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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 - 2. Questioning Nature

It was quite some time since he had heard any word. Argus dropped the latches and climbed up into the cab to begin backing the truck. As he reversed into the loading dock, his mind wandered through the possibilities. Well, it wasn't like the commander hadn't taken plenty of manpower with him when he left Lorentz. Plenty of ordinance too, if he thought about it. When they dropped him in the cleaner northern coastal zone to do his collection before the mission continued on to the city, the men had been very bullish. Not that Argus guessed the CO cared all that much about the overall state of morale. Not unless there was going to be a serious impact on the mission probability.

There was the thunk of the maglock snapping up to seal the hold onto the dock. Argus killed the engine, jumping down to exit the cab, his tuneless whistling bouncing off the walls in the cavernous interior of the warehouse as he moved. He popped the truck's back end, the odd trapezoidal shape of the quad door-plates folding out, coming to rest flush with the walls and ground. It was a weird shape for a vehicle of this size and from time to time Argus would try to guess what it had been originally used for. His best guesses involved industrial freight and munitions, but these days it was merely a cargo hauler. Useful though, because when compared to other trucks he had seen, it was as solid as a Crossway oxen and ran very reliably.

In this day and age, that kind of importance could not be overstated.

None of the crates had shifted during the journey. Just as well, Argus thought to himself. He didn't want to move these damn things around more than he had to. Not with the sort of excitable 'goods' he had stashed in the innards. Banging against the side of the frontmost crate, he called out, just for the hell of it.

"All safe and sound, my pretties?"

From within the crates, all along the row of them, came a chorus of thumping and snarling, disturbance created by the noise. The creatures were probably bouncing around inside, throwing themselves at the walls and beating themselves bloody as they cursed him in their own devil-speech. Chuckling, he knocked on that same nearest container again, an answering muffled hissing growl coming from inside. "Don't worry yourselves," he crowed, "you'll be in your new lodgings soon enough."

Pacing to the autoloader, he sat and fired it up. The machine clicked on with a whirr and the crossbeams moved, the magnetic clamp lowering from the ceiling hoist until it was horizontal to the truck. Argus guided it in close, whistling that same tuneless refrain as he did so, the first crate already gliding out in midair toward the cargo shunt. He imagined the banging from within the crate, as the sharpeling angrily fought to free itself, was rhythmic enough to match his impromptu song. Argus drummed his fingers on the autoloader's panel as he continued in his work, trying to keep time and make a real melody out of it.

Some days, you just had to make your own fun.

It wasn't until he got to the seventh crate that he noticed something was different. It hovered over the dock as the others had during transfer, but the usual sound of clamour was absent. In fact, it was dead quiet and still, nothing making a peep.

"Hey kids, y'all cosy in there?"

The rattling from the crates on the shunt began afresh, prompted by his voice, but the suspended one did not make any noise. Lowering the crate onto the dock, he jumped out of the seat and strode round to where it was. Banging on the side, he waited a second for the expected reaction from within.

Nothing.

Perhaps they were dead? While it was possible, none of the sharpelings had seemed sick or wounded when he departed the coast. They had all been in good condition, happy to fight and spitting-angry. There had to be a better explanation than dead.

There was only one way to find out.

Wheeling the hydraulic lift across, he cranked the ancient contraption up until he was level with the crate's top. Sliding the jack into place, Argus unbolted and lifted the plating, sliding it back a few inches. Cautiously, he peered over the ridge. There was no sudden movement inside, but he couldn't make out anything much either. So he eased it back further, allowing a bit of light to give a better contrast to properly see the interior.

It was right then as his eyes adjusted and he took in the sight, that he stopped dead in amazement.

"Well hoo-lee shee-it," he whispered to himself.

Argus Fletcher stared down at the two figures huddled against the far wall of the crate. Terrified, dirty, naked, staring back at him with huge frightened eyes. Not sharpelings, not at all. Not any more.

Two humans.

Two girls.

He really hoped the lieutenant-colonel was going to be in touch soon.

Hartley would want to know about this.

-o-0-O-0-o-

In his 'official' capacity, such as things were on Lucere, Argus Fletcher had always been a researcher, of sorts. Since he had no claim to any particular science, and his own knowledge was a galvanised clumping of jerry-rigged allsorts, Hartley had kept him around precisely because of this flexibility. He was good at moving things. He was good at cutting things open and putting them back together. He was good at making things work that didn't work. He was a handyman, a doctor, a plumber or an electrician in a pinch.

The truth was that Argus had seen and done many things for the Liberators. Because of his long service and loyalty throughout the stormy seas of Aurum's extended winter of discontent, Hartley had permitted him to work alone. He was trusted with this privilege, as much as the CO trusted anyone that worked under him. He was happy to be flying solo, as it gave him plenty of time in his own little corner of Leeuwenhoek to accomplish whatever projects were asked of him.

Then there was yesterday's revelation.

To date, the slave collars had been his best work. Though Argus' knowledge of human neurology was scarcely any different from any of the qualified 'medics' that the Liberators employed, he had been able to engineer the device from relatively modest components. It had begun when he noticed the slightly erratic behaviour of a sharpeling contained in a cell near a specialised electromagnetic device. That led to attempts at inducing behaviour change through chemically and electrically disrupting neural oscillations. He had enough know-how to mess with the creatures' brain waves - in particular the beta rhythms - and that experimentation had inspired him to construct the collars.

La Tigresse had been fascinated with the concept, but that vixen was all about messing with the head. She really was good at pressing buttons, but he had to admit she was an impressive figure and knew just how to flaunt herself. Though, if it came down to it, Argus knew he would rather cut off his own arm than risk ... that.

Yet now ... now he had two girls. Two sharpelings that had become two girls.

There wasn't an explanation for it.

He had gone over their vitals. Both were physically healthy. Neither showed signs of viral infection nor the carrier mark. They were adolescents and Caucasian, one fair-headed, the other dark. The darker of the two was the older but also smaller; he estimated she was possibly seventeen or eighteen; the blonde was younger, approximately sixteen, taller and mature for her age. There had been no attempted speech. No behaviour other than a fearful unwillingness to engage him at all.

Argus couldn't even pinpoint when it had happened. Just that it must have been some time during the journey from northern Aspira. After all, the entire truckload were sharpelings when he had departed. He really wished he knew what the catalyst was. There were only carapace remnants on the floor of the crate and some kind of viscous residue that smelled like a sharpeling corpse in the early stages of decomposition. Well, before it melted and turned into a glutinous mess, and really began to reek.

Leaning against the bars as he observed his two mortified subjects, the man grinned. Whatever the reason for this baffling sudden about-face, these two cured and healed kids were a godsend. It hadn't happened before as far as he knew, so Hartley was going to be very pleased with him. Also, as he kept reminding himself with more than a little anticipation, they were girls.

Girls.

"It's been a while since I've had any female company," he told them, their frightened eyes locked on his face as they huddled against the wall in their restraints. "Not counting the tigress, 'cause she's just a crazy bitch who may as well be one of your ol' family. No offence of course." Argus paused and looked them over again, a satisfied smile taking hold, before continuing the monologue. "I think we need to properly introduce ourselves. Y'know, formal-like. I am Argus Fletcher. How do you do?"

He let go of the bars and did a poor imitation of a gentleman's bow. "Now, since you two ladies are new to this part of town, we'll need to give you titles." He pointed to the blonde, who shrank back at the gesture but was brave enough to keep eye contact. "You're a real looker. Make me think of a sunflower or a rose or somethin' .. bright 'nd wholesome." He snapped his fingers. "That's it! A sunbeam. Helia." Argus repeated it, pointing at her to make sure she understood. "Helia. That's you. Always did like the classic Greeks. They sure knew how to tell a tale."

Now, the other girl.

Clicking the lock open, Argus entered the cell, approaching her. Skittish, she pressed herself against the wall as he drew close. There was something about this one. She didn't have the rich, healthy warm sort of beauty to her that the blonde possessed. "You're .. a bit different." Flawed, impure somehow, but still darkly attractive to him. "Like bands through a precious stone." Argus crouched beside her, where she was wedged into the corner.

Something about her called to him.

"That's it," he whispered. "You remind me of the lines through a cut of silica. Just like the formations over near St. Ambrose. Yeah, a rock crystal like ... onyx." Argus ran his hand up the girl's leg, savouring her skin. "Yeah, that's it. Onyx." He inhaled heavily, his hand sliding further onto her thigh as she shook beneath his touch, paralysed with fear. "It's been a long time. There's just .. something .. about you."

Argus stopped still for a second, his mood switching tones abruptly as if he had just remembered. "Oh, but .. Hartley?" He asked the question to himself and answered it in turn. "Nah. He won't know. He won't care, neither." The girl squirmed under his touch and he scolded her, using the free hand to shove her against the wall so she was pinned and couldn't move.

"Hold up darlin'," he breathed, "I ain't done givin' you a physical, so be a good little doll and just lay still." The other hand continued sliding up the thigh and she let out a whimpering cry, a begging plea. The sound of metal moving was coarse and distinct, and it made Argus look up. To his surprise, the blonde was standing and she was pulling hard against her restraints toward him. Her body was tensed and her eyes were wide and angry, staring with a baleful hatred.

It was very clear that she didn't like his behaviour either.

"Oh I see." Argus stood too and drew the shock-baton from its sheath. "Y'all are good friends, is that it?" He tapped the point of the stick onto the blonde's arm and she recoiled in surprise, from the literal shock, a stinging electrical rebuke. "Well that's too bad," another tap and she fell back, "because I'm in charge," and another, so she was on the floor, "and you'd better get used to it."

He jabbed her in ribs for a good few seconds, watching with a jailkeeper's confidence as she convulsed, impotent and beaten.

"Now. Where were we?"

Argus crouched down where he was earlier, though before he could get back to it, he was interrupted immediately by the repeat sound of metal grinding as the restraints tautened once more. He rose again, irritable, his voice sounding out in a warning, hand already going for the baton. "Do I have to repeat the lesso-"

The blonde girl's right fist struck him in the face. Her hands glowed with aqumi, the chain of the restraints clattering onto the ground behind her, along with twin chunks of torn metal that were ripped free from the wall. She struck him a second time with her left fist, the blow so solid that his jaw cracked, and without stopping her movement she tripped him. Back-first he was falling, and as he did, she snatched the baton from where his hand had been withdrawing it out of the sheath. He reached the ground and before he could move or even cry out in pain where he fell, she flipped the baton, swiftly raising it, then plunged it directly down with enough force that the shaft went all the way through his chest until it bumped against the floor beneath his body.

She stayed there, both hands locked onto the baton until Argus Fletcher became completely still. After, for some seconds, she still could not let go, even as her grip shook on the handle.

The light. Nothing could hurt the light.

Then from nowhere, a voice.

"Elia?"

A whisper, a tiny sound in the confusion of the moment that was bigger than everything. It was the voice of the girl next to her. A word, just like the one this lifeless creature beneath her, this 'Argus', had spoken. A misquote, a truncation with the start of the name carved off, that same name he called her before he paid the price for his barbaric assault.

Only, this it was better.

Elia.

It felt right.

She looked to the speaker, the darker-haired girl. The timidity had fallen away and the other came forward, no longer oppressed by his dominating will. "Elia," she whispered again, and her hand came out to rest on the blonde's shoulder. Their eyes met and Elia knew how important this was, how it mattered so much that she had to kill him.

Nothing could hurt it. Never.

"Nyx." The darker-haired girl quivered at the sound of Elia speaking; not from fear but from emotional resonance. It was a pure vibration and her mind reeled at the strength of it, a chord from the most perfect speech. This was her name, a better one than her tormentor could offer.

Nyx.

They looked to one another a moment more, and to their eyes came a vision hidden behind the physical layer. Everything was dim but the two burning seraphs, eye to eye, were free from walls and punishment. They were bright, roused and aware. Their senses unfolded and that warehouse storage in Leeuwenhoek, that erstwhile prison, faded away as the world expanded to include the sight-beyond-sight.

However, not too distant from Elia and Nyx, there was something that felt ... different. Their senses roamed, cluelessly naive and unabashedly open. On that new horizon, there was a shape, a scent of opposition. Not far from there, as it wove through the grass crossing a nearby field, the smell reached it.

The arbiter froze where it was.

Betrayers.

-o-0-O-0-o-

In the language of the Dagenith, there was no word for dream. There was an equivalent for daydream, which translated to 'aimlessly thinking while the body works' but for night-time? Sleep was blissfully silent and sure, and the only way it could be interrupted was if something from the waking world did so. The experience plagued Yugan's thoughts for all of that day and then when the following night came, he considered that perhaps whatever caused it was gone. Maybe this strange happening was only to occur once, a freakish accident that could be written off and ignored.

He was wrong.

It was not until three nights later that he decided to tell the matriarch of these evening occurrences. He had explained to her as thoroughly as he was able. How it began when he was asleep, how it was the same each time. Nothing more than a comfortable warm darkness, but with an awareness to it. It was more than simply being unconscious, it was some kind of imagining, a night-vision.

Mikom had listened, patient and careful, until he finished his description. She had agreed, then commenting that her judgement of his essence was correct. Spirited was the truth of it, though she could not say how far this went. There was nothing in the histories that spoke of images during sleep. She gave her counsel to the young dagenithi, and that was to wait, to see if there was any change. She would speak with him every now and then, she told him, to check his state of being. It did not seem to be harmful, so the wisest course was to observe and think, to measure if it would cause any shift.

So it continued and life moved on. Many cycles passed and Yugan bloomed, at first quickly into the transition of an adolescent and then more slowly into that of a young adult. His legs and arms grew longer, his body broader and his senses sharpened. The skin was thicker, tougher, and the tensile strength of his grip and accuracy of his movement greatly improved. No longer Unchosen, Yugan had felt the pull of his heart on that matter, driving home the desire he had known since very young, and he made the choice when the time came.

The matriarch took a special interest in him and they became familiar in the ways that a parent and child might normally. Of course, he still had the blood family of his father and mother's kin, but their affection, whilst cherished was more muted and distant. Mikom would find him every couple of lunar phases and they would talk. Sometimes as they walked, picking the harvest; other times as they checked traps or hunted around the light rainforest ranges near Otsin, before the older, denser, deeper jungle of the wilds further out.

As he matured over the passing of time, Mikom also was advancing in years, but not yet enough to be slowed, though now less agile than Yugan was. Still, she had not lost her touch and he saw her stalk and spear a mire-haunt on more than one occasion without the snappish angry creature detecting her at all. Those hunts always felt like a game of some kind, the chemical fire mixing between blue and green as it combined with the vapour rising from the water's surface. The mire-haunts themselves would prowl along the edges of the water, waiting patiently for one of the little marsh amphibians to come too close to the shore or for fish to enter the shallows, where they were visible. The haunts had poor vision near the water, the mire-burn messing with their ocular focus, but they had a superb sense of hearing that could let them tell distance and location with extraordinary precision.

Anything that lived in the mire was toxic to the Mishith and could not be eaten, just as the water was not safe to drink. The haunts, however, were quite edible.

It was just a matter of sneaking up on them.

They could be dangerous if you ran into a family group, though Yugan's most recent kill was a lone male, out to fill its own belly. The matriarch had applauded his style, a clean jab through the creature's squat body. Mikom was much more experienced at preparing the carcass, so he left that part to her and simply watched, cleaning the spear and sharpening the blade end. They sat in the dappled shade, the hotness of Dagen's star fading somewhat as the leafy canopy far above broke the worst of, petering to humid lively warmth on the rainforest floor.

"You grow ever more into a fine youth." Her speech was unexpected against the background hum of insects, the soft splash of the mire waters on the shore. The matriarch's left hands pulled at the haunt's skin, peeling it away as the inferior right hand, the lower of the two, pared the connective fatty membrane with the knife blade, freeing it. The free superior right arm reached out and she flicked a claw against the spear's haft. "Your skill is much improved these last cycles."

He felt his ears twitch in embarrassment. Though her attention was mostly on skinning the dead creature where it lay on the flattened bed of moss and vine, her closest lateral eye was watching. Yugan tried to keep his thoughts to his own work, but she knew he would react somehow. He was teasing the blade with his fingers as he sharpened it, stroking the edge with the stone to give it a finer cut, but he had to respond.

"Matriarch," he said, "I am no different than the others."

She waylaid his protest. "Oh, but you are, boy-ithi." The nickname had persisted ever since she had first called him it, and it seemed to amuse her. It continued long after he stopped being Unchosen and became a boy. "I could see the spirit in you when you were small. This is not changed today."

"You exaggerate it."

"Do I?" She clicked her teeth as she separated the jacket of hide from the flesh. "Mmm, this is a good one Yugan. Fine meats for the fire, or maybe to store." She went on, leisurely continuing to the haunches. "Is it not true that you have sight during your sleep?"

"Yes, but-"

"Then think on it," she hissed softly, "for it has been many cycles now since this began. There is no change within the Great Circle without cause; not even beyond that, for everything has an origin. Think more, think deep. Our past does not speak of night-visions. You are special."

Yugan did not reply, but considered well her words. Of course, she was right, but he was not sure how meaningful this all was. Through the many cycles of his youth, it had not led to anything. What did this anomaly in his life matter? Yet, the more he studied the question, the more he realised that his own intensity and concentration upon such things, the longer term of his fascination, was itself a difference.

Could it be the night-vision had introduced a change to his waking self, but that it was such a subtle movement within, that he had not noticed?

He focused his mind and examined his motivation more closely. The dagenith of Otsin and those rare travellers from outside would explore and investigate new things, from time to time. Still, their hearts and their wills were simplistic. They had the extraordinary strength of the Mishith body and the complex weave of the Mishith mind, yet they did not want, did not desire for more than the natural paradise of Dagen's Grace. They were contented with where they were and what they had. Such was the life the Mishith knew on this world and they did not want for more.

Then there was Yugan. Had he not been occupied with the potential consequence of the night-vision for so many cycles of his youth, he would have noticed how potent was his own curiosity. If he really thought on it, he wanted to know more. Much more. He desired knowledge that went beyond what Otsin could give. He wanted to know how and why and what and where. He wanted to know the legacy of the stars and all the secrets of the past that lay buried by innumerable cycles of ancient Mishith history.

History that reached far beyond Dagen's Grace, lost in the endless points of light in the sky.

"I think," Mikom whispered, her voice very soft and low, "that you now know in yourself what I have already seen in you. What was there for so long, since first you came to me. You are drawn to the greater mystery." She paused in her task and turned towards him fully, all her eyes on him. The hand with the blade dripped mire-haunt blood onto her leg as she held it aloft, giving him her full attention. "Drawn to it when all your kin ... are not."

"Matriarch," he drew in a breath for courage, his ears peaking vertically, claws scritching on the spear-head in apprehension. "What did Dagen do? What was the Sundering?"

She stared at him, motionless and he sat fearful under her gaze. For a number of seconds neither moved, then she turned back to what she was doing, without replying. The skinning was done and Mikom began to portion the body into cuts, the knife slicing with the grain of the flesh. She was preparing it so it could be wrapped for the walk back to Otsin. However, Yugan was not finished.

Not yet.

"How did this act end the Empire? Why?" He pressed on, his rhetorical disobedience being pushed by that desire from within; now recognised, admitted and given reign over his mind. "What became of the power and glory? The Tale boasts of how magnificent it was! Why did it not pass to us? Why? It should have. Are we not the blood of Dagen's blood? Did we not inherit what was his? Was this all to keep us from knowledge, from having answers? Wh-"

"No!" Her voice was clipped and seldom raised like this, but here it was loud and definite. Mikom's rejoinder was swift, silencing Yugan immediately. "It was not to stop answers!" She immediately relaxed and the timbre of her voice grew softer again, turning back to the body, the left hands plucking up the cutlets and placing them on hide strips as she finished the task. "It was to keep us safe. It was to stop questions."

Questions ...

"Matriarch, I am sorry. I do not mean to disrespect you."

"Yugan." She began to hand him the parcels, little packages of meat and bone, wrapped in skin and tied with woven vine fibres. "You do not disrespect. I know this of you, but now .. now .. you ask. The night-vision came to you, and then ... you ask. It changed you, and maybe there is more." She wiped the blade on the tree bark as she gathered the carcass remains. Mikom gave him the final butchered wrappings and hefted the body to carry back.

"Speak no more of this, boy-ithi." They stood together and he felt the claws of her superior right hand dig into his shoulder ridges, the closest thing to an embrace she would allow. It felt consoling, almost like an apology. "We will talk again when the time comes. Let us walk, we have a good catch for Otsin."

So they did.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully, and later, Yugan made use of the evening quiet-time with his aunt and cousins. It quelled some of the new turbulence that had arrived with his seemingly unnatural desire for greater enlightenment. By the time he went to rest, his body was ready for sleep and his mind had adjusted to the night-vision, expecting it and no longer feeling disturbed when he awoke.

Just as it had each night, for those many cycles since he was small, the curious formless dreams took place as he slept. Yet, that night, something new was happening. The dreams were no longer formless, no longer dark.

Now, there was colour, light and sound.

There was vision, emotion and life.

It was another world.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Konstantin had instinctively dropped to a crouch when the shooting began, the reflexes from so long on Lucere still in place. Lebaredian copied him, staying low as she spoke into her implant. Within a dozen seconds, there was answering fire from the executive security detail, angry blaring bursts that sounded like machine pistols, and then the van vibrated solidly and began to accelerate. From the middle distance, Konstantin heard the distinctive whine of an autocannon beginning to spin-up, and he pulled the premier lower. Heavier fire began to blast into the van's side at chest height, the bullet-proof glass only surviving for a few seconds before it began to crack. By then the van was gaining speed and the tirade abruptly stopped as they pulled away.

"Sookin syn!" Konstantin swore, not moving from prone. "Is there any place I can go where people will not shoot at me?" He glanced to Lebaredian, who was staying low too and still speaking softly into the plant, her eyes fixed on the window.

"Yes, just straight to the city. Lenin Prospekt. The Grand Sterkh apartments, as arranged. No, no change of plan." She looked back at Konstantin and sat up, moving onto her seat and motioning for him to do the same. "Thank you Pyotr. I'm sure you have. Please inform me if this changes."

They were no longer travelling at a laid-back cruise as they had from near Pokrovsk. Instead, the van's carriage was thrumming as they sped up the highway to Yakutsk. Still, Konstantin's distrust of such situations was hard to dispell and he was very wary as he climbed back onto the seat opposite the premier.

"I thought Earth was supposed to be safe. What in heaven's name was that?!"

"The very worst possible introduction." She shook her head. "There are always terrorists and extremists trying to wreck the rule of law. It was one of the other reasons we chose a very quiet landing site. I cannot imagine how they knew. My security is normally exceptional, and secretive."

Konstantin took a deep breath. He felt tense still, not just because of the suddenness of the encounter, but also because the latent unease about what to expect on Earth seemed to be bearing fruit already. "Madame Premier, I cannot say I am happy with this."

"Don't be alarmed, the situation is being taken care of. We are well looked after by my staff. They are both loyal and-"

"No, Madame Premier," he interrupted her, "I mean provision. With such uncertainty, I do not want the decisions placed in another's hands."

Lebaredian frowned, brushing down her suit top as she did so. "Mr Andropov, you do not need to-"

"Please." Konstantin cut her off again and she fixed him with a matronly glare, the sort that only a woman in such an exalted position could give. He was not fazed though. His intuition was working overtime today, telling him he needed to cement this with her, not knowing how long he would have direct access to a person as capable as the premier. "You said you would make guardianship happen. You may stop the cynicism that I am forming by doing this right now. You have the contacts and you have the authority. You are the premier." He stamped the words with his resolve, matching her glare with one of his own. "I insist."

The premier's eyes narrowed, but then she cracked a wry smile. "And you ... are a bargainer, that's for sure. There aren't many people that would get away with that sort of talk, not to me." She touched her wristband, triggering what Konstantin assumed was some kind of communications link to her ear-plant. "It will be finalised and binding before we reach the city centre."

As Lebaredian's discourse with what sounded like a legal aide picked up, he turned his attention outside, no longer with any appetite for the Turkish coffee or sweets that sat forlorn from before the assault. Trees and houses off side-roads flashed past through the cracked glass; snow banks and frozen marshy lakelets adorned them, a deltaic of tiny waterway strands off the side of the Lena. They had reached the southern stretch of Yakutsk and the city began to appear as suburbia, first to the left then also to the right.

He had no intention of anyone manipulating the two boys and was not going to risk their rights being exploited for another second. There were many small things about this situation that were beginning to bother Konstantin. Not things related to the premier, specifically. The violent outburst, the attack from 'terrorists and extremists' as Lebaredian had put it was, of course, very concerning. Though it was not the attack itself that gave him a niggling doubt. It was that it happened so soon after he had reached Earth, in a fairly remote location and in the company of the premier herself.

Something else was going on here.

They were moving slower now, in the traffic of the city itself. Here and there were older pre-colonial era buildings, surviving relics from the 21st century, but most of the centre of Yakutsk now looked more like the neo-steel constructions he had seen in Aspira and the other Capital Arm cities he had glimpsed on Lucere. Though here, they were rather more uninspired and often had square or very straightforward geometric design. The Russians had clung to the functional over the stylish in their architectural tastes for so long that in many places that mindset was ingrained.

The van stopped, pulling him from his contemplative mood, and he faced the premier, who offered her hand to him as they had when he met. He shook.

"This is your stop. You will be kept here under guard until the federal police can assure me that the security threat is completely neutralised. We will then arrange for you to travel to the west, to Moscow or to Volgograd, if you like." She gave a tight-lipped smile. "I will not be staying longer. My schedule is a very busy one. I am due in Dubai in just a few hours, then Paris tomorrow."

"The boys?"

"You are recognised as their legal guardian. Shay and Mira Andersen are now your adopted children. All the rights, privileges and responsibilities that go with that are yours."

A sense of relief welled up within him. The van's door popped open, two executive security members standing there in winter suits.

"Thank you, Madame Premier." He stood, exiting the van into the cold of Lenin Prospekt, the guards motioning towards the nearby building entrance.

"Thank you too, Mr Andropov," she murmured, her eyes glinting from the reflected whiteness of the Siberian clime, "and good luck."

The van door slid shut, the premier's face disappearing, and the vehicle pulled away. Beside him, the guards were firmly steering him towards the front entrance of his new housing. This was home, for a moment.

Yakutsk.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Konstantin spent the evening and the following day becoming familiar with the modest comforts of the Yakutian apartment he was confined to. It was on the fourth floor of the building and had standard amenities. There was a bedroom with a single bed and attached bathroom, a modest lounge, and a small kitchen which was scarcely stocked at all. Konstantin's principal keeper was a tall solid-looking suit about the same build and height as him. He identified himself only as Andrei, and had informed Konstantin on their entry to the suite that he could not leave, and if he needed anything, he could page the guards.

The lounge had a holo-projector, though it was not connected to the global PDN, with the access to any live news-feeds and active communications all disabled. There was an extensive library of movies and games, and although that gave him plenty to keep amused, Konstantin felt frustrated. Mostly because he wanted to see the news, he wanted to hear about current events and learn of the world as it was right now.

He wanted information.

The media library kept him occupied for that evening and most of the following day, with nothing else to do. By the following evening, he was bored enough to page Andrei and ask the man to talk. To Konstantin's surprise, he opened the front door and entered the apartment, closing it again behind.

"Sir?" The man had thickly accented English, much more so than his own. Knowing it was probably not his chosen tongue, Konstantin switched to Russian, addressing Andrei in his own language.

"I want to talk. That's all."

The man's expressionless face creased in amazement and Konstantin laughed and then shrugged. "What, you thought I don't know it?"

"No sir," he spoke precisely, with an inflection Konstantin did not recognise. "I know where you are from, but you sound like a Muscovite."

It was Konstantin's turn to be surprised. "Moskva? My family was from the Volga, a long time ago, but Fyodor's father lived in the capital as a boy. That must be why. Where are you from, if you don't mind?"

"Sir, I must not compromise my-"

"Please, Andrei. You have other men to watch the doors. I know it, I saw them on the way in." Konstantin spread his arms. "Indulge a very bored prisoner with conversation."

The man hesitated, unsure of what to do, so Konstantin plunged on. "You enjoy sigara? I was sure I smelled the smoke late last night, from the next porch. If you can spare one, come." He moved through to the balcony and Andrei reluctantly followed, seeming to be unsure whether he was breaking the rules or not. The evening air was easily a dozen degrees below freezing, and the guard took some care in retrieving the cigar case as they stood outside. The view was pleasant but unremarkable; an overlook of medium-height buildings that were a pattern of lights accompanied by the sound of traffic, muted as they were on the building's lee, away from the road. Andrei handed a cigar and lighter wordlessly to Konstantin and took one for himself.

"So where are you from? You did not say." He puffed delicately, his first taste of Earth's tobacco. His grandfather and father had grown tobacco plants for a few years at the estate when they had a good surplus of food and could afford to spend a little effort and resource on the luxury. Alongside brewing vodka, cigar-making had been one of Arkady's joys and Konstantin remembered clearly when he was seventeen being allowed to try one. Much to his father's amusement, he had inhaled far too deeply and had nearly made himself sick. It was much drier and harsher than the refined thing he was trying now.

"Tblisi." Andrei's statement was curt, but then he seemed to give a little. Still, he remained as stoic and impassive as ever. "Born in Georgia, but I live in Ukraine from age seven."

"Hmmm," Konstantin hummed as he smoked. "The accents are new to me." He chuckled boisteriously. "I would not know Tblisi from Kiev from Murmansk. I will have to learn."

"Sir, there are rules," Andrei persisted. "I must not give you information, for your own safety. Please do not complicate my job."

He sighed softly to himself. This was like pulling teeth. "I understand," he muttered. "but I still want to know two things. There are two boys. They travelled here with me and they are my sons. Where are they now?"

The man paused, clearly unsure whether he should speak at all, then said only a single word. "Bezopasnyy."

They were ... 'safe'?

"Very well, but tell me this: who attacked us when we came to Yakutsk?"

Andrei tensed. "Terrorists." His answer was stiff and forced, as if he did not wish to say it at all.

Terrorists?

Konstantin was about to speak again when around them, behind them, the lights in the apartment went out, the entire building going dark.

Not the others buildings though. The rest of the city was lit up, unchanged.

Oh no.

Immediately, Andrei flicked his cigar away, stuffing the tin back into his jacket. His stance changed, moving to full alertness. He drew his pistol, what looked like a modern TMP design, and pulled Konstantin closer. "Stay in the lounge." Short and sweet. Then then he was whispering into his wristband in guttural Russian shorthand, creeping forward through the apartment.

With a rising fear, he followed Andrei back inside, moving cautiously with only the light from the street and city dimly filtering through. The man slipped out the apartment's entrance, the door swinging shut behind him. As soon as the door had closed, Konstantin heard the sound of sudden movement and then briefly, raised voices. Scuffling, for a second or two then the thud of someone striking the wall and a high pitch plink-plink of a heavily silenced gun.

It was right then that Konstantin remembered: Andrei's gun did not have a silencer on it.

The door handle moved and it opened, swinging silently. In the near pitch-black, Konstantin tried to tackle-rush the interloper, to give the best chance of escape, but the shadowy figure blocked his charge, crashing to the floor with him. The other man was faster and stronger and as they struggled, he could not get a grip before he felt the cold metal of a barrel pressing again his neck.

"On your feet." Hands were on his collar, the strange exotic accented English ringing in his ears. He was being forced forward into the apartment corridor then stumbling onto the stairs down, being pulled upright as the man with the gun jerked him vertical. "Walk." The voice spat angrily. "Faster!"

In the dark of the stairwell as they reached the second then first floors, another voice spoke rapidly in an unknown language and his captor replied in turn. Urgent, fast, very stressed but still controlled. Konstantin tried to make out faces, shapes or anything, but all he knew was that it was Lucere, all over again. That he hadn't escaped the human psychosis or insanity, and that it had followed him to Earth.

At a half-walk, half-run, they pushed him through the apartment's lobby. The snow-glare and street lights were blinding compared to the utter lack of light inside the building and Konstantin did not have a chance to adjust to the contrast before he was being forced in the back of a large SUV-type repulsor-jeep. The windows were heavily tinted, the interior almost as dim as the building they'd just left. The doors slammed shut as soon as they were inside and straight away the vehicle was moving.

A voice from the front asked something and his captor, the man still holding the gun against his neck, replied. "Yeah. Nizhny Bestyakh."

Nizhny?

They were leaving Yakutsk.

"Where are you taking me?"

"Shut up."

"Where," growled Konstantin, "are you taking me?!"

The man hissed, losing his temper. "Sleep time. Too busy for this shit."

"No! No, I don't w-"

Then, the hard solid smack of a pistol butt, and he was out, dead to the world.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Konstantin was woken by the cold air of the open countryside as he was pulled out of the vehicle. Woozy from being knocked out, he couldn't stand straight, his feet slewing on the snow. It was a roadside, and as he looked up, a bit dizzy, he could make out the faintest haze of light colouring the edge of the horizon. Vaguely, he reasoned it was in the direction of Yakutsk. They had to be very far from the city, come out to ... wherever they were.

The middle of nowhere.

"Did you bring me out here to ... kill me?" He slurred slightly, his mind still waking up.

"Look." A hand grabbed his shoulder and pointed towards where the city was.

"What the fuck do you want?!" Konstantin sputtered, shivering despite himself.

"Look." The man repeated, angry and low.

He looked. The night sky was full of wispy cloud and stars. The Siberian horizon was a bumpy line of featureless black hills and forest. What was he looking at?

"I don't s-"

Then it happened.

There was a double flash of light and the sky over Yakutsk lit up, nuclear radiance setting ablaze the Russian night.

I'm really sorry Dimi sad.png It seemed like things would be okay after Lucere. Your first couple of days on Earth were going so well.
Look for the silver lining: at least you weren't *in* Yakutsk!
I welcome any reviews, likes and commentary! The buttons are below, to the left and right respectively. The discussion thread is 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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Following what you write is going to be hard. :D When I read the last book I already said that the language was a challenge for me sometimes. But now you add several storylines with different narrators, and I have a month to wait for each chapter? No fair :(

 

LOL it totally is a challenge I'm eager to take on. :D It was another amazing chapter. I was totally waiting for this to happen after Shay opened the portal to Earth. This looks like it's going to be amazing! Only thing I'm missing now is Shay and Mira. You're cruel, did anyone ever tell you that? Making us wait for their appearance so long, not knowing what happened to them?

 

Although now I assume that something similar like with Konstantin happened to them

 

Some Mira/Shay in the next chapter pretty pretty please? :);)

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Two new children of the aqumi? That's a surprise, and a welcome one. Wait until

they meet Mr. Charm. I'm so happy he's still as crotchety as ever. He does smoldering

fury so well...

 

It's got to be a great disappointment that people on Earth haven't changed at all.

Poor Konstantin! May he find Shay and Mira soon.

 

Meanwhile Yugan is dreaming in color, -that boy is special.

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On 11/28/2013 12:57 AM, Sammy Blue said:
Following what you write is going to be hard. :D When I read the last book I already said that the language was a challenge for me sometimes. But now you add several storylines with different narrators, and I have a month to wait for each chapter? No fair :(

 

LOL it totally is a challenge I'm eager to take on. :D It was another amazing chapter. I was totally waiting for this to happen after Shay opened the portal to Earth. This looks like it's going to be amazing! Only thing I'm missing now is Shay and Mira. You're cruel, did anyone ever tell you that? Making us wait for their appearance so long, not knowing what happened to them?

 

Although now I assume that something similar like with Konstantin happened to them

 

Some Mira/Shay in the next chapter pretty pretty please? :);)

A month! Well, this second chapter took approximately 2 weeks, and I will be trying to get new chapters out in less than one month in normal circumstances. So embrace that challenge with open arms ^_^

 

Ah yes, I'm sure the questions are beginning to build. If there was doubt that Konstantin and his adopted boys were individuals in demand, there won't any of that doubt left now. Someone just let off a very large 'firecracker' over an urban area - you sure as hell don't do that when you're playing around!

 

While it's safe to assume that Shay and Mira weren't caught up in *that* ... I can still here you cry: 'that's wonderful, but where the hell are they?! Just bring them on stage already!'

 

Patience. :) Unfortunately, you may not be seeing them *quite* as soon as you'd like, though it will be soon. It's also going to be quite a ride when you do.

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On 11/28/2013 02:36 AM, Stephen said:
Two new children of the aqumi? That's a surprise, and a welcome one. Wait until

they meet Mr. Charm. I'm so happy he's still as crotchety as ever. He does smoldering

fury so well...

 

It's got to be a great disappointment that people on Earth haven't changed at all.

Poor Konstantin! May he find Shay and Mira soon.

 

Meanwhile Yugan is dreaming in color, -that boy is special.

Their existence was alluded to in the epilogue of Hidden Sunlight, literally at the very end of it. These are indeed the same two from that final part of the first book. Just like Mira was, they are very new to the whole 'being human' thing, so their upcoming encounter with good old Mr. Charm so early in their lives will be quite a shock to the system.

 

Konstantin was expecting Earth to be less than perfect, knowing all too well the sorts of human folly Lucere had, but he never quite expected anything like this.

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On 11/29/2013 02:03 AM, Daddydavek said:
With the multiple story lines, I cannot begin to anticipate where you will take us next!
Uh, thanks .. I think? Haha, that's a rather ambiguous review!
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On 11/28/2013 09:22 AM, ajthibodeaux said:
OK the multiple story lines are fascinating and I can't wait to see how you bring it all together but pretty please give like a teeny tiny hint about Shay and Mira. I mean dropping a bomb on the city what next?
A teeny tiny hint? Well, you here's a hint: wherever they are and whomever has them, has not got their best interests at heart!

 

I cannot prematurely reveal what's going on with those two because .. I simply can't! Trust me when I say that it will make sense this way. Some patience and faith is required - you will be rewarded I promise :)

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The four story lines hooked me; I anticipate their intersections. The illegal C-S expedition: ??? Earth: Fortunately Konstatin is tough and resilient. Damn. The dagenith of Otsin got me thinking about Earth societies with a strong oral tradition. Some of the chants and songs are formal rituals: questions are not expected; answers not forthcoming. Mikom's response goes well beyond that. Yugan dreams and then questions. She seems to feel the need to tread very carefully. Finally, back on Lucere, the arbiters remain important, and I hadn't paid them enough attention. More in the forum.

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On 12/02/2013 10:55 AM, knotme said:
The four story lines hooked me; I anticipate their intersections. The illegal C-S expedition: ??? Earth: Fortunately Konstatin is tough and resilient. Damn. The dagenith of Otsin got me thinking about Earth societies with a strong oral tradition. Some of the chants and songs are formal rituals: questions are not expected; answers not forthcoming. Mikom's response goes well beyond that. Yugan dreams and then questions. She seems to feel the need to tread very carefully. Finally, back on Lucere, the arbiters remain important, and I hadn't paid them enough attention. More in the forum.
Of course, it is all interconnected :) The significance of the opening CS-Space expedition may not be obvious for quite some time. Konstantin is certainly having a rough time of things, too - poor Dimi's life has been full of dramatic happenings since he met Shay.

 

Then, the Dagenith. Certainly their current culture lives a much more mundane existence than long ago. Their life has been the same, with those traditions and rustic simplicity being repeated indefinitely -- but then there's Yugan!

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Good Lawd!! lots of drama and tension. I figured the two "girls" were the ones Shay's last blast of power touched. Did you give us a description of Yugan and his people? I'm getting that they aren't human?? hummm. anyway... Somebody nuked an entire city to kill K? WoW? Who saved his life? So the premier wasn't on the up and up? more more more.

And where are the boys?????

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On 12/12/2013 12:56 PM, LadyDe said:
Good Lawd!! lots of drama and tension. I figured the two "girls" were the ones Shay's last blast of power touched. Did you give us a description of Yugan and his people? I'm getting that they aren't human?? hummm. anyway... Somebody nuked an entire city to kill K? WoW? Who saved his life? So the premier wasn't on the up and up? more more more.

And where are the boys?????

I've given some hints about Yugan here and there, but it is certainly clear that they are not human at all. He is Mishith, a very old alien race on a world somewhere else in our galaxy.

 

Konstantin is having a rough time of things. More of his story is covered in chapter three. We will get to the boys!

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What can I say that all the rest haven't. Awesome, brilliant, my head hurts from to much excitement. And you just keep adding to it. Got to read more.

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On 01/15/2014 10:14 AM, Kiltie69 said:
What can I say that all the rest haven't. Awesome, brilliant, my head hurts from to much excitement. And you just keep adding to it. Got to read more.
Read on! There is more to come, my friend. :D
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On 01/15/2014 10:14 AM, Kiltie69 said:
What can I say that all the rest haven't. Awesome, brilliant, my head hurts from to much excitement. And you just keep adding to it. Got to read more.
Read on! There is more to come, my friend. :D
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On 01/15/2014 10:14 AM, Kiltie69 said:
What can I say that all the rest haven't. Awesome, brilliant, my head hurts from to much excitement. And you just keep adding to it. Got to read more.
Read on! There is more to come, my friend. :D
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It appears not much has changed in the 24th century? still terrorists.Sounds like a case of no one is to be trusted?
This is really requiring my understanding :)

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On 11/30/2015 12:03 AM, Ashdaw said:

It appears not much has changed in the 24th century? still terrorists.Sounds like a case of no one is to be trusted?

This is really requiring my understanding :)

Human nature is still what it was and Earth might be 200 years advanced, but it is still the same underneath.

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Many story's in process and then a nuke! This can't be good oh my! We will have to see where this may lead. Hope the boys are ok but we will have to wait to see if they are! 

So if the men were to keep Konstantin in the city till the bomb goes off what could this all be about!:yes:

Edited by Albert1434
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1 hour ago, Albert1434 said:

Many story's in process and then a nuke! This can't be good oh my! We will have to see where this may lead. Hope the boys are ok but we will have to wait to see if they are! 

So if the men were to keep Konstantin in the city till the bomb goes off what could this all be about!:yes:

What, you don't think nuclear weapons are a good thing? Here I was, imagining them as a positive force of change in the world.

I jest! Seriously though, there are multiple plot threads occurring here; the two girls on Lucere, the alien dagenithi Yugan, and what Konstantin is going through. The atomic destruction of Yakutsk was a specific targeted act, but to understand why, you'll need to learn more of Earth's politics. More to come on that in future chapters. 

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Wow, what a story. It took me some time to get things sorted out.

It's getting worse than on Lucere now.

Will the Arbiter get the two girls Elia and Nyx? I guess, this is all happening still on Lucere.

Please keep Shay and Mira bonded together, so they can persevere. I am anxiously waiting for them to appear.

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16 minutes ago, BarkingFrog said:

Wow, what a story. It took me some time to get things sorted out.

It's getting worse than on Lucere now.

Will the Arbiter get the two girls Elia and Nyx? I guess, this is all happening still on Lucere.

Please keep Shay and Mira bonded together, so they can persevere. I am anxiously waiting for them to appear.

The second book's plot expands quite a bit to include other places and characters not seen before. There's Earth, with the complexities of politics and human infighting, and you will see a lot more of this through Konstantin's eyes -- and also through others he meets. There are Elia and Nyx, who are indeed still on Lucere, having experienced an awakening not unlike Mira's own. There is the alien Mishith youth Yugan on the world Dagen's Grace.

Lastly: Shay and Mira.

They will appear, but it won't be straight away. There's a reason for this, and it will become clear once you do see them.

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