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Kathy W--Shapeshifters Series--Completed Fics
Posted: Tue Apr 01, 2003 8:59 pm
Table of Contents
Book 1, And the Stars Fell From the Sky
: Page 1
Book 2, Alien Sky
: Page 2
TITLE: And the Stars Fell From the Sky
AUTHOR: Kathy W
CATEGORY: Backstory. No couples. Unless you consider Nasedo and Langley a couple.
DISCLAIMER: I own nothing. Nothing anyone wants, anyway.
I’m just borrowing these wonderful characters to amuse myself. And hopefully you.
Some of the events in this story are taken from Roswell episodes, and some are taken from eyewitness accounts of the “crash”. In addition to characters from the show, there are a few real people in this story. I know precisely none of these people, and am borrowing them strictly for this little tale.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’ve always been fascinated with what happened before the pod squad hatched. And I’ve had a million questions. Why don’t the hybrids remember more? Why was the Destiny Book in the library instead of in the pod chamber? Why did the Dupes wind up in a sewer in New York City? Was Nasedo really working for the Skins? And so on and so forth.
This is the story from the viewpoint of the shapeshifters; my own little fantasy about what happened, why it happened, and what went wrong. It will probably wind up being six to eight separate fics, each a sequel to the other. They will closely track the show; my intention is not to rewrite Roswell, but to fill in some of the blanks. The story starts on the ship headed to Earth, and will likely end with Max’s encounter with Langley, many years in the future.
Pronunciation and Character Guide:
Brivari—Zan’s Warder: “var” rhymes with “far”
Jaddo—Rath’s Warder: “a” as in “ah”, soft “J”
Valeris—Ava’s Warder: “ler” sounds like “lair”
Urza—Vilandra’s Warder: sounds like it looks
Riall—Zan’s father: Ree-all
Covari—The name of the shapeshifters’ race: Rhymes with “Brivari”
Argilians—The name of Khivar’s race: “g” is soft, like “j”
The shifters refer to each other by their Antarian names. See if you can figure out which of the four is Langley and which is Nasedo.
And the Stars Fell From the Sky
The small figure slumped against the console stirred ever so slightly.
Brivari regained consciousness slowly. His vision was blurry; sounds were muffled. Even the dim light in the control center hurt his eyes. And for a split second, he did not remember where he was.
He suddenly jerked upright, panic coursing through every fiber, his breathing coming in ragged gasps. Blinking furiously, he forced himself to focus his eyes.
Soft light. The whispering hum of the engines. The hard floor beneath him. And the stars, flying by at impossible speeds outside the viewports.
Brivari shuddered and leaned heavily back against the console. For a moment there, he thought he was……somewhere else.
****Shouting. Running feet. Orders barked. Glass shattering. The shock and terror on the faces of the imperial troops. And the blood….so much blood.
He pulled himself to his feet slowly, clutching the edge of the console for support. A wave of dizziness overtook him as he became fully upright, and he slumped over the console for support. Ouch! Staying in one position for so long definitely had its disadvantages.
He rested for a moment, letting his head clear. No surprise, this. He hadn’t had anything to eat for at least a day. Not to mention the strain of loading the ship, making certain they had everything they could possibly imagine needing. After all, they couldn’t just turn around and go back if they forgot something.
****And the bodies. They needed the bodies. Not just fresh genetic samples, but the bodies themselves. The Argilians must never find them if this was to work.
Brivari looked down at his hands. His long, thin fingers looked darker than usual; in the dim light from the control consoles he couldn’t tell why. Moving slowly so as not to set his head spinning again, he inched closer to the light source on the console. And froze.
His hands were covered with blood. Dried blood. Old blood.
The King’s blood.
****The body had been heavy, and he had been exhausted. But it was imperative that he get the body to the ship without anyone seeing him. The people mustn’t know the King was dead.
Brivari straightened up slowly, testing his balance. The dizziness did not return. He moved slowly to a nearby panel and examined the information it gave him. Good. They were still on course. At least something had gone right.
He sank into a nearby chair, breathless already from just this little bit of exertion. He really should talk to the others. He should go to the laboratory and see how Valeris was doing. There were a million things to do; but first things first.
His hands need washing.
He picked his way carefully to the sink. Turning on one small light, he started the water running and held his hands underneath. He reached for the cleanser and started rubbing. The blood wouldn’t come off. It had dried to a thick crust, impervious to cleanser. He sighed, turned off the water, and started to pick it off, piece by piece.
Brivari whirled around, ready to lash out at whoever had so stealthily come up behind him. He stopped when he saw Urza’s surprised face.
“Urza,” he breathed, leaning back against the sink. “I’m….I’m sorry. You were so quiet. I’m still……jumpy, I suppose. Forgive me.”
“Forgiven and forgotten, Master,” Urza said firmly. Brivari smiled. Urza insisted on referring to him with the honorific, “Master”, even though it was not necessary. They all served the royal family; there were technically no titles amongst the four of them. But Urza argued it was only fitting to show such respect to the one who warded the King.
Brivari turned back to the sink and resumed scraping off the blood on his hands. “Does Valeris have everything he needs?” he asked quietly. Not that it mattered now.
“He believes he does,” Urza answered. “The bodies were fresh enough to acquire several samples, and he has an ample supply of donor material and gandarium. He must have made some progress by now. Shall we go and see?”
“In a moment,” Brivari answered. “I’d like to finish washing first.”
Urza moved in closer and gazed at Brivari’s hands. He dropped his eyes and looked away, clearly disturbed by what he saw.
“It took me several minutes to wash it all away,” he whispered.
“Oh?” Brivari paused; he wasn’t certain if it was wise to ask his next question. Urza had been devoted to Vilandra. His assignment as her Warder had been the high point of his life. Brivari could still see him, cradling the infant princess in his arms, smiling a smile that could have blotted out the sun. “This is what I live for,
” that smile had said. “To protect. To serve.
His grief when he and Jaddo had found her had been so great that it took all of their powers of persuasion to convince him of what he must do. That his task as protector was not yet over; indeed, in many ways, it had only just begun.
Brivari had finished scraping off the blood; now the cleanser could do its work. “Do you think it was a quick death?” he asked quietly, not looking at his friend.
Urza was silent for so long that by the time Brivari had finished washing, he still had not answered. Brivari dried his hands on a towel and waited.
“Yes,” Urza answered finally, whispering, as if he were afraid of what his voice would do if he tried to raise it. “She appears to have died instantly.”
“That’s one blessing,” Brivari said. The King had not been so fortunate. According to Jaddo, Rath had not been so fortunate either. He had not yet had the chance to question Valeris about the Queen’s condition when she was found.
Urza turned to go. “If you need me, I will be in the laboratory,” he said.
Urza paused. “Something else, Master?”
Brivari chose his words carefully. “Urza, do you have any idea—any at all—how the Argilians managed to breach our defenses?”
“What do you mean?” Urza asked slowly.
“Khivar’s forces were not to the point where they could overwhelm us so easily. How did they get in?”
“I have no idea, Master,” Urza said.
“None? None at all?” Brivari watched Urza carefully. If the reports he had heard were true, then…… “It occurs to me that information may have been leaked, or perhaps someone let them in. A spy, or a disgruntled servant. Not you, of course,” Brivari added hastily, as Urza’s eyes flashed. “I was just wondering if you’d heard or seen anything—anything
—that could shed some light on all this.”
Urza was silent for a moment. “Nothing, Master,” he said finally.
“You realize, don’t you,” Brivari said slowly, “that if some information was leaked, then possibly more
information was leaked. The Argilians may know that we have reached the point where what we are attempting is actually feasible.”
Urza paused. A spasm of emotions crossed his face. Doubt? Fear? Guilt? Finally his face cleared; he seemed to have come to a decision.
“I know nothing, Master. I have not heard or seen anything that could shed any light on what happened. I’m sorry.”
“Of course,” Brivari said.
“I live to serve and protect,” Urza insisted
“Of course you do,” Brivari said gently, placing his hand on Urza’s back. “Now, go see how Valeris is doing. Hopefully he will have made some progress. I will join you momentarily.”
Urza bowed, and left.
Brivari watched him go with a sense of uneasiness. He could feel in his gut—whatever passed for a gut in his current form—that Urza wasn’t telling him everything. His devotion to Vilandra was total; if what his informants had told him were true, it was quite possible that Urza would lie to protect her.
Brivari sighed. Did it really make any difference now? He wanted to know, but knowing would not change what had happened. There was no way to undo what had been done. They had chosen their path, for good or ill, and now had no choice but to follow it.
Posted: Tue Apr 01, 2003 9:00 pm
Valeris shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He had been sitting in this position for hours, working carefully. He was almost finished.
A final nudge, and…..there. That was the last.
Swinging aside the bright overhead lamp, Valeris carried his latest creation over to the incubator and carefully placed it inside. The gandarium glowed blue in the dim room light. Under other circumstances, he thought wryly, he might even think it was beautiful.
Under their present circumstances, however, beauty was the furthest thing from his mind. He sat down heavily in a chair, allowing his mind to wander for the first time into areas he had so far managed to resist. It was never wise to succumb to pessimism while trying to be creative.
Valeris poured himself a cup of hot jero. He should have eaten long ago, but there had been no time. The samples must be as fresh as possible in order to have the greatest chance of success. And, he reflected grimly, they needed all the odds they could muster to be on their side in this unforgiving universe.
Valeris turned to find Urza standing in the doorway of the lab. “Urza,” he said kindly, motioning to a nearby seat. “Come in. Is Brivari awake yet?”
Urza nodded, his gaze fixed on the incubator. “He awakened a short time ago. He was asleep on the floor; I didn’t try to move him. Do you think I should have?”
Valeris shook his head. “No. He was so exhausted I doubt he cared where he was. Is he with you?” Valeris asked, looking past Urza to the passageway.
“He will be coming soon to examine your progress. He is……..washing,” Urza said, dropping his eyes and falling silent.
Valeris nodded silently and sipped his jero. The hot liquid felt good in his dry throat. As he set the cup down, his hand shook a little.
“Was the Queen……I mean, was she…….very…….” Urza stopped, unable to continue the thought.
“She appears to have died quickly,” Valeris said quietly.
“Ah. Good.” Urza’s gaze shifted to the incubator once more.
“Would you like to see them?” Valeris asked.
Urza’s eyes grew wide. “May I?” he breathed, clearly not believing his good fortune.
“Of course,” Valeris smiled. He rose, crossed to the incubator, and lifted the lid.
Urza gazed down at the tiny cell samples with a mixture of hope, admiration, and doubt. “Do you really think this will work?” he asked Valeris.
Valeris sighed. Jaddo had asked him the same question only a short while ago, and the answer was no different now. No doubt Brivari would ask also, but being Brivari, he would want a mathematical estimation of the likelihood of success. I can’t give them that, Valeris thought. This has never been tried before. The Project had been underway for years, but what they were attempting here had never been its goal. It was sheer luck that they even knew of this theoretical possibility.
But Urza stood waiting expectantly for an answer, and Urza was one who thrived on hope and crumpled in the face of doubt. The others would get straight answers; for Urza, the truth had best be masked.
“I think we have a very good chance of success,” he said, to Urza’s obvious relief. “Our preliminary experiments with lower life forms were very promising. And,” he added, “our Wards will emerge stronger than before. They will have all our capabilities, plus new abilities we do not have. They will surely put them to good use when they return.”
Urza shifted uneasily. He had never been entirely comfortable with the way they had all been….altered. Still, Valeris thought, it had been necessary. Even Brivari had seen the sense in that, though he had made no secret of his misgivings about how their kind were treated. Valeris doubted that Urza had even begun to explore his new abilities. Although he had certainly used them to great effect just recently, blasting away those around Vilandra’s body, and making certain that none who had seen her dead would live to tell of it.
Valeris closed the lid of the incubator gently. Urza lingered, looking through the window, obviously nursing more questions. Valeris waited.
“Will it take long?” Urza asked finally. “How long must we wait for them to be born?”
Valeris ran his long, gray fingers over his smooth head. “About twenty earth years,” he answered. “And it is crucial that they not be disturbed until they reach a more stable state,” he added quickly, moving Urza’s hands away from the lid.
“And what will we do during all this time?” Urza asked. Valeris smiled. Poor Urza. He had served one mistress for so long he did not know anything else. It had been different for Valeris; he had served many masters before being chosen as Warder for the King’s new bride.
Valeris put his arm around Urza’s shoulders. “We will watch. And wait. And make certain nothing interferes with their development. We will protect them like we always do. Like we always have.”
“Like we always have,” Urza echoed softly. “Then….why are they dead?”
Valeris sighed, and sank heavily into a chair. He really must get something to eat. “We had no warning,” he said to Urza. “We did our best. That is all we can do.”
Urza nodded, apparently satisfied with this answer. He turned to go, then hesitated. “I have one more question, if you don’t mind.” he said. Valeris nodded.
“What……what will she……look like?” Urza asked haltingly. “Will she be……beautiful?”
Valeris hesitated. Urza had not been present on previous trips to Earth, nor had he seen the donors. He had probably never laid eyes on a human. But there was certainly no point in keeping that information from him. He would need to learn to take their form, either male or female, very shortly.
Valeris rummaged in a drawer and brought out four images. Shuffling through them, he set one in front of Urza.
Urza blinked. He studied the image for several minutes without speaking, without touching it. Valeris watched a dozen different emotions crossed his face: Interest? Revulsion? Disbelief? Finally, Urza asked, “Is this form considered……beautiful?”
Valeris nodded. “She will be quite a beauty by human standards.”
“They are so……tall,” Urza noted uncomfortably. “Their fingers are so short, and their eyes are so small.”
Valeris nodded again. “They are different from us,” he agreed . “But no more different than some of the other races we’ve had to duplicate,” he added.
“May I see the others?” Urza asked, in a tone that suggested he wanted to get it over with.
“Of course.” Valeris arranged the other three images with the first, and Urza studied them all carefully and with less shock this time.
“Will Ava be considered beautiful as well?” Urza questioned. “And the King? And Rath?”
“They will all be regarded as attractive by humans,” Valeris answered. “Our pool of suitable donors was small; many humans do not respond well to gandarium. But we were careful to choose attractive humans from those who were eligible. Attractive people fare better in the human world.”
“And we must take these forms as well?” Urza asked in a clearly unhappy voice. “For so long? Won’t we ever be able to revert to a more comfortable shape?”
“You will grow accustomed to it,” Valeris said soothingly. “We cannot risk being found in our native shape, and we will be much more comfortable with human lungs in their atmosphere. Earth’s atmosphere is considerably thinner than ours.”
“Not only thinner, but impossible for the Argilians to breathe,” Urza noted.
Valeris nodded. “They will be unable to follow us.”
“Unless they have found a way around that problem,” Urza said off-handedly, still staring at the hybrids.
Valeris looked up sharply. “Why? Are they trying to find a way around it?”
Urza froze. He started backing away, shaking his head as he did so. “I…..I don’t know. I suppose I was just…..assuming….that they would try to find a way around it.”
Valeris studied Urza carefully. The Argilians had never been anywhere near Earth; it’s atmosphere was hostile to their physiology. The Royals, with their human DNA, would be unaffected, as would the four of them, since they could shift their internal organs to accommodate almost any atmosphere. What was Urza talking about?
Urza had backed all the way to the door. “I will tell Brivari you are finished,” he said hastily, and fled before Valeris could answer.
Valeris sat, puzzled, for several long moments. Argilians had been involved in the project years ago when it first began, but none had been involved for quite some time, an absence no doubt fueled by the growing tension between the races. This was probably nothing…..but still. The thought of Urza as a spy or a traitor was ridiculous, but if he had overheard something, he needed to tell them.
Another mystery to solve, Valeris thought, rising and crossing to the incubator. He was tired of mysteries. A few facts would be welcomed, for a change.
Valeris checked the gauge on the incubator carefully. This first stage was critical; temperature, humidity, atmosphere must all be strictly controlled if union was to take place. He looked through the window and was delighted to see that most of the clusters had formed blastocysts. Some were still in the earliest stages of cell division and union, and some did not appear to be progressing at all.
He had expected that. That was why he had made so many, to offset the ones that would not survive. Soon it would be time to cull the dormant ones. Anything that wasn’t a blastocyst within the next hour would go.
Valeris checked the gauges one more time and closed the lid on his handiwork; two hundred Antarian-Human hybrids, fifty of each royal. Fifty sets of the Royal Four.
Posted: Tue Apr 01, 2003 9:01 pm
Brivari stood in the doorway, silhouetted against the light of the hallway. The door closed behind him as he entered, and he adjusted the light level upward with a thought. But not too high. He needed light, but he did not think he could bear what he would see in the full intensity of the lamps.
He had meant to go straight to Valeris and inspect his progress. But he had decided he’d rather have the bad news first, and the good news, assuming there was any, after that.
The stasis units in use glowed in the dim light, while the rest of the room was shrouded in darkness. Twelve units, in two neat rows of six, left over from the days when space travel took longer than it did now. The constant, automatic adjustment of atmosphere within the units made a hissing noise, the only sound to break the silence of this chamber-turned-graveyard. Then, these preserved life, Brivari thought. Now, they preserve death.
Vilandra lay in the first unit, beautiful as always, as though she were simply asleep. Brivari had always liked Vilandra. True, she could be thoughtless, and her fondness for having a good time was well known. But he had always found her heart to be in the right place, and her upcoming marriage to Rath was of great interest to the kingdom. Everyone looked forward to seeing the glamorous and popular princess wedded to the trusted leader of the King’s armies. This may well turn out to be one of the longest engagements in history, Brivari thought sadly.
Brivari moved to the next unit, where Ava lay just as peacefully as Vilandra. Clearly, these two had not been the targets. Brivari touched the unit with his hand, remembering….
**** “Brivari!” the old King had cried, with all the enthusiasm his dying body could muster. “Zan is getting married! Isn’t that wonderful news?”
“Yes, Your Highness, wonderful news indeed! When will the wedding take place?”
“Soon, I hope,” Riall had answered, coughing. “These old bones won’t last much longer.”****
Those old bones had lasted long enough, just barely. Riall had lived to see the heir to the throne wed to the woman he loved, then died peacefully in his sleep soon after. Brivari could still see them: The overjoyed King at the end of his life, his son, so handsome and loved, and the beautiful bride, so young and full of life, promising hope to a world that had known war for so long, they were almost afraid to believe this newfound peace would last.
He loved you, Brivari thought as he looked at Ava, thinking not only of Zan, but of his father as well. They both did.
Brivari moved more slowly toward the next stasis unit. He knew this unit contained his failure as a protector, the demise of a sacred trust. He held his breath as Zan’s body became visible in the gloom. This would not be a pretty sight.
Valeris had put him back together as well as he could, Brivari mused. At least he was recognizable. The former King of the Antarians looked up at him, his eyes wide and staring. I failed you, Riall, Brivari thought sadly. I promised to protect your son, and I failed.
Brivari thought back to that day when Riall had told him that he would be reassigned to Zan. Brivari had not been pleased; he had protected the old King all his life, since Riall was a boy, and he fully expected to protect him until he died. “I won’t make you do this,” Riall had said, although clearly he had the means to do so. “I beg you to do this. Will you do this… for me?” And Brivari had consented; glad, at least, to make the old King happy, and enormously grateful that Riall had given him the choice. But Riall had always treated the Covari as trusted associates, rather than slaves.
**** “You must guide him,” Riall had said to Brivari with a sense of urgency no doubt brought on by his failing health. “He is young, impatient….things take time. People take time to change. We are well on our way, but we must be careful. You could help him understand this, help him to see that he must be patient.”****
And he tried, Brivari thought. Patience was not one of Zan’s strongest traits, but he had convinced Zan to scale back some of his more provocative reforms, reminded him of his father’s warnings again and again. And Zan had listened, for the most part. He had slowed down, pulled back, while still moving inexorably forward. So what had gone wrong?
Brivari placed his hand gently on the stasis unit that held the remains of the son of the man he had loved so much. Riall, the first Antarian king to take the throne bloodlessly in centuries. Zan, his son, the first crown prince to ascend the throne in peaceful succession in even more centuries. When Zan had married, the people’s hopes had soared; surely the handsome couple would produce an heir, and their world’s newfound stability would be assured for many years to come. I have failed you, Riall, Brivari thought again. Now your people have only the memory to sustain them. Let us hope that will be enough.
Brivari turned toward the last unit, bracing himself against what he knew he would find. As the leader of the King’s armies, Rath would have borne the brunt of the invasion. Even so, Brivari was not prepared for what he saw.
Rath was unrecognizable. The twisted pile of flesh in the stasis unit bore little resemblance to any form Brivari had ever taken. These were not mere war wounds; this was deliberate savagery,
“Animals,” breathed a voice from the gloom.
Startled, Brivari peered into the darkness. He directed his mind at the lights and brought them up to full intensity.
On the far side of Rath’s stasis unit sat a figure, a male human figure. It took Brivari a moment to realize it was Jaddo.
“Athenor did this to him,” Jaddo said, rising. His human form was too tall to stand upright; he had to stoop. “It wasn’t enough just to kill him; he had to tear him to pieces like an animal.” His eyes flashed a hatred that was almost palpable. “No doubt he’s running around at this very moment, regaling one and all with tales of how he killed the King’s general.”
“He lived? He knows,” Brivari said, leaning heavily against the unit. “He will tell everyone.”
“He will get nowhere,” Jaddo said grimly. “Athenor is the only one left who witnessed the murder of one of the Royals—we exterminated the rest. Let him babble. He has no bodies to back up his claim.”
“Why have you taken that form?” Brivari asked, looking Jaddo up and down.
“I’m practicing—and the rest of you should as well,” Jaddo said. “Very shortly, our lives and the lives of our Wards will depend on our ability to assume these shapes.”
Jaddo looked down at Rath, or rather, at what was left of him, with sorrow. Ward and Warder were very much alike: Impatient, fiery-tempered, suspicious. “Perhaps he should have taken the deal,” Jaddo said softly. “Maybe then none of this would have happened.”
After a split second of stunned silence, Brivari launched himself at Jaddo and threw him to the ground. Jaddo crashed to the floor of the chamber with a sickening thud, and Brivari pinned his arms to the floor.
“It was Rath, wasn’t it!” Brivari spat, breathing heavily as Jaddo struggled against him. “He did it! He let them in! He betrayed all of us!”
“How dare you!” Jaddo cried, struggling under Brivari’s grasp. “Rath would never betray Zan! And maybe he should have. Maybe that was his downfall. Our downfall.”
Brivari dragged Jaddo off the floor and slammed him against the wall, pinning him there with his mind. Jaddo hung there, struggling, but helpless against Brivari’s superior abilities.
“Someone let them in,” Brivari said, panting. “Someone betrayed us. It’s the only explanation. And now you say he was offered a deal. Talk fast,” Brivari ordered grimly.
“Put me down!” Jaddo ordered, straining against the mental bonds that held him.
“Talk first,” Brivari answered, “and maybe—just maybe—I’ll put you down.”
Jaddo resisted for several more seconds before slumping against the wall, exhausted. The two Warders regarded each other with knives in their eyes. Of the two, Brivari was unquestionably the stronger; even in his weakened state, he could keep Jaddo pinned to that wall for a very long time indeed. Finally, Jaddo relented.
“There is a splinter group of Argilians who believe that Rath would make the stronger king,” he said. “They offered Rath the throne if he would help them overthrow Zan and Khivar.”
“And he took them up on it,” Brivari said through his teeth, tightening his mental grip.
“NO!” Jaddo protested. “Rath turned them down! He remained loyal to his king—and look what he got for it! Perhaps he should have taken them up on it.”
“And just why, exactly, should I believe he didn’t?” Brivari whispered in a dangerous voice.
“Because he’s dead, you idiot!” Jaddo shouted. “Why would they kill him if he had accepted?”
“You’re forgetting something, Jaddo,” Brivari said, coming closer until their noses almost touched. “You said it was a ‘splinter group’ that made Rath that offer. But it was Khivar’s army that swept through the capital, not some splinter group. It was Khivar’s own general who killed Rath. It’s entirely possible that Rath did pave the way for the so-called ‘splinter group’, not realizing that there was no ‘splinter group’—it was all just a ruse to get inside.”
Jaddo slumped against the wall, exhausted. Like the rest of them he had had nothing to eat and little sleep for days. His stamina was running out.
“Brivari, I swear to you, Rath said ‘No’,” Jaddo said in a ragged voice. “He considered it; I won’t deny that. But in the end, he was loyal to Zan. He was loyal to Vilandra. He did not betray us.”
Brivari studied the figure on the wall. Jaddo had always been ambitious, just like his Ward. He had always bristled at being in the shadow of the King’s Warder. He and Brivari had locked horns often. But there had never been cause to question his loyalty. If his loyalty to Rath had always been unquestionable, so too was his loyalty to his King. Still, Brivari thought, I have to be sure.
Brivari slowly released his mental grip on his colleague, and Jaddo slumped to the floor. Brivari crouched down beside him, looking him in the eye.
“Then how did they get in?” he asked, studying Jaddo’s face for any sign of dissembling, any clue. “Obviously someone let them in. Someone lowered our defenses, and the enemy walked right in the front door. Who, Jaddo? Who did it? Who better to do it than the King’s own general?”
Jaddo sat up stiffly and met Brivari’s gaze. “I don’t know,” he said, breathing heavily. “But I do know it wasn’t Rath. He turned them down; I swear to it.”
“Perhaps,” Brivari said. “But tell me this: What if he hadn’t turned them down? Would you have warned Zan? Where do your loyalties lie? With the rightful King, or the man who could have elevated you to the status of a King’s Warder?”
Jaddo glared at Brivari, not answering. A minute passed, then two, as Brivari waited for an answer. Finally, getting none, Brivari stood up.
“What is that earth saying?” he asked, almost to himself. “There was a ‘fox in the henhouse’ –and I don’t know who it was. But I will find out,” he said quietly, leaning in toward Jaddo again, “and when I do, pray I do not discover it is you.”
Brivari turned and strode out of the room, leaving Jaddo slumped against the wall, eyes glittering.
Posted: Tue Apr 01, 2003 9:02 pm
Valeris hummed as he prepared the food. He was starving. He carefully set the hot dish between the two plates, wondering absentmindedly why he was always so careful with hot things. It would take a great deal of heat indeed to harm him or any of his colleagues. But burning was a danger to their Wards, so they had long ago adopted the precautions that ordinary people must always use to avoid injury. There are some advantages to not being ordinary, he mused, as he set cups on the table.
Valeris heard him before he saw him. “There you are,” he said, pouring hot jero and not bothering to look up as Brivari came in. “I was expecting you.”
Brivari looked haggard—and troubled. “How did you know I was coming?” he asked.
Valeris smiled. “This is a small ship, Brivari. One can hear shouting quite easily.” He set down the pot of jero and motioned to a chair. “Sit. You must be hungry. I certainly am.”
“I should check your work first,” Brivari said, heading toward the incubator. “I haven’t even been down here since you started.”
“They will wait,” Valeris said firmly, steering Brivari to a chair. “I will be culling them soon; you may watch, if you wish.” He held out a cup of hot jero in a gesture that brooked no argument.
Brivari sank down into the chair. “Thank you,” he said simply, accepting the cup.
Valeris dug into his food with gusto, pausing only to take gulps of jero now and then. Brivari ate with less relish, but he was clearly hungry too.
After Valeris had finished, he sat back with a satisfied sigh, and eyed Brivari. “So,” he began, “are you going to tell me what all the noise was about?”
Brivari didn’t answer. He was staring at his plate as though seeing it for the first time. Valeris waited.
“How did you feel,” Brivari began slowly, “about Riall’s edict allowing us to eat regular food?”
“I take it you don’t want to talk about your fight with Jaddo just yet?” Valeris said, with a sympathetic look. Brivari looked away. “Very well,” Valeris continued. “I was delighted with the old King’s edict. I realize it meant little to us in practice. It was a symbolic gesture, meant to elevate us in the eyes of others. A mark of his respect for us. And respect,” Valeris noted, “is worth more to me than any particular food.”
Brivari nodded. “I agree. But I always thought the detractors had a point. Why waste perfectly good food on a race that can’t even taste it?”
“I may not be able to taste,” Valeris said, “but I can discern differences in texture. The nutritional supplements we always ate before Riall’s kindness were always the same: Same texture, same temperature, same color. Eating has become much more pleasurable for me. And to sit at table and be served the same food as everyone else—I was surprised at my reaction to that. It was wonderful to share meals with Ava and eat the same dishes. She would describe each one to me and sometimes, if I tried very hard, I could almost imagine I could taste them.” Valeris smiled at the memory.
Brivari set down his empty cup. He glanced over at the incubator, clearly troubled by something. Finally, he spoke.
“Jaddo informed me that a splinter group of Argilians offered to put Rath on the throne,” Brivari said. “He claims Rath turned them down.”
Valeris poured another cupful of jero. “He did turn them down.”
“You knew?” Brivari said incredulously.
Valeris nodded. “I overheard the King and Rath discussing it.”
“Discussing it? What was there to discuss? Whether or not to accept?” Brivari said, stunned.
“Of course not,” Valeris chided. “They were discussing whether or not this splinter group could be brought to the bargaining table. Matters had reached a point where Khivar would not come, and Zan thought that perhaps those who approached Rath would agree to negotiate on behalf of the Argilians.”
“Khivar would never accept that,” Brivari said. “He doesn’t want to negotiate; he wants to rule. He has a score to settle with the house of Riall.”
“What Khivar wants and what others of his race want may well be two different things,” Valeris said. “If the leaders of the splinter group had come to the table, both the King and Rath felt that the rest of the Argilians would at least wait to see what would happen—and let Khivar seethe. It was worth a try.” He set down his empty cup. “I have heard that this business between Khivar and Zan is not so much political as it is personal. Is that true?”
“Khivar wishes to avenge his father,” Brivari answered wearily. “A poor reason to bring war upon a planet, if you ask me.”
“This was before my emergence,” Valeris mused. “Educate me?”
Brivari smiled. “You slept through your history lessons, I take it?”
“I am a scientist,” Valeris pointed out. “History was never my specialty.” He shot Brivari a look of genuine affection. “It is good to see you smile, old friend, even in the midst of all this.”
“You do have that effect on me,” Brivari said, still smiling. “You always have.” He poured another cup of jero and leaned back in his seat. “Very well, then. A history lesson. Antarian kingships have rarely passed peacefully from ruler to ruler, certainly not in the last several hundred years. Bloody wars marked each succession. Until Riall.”
“You protected Riall since childhood, did you not?” Valeris asked.
Brivari nodded. “I watched this happen. Riall’s uncle was king at the time, and when he finally passed away, the usual mad scramble for the throne began. Khivar’s father was mere inches from claiming the crown when Riall swept in with an alliance comprised of most of the other contenders, who had agreed to set Riall on the throne if he shared power with them.”
“I’m certain that went over well with Khivar’s father,” Valeris remarked.
“Khivar’s father had no choice,” Brivari said. “The alliance was too strong, the promise of peace too alluring—and everyone’s mistrust of the Argilians too intense. He hated Riall until the day he died, and opposed him at every opportunity, but he was never strong enough to topple him.”
“And then Riall died,” Valeris murmured, “and now the process repeats itself.”
“I warned him,” Brivari said, shaking his head at the memory. “Riall was barely cold in his grave when Khivar pulled the Argilians out of the council and demanded they renegotiate the terms of their inclusion. I told Zan that Khivar would never bargain in anything even vaguely resembling good faith. To him, Zan represents the man who stole his father’s throne, and who now wears the crown that is rightfully his.”
“Khivar’s people don’t necessarily see things that way,” Valeris noted. “They’ve enjoyed decades of peace under the council, and some are loathe to give that up. They seem to feel he is stirring the pot for no good reason. I believe the leaders of the splinter faction had agreed to meet with Zan—and then this happened.” He inclined his head in the direction of the incubator. “Perhaps that agreement was what set this off. I would imagine Khivar fears that history will repeat itself.”
“History should have repeated itself,” Brivari said irritably. “Khivar wasn’t even close to being strong enough to formally oppose Zan, just like his father before him wasn’t able to oppose Riall. So what happened?” He pushed his cup away. “No doubt Zan did not bother to inform me of this business with the splinter group because he thought I would object. He was doing that more and more—leaving me in the dark. It was maddening.”
“You are awfully hard on him,” Valeris noted. “I’ll grant he is stubborn and impatient. I’m willing to bet Riall was too, when he was that age.” He paused, smiling. “Well? Am I right?”
Brivari opened his mouth to say something, then closed it. Valeris leaned in closer. “Brivari, I know how you feel about Riall. But Zan is not Riall. You cannot expect him to be. Or take him to task if he isn’t. He must make his own way, and I honestly do not believe this tragedy was his doing. Something else was going on here, something Riall did not have to face. Find out what that something is before passing judgment on Zan. Or yourself,” he added pointedly, with a meaningful look.
“I take it you have added mind reading to your impressive list of talents,” Brivari said dryly. “Not to mention psychiatry.” Valeris shrugged. Brivari leaned his head back and stared at the ceiling. “You’re sure Rath turned them down?”
Valeris nodded. “Quite sure.”
Brivari sighed. “I see I have an apology to make.”
“To whom?” Valeris asked.
“Jaddo. I all but accused him of cheering Rath on so that he could become a King’s Warder.”
Valeris shook his head. “It’s true that Jaddo is ambitious, and he can be ruthless. And brilliant,” he added with a twinkle. “A most annoying combination at times, I’ll allow. But he is no traitor.” When Brivari did not respond, Valeris continued. “You were rightfully suspicious. You didn’t know. Explain it to him. Jaddo is a military man, like Rath. He will understand. Here,” he said, passing a plate to Brivari. “Have some more.”
“Not yet,” Brivari said, rising from his seat. “There are people missing from the table. Let me fetch them, and we’ll continue.”
Once again, Brivari stood in the open doorway of the stasis chamber, peering through the gloom. Jaddo was still there. He had resumed his usual shape, and was standing motionless at the head of Rath’s unit, hands placed flat on top, head downcast.
Brivari entered the room and positioned himself a little to one side, so Jaddo could see him. The soft lights glowed. The stasis units hummed. Jaddo stood motionless, as if in prayer or meditation. Brivari waited.
“Have you ever seen a human cry?”
It was question spoken in barely more than a whisper, and Brivari was surprised. He had expected anger, disgust, righteous rage, any number of things, but not this simple, whispered question.
Brivari shifted his feet. “Once,” he replied. “One of the donors woke from their sedation, and became very upset when they saw where they were.” He winced at the memory. After all that had been done to his own race, it had been hard to watch what had happened to the human donors.
“I saw one cry once too,” Jaddo said, still in that barely-above-a-whisper voice. “There are times I wish I could cry like that.” He paused. “This is one of those times.”
Brivari didn’t know what to say. For Jaddo, always so strong and controlled, to admit such a thing was nothing short of incredible.
“I loved him,” Jaddo whispered.
“I know you did,” Brivari answered gently.
“Do you?” Jaddo asked, turning suddenly to face him. “You who think I’m a traitor, who thinks my Ward is a traitor?”
“Jaddo, I’m sorry,” Brivari said. “Valeris explained what happened. I’m sorry I suspected you.”
“So. My word is not enough,” Jaddo said softly. “His word you will take, but not mine.”
“Jaddo, I’m sorry,” Brivari said again, moving closer. I can’t make sense of this. I know they must have had help, but I don’t know who did it. There is a part of me that will not rest until I figure out how this happened. And I’m willing to bet there is a part of you that feels the same way.”
Jaddo stared at him for several long moments, as if assessing his sincerity. Finally, he nodded.
“Come,” Brivari said, holding out his hand. “We are having a meal in the lab, all of us. We must stay together now. For our Wards. For our world. For ourselves. We are all we have. We mustn’t let anything divide us.”
Jaddo stood silently, seemingly unwilling to leave Rath’s unit.
Brivari took him by the arm. “You can come back later,” he said gently.
Jaddo looked at Brivari, as if considering how to respond. Then he shook his head. “I will be there momentarily,” he replied. “I want a few more moments. Alone.”
Brivari nodded. “Then we’ll see you shortly.” He turned and left the chamber, the door sliding closed behind him.
Jaddo remained motionless, looking down at Rath through the lid of the stasis unit, thinking of what he had not said to Brivari. What he had considered revealing, but then decided against it. Not now. Not yet.
“How did you know?” he whispered softly to the body in the unit, as though Rath could actually hear him. “You were down there at the palace gates, waiting to meet them. No one else knew they were coming. How did you know they would be there?”
Jaddo leaned closer to the lid and whispered so softly he could barely hear himself. “Did you betray us?”
Posted: Tue Apr 01, 2003 9:03 pm
Urza stood amongst the hissing stasis units, still unable to believe this had happened. They were dead. All of them. And it’s my fault, Urza thought miserably. His failure to act was directly responsible for the carnage in this room and on his planet.
He moved to Vilandra’s stasis unit, gazing through the cover at something he never thought he’d have to see. She looked virtually untouched, arranged in such a natural position that Urza would swear he need only take her hand and she would wake, and tell him this was all just an awful mistake. Which it was, of course. The entire saga, from start to finish, was nothing but one, huge mistake.
How could they have killed you? he wondered, caressing the clear cover of the unit. You, I thought were safe. This could not have been Khivar’s doing. She was too important to lose; having her at his side would have lent him validity. Not to mention the effect on Zan. It was not enough to covet his throne, Urza thought bitterly. You had to have his sister as well.
Urza bent down and released the mechanism for the cover. He had to touch her one last time, if only to convince himself that she really was dead, that this was not merely some bad dream from which he could expect to awaken. The atmosphere inside the unit escaped with a hissing noise, and the cover swung silently upward. Cautiously, he touched her hand. It was cold, so cold that he withdrew his own hand, shrinking from the touch of death.
You were too trusting, Urza thought sadly, and he lied too well. A bad combination, that. Khivar understood the first rule of constructing a believable lie: All good lies contain some truth. Enough truth to convince the gullible, or leave shadows of doubt in the minds of the less easily convinced. Vilandra had fallen into the former category until the very end, when it was too late to change anything.
“I should not have left you at the end,” he whispered, taking her hand in spite of the chill. “We should have gone together.” His eyes spied the pendant around her neck. The swirling symbol of their galaxy was engraved upon it, with Antar at the center, gleaming in the dim light. He reached for it with a shaking hand.
“Urza, what are you doing?”
Urza spun around to see Valeris framed in the doorway, a quizzical expression on his face. He drew back his hand as Valeris came forward and peered into the stasis unit.
Valeris’s face softened. “Take it,” he said gently to Urza. “She doesn’t need it anymore.” When Urza did not move, Valeris reached down and removed the pendant from Vilandra’s neck. “Rath gave this to her, didn’t he?” he asked, studying it. Urza nodded.
Valeris handed the pendant to Urza. “Keep it. I have Ava’s wedding bracelet, and I know Brivari has Zan’s. You take this,” he said, pressing the pendant into Urza’s hand. “No doubt she will be glad to see something of her own when she returns.”
Urza took the pendant and left the room without a word. Valeris closed the lid of Vilandra’s unit, and looked across to the next, where Ava lay. Everyone keeps vigil, he thought. He hesitated, then shook his head, and moved to the door.
Not here. He preferred to keep his vigil over the living.
Valeris entered the lab to find Jaddo standing over the incubator, peering inside, apparently so lost in thought that he did not even hear Valeris enter. Another vigil, he thought. “Well, this is a surprise,” he said to Jaddo, who jumped. “I can’t remember ever seeing you darken the door of a laboratory.”
“Meaning what, exactly?” Jaddo challenged.
“Meaning you are the last person I would expect to find lost in thought over a bunch of cell clusters.”
“I came here to ask you a question, not to look at these,” Jaddo said stiffly.
“Of course not. That’s why you’re standing over them, meditating…right?” Valeris ignored the scathing look Jaddo shot his way. A great many people found Jaddo extremely intimidating. Valeris wasn’t one of them.
“I fail to understand how one could joke at a time like this.”
“We all handle our grief in different ways,” Valeris observed. “I choose to handle mine with humor. I find it far preferable to standing around, blaming myself.”
“You think I blame myself?” Jaddo asked.
“Don’t we all?” Valeris sat down wearily and stretched his legs. “We just express it differently.”
“Your attitude is irritating.”
“As is yours,” Valeris answered calmly. “Now that we’ve exchanged pleasantries and irritated one another…. you had a question?”
Jaddo came around the incubator to look at him more closely. “You look exhausted,” he announced. “I sincerely hope your fatigue has not affected your work.”
“Your concern for my well-being is touching, to say the least,” Valeris said dryly. “I assure you I have done my very best. That is precisely why I am so exhausted.”
The tiniest flicker of regret crossed Jaddo’s face. “Of course you did your best,” he allowed, in a more conciliatory tone. “I meant no offense.”
“None taken,” Valeris said quietly. “Now…your question?”
“It concerns the engineering process,” Jaddo began.
“A bioengineering question? From you? Surprises abound,” Valeris said in an amused tone, and quickly held up his hand when he saw the look on Jaddo’s face. “Sorry. Sorry. I shall do my best to curb my irritating humor for the duration of our discussion. Call it a reprieve.”
“I would appreciate that,” Jaddo said darkly, while Valeris suppressed a smile. Jaddo had very little in the way of a sense of humor, and typically couldn’t abide that trait in others. It made him an easy target if one wished to needle him.
“I do not understand why we cannot create clones directly from the bodies. Given all that we are capable of, why must their DNA be mixed with alien DNA?”
“Some of the best minds in bioscience have worked on that dilemma for quite some time,” Valeris answered. “For some reason, Antarian DNA cannot be directly cloned. They tried for ages, and the results were always the same: Deformities, usually so severe that the clones did not live long. The few that lived longer usually developed anomalies which drastically shortened their lives. The research was finally abandoned, and attention was turned to other things.”
“ ‘Usually’? Does that mean some did not develop anomalies?”
“It is said that our own race is a result of those first experiments,” Valeris said quietly. “That could very well be, given the number of our kind who do not survive their emergence, and the further number who do not survive their first shift. Whatever happened, the results of that research terrified our first bioengineers, and direct cloning has not been attempted since. Instead, we combine our DNA with that of other races and manipulate the process as they join.”
“So we have no choice but to make use of the DNA of inferior races,” Jaddo said resignedly.
“The human race may be inferior technologically, but that does not mean their DNA is inferior,” Valeris noted. “Quite the opposite. That was the reason the project began in the first place. You have some human DNA yourself. We all do.”
“Don’t remind me,” Jaddo said, clearly not pleased. He paused. “I gather I have you to thank for smoothing over this latest conflict between myself and Brivari.”
Valeris shrugged. “I merely told him what I’d heard.”
“Valeris the facilitator,” Jaddo said softly, almost smiling. “I have always wondered if that was why Riall chose you to be Ava’s Warder. You have a talent for smoothing things over. You and your….humor.”
“A complement?” Valeris teased. “Next you’ll be telling jokes, and we’ll all die of shock.” He ignored Jaddo’s withering look, and continued. “Joining a new family can be difficult, but Ava didn’t need much help in that regard. Nevertheless, I have always wondered why Riall pulled me away from my work to make me a Warder. Now, I think I know why.”
“I think he suspected something like this might happen. And given my research—he may have deliberately put me in the right place to do something about it. He was a shrewd old man.” He rose, and moved to the incubator. “It’s about time to pull the defective ones,” Valeris said, looking through the lid. “I’ll go fetch the others. I know they wanted to watch. You’re welcome to stay too,” he added , “if you think you can tolerate my irritating attitude.”
Jaddo sighed. “I take it my humor reprieve is over?”
“Give it a try sometime, Jaddo,” Valeris said, smiling, as he walked out the door. “You might find humor wears well on you.”
A short while later, the four gathered around the incubator and peered inside.
Dozens of tiny embryos, with shapes so vague they could have been either Antarian or human, sat in neat rows. Some of the cell clusters had not advanced; Valeris started to pull those out.
“How many do we have now?” Brivari asked.
“Approximately thirty-eight of each hybrid,” Valeris answered.
“How many will we keep?” Urza asked, looking faintly ill as Valeris tossed out the defective Vilandra hybrids.
“As many as we can,” Valeris answered. “The more we have, the better. We don’t know what we’re going to run into while we wait for them to grow to maturity. Better to have as many as possible in case something goes wrong.”
“Will all of these have the mark?” Jaddo asked, looking at the Zan hybrids.
“No,” Valeris answered. “The Zan hybrid which reaches a certain stage of development first will develop the mark.”
“Incredible,” Urza whispered. “And…..they will remember us?”
“Assuming they grow to maturity, yes,” Valeris answered.
“Is it absolutely necessary that they remember everything?” Jaddo asked. “Because there are a few things I wouldn’t mind Rath forgetting.”
Brivari and Urza stared. Valeris looked momentarily taken aback, then dropped his head to hide the smile on his face. “A joke,” Jaddo said, in a slightly offended tone. “I have been known to joke occasionally, haven’t I?”
“Not really,” Valeris noted with amusement. “But one has to start somewhere.”
Brivari looked back and forth from Valeris to Jaddo. He had no idea where this sudden burst of good humor had come from, but it was good to see Jaddo relaxing a little. He may be impatient and a notorious perfectionist, but he was a huge asset. Brivari depended on him heavily.
A chiming sound abruptly filled the air.
“We are being contacted?” Jaddo said, surprised. “We were supposed to initiate contact once we reached Earth. Who would contact us now?”
“Let’s find out,” Brivari said, heading for the door. “This could be very good news—or very bad news.”
Several minutes later, all four Warders gathered in the control room. Jaddo placed a communicator on the table in front of them. All four raised their hands and pointed them at the communicator, which started to glow. A beam of light shot from the symbol inscribed on the center of the device, and within that beam a shape began to coalesce. It swirled for several seconds, finally taking the form of a familiar figure.
“Balor!” Brivari said, delighted to see that the Queen Mother’s Warder lived. “It is good to see you! But why have you contacted us now?”
“Greetings, fellow Covari,” Balor responded formally. “I have good news. It is safe to come home!”
Posted: Tue Apr 01, 2003 9:04 pm
After a brief silence, everyone began talking at once.
“Wonderful!” Urza cried.
“Thank goodness,” sighed Valeris.
“Why?” asked Jaddo with typical suspicion.
Brivari held up his hand for silence. “Balor, if this is true, this is very good news indeed. But how is this possible?”
“The Argilian forces were routed by the King’s army,” Balor explained. “They have been driven from the capital. Many have been taken prisoner, and many more are on the run. The King’s uncle, Lord Durash, will assume the throne as Regent until the King is able to resume the throne himself.”
Urza and Valeris exclaimed happily at this news, but Brivari remained silent, pondering. Jaddo was downright skeptical.
“I don’t understand,” Jaddo said sharply. “When we left, Khivar’s forces had overwhelmed the capital, taken the palace, and killed thousands. We were totally unprepared. And now you tell us that all of this has been turned around in little over a few days?”
“The King’s army is very efficient,” Balor replied somewhat stiffly. “Even without Rath at its head, it performed its duties admirably. I would think,” he added, “that you would receive this as good news.”
“Of course we do,” Brivari answered. “We are just—surprised, that’s all. Tell me, has anyone discovered how the Argilians managed to surprise us?”
“We have determined that Talwyn was responsible,” Balor replied. “He has been charged with high treason, and will no doubt be executed by the Regent.”
“Talwyn!” Jaddo exploded advancing on Balor’s image so quickly that Balor, wherever he was, drew back in surprise. “Talwyn was Rath’s most trusted general! There must be some mistake.”
“There was no mistake,” Balor replied firmly. “There are witnesses. Rath trusted the wrong man.”
Brivari looked from one to the other, a thousand thoughts swirling through his head. Balor had been the Queen Mother’s Warder even when she was Queen with Riall. He knew Talwyn well, knew that Talwyn was absolutely one of the least likely people to defect. Balor’s apparent easy acceptance of this charge was troubling.
“Is there a problem?” Balor asked. “Your orders are to return to Antar at once. You have the hybrids and the Granolith, correct?”
Three uncomprehending faces stared at Balor, and then turned slowly toward Brivari.
Brivari stood silent, unmoving, gazing at Balor’s image with an unreadable expression on his face. Several long moments passed while no one said anything.
“We will return at once, of course,” Brivari finally answered. “We will contact you when we reach orbit.”
“Excellent,” Balor answered. Then his face softened, and he added, “I know this news was difficult for you to hear. But what is most important is that we have found the traitor, and driven back the invading forces. I look forward to seeing you all again, my friends.” Balor bowed, and his image flickered and vanished.
Brivari stared at the three expectant faces gathered around him. “I don’t suppose,” Valeris said dryly, “that it would be too much to ask what exactly a ‘Granolith’ is?”
Brivari didn’t answer. He moved to a control panel and reset the coordinates to bring them back to Antar. When he was finished, he turned to face them.
“Follow me,” he said.
The four stood clustered around the cone-shaped device, which glowed softly and hummed loudly in the little cargo hold at the end of the corridor.
“What does it do?” Urza wondered.
“Why was I not told of its existence?” Jaddo asked.
“I’m not surprised I didn’t know about it,” Valeris remarked mildly. “This clearly isn’t my line of work. However, I would be interested in knowing what it’s doing here. I’m quite sure I didn’t see this hanging out of your suitcase when we took off.”
“It’s a ship, for the most part,” Brivari said, “a prototype of a new type of transport meant to bring us to a new level of interstellar travel. It’s also our insurance policy. Bringing it to Earth with us ensures that our Wards will have a way home, even if something happens to us or our ship. It also ensures no one else will get their hands on it.”
“It’s awfully small,” Urza said doubtfully.
“It can hold five times what this ship holds, in only a fraction of the space,” Brivari noted.
“Impressive,” Jaddo murmured, “but I’m still wondering why I’ve never heard of it.”
Brivari circled the cone-shaped device, weighing his words. “Given the complex negotiations going on, Zan felt it best that as few as possible know about this. None of the various factions know, nor do our neighbors. Even Rath did not know. Rath commanded the King’s armies. He was not involved with the research and development of experimental technologies. If and when the time came to actually use this, he would have been told.”
“Rath was not merely the commander of the King’s armies,” Jaddo argued. “He was the King’s second, the heir to the throne should anything happen to Zan before he and Ava had a child. He would be Regent to a child too young to assume the throne. He should have been told.”
“It was Zan’s decision to keep this as quiet as possible,” Brivari said, “and to keep it here. A brilliant decision, if you ask me. Who would look for an experimental space transport on an old cargo ship?”
“A ship on a ship,” Valeris mused. “I wondered why you headed for this particular vessel.”
“It’s a good thing we left with it, whatever it is,” Jaddo commented. “No doubt it would have been used against our own world, if not our neighbors as well. And while I’m not thrilled Zan kept this from Rath, at least he had the sense to keep it from everyone else.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t we have a treaty with our neighbors that mandates the sharing of new technologies?” Valeris asked.
“We do,” Brivari answered, looking distinctly uncomfortable.
“You’re telling me Zan violated his own treaty?” Valeris asked incredulously.
“The treaty called for the sharing of ‘new’ technologies,” Brivari said. “This project was begun under Riall, and is therefore not ‘new’.”
“Semantics, Brivari?” Valeris said skeptically. “You’re saying it’s acceptable to violate the spirit of the treaty by observing it to the letter?”
“I am saying,” Brivari said carefully, “that what is right sometimes conflicts with what is necessary.”
“I agree. We were not ready to share power the way Zan envisioned,” Jaddo said, shaking his head. “He grew up in a peaceful world courtesy of his father, but there are still many people from his father’s generation who remember life before Riall only too well. They operate on a different set of principles. Zan’s goals were sound, but he was reluctant to admit that not everyone had followed him into his brave new world. He and Rath argued about that often.” Jaddo looked up at the Granolith, its cone pulsing. “Apparently, Rath got through to him, at least on this subject. He was right to keep this secret.”
“Not entirely secret,” Valeris pointed out. “Balor knows.”
Jaddo looked at Brivari. “Would Balor have known of this?”
“No,” Brivari said slowly, “and that is what worries me.”
“You suspect Balor is lying to us,” Valeris said calmly.
“That would seem unthinkable,” Brivari allowed. “But I must consider that possibility.”
“Perhaps that was not Balor,” Urza offered. “Perhaps that was someone else?”
Valeris leaned against the wall of the hold. “I don’t see how it could have been. Everyone knows Covari can recognize other Covari on sight, regardless of form. And we don’t take each other’s shapes. Who else could it be?”
“Oh, it’s him, all right,” Jaddo said grimly. “And I do not like this at all. We cannot simply land this ship and settle this later. If Khivar is still in control he will destroy the hybrids and take this—thing, whatever it is. And what is this nonsense about Talwyn? The idea that Talwyn would betray his commanding officer and his King is laughable. Balor is lying to us. This is a ruse.”
“Slow down,” Valeris countered. “We have known Balor for years; he is a trusted friend, a loyal Warder. Why would he suddenly abandon us for the Argilians? What could he possibly hope to gain? No one has treated us better than Riall and Zan. They began the process of changing the way we are treated, the way we are perceived. They passed laws to protect us. I simply cannot believe that Balor would betray them.”
Valeris turned to Brivari, who was still gazing at the Granolith as if deep in meditation. “I feel we must assume that Balor and his message are genuine unless we learn differently,” Valeris said. Think of how much better it would be for the hybrids to incubate in a controlled environment among their own people, instead of on an alien planet where they will always be in danger. If this news is true, then the odds of bringing our Wards back have greatly increased. We owe it to them to investigate this carefully, and not give up too soon.”
“Be careful,” Jaddo warned. “Earth is a backward world, with paltry technology and a species which doesn’t even believe there is life on other planets. But I would rather take our chances with Earth than walk right into an enemy’s waiting hands.”
Brivari stared at the Granolith’s cone silently. “We will remain on course for Antar,” he said finally. “But I don’t feel right about this either,” he added, looking at Jaddo, who nodded. “Talwyn as betrayer? Balor as betrayer? Neither makes sense to me. Let me think awhile.”
Brivari remained as the rest filed out, trying to balance what he wanted with what he sensed. Something was wrong here, yet the thought of going home…I would love to go home, he thought wearily. To put this whole mess behind us, and regain the stability we fought so hard to build. But he must be cautious. If he called this one wrong, they would lose their last chance to repair the damage, and it would undeniably be his fault.
Brivari left the cargo hold, closing the door behind him. As he passed the stasis chamber he paused. He looked at the door for a moment, then went inside. He approached Zan’s unit, staring at the body for a moment.
“So,” he said softly, to a king who could not hear him. “This is what it feels like to have the weight of a world on your shoulders. How did you do it? How did you live with it?” He paused. “This is fitting, I suppose. Most likely I deserve it, for all those times I swore I knew better than you.” He smiled, and shook his head. “Ironic, isn’t it? The time finally comes when I need your advice, and you are not here to savor it.”
Brivari turned around, leaned against the unit, and slid to the floor. “You drove me crazy sometimes,” he whispered. “But I would give anything to be able to talk to you right now.”
Brivari sat there in silence, with his back against the unit, thinking. He didn’t see Urza, standing just out of sight beyond the open door, watching him with a troubled expression on his face.
Posted: Tue Apr 01, 2003 9:05 pm
Brivari sat in the control room looking out the viewport, deep in thought. They would reach Antar shortly. He must make his decision—and his move—very soon.
A sound behind him caused him to turn. Urza had come up behind him almost noiselessly.
“I thought you would be asleep,” Brivari said, surprised to see him there. “Go back to bed, Urza. I will wake you when the time comes.”
“I could not sleep, Master,” Urza replied. He was clearly troubled, shifting from one foot to the other, looking very uncomfortable indeed.
“Master, I…,” he began, then stopped. “I believe…..,” he began again, only to stop once more, clearly at a loss for words.
“What’s wrong?” Brivari asked gently.
Still Urza hesitated. Whether he was struggling with what to say or whether to say it at all, Brivari could not tell. Finally, Urza drew himself up and spoke in such a rush that Brivari had trouble following.
“Master, I believe that Balor is lying. I feel we should turn this ship around at once and proceed to Earth as originally planned.”
Brivari blinked. Such declarations were unusual from one who was usually so timid. “And why, exactly, do you feel he was lying?” Brivari asked.
“I…..I can’t tell you that,” Urza replied, looking at his feet. “I….I just know he is. Something he said……was wrong. At first, I thought perhaps I had misunderstood, or that he had misunderstood, but no matter how I work it out ….and given other misgivings about that message……he is lying. I know he is.”
“Urza, you have to do better than that,” Brivari objected. “I can’t just turn this ship around based on a feeling. If I were willing to do that, I would have turned around already.”
“This is not just a feeling,” Urza said with uncharacteristic sharpness. “He is wrong. That’s not what happened. I was there.”
“You were where?” Brivari asked. “That’s not what happened when? If you have specific information that contradicts what Balor said, you must share it. We could be walking into a trap.”
“I can’t tell you,” Urza repeated miserably.
“And why not?” Brivari asked, his ire rising.
“I promised I wouldn’t,” Urza said, almost in a whisper. “I gave my word. I can’t go back on that. But I can tell you that Balor’s information was in error.”
“And what information would that be?” Brivari asked, exasperated. But Urza was silent, clearly unwilling to divulge any more than he already had.
“Urza, do you realize what you ask of me? You insist Balor is lying, but you won’t say what about. You want me to ignore the word of a trusted friend, but you won’t tell me why. I can’t do that.” Brivari made a dismissive gesture and started to get up.
Urza gripped Brivari’s arm, hard. Brivari looked at him in surprise. Urza’s eyes were wide, his face set. Brivari had never seen him this way.
“Listen to me,” he hissed, gripping Brivari’s arm even harder. “Have I ever lied to you?” Brivari slowly shook his head. “Then trust me now,” Urza said, coming in closer. “The details are irrelevant; what is relevant is that his details don’t match mine. I know what happened; I was there. Balor is lying; I don’t know why. But I am positive he is lying. And until we find out why he is lying, it is not safe to return our Wards to Antar.”
Brivari looked down at the hand gripping his arm, then back at Urza’s intense expression. Urza, who never laid a hand on anybody. Who was frequently afraid to speak up in the company of others. He must be very sure of himself to act this way.
Urza followed Brivari’s gaze, and released his grip with an embarrassed look. He shifted uneasily, and looked up at Brivari. “Please,” he whispered, “you have always trusted me before. I have never given you reason not to. You must trust me now.”
“Balor, too, has never given me reason to distrust him,” Brivari pointed out.
“Until now,” Urza said firmly. “Assuming that is Balor; and if I were you, I would give serious thought to the notion that it might not be.”
As Urza left the control room, Brivari stared after him, a troubled expression on his face. A very troubled expression, indeed.
Brivari stood in front of the navigation console. In the distance Antar glowed red, growing larger every second. It was time.
Brivari turned as he heard the others file in behind him, in answer to his summons. He placed the communicator on the table and examined the faces before him. Jaddo looked wary, Valeris merely curious, and Urza……Urza’s face was a mixture of fear and determination. Brivari met Urza’s gaze, daring him without words to look away, but Urza did not. He answered Brivari’s stare with a stare of his own, which was clearly a challenge. A challenge Brivari was about to accept.
“I am going to contact Balor,” Brivari said, indicating the communicator. “I will activate the communicator alone, so he will not be able to see or hear the rest of you. I am deliberately not waiting until we reach orbit because I am uncertain of the outcome of this conversation. We may need to leave in a hurry.”
“So you really think Balor is lying?” Valeris said.
“No,” Brivari answered. “I don’t.”
“Then….why would we need to run?” Jaddo asked.
“I hope I’m wrong,” Brivari said grimly. “But if I’m not…..be prepared.”
Everyone silently stationed themselves at various consoles. Brivari raised his hand to the communicator, which glowed.
Several seconds passed. The communicator continued to glow, Brivari continued to concentrate, and the others continued to wait.
Suddenly a beam of light shot ceilingward from the communicator, and Balor’s form took shape within it.
“You have returned,” he said pleasantly. “You are in orbit?”
“Not quite,” Brivari said. “We anticipate arriving shortly. In the meantime, we have been discussing preparations for the funeral. We, of course, must arrange this, as it is our Wards who will lie in state.”
“Of course,” Balor replied. “Is there anything I can do prior to your arrival?”
“We would like the bodies ready for us so that we may attend them as soon as we arrive,” Brivari replied. “Where are they now?”
“They lie in the palace hospital,” Balor answered. “We will take you there immediately upon your return.”
Brivari and Jaddo exchanged glances. Valeris’s eyes grew wide. Urza stared, stony-faced, at the holographic image of the man who had just proven him right.
Brivari walked slowly toward the pulsing column of light, coming to a stop just inches from the face of the apparition that gazed placidly back at him. “They lie where?” he asked.
“In the palace hospital,” Balor repeated. “The bodies were recovered not long after we regained control of the palace and taken to the hospital immediately.”
“No. They weren’t,” Brivari replied.
“Why do you say that?” Balor asked.
“Because we have the bodies,” Brivari answered in a tone of deadly calm.
Balor’s face adopted an expression of surprise. “We have worked together for years. You can’t possibly think that I would lie to you.”
“No,” Brivari answered. “Balor would not lie to me. But you are not Balor.”
The image of Balor looked dismayed. “Whatever are you saying, Brivari?”
“Who are you?” demanded Brivari, his hands beginning to twitch at his sides. “Tell me who you are, or I swear I will make you pay for this deception!”
Balor’s image developed a conciliatory tone. “I know all of you are tired. Events have been very confusing of late. But you know as well as I do that it violates our most sacred law for a Covari to take the shape of another Covari. Surely you don’t mean what you are saying.”
By way of answer, Brivari raised his hand and directed a blast of energy at the image.
“What are you doing?” Jaddo asked, bewildered.
“Testing a theory,” Brivari answered grimly with a glance at Urza, who nodded as if in agreement.
The holographic figure began to writhe. It had taken a few seconds for Brivari’s energy blast to travel through the communicator to the source, but the results were spectacular. The figure twisted, its face a mask of agony, until finally, with one last howl, Balor’s form disappeared, replaced by another.
Brivari dropped his hand. The new holographic figure was on its knees panting. It looked up at Brivari, and their eyes locked.
“You,” Brivari whispered, clearly not believing what he saw. “About our ‘sacred laws’—you were saying?”
The figure sank into a sitting position, too weak to rise. “Yes, me,” it said. “It has been awhile, has it not?” The figure shifted painfully. “I’m afraid our sacred laws are changing, Brivari. As are a number of things.”
Urza, Valeris, and Jaddo looked from one to the other, their questioning glances making it clear they did not know this individual.
Brivari’s gaze was fixed on the false Covari; he circled the holographic image as if still trying to convince himself that what he saw was true. “What did he promise you?” he asked the figure, which was still slumped on the floor of wherever it was. “Position? Power?”
“Something more valuable than that,” answered the figure. “My life.”
Brivari continued his slow circling of the image. “So. You would rather live in the service of a traitor than die in the service of a benevolent king? A strange choice. I would rather die than serve a traitor. I am sorry you feel differently. Sorry, but not surprised. This is not the first time we have had this argument, is it?”
The figure’s face twisted, whether from pain or in disgust at Brivari’s words it was hard to tell. “You would martyr yourself,” it said sarcastically. “How noble. How loyal. How ineffably stupid.”
Brivari’s hand shot out; the figure recoiled, and held up its own hand. “Think, Brivari!” it argued hurriedly. “If we all throw ourselves on our swords, who will be left to bring down that traitor? If we all do that, than our race dies. Our royalty dies. There will be no one left to fight, no one who remembers how it used to be. Khivar hunts us. He fears us. He means to destroy all of us who have not sworn loyalty to him, and even those who have sworn such loyalty, he does not trust. We can hide from ordinary men, but you know very well we cannot hide from each other.”
“You’re telling me you are a double agent, then? A spy in Zan’s service?” Brivari asked.
The figure hesitated. Brivari moved so close to the image that his face was almost touching it. “Exactly whose side are you on? This time,” he added darkly.
“My side,” answered the figure passionately. “And yours. I’m trying to save you.”
“Save me? By luring me back under false pretenses? Taking the form of a trusted associate? Admitting you’re working for the enemy? Explain exactly how this is ‘saving me’,” Brivari spat.
“You will not succeed,” the figure replied tiredly. “Your only hope—our only hope—is to hide the hybrids here and lay low, pretending to cooperate. Khivar is too powerful now. There will be another time.”
“That time is now,” Brivari argued.
“You will fail,” the figure stated flatly.
“I would rather try and fail than never make the attempt,” Brivari said firmly.
“The issue is not whether you try, but where and when,” the figure said impatiently. “We can hide you. Here you will be surrounded by those who will protect you.”
“And those who lie to me, who claim to be working for neither side, only themselves, and who violate one of the most sacred trusts a Covari could have!” Brivari shouted at the image, which recoiled. “You have given me no reason to trust you. You would have done better to contact me yourself with this tale, rather than attempting the impersonation of a friend.” Brivari turned his back on the image, “I will take my chances with the humans.”
“You will be followed,” the figure warned.
Brivari glanced at Valeris, who shook his head. “Earth’s atmosphere is hostile to the Argilians. They cannot follow us.”
“Let them try,” Brivari said to the image. Then, to the others, “Resume course for Earth.”
The figure struggled to its feet. “Then we each fight this battle in our own way—again. Good luck, Brivari. You will need it.”
Brivari answered with another energy blast, which hurled the figure to the holographic floor of the image. He held the blast for several minutes, until, exhausted, he slumped to the floor, while the ship arced a graceful turn and headed once more in the direction of Earth.
Urza entered the control room to find Brivari gazing out a viewport, much the way he had been earlier. Only now his expression was not puzzled, but set, determined. Urza hesitated a long moment before speaking. “You wanted to see me?”
Brivari gave a small nod without turning to look at him. Several moments passed, the silence growing ever more oppressive. Finally, Brivari spoke. “You asked me a question earlier, Urza.”
“You asked, ‘Have I ever lied to you?’ And at the time, I said ‘no’.” Brivari paused. “I now realize I was in error.”
Silence. Urza said nothing, but merely stood there, looking miserable.
“You did lie to me,” Brivari continued quietly, still looking out the viewport. “I asked you specifically if you knew anything about the invasion, and you said ‘no’.” He swung around suddenly in his seat, making Urza jump. “You lied to me then. Why?”
“Nothing I knew had any bearing on events as they stood at the time,” Urza answered in a shaky voice.
“But that was not what I asked,” Brivari said softly, dangerously. “I asked if you knew anything. I did not qualify my request.”
“No. I qualified my answer,” Urza replied. “I gave my word, Brivari. I intend to keep it.”
“Even if it places our Wards in danger?”
“No,” Urza protested, “which is why I warned you. I told you only what you needed to know to affect the situation at hand. I tried to strike a balance between my promise and the guidance you needed.”
“Guidance,” Brivari echoed. “I wonder how you came by this ‘guidance’, Urza. How did you know that Covari was false?”
“I did not know. I suspected,” Urza corrected.
“But why?” Brivari asked. “For as long as our race has existed, the one thing no Covari would do was be false to another. It was a point of pride in a world that feared and used us. Others we would deceive, but not each other. As long as I have lived, I have never seen that rule broken.”
“Not everyone lives by your rules, Master,” Urza said softly.
Brivari stood up and came face to face with Urza. “Whose rules do you live by?” he challenged.
“Yours, Master,” Urza said firmly. “Which is precisely why I warned you.”
“Yes,” Brivari murmured, “you did. But what if I hadn’t believed you? Or did believe you, but failed to figure it out? What then? Would you have taken your secret to our respective graves, secure in the knowledge you had kept your word?”
“No. I would have done whatever was required to protect us,” Urza replied steadily. “If there had been no other way, I would have broken my word.”
After staring hard at Urza for several seconds, Brivari nodded, and moved away to stand beside the viewport. “I am preoccupied with other matters at present, so I will accept that—for the moment. You very likely saved our lives today, Urza. Keep your secret, if you must. But when the time comes that I deem it necessary you reveal what you know, you will reveal it.”
“If it becomes necessary, of course I will,” Urza said, nodding.
Brivari turned to look at him, his stare so intense that Urza took a step backwards. “Let me make myself perfectly clear,” he said quietly, menacingly. “I will decide what constitutes ‘necessary’. I will decide when it becomes ‘necessary’, and if you defy me, I will hold you as traitor—and I will kill you myself.”
Their eyes locked, a silent battle of wills, with Brivari the victor. Urza dropped his gaze, and nodded. “I walk a razor’s edge,” he whispered. “I will not break my word lightly. Do not ask me to.”
Urza turned to leave, then stopped. “You may find my desire to keep my word inconvenient,” he said quietly, his back to Brivari, “but I am no traitor. Do not think of me that way.”
Do not make me, Brivari thought as he watched Urza walk away.
Posted: Tue Apr 01, 2003 9:06 pm
“There,” Jaddo said, pointing to a spot on the shimmering, holographic projection of earth suspended in midair. “That is a vast, uninhabited region. A perfect hiding place.”
The four Warders were gathered round the small table in the control room, gazing intently at the hologram and consulting the information that had been collected from previous visits to Earth.
“That is an area known as ‘Siberia’,” Valeris said, studying the screens of information with Urza at his side. “It is not heavily inhabited.”
“And very cold, according to this,” Urza added, shivering at the thought.
Valeris smiled. Antar did not have Earth’s extreme swings of climate; all of them, no doubt, would need time to adjust.
Brivari was leaning against a nearby console, arms folded, pondering the place Jaddo had indicated. “Do we need to be selective as to climate?” he asked Valeris. “Do the hybrids need a particular temperature or environment in which to grow?”
Valeris shook his head. “The hybrids are only delicate in this first stage of development. After that, they can safely be removed from the incubators, as long as they’re sheltered from weather and discovery, of course. They should reach that stage within a month of our arrival.”
“Then this is the perfect place,” Jaddo said. “They can be hidden underground, and there are no humans for miles.”
“And therein lies the problem,” Brivari replied. “We will be hiding on this planet for many years. We need to be in a place where we can blend in and keep an eye out for enemies, while guarding the hybrids at the same time. If we were discovered there, we would be easy targets.”
“Discovered by whom?” Valeris asked. “Do you really think the Argilians will follow us? How, when they cannot survive in Earth’s atmosphere? The most they could do would be to send some of our own people after us, and we will recognize those immediately. What are the odds we will have anything other than human enemies to worry about?”
Brivari circled the table, still looking at the hologram. “I think we must prepare ourselves for any possibility,” he said. “Now that we know that Orlon is possibly working for them, we can’t assume anything. We don’t know how many of us turned. Hopefully just a few, but there is no way to know for sure. We are safest if we prepare for the worst and hope it doesn’t come.”
“You have told us Orlon’s name, but not how you know him,” Jaddo said. “You two were obviously well acquainted. Why?”
Brivari sat down in a nearby chair and was silent for a moment. When he spoke, it was to Valeris. “Do you remember what I told you about how Riall gained the throne?” Valeris nodded.
“As I recall, he formed an alliance with others vying for the crown,” Jaddo broke in. “by promising them more autonomy then they would typically have.”
“Yes,” Brivari agreed. “But that was not the only factor which influenced their decision to support him. Before the alliance, Riall gained the support of one key race—ours.”
“How?” Urza asked.
“By promising us greater protection than we had ever had in the past, and a better standing in society.” Brivari rose and began circling the table again. “When Riall approached the other contenders, he had a virtual army of Covari behind him. Never before had our race supported one contender so completely. The others feared us—and fell in line behind Riall.”
“And where does Orlon fit into all this?” Jaddo wondered.
“Not all Covari supported Riall,” Brivari noted. “Most, but not all. Those that did not felt we were merely trading one cage for another, albeit a gilded one. They wanted complete freedom for our people.”
“Our world is not ready for that,” Valeris commented. “Not now, and I would imagine even less so then.”
“I agree,” Brivari said. “Orlon did not. I felt Riall’s offer was a huge step forward, and worth taking. As I have often noted to his impatient son, these things take time.”
“His impatient son expanded his father’s reforms,” Valeris pointed out.
Brivari sighed. “I know he did. And I was grateful for that, just as I was grateful for Riall’s reforms. But Riall did require certain…concessions, which I, and most of our race, felt were reasonable under the circumstances. Orlon and some others did not.”
“Whose side was he on?” Jaddo asked.
“The same side he claims to be on now,” Brivari said. “His own.”
“Then he is not to be trusted,” Jaddo said firmly.
“Perhaps,” Brivari said. “Orlon is extremely intelligent, very persistent, a natural leader. He will find Khivar far less accommodating than Riall. It is possible he will wind up on our side in this particular situation.” Brivari rubbed a hand over his smooth head. “I have not seen him for many years. We parted badly, which no doubt contributed to the way I reacted.”
“I must admit I was surprised that you were able to affect him from that distance,” Jaddo said, sounding genuinely impressed. “How did you know you could do that?”
“I didn’t,” Brivari answered. He shrugged. “What we produce is basically electrical energy; I gambled that energy could be transmitted over the same frequency as the holograms.”
“Do you think you may have permanently damaged him?” Urza asked.
“I doubt it,” said Brivari. “We were a considerable distance away. Most likely I just weakened him for awhile.”
“You haven’t told us how you knew he wasn’t Balor,” Jaddo pointed out.
“No, I haven’t,” Brivari answered. Jaddo looked as though he meant to press further, but thought better of it when he saw the look on Brivari’s face. Better to save that one for later.
Brivari glanced at Urza, who looked away. He genuinely did not believe that Urza was a traitor; that was every bit as unbelievable as Balor being a traitor. And Urza had come forward when needed. Hopefully he would voluntarily reveal what he knew, and Brivari would not find himself in the uncomfortable position of having to force the issue.
“So,” Valeris said, glad to change the subject. “Where do you think we should land, Brivari?”
“Here,” Brivari responded, pointing to a northern continent. “The land on Earth is divided into sections known as ‘countries’. That country is called ‘the United States of America’.”
“That is a heavily populated region,” Jaddo said, clearly unhappy.
“Not all parts are heavily populated,” Brivari said. “Besides, I have another reason for wanting to land here. And for avoiding the area you selected.” Brivari pulled up a chair and sat down with the others at the table. “Have any of you studied recent events on Earth?”
“Why?” Jaddo asked.
“I have,” Urza said. I found their recent conflict …… interesting.”
“Conflict?” Valeris asked. “I see I have some studying to do.”
“Many Earth countries recently fought a war, a huge war,” Brivari explained. This began when a dictator rose near the place Jaddo selected. He was determined to destroy one of the Earth races, which he deemed inferior. And he might have succeeded, had not others intervened.”
“So, this whole area is war-ravaged,” Valeris said, indicating a portion of the map with this hand. “That explains why you want to avoid it. But why choose this ‘America’?”
“It is a large country; there are several uninhabited regions in which we could hide,” Brivari said. “Its people hail from many different places; that will make it easier for us to hide, to not appear so different that we will attract attention. It also accords its citizens great freedom as to what they may do and where they may go. We need that mobility and flexibility; it is essential to remaining undetected. And who knows? We may learn something useful from their conflict.”
“Honestly, Brivari,” Jaddo said with disbelief, “these humans are a primitive species. The only reason they were selected for the project is that, for some unfathomable reason, their DNA is sometimes compatible with ours. They haven’t even learned how to leave their own planet. What can you possibly expect to learn from them?”
Perhaps what Zan failed to learn, Brivari thought, remembering.
**** “We should crush him now, Your Highness, while we have the chance,” Brivari said. “There may never be a better time.”
“My father believed in negotiation,” Zan replied. “He believed that it is possible for people to settle their differences peacefully. We have to try.”
“You can only reach a peaceful settlement with someone who desires peace, and Khivar does not want peace,” Brivari argued. “You may be willing to compromise, but that does not mean that he is.”
“Are you saying he wants war?” Zan asked.
“I’m saying that he doesn’t want anything you want. And as long as you both want different things, there will be no settlement.”
“Would you have me plunge us into a war without even trying to avoid it?” Zan asked. “That is irresponsible.”
“Is it responsible to allow an aggressive enemy to manipulate your people?” ****
Brivari shook his head. If his information was correct, the various Earth leaders had attempted peace with their tyrant. Their efforts at conciliation had only postponed the inevitable. Finally they crushed him; utterly, completely, but at the cost of many lives. If they had moved to stop him earlier, that might not have been the case. Sometimes there was value in the pre-emptive strike.
Zan had not understood this. His father had brought peace to Antar, and Zan was determined that he would not be the one to break that peace. But you did anyway, didn’t you? Brivari thought. You didn’t learn until too late that sometimes, the price of peace is just too high.
“The humans responded the way we should have responded to Khivar before it ever got this far,” Brivari said. “They responded with force, the only language such people understand. We should learn all we can from their conflict, and this is a good place to start. America was a member of the coalition that defeated their tyrant.”
Jaddo sighed impatiently. “May we at least set down in an unpopulated area? Or were you thinking of landing right in the middle of one of their largest cities and asking for military advice?”
“Right here,” Brivari replied, ignoring Jaddo’s sarcasm. He pointed to a chain of mountains in the southwestern part of the country. “Sparsely populated, but close enough to settlements. We’ve been near that area before. We can construct an underground chamber, or simply bury the ship and its contents. Both the Granolith and the hybrids will be safe there, and difficult to locate.”
“Fine,” Jaddo said shortly. “Moving right along, we need to scan Earth’s various languages into our memories. We never know which one we will need.”
“There are so many,” Urza said, bewildered, looking at the screens.
“Indeed,” Jaddo agreed. “It’s a wonder they can communicate at all amidst such a babble of different tongues.” He adjusted the screens again. “These are the various fauna indigenous to Earth. Make certain you scan not only the shape, but where the animal is usually found. We don’t want elephants wandering down city streets.”
“I shall endeavor to be careful when shifting into an elephant—whatever that is,” Valeris said, smiling.
“Now, we must all practice taking human form,” Jaddo continued, ignoring Valeris. “I’ve selected four composite forms. All are Caucasian, one of the dominant races on Earth and the race from which the donors came. All are male, since they are the dominant sex in most Earth cultures. See for yourself.” He worked the controls, and the hologram of Earth faded, replaced by four human figures which slowly revolved.
Urza’s face twisted as he looked at the figures. “Male? Why do I have to be male? Vilandra often preferred me as a female.”
“Vilandra is not around to prefer you one way or the other,” Jaddo said sharply. Seeing the warning glances coming from Valeris and Brivari, he relented—slightly. “Like I said, Urza, males are the dominant gender in most Earth cultures. If we encounter a situation where it is more advantageous to be female, we can, of course, do that.”
Urza studied the rotating figures unhappily. “They are so large and gangly,” he said.
“Will you find your princess to be large and gangly when she emerges?” Jaddo asked.
Urza looked even more unhappy at the mention of Vilandra and her new human form. “I suppose I shall have a while to get used to it,” he said doubtfully. “What is all that?” he asked, pointing to a spot midway on one of the figures.
“Those are their sex organs,” Valeris answered calmly.
“On the outside?” Urza gasped, astonished. “Where they could easily be damaged, or lost altogether? How foolish!”
Valeris managed to keep a straight face, while Brivari had to look away to hide his laughter. “I understand their females have their sex organs inside,” Valeris observed.
“Let me see,” Urza demanded. Jaddo sighed, and produced an image of a human female.
“Ah. Yes. Sensible,” Urza said approvingly. “Much better to be females, don’t you think?”
“No, I don’t,” Jaddo said with exasperation. “You’re not going to use them, of course,” he continued, as Urza adopted a stubborn expression. “Think of them as merely a …. disguise.”
“Why don’t you show us one of these forms, Jaddo?” Brivari said. “You’ve already practiced; you will be able to do it more quickly.”
Jaddo rose from his seat. The others watched, Brivari and Valeris with interest, Urza with trepidation.
Jaddo began to grow. He grew taller and taller, to the point where he had to stoop as the ceiling became too low for him. His head shrank, his limbs lengthened, his eyes grew tiny. In a few seconds, he stood before them as a human male.
“Very good,” Valeris said approvingly. Brivari nodded. Urza looked vaguely ill.
“You next,” Jaddo said to Brivari. “You are the only other one of us who has assumed human form.”
Brivari obliged, shifting efficiently to a similar form.
“My turn,” Valeris said. He studied the holographic figures one last time, and then began to shift. It took him a few seconds longer because he had never shifted to human form before, but after some minor adjustments, he, too, stood in human form.
“Now you,” Jaddo said firmly to Urza, who sighed resignedly.
Urza, for all his reluctance, was a practiced shifter. Keeping up with Vilandra and her appetites made this a necessity. In mere seconds, he had joined the others in human form.
Brivari, Valeris, and Jaddo stared at Urza, then at one another.
“What?” Urza asked.
“Ah…..don’t you think you’re forgetting something?” Valeris asked diplomatically.
Urza looked down. “I don’t need them,” he argued. “Like Jaddo said, I’m not going to use them.”
“I see. And the first time someone sees you without clothing, they simply won’t notice a few things missing,” Jaddo said sarcastically. “This is a disguise, Urza. In order to work it must be complete.”
“Jaddo’s right,” Brivari agreed. “You need to finish the job.”
Urza hesitated a moment, then unhappily complied.
“They dangle,” he complained a moment later. “This is worse than the tentacles I had to grow on Arhaus.”
“You’ll get used to it,” Jaddo said shortly. “We should all practice assuming these forms so that it becomes faster to shift. We will need to…… what?” He stopped, looking at Brivari and Valeris, who were both looking at Urza and trying, but failing, to hold in their laughter.
Jaddo turned and jumped, startled, at the sight of a human female, long hair, large breasts, sex organs safely tucked inside. “I much prefer this form,” Urza said.
Brivari and Valeris collapsed, laughing, on the table. Jaddo fumed for a moment and then stormed off, nearly smacking his large, tall frame against the doorway, which brought more gales of laughter from the others.
“Oh, dear. Now he’s mad at me,” Urza said, looking unrepentant.
“He’ll get over it,” Brivari said, smiling. It felt good to laugh. It seemed like ages since they had had a reason to. Still chuckling, he moved to the viewport and gazed out at the stars flying by.
They were almost there. Soon, this part of the nightmare would be over, the hybrids would be safely hidden, and the rest of them would need to figure out what they would do with themselves for twenty, long years. Brivari had given little thought to that. On previous visits to Earth, his time had been spent selecting donors. He had no idea what Earth had to offer in any other respect.
Twenty years, he mused. Would they even want to go back after spending that much time away? In twenty years, anything could happen.
Corona, New Mexico, Earth. July 2, 1947, 9 a.m.
The warm summer sun gently woke Dee Proctor, urging her awake with it’s heat. The little girl stretched and yawned, blinking in the early summer sunshine. She climbed sleepily out of bed and headed for the bedroom window.
Leaning over the sill, she could see the summertime bustle below. Children happy to be out of school ran in and out of houses, pursued by mothers reminding them to wipe their feet. Dogs barked, happy to have someone to play with during the day. Sprinklers waved merrily back and forth in a vain attempt to keep the grass green.
It was already pushing ninety degrees outside, but Dee didn’t care. She loved summertime: Staying up late, sleeping in late, no homework to do, no schedules to keep. The days stretched before her like so many blank canvasses, just waiting to be painted. Summertime banished her usually predictable, mundane life and turned it into something new and unexpected every day. That’s what Dee loved best about summer. In the summertime, anything could happen.
Posted: Tue Apr 01, 2003 9:06 pm
Roswell, New Mexico, Earth. July 2, 1947, 11 a.m.
George Wilcox parked his car smack dab in front of the Roswell Sheriff’s office, in the VIP spot. Being a Sheriff himself had it’s advantages.
Wilcox pushed opened the office door, grateful for the marginally cooler air that greeted him after sweltering in his car. Every little bit helped.
“Help you?” asked an eager young man with a name tag that read “Deputy Valenti”.
“I’m here to see the Sheriff,” Wilcox announced. “George Wilcox, Chaves County Sheriff. He’s expecting me.”
As the deputy scurried off, Wilcox leaned over the counter, the better to catch the breeze of a nearby desk fan. Damned heat. He hated summertime. Everything got worse in the summertime. More robberies. More vandalism, usually by kids who had nothing better to do. More complaints from everyone. And the heat just made it all worse. He couldn’t wait for fall.
With any luck, today would be a nice, boring day. With any luck everyone in Chaves County would behave themselves for awhile, while he poured some iced tea and sat in the shade. With any luck, nothing the least bit special would happen, nothing that required his attention in this sweltering heat.
With any luck.
Deputy Valenti leaned over the counter as Sheriff Wilcox headed down the hallway to see Roswell Sheriff Hemming, watching until he rounded the corner. Someday he’ll be asking for me, he thought determinedly. Valenti had his life all planned out: Find a wife, get the house with the white picket fence, have four or five kids, and eventually become Sheriff of Roswell.
He moved back to his desk, sitting down in front of his typewriter. He had a dozen reports to finish, most of it routine stuff like petty theft and vandalism. But there were a few doozies in there too. There was a lady on the east side who swore she saw Jesus in her bathtub; her carrying on at all hours had prompted her neighbors to call the Sheriff’s office. Then there was the guy out on the edge of town who claimed he had a vampire living in his outhouse; he wanted deputies out there that night to catch it. Valenti wondered absentmindedly why a vampire would choose to lurk in an outhouse. Granted it would be guaranteed visitors, but it would always be looking at the wrong end.
Valenti pushed away from the desk, leaned back in his chair, and closed his eyes for a moment. The heat was oppressive; even the basement was warm. And the heat seemed to have brought out more than the usual number of nutcases. The frightening part was that these people truly believed they’d seen this stuff. Jesus and vampires—Sheesh! What next? Honestly, did these people have any idea how crazy they sounded?
The phone rang. Valenti sighed as he rocked forward in his chair and reached for the phone. “Sheriff’s office, Deputy Valenti speaking,” he intoned.
On the other end of the line was an elderly gentleman who insisted that a spaceship had flown over his house that very morning. Valenti groaned. Oh, no. Spaceships? What kind of a moron believed in spaceships? Must be senility, Valenti decided. If I ever get like that—shoot me.
Urza peered anxiously at the ill-fated hybrid, watching helplessly as it writhed and twisted in what looked disturbingly like agony. “Isn’t there anything you can do for it?” he asked Valeris.
Valeris shook his head. “I’m afraid not,” he said sadly.
Brivari appeared in the doorway, glancing up at the door frame before cautiously entering the room. He had resumed his usual form, but he had already bumped into enough of the ship while in human form to make him wary of tight spaces. “How are they coming along?” he asked.
“We are down to about twenty-five of each hybrid,” Valeris answered. “I’ve taken the most robust ones so far and placed them in their sacs, if you’d like to see.”
Brivari nodded and followed Valeris to the nearest incubator. Passing by Urza, he followed Urza’s gaze. He paused for a moment, staring at the twisted creature that resembled neither human nor Antarian. “Kill it,” Brivari said to Valeris.
As Valeris moved to comply, Urza put his arms protectively around the hybrid. “No,” he said firmly to Brivari.
“It is suffering,” Brivari said gently. “Let Valeris put it out of its misery.”
“They don’t all survive the joining process,” Valeris added. “Very much like we don’t all survive our first attempt at shifting.”
“What difference does it make to either of you?” said Urza miserably. “It is dying anyway. It consumes no resources; it occupies no space another should have. What difference will it make if we allow it to die naturally?”
Brivari looked at Valeris, who shrugged. Urza picked up the pathetic little creature and headed out the door with a somber expression on his face.
“Let me guess—that was a Vilandra hybrid,” Brivari said. “I thought they died before reaching that point.”
“Most hybrids do,” Valeris answered. “But every now and then, there is one that winds up like that.
Brivari inspected the rows of sacs. Each contained four hybrids, one of each royal. Each sac pulsed with four tiny heartbeats, a motion so tiny at this stage that it was little more than a mere quiver. “Where do we go from here?”
“They will need to stay in their incubators for probably the next two or three standard Earth weeks,” Valeris answered. “Eventually, each sac of four will split into four separate pods.”
“A hundred pods,” Brivari murmured. “You’re going to keep track of a hundred pods?”
“There won’t be a hundred pods, Brivari,” Valeris said quietly. “A number of these won’t make it, for one reason or another. We’ll have to keep weeding them out. The Zan hybrid that develops the mark first, along with the healthiest of the other three, will become our prime set. The rest are insurance.”
“That’s something of a relief. A hundred Zans is a frightening thought,” Brivari said, as Valeris smiled. “There is something I will need you to do shortly after landing,” Brivari added, glancing toward the door as if to see if anyone were listening. He placed a diagram on the table. “I want the Granolith’s ignition sequence altered. Can you do it?”
Valeris studied the diagram, then raised troubled eyes to Brivari. “I can. Although I’m not certain how wise of a move this would be. What if something goes wrong?”
“That is precisely why I want it changed,” Brivari said. “I wish to remove that option from the list. But wait until we are safely settled.”
“Are you sure you want me to do this?” Valeris asked skeptically. “Jaddo will have a fit.”
“If all goes well, no one else will ever know,” Brivari pointed out.
“ ‘If all goes well’,” Valeris repeated wryly. “Things haven’t been going very well for us lately, have they?”
“Then we’re due for a change of luck. Overdue, if you ask me. Now, if you’ll excuse me,” Brivari said, heading for the door, “I have a funeral to arrange. With one more body than we originally planned for, it seems.”
Valeris watched him leave with a look of concern on his face. He turned back to the incubators, watching the tiny jumps of each sac as each tiny heart beat.
Some, probably most, of the hybrids would not survive. Even making it past the most critical stage was no guarantee of survival. He understood how Urza felt. Each time one of Ava’s hybrids had failed, it was like watching her die all over again. And he would have to watch her die many more times before he would finally see her again.
Slowly, he walked to a small stasis unit in the back corner of the lab and opened the lid. He peered down at the tiny creature within, noticeably different than the hybrids in spite of its early stage of development. He had told no one about this. It made no difference now, would serve no purpose but to depress. He would explain later, after they were settled and out of danger.
He closed the lid, letting the sadness wash over himself for the first time. He had been too busy, too preoccupied prior to this moment, and frankly, he had preferred it that way. Such promise. Such a waste.
He would send them out together, he decided. They could not be together in life; let them be together in death.
Corona, New Mexico, Earth
July 2, 1947, 12 p.m.
David Proctor pulled his car into the driveway of his house. He didn’t usually make it home for lunch, but schedules were a bit more relaxed in the summertime. No one was inside, but looking through the back porch windows, he saw his wife and daughter in a neighbor’s yard. Dee was running through the sprinklers with the neighbor’s children, and Emily was sitting in the shade with their neighbor, fanning herself slowly against the muggy heat.
David felt his throat catch as he looked at this quintessential scene. Who would have thought he’d find himself here now? Three years ago he was stuck in a foxhole, expecting every minute to be his last. In his pocket he’d carried a torn, dog-eared photograph of his wife and young daughter. He still had that photo, tucked away upstairs in his trunk, along with his medals, his uniform, and the other accoutrements of a time he didn’t want to remember. Fortunately, VJ Day had come soon enough for him. He’d missed two year’s of his family’s life, but he’d come home. Others had not been so lucky.
He glanced down at the photo of his brother, brushing his hand over the ornate frame softly, like a caress. James had come home in body, but not in spirit. Less than a year after he returned, his spirit had given up. He was a casualty of war every bit as much as those who had never come home, but history would wrongly look upon him as a survivor.
David looked out the window again, watching his 8 year-old daughter playing. He and Emily had sheltered her from the war as much as possible, going to some lengths to keep the newspapers away from her, and being very careful what was said in her presence. Deep down inside he questioned whether that was the right way to handle things. But he had seen too much over there, had left too much of himself on the battlefield. He didn’t want her to know, didn’t want to squash her optimistic view of the world with reality.
David Proctor’s daughter was still innocent, and he meant to keep her that way as long as humanly possible.
The four Warders stood in the control room looking out the tiny viewport windows. They had just passed the outer edge of Earth’s solar system. This was their last task before reaching Earth, the task no one wanted to do.
“Are you ready?” Brivari asked all of them. Everyone nodded.
“You will start,” Brivari said to Jaddo. His Ward was engaged to royalty but not yet married, and not royalty himself. Rath was the lowest in rank, and therefore went first.
Jaddo touched a crystal on the control panel in front of him. A sleek tube shot out from the ship, visible through the viewport.
Jaddo raised his hand toward the window. “Rath, Leader of the King’s armies and the betrothed of Princess Vilandra,” he said. He directed his energy toward the tube, and the tube exploded in a spectacular burst of light.
Brivari watched as Urza came forward. He had seen Urza place the failed Vilandra hybrid in Vilandra’s tube, after sitting with it in the stasis chamber until it finally died. For him, there was one more death to mourn today.
Urza stepped up to the panel and placed his hand on the crystal. “The Princess Vilandra, daughter of Riall” he said in a surprisingly steady voice. He raised his hand, causing Vilandra’s tube to explode like Rath’s before her.
Valeris stepped forward. Brivari regarded him curiously. Shortly after Urza had left the stasis chamber, Valeris had unexpectedly shown up and placed something in Ava’s tube. A failed hybrid, most likely. But it was not like Valeris to grow attached. Urza he could understand; he had always been a sensitive soul. But Valeris….Valeris was a scientist, first and foremost. It was odd that he would choose to gift what was essentially a failed lab experiment with a royal funeral.
“Her Highness, Queen Ava,” Valeris said quietly, releasing the tube and dispatching it like the others.
Everyone looked to Brivari. It was time for the King to go to his final resting place. Unfortunately, this was not the first king Brivari had seen sent to his grave.
****Riall’s funeral, a splendid, state affair. Hundreds of thousands of people had turned out to bid the beloved old King goodbye. The burial tube had paraded through the streets, followed by his grieving widow, his young son with his new bride, and his daughter. Flags flew, music played, and there was a sense almost of peace in the air. The first peaceful transfer of the throne in centuries. A young king with a young queen, and all the promise they held for the future. A time for hope amid the tears.****
Brivari bowed his head sadly. Despite the hope represented by those tiny heartbeats in the lab, it seemed that hope died here, in the blackness of space. This was not how it should be. Zan should not be dead. And if he were dead he should not be buried this way, in the cold of space, the anonymity of nothingness. This felt wrong.
Wrong or no, it was. Brivari touched the crystal on the panel. “His Highness, King Zan, son of Riall,” he whispered. Zan’s tube appeared outside the viewport. Brivari raised his hand and the tube exploded in a crescendo of sparks.
Khivar would claim that he had killed them, but he would never be able to produce the bodies. The people would be suspicious. The Covari who remained faithful would spread the story of the young king and his queen, the beautiful princess and her husband-to-be, who would return one day, more powerful than ever, and take out the usurper. The legend would grow, and with it, the people’s hope.
That legend, the four of them, and the tiny heartbeats in the lab might be the only things keeping that hope alive.
Posted: Tue Apr 01, 2003 9:08 pm
Corona, New Mexico, Earth. July 2, 1947. 2 p.m.
William Brazel headed for the truck parked in his driveway. On the way he looked over to the neighbor’s yard, where eight year-old Dee was laughing as she ran through the sprinkler. She saw him watching and waved gaily. “Hi, Mac!” she called.
“Hi, Dee,” Brazel said, smiling as the wet child ran up to him, shaking water off herself like a puppy. “I bet you’re one of the few in town enjoying this heat.”
“I love summertime,” Dee beamed, looking like she meant it. “Can I walk the ranch with you again sometime? Mommy and Daddy said it was okay.”
“Sure,” Brazel said, patting the little girl on her wet head. “I’ll talk to your parents about it. Not today, though. Storm’s coming. Maybe tomorrow.”
“Okay. Bye Mac!” Dee ran back to her sprinkler, her wet hair flying out behind her as she ran.
Brazel chuckled as he got into his truck. Sweet kid, that little girl. He enjoyed her company when she walked the ranch with him. She always saw things he would have missed. Oh, to be eight again.
As he started the truck, Brazel looked up at the sky. Dark clouds were gathering, huge dark clouds. There was indeed a storm coming, and it looked to be a big one.
“We are approaching Earth,” Urza said, looking up at Brivari. “Are we still landing on the coordinates previously chosen?”
Brivari nodded. “Wait a bit, though. I want that side of the planet in darkness before we land.”
Urza nodded. Brivari stared out the viewport at the blue-green planet, so different from Antar, its lone moon visible in the distance. From space Antar glowed red and gold, fiery looking. He remembered his first glimpse of Earth through just such a viewport years ago, and how strange it had been to see the blues and greens of this alien world. He hadn’t been happy about coming here then. Now, Earth was sanctuary.
Time passed, and darkness enshrouded the Western Hemisphere. “Now,” Brivari said to Urza. “Take us in.”
Corona, New Mexico, Earth. July 2, 1947. 8 p.m.
Sheriff Wilcox stood in the pouring rain, scowling. The damaged car was wrapped like a twist tie around the tree. It’s former occupant had been thrown twenty feet, and was now being loaded into an ambulance.
The Sheriff surveyed the wreckage as well as he could, what with the poor visibility. It usually wasn’t this dark at this time during the summer, but the clouds overhead made it look like midnight. The rain was coming down in sheets, getting heavier all the time. Damned reckless drivers. Wasn’t it obvious you had to slow down in weather like this?
Wilcox pulled the hood of his raincoat closer as he walked back to his car. Hopefully this would be the only such accident that would happen on this awful night.
“We’re close,” Brivari said, carefully checking the navigational controls. “Start slowing down, Urza.”
Urza looked at Brivari, concerned. “I’ve been trying to slow down for the past five minutes. The braking thrusters aren’t responding.”
“Not responding?” Brivari echoed. “What do you mean, ‘not responding’?”
“I mean we can’t slow our descent,” Urza replied. “I don’t know what’s wrong; I only know it’s not working. Unless we figure it out quickly, we won’t be able to stop.”
Brivari stared at him. No. Not now. Not after all they’d been through, to get this close, and have it all end like this. “Jaddo! Valeris!” he shouted. “Control room, now!”
Corona, New Mexico, Earth. July 2, 1947, 9 p.m.
Dee Proctor set down her toothbrush and went to the bathroom window. Sheets of rain splashed against the glass. Lightning flashed; thunder pounded. This was one of the worst storms she’d ever seen.
Too bad it was raining. On clear nights she liked to look out the window, watching for shooting stars. “They’re called meteors, pieces of rock from space,” Mac had told her, but she didn’t care. She liked to think of them as stars, stars that fell from the sky. That sounded much better than just “space rocks.”
Occasionally when she walked the ranch with Mac, she would find pieces of those stars. These were lovingly displayed on the shelf in her bedroom, the one right near her bed. Sometimes at night when she couldn’t sleep, she would look up at those fragments and wonder where they’d been, and if she would ever be able to go there too.
Dee moved away from the window and turned off the bathroom light. With a storm this bad, she wouldn’t be able to see any stars falling tonight.
“Anything?” Brivari asked Jaddo, who was tucked under a console attempting a repair.
“Try it now,” Jaddo ordered Urza. Urza paused for a moment, working the control crystals.
“We’ve slowed slightly, but not much,” Urza said, shaking his head.
“What happened?” Valeris asked. “Was this sabotage?”
“We left in such haste we had no time to do the usual preflight checks,” Urza said apologetically. “I don’t know when this ship was last used. It could be that it wasn’t flight ready.”
“What difference does that make now?” Jaddo snapped impatiently. “It happened. Why it happened is beside the point at the moment.” He headed over to Urza, who was helplessly trying the controls. “Sharp descent,” he ordered. “The mountain range is coming up quickly.”
“No,” Brivari said firmly. “The mountains are out of the question now. We need to find a long, level stretch of land where we can skid.”
“Are you crazy?” Jaddo said, astonished. “We’re going to crash one way or another. The crash will likely go unnoticed in the mountains.”
“It may go unnoticed, but we will not survive it, nor will the hybrids,” Brivari argued. “At this angle of descent nothing will survive. Overshoot, find a level stretch, and we might make it.”
Jaddo moved to stand in front of Brivari, fire in his eyes. “What do you know about landing ships? I was Rath’s Warder. I am the soldier here. I should be giving the orders!”
Brivari stepped forward, until the bulge over his forehead almost touched Jaddo’s. “You picked a poor time to challenge my authority,” Brivari said in a dangerous voice. “Step aside, or I will make you step aside.”
Roswell, New Mexico, Earth. July 2, 1947, 10 p.m.
Deputy Valenti headed for his car, holding the tarp he’d swiped from the storeroom over his head. Typical. Such a beautiful day earlier, even if it had been a sauna, and now they had a deluge of practically biblical proportions.
He ran through the rain, barely able to see where he was going. Only the frequent flashes of lightning allowed him to find his car. Ironic, he thought grimly. There were numerous power outages, phone lines were down because of the strong winds, and lightning strikes were being reported all over the area, but lightning was the only way he could locate his car.
Was that it? Jesus, it was hard to even tell if that was his car. He peered down at the license plate through the pouring rain. Fumbling with his keys, he unlocked the door and threw himself inside, managing to drench the entire front bench in the process.
Valenti wiped his dripping hands on the seat of the car. He sincerely hoped this weather would keep would-be criminals at bay. He wasn’t certain they’d be able to reach anyone in this mess. With rain this heavy, it was hard to see your hand in front of your face.
He crossed his fingers as he started his car. The engine coughed and sputtered a bit but it started, albeit reluctantly. As he pulled out onto the road, Valenti smiled to himself. There was one good thing about this storm: It should make the nutcases happy for a little while, at least. The Jesus in the bathtub should be right at home with all this rain. The vampire in the outhouse would likely be lonely tonight. And any aliens intelligent enough to master interstellar travel would also know better than to fly through a storm like this one.
A long moment passed. Urza and Valeris waited. Brivari and Jaddo stood face to face, unyielding.
Finally, Valeris broke the silence. “Brivari decides. He Wards the King.”
“I have located a level stretch of land just east of our original landing site,” Urza said helpfully. “There are no buildings in close proximity, and there is a severe rainstorm in the area at the moment. That would help mask our landing.”
Still silence. No one moved.
“Valeris, go to the lab and stay with the hybrids,” Brivari said. We will save as many of them as we can. Urza—take us down.”
Jaddo continued to stand unmoving. “You’d better find something to hang onto,” Brivari said to him. “It’s likely to be a rough ride.”
Jaddo gave him one last long look before heading for a seat.
Corona, New Mexico, Earth. July 2, 1947, 11:00 p.m.
A deafening thunderclap startled Dee Proctor awake. She blinked sleepily out her window at a night sky that was lit up like daylight.
She climbed out of bed and knelt on the little bench by her window, propping her head on her hands. If she couldn’t watch stars fall tonight, at least she could watch the lightning flash.
As she looked out at the storm-wracked sky, a glowing object caught her eye even through all the rain. It was huge. It curved downward in the direction of Mac’s ranch and disappeared behind the trees. A split second later thunder crashed with a force that sent the ground quaking. And quaking. The thunder continued to rumble, much longer than it should have. Dee looked around her room in alarm, at the books shaking on their shelves, her star pieces rattling, every piece of furniture shaking slightly. What on earth was that?
Then Dee gave a squeal of delight and started jumping up and down. What luck! That had been no mere thunderclap. Who would have thought she’d get to see something like that in this storm!
“Dee? Is that you? Are you all right?” David Proctor opened the door to his daughter’s bedroom and peered inside, waiting a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. “Did you have a nightmare, honey? Is the storm keeping you awake?”
“Daddy, Daddy, guess what!” Dee cried excitedly, hopping off the bench and running to her father. “I just saw a star fall! Well, not a star really, Mac calls them meteors, but I call them stars because I like to think of them that way, and I just saw one fall! A big one! Huge! The biggest I’ve ever seen!”
“Whoa,” her father said, sitting down on her bed. “Start over. What fell out of the sky?”
“A star, Daddy, a star! It must have been huge! Didn’t you hear it? Didn’t you feel it? It made the whole house shake!”
David smiled. His daughter had one hell of an imagination. “That was just thunder, sweetheart. Probably a lightning strike. There’s a mess of lightning out there tonight.”
Dee shook her head vigorously. “It was not lightning, Daddy. I saw it. And I heard it. Lightning doesn’t look like that, and thunder sounds different.”
“The storm is playing tricks on you, Dee,” her father said. “You wouldn’t be able to see a meteor tonight; the rain’s too heavy.” He stopped, seeing the stubborn look on his daughter’s face. He wasn’t going to win this one, so he might as well quit while he was behind.
“Into bed,” he ordered. Dee sighed, and climbed in. As her father bent down to kiss her goodnight—again—she muttered, “It was a star. I saw it.”
“OK, it was a star,” her father said good-naturedly. No sense arguing. “Why don’t you go look for it tomorrow? Rain’s supposed to stop by morning.”
Dee smiled as her father left her bedroom. She would do just that. I’ll bet it’s on Mac’s ranch. And tomorrow, Mac and I can go look for it. There had to be something left of a star that big. She glanced over at her shelf with her star pieces. Tomorrow she would have something to add to her collection. Maybe something different, something she’d never seen before. Something she could bring to school next fall for show-and-tell and dazzle everyone in the fourth grade.
Dreaming of stars, Dee drifted off to sleep.
Pohlman Ranch, Corona, New Mexico, Earth. July 2, 11:30 p.m.
If anyone had been there, they would likely have missed it. It was huge lying in the field, but the rain was so heavy that it would have been difficult to see, even with the help of the lightning. The storm had masked its fall; it was as yet undiscovered. There was still time.
Inside, four small figures were lying in various places. One of them had fallen at the base of one of several large vessels whose lights, one by one, winked out.
Within the vessels, twenty-five sacs glowed, and one hundred tiny heartbeats jumped in rhythm. The sacs twitched slightly with each collective heartbeat, creating a glowing, shivering spectacle against the cacophony of the storm outside.
Time passed. Some of the tiny heartbeats slowed, then slowed a bit more. Eventually some stopped beating altogether. The rest, a bit more stubborn perhaps, beat on, in defiance of the hand fate had just dealt them.
Miles away, the child who would prove to be their savior stirred in her sleep and smiled. And dreamed. Dreamed of stars falling from the sky.
CONTINUED in Alien Sky