary. Being one less weapon, she could minimize the casualty rate. Although she assumed that in a place like the Black Market Trade Zone, no one gave a damn about the casualty rate.
With each spinning of Gar’s swords, the amount of laser fire became less and less. The aliens pulled back their attacks until they stopped all together and retreated to the safety of their own new destinations. They couldn’t hope to penetrate the defenses of a Galactic Peacekeeper. They should’ve known that right off the bat, but killing one meant that you were not to be messed with. If you could take down a Galactic Peacekeeper, you could take down anybody. But in that establishment at that moment, that wasn’t the case.
Soon, everybody vacated the premises, not wanting to deal with the Galactic Peacekeepers any longer, nor did they want to be burned alive in the fire that was rapidly spreading.
Heat rose from the flames, distorting the vision of the establishment in waves of misshapen objects. The temperature climbed to intolerable levels as the possibility of smoke inhalation increased significantly.
Once the laser bolts stopped coming from all around, the Tazitian stopped as well, but involuntarily. The firing mechanism jammed on the borrowed laser rifle, producing an awkward chirping sound to indicate that the rifle was malfunctioning. He cursed in his own language, fighting with the rifle.
Cayl and Gar let down their guard, analyzing the chaos one last time.
“It won’t be long,” Gar remarked. “Now is the time to leave.”
Without question or argument (which wasn’t going to be provided anyway), Cayl motioned to the exit. Gar was with him step by step in a fast pace.
The Syntien was behind them only by a foot when she heard the re-polarizing of the laser rifle. Acting on instinct, she spun around, tearing her right sleeve off from the elbow. She caught the Tazitian in her sights as he brought the rifle up a bit to level it on Cayl’s back. Her forearm opened up on four sides and four-laser guns slid out into position, affixed to her skeletal framework. All at once, the guns released a quick burst of lasers with enough power to take down a large beast. In a blink of an eye, the lasers struck the Tazitian directly in the chest, pushing him back into the flames a few meters away.
Cayl and Gar turned around quickly, catching only the actions of the Syntien in astonishment. The Syntien turned back around, facing them with a deadpanned expression.
“I’m ready to go.”
The Goliath Expanse spanned more than half the galaxy, connecting worlds of no particular significance to anyone. The worlds consisted of primitive life, minimal resources, and of no strategic importance. The multiple borders that etched out the territories of various galactic powers determined the dimensions of the Expanse. Since nothing was of value within the Expanse, no system or governing powers wished to claim any part of it, leaving a vast area of space unregulated.
That significant fact left a great deal of possibilities (illegal possibilities) open. Many species referred to the Expanse as the Chaos Corridor for its long history of unruly activities: pirating, racing, duels, and other small incidences. Anything could happen and without a presence of any form of authority, the risk was in the hands of those who entered the Expanse.
The Expanse has seen the holy war between the Z’ul and the Jecro, which led to the annihilation of the latter. The Great Syntien War devastated the area thousands of years ago, lying to waste countless of worlds along the mIshan border. During the Golden Age of the Mara Dynasty, a fleet of transports carrying Lexian refugees was destroyed by their enemies, slaughtering over two hundred thousand Lexians in a blink of an eye. The Sibecon Revolt peaked deep within the Goliath Expanse as hundreds of vessels engaged in battle, employing the deadliest of defensive weapons and obliterating battleships with massive weapons of war.
But while many regarded it as the Chaos Corridor, many more considered it a safe haven, void of ruling parties. It was much like the Black Market Trade Zone in that respect, but on a grander scale. There were no rules to follow, no laws to obey, and no one to answer to. All there was in the Expanse was only the brutality of space. Pure survival of the fittest and destruction of the meek.
The reality of the Expanse was far from harsh, however. No one was willing to pick a fight unless it was worth it. There was a universal understanding concerning the vast area of space. Since it was considered to be a safe haven among those who wished to travel across the galaxy without government entanglements, criminal activity was extremely low. Small, personal spacecraft and large transports were left alone mostly while freighters and cargo vessels carrying weapons, illegal equipment, and narcotics were subjected to pirating.
Remnants of the Great Syntien War cluttered half a light year of the Goliath Expanse, creating a debris field of destroyed ships and shuttles. Scorched fragments of bulkheads and hull pieces floated aimlessly in the vacuum of space like asteroids. Many ships hundreds of meters long were left half intact, exposing only the crucial areas of its body. Evidence that the crew were eliminated in short strokes while other ships were torn apart from continuous bombardments of quantum missiles and laser fire. As far as anyone knew (or cared to record), more than a dozen fleets from both sides of the firing line tangled horns, locked in a futile battle that ended the war. The free-floating debris made it look like an entire army was lost. Although, that wasn’t far from the truth, either.
“I wonder how many people died, here?”
Anaya turned in her pilot’s seat aboard the Gambit and gave her aide a disapproving glance. She wasn’t in the mood to talk, let alone mindless wondering which bordered on the morbid.
“Enough to make the Sibecon Revolt death toll look like dinner for two. One of the darkest moments in Lexian history was a party compared to this.”
“The Lexians…that was a slaughter.”
“Exactly. So let’s not dwell on such things.”
She turned back around in her chair as the edge of the debris field drew closer. Its image already filled the pilot’s view completely, seemingly stretching out into eternity. Now the small hunks of metal, circuitry components, and indistinguishable objects began to enlarge, revealing detail to their form.
The Gambit was a small modified supply ship, retrofitted with laser arrays and a quantum canyon installed on the underbelly. It was just shy of twenty meters long, small enough to evade a swarm of laser fire from attack cruisers with its excellent maneuvering capabilities if needed to. But it also had plenty of teeth to defend itself; again, if needed to. Width-wise, its conical nose helped slim out and streamline the ship, giving it the look of a fighter (which it pretty much was after its reconstruction). The wings dipped down a bit, positioned near the aft section, accentuating the established look of a fighter.
Anaya took the Gambit into the ship graveyard at a normal speed, ignoring the necessity to reduce speed to safely navigate. Displaying great confidence in her piloting skills and her ship, she weaved the Gambit over, under, and around masses of debris with ease.
From the corner of the transparisteel window, a large piece of a hull rapidly descended into the Gambit’s path. Anaya’s aide gasped in surprise as the impact seemed imminent. Relying on instinct, she thrust the right joystick forward, throwing the ship into a dive. A yelp escaped out of the aide’s mouth as he braced the armrests of his seat to keep from sliding into the navigational console and bruising a few muscles. The ship pitched and twisted in the midst of its dive to avoid extensions projecting out from the irregularly shaped piece of debris. Anaya pulled out of the dive and adjusted her course as if the short detour never occurred.
The aide slid back into his seat, exhaling in relief.
“That’s what the restraints are for, Sparky,” Anaya said.
He wiped a small droplet of sweat from his brow. “You have to teach me how to fly like that.”
“In this ship,” she asked mockingly, yet hiding her slight amusement.
“Never going to happen.”
Silence fell, reverting the interior atmosphere back to its original state since the journey began. It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence. Throughout the months in which Anaya’s aide, Le’ph, had been in Anaya’s service, he had become accustomed to the silence. Anaya never talked much during such travels. She always preferred to use the time to relax before arriving to their destination: mental relaxation. Piloting was second nature to her. It never required much thought or concentration. Talking would only clutter her mind with trivial matters of no particular importance. So she made it a rule (an “unspoken” rule) and Le’ph was wise to honor it.
But every once in a while, Anaya would speak or he would inform her of some system readouts: a misaligned coupling, power flux, etc. Or when they would arrive within minutes of their destination where the need for relaxation would no longer be required.
Le’ph stared out into the debris field, observing the floating chaos, hoping that his faith in Anaya’s piloting skills was still intact. It wasn’t only what was ahead that made him nervous…those he could see…it was the port and starboard; and the possible clipping of the aft from unseen debris that unnerved him. He enhanced the output of the lateral sensors and hoped that he would be alerted in time.
Between Le’ph’s collision alert system and Anaya’s precision flying, the unstable and inconsistent flight path seemed like such a smooth and safe ride. The song and dance continued for about an hour; weaving around the free-floating debris as they traveled deeper into the field.
“Where exactly are we supposed to meet this potentially profitable business transaction?” Le’ph pointed out to the stars and debris indicating vagueness about the whole thing. Neither he nor Anaya knew who they were supposed to meet or why the person sought a meeting, but the amount of credits offered to compensate for the trip would be extremely generous and the total amount of earned credits could triple if a business relationship were to be founded. That was more than enough for them to surround the Gambit in old, destroyed battleships and remnants of fighters. “I doubt there are coordinates to meet. Plotting a course is difficult as it is.”
“I never follow your plotted courses, anyway,” Anaya smirked.
“I’ve noticed,” Le’ph replied, unpleased with the fact. Sometimes he wondered why he ever bothered. Then he reminded himself that was his job.
“Captain’s prerogative.” She turned hard left to avoid a descending escape pod with its hull compromised and occupied with an unfortunate soul. Anaya took a quick note of the fact, let it register for a brief moment in her mind, but felt nothing. The pod shot out of view rapidly as the ship jetted out of the way of a network of reinforced piping which covered five meters of space like a broken web. “Besides, if it wasn’t for your course plotting, I wouldn’t be able to find the shortcuts.”
“As long as I’m appreciated.”
“I wouldn’t go that far.”
Le’ph laughed, but after a moment, he reflected on her tone of what she said and he realized there was no humor behind it. Immediately, his laughter stopped and his face became filled with wonder and confusion. “You’re kidding, right?”
“I’m bringing the Gambit to full stop,” Anaya replied instead. “Keep your eyes locked on those scanners. I don’t want to be sideswiped.”
“Then you should find a safer place to park.”
Slightly turning her head in Le’ph’s direction, “Your attention doesn’t sway from the scanners, Sparky. And boost the shields strength. The Gambit still has some get-up-and-go. The first sign of a possible collision, alert me. And you might want to strap on the restraints just in case.”
Le’ph took her up on that suggestion, reaching behind his shoulder and pulling the restraints out from the seat a bit to slide his arms through the loops. “So, how much money do you think we stand to gain from this venture?” Buckling the midsection strap across his chest, he suddenly felt more secure.
“We don’t know who this person is. Let alone what this person wants to buy, transport, or smuggle. It’s best to just play it by ear.”
Le’ph nodded in agreement. “The compensation for just the trip out here will be sizeable.”
“Supposedly. Are you keeping an eye out for debris?”
For Anaya’s benefit, Le’ph double-checked the sensor readings. “Not so much as a hull fragment is on a collision course. Short-range sensors are showing that we have a clear zone of about fifty meters in diameter.”
“So, the mystery host was truthful. Providing a waiting area free of debris with a use of gravimetric repulsors. Our host is honest, at best. That’s a start. But still watch for runaway debris. The last thing we need is to be set up by one of our less honorable business associates.”
“Do you really think…?”
“It doesn’t matter what the likelihood of that happening is,” Anaya snapped. “We can’t forego precautions because we are in a position to obtain large amounts of credit for doing virtually nothing.”
“Well, shields are at maximum and we are fully loaded. I mean, if we have to fight our way out, we could without overloading a conduit or frying a circuit knowing our untrustworthy business associates.”
“Don’t confuse preparedness with overconfidence.”
“All I’m saying is that this pretty little ship is ready to defend itself.”
There were countless times where she wondered why Le’ph came to be in her employ in the first place. She was aware of the Boetins’ innate capacity for conversing and she tried the best she could to stay away from hiring one. However, she would have been a fool to not have seen the full potential of employing one.
A large quantity of the Boetin populace were so well versed in the art of conversation that it became just that: an art. They were able to weave in and out of discussions as masterfully as Anaya was able to pilot through the debris field. Then there was the skill of weaseling into a conversation that revealed information they desired while presenting a friendly, trustworthy demeanor. In the past, they have been very valuable to multi-planetary corporations who wished to discover their competitor’s marketing tactics, and to those who sell sensitive information for a living (which was one of Anaya’s areas of conducting business).
Le’ph wasn’t, by far, skilled, but he had talent. During their first encounter, he was slick enough to inquire where the Gambit was docked and how much valuable possessions Anaya had acquired throughout the years after buying her a few potent alcoholic drinks. But Anaya was on to him and was waiting outside the Gambit’s boarding ramp as Le’ph attempted to loot the ship. Le’ph was quick to surrender and Anaya was quick to deck him. But instead of turning him over to the local authority, or totally kicking the living biological waste out of him, she decided to use his talents to enrich her business.
It had been said that a Nerran and a Boetin would never do business together or employ one or the other due to conflicting cultures and ways of conducting business. Nerran’s were always straight-laced, having pride in their product, and ensuring quality for the benefit of their customers; Boetins were shifty, deceitful walking fur balls who would sell practically anything regardless of quality and regardless if it wasn’t completely in working order just to earn the almighty profit. Their furry pointed ears fashioned themselves like devilish horns, topping off two inches above their scalp. Their eyes were narrow with red pupils, not helping to diminish or eradicate the mischievous demeanor of the race. In odd contrast, the Boetins’ furry coats covering their skin from top to bottom were a variation of the color white. For many alien races, white symbolized purity, honesty, and good. For religious factions, it also included an absence of evil to the list. However, the Boetin reputation preceded them. No one was fooled by the appearance of Boetins. At least, those who have heard of them. Many people realized that it was necessary to walk on eggshells while dealing with them.
Anaya, however, had made substantial progress with keeping Le’ph on the straight and narrow (as much as her profession allowed in any case).
A soft beep came from the navigation system indicating an incoming transmission.
“We’re being hailed,” Le’ph stated, glancing down at the communication system slightly to his right. “Audio only.”
“Put it through.” Anaya permitted a moment for Le’ph to open the communication channel. “This is Captain Anaya of the Gambit.”
“You’re early, Captain,” a bland, mono-toned voice came back. “By fifteen standard minutes.”
“Let’s just say we’re eager to do business,” she replied.
“You’re eager to get paid. Don’t insult my intelligence.”
“Don’t insult mine. We came in good faith with the understanding that we could establish some form of a business relationship under vague pretenses. The only reason why I’m even here is because you said I’m the only one who could be of service to you. Or was that just a lie?”
“Deception is used by the weak. Those who do not possess an ounce of honor.”
“All right, then. Let’s do business.”
“Proceed to the coordinates I am transmitting to you, now, and follow the instructions. My assistant will accompany you when you land. And remember, no weapons. The first sign of a weapon of any kind, you will be dead by the time you take your next breath.”
Another short beep indicated a termination in communication. “Friendly fellow,” Le’ph remarked.
“Fuvarians aren’t known for being polite.”
“How could you possibly know he is a Fuvarian by the sound of his voice?”
Anaya turned in her seat, giving Le’ph an annoyed glare. “First of all, Fuvarians are hermaphroditic. ‘He’ might as well be a ‘she’ and vice versa. Secondly, Fuvarians consider absolute honestly something to aspire to. An ultimate sense of self and a reflection of oneself. They believe when you deceive others, you are ultimately deceiving yourself of all things.”
“Somewhere down the line, you begin to believe your own lies, huh?”
“Something like that.”
“The entire Boetin homeworld would die laughing if they ever found out about that little fact,” Le’ph smiled.
“Just let me know when the coordinates and instructions are finished downloading.”
Anaya turned back around, not saying another word to her aide. She gripped the ship’s joysticks, ready for flight. Shortly after, the download was complete and Le’ph relayed the coordinates to Anaya’s helm control console. Without a moment’s preparation, she pushed both the left and right joysticks forward, exiting the artificially constructed safety zone of the debris field.
Despite its appearance inside and out, the severely damaged battlecruiser was operational. Environmental controls were in fine working order, gravitational generator was at peak efficiency, and its defensive capabilities were better than they had ever been due to many improvements throughout its occupancy.
Great care went into securing the battlecruiser Vontesta. It was the perfect place to establish a secret facility to conduct business from. Having it located in the ship graveyard, no one would think to look within it. Plus, if anyone did, finding the Vontesta was mathematically impossible. Once visitors have seen the vessel (by invitational only), the vessel would change its location, never being in the same place twice. And there was a lot of debris to get lost in.
Only a selective few knew of the Vontesta; those in which the Fuvarian trusted, and those selective few must travel alone and file a false flight plan if one was required from a spaceport. And in case the Vontesta was discovered, the vessel had more than enough armament and weapons to reduce any intruder to space dust.
When the docking bay doors closed, the Gambit had already touched down on the reinforced metal plating of the deck. Coolant exhaust sprayed out its aft vents as the humming and whirring of the engines subsided.
Awaiting their arrival, a Fuvarian stood patiently with Its hands behind Its back. It stood at six-foot-one and stern. And because Fuvarians lacked physical distinction, it was difficult to determine Its mood.
Physically, Fuvarians were just a gelatinous humanoid form, void of detail and a face. A three-dimensional golden shadow of thick liquid. Despite Its unique chemical make-up, Its exterior framework had the ability to solidify and remain as long as the Fuvarian wanted.
The docking ramp lowered on the port side of the Gambit, revealing its crew. Light poured out of the ship for a brief moment, then diminished to match the low-luminosity of the docking bay. To the Fuvarian’s surprise and amusement, It recognized the two individuals as a female Nerran and a male Boetin. It never thought It would see the day where It would actually see a pairing like that.
Immediately, It concluded that the Nerran was in control. Judging by the confident stance, calm presence, and stoic stare in comparison to the Boetin’s preoccupation with the sights of the docking bay, It knew It made a correct deduction.
The crème colored Boetin wasn’t much to look at. (When were they ever?) But the Nerran had a regal look about her: a majestic aura that seemed to radiate from her very soul. The dark navy blue cloak draped her slender body, able to conceal any weapon that would rest at her side. The hood covered her short black hair, casting a light shadow over her face. And when she began to descend down the docking ramp, there was such elegance and grace in her steps, the Fuvarian felt foolish for not bowing although there was no reason for it.
“Interesting place you got here,” the Boetin remarked, apparently amused by his own comment.
The docking bay measured roughly one hundred meters by fifty meters with the capacity to house two squadrons of short-range fighters. The bay was vacant, however, save for the Gambit and another vessel, which Le’ph could only assume to have been in the possession of the Fuvarian’s employer. The interior wasn’t much to look at, to say the least. Cold steel and other metals comprised of the walls, floor, and ceiling only gave it a militaristic feel about it. And rightly so.
The vessel currently known as the Vontesta was among the finest of the fleet: the embodiment of military might.
Unfortunately, that might was tested. Evidence of a Syntien boarding party that had fought their way onto the Vontesta was clearly seen. Carbon scoring marked the walls and access doors. Lighting fixtures were damaged beyond repair, which caused the limited luminosity. In a far corner, remains of a couple Syntiens were fused into the metal plating: their exoskeletons disfigured and twisted with the skulls intact, their eyes staring out into the open.
“You might want to consult your interior decorator about these choices,” Le’ph remarked as they reached the bottom of the ramp where the Fuvarian waited to greet them.
“The Boetin does not speak,” the Fuvarian snapped. “Ever.” When It spoke, Its head rippled from the sound waves It was generating in order to form speech. Each syllable accented the epicenter of the ripple like a new rock being introduced in a body of water.
“I am Captain Anaya. He is my aide. Forgive him. He hasn’t been properly housebroken, yet.” Anaya shot Le’ph a glance, warning him to remain silent for the duration of the visit.
“If he speaks again, you will be held responsible.”
“Understood.” She elbowed Le’ph hoping to get the point across that if she was held responsible, he better not let a single verbal grunt escape his lips.
Le’ph flinched and jerked from the sudden jab at his side.
Casually, Anaya opened up her cloak to reveal her sides and bowed slightly to express good intentions. The Fuvarian made a motion with Its head, looking at Anaya from head to toe. After a quick observation, It realized what she was doing and then waved a hand to dismiss the gesture entirely.
“That will not be necessary,” It stated. “The moment you stepped out of your ship, you have been continuously scanned for every weapon known. If you were carrying, the hidden defense system would have killed you before you stepped off your ship.”
Anaya let her cloak hang loose, nodding in acknowledgment.
The Fuvarian turned and began to lead the way to their next destination. They crossed more than half the docking bay, when It stopped abruptly. Without making another movement, It said, “The Boetin must remain here.”
Le’ph looked at Anaya, frowning.
Anaya simply held out her hand. “Wait in the Gambit. At least there you can talk.” The Fuvarian resumed leading Anaya out of the docking bay as she continued to follow. “And check the aft stabilizers. They’re due for replacement soon. I want to know how far we can go before they fail completely.” Sensing that Le’ph was about to speak, she cut him off. “Don’t speak, Sparky. I know you understand. Just do it.”
The tall double doors that revealed a long access corridor behind it, closed directly behind Anaya with a thunderous bang that echoed throughout the entire docking bay.
The vibration from the massive doors sliding shut resonated off the walls within the wide corridor. Anaya felt the sound waves push against her body from all sides as it eventually faded away into nothing. For a short moment after, her body tingled from the residual effect, causing little bumps to surface temporarily on her flesh.
No effort went into repairing the main corridor. Panels were blown off with wires exposed and melted. Conduits were fried, electrical junctions were fused beyond recognition, and structural beams were severely compromised. Even on the ceiling the colorization of the metals was tainted with laser burns and smoke stains. Fragments of metal littered the floor in small amounts coming from the many punctured holes in the walls and ceilings. The lighting system outlining the ceiling flickered inconsistently, crackling from short-circuiting.
“Judging this vessel by its appearance would be extremely premature. This is by design.”
“No need to explain,” Anaya replied. “Judgment is reserved. I, of all people, am aware of things not being what they appear to be.”
The Fuvarian reached the end of the corridor, coming to a stop in front of a door. “You are wise for a Nerran.”
“A compliment, I’m sure.”
“Indeed,” the Fuvarian agreed. Instead of entering a code into the control panel located next to the door, It turned to face Anaya. “My employer is a Fuvarian of great vision. Veck prepares for the inevitable.”
“The coming war. Between what is—-and what was.”
The door opened instantly after the Fuvarian entered the access code. Anaya followed it into a lift that would take her to the final meeting place. Running the name Veck through her mind, she failed to recall any information that could have passed her way through the information circuit. Basically, unofficial talk between smugglers and traders. But there was nothing to recall.
Anaya had dealt with a variety of species from all walks of life, traveling throughout the entire Ventax Galaxy, and having been as well rounded in terms of information, technology, and knowing the names of faces, she would have assumed that some mention of Veck would have passed her way.
Unless Veck was new to the scene.
The lift brought them to a stop not long after it was activated. The door opened to a large office where a Fuvarian waited patiently behind a crescent-shaped black desk.
In splendid contrast, the room was decked out with elaborate tapestries and magnificent artwork on every wall. Every millimeter sparkled from cleanliness and reconstructed with the most recent building material. Reinforced walls provided security from explosives and lesser weaponry as they consisted of multiple layers of solid steel six inches thick. The floor was carpeted: a surprising choice of dark blue and a wide path of red leading to a single black chair a foot in front of the desk. Statues originated from various worlds were decoratively scattered around the office lit by carefully positioned lights, which shone from above. Behind the desk upon the wall, a glass case displayed a collection of practically every sword, knife, and laser pistol that side of the galaxy.
Anaya made a quick note of the identity of each handcrafted weapon as her escort led her down the red carpet to her designated seat. Once she was there, the Fuvarian assistant reversed direction and retraced a few steps, stopping a couple feet behind her, then turned back around. Remaining absolutely still, she awaited Veck’s acknowledgment of her presence.
The bronze colored Fuvarian was motionless as well, seemingly staring at his new guest, sizing her up for good measure. But without eyes, it was difficult for Anaya to tell for certain.
“You may sit,” Veck said at last.
She did so, pulling back the hood of her cloak. Her black hair was pulled tightly into a short ponytail. Her blue eyes, clear as crystal, were focused on the Fuvarian. “How do you know me?”
“You are not popular, Anaya. But you are well known. You are willing to do business with anyone and do anything that you find acceptable within your own moral standards. That makes you knowledgeable, informative, and resourceful. Not to mention valuable, which borders on non-expendable. But not quite there, yet. You are well rounded, Captain. That impresses me for a…for a female Nerran. You’ve dealt with more alien races in your lifetime than I have in three. And I am very well-rounded, as well.”
“I would appreciate it if you would fly a direct course,” Anaya remarked, beginning to lose patience.
“My name is Veck. And as it has already been mentioned, you are in a position to gain a great debt of gratitude from me. A debt, which will be paid handsomely. I wish to purchase information from you.”
“Of the sensitive sort.” Veck rose from its chair and began to slowly make Its way around the desk. “Do understand that I am a person of business. I wish to establish a professional relationship. To expand my business. Venture into new profitable opportunities.”
“And what type of business is that?”
“Supply and demand, Captain,” Veck replied simply.
She continued to eye Veck until It walked out of her eyesight. Her eyes met Veck on the other end as It reappeared from behind her. “Let’s talk details.”
“I need information on the Nova’Psi.”
Uncontrollably, her eyebrows furrowed from the unexpected announcement. She hid it quickly, returning to a more neutral expression before Veck could notice. Due to the nature of the request, she needed to maintain a position of indifference.
Veck had returned behind Its desk, standing in front of the display case of weapons.
“Why do you need such information?”
“That, Captain, is none of your affair,” Veck snapped. The ripples were deep and forceful when It replied, indicating that the question should not be pursued further. “To my knowledge, you are the only person who have made repeated contact and business transactions with those belonging to the former Order. And, from what I hear, you are the only one any of them will do business with whether it was for supplies, buying equipment, or transportation services.”
“They trust me.”
“And why is that?”
“We have a mutual understanding. A Nova’Psi vouched for me. And so no questions were asked. In return, I don’t inquire on anything any one of them wants from me.”
“And you inquire of me?”
“We don’t have a mutual understanding,” Anaya grinned.
“What do you know about them?”
Anaya remained silent, eyes fixed on Veck. For a moment, Veck stared right back at her awaiting an answer that didn’t seem to be forthcoming. Then, Veck got the hint. Veck held out his hand, palm up, and ripples formed on the surface. Emerging from within, a thin, metallic card was produced and was set upon the desk. Veck pushed it across the way where Anaya didn’t hesitate to pick it up, give it a quick glance, and tuck it into a pocket of her shirt.
“As much as everyone else,” Anaya finally replied. “Currently, they are members of an Order that were disbanded ten standard years ago. They live among us in secret and in hiding from the Central Government, who wishes to arrest them. They are perceived as potential threats. Ironically, the Nova’Psi were harmless unless provoked, serving as peacekeepers throughout the galaxy. They had been in existence since time itself.”
“I am not interested in a historical summary. Everyone knows as much.”
“The Nova’Psi consisted of a variety of species from all over the galaxy,” Anaya continued. “They are superior in intelligence, strength, and in the art of war. They possessed abilities unmatched by anyone. Also they possess the knowledge to construct a Transgalaxian subspace tunnel, which was placed within their protection since the dawn of the Mara Dynasty.”
“Again, this I already know.”
“Then what exactly do you want to know.”
“How would one go about locating and identifying a Nova’Psi?”
“Get a psychic.” Anaya stood on the verge of ending the meeting. “Look, I realize that in this situation ignorance is bliss, but the risk is too great not to know why I’m being probed for information. If, for any reason, this turns out I’m going to end up dead for selling this kind of information, I want to know why. And more credits.”
“I’m afraid that can’t be permitted. You will become a liability.”
“Then I walk.”
She began to leave, heading up the same red path that brought her to the chair. She didn’t have time for such ridiculous affairs of business. Risky territory was ahead and it was best to travel lightly. There had been countless times where she had sold sensitive information, but not of the same caliber of the Nova’Psi.
“That would be unwise.” Veck tapped the bottom left corner of the display case, opening it. The glass rose up like a gate, allowing Veck access. From the display of weapons, Veck took into Its hand a blade fashioned with a wooden handle and a circular blade that was razor sharp all around. “You have participated in questionable activities in the past, Captain. This is no different.”
Anaya stopped, and only turning her head to the side. “Playing money hungry industrial corporations against each other, smuggling wrongly convicted fugitives out of the Central Government territories, or selling high-tech weapons to rebellion groups are justifiable.”
“In their own right, perhaps,” Veck admitted as much. Veck turned around to face Anaya, strengthening Its grip on the blade’s hilt.
“The Nova’Psi are not to be trifled with. I don’t know exactly what business you are in, but I hope for your sake, its legitimate as far as the Nova’Psi is concerned. And I suggest that you put that weapon away before you find yourself doing business with the Divine Creator of the Galaxy.”
Veck laughed. Its head was a convulsion of ripples, bombarded by sound waves. Placing the weapon back, Veck caught the reflection of Anaya turning around off the blade. “You are as bold as they say, Captain.”
“I am a Fuvarian of vision, Captain.”
“So I’ve been told.”
“Keit highly respects me and has the tendency to give praise to those Keit encounters.” Veck retook Its seat, getting comfortable instantly. “The galaxy is unraveling before our eyes and generally speaking, we are all blinded to the fact.”
“How does this concern the Nova’Psi?”
“Preparation is essential. I have done that here. But there are some things which are out of our control.”
“The unpredictability of others. Such as yourself. I will tell you what you need to know in exchange for the information I require with the understanding that you must not speak of this.”
A feeling deep down stirred within telling Anaya to walk away. The information requested would reveal secrets and highly sensitive information about the Nova’Psi that was entrusted upon her. To betray that trust would condemn her. What Veck might explain could have been no more than half-truths: just enough to convince her to share what she knew. But every fiber of her being told her it wasn’t safe. Larger consequences would arise and she didn’t want to be the cause of it.
“No deal,” she declared, and kept the credits in her pocket as she left the office.
The Vontesta became just another ship in the background. To Le’ph’s dismay, Anaya had taken the Gambit back into the debris field full throttle.
Strapped into his seat, Le’ph evaluated the metallic card Anaya had given him with a broad grin. “Very generous, indeed. And this was just for stopping by? No business relationship was established?”
“No. Doing business with the Fuvarian was asking for trouble. I sensed as much.”
“We’ve asked for trouble before.”
“Believe me, Sparky, we don’t need this kind of trouble.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Something just doesn’t feel right,” Anaya explained. She took the ship up and over a small cluster of floating metal and pitched it to the left at a thirty-degree tilt to avoid an empty shell of an escape pod. “The Fuvarian was too nonchalant about obtaining what It needed, yet it was important to obtain it. Plus, Veck let me go without a fight. It didn’t even try showering me with credits to entice me to sell the information.”
“We still got paid out of it,” Le’ph pointed out.
Going on instinct, “Check our memory banks.”
Le’ph saw no point in it, but he did it anyway. The navigational chart on his console blinked away as a diagram of the ship’s storage capacity appeared. Le’ph entered the appropriate commands to perform the quick diagnostic. The result that came back was unexpected and baffling.
“That’s strange,” he commented. He ran another diagnostic just to be certain.
“Some of our files have been downloaded.”
Le’ph could hear the frustration in her voice beginning to manifest. “Unknown. But every file, business transaction, and record of the Nova’Psi was downloaded.”
Anaya gritted her teeth. “Damn, I knew it! Veck stole the information from us anyway. Somehow, that Fuvarian managed to sneak it by us while the Gambit was in the docking bay.”
“But they’re encrypted,” Le’ph defended. “There’s no possible way Veck could learn anything.”
“Something tells me that will not be a problem for Veck. At least, not for very long.”
Even to a Syntien, a Goyle was intimidating. The dark gray skinned alien was a head taller than her. His body frame was that of a galactic Olympiad: all muscle with the strength to go with it. By his appearance alone, he could most likely lift five men over his head without so much breaking a single solitary sweat. That had never been tested: voluntarily or otherwise.
Gar’s walking stride was wide and steady, pushing away the solid foundation like a hand pushing away air. Cayl seemed to have no problem remaining side by side with him despite that Gar’s stride was twice that of Cayl’s. The Syntien, however, was hard-pressed to keep up in walking mode.
A leathery cape surrounded his body like a cloak with two interlocking bone-like hooks connected at the base of his neck. In actuality, they were wings wrapped around him. The wingspan was nearly two meters long. When spread, the draping appearance becomes a web of leathery skin from bone to bone.
They blended in just nicely with the various aliens roaming along the city streets. The city block was filled with pawnshops, weaponry stores, and establishments that purely distribute narcotics at insane prices. Patrons entered and exited the shops continuously, eager to get what they came for and bargain down the prices.
The Syntien hated to know the purpose behind such purchases or trades. Weapons of destruction were easily accessible, the drugs were potent enough for any individual to take down six Goyle’s, and information consisting of anything from around the galaxy could be purchased by any low life. There was some concern within the Syntien about defending her new owner, his companion, and lastly, herself. There were too many illegal elements in the environment to not warrant caution.
“So much for not drawing attention to ourselves,” Gar remarked.
“It was unavoidable,” Cayl replied. “My Tazitian friend wanted to pick a fight. I couldn’t detect his position until he pulled the trigger.”
“You must be careful. Sharp reflexes fade with time and age.”
“I’m still young,” Cayl smiled.
“We all are on a cosmological scale.” Briefly, he took a glance at the night sky, getting a bearing on their position. The planet played host to millions of alien species per rotational cycle within the Black Market Trade Zone, which meant that business was booming on the surface. Streets twisted and turned into a maze of chaos. Ones sense of direction must be keen. So Gar relied on the stars for guidance. “Enlighten me, Cayl, about the Syntien.”
“I suppose my true nature was exposed when I shot the Tazitian,” the Syntien stated.
“An understatement if I ever heard one,” Cayl mused.
“Truly, Fate has a sense of humor,” Gar remarked.
“No one more than I will understand the historical irony of this situation in a century,” the Syntien added.
“Let’s leave the past where it belongs for the moment. We should focus on the present.”
“The Tazitian entered her into the betting pool, confident in his hand,” Cayl began to explain. “He failed to win and she was transferred into my possession. Needless to say, the Tazitian wasn’t pleased with the end result.” He gave the Syntien a look: a side-glance. “I tried to dissolve the ownership, but it appears that I haven’t had any luck in that department, yet.”
“So,” Gar began, turning to the Syntien. “We’re stuck with you.”
“Correction.” She pointed her finger casually at Cayl. “He’s stuck with me.”
The stop in the Black Market Trade Zone was supposed to have been a simple thing. The main objective was to acquire more money needed to upgrade their ship’s system and give it a major overhaul. But while Gar was wandering the city to sell old computer components, Cayl somehow managed to win the ownership of a Syntien and reveal their true identities, which posed more dangers in the Zone than revealing themselves in the Central Government. While many wouldn’t dare assault them, some would. Gar was hoping that no one would be stupid enough to.
Galactic Peacekeepers weren’t immortal and they weren’t, by far, gods. The last thing Gar needed was some hot shot or an angered individual with a false sense of invulnerability to take a shot at him. Many years ago when he was much younger and less seasoned as a Peacekeeper, Gar welcomed such hostilities, using them as teachings in skill and discipline. He benefited from them as it forced him to hone his abilities and anticipate everything. Gar only used it as a means of defense and never caused harm to resolve the conflicts.
But he had learned so much since his younger days. Many battles and many wars had entered his life, showing him various sides of life and death. He had seen cities turned into ruins, empires and fascist regimes fall, and worlds destroyed; he had witnessed friends and fellow warriors fall in battle, nameless individuals perish, and countless of species cower in the presence of those who wished to destroy them. Much hate and aggression existed in the galaxy. That was well known to all within the Order of the Nova’Psi. However, to have fought so long against it as Gar had, diminished the righteous ideals and nobility of becoming a warrior of peace.
Though the passion was gone, his beliefs remained. Endless hours were spent reading the Nova’Psi archives studying the words of wisdom of past teachers and rulers of the Order. His focus was philosophy. Not so much to try to understand the universe, but to understand his place in it.
In the years before the fall of the Order, Gar was content to teach what he had learned throughout his life as a Nova’Psi warrior: action through reaction, strength through lack of force, and justice, not by the way of righteousness, but through morality. He considered it his duty to reinforce the teachings of the great warriors of the past instilling honor, loyalty, and equality among all species.
During his tenure, he doubled as a mentor, providing special training and instruction to those he deemed worthy. He was revered as the greatest warrior of the contemporary era, displaying that which he had taught in many conflicts and small battles that made it necessary for him to fight. His disciples regarded him as a hero, following his every footstep in the hopes of becoming an exact replica of him.
But the assassination of the leader of the Order caused much chaos and destruction, scattering members of the Order throughout the galaxy. Many had stood their ground against the Central Government, putting up a noble front right until the end. Unfortunately, the Central Government’s technology was far superior than it should have been, targeting essential members of the Nova’Psi. The structure of leadership fell by the wayside and more than half of their numbers were killed. Without anyone to lead, those who had survived were left to roam the galaxy, concealing their true identities from the Central Government and all those who would call upon them.
Cayl was with him that tragic day of the assassination, fought with him during the defensive strike where Gar almost lost his life, and had been with him ever since.
Forever the student he will be, Gar thought.
He took a quick glance behind them before taking another directional reading from the stars, searching far into the distance where dark figures fell into the shadows.
“Trouble,” Cayl asked, taking a brief look for himself.
“There’s always trouble,” Gar replied. “The question is, who is trouble looking for? The ship is not far. We should remain natural. Hopefully, it’s just an old warrior’s paranoia.”
Cayl wasn’t so sure. He kept his attention forward while keeping an eye and ear out for uninvited guests. He was ready to defend himself, if needed to. But as Gar once told him, “Preparing for a fight is asking for a fight.” There was truth in that, of course. However, Cayl saw no harm in preparation. There was a huge difference between preparing to defend oneself and looking for a fight. Gar, of all people, would know that. But Gar had also taught him to expect nothing; anticipate everything.
“Does the Syntien have a designation?”
“No,” Cayl simply replied.
Turning to her, Gar then asked, “What shall we call you?”
“I never had the opportunity to ponder such a thing.”
“Now you have.”
Surprisingly to Cayl, Gar was rather cordial to their new travel companion. For as long as Cayl had known him, Gar had never spoken favorably of the Syntiens, whether it was during his history lectures or in casual conversation. He, like all Nova’Psi, regarded Syntiens as cold technological puppets with the dangerous property of independent thought. They didn’t experience emotions like every other species in the galaxy, processing physical sensations into logical actions and reactions to heat, injuries, and various sensitive situations. They could smile, frown, and mimic expressions of frustration and happiness without the emotion to accompany it. According to the historical accounts told by those who encountered them, Syntiens were more apt to take commands than dictate their own.
And yet, Gar was respectful, in a way, to the Syntien. He was among those who had encountered Syntiens before and spoke about them in the way others had. Cayl, however, had never seen one until the card game, but was well aware of their kind. Remembering what he had learned. To hear Gar communicate with the Syntien as if she was just another lifeform was an interesting reversal.
“And you are Gar, correct,” she asked. “Hero of the Battle of Goren?”
Cayl raised his eyebrows in amazement. “You have heard of him?”
“All Syntiens who survived the Great Syntien War have heard of Gar. The Nova’Psi warrior who turned the tides of war.”
Gar’s facial muscles tightened with tension. Remembering that part of his past fueled a wave of strong emotions he rather not have. The Battle of Goren was such a terrible battle, fought in the northern swamps of a murky, damp, and storm-ridden planet in the Sepin system called Goren. Lightning storms masked the advancement of the Syntien army, interfered with any visual confirmation of the enemy by the use of electro-binoculars and visual surveillance monitors. Heavy winds blowing at 80 standard cycles hindered the stability of the Nova’Psi’s accuracy as they fought the strength and speed of the wind as well as the effect it had on the rainfall, slamming the raindrops into their faces. The thick, muddy water of the swamp slowed down the field assault, making it difficult, if not impossible, to run and move with haste.
The Syntiens, however, were designed and constructed to adapt to a variety of terrain. Among their complex programming was an electrical component that enabled them to compensate for heavier gravity, severe atmospheric pressure, acid rain, and other physical limitations by adjusting their weight, strength, durability, and servo-motivators to get the task done. Although the external properties such as skin and hair may had suffered under such conditions and were in need of repair, the internal properties and skeletal structure remained fully intact.
While the Syntiens pressed on with ease along the swamplands of Goren, the Nova’Psi were forced to double their efforts, exhausting both their supplies and mystical powers. Nearly half of the Nova’Psi’s forces were cut down in a matter of minutes and the Nova’Psi were pressured to retreat. But they refused to let up, taking their swords and other ancient weapons to the Syntien’s army with relentless fire in their veins. Their determination to survive against the elements and against all odds helped dwindle the Syntien’s numbers bit by bit, applying unconventional and unorthodox methods led by Gar after more than ten of his superiors have died, leaving him as the highest ranking member of the Order. An hour later, the battle was over and the Syntien army was in shambles.
“It is not a place I wish to recall,” Gar stated, becoming tense with each passing second.
Cayl could sense the tension forming, weighing on them, and clouding the situation like a thick fog system.
“I don’t understand,” the Syntien admitted.
“Let’s keep it that way.”
Chief Administrator Xyin was like his peers: strict, direct, and all business. Where they lacked in quality, he picked up the slack, applying ruthlessness, cunning, and political manipulation to get what needed to get done. For thirteen years he had served his position, walked down the same corridors and hallways with a commanding presence that demanded respect, and listened to the same old arguments and concerns from the other government officials and legislators about unruly citizens on outlining colonies, an increase in the crime rate, and the annoying squabbles of power struggles among themselves.
His brown hair surrendered to gray years ago, and was cut short and brushed forward to lie flat on his scalp. He joked many times that it was the job, not the years that caused the graying. The attire he chose to wear during his term in office always reflected the regal and patriotic aspects of the Central Government: black pants once worn by the Defense Force fifty years ago accompanied by a polished silver emblem of the Central Government fashioned as a bolt buckle, a purple shirt made of silk, and a black leather vest completed the ensemble.
Joining him down a corridor leading to an eating facility was his advisor, a lanky, fish-skinned Liquarian dressed in an algae-like garment tailored by his people. On both sides of his neck were gills, capable of breathing both above and below water. They opened wider under a longer duration of time to allow more oxygen into their system, spreading like slowly flapping wings.
“I assume that you will be providing something of interest to me.”
“Indeed.” From a pouch on his right arm, Xyin’s advisor pulled out a data card and presented it to him. “A small donation from Governor Sila to aid those who suffered misfortune from the broken levees in the Southern Province.”
Xyin smiled, taking the data card in hand. “I knew she would come around. All she needed was the proper motivation. See what a little blackmail could do for the good of the people?”
“Yes. Now we have more than enough to provide adequate help.”
“Do we?” Xyin tucked the data card away into the inside vest pocket. “We better recheck the funds to make sure.”
His advisor returned the grin Xyin was giving, acknowledging an understanding between them.
They entered a large dining room, elegant in design and ambiance. Xyin chose his usual table tucked away in a corner next to a window that looked out over the landscape of Capital City. There, he could take on the view of both: the formal décor of flowering plants, bright, colorful tablecloths, and every gourmet meal served with wine in combination with the extraordinary visual of the city’s skyscrapers reaching for the majestic light yellow sky. It created a serene environment for Xyin. The perfect place to unwind after a busy morning of delegations and trivial complaints.
Now it was time for lunch. Now it was time to leave all that behind.
A mere moment after Xyin and his advisor were seated, a waitress came over carrying two menus. She handed one to his advisor and then, turned to him.
“The usual, sir?”
“Not today,” Xyin replied, reaching for the menu with a courteous grin. “I’m in the mood for something less spicy. I’ll let you know.”
The waitress nodded and then left to attend her other tables.
Xyin began to peruse the menu, looking for something that would tantalize his taste buds when he asked, “Has there been any word from our operative in the Vefrin sector?”
“Yes, there has,” his advisor hesitated.
Xyin looked up from his menu, locking eyes with the Liquarian. He was expecting a positive response from him, but not one with pause. It made him curious and confused. For what reason did his advisor need to hesitate? The question wasn’t too sudden to catch him off-guard and unprepared to answer. Either there was contact with the operative recently, or there hadn’t been.
“Is there something I should know about?”
Again, the Liquarian hesitated. “Yes, Xyin, but it’s not something we should speak of publicly.”
“Then watch your volume. This is every bit my sanctuary as my office. Has the operative’s cover been blown?”
“No,” the Liquarian answered, shaking his head. “She is still right on the trail of the Skidd Syndicate. But there has been another development.”
“Good or bad?”
“That’s open to interpretation.”
“Out with it, Mikan.”
Mikan leaned forward and lowered his voice to be more discreet. “Our operative in the Vefrin sector was successfully able to track the root of the Skidd Syndicate to the heart of the Black Market Trade Zone.”
“We’ve discussed this. Our jurisdiction is not of any concern to me. Eliminating those pirates is the number one interest of the Central Government. If the operative is discovered, she deserves to suffer the consequences.”
“Our operative is well aware of the…occupational hazards. She is very loyal and would never flinch away from an assignment.”
“Then what is it that needs interpreting,” Xyin asked, smiling. Despite the unknown element of the conversation, he was doing his best to stay optimistic. He had enough irritations during the course of the morning to frustrate him and to provide plenty of stress, and he was certain there would be more to come. This was his place to remain tranquil and to enjoy one of the good-natured aspects of life: lunch. Nothing would be allowed to taint this moment. Not if Chief Administrator Xyin had anything to say about it. “I must admit. You have me extremely curious.”
“During her surveillance of the Syndicate’s weapons shipment scout, Iag Slol, she observed an encounter involving the Tazitian and a Galactic Peacekeeper.”
Xyin remained silent for a long moment, letting the worlds “Galactic Peacekeeper” sink in. It wasn’t a term he heard often. Even just mentioned in rumor, he had only heard it said perhaps four times in the past two standard years. He knew, like everyone else in the galaxy, that Peacekeepers didn’t willingly reveal themselves. They preferred to move about the cosmos in secret, living among the rest of the populace as normal, everyday sentient lifeforms. Only when it was necessary, would someone from the former Order emerge. But all reported sightings were rumored sightings: rumors the Central Government couldn’t validate. Never had a Central Government official, agent, or law enforcement personnel seen a Peacekeeper…until now.
“Encounter? Or altercation?”
Mikan understood the reason behind the question. There would have been a reason for Peacekeepers revealing themselves.
“The latter of the two.”
Xyin nodded, signaling the waitress to attend to them. He wasn’t quite sure what he wanted, yet, but he definitely needed a strong cup of coffee. Once the waitress came back over, the conversation came to a halt. They placed their orders for drinks as if nothing important was being verbally passed between them. Both mastered in the art of concealment, superficially masking a false presentation, Xyin and Mikan were able to look like they were speaking of problem solving for the transportation association.
As quickly as she came, the waitress was gone to fill their orders.
Xyin resumed. “And what of Iag Slol?”
“At present, according to our operative’s report, it is safe to say that her lead to the Skidd Syndicate had abruptly come to a dead end.”
“This presents an interesting predicament, doesn’t it? Bringing down the Syndicate would dramatically reduce the number of high-tech weapon thefts and industrial sabotage in the home sector alone. But also we cannot lose sight of a potentially perfect opportunity such as tracking the Nova’Psi.” After a slight pause, he asked. “What is the delay time for communications relaying from and to the Vefrin sector?”
“Standard signal or special ops?”
“Approximately one standard hour.”
Xyin frowned. “By the time we get a message to her it would have been two hours since her report.” He saw the waitress coming with his coffee and Mikan’s non-alcoholic ale. From ten feet away and closing, the aroma of the freshly brewed beans picked from the most fruitful planet in the galaxy. It was gly blend: the strongest blend there was. The aroma alone perked his awareness further. He gripped the mug eagerly, thanking the waitress as she set Mikan’s drink down. Quickly, Xyin made his order, trying to get back to the conversation at hand. But he was also hungry.
The waitress took the orders with a grin, assuring the highest quality. Xyin complimented on her service, then politely dismissed her.
Xyin took a quick, careful sip before continuing, savoring the flavor of the coffee beans. “How safe would an encrypted special ops transmission be going into the Black Market Trade Zone?”
“Considering the possible number of code breakers and slicers making themselves at home there, any coded transmission would have the possibility of being picked up and deciphered.”
“What would you recommend, Mikan?”
Mikan thought for a moment, going through a short list of possible solutions. They needed to get a transmission through. That was clear. The nature of the transmission, however, was for Xyin to decide. With the loss of the Tazitian lead, the operative’s mission was surely a stalemate. Nothing left but for her to backtrack. And now with a sighting of a Peacekeeper, there was a significant opportunity to track and monitor a potential threat to the Central Government. If they were able to send a coded transmission via special ops channel, the transmission would get there in moments, utilizing subspace technology to shoot it across faster than the speed of light. But, of course, the trick was getting it passed those slicers in the Zone.
Then it occurred to him. The only viable solution.
“We should dispatch the secondary operative already awaiting orders on the fourth moon of Wenworld just outside the Zone. Have this second operative contact her and deliver the instructions.” He paused before asking. “What are the instructions?”
“I am not sure. How can I serve both interests without jeopardizing the loss of one?”
“I would suggest since the mission practically must restart from scratch, the second operative should take over, beginning with the latest information the first was able to gather. This will free our operative, who’s already in motion, to pursue the Peacekeepers. I took the liberty to inform her while she was giving her report, to retain visual contact of the Peacekeepers until further notice.”
Xyin tilted his head with a whimsical smirk, cupping the mug in his hands. He was quite impressed with not only Mikan’s presented solution, but also the initiative to keep an eye on the Peacekeepers, knowing how important the opportunity was. And Mikan did, indeed, propose an excellent solution: a perfectly simple solution. Xyin was genuinely surprised for failing to see it himself.
A smile was branded on his face for the better part of the day. It was such an exciting prospect filled with anticipation and eagerness. He could see it, now. Future events were unfolding before his eyes, pushing away dark clouds and jagged, foreboding mountains to reveal a clear sky of possibilities. Finally, after ten years of searching, the Nova’Psi was going to find themselves at the mercy of the Central Government.
The conclusion had been slowly approaching. The Nova’Psi, the Galactic Peacekeepers as they were commonly referred to, were far too superior and powerful. Although they hadn’t flexed that power, yet, all had agreed within the Central Government that it was only a matter of time.
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The Order of the Nova’Psi were once the galactic peacekeepers and warriors of the Ventax Galaxy. Feared by the corrupted and imperialistic government of the Central Government, their leader was assassinated and the Order fell under attack. The Order was disbanded. Ten years has passed and Anaya, a supplier, possesses the only file with the identities and locations of the surviving members. When the file is stolen from her, Cayl and Gar, members of the former Order are targeted. With Anaya’s help, they must find the one responsible before bounty hunters and mercenaries destroy them all.