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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 - 12. At The Door

For some time, Mira did not move at all. How they were lying, Shay's posture, was a simple fulfillment, a restful pleasure, and his heart was at ease. Content, his front was fully flush with his beloved's back, his arms around the stomach, legs on legs; all a delight of the barest flesh. The Other's breathing was soft, asleep in his embrace, the aftermath of their play, but now, he would not join in.

No, Mira wished to stay awake.

To feel this intimacy.

To remember each and every time it happened.

It was the reward for everything he did, the fruit of his labour.

It was joy; nothing more and nothing less.

Beside him, Shay murmured, fully lost in the dreamscape. Unaware, his body shuddered lightly, his shoulders flexing minutely, hips shifting. The boy's backside slid against Mira's groin, generating a delightful friction. The stirring motion did not die down immediately, and Shay squirmed for a few tortuous seconds, unconsciously repeating it in some agonising sensual reflex. Mira's eyes flicked open, his breath drawing in sharply. Heat was flooding into his lower body, his physical desire summoned by the intense magnetism of Shay's skin, silky smooth.

Sex.

The calculated nature of his control failed him every time when it came to Shay, and trying to repress the obvious symptoms did precisely nothing. Despite the cresting urge to grip The Other's hips and pull them together tighter, to bury himself in that amazing pliable softness, he did not want to wake his beloved. Lying as they were, that passion was set to betray him again, and poking Shay in the rear during sleep was about as subtle an indication of intent as a punch to the face. His body was saying 'yes' but his heart was refusing the self-indulgent behaviour, so Mira reluctantly disentangled himself and sat up. A sound came from the couch, a mumble of sleepy complaint at their separation, objecting to the loss of contact, but he did not wake. With particular care, Mira drew the blanket across the naked slumbering boy. He kissed Shay very softly on the cheek, pulled on the discarded pants and slipped out of the wall cubby through the curtain.

In the shuttle cockpit, Ayize was adjusting some device, tapping at the touch-display, and he turned as Mira entered, already beginning to speak. "Oh good, you're back. Didn't want to b- ... uh ... " he trailed off, his gaze sweeping the shirtless, barefoot boy from head to foot. It lingered for only a surprised fraction of a second on the unmissable swelling at the cusp of Mira's pants. Speechless, Ayize's verbal and mental train of thought was derailed and for a few moments, he could only think of that bump's impressive size. Unconcerned, Mira sat down in the co-pilot's chair, waiting for the sentence to finish and oblivious to why the pause happened to begin with. Finding his original thought, the African snorted, mentally slotting the uninhibited behaviour into what he had learned of Mira's personality so far. This boy was either truly naive about his own sexuality, or he simply did not place any value in opinion.

Ayize knew which it was.

"You are one cool customer. Don't care who sees how much you like him, huh?" He gave a short laugh. "You aren't easy to read, but I can tell almost nothing fazes you. If I were still a horny teenager, I'd be crushing on you like no tomorrow. Had a real thing for self-confident white boys when I was fifteen. Latin girls too, actually. There was this one I met in Paarl on some exchange from Costa Rica or Nicaragua, one of those places. Fiery doesn't do justice. Man, she left an impression."

Mira blinked, relaxed and politely expressionless, not sure what any of this really meant. Dismissing the frivolous conversation with a hand wave, Ayize moved on. "Anyhow, now that you're, uh, up," his lips twitched into a momentary smirk, "we can get to current events." He jerked a thumb toward the shuttle's exit door. "You know what's parked out there, right?"

While he had not seen it directly, Mira was aware of what Shay had been doing. Not in any detail, but well enough to understand that The Other had ensnared the arbiters' ship and converted it for their use. It was simply another act that made his admiration, and the loyalty that was bound to their love, strengthen. His Shay was resourceful, smart, compassionate, and strong.

He nodded.

"You do?" Ayize's brows arched. "Well, good. I'd like you to help Rashid get some of the equipment moved over into it. Oh, and to actually open the door, if you know how to do that. The ship doesn't want to respond to either of us, probably because Shay didn't tell it to. Gear's stacked out next to it. I've got to realign all these sensor modules so they're accurate for a larger vessel. Corporatist tech is basically peerless, but it was customised for this shuttle. We'll make do." He shrugged. "Now, there was another thing. I've been trying to get a grip on who both of you two really are, identity-wise, since I met you. See, iqhawe, you are kids but at the same time, you really aren't. He's an intellectual, you're an assassin. He's the philosopher, you're the practical one. He's maybe the smartest fifteen year old I've ever met, and you are undoubtedly the toughest. Together you're this demented adventure-hero ripoff of Romeo and Juliet, except, y'know, without the girl. The thing about you though, is that," he paused thoughtfully, as if choosing the right phrasing, "you are also damn good at keeping secrets. You don't give away information unless you need to. My point is: if there's anything Shay should know about all that's going on that you're withholding, then you should tell him. You know better than I do his importance, so we can't be denying him anything. You follow me?"

Mira stared back at him, not having changed expression the entire time, then he gave another small nod of the head.

"I'm glad to see we're thinking the same way. Oh! Before I forget." Ayize reached into a pocket, pulled out an item and tossed it to Mira. The boy caught it easily, and then unwrapped the material from around the object. He gave a glance back, questioning, and the African was grinning. "It's for you. Found it in the cutlery drawer. It's an edge-steel and a polishing cloth. Got to keep that katana razor-sharp, iqhawe."

Immediately, Mira brightened. Even with Shay, the looming prospect of spending time in space wasn't all that interesting to him, though now at least, he wasn't going to be bored.

-o-0-O-0-o-

They found Turil some distance away through the Morass. Yugan arrived first, the other two close behind, only to glimpse a lone stalker fleeing through the woods from their approach, now outnumbered and uninterested in combat. A second dead telutuk lay sprawled over the wetwood mulch, one limb torn from the body and deep cuts across its face and spindly torso. Then, but paces away, was Turil. Still on the deep damp earth, the dagenithi lay face up to the soaring canopy, the light of Dagen's star seeming so cold and distant from this perilous jungle of their home.

Lifeless.

Yugan slowed as he perceived this sight, the place where their companion had lost the struggle. He came to Turil's side and crouched, all four hands moving to touch gently, and reverently, the body. Blood was on the ground and soaked into Turil's skin, from all the gashes and punctures the stalker had inflicted, and the flesh of the torso was torn, where the stalker had begun to eat. He felt Ralot next to him, her hands touching as his were, an honour to the fallen.

"I am ... sad," she told him, a coarse whisper of sound. "I did not expect such a loss."

Yugan could not reply. The texture of what he was touching changed as his fingers moved. First the leather of Mishith skin, and then slippery, sticky, the bloody lubricant of Turil's fight causing a much different sensation.

He did not understand the emotion of the moment.

On the opposite side of Turil's body, Mikom crouched too. Yugan knew she was observing both of them, with her lateral eyes at least, while her medial attention was focused down.

"Do you mourn, boy-ithi?" The matriarch's question caused him to look up, still touching the skin, unable to stop the contact for some unknown reason. Her face was solemn, her ears skewed respectfully backward, and her eyes exuding dignity. "Would you lament this end?"

"Is this not worthy of lament?" He stared at Mikom, a troubled sentiment within. "For my sake we travel through the Morass."

"It is worthy." Her gaze turned fully to Turil, head tilting. All eyes swept the face and the fluid camber of her reply caused Yugan's thoughts to pause in his regret. "Turil was good, noble and brave. Yet, you should not mourn. It was I who asked: 'if our enemy of old was to return, would you stay it; even if your life is risked?'"

"I answered," Ralot's murmur next to him was unexpected, "and I would. I have."

The matriarch went on, a soft smooth rumble. "Just so. Ralot answered. Turil answered. A life in sacrifice that others may live, and the Great Circle turns. Remember the face and the name, remember the sacrifice and the cause, but do not mourn. The guilt is not yours."

"Matriarch," he whispered, feeling split and for the first time truly uncertain. Mishith blood wetted his claws, resting on the body of his fallen comrade. It was essence spilled because of him. "I did not want for this to be."

"Yugan." She was watching him again as he met her gaze once more, the attention returned. "If we must bleed, then it is blood for our blood, and theirs. It is for all who would die should the foe come back into his strength. Your burden is already heavy." She reached out to brush his shoulder with her superior left hand. "Leave the weight of the dead behind."

Theirs.

Shay's race.

The divided, argumentative, self-conflicting, confused species that he had witnessed through the eyes and emotions of a single youth of their kind. Just one youth, who seemed more worthy than most of his brethren. If the Mishith had begun this, humanity had continued it. Yet, as flawed as the humans were, they were not the Enemy. They were allies and Yugan understood this now more than ever.

Their only hope to survive was together.

"We will give Turil what is owed." He was firm as he could muster, and the matriarch nodded approvingly. "You must return to gather the belongings left before we gave chase. I will see this done."

Eyes wide at the suggestion that was more a command, Mikom stared a moment, then she acquiesced, agreeing to it. "Thus it shall be," she breathed, in an undertone, and motioned to Ralot. "Come, let us fetch our things. Yugan will finish it."

Together, the two female dagenith rose and were off, scaling into the first layer of branches, then moving rapidly along them as if they were a road. In mere moments, Yugan was alone. There was only a windy rustling of leaves, the buzz of insects and the remote squabbling yelps of chitok in their daily travail. It was just him, and Turil.

For some time, he was still lost, and could not bring himself to begin any final rite. It was sudden, it was unexpected, and it felt so wrong that this was on his conscience. Wrong because Yugan's kin, all across Dagen's Grace, were the legacy of a dominion that was once unsurpassed in grandeur. Within even a single Mishith there was an unyielding strength, a powerful integrity and an intrinsic nobility of spirit, and each individual, in his eyes, was worth a hundred humans. Yet, Mikom's words were true. Turil had chosen freely, as they all had.

Now?

Dead.

There was nothing that could sway a Mishith mind but reason and truth. No coercion, threat nor charm could force action and now, here, Yugan sat with the consequences before him.

This was the first, but there would be many more.

Precious Mishith lives would be spent again, and willingly. It was a turbulence, and a guilt, and a sadness, because he finally understood the pervading sense of duty that Shay possessed. They would strive to do the impossible, the unthinkable, against a monstrous evil. In doing, others would die rather than risk their failure, and each would be a rebuke of the principle that any price was worth being victorious. Though, Yugan knew beyond all doubt that inaction was many times worse. If the choice was between great suffering and oblivion in totality, then there was no other way.

This was the future.

He would not hide from it.

So, he spoke to the Unchosen, in the dark tranquility of the wilds.

Somehow, it was peaceful.

"I did not know you, but you are my kin; otsinith, dagenith and Mishith. Our matriarch asked a service, and you gave it, knowing what it might cost. I owe to you the truth." He turned over his inferior right hand where it rested on Turil's stomach, the blood smeared on the claws, and he gazed at it pensively. "It is this: the Enemy has returned. There are others out there, in the stars, who strive to stop the next war before it reaches us. It is I, come from the line of- ..." He paused here, finding the name so hard to say. "From the line of Dagen himself, that must reach out to aid them, that we find victory together, and have peace. Then when I stand before them, I will say: 'it may be that I would not have come to you, but for Turil of Otsin's courage in the Sylvan Morass.' They will hear your name, friend, and know that all we accomplish is your doing as much as mine."

Then, Yugan spoke no more. He tore a strip of cloth, dampened it, and began to clean Turil's body.

-o-0-O-0-o-

It probably wasn't more than an hour or two of sleep, but I was rested when I woke and in good mood due to our alone time. I couldn't stop thinking of him while I was getting dressed, right from naked to fully clothed, and even then, the mental imagery did not change. I just kept dwelling on the feeling of his arms wrapped around me, the heat of his pulse, the tickle of breath on the back of my neck and smooth bare skin; joined from shoulders to ass to tips of the toes.

Still smiling, a blush warmed my face as I wandered through to the cockpit. Out the front window was Berchande's desert, and I leaned on the pilot's chair to look at it. In no hurry, I gazed at the view, my smile widening, my thoughts immovable from ... him.

Everything about it just felt so good, and it made me very happy.

My fingers idly drew circles on the synth-leather of the chair's backing, my head tilting slightly in unthinking sympathy with the crippled shuttle's sideways lean. My mind, though, was elsewhere, lingering on the shared intimacy from earlier, and then from days before that. My face flushed even more as I relived the details, etched into my memory with photographic clarity. His fingers stroking my thigh, the shuddering exhales of his sexual indulgence, kisses on the back of my neck, tongues and trembling excitement, his hips pushing up into mine in a slow thrust, as I rode his lap ...

One of the best memories I have. Turning, I strolled back through the shuttle to see if I could find the others, as lovestruck as I had ever been. Never thought I would want sex so much. My skin felt hot from the attraction, my smile laced with dreamy euphoria. Why do I have to save the universe right now? I just want to spend time with him and ... uh ... do all of it again ... and again.

And again.

With no interruptions.

Giggling, from no other reason than because I had felt so fucking good about myself right then, I pulled on a rebreather and visor. Out on Berchande's surface, my companions had not been idle while I was asleep. All three were there; Ayize was fiddling with something on the ship's exterior, while Mira helped Rashid transfer the last of what looked like supply crates inside. Their path involved going underneath the ship and up through the entrance on its underside.

"Shay!" The African waved me over. He was adjusting the plating on an external sensor mount, with a tool that resembled a screwdriver. As I reached him, his fingers slipped on the covering he was holding open, and it snapped shut. The head of the tool was squeezed out of the way by the pinching action, and it flicked free of his hand onto the dust. Ayize swore. "Ah, sfebhe! Play along, mm?" He banged irritably on the sensor mount.

I picked the tool up and handed it back. "Everything is behaving?"

"Well, the ship is fine. It's the corporatist tech that's pissing me off." He took it from me, giving one of his trademark wide smiles. "Despite that, we are just about ready to go. While you were getting some shut-eye, most of the work was done."

"I, uh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to avoid-"

"Shay, it's okay," he chuckled. "You needed it. There wasn't much for you to help with anyhow. Let me get you up to speed though. Now, I'm guessing that you can 'access' mentally everything this ship can do? I'm talking the equivalent of systems you'd find in a human vessel."

"Yeah, that's about right. I haven't messed around with it much yet, but that's how the arbiters control it. They don't need physical means because it's all commands in the mind."

"As I thought." He nodded. "What I've done is connect exterior sensors, so I can see what's going on too. Also, a communications hardpoint if we should get in range of any human ships. Rashid and I didn't have a lot of food, but the shuttle had stores that should be enough to last us about two months if we're careful with it. There're also ablutions hooked up, because no-one wants a mess."

Ablutions? Does he mean a-

"Bathroom, if you weren't sure; waste disposal system and all. We can jettison whenever required. All in all, was actually fairly simple to refit it into something useful for the 'human enemy.'" His grin widened. "It's also surprisingly roomy inside for how streamlined it is."

A thought struck me. I left it locked up. "How did you get in? I kinda forgot to tell it to give access."

Ayize gestured towards my miracle, who was passing the last crate up through the entrance to Rashid, inside. "Your boy knew how to sweet talk it. You both have the magic touch, huh?"

He did this? What did he say to it? My breath quickened as I watched him, and I couldn't stop the smile from returning, and that weird giddy sensation whenever he did something amazing completely unprompted. All the little things; he always knows what's right. I bit my lip, trying to distract so I wouldn't get swamped by the emotion. I will never be thankful enough.

"Go take a look. In fact, get comfortable. There's nothing left in the shuttle that we need, it's all just bare-bones now. We were really just waiting on you anyhow."

I needed no persuasion. Heading across, I stepped underneath the ship, expecting to find a difficult narrow passage up into it. Instead, there was a wide shallow ramp composed of a tongue of biosteel, tapering inward at the top. Of course, it's not like blade-hounds are little, right? Shaking my head at the inaccuracy, I smiled and gave myself a mental reprimand not to make unnecessary assumptions. Mira was beckoning me inside with a glance, his face as impassive as ever. His eyes, however, always told another story. There was excitement at our impending departure from Berchande, but also a message that was straightforward and eager; 'I'm going on another adventure with you. I'm so happy.'

You and me both. Looking around, Ayize was right; the interior was roomy. The ramp was the forward-most part of the main chamber, nearest to the sliver of the bow. A few metres back, the rear quarter or so of the vessel that wasn't dedicated to its propulsion, was taken up by two little ancillary rooms. They individually split off from the main chamber and were not directly connected; each was the same size, though I wasn't sure what the arbiters used those rooms for. Now, Rashid had turned the right-side room's wall into storage, stacking it with supply crates and other random things, while the rest was the bathroom. The left half was largely empty, though it seemed to be intended as a bedroom, with blankets and bedrolls piled to one side.

The main chamber was symmetrical, like the ship itself, and as featureless on the inside as it was outside. Ayize had arranged lighting fixtures at intervals along the walls, floor and roof, while the control interface for the human modifications had been installed into a waist-height raised section in the chamber's centre. To the uninformed, this solid embankment of matter appeared to have no obvious purpose, though I knew it was the physical location of the ship's mind. Around it were half a dozen corporatist executive travel-seats; long-legged but stable quadrupedal chairs that simultaneously managed to look both stylish and practical. Any sort of human equipment was out of place on board this ship, but these pieces of rich man's comfort made it look like a furniture catalogue had crashed into a science-fiction holo-film.

Rashid must have caught me staring, because next thing he was commenting. "Pretentious, yeah, but if I'm going to die in space, I'd rather be sitting on one of these."

Before I could reply, Ayize was back, striding up the ramp. "Brother, give me a check on all the system readings. Want to make sure that damn sensor on the port bow is integrated."

Fingers flew across the control interface. "Comms is good for transmit and receive. Auxiliary is functional. Sensors are clean, though the port bow isn't fully resolved."

"Still not?" Ayize grunted, and let go an irritated huff. "Pfff. Maybe once we're off the floor. I'm done, anyhow."

"Boss?"

"Everything in?"

"Yeah." Rashid nodded to the rear compartments. "It's all stashed. Nothing in the shuttle."

"Shay, do either of you two have anything left?"

"Well, I didn't really have much anyway, but I think our things are already on board?" Questioning, I turned to look at my miracle, and he gave a small nod, affirming what I had said. Then without missing a beat, he reached between us for my right hand, in front of the two men. The fingers of his left meshed and tightened, the gesture as openly possessive as I had ever seen from him.

Wow.

Why did the small things always do this to me?

"Yeeaah." The word came out in a half-slurred breathy drawl that made me sound more like I was from Dallas than Seattle, and drunk at the same time. I feel as if I easily could be drunk. Mira is definitely a narcotic. "We're, uh, ready. Ready to go."

"Then our part is done." He gestured to the seats with a sweep of the arms, then plopped down into the one nearest him. Rashid followed suit, and so did Mira, letting go of my hand. "Time to sit back and let the pilot take over. Shay, this honour is all yours."

Well, I'd better earn my keep. Let's get this thing moving. I shifted my attention to the ship itself, the vacant harmlessness of its vigil waiting patiently in the background. Ship! As soon as addressed, it mentally snapped to attention and responded immediately.

Yes lord?

Seal all exits and prepare for travel. A flash of aqumi across a part of its brain revealed the default environmental functions it used. The computational action of its bioelectronics and the 'software settings' being used would have been incomprehensible were it not for aqumi rendering it from series of morphing hieroglyphs into concepts I knew and understood. The arbiters were apparently comfortable when it was both colder and more oxygen-light than what humans were used to. Make sure that all four of us inside are comfortable and healthy at all times.

Yes lord.

Immediately, the air began to warm, the millions of little chemical temperature regulators in the ship's interior hull switching to the new settings. At the same time, the exit ramp lifted up soundlessly, the jagged uneven sides vanishing as it merged seamlessly with the floor, invisible to notice. Then a small pop of the eardrums as the pressure changed, the oxygen thickening to a more acceptable level. I pulled off my visor and rebreather, the others copying me, and took a breath.

"Still a bit freaky that you can do all this without saying a word or moving a muscle." Ayize leaned forward and placed his equipment next to the control interface, then he tapped a button. A holo-projector attached to the interface came online, the forward view from the sensors visible on it. "This ought to be interesting."

You're telling me. "Well, here goes nothing."

Ship. Take us into orbit.

Yes lord.

There was a jolt of initial movement then a very quiet low-pitched hum, the sound oddly reminiscent of the bees that used to frequent the Nootka rose bushes outside my bedroom window in Seattle. That thought was totally displaced from where we were, but then the image on the screen was changing, and I had no time for nostalgia as we were already rising. The desert view began to expand on the holo-screen as we gained altitude. It was not long before the horizon had become a curve, the already-darkened blue of the sky giving way to the full blackness of space.

It was Rashid who broke the silence. "Boss, hate to say it, but this thing has power-to-weight probably better than anything on Earth. I'd guess it can outrun just about any human ship you could name."

"Mmm." Ayize frowned. "Feels like it has a turning circle of pretty much nothing too. Can't say I feel happy about how agile their ships are. It's bad enough they can cloak, we don't need more disadvantages."

Having reached a safe orbiting distance, the dustbowl of Berchande now far below, our trajectory levelled out and the ascent stopped. Now close to stationary, the ship was waiting for what came next, and I knew what I had to do. Nervous, tense and a bit scared about the step we were all about to take, I swallowed and then touched the ship's mind again, this time on a much different part.

Interstellar travel.

Now, let's find the destination.

The records were extensive; there were thousands of individual entries, all of them specific. Flicking mentally through the collection, each had a kind of categorisation attached to it and I summoned one at random. Like a file being opened, the image of a large ageing yellow-red star filled my vision. Paired with the image was a psychological marker, a sort of symbol of recognition. It was neither number nor letter nor anything that I understood, but I could tell it was a unique identifier label that let the ship know where this star was and how to get there.

Wow. This thing really is an organic computer. Like an offshoot of the star's representation, there were two 'sub-files' that seemed to tag along. One glance told me all I needed to know; they were planets in that solar system. One was a small airless rock not much larger than Mercury. The other, a gas giant on par with Jupiter, though nothing like the one I was wanting to find.

So, each memory of an explored planet is 'filed' with the star it orbits? Makes sense, though it's going to take me a long time to search through all of this. Maybe I can take a shortcut. Releasing the image, I concentrated on my own memory, on the visual of that single unknown planet. Earth, Lucere and Taiqing were all worlds I knew, but the fourth was a mystery belonging to the arbiters. They should never have taunted me with this knowledge, because now I'm going to use it against them. Satisfied that I had added enough detail, I sent my own visual to the ship and told it to locate the planet.

Yes lord.

"Shay?" Ayize and the other two were watching patiently, all three looking up at me. I had not realised I was still standing, not having taken a seat when we began moving, my left hand resting casually on the central raised area close to the holo-screen. "Everything okay? You've been quiet for a bit."

"Yeah, I'm just looking for-"

Your command is done, lord.

... this.

The 'file' opened in front of me, delivered speedily to my mind. It matched perfectly what the arbiter showed me. It was the fourth out of five planets orbiting a medium yellow star, similar to Earth's sun.

"Nevermind, I've found it."

"Our destination?"

Nodding, I took a seat next to Mira, who immediately took my hand without missing a beat, as if we had never been separated. "Are you guys okay to leave?"

Rashid didn't say anything, but the African was his usual cheery self. "I've seen enough dust to last me for weeks. Let's go meet these bastard xenomorphs, shall we?"

"Well, uh, hold onto your lunch," I exhaled shakily, "because I don't know what this is going to be like."

"Don't worry. We're ready."

Right. Only one thing left to do. Ship?

Yes lord?

"This better work," I whispered.

Jump us to this world.

For a moment, there was no change.

Then, it happened very quickly.

Over the course of two seconds, a very strange sensation flooded everything, growing more and more extreme. It was like falling and being very heavy, my whole body made of stone, and at the same time weightless and feather-light. Unlike human gravitational singularity tech, this felt somehow similar but also much different, the sensation stemming from some connection the ship was making to the fabric of space-time itself.

Deeper, stranger, running through and past the basis of gravity to ... something else.

On three seconds, the feeling saturated everything and for the very shortest moment, a micron of time, the ship, the universe and all around me seemed to blink out of existence, and I was alone in a sea of complete emptiness. Then, on four seconds, the heavy-lightness was gone and it was replaced by a fading sense of deceleration from a mind-bending speed, even though we had been stationary in Berchande's orbit. The holo-screen was rebooting itself, Mira's hand was squeezing mine and Rashid gave a grunt of surprise.

"That was ... really weird."

"Ugh. You're telling me." Ayize shook his head like someone had slapped him. "Gonna take some getting used to."

No kidding.

"We're here though," he continued, pointing to the restarted holo-screen. All eyes shifted to the view, and sure enough, there it was; the gas giant, a huge ball of mocha and cream swirls, shot through with layers of burgundy. A small ring of rock and ice encircled it on a diagonal angle relative to us, not nearly as grand as Saturn's, but easily visible in the sunlight. Closer, in the foreground, there was another sight that I was expecting, though it was scary as hell finally laying eyes on it.

Alien ships.

Thousands of them.

"Wait a second." Rashid was staring at a part of the view, then he leaned in and tapped something on the control interface. The screen zoomed in and I drew in a sharp breath when the shape became obvious. "You see that?"

"I see it, brother." Ayize was speaking slowly, as astonished as I was at what we were all looking at. "At least it will be easy to let Earth know where we are, since we've clearly been here before."

I can't believe this. Overwhelmed by amazement, I sat back, blinking, mouth dry and head spinning. "I already know where this is."

"What?" Ayize raised his eyebrows, both men looking at me, questioning. "How's that?"

There it was on the holo-screen, a long-destitute human structure floating next to the gigantic fourth planet of this solar system. This world was once directly connected to Lucere before the Sharpe pandemic happened, before an alien war had sought us out. This had been a scientific outpost, although now it was simply a relic, forgotten by history. Words spoken two centuries ago were in my mind, the same that I heard while I was in Room Twelve in Aspira City. Those words were from the mouth of Chris Albans as he begged me to leave Lucere and use the military's secret gate-link to flee to another world.

To flee here.

"Because," I murmured, "I would have died here. This is Librae Arctis IV."

-o-0-O-0-o-

It took three executors, in the end, to subdue the betrayer. They pinned the creature to the ground, struggling and awash with the horrible agonising sickness of antithesis. Loyal sentinels, they would not allow this abominable thing to move, though it did not stop trying to escape and kill.

The treachery is fierce. The demon spirit rules this child. The arbiter stepped slowly around the beaten human's form, just outside the executors restraining her. Two more of its brethren were there, following in a repeating circumference about the prisoner, deliberating with their shared wisdom. Yet, only this one. The betrayer within the defiler's thrall has not acted thus.

The second arbiter watched the eyes as they moved, the view of the human's face coming and going as it stepped by the executors. Now, or in time to come, each will surrender to the demon their flesh. The defiler offers false salvation, and all who seek that apostasy as truth are deceived and corrupted. We must kill, to wipe the stain from the Light.

With that, the arbiters stopped in their plodding encirclement of debate. The executor standing nearest Elia's head interpreted this as a decision and it began to lift a massive clawed limb, absolutely ready to kill, when the third arbiter spoke.

Stop. It stepped forward, between the executors, to look directly down at the human. She glared at it, a rage within the eyes that could not be described, withering and ruinous to the very last. The human had not communicated anything, in any way, since it was beaten. For several very pointed moments they matched wills, the arbiter judging what it saw, as was its purpose. There was another with this betrayer. It is unlike the others. A thief walking with arrogance that it may steal from the Master freely.

The first and second came closer, imitating their brother, and together stood in regard. That one is gone. The second was unrelenting in what it proposed. This one remains. The betrayal distorts our harmony. It must be destroyed.

Addressing the third, the first spoke again. What of the thief?

It touched us. The third hissed aloud, the flames upon it dancing in a semblance of emotion; gleeful, haughty and potent. Too close to the Music; it heard us and we heard it.

There had been contact.

This new thought demanded a revision.

The unfolding of the pattern was paramount; the beautiful uniform geometry of the spheres, lines and angles was the Song, an interlocking cascade of Music and Light. Eternal, perfect and unbroken, it was by the Master's will alone that the entirety of existence would be saved, would be cleaned forever of the infection that the demons of this plane had wrought.

And now ... the blasphemer had reached for that perfection, desiring to take the power inherent. The thief stood at the door to infinity, open just a crack, enough to snatch away the merest notes and chords of the Music. Yet, unbeknownst, the other side could hear too; the deep faint whispers of the hellish curse that fought to deny them at every turn were now audible.

This had not happened before.

In response, the flames jumped upon the skin of the other two, all three partaking in a silent agreement. Then it is decided. The second's intonation came as they dipped heads, synchronised, and stepped away from Elia. The executors pulled the girl upright, all three still locking down her strength, and began to carry her away. The undergrowth of Leeuwenhoek's forest floor crunched under their weight, the small form of what they carried belying what she was. Where they grasped her, the black fire burned her flesh, just as the heat inside her ate at theirs; a constant stinging pain upon the adamantine carapace, unending in its defiance.

Down through the night sky descended a ship. It was a larger breed than the scout-destroyer, one of the harbinger's own Emissary caste. Settling in the clearing next to the tower, it awaited them. The arbiters followed the executors, wraiths in the night, and watched as they boarded with the betrayer. The ingress ramps retreated back inside and in a moment, the ship was airborne once more, gliding easily back up through the nearly invisible glow of Aurum's evening cumulus.

It was done.

But there was more.

The hunt is unfinished, yet the pattern trembles. It is known. The third's statement was sure, fully certain, but it followed with a query and the three looked to one another. Is our augur now to reveal the demons of old in their nest?

It is near. The first agreed. The way shortens and we grow ever closer.

No. We wait. The second countered this with a simple fact, a steadfast understanding. Together, all three turned as one, their senses drawn to the power in orbit of the planet, magnificent and deadly and true. The Herald will find them, and then it will begin at last.

Far above, the Emissary carrying the betrayer slowed. Gliding forward between massive limbs of obsidian steel, it was brought into dock, delivering the cargo that was so despised and yet so very precious. The ship reached its destination, vanishing into the immensity of the larger vessel, an ant upon the giant's palm. Secured within the fastness, all was still for several moments.

Then, five seconds later, the shape vanished, jumping away from that world.

The Herald had departed Lucere.

So, if the continuing daydreams about naked-fun-time are any judge, maybe Shay's insecurities are finally gone? <_<
In other news, here's a tidbit: there is a single line in this chapter that references the book title in all its ambiguous glory. Will I say if you guess it? Nope! It's much more interesting to fuel the guesswork. Enjoy! 0:)
As always, likes, comments and reviews greatly appreciated! Please let me know what you thought.
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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I don't think that there is much for me to say here. From time to time I try to emphasize with the "evil alien beings that try to kill all humans". Reading the last scene here, I came to think that they are on some level not that different from humans. I could imagine a story written from their view. The plot is quite simple: A bunch of clerics deal with the problem of cleansing the world of Demons so they don't destroy it.
Anyways, I can't wait to see the next chapter. :jerry:

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On 06/09/2015 12:00 AM, Scary said:

I don't think that there is much for me to say here. From time to time I try to emphasize with the "evil alien beings that try to kill all humans". Reading the last scene here, I came to think that they are on some level not that different from humans. I could imagine a story written from their view. The plot is quite simple: A bunch of clerics deal with the problem of cleansing the world of Demons so they don't destroy it.

Anyways, I can't wait to see the next chapter. :jerry:

Well, it would be more like: a bunch of clerics deal with the problem of cleansing the world of demons, so they decide to tie some demons up and torture them for a while to see if any of them will convert to the teachings of Christ.

 

Needless to say, it didn't go very well for anyone involved.

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LOL your reply to Scary's review is awesome. :D

 

Anyway, great sexy time! :D It's nice to see Shay really come out of his shell. :3

 

Sooo, as I assumed, Shay will end up on Lucere. So now it's Shay to the rescue? Or is he already too late? Really looking forward to find out! Having 3 versions of Mira run around (2 female) should really be awesome. :D

 

If I got it right, the Arbiters are looking for Yugan and his race, and they are close to finding them? :3

 

There isn't much else to say, other than outstanding writing, keep it up! :3

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On 06/12/2015 11:32 AM, Sammy Blue said:

LOL your reply to Scary's review is awesome. :D

 

Anyway, great sexy time! :D It's nice to see Shay really come out of his shell. :3

 

Sooo, as I assumed, Shay will end up on Lucere. So now it's Shay to the rescue? Or is he already too late? Really looking forward to find out! Having 3 versions of Mira run around (2 female) should really be awesome. :D

 

If I got it right, the Arbiters are looking for Yugan and his race, and they are close to finding them? :3

 

There isn't much else to say, other than outstanding writing, keep it up! :3

'Shay will end up on Lucere.' Hmm. Will he? Why's that? And THREE versions of Mira?! What universe are you a part of? I want to live there!

 

The arbiters are searching for their old enemy, from the ancient conflict that once happened. They seem to believe they are getting closer to finding them and that it is inevitable. Hmmm!

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Ayize is preparing the seized bio-spaceship. How do you feed the signal of external sensors inside the cab of the seized spaceship. I don't think you could drill a hole through the wall? How are the sensors powered?

The last scene where the arbiters have caught poor Elia carries a lot of exorcism. Though it remains cryptic to me. are they bringing Elia into a spaceship and carry her away?

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On 3/22/2023 at 11:22 PM, BarkingFrog said:

Ayize is preparing the seized bio-spaceship. How do you feed the signal of external sensors inside the cab of the seized spaceship. I don't think you could drill a hole through the wall? How are the sensors powered?

Who said the sensors need to be physically connected to a system for either power or communication?

This is 24th century human capability, not present day.

On 3/22/2023 at 11:22 PM, BarkingFrog said:

The last scene where the arbiters have caught poor Elia carries a lot of exorcism. Though it remains cryptic to me. are they bringing Elia into a spaceship and carry her away?

This is correct. I will quote here a line from that final scene:

Down through the night sky descended a ship. It was a larger breed than the scout-destroyer, one of the harbinger's own Emissary caste.

The above-mentioned 'scout-destroyer' is the type of vessel Shay and the others have commandeered, and it hasn't yet received a classification name. However, what arrives to retrieve Elia on Lucere is larger, and is known to the arbiters as an Emissary type. It transported her to the Herald, which is too large to make planetfall itself.

Edited by Stellar
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Interesting tidbits of information woven into this particular chapter!

Quote

Eternal, perfect and unbroken, it was by the Master's will alone that the entirety of existence would be saved, would be cleaned forever of the infection that the demons of this plane had wrought.

So we are assuming that the riddle of quantum physics has been solved, such that special and general relativity have been resolved. We are also considering that String Theory has been proven. I will also assume that all strings (the multiverse) have led back to a primary line that the "Master" inhabits (although, this is a wrong interpretation of string theory, IMO).

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