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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Veil of Shadow - 1. Unto The Breach

It wasn't that Darcy Andrews disliked the launch preparation. As with many aspects of his career, he knew there would be steps to take. There was always a checklist to follow. Criteria to be marked off. Permission to be given. Calls to be made. All sorts of minor stuff that was the routine paperwork du jour for any regular space transit. Nor was it that he was in the hot-seat for this flight, because he wasn't. He wished he was, it was true, but just being a part of this was a pretty big deal by itself.

No, it wasn't any of those things.

It was simply that he wished he could be out there already.

He wished to be beyond the confining embrace of Earth and the suffocating shut-in feeling it gave him, the trapped and hunted sentiments it brought. He wanted to be on the other side of that blockade, to know freedom as thoroughly as every human should.

"Andrews, snap out of it." Zhou grunted the words as he hit the ignition, the inertial repression scaling in tune with the engines as they powered up. "Get your head in the zone. This isn't a field trip from secondary. This is-"

"-serious shit?" Darcy rolled his eyes at the pilot. Attention back to the co-pilot's terminal, he flicked out the flight plan data-stamp and STA approval onto file and locked in the waypoints. "Yeah, yeah, I know it. I'm in the zone already, man. Just ... wanting it to happen already."

Zhou grunted again, dourly. "Whatever you say. Just don't mess up because you aren't focused. They're highly strung already given what's at stake so don't push 'em."

It was telling to him that his senior was more worried about their supervision than what they were actually going to do. Not that there wasn't good reason to be cautious, as Darcy was well aware of how stupid it would be to piss them off. The orbital platforms began to drop back, the aft-view showing the shrinking cluster of shapes. In the fore, the moon was expanding and shifting to one side as their course veered around it.

"It's not them I'd be worried about. It's, well, you know ... "

There wasn't time for Zhou to answer before comms beeped and audio blared in the cockpit. Vetoro didn't need to initiate video, and his voice pierced any sense of frivolity immediately, managing to convey both serious tension and a cool boredom all at once. "Cut the chatter, ladies. We are transferred to secure channels now. Maintain heading 'till we're at L2. Understood?"

"Roger that."

"For the final time, you're reminded of your waiver and personal liability. There will be no working mistakes without legal recourse. Both of you, confirm your understanding."

"Roger," Zhou repeated.

"Understood," added Darcy.

The combination of the synchronous lunar rotation and Earth's current view of a nearly-full moon meant the edge of darkness where the solar reflection stopped almost perfectly lined up with the far hemisphere. The perennial second face of Earth's only child began to sneak into sight, Vetoro's CS-Space escort gliding ahead as the bright half with the sparse offering of human colonisation began to fall away.

"Analysis: power stability and module integration."

A soft chime sounded, the warning that always preceded AI speech. "Power use is stable across all systems. Module integration is stable. Variation of 0.7% is within accepted standard." The passive reassurance of the artificial voice did not change Zhou's expression and silently Darcy wondered if anything could make the man happy. If he ever laughed at anything that was genuinely funny and not just in order to make sure their employers were kept satisfied.

"Looks like it's all working as intended," Darcy said, his commentary soft. The man next to him did not acknowledge his words and so they sat in silence, monitoring their approach to the designated point as the featureless pockmarks, craters and the deep indent of the Aitken basin passed by unseen. He also wondered why CS-Space wanted it to be at the second Lagrange point. The five Lagrange points were areas in space defined by their orbital stability relative to any two celestial bodies; in this case those two bodies were the Earth and the Moon. Mathematics dictated that the L2 point lay on a line drawn through the centre of the two bodies, on the outside beyond the smaller.

Logically though, Darcy knew the choice of this spot wasn't because of orbital stability. Lunar gravity was pretty weak and they were more than far enough away for Earth's gravity to interfere. No, it wasn't about gravitation. It was simply because L2 was the closest guaranteed undetectable location from Earth. A lot of the far side would be too though, he guessed, but he knew better than most that their employers were not for taking unnecessary risks.

Not with something like this.

"Approaching position." Zhou was transmitting to the escort. "Ready to initiate on your mark."

Darcy's apprehension was building and his nerves began to dance. The preparation and the hard work and the symbolic importance began to feel weighty. He wanted to be here, very badly, but at the same time, it was terrifying.

Here they were, about to make history.

Here they were, about to break the most serious federal law.

Vetoro's voice came through comms again, crisp and commanding. "We are clear. Our window is open. Follow your brief and keep discipline. Initiate on my mark. The clock is ticking."

The audio finished and his anxiety expanded, his heart thumping faster than it had since his first day of training at secondary. Darcy watched Zhou's terminal, the pilot himself also staring fixedly at the little ticking countdown of numbers. As it hit ten, there was a warning beep.

Then, another at five.

At zero, Zhou hit the initiation.

None of the simulations had quite managed to capture exactly how the singularity felt. It was a moment of intense brightness, Darcy's bones thrumming, everything feeling topsy-turvy and twisted around. The feeling was gone as quickly as it had arrived, the bubble around them and the two escorts collapsing. The nimbus of light was fading and as the forward view was restored, the field of stars reappeared.

He wanted to stare. He wanted to stop and gaze in amazement at the ancient glowing red dot that was Barnard's Star, but he swallowed his excitement and his worry, and focused on the task at hand.

"We are normalised," Zhou informed him. "Jump was successful. Watching the clock."

Darcy switched through to the detection array output. "Active and waiting for targets," he breathed, his hands tense. The escorts had widened their respective positions but otherwise remained stationary. "Think they'll show as expected?" He muttered the words, half expecting Zhou to tell him to shut up.

"Not if they know what's good for 'em." The pilot's response was as edgy as his own, the smallest smirk appearing on the Asian's lips as he said it. "We'll see soon enough."

Seconds ticked by and they sat, baited breath, awaiting the arrival with the feverish expectation of children at Christmas. The clock reached the optimal time, the probability peaking and at last, what they were waiting for and planning for happened.

At last.

The array immediately spat out warnings and Darcy drew in a breath. Two signatures were found, materialising hideously close to where they were. The technology cut through the shroud surrounding them, the vessels painted with a clear outline. Not much larger than their own, but quite clearly not human. He knew what he was seeing, yet all the same there was a part of him that could not believe it was finally happening.

Alien ships.

Fuck.

"We have alpha!"

"Alpha!" Zhou called it over comms, rushed. "Alpha mark! GO!"

From the two escorts, the pause was less than a second then twin flickering bursts of fiery light jumped out in tandem, to where the cloaked vessels sat. Follow-up shots chased the trajectory of the first volley and right then, the sensors magnified the impact points. On screen was a splintering now-visible mess of debris and parts. Darcy could scarcely believe his eyes. It had actually worked.

They'd pulled it off.

Relief and a grin was spreading across his face as Vetoro's voice broke in. Despite the normal severity, there was a tinge of satisfaction in the man's voice. "Alpha kill confirmed. Repeat, kill confirmed."

"Roger," Zhou acknowledged. "Proceed to beta mark?"

"Proceed. Scan, open the micro and transmit. No approach, hold position."

As Zhou began the full analysis, directing the software scanning nodes in a flurry of virtual lines, Darcy examined the detection array data. The system had caught and refined the incoming signatures as they had appeared in real-space. There were no serious anomalies in the detection pattern and the shape-recognition was clear and trackable. The alien ships had been visible the moment they had arrived, perfectly so, even before they had a chance to discard their stealth and strike.

"Scan complete," the pilot spoke. The bubble of the micro-singularity formed just off the ship's bow. From the outside it had a curiously pearlescent sheen to it, brushed with the red from the distant light of Barnard's Star. "Transmit done, the probe's received it."

The bubble collapsed but Darcy was still looking at the array output on his terminal. All the readings were quite normal barring one. The spiking that had come during the opening moments was finished with, and everything was flat across the board. This was accurate, they were in empty space far from any source of disturbance. It should have been just background universal radiation and whatever measly scattering of atoms existed in this unremarkable stretch of space. The only pattern distortion could come from the red dwarf itself, and it was very distant.

Too distant.

Why was there a higher concentration of exotic-type energy here after the alien ships were destroyed? It certainly wasn't residual. Darcy ran a comparison against the other detectable types and they were totally within expectation. Nothing indicated any difference. Again, narrowing the scan range to the specific sub-section they were occupying, he refined the properties of the array's detector and told it to repeat the exotic-type scan phase.

"Andrews, what are you doing?"

Darcy ignored him. Results flashed onto the terminal. Localised exotic energy was present in concentrated focal points. Not dispersing but ... accumulating. Building, in several fixed locations in space. Those fixed locations were just beyond the wreckage of the alien ships. A loose cluster spread over a much larger area.

Something else was there.

Oh, fuck.

"Zhou," he managed, "I don't- .. I don't think we're alone."

Before the pilot uttered anything in reply, there was a burst of movement, a dim blur of projectiles spat at a fantastic speed. The escort on the left flank careened as it was struck on the wing and then a split second later exploded, the hull perforating and splintering as it was shredded. Vetoro's voice came over the comm desperately urgent, his craft already beginning to move.

"ZETA! Evade now! Eva-"

A matching salvo sliced through the vessel with ridiculous ease. Carving directly through the main hull, it tore the escort in half, the reactor detonating in a brief nova of uncontained energy. Zhou was swearing and punching furiously at the console, drawing all the power he could into the jump buffer, to give them the best chance to escape. The guiding AI was protesting at the forced recharge, the system alarms throwing up warning after warning.

"Advisory: cooldown in progress, unable to initiate full singularity. Timer at: 4 minutes, 17 seconds."

"God-fucking-dammit!" The pilot smashed his fist down on the terminal. "That's not fast enough. Override it! We need it n- ..."

Then he stopped. In front of them, a massive chunk of the starfield grew dark as a shape became apparent, obscuring the background. Darcy had not moved in his chair, his eyes fixed on the horrifying sight. Zhou now sat the same, staring slack-jawed at the thing in front of them. It seemed to fill the entire screen, the size of an asteroid or maybe a moon. Massive limbs and hugely thick but sharp protuberances extended from the superstructure in a celestial mockery of Gothic architecture. It grew even larger in their view as it glided closer, and a multitude of mandibular spikes unfolded, extending with surprising flexibility, like hardened tentacles or monstrous scything arms.

They flicked out above, below and to the sides of the craft then turned to angle inwards. For a second they hung there, poised, and then with a deliberate hunger plunged towards the exposed surviving ship of the illegal CS-Space expedition.

In the final seconds before impact, all Darcy Andrews could do was open his mouth and scream.

-o-0-O-0-o-

It was an unusually cool day in Otsin when the new cycle began. Though it was always the cold season as the circle turned afresh, this time was one of note. The adults seemed to think it might mean something, but Yugan did not care. The weather, the cold and warm, would come and go as it always did. What was more interesting to him right then was the long tradition that Otsin followed. It was the same tradition everywhere the dagenith lived, though the story would differ slightly from village to village, tribe to tribe. For Yugan it held only excitement as he was now old enough to attend it and so he was keen to partake in the age-old rite: the telling of the Tale of Sundering.

It was something not spoken of openly, being a matter that demanded the right time and place. All the children were sent to listen when they had known enough cycles, and most to hear it again so the words would not die in their minds. Released by their mothers and fathers to do so, they came to the home of the matriarch. It was Yugan's favourite time of the daily cycle, the mire-burn being particularly strong. The interplay of misting green and cerulean rose over the jungle in shifting curtains, the foreign sweet scent of it tinting the sharpness of the natural breeze. Reluctant but still keen, he entered the abode, their Unchosen adult attendants peeling away to return to their own devices as the children were delivered to her assembly. Last of all his peers, Yugan moved to sit.

The matriarch Mikom stood aside the door. Her right hands found a shoulder as Yugan entered and pulled gently towards the seat. "Come, young ithi, join your Unchosen kin." Her voice had the lacquered smoothness of age, but still deep and heavy with her learned wisdom. "You will not wish to miss the telling."

"I am not Unchosen," he rasped, somewhat petulant. "I am a boy, matriarch."

Mikom's tongue flicked over her teeth and her ears perked in amusement at the determination he exhibited. "A boy, you say? You are young to know this before you become it. It is a proud thing." With the left hands, she indicated the place for him. "Sit, little son. Listen to the words and you may yet learn more of yourself."

He assented, lowering his gaze obediently. "Yes, matriarch."

Yugan took his place, a seat near the front of the assembled children. The magnificent footfalls of the matriarch came to the empty floor, her physical presence equally as potent as her personality's gravitas. She dipped her head as she faced them and stared knowingly over the small crowd, each of her eyes taking in the faces of Otsin's young. The ridges of the shoulders and solidness of her stance was imposing, but her mood was relaxed and calm, her ears angled at a mild rearward tilt.

"You are here," Mikom said, the stop-start familiarity of her smooth staccato filling the room, "to know the Tale of Sundering. All of you must hear it, for it is the word of times gone, wherein we remember the oldest of ways. So we tell it, that it may be told again anew from now until time beyond sight."

Arms spread, she stood tall and spoke loud, her recitation of the legendary Tale of Sundering commencing.

"It begins as it must, with the heart of greatness in the past so distant. For we were not always thus, not always as we are today. Once, we were more, and the depth and breadth of our ancestral lines was unrivalled. In those early cycles of the Great Circle that turned before the Sundering, our time was one. We were one, united and sharing together in the glory of the ancient days.

"In that time, which was known as the Age of Peace, there came to rise the Empire of Blood and Stone. Such a thing was without equal, and in all the recounting of the works of hand and mind, it would stand alone. The songs and writs from the Age of Peace would strive to tell of the beauty and colour that grew in the dominion of the Great Circle. No longer do we know them, for those works are fabled memory and broken myth. Yet we know the stars themselves were a playground upon which the Empire moved, and it was seen by many. Those that saw through strange eyes were bound by love or fear to this power, yet always bowed in respect and awe at what they beheld.

"The Age of Peace lasted many cycles. The stars and worlds of that union were a multitude of brilliance and splendour, for the pinnacle of the Empire was at hand. Yet it was at this summit, risen higher than any other foreign stock has, grown greater than history recalls, that the change came. For curiosity proved to be a thankless boon, and it was linked with the cruellest of fates. Not even the most eminent minds foresaw the folly that would spring forth.

"At the core of their domain, the beating heart of the Empire of Blood and Stone was consumed in a cataclysm so immense that the ripples lasted for cycles beyond count. The Veil of Shadow was found and in this revelation was a tearing of foundations, and that breaking of ways brought forth an adversary, and the Enemy was known. This coming was without answer, being unexpected and savage and terrible. From the old hearth, the war began and the Enemy spread, drowning each world in turn.

"The Age that followed was one of death and struggle and loss. It was a time of Woe, and the spilling of Blood and the shattering of Stone was endless. All the power of the Empire could not slow the threat; no weapon could hurt it and no courage nor resolve break it. This Enemy was the opposite of all that is and was. The war made by it and against it was a long defeat; a slow crushing that would echo the pain of lamentation down through that Age of Woe and all those to follow.

"Yet, a final doom was still to come. The worlds of the Empire diminished and they were growing few as the Enemy hunted them, a chasing of prey that would persist until the ends of everything, but at last there was a chance at salvation.

"Two brothers understood the peril with a vision untold. The elder, Sulin, was the champion of the war. The younger, Dagen, was the keeper of the hearth. Between them, a pact was made.

"The elder forged the hopes of all in his fortitude and determination. Hardened by the generations of war, he built a great fortress and all the strength of the Empire that remained was gathered, with the greatest artifacts of the Age of Woe in their hands. They stood in defiance with weapons of vast and terrible power, and that Place of Light was a fiery spark in a sea of black. The Enemy was drawn to the spark of their lives in the void, as it was drawn to any banner the Empire raised. There, at the world that was Sulin's Will, the last battle was fought for survival and supremacy.

"The younger led his kin, all that would not or could not fight, and they came to a world full of the bounty of life. There was committed the Sundering and in this act, the Empire of Blood and Stone was no more. The cut of it was deep and unwanted, and many of the Sundered could not understand the pain of this upon so many other pains, so he said unto them: 'You are Mishith. My blood is your blood, but from this day the Great Circle is yours and yours alone. Here you must abide even until the ending of this world. For this is a haven, and on this ground you shall know peace.'

"Then the younger brother departed and his like was not seen again. Nor was seen the elder, nor the great hungering Enemy, though the Sundered waited many cycles for word of a victory, or the darkening of the stars that would signal their impending demise. No sign would come, for good or ill.

"So began the Age of Silence.

"Here, at Dagen's Grace, we are the children of those firstborn Sundered. We are dagenith and we thank his memory for this paradise. We are Mishith and this is the Tale of Sundering. We must never forget the past.

"From now until the ending of this world."

The matriarch's hands fell solemnly to her side, the children of Otsin obediently quiet in wonder at this legend. She looked them over somberly and gave a slight nod, tongue darting over her lips. "Remember it all you can. It is ours to keep. Now go, little dagenith, return to your sires. The tale is told."

The other children rose, Yugan standing with them. He was one of the smallest and youngest, so he waited for them to exit first, displaying the customary respect. Yet the voice of the matriarch hissed behind him. "Stay a moment, boy."

"Matriarch?"

Mikom lowered herself next to him, ears flicked back in a casual friendliness, the authority and intimidating vision of her storytelling having retreated wholly from view. "You are Yugan, is this so?"

"Yes, matriarch." The youthful coarseness of his speech made him sound so infantile next to Mikom, though he knew time would change that, and nothing more.

"Ahh," she breathed, sibilant and knowing, "then this is your first. What do you think of the tale?" She blinked slowly as she watched his face, the slight opacity of the outer lids slipping back, a pastiche of the irises' violet tones becoming visible under the transparent inner.

He thought for a moment of the tale. "So little of this enemy was said. What is it, truly?"

"None of the old words speak more of them," she told him, "but they were known by their violence and their destructive ways. They are gone now, forever maybe, for if they had returned they would surely seek us, even upon this grace that Dagen gifted. Do not fear them. They can harm us no more."

Mikom was right. That time was gone, too many cycles ago. Beyond any recording in Otsin, and maybe beyond any the Dagenith had made. Yugan did not fear them nor the thought of them, as he had no reason to, and brazenly he told her so.

Her claws dug gently into his shoulder ridges as she grasped him, her ears twitching in mirth. "I believe you, boy-ithi. You and I and all our kin are stronger than the monsters of the dark. We have that blood within us." The leathery feel of her superior right hand, the upper of the two, brushed his scalp lovingly, a kindly protective touch. "Remember the tale. You have spirit, Yugan. If you ever need to find me, seek and I will listen."

With that, he left her home as he was bade, walking the short trail back. The evening was beginning to set in, the green fading to a clearer darker blue. Streaking cloudbanks picking up the reflected luminescence from the mires, clinging to the shrinking green before nocturnal red took over. The calls of the night-singers began, the pleasant meandering harmony punctuated only by the shrieking of mire-haunts fighting over their kills.

It was another night in Otsin.

Yugan settled to sleep, the adults of the house not speaking as he passed them to his bedding, content in each other's company and giving silent acknowledgment only. The tale was in his thoughts as he lay upon the comforting surface. His body relaxed and so did his mind. Quickly and easily, he surrendered himself to sleep, entering the regenerative part of the diurnal journey.

As Yugan slept, something happened.

There was no way to realise what was happening, because he was asleep. Yet the sleep was not the perfect silent unknowingness of his body's biology reinforcing and repairing, outside of the influence of his mind. It was not sleep alone, not the thing to which he was accustomed. It was an imagining, an unconscious vision.

A dream.

It was sensation, a warm cocooning blackness that was more than the oblivious nothing of normal sleep. Beyond that, a tingling touch of ... something. Like the faintest, most distant change from within; a whisper without voice that seemed to be brushing him, calling soundlessly for him to wake.

For him to come alive.

There was no knowledge of time, though when Yugan awoke it was morning, the night completed. He did so with a start, his ears back in confusion, his claws trembling, muscles tensed into solid tight ropes, his jaw open and teeth bared. He could not understand this. He did not understand it. It was beyond his knowledge.

The imagination and the strength of the mind was respected, known and used by all Yugan's kin. His race did not consider it a deficiency of character to engage their long evolved power, both the abstract kind and the physical, but Yugan still had not fully comprehended what he saw. There was a reason for this; an extremely simple one. There was a physical and mental structuring of the body that made such things impossible and unnecessary.

The Mishith did not - and could not - dream.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Descending through the atmosphere was quick, though Konstantin had no point of comparison for shuttle trips. His memory of departing Lucere was spotty at best, with only fractured images remaining. Glowing clouds, the sky giving way to the emptiness of space, the tremble of the hull as the stratosphere dropped away. He still felt under full strength from the terrible ordeal of Shay's purge, but he was never more glad in his life for such hardship.

Now here he was, approaching the surface of the planet that he expected no-one from Lucere would see, not in his lifetime.

Earth.

He said the word for the fiftieth time in his head. Earth. The home world. No virus. Populated by billions of free humans. Without the endless chaos, endless anarchy, of a broken doomed world. Civilised. Ordered. Protected.

Safe.

The troubles of the last few weeks did not seem real in comparison to the seat in which he sat. It all felt so ... normal. So trouble free. Konstantin's companions in his earthward-bound travel were a federal military guardsman and the shuttle's pilot, cloistered in the cockpit. The pilot was engaged with his duty and the guard did not speak, not even when spoken to. Probably he had been ordered not to say anything. Most personnel Konstantin had run into had been that way, after their initial detention and brief quarantine to test for any viral contamination. The three of them had been cleared and become guests aboard the orbital spacedock; treated well though still kept segregated from any real information. There were a million questions Konstantin had wished to ask their hosts, but due to their status, there seemed to be a strict communications lockdown.

No one was saying anything.

Even the view wasn't particularly enlightening. The windows were heavily tinted and very little could be seen from inside. Just a blurry mess of green and brown and grey. About all he gathered of their landing destination was that they were in the northern hemisphere, and that it was going to be cold. Appropriate given it was early October, though that didn't narrow down the location even slightly.

He had just begun to wonder about what sort of reception they would get, when he felt the gentle bump of the shuttle striking ground. They taxied for no more than a dozen seconds, the landing strip being either small or prohibitively cramped. Then the engine was powering off, the guard standing to usher him to the exit which was swinging open on its own.

Earth.

Frigid air surged in as Konstantin stood in the opening; though, he was forewarned, and had dressed well for the conditions. Stepping down the short exit ramp to the ground, free at last from restriction to what he could see, the countryside was revealed. It was flat, the land stretching in all directions. Blankets of snow lay in patches between the deep coniferous greens of a continental forest, brushed with icy silver. In the extreme distance were the hints of mountains dividing the steppes beneath a cool cloudless sky. Nearer, there was a glimpse of a sizeable river and buildings. The tarmac itself was short and serviceable, hobbled by snowdrifts and there stood a group of four officials close to the shuttle. As he reached the bottom of the ramp, the lead figure, a woman, stepped forward and offered her hand to him. He shook.

"Mr Andropov, it is my great pleasure to be the one to welcome you to Earth."

She was in her mid-fifties, only an inch or two shorter than Konstantin, but not lacking any womanly curves for her height. Wavy black hair was tied behind her head, smokey brown eyes and an oval face with a friendly but shrewd set to it. Despite the overwhelming situation, of being on the ground finally, Konstantin recognised her straight away as a politician.

"It is my pleasure as much as yours, miss ... miss-" Smiling, he cut himself off and chuckled. "I am sorry, I do not know your name, or where we are."

"That's okay." She smiled back, beneficent. "I don't expect you to recognise me. I am Tamara Lebaredian, and I serve as the premier and chief executive officer of Earth's federal government." Small clouds puffed as she spoke in the cold air. "We are not far from Pokrovsk in Khangalassky. We thought it fitting you landed here."

Premier?! This was not a politician, this was the politician; not only that but ... Pokrovsk? Konstantin could not think of anything else at that moment. A name like that was unmistakeable. It could only mean ...

"This is ... Russia?"

"It is," Lebaredian nodded. Her English was very smooth, but with a hint of the central-Asian accent. "I wish I could give you a genuine welcome but my russkiy is not as sharp as my Armenian. It is some time since I've had to use it." She glanced at the surroundings. "Yes, we are in the Siberian far-east. My office wanted to avoid the inevitable media circus the west would make. We'll follow the Lena to Yakutsk shortly, and from there further travel arrangements will be made."

They were in Yakutia, the old Sakha. Yakutsk! That name he knew, though it was dozens of places down the list of Russian cities. He and Vasili had memorised the names and locations as boys. Right now, they were very much in the eastern reaches of Russian territory, with only the Khabarovsk mountains and then the ice floes of the Okhotsk sea before the Pacific Ocean proper. Konstantin had never known it, but all of this land he had seen in his mind a hundred times over. He had imagined it, dreamed of it, in a hopeful naive yearning that a child has when staring at the most distant point of light in the night sky.

Yakutsk.

Crouching, he picked up a handful of snow and stood, crunching it in his palm as the emotion poured through him. "Thank you, Madame Premier. This moment in my life, Arkady- .. uh, my father, he would have been proud to see it. It means much that I honour him this way."

"I am glad," she smiled again, and then gestured to the side of the strip. Vehicles were waiting, prepped for the ride to the city. "Please come, I should be happy to hear more from you while we travel."

As he followed the premier across the tarmac, Konstantin could only drink in the surroundings. The dwarf-pines of the tundra, the taller evergreens of the taiga, the continental ridges of rock and snow. The biting cold of early midday Oktyabr in the basin of the Yakutian frost, before it turned to the deadly chill of full winter. It was the Sakha.

It was Russia.

Despite having grown up, having spent his years on another planet, for the first time in his entire life, Konstantin did not feel like the ground beneath him was foreign.

For the first time, he felt like he was home.

-o-0-O-0-o-

The transportation to Yakutsk were repulsor vans, grouped in a small convoy as they cruised leisurely up the roadway by the Lena River. Though it seemed that the vehicles were simply a much more advanced and probably efficient version of what he knew from Lucere's surviving pre-2104 civilisation, Konstantin still had not any chance to observe how far Earth's technology had since come.

"Ah, sovorakan is perfect today. I've seen enough cold weather, but even mild Siberian temperatures remind me how bad it can be." The premier was sitting opposite him, and she sipped her Turkish coffee, the sludgey mixture barely moving in the cup as she placed it back on the table. "Do not be concerned about the boys in your care. They arrived before you did, and were separated into their own transports for security reasons."

Security reasons?

"I am not worried for their safety," he told her. Not at all worried, after what he had seen Shay and Mira do, but that side of things was something that would stay a comfortable secret until it needed to be revealed. "I do insist on one thing though. I want legal authority over them. They are not adults by Earth's law and I will not accept guardianship going to anyone else, including the government."

Lebaredian's hesitation before replying was miniscule. "This was already discussed in conference with my attorney-general. There isn't a precedent for your situation, so he wanted them to become wards of the state. I told him I would reserve judgement."

Konstantin stared at her. "They have been through enough. It is in no-one's interest to make life any harder."

"Of course not." She smiled again, that same beneficent politically-feasible smile, a mixture of caring and favourable-facade all in one. "I am not at all opposed to this. I will see that you are made their guardian."

"Thank you."

"I talked to Shay Andersen a little," she continued. "He's a very smart young man. He told me how pleased you would be about landing in Russia. He was not wrong, not at all. Perceptive." Konstantin smiled to himself. It was just like Shay to think of others. Lebaredian picked up her coffee and took another sip before continuing. "I am curious though. The other boy shares the same last name, but they do not look like they are related."

Oh.

"It is complicated," he muttered, taking a small taste of his own cup. What to tell this very powerful woman, that wasn't going to reveal everything to her? Using language to his advantage was the only safeguard Konstantin had, until he knew more about the ups-and-downs of contemporary Earth's politics. "They have ... the same lineage," which was true, just not in a purely genetic related-by-blood sense, "and have survived the same struggles. They are very much brothers."

Hearing Mira speak for the first time had been an astounding thing. Konstantin wasn't sure why, but the words had felt like an injection of emotive strength and truth straight into his brain. He couldn't really explain it, but it was a weird, shocking, concentrated moment of amazement. Mira hadn't repeated it since then either, remaining flawlessly silent in the intervening days, just as he had been for the entire time on Lucere that Konstantin had known him. Yet, what Mira said did not surprise Konstantin in the slightest. The boy needed to speak at that time and he knew he needed to say a last name - after all, everyone he met had a last name, so to be accepted on Earth he would need one too. So, he bound himself to Shay by speech, a public necessity that simply reinforced the invisible intangible bonds that already connected the two in so many ways.

'Brothers' was too shallow to describe that, but here it would have to do.

"Brothers?" The premier's question was musing, thoughtful. "They did seem very affectionate together. It was almost a shame to put them in different cars."

He did not wish to keep speaking of them. For whatever reason, he felt uneasy doing so, to anyone else. "Yes. Adversity can bring siblings together." Quickly changing topic, he went on. "Can I ask, without breaking into too much detail or history, what the state of the planet is?"

"Politics? That's a big subject." She gave a bemused laugh. "I can't give more than a brief summary anyhow. Any detail of the couple of centuries worth of political history you have missed out on would take more time than we have to spare. I can tell you that the doomsayers have yet to see their predictions come true. Population growth is largely stable. The central government isn't perfect but it is serving the needs of the people. Unrest is well balanced by social stability, democracy is functional. The environment is, if anything, better than in the 21st century. Starvation and resource conflicts are things of the past."

"This all sounds promising," rumbled Konstantin. "There was no kind of government on Lucere and all I had to go on was family stories and the history books that were left over from before it happened."

Lebaredian opened her mouth to respond, but the car gave a sudden jolt of deceleration. They both stood together, alarmed and she was tapping the microdermal comm plant beneath her ear. "What's going on? Is there-"

Her voice was interrupted by a sound from outside, very loud and very close.

Gunfire.

Welcome, dear readers one and all, to Veil of Shadow. Of course, the question you may very well asking right now is: where the heck is Shay? Where is Mira? What the *CENSORED* is going on?!
Well you're probably asking other questions too, but .. well, this IS Chapter One :lol:
Come one, come all! I love hearing from any of you, no matter your opinion. You are most welcome to review, and a discussion thread for VoS is located right here.
Copyright © 2017 Stellar; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

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Strangely enough, I happened to think of you last night, wondering when you might

have a new story for us. So here we are...

 

You offer three different scenes, all of which are captivating and mysterious.

I'm so happy to start a new adventure!

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I have been anxiously waiting for the second part to come out, I have a feeling there will be just as many problems on earth as there were on Lucere. I like that you have kept the scenes and information very focused, and buffered. It is all very controlled, so it will be difficult to predict what comes next, who is telling the truth, and what has happened to our main characters. I look forward to seeing how Mira and Shay handle things.

I am excited that the next part of their story has started and can only pray Stellar will take pity on us, and give us lots of frequent and consistent chapter updates, and not too many cliff hangers!

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So glad you're back and that your tension level hasn't reduced. That opening encounter with aliens is about as exciting as our language is capable of. It is good to know that Shay and Mira have arrived safely, but will be glad to finally see them again. The last line indicates that not all is a serene and peaceful as the Premier paints it.

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On 11/12/2013 01:10 AM, Stephen said:
Strangely enough, I happened to think of you last night, wondering when you might

have a new story for us. So here we are...

 

You offer three different scenes, all of which are captivating and mysterious.

I'm so happy to start a new adventure!

Hey Stephen, welcome to Book 2!

 

There will be several intersecting arcs of story. Konstantin and Yugan are two of those, as is the first scene, though for entirely different purposes!

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On 11/12/2013 04:21 AM, poet2dagger said:
I have been anxiously waiting for the second part to come out, I have a feeling there will be just as many problems on earth as there were on Lucere. I like that you have kept the scenes and information very focused, and buffered. It is all very controlled, so it will be difficult to predict what comes next, who is telling the truth, and what has happened to our main characters. I look forward to seeing how Mira and Shay handle things.

I am excited that the next part of their story has started and can only pray Stellar will take pity on us, and give us lots of frequent and consistent chapter updates, and not too many cliff hangers!

Earth is not a ruined world like the rest of the colonies, but it does have problems of its own. Politics and all the inherent manipulation it brings makes it a messy business, as bad as war in many respects.

 

I will try to be consistent and frequent, but I'm no longer going to estimate chapter completion dates, because it *will* backfire if I do :D Cliffhangers .. oh boy, I can't even talk about that.

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On 11/12/2013 05:48 AM, stanollie said:
So glad you're back and that your tension level hasn't reduced. That opening encounter with aliens is about as exciting as our language is capable of. It is good to know that Shay and Mira have arrived safely, but will be glad to finally see them again. The last line indicates that not all is a serene and peaceful as the Premier paints it.
There will be tension aplenty, I can promise you, though this story will be functionally a bit different from the predecessor.

 

Shay and Mira are on Earth, but I caution to add they may not appear quite as soon as expected. Of course, the 'why' of this I cannot elaborate upon, though the reasons will begin to emerge soon.

 

You are right -- the premier certainly is not saying everything. She is, after all, a politician and all such people have their own interests. The question is an open one: where does Ms Lebaredian fit on the scale? Or perhaps a better question would be: what does that scale, the political climate, *really* look like without the window dressing?

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On 11/12/2013 at 5:24 PM, ajthibodeaux said:

As always a brilliant read. I'm so glad you continued I cried when ended it last, you have a way with cliffhangers.

Aww, I'm glad you're enjoying it so far! Don't be afraid to voice yourself on here, I love hearing from readers.

Edited by Stellar
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After my response last night to the news of this being posted I thought I'd wait till my sugar rush was over.

What a start, looking forward to second part. The three scenes were fantastic looking forward to seeing how they link. :). As alway you have captured the reader I want more. Now. ;)

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I have started book one just yesterday and now I finally finished here. It was an amazing read so far and I really want to thank you for writing this story! :)

 

Sometimes your English is a little difficult for me, even though I am not a native speaker, I do read A LOT (roughly 20mil+ words this year) in English. It is rare that I have to look up words or have problems with the reading flow. However, while it slows me down, that is also a good thing, I certainly do learn from reading this.

 

I am kind of excited about where this will go. I can see that there might be reasons that Mira and Shay will take a while before they fully appear in the story, however, I hope they will remain the focus of this story. The storyline of Yugan sounds very interesting and I can imagine him playing a bigger role here, as long as the focus on Mira and Shay is not lost.

 

Thanks again for your writing. I found this story when I was searching the web for stories about romance in a end-of.world scenario and I must say while it is hard to find good stories, this one does not only prove to be superior in this category, but also an outstanding story among all that I read. I can't wait for the next update, good job!

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On 11/14/2013 11:56 AM, Sammy Blue said:
I have started book one just yesterday and now I finally finished here. It was an amazing read so far and I really want to thank you for writing this story! :)

 

Sometimes your English is a little difficult for me, even though I am not a native speaker, I do read A LOT (roughly 20mil+ words this year) in English. It is rare that I have to look up words or have problems with the reading flow. However, while it slows me down, that is also a good thing, I certainly do learn from reading this.

 

I am kind of excited about where this will go. I can see that there might be reasons that Mira and Shay will take a while before they fully appear in the story, however, I hope they will remain the focus of this story. The storyline of Yugan sounds very interesting and I can imagine him playing a bigger role here, as long as the focus on Mira and Shay is not lost.

 

Thanks again for your writing. I found this story when I was searching the web for stories about romance in a end-of.world scenario and I must say while it is hard to find good stories, this one does not only prove to be superior in this category, but also an outstanding story among all that I read. I can't wait for the next update, good job!

Hey Sammy, thanks for reviewing! I'm really glad you are enjoying it so far.

 

I don't doubt that my English might be a little difficult for a non-native speaker, as there is the tendency to use very poetic or metaphorical language and odd structure that would make it harder to read. The difficulty does sound like it has been informational though, so that is a positive.

 

Yes, there are a few arcs of story I wish to have introduced and in motion before Shay and Mira 'step onto the stage' if you will. Yugan is going to have some importance attached to him too, though Shay will still be the central character, despite the delay in narration around him.

 

Thank you so much for your comments. :) Though I am rather curious how you found Hidden Sunlight on GA and what brought you here! With any luck the next chapter shall not be too far off.

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On 11/13/2013 09:47 PM, Kiltie69 said:
After my response last night to the news of this being posted I thought I'd wait till my sugar rush was over.

What a start, looking forward to second part. The three scenes were fantastic looking forward to seeing how they link. :). As alway you have captured the reader I want more. Now. ;)

Well that was probably the safer thing to do, right? ^_^

 

Heh, well, the second chapter is being written.

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Hidden Sunlight was a glorious struggle to read; I can't imagine the struggle to write it. Now, book two, my dictionary and DuckDuckGo pages already quite busy. May you proceed at a sustainable pace, our carping notwithstanding. I'm full of anticipation.

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On 11/18/2013 05:37 PM, knotme said:
Hidden Sunlight was a glorious struggle to read; I can't imagine the struggle to write it. Now, book two, my dictionary and DuckDuckGo pages already quite busy. May you proceed at a sustainable pace, our carping notwithstanding. I'm full of anticipation.
A glorious struggle! Uh, I'm flattered .. I think? :) I would be the first to admit my prose isn't for everyone, but I hope that navigating your way through it is as rewarding as it can be for that effort.
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Wow, Stellar. What a crisp way you have of setting large stages. I love both of your matriarchs. I agree with what everyone is saying about the excitement of these skirmishes. I for one can be patient as we find out what Shay can do, because the context will be just as important as the actions. And I'm looking forward to learning more about the other chosen. Thank you for sharing your gift!

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Well Halle-damn-lujah!! Been waiting and waiting! And it was so o o worth it! :worship: Three scenes, three stories and you're going to take your time telling us what the link is!!! hahaha What a way to start. Russia and Konstantin..didn't even think of his story. The emotion you conveyed...well lets just say you got me. sniff sniff.

Ok Mr Storyteller, :wizard: I'm along for the ride!

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On 11/25/2013 12:45 AM, lathe_biosas said:
Wow, Stellar. What a crisp way you have of setting large stages. I love both of your matriarchs. I agree with what everyone is saying about the excitement of these skirmishes. I for one can be patient as we find out what Shay can do, because the context will be just as important as the actions. And I'm looking forward to learning more about the other chosen. Thank you for sharing your gift!
Well I would definitely trust Mikom more than I would Ms Lebaredian but still one must not write-off the importance of powerful allies ^_^ Politicians are tricky people, even the good ones.
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On 11/27/2013 01:40 PM, LadyDe said:
Well Halle-damn-lujah!! Been waiting and waiting! And it was so o o worth it! :worship: Three scenes, three stories and you're going to take your time telling us what the link is!!! hahaha What a way to start. Russia and Konstantin..didn't even think of his story. The emotion you conveyed...well lets just say you got me. sniff sniff.

Ok Mr Storyteller, :wizard: I'm along for the ride!

Aww, well, wait no longer! I'll be releasing chapters as quickly as I can write and beta them :)

 

Russia is also Shay and Mira's story (for the moment) but for reasons that cannot yet be revealed, his perspective won't be explored just yet.

 

Welcome aboard!

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I've got to admit, you got me really worried that this would have entirely different main characters or even take place in another time or smth like that. Two long scenes and no familiar face so far. But that the third scene made up for that. And though I have no idea as to where the first two scenes belong, they are promising and I am waiting to find out where the connection lies. Yugan's storyline ofcourse being more interesting as the other one, because he survives the first chapter instead of dieing horribly. ^^ So far so good, still 9 chapters to read until I will finally suffer from your devilish cliffhangers, too. Won't take too long. ;)

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On 11/17/2014 08:58 AM, Scary said:
I've got to admit, you got me really worried that this would have entirely different main characters or even take place in another time or smth like that. Two long scenes and no familiar face so far. But that the third scene made up for that. And though I have no idea as to where the first two scenes belong, they are promising and I am waiting to find out where the connection lies. Yugan's storyline ofcourse being more interesting as the other one, because he survives the first chapter instead of dieing horribly. ^^ So far so good, still 9 chapters to read until I will finally suffer from your devilish cliffhangers, too. Won't take too long. ;)
Veil of Shadow has four distinct narrative arcs once it gets moving. Yugan's story is very enjoyable for me to write; much more so than the shenanigans on Earth. I suppose I am just as sceptical about human nature as Konstantin and Shay are. Aliens are refreshingly different.
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On 11/17/2014 08:58 AM, Scary said:
I've got to admit, you got me really worried that this would have entirely different main characters or even take place in another time or smth like that. Two long scenes and no familiar face so far. But that the third scene made up for that. And though I have no idea as to where the first two scenes belong, they are promising and I am waiting to find out where the connection lies. Yugan's storyline ofcourse being more interesting as the other one, because he survives the first chapter instead of dieing horribly. ^^ So far so good, still 9 chapters to read until I will finally suffer from your devilish cliffhangers, too. Won't take too long. ;)
Veil of Shadow has four distinct narrative arcs once it gets moving. Yugan's story is very enjoyable for me to write; much more so than the shenanigans on Earth. I suppose I am just as sceptical about human nature as Konstantin and Shay are. Aliens are refreshingly different.
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On 11/17/2014 08:58 AM, Scary said:
I've got to admit, you got me really worried that this would have entirely different main characters or even take place in another time or smth like that. Two long scenes and no familiar face so far. But that the third scene made up for that. And though I have no idea as to where the first two scenes belong, they are promising and I am waiting to find out where the connection lies. Yugan's storyline ofcourse being more interesting as the other one, because he survives the first chapter instead of dieing horribly. ^^ So far so good, still 9 chapters to read until I will finally suffer from your devilish cliffhangers, too. Won't take too long. ;)
Veil of Shadow has four distinct narrative arcs once it gets moving. Yugan's story is very enjoyable for me to write; much more so than the shenanigans on Earth. I suppose I am just as sceptical about human nature as Konstantin and Shay are. Aliens are refreshingly different.
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Not same? but. that's ok. :)
I get the feeling that the "others" are the Sharpelings? seems to be?
You write so well and I love your use of English. :)
Ashley D

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On 11/29/2015 11:19 PM, Ashdaw said:

Not same? but. that's ok. :)

I get the feeling that the "others" are the Sharpelings? seems to be?

You write so well and I love your use of English. :)

Ashley D

I'm not sure to whom you referring with 'others' here. I am assuming it is in reference to the scene with Yugan and the matriarch? They are not sharpelings. Specifically, sharpelings are mutated humans who have involuntarily come under bondage to the arbiters through the medium of the Sharpe virus. Yugan and his kind are another species entirely. They are Mishith, and their history is heavily wound up in all of this and will be revealed more over the story's duration.

 

Thank you! I'm glad you are enjoying the start of the new book.

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Thank you for producing a sequel. As always, your story building is marvelous. Am loving it already. I just don't agree with how the matriarch went about her story telling. The audience is made up of kids, I think she should've used smaller words. I know if I'm seven and she talked to me that way, I would either be very bored and not paying attention cause I don't understand what she's saying, or interrupting every few seconds to ask her to explain.
Anticipation is high. Looking forward to reading the rest.

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On 07/07/2016 02:34 PM, Shaylan said:

Thank you for producing a sequel. As always, your story building is marvelous. Am loving it already. I just don't agree with how the matriarch went about her story telling. The audience is made up of kids, I think she should've used smaller words. I know if I'm seven and she talked to me that way, I would either be very bored and not paying attention cause I don't understand what she's saying, or interrupting every few seconds to ask her to explain.

Anticipation is high. Looking forward to reading the rest.

Welcome to the sequel.

 

I expect that if you were a human child listening to a lesson being taught in such a way, you doubtless wouldn't be following it for long. However, these are not human children; they do not think, act or communicate as we do. Theirs is a different world and culture.

 

I hope you enjoy the story!

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