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Found 62 results

  1. Kindar

    Chapter 05

    Part 5: Resolutions I don't remember anything about the run itself, but when I stopped I was in the school gym. I was too busy fretting over what I was going to do about killing a man to wonder why I'd come here, I mean I'd just damned myself to Hell, how was I going to get out of *that*? "Are you ok Jayson?" I stopped my pacing to look up at Coach Warner standing across the room. My first thought was to run out, but he was blocking the door. "Jayson, what's wrong?" He started walking toward me and I backed up until I was against a weight rack. He wasn't blocking the door anymore. I could run past him and flee, but my legs weren't listening to me. I couldn't stay here, I couldn't let him find out what I'd done and damn him by association. He placed his hands on my shoulders. "Whatever it is Jayson, you can talk to me." His touch was gentle and I could see the worry and caring in his eyes. For a moment I wanted to tell him everything, I even opened my mouth before I regained my senses and pushed him away hard. He backpedalled and by the time he'd regain his balance he was almost back in the door way. "Damn it Jayson, I'm trying to help." "You can't help! I'm damned and there's nothing anybody can do about it!" "You're not damned Jayson. Trust me; I know a thing or two about these things." He took a step in my direction and I screamed. I grabbed a weight plate off the rack and threw it in his direction to force him to stay away. Only after it left my hand did I realize it was a twenty-five pound weight, that I'd thrown it with all my strength and that I'd aimed it directly at him. Time seemed to stretch into infinity as I realized I was about to kill another man. Coach Warner caught the weight in one hand and placed it on the floor. "You need to calm down Jayson." He crossed to room again. The shock of what he'd done kept me frozen in place. He'd caught the plate. That thing should have gone through him and then two or three walls after that with all the strength I'd put in the throw. He wrapped his arms around me and held me tight. "Tell me what's got you so scared." The way he was holding me against him felt so good, warm and safe. "I killed someone," I said softly. He didn't tense up at the news, he just kept holding me. I started crying. He let me cry for a few minutes. "How did it happen?" I told him everything; the attacks, Maggie and Marvin protecting me and what I did to the man I'd killed. I didn't stop crying while I talked. At some point he let go of me. I don't how long I'd been crying, but the front of his shirt was soaking wet. "I need to go take care of something," he said looking me in the eyes, "I want you to promise me you'll stay here until I get back." I nodded and he left. I kept standing there for a while, unsure of what to do. There were all those weight machines I could use to keep myself busy, but I didn't feel like using them, I was too tired. I sat down in a corner, brought my knees against me, folded my arms over them and rested my head. I was woken up by voices in the corridor, Coach Warner speaking with someone else. "You're the one who got me into this so you're going to help out," the coach said. "I was not given a choice," the other replied in a deep and vibrant voice, "he requested you personally." "You could have said no." "Not quite, I owed him this favor." "I'm not saying you should have said no, I'm actually liking it here, but he needs your help. You know I'm more of a sword and shield kind of guy, that's not what he needs." They entered the room and the coach's friend surprised me, from the voice I'd expected someone tall and broad shouldered like him; instead he was shorter than I was and didn't look muscular at all in dress pants and baggy shirt. "Jayson," Coach Warner said as I stood, "I'd like you to meet Al, he's," there was a moment of hesitation, "a friend of mine." "Thor has told me some of what happened to you," Al said standing straight and commanding. I gulped. "What I need to know from you is why it came to this." I tried to answer, but I found myself staring at the floor instead. "Thor, would you leave us alone please?" "Sure thing, I have to make a few calls anyway. I'll be in my office if you need me." "Jayson, please look at me," Al said a few moments later. I did and found myself gazing into his eyes. They were grey like storm clouds and I could have sworn that just like clouds the colors were shifting. "Now, tell me why someone who has the training to fight let it come to the point where you lost control." "I don't know how to fight," I said weakly. "Thor has told me that you are a trained martial artist." "It's not the same thing. In class it's controlled, my opponent knows the moves I'll make and what to do against them. In the tournaments I do worry about hurting someone, that's why I don't fight as hard as I could, but at least I know that we're all trained. Out there, I don't know what to expect." "So killing that man was an accident?" "No," I said with shame, "I got angry that he hurt Maggie, but once I started punching him my anger became about being pushed around and not able to do anything about it as well as all the other things I can't do so I won't stand out." "That can't, or won't do?" "Same difference; unless you haven't noticed this town isn't exactly tolerant of anyone who's different." "I have just arrived. I have not had the time to observe." "Trust me, in this place if you don't fit within a mold they consider normal you're shit out of luck." Al gave me a small smile and then looked around. His gaze stopped on each machines in the room and I could see him judging them and not being impressed. Finally he went to the Lat workout machine. "Thor has also mentioned that you believe you are damned." "Well yeah. I killed a guy. That's a straight line to Hell." "I was under the impression that your god was a forgiving one." "I can't ask him to forgive that," I said looking at my blood covered hands, "What I did is just too horrible." It hit me that I hadn't even thought about how I was going to face my parents. "Before the thoughts you are currently having depress you so much you cannot do anything productive come help me." Al's commanding tone snapped me out of it and I joined him by the machine. He was crouched down placing the pin in one of the lower plate in the weight stack; he pointed at the bar above my head. "Please grab it and pull." I did and at least three hundred pounds of weight went up. "Pull it until it is as high as it will go." I followed his instructions, and then he kicked me in the stomach. The kick had more strength then someone his size should have and I lost my balance, falling back over the bench and letting go of the bar. I hit my head on the floor and the ringing mixed with the clang of the plates reaching bottom. "What was that for?" The ringing quickly subsided as I stood and the pain was a dull throb. I completely forgot about it when I saw that Al's hand was under the fallen plates. "What did you do?" He pulled his hand out and wriggled his fingers. "I have demonstrated that I am not easily hurt." I looked at his moving fingers and the strength of the kick came back to me. "You're a parahuman." I stated. He seemed to think about it for a moment and then had a knowing smile. "If that term helps understand the situation, then yes, I am one." Something else occurred to me. "Coach Warner is one too!" Al didn't say anything he just looked at me with that smile. "But what does it mean?" "It means that if you let me I am capable of helping you." "How?" "The training you need is in dealing with the unexpected. You are aware of this, but have not looked for help in this regard, presumably because you fear what the people you ask would think due to the mind set in this locale." "So?" "So, I am not from here, nor do I share the local attitude. I have seen to the training of many warriors and I can help you overcome this weakness so that you will not have to fear needlessly hurting someone else again." I looked at him dubiously. "Ok, but why are you even offering to help?" "Because Thor asked me to." "Except he's only here because you sent him." He leveled his gaze on me. "You overheard our discussion." "I have pretty sharp ears," I said with a smile, enjoying the feeling of having put one over him. "An old acquaintance asked for a favor to repay a favor and I agreed, sending Thor here to look over you." "But why?"Al didn't answer me. "The attacks." He nodded. "The coach was supposed to protect me? But he never did anything?" "If Thor had felt you needed more protection than you already had he would have intervened." "Do you know who's behind it?" "No, I was not provided with that information." "Then how about why?" He was silent for a moment, studying me. "I do not know, but I am starting to have suspicions." "Are you going to tell me?" he shook his head. "Arrrg! Why won't anyone tell me anything?" this was infuriating. "Because you are a child and we are the adults." I spun on my heels and glared at him hand closing into fists. I wasn't just some kid he could speak down to, I was sixteen. "You wish to strike me," he stated as if he'd read my mind, "what is stopping you? Why are you not doing it? Do you believe I cannot take it?" The sneer in his tone is what made me lose control, my fist flew at him and he caught it in a hand. Then I was flying over him to land on my back with my arm outstretch and his knee on my throat. "Consider this your first lesson in the unexpected; not everyone you will try to strike will be unable to avoid the blow." He let me go as Coach Warner knocked on the door frame. "Can you guys be disturbed? Jayson's friends are here to see him." "That is quite alright, I am done with Jayson for the moment." "Good." He left and moments later Maggie and Marvin ran in. "Maggie, your arm?" the sling over it was the first thing I saw, then I noticed the cuts and bruises on her face. She looked down at it. "Oh, it's nothing, you know me I was just climbing a building and fell." Climbing a building? Falling? "Hi," she said looking at Al, "I don't know who you are, but do you mind leaving us alone?" "Not at all," he answered, "Jayson, talk with Thor when you are done with your friends, he will let you know when to come see me. Please follow me Thor." Coach Warner rolled his eyes before following Al. Marvin checked that they were out of earshot. "Why did you run off like that?" I looked at my feet. "I couldn't stay there after what I did." "Because you fought him?" Maggie asked. "No, because I killed him." "No you didn't," she said "Of course I did. I beat him to a pulp; no one could have survived that." "They took him out in an ambulance," Marvin said, "I'm pretty sure they don't bother doing that when they're dead." I stared at them. He wasn't dead. I hadn't killed him. I heart flew in relief, and my knees failed. The next think I knew Marvin was keeping me standing. "Don't pass out on us, wouldn't look good for the hero to faint." I hadn't killed him. It took a few moments for my legs to be steady under me. I hadn't killed him. "What happened after I left?" I was eventually able to ask. "I carried Maggie to my car and went to the closest phone booth. I called 911 and waited out of sight to see what the cops were going to do." "What they did," Maggie continued, "was look the scene over, call the Ambulance and then everybody left." "How did you know I was here?" "The coach called me, he said he'd found you here shaken up and bloody. He said that you'd been in a fight and that we should come quickly. Who was that?" Maggie asked. "That's Al, he's a friend of the coach. He said he can help me defend myself." Marvin looked at me. "You don't need any help defending yourself, did you see the number you did on that guy? I don't even understand why Maggie wants us to look out for you." The memory of the fight made my stomach churn and I forced myself to remember that he wasn't dead. "I don't want to ever do that again." "But why? You're a natural at this." I felt like hitting him, but he wouldn't survive it; or maybe he would with that Norse thing of his, but I really didn't want to fight him. "Maggie, why don't you explain things to him? I have to go talk with Coach Warner and then head home. I've missed dinner and my folks are going to worry." The door to the coach's office was open and he was sitting behind his desk. "Where's Al?" I asked after looking around the office and closing the door. "He went home." I sat down in one of the chairs facing him "Why didn't you tell Maggie and Marvin that you know about them?" "Because it isn't something they need to know. Being a hero here requires anonymity, if they realize I know it'll just add one worry over everything they have to think about." "Did you know about them before I told you?" Coach Warner shook his head. "I knew someone was looking out for you, but that was it. It never occurred to me that Margaret would be one to take to the fight." "Marvin?" "The vibs I got off him made me suspect he was a parahuman, but he didn't seem the type to do anything with it." I shrugged; I hadn't known him before he got forced into the part of hero. "Al said you'd know when I should train with him." "He was thinking that you could train with him instead of going to your Karate class." * * * * * "Jayson Mortimer," mom said in a stern tone the moment I opened the door, "where have you been? Dinner was two hours ago." "Sorry mom," I said as meekly as possible, "I met one of Coach Warner's friends and then I found out Maggie got hurt." "Maggie's hurt? What happened? Will she be ok?" "Yeah she'll be fine, she broke her arm," I smiled a little at having diverted her anger. "That's good, I'll keep her in my prayer tonight, but that's no excuse not call us to tell us you'll miss dinner." "I know, I'm sorry mom," I smiled mischievously. "Maybe if I had a cell phone it would be easier for me to let you know that stuff." She looked at me. "I don't think so; you're far too young to get one of those." "Plenty of guys at school have them." "And plenty of *young* people at your school smoke; it doesn't mean I'll let you do that too. Now come on, I'll reheat your dinner and then you can go to your room, you have school tomorrow." I nodded, I hadn't expected her to agree to it, to be honest I wasn't even interested in one but it was something else for my mom to focus on instead of my lateness. "Mom, what would you think if I stopped going to Karate class?" "Stop? Why do you want to stop going? I thought you liked it." "I do, but the coach's friend I met, he knows martial art too, and he could teach me, but I don't really have time to do both, and he wouldn't charge anything." Mom looked at me dubiously. "He's willing to do it for free? Are you sure he doesn't have some ulterior motive?" "Come on mom, he's the coach's friend. Coach Warner would never let him do anything bad." "Maybe, but I think I'll want to meet him before I agree." "Sure mom." I introduced them a few days later and she liked him, on the way home she said that he had an old style charm to him, whatever that meant. Al's training method was weird. Him and me would fight and at random times Coach Warner would throw a box at me. In the box could pretty much anything, a vase, a five pound dumbbell, a beach ball or even eggs. The only way I had to know what was in it was to read the description on the box as it was flying at me while Al was trying to beat the crap out of me. He didn't pull his punches and he was much better than I had imagined. He said it would teach me to pay attention to my surrounding while not losing my focus. I don't know if it did that, all I know is that I broke a lot of their dishes during that first month of training. On the twenty third of February my birthday came and went without too much fanfare; I turned seventeen. Maggie, Eddy, and yes, even Marvin were the only ones I invited. As much as I tried to hate the guy Marvin was very likable, he was funny, pretty intelligent, and good looking; his trenchcoat hid how muscular he was. Most of his jokes were at the expense of the Norse gods and that caused the one moment of discomfort during my birthday. I had to explain to my mom that he wasn't trying to convert anyone; his jokes were just that, jokes. She didn't get entirely comfortable about it, but Marvin did manage to get her to laugh. My parent's gift was a driving course. * * * * * "Hey guys," Maggie said as she sat down next to us, "have you heard?" Me and Marvin looked at her. "About what?" I asked. We didn't see Eddy that often during lunch time anymore. He was spending more and more time with his girlfriend. He'd introduced her to us and for a while she ate with us. She was pretty nice, but definitely from a different social circle. He still did his best t hang out with us, but travelling in the higher class took up a lot of his time, and with March break coming up they were busy planning their trip to Aspen. "There's a lawyer in Denver that's trying to get the Good Samaritan law over turned?" "What's that?" Marvin asked. We both stared at him. "Man," I said in a lowered voice, "if you're going to be in the super hero biz you really should know about that law." "So explain it to me." "The law was setup back in the sixties to prevent villains from suing heroes over damages they received." Maggie explained. "Now it's been extended to also protect the heroes from lawsuit for collateral damages caused from fighting a villain." "So a hero can do anything when fighting a villain and not worry about it?" "Well, not anything, Excessive force can still override the Samaritan law; that would be based on the perceived danger to civilians, but the hero would have to prove his case in court." "What about civilians who get hurt in the fight?" "Unless they can prove negligence on the part of the hero they'll have to rely on their insurance." "So how is that lawyer trying to overturn it?" "He claims that it's unconstitutional; that Mister Terror is entitled for full compensation for not being able to work his normal job because Thunderclap put him in the hospital for 2 month while stopping him from robbing a bank." Marvin looked at me for help, but I shrugged, there was no way I was able to keep all those parahumans straight even if I wanted to. I knew Mister Terror was some sort of second string villain who could make people afraid, but I had no idea who Thunderclap was. "Anyway, I'd be surprised if it'll even make it to court, no judge in their right mind would ever even consider it." Maggie was right; two days later the case was thrown out. March break was marked with Fist and Viking stopping an attempt on Blue Jay's life by Bloodhound. Being a parahuman signer she was Maggie's favorite and the three of us had gone to her concert in Houston; Marvin even let me practice my driving on the way. The concert was uneventful until after the intermission. In the middle of her first song this guy dressed in a leather dog costume jumped down from the rafter and started tearing up the stage. Blue Jay wasn't a hero, she could only create a nimbus of blue light around herself and objects, still she did all she could to keep his attention on her while the musicians ran off the stage. When Bloodhound did manage to get his hand on her he shook her about and then threw her at one of the supports for the lighting gear, only to be caught by Viking. Marvin and Maggie had pulled a quick disappearing act as soon as bloodhound appeared. The fight was quick compared to those you see in the movies, but compared to real parahuman fights it dragged on for ten minutes. In the end Maggie had to throw a grenade and Viking had to amplify the effect with magic just to stun bloodhound; that gave Maggie time to shove a rag soaked in Ether, finally rendering him unconscious. Blue Jay tried to get them to stay on stage while she finished her show, but they declined and disappeared backstage. What surprised me the most through all that was how calm the crowd had been. The people in the first rows moved back, but no one panicked. They were worried and fearful; they knew enough to realize this wasn't part of the show, but even those who left did so calmly. I thought about helping out, but I didn't have any way to hide my identity. Maggie and Marvin missed the two songs Blue Jay performed after they were able to get the stage to working order. They had had a hard time finding a place to change out of their costume since a lot of people used the time as second intermission. I distracted them through most of the third song by apologizing over and over for not helping out. In the motel room where we spent the night Maggie couldn't stop talking about how she'd gotten to meet Blue Jay, even on the drive back the next morning she was still beaming. When we got home we learned that the fight had been recorded and every news show was showing it. One of the news anchor called Viking and the Fist 'misfits' and within a week everyone had adopted it, making it, much to Marvin's concerns, their team's name. A lot of stations tried to track them down for an interview, but they managed to avoid them while continuing their occasional patrol. And while a few reporters hung around longer trying to find them. The news stations moved on to someone else within a few days. * * * * * The mood at school changed after spring break, this was the last stretch before summer vacation; everyone studied a little more and partied a little less. No one wanted to fail their year, even Billy was now leaving me mostly alone since he didn't want to be held back another year. Maggie spent most of her school days studying so she'd have her weekends free to patrol. Marvin didn't seem to be worried about studying at all. I wasn't worries about my grades either; I knew I was going to pass all my exams without having to cram and I didn't have a need to be the best like a lot of the others at the school did. Coach Warner did convince me to practice my running; he challenged me to place second or even first without giving away I was a parahuman. That made me very nervous, I'd spent my time making sure I didn't attract attention, and now I'd be putting myself extremely close to the spotlight, and even in it. I thought about saying no, but he'd been there for me and I didn't want to let him down. I was on the track every afternoon before my training with Al and every other chance I got. I needed to get perfect control over my speed, if I was going to be noticed I couldn't afford any accidental bursts. I placed third in the trials we had in mid April. I was aiming for second place, but I lost my nerves just as I caught up to Melanie. I'd never been faster than her before; wouldn't people start wondering how I'd done it. Maybe there would be a drug test; could parahuman abilities be detected that way? Next thing I knew the race was over. Coach Warner didn't show any signs he was disappointed I hadn't beaten her, but I felt like I'd let him down anyway. So now I was training even harder; that's why I didn't notice I had an audience until I finished my five minute mile. Randall Mitchell was leaning against the doorframe, watching me intently. I ignored him while I cooled down, it wasn't the first time he's been watching me; it was creepy, but he never did anything. He blocked my way when I headed to the lockers. "Good to see you finally pushing yourself Mortimer." "I didn't know you were a fan of Track, Mitchell. Now if you don't mind I need to change and go home," I said as I tried to pass him. "Oh, I do mind," he replied pushing me back. "Didn't Bill warn you about bugging me?" "That bully's an idiot. The only reason I hung around him was because I thought his bullying would be what made you accept what you are." He swung at me. "And what's that?" I asked as I dodged it, "the low man on the totem pole?" I punched him in the stomach. It felt good to finally hit someone back. "Is that all you got," he said wheezing for a few breath. He straightened and took a deep breath. "Ok, lets see what you've got." He rushed me. He swung, I blocked, he swung again and I dodged. He wasn't a good fighter, but he had strength behind his blows. When I saw my opening I struck him in the shoulder. He staggered back and smiled at me. "Is that it?" That blow should have sent him back much farther. We exchanged more blows before I was able to kick him in the face. "That's more like it," he said shaking his head. He gave me a vicious smile as he wiped the blood of his cheek. The cut I'd inflicted closed itself as I watched. Another parahuman? Was this school some sort of parahuman training ground? I started hitting him harder with each strike, but he barely felt them. In contrast his punches had more and more strength behind them. None of them connected, but I could feel it each time I blocked. I gave it everything I had and he barely reacted to it. "What's it like being just like everyone else?" Mitchell asked as he grabbed me by the collar and threw me against the wall. I felt a sharp pain in my shoulder as it connected with the brick and more pain as I crumpled to the ground. I sat up to watch Mitchell walk toward me with a satisfied expression on his face. He looked down on me and lifted his fist. "Time to end this; it's been great knowing you loser." Before he could bring it down a hand wrapped around his wrist and held it in place. Mitchell turned to look at Coach Warner as he tried to pull out of the grip. "What do you think you're doing Randall?" "Whatever I want," he answered. He lifted the coach over himself and threw him to the track. Coach Warner landed, rolled and was back on his feet in a crouch. Mitchell took a step toward him but stopped and looked at me. "Don't go anywhere," he said before heading back to the coach. I tried standing while they fought, but the moment I started putting my legs under me my head started spinning. When I gave up Coach Warner walking toward me, dragging Mitchell by a leg; he dropped him a few feet away. "How are you feeling?" "It hurts, al lot." "You have a nasty gash on your forehead." "It hasn't healed yet?" I asked touching it and wincing in pain. "I think Randall's some sort of leech. He stole your parahuman abilities." I thought about it for a moment. "He's going to wake up soon if he heals as fast as I normally do." Coach Warner nodded and went inside, coming back with a roll of duck tape. He taped Mitchell's arms together behind his back and then wrapped them in tape from the wrist to the above the elbow. He also taped his ankles together before calling the police and an ambulance. I was taken to the hospital amidst the police cursing about having another parahuman in town. I ended up with a sling to hold my arm still, stitches for the cut on my forehead and some pain killers. It meant I couldn't run in the next race at school, I couldn't even run just for the fun of it since every time my foot hit the ground my shoulder hurt. Al did decide it was the perfect time to work on avoiding hits. Much to the doctor's surprise my shoulder was fully healed in only two weeks, but it wasn't until mid May that I felt I was back to full strength. Being as close to 'normal' as I could get made me realize that I did cherish my abilities; I hadn't really thought about where they'd come from, no one really knew although they were hundreds of theories out there. Now I realized that they were a God given gift, and I couldn't spend my life ignoring or hiding them. I didn't want to attract attention, but Maggie and Marvin were both heroes and still managed to have a normal life. Still, I needed to get someone's permission before I started on a hero career. "Mom, can I talk to you?" I asked as she walked by my room with the laundry basket. "Of course Honey, is everything alright?" She put the basket on the floor and sat next to me on my bed. "Yes, I just have to tell you something." "Ok, what is it?" "It's about me, and it's pretty big." I had to pause to figure out how to say it. "It's probably going to change how you and dad think about me, but I want you to know that it's still me, I'm still your son and I hope you're still going to love me." She hugged me and kissed my head. "Oh Honey, I already know and I still love you." "You do? How?" "Jayson, I'm your mother," she said with a smile, "mother's have a sense about these things." I just looked at her, she knew? "It doesn't matter to me that you prefer guys over girls, love is love and will always be proud of you for loving someone." Wait, what? "How could you have picked up on that? I've always been careful not to let it show." She chuckles and waved at my room. "You need to work on your subtlety." I looked at the posters of athletes and martial artists I had on my walls. "I don't get it." "Where are the women? The pinup girls that every teenage boy is putting up on their bedroom walls, and then there's Maggie." "What about Maggie? I haven't done anything to her." "Exactly, she's turning until a beautiful young woman and yet you're happy just being her friend. That meant you were either blind, or gay, and I know you're not blind." I had no idea what to think, I was so sure I'd hidden that secret from them. "Does dad know?" "I think he suspects, but he hasn't said anything." "Do you think I should tell him?" "Whenever you're ready to tell him, he'll be ready to listen." I nodded. She moved in front of me and held me by the shoulders. "You don't have to be afraid, you'll always be our son; we will never stop loving you. That it be about the boyfriend you'll eventually find or anything else you decide to do in your life, we will support and encourage you. You are the most precious thing in our life." As she said that I could see tears falling down her cheeks. I hugged her tightly. "Thanks mom." She dried her eyes and picked up the basket, leaving me alone with my thoughts. I had just come out to my mom, and she was ok with it. I had never even though about telling her I was gay, I knew it was something that would come up one day, but I'd figured it was still years away. I smiled as I realized a weight I hadn't noticed until now was lifted off my chest. She was ok with me being gay. And in a roundabout way she'd given me permission to become a hero. * * * * * The school year ended without any other major surprise, I told dad I was gay a few days before graduation and it shocked him, He tried hard not to let it affect how he saw me, but it took him time to come to terms with it. It was no surprise that Maggie graduated at the top of her classes, me and Marvin were somewhere in the middle, and Mitchell didn't. After he attacked me he was transferred to a center for dangerous parahumans. The one small surprise was Bill, somehow he managed to graduate. After the graduation ceremony Marvin, Maggie and me went to the mall to celebrate; we're already worked it out with our parents, this was just for us. We had just left the restaurant when we heard the disturbance at the other end of the hall. "You've got to be kidding," Marvin said, "someone's trashing the place on graduation day?" "Maybe they figure the Misfits are too busy partying to intervene," I said. "Whoever they are, they're about to find out we're never too busy to kick some butts," Maggie said looking around for a place to change. "Are you joining in?" she asked me. I shook my head. "I still don't have a costume, remember?" I'd been trying to find an identity since the talk with mom. Marvin's suggestions had been to put on any old mask, but I wanted something that felt right. "You two go have fun, soon enough I'll be able to help out." With a nod they headed toward the noise while I stayed where I was. The crowd around me split into two, those heading toward the commotion and those heading away from it. At this rate it wouldn't take long for me to end up alone. Something caught my eye over the crowd. It was in the display window of a store. I waded through the crowd until I was close enough to see it was a half mask resting on a shelf; it was a cat's mask, with ears and even whiskers. The holes for the eyes were covered up with holographic lenses of cat's eyes. I walked in what turned out to be a novelty store and put it on; it was made of cheap leather with an elastic to hold it on my head and the visibility was quite good. I looked at myself in a mirror and I couldn't stop myself from smiling; it was definitely a cheap mask, but it looked right on me I added a black wig and I looked like . . . well, not like me that was for sure. I put the two price tags with thirty dollars behind the counter and made my way to the fight. "Stop moving so I can turn you into dog food," someone growled ahead. The crowd got thicker and I had to elbow my way through it. Once people got a look at me they gave me room. I made it to the railing to see the fight was on the level below; Viking and Fist were fighting Bloodhound. I paused for a moment as Bloodhound caught Viking's sword and flicked it away. Viking raised his shield just in time to take the blow that came next, but still went down to one knee. I jumped over the railing, landing in a crouch and catching everyone's attention. I looked at Bloodhound without getting up "here doggy doggy," I said softly before springing toward him. This was going to be fun. * * * * * EPILOQUE The older man entered the younger one's office closing the door behind him. "You wanted to see me sir?" "Yes Albert, I need you to inform the Combine that I won't need their services anymore." "Yes sir, I'll inform them we are terminating the contract." "No, we are severing all ties to them." "They will not be pleased with that." "That's not my problem. Point out to them that after ten month the target's still alive." "Multiple parahumans have been running interferences." "Why should I care? I paid them to take care of the problem, not to make excuses. I'll take care of this problem myself." "Very well sir, anything else?" "No, that's all." Once he was alone the younger man took a folder from a drawer and read through it. In it were the names of many men, and a few women as well as a list of their accomplishments. He took one out before putting the folder away. "I need you to get me in contact with Adrian Price," he said in his intercom. "Sir," the woman on the other end replied after a moment, "Mr. Price is currently in Atlanta." "And?" "In prison, awaiting trial." He took a deep breath to avoid snapping at her. "And that's a problem how?" Five minute later his phone rang. "Adrian, how long until you've solved your current predicament?" "A day or two, sir. Everyone's in place now. As soon as Whip is adequately distracted we'll be done." "Good. Once you're out I need to you locate and retrieve a new employee." "Yes, sir. What is his name?" "Joshua Hunter, you can start your search in Africa."
  2. Kindar

    Chapter 04

    Part 4: The breaking point After the attack all Maggie would talk about was Marvin, on the way to and back from school, during Karate classes, he was even sitting with us in the cafeteria. Did I know Marvin's family was originally from Norway? Did I know his ancestors were Vikings? Did I know Marvin's sword could now slice through metal? Did I know Marvin could do magic? It was Marvin this, Marvin that. It was driving me nuts. The guy was stealing my best friend without even trying. I did what I could to avoid him but it wasn't easy. Maggie enlisted him into protecting me. I let him know in no uncertain terms I didn't need his protection, it didn't stop him. Thanksgiving was the first break I got from Marvin. We drove to Dallas to celebrate it with my father's parents. It was the one time of the year Dad got to see his whole family. Grammy loved having us over, it gave her an excuse to cook. Every year it was a turkey, the stuffing changed each time as she experimented with different herbs. She made her own cranberry sauce as well as the pumpkin and apple pies. The only store bought things Grammy allowed for her thanksgiving dinner was the pop for the kids and wine for the adults. We left an hour early because traffic was always heavy on thanksgiving. We still got there late; Reverb and Boombox had torn down an overpass in another one of their fights so we had to detour through the city. Both had sound based powers, Reverb could generate sounds while Boombox could turn sound he heard into concussive blasts. They had been fighting for years now. She'd beat him into submission and he would escape from whatever prison she put him in then come right back after her. People described it as the rivalry of sounds. Me, I just thought they should get a room and work off the sexual tension there. That way the rest of us could go on with our lives. Because we were late the poker game was already under way. Grammy's tradition was cooking, Grampa's was poker. Grammy hugged and kissed me, she was a plump woman a little shorter than I was. Every time I saw her she was jovial. When I was younger I thought that her super power was to chase the bad things away, as I grew up I realized that bad stuff did affect her, she simply didn't let any of her grandkids see it. After the greeting my folks joined the game. They sat opposite Uncle Bert and Aunt Betty; dad's other sibling, Greg, was seated next to mom. Betty's husband DB, I never got anyone to tell me what the initials stood for, was next to Greg's wife Judith. Grampa and Grammy were seated at each end of the oval table. The fact that Bert's wife Elizabeth and his kids weren't here told me something was up more than the lack of wine glasses on the table. It was a poorly kept secret within the family that Bert had a drinking problem. Uncle Greg told me Bert was in the process of getting divorced and had joined AA in the hopes of getting some custody rights to his kids. The kids had a game going to, but I just watched them play, poker wasn't a game I cared for; I couldn't win at it. "Did you ever find out why you were attacked?" Lizzy asked me. She was fourteen and her name was Elizabeth, but there was already one in the family so everyone called her Lizzy. "No," I answered after remembering everyone knew about the first attack. I didn't feel I was lying, someone kept sending parahuman to kill me, but I didn't know why. "It must have been so cool being saved by a super hero," Benny said. He was eight and Lizzy's brother. His full name was Bernard, but he hated it and got us to call him Benny instead. "Yeah, is was," I lied as I ruffled his ginger hair. At his age he didn't need to be burdened with the reality of the fear and pain associated with the attack. "The Great Fireman came to our school last year," Marc said. Sam, his twin, nodded in agreement. "This year they are saying we're going to have Techknight give the year end speech." "Techknight? From the Justicars?" I asked incredulous. These two might go to an expensive school in Oklahoma City, but I somehow doubted the Justicars would send someone all the way from LA just to speak at a school. "Yes Sarah," Aunt Betty said to my mom, "why don't you tell us what came of it? I'm afraid it didn't make the Dallas news." "Nothing's come of it. The police are still looking for the parahuman who saved Jayson." "Why are they still looking?" she asked, looking at her cards before putting chips in the pot, "Didn't he give his statement?" "He murdered the men who were assaulting my son, so no, he didn't give a statement." Mom still had trouble resolving the gratitude she felt toward the parahuman who had saved me and the atrociousness of the way he had killed them. "That is simply horrible," Betty said, "how ever did Jayson cope?" "Jayson's tough," mom replied. She didn't know about my fear of a patch of sidewalk or how it took Maggie to force me to get over it. "Hopefully the media helped him get over it." "No reporters talked to my son," mom stated. They had waited a few days before knocking at the door and she had unceremoniously slammed it in their face. When one of them sneaked into the backyard and cornered me dad chewed her out so badly that none of them showed up near the house again. He also made sure the school knew about them so no reporters were allowed on the property. That just left them while I ran to school and back to try to interrogate me, but I didn't give them the chance. Even without pushing myself I could leave them in my dust. Once they realized this story was going to take more work than they thought they dropped it. "How could you let such an opportunity pass?" Betty asked, aghast, "Do you realize how much work I have to put into getting Elizabeth to appear on television?" Lizzy rolled her eyes. Ever since she was five years old Betty had her participate in all sort of pageants. She had loved them at first, but now she was doing it just to keep her mom happy. Lizzy had decided to become a scientist Betty didn't care for that idea. She felt there was no future for a woman scientist and gave my mom as an example. Fortunately Lizzy had a better head on her shoulder then her mother and didn't believe her. If Betty bothered asking me I would have told her my mom was a more successful woman than a has been beauty queen like her. The oven beeped and announced the game was over. Everyone went about setting things up and soon we were eating. The rest of the evening was, thankfully, without any discussions of what had happened to me. * * * * * After Randall attacked me in the hall he really started giving me the creeps. It got to the point where I'd even seek out Marvin if I couldn't find another one of my friends. Of course I couldn't always find someone. When he managed to corner me on my own he wouldn't actually hurt me; oh he'd shove in against a locker or a wall, but he wouldn't hit me, he'd just give that same warning. There was a hunger in his eyes when he said that and it freaked me out. A few days after thanksgiving Randall had me cornered again. It was early morning I'd just arrived for my workout and I was putting my bag in a locker when he grabbed my shirt's collar and pulled me back hard. I backpedaled until I tripped on a bench and hit my head on the lockers. "It's just a matter of time now," he said looming over me, "you better prepare yourself." Sometime I wished he'd just get it over with and gave me the beating he so obviously wanted to. "What the hell are you doing here?" Billy said from the doorway. And here I thought my day just couldn't get any worse. "I was just talking with him," Randall said. "Yeah, right," Billy said pulling him away from me, "that's why he's on the floor." I used the opportunity to get up. "I told you before. No one touches the matchstick but me." To make his point Billy punched me in the stomach. "You try to rough him up again and I'm going to pound you to a pulp, you got that?" "Sure Billy, whatever you say," Randall replied. "Good, now come on we got to get going." What do you know, I thought once they'd left, Billy has a special place in his heart for me. The chuckle at my own lame joke didn't last long, it made my stomach hurt. I decided to forget about training and headed directly to the classroom. * * * * * It was the middle of the last period before lunch on that same day when the loudspeaker squawked "May I have your attention please," Principal Pullox's voice came, "Due to . . . unforeseen circumstances classes are ending now for today. Students who normally take busses home are asked to go to the cafeteria, arrangements are being made. Everyone else, please go home to be with your families." We all looked at each other to see if someone knew what was going on, Mister Pullox's tone had been so somber, but it was clear no one did. "All right," Miss Tatia said to get our attention, "you heard what the principal said, classes are over, but that doesn't mean you get to leave here without homework, I want you to read chapter twelve and thirteen, covering the civil war. We'll be discussing it next time." With that most students ran out the class like this was the start of the holiday vacations. "Do you have any idea why we're being sent home?" Maggie asked as I reached my locker, she been was waiting there for me; Marvin, the magical wonder, was with her of course. "No," I answered as I put my books in it, "I don't know any more than you do." I made sure the books I needed for my assignments were in my pack. "How about you? Heard anything from up on high?" I asked Marvin without looking at him. "It doesn't work that way. He only talks to me to tell me what to do. And the less he talks the happier I am." When I turned to leave I had no choice but look at Marvin and I saw some more of the momentary glimmers I'd been noticing on his black trench coat recently. I really wanted to ask him about them, but I had to remind myself I didn't like him. I just tolerated him. "Do you need a ride home?" Marvin asked us as we made our way through the crowd. It didn't look like anyone had listened to principal Pullox, everyone was in the hallways. "No," Maggie answered, "we live just a few miles from here." "Ok, then I'll see you two tomorrow." I was surprised that she refused the offer. I would have expected her to use any excuses to spend more time with her new best friend. I almost asked, but figured it was better if I kept my mouth shut, I might have lost the best friend status, but I didn't want to lose her as a friend completely. The walk home was eerie, everyone was going home and it wasn't even lunch time yet. People were driving like maniac to get there. Some were white as sheets while others were panicked. It didn't tell us anything about what was going on, other than it wasn't just the school that was affected. Dad was home too. The only sound was the television in the living room. "The object," a woman said, "is now passing by Grove Beach, as you can see it has caused the highway to come to a complete stand still as some people are abandoning their cars to either flee or move as close to the water as they can to get a better look." I peeked in the room, my mom and dad were riveted by the image of a crowd of people standing on a beach looking at some sort of disk in the air. "What's going on?" I asked dropping my pack. He didn't say anything, he just pointed to the television. "For those who have just joined us," the announcer said, "Early this morning a saucer shaped object was seen off the coast of Pirate Bay. Words from a fisherman is that it came out of the ocean about 20 miles off the coast. It's been moving south along the coast since then at about thirty miles an hour. "Parahumans have been coming and examining the flying saucer, but none of them have been able to determine the nature of the object." The camera roomed on the disk like object and half a dozen parahumans were flying around it. The only one I recognized was Techno, in his white and silver power suit. The only notable one was someone with a bird like fire around him. The others weren't even in any kind of costume; two guys and two girls. I sat next to mom and she hugged me tightly. I didn't really get why everyone was making such a big deal of it. It was probably going to turn out to be something a parahuman inventor made. Parahumans came and went, the one with the bird like fire aura eventually landed and a reporter asked him for an update. The name Phoenix appeared at the bottom of the screen as he explained that Techno was trying to find a frequency that would let him talk to whoever was inside. He didn't look any older than I was and he was rubbing shoulders with heroes like Techno. I felt a momentary pang of envy but then I reminded myself that I wasn't a hero like they were. One of the woman in civilian clothing said that she was here to try and figure out how the craft flew. She declined to give her name when asked and simply said that she worked for NASA. An hour later the crowd became excited as wall of water became visible in the distance following the shore. The camera zoomed and I could see that the wall of water was the wake from someone flying just over the surface. I could only make out that he or she wore red, but it wasn't long before I saw there was a white maple leaf on the man's chest. "This can't be good," dad said. "Is that?" the reporter said over the image of the man slowing down. The camera zoomed out and we saw Techno flying in his direction. "Yes, it's just been confirmed. It's Maple Leaf, the Leader of the Canadian super team. Ron, do you know what he's doing here? Has the Canadian government made any statement?" I understood my dad's worry. Canadians were nice and friendly, but their army was scary. It had the largest concentration of Parahumans in a military force in the world and while they didn't make a habit of using them, when they did they didn't hold back. There had been that thing with the province of Quebec back in the seventies. They'd tried to split off; there had been bombing and kidnappings. The Canadian army was sent in and the stomped on them so hard the world noticed and it was still part of *our* history books. They never attacked anyone else after that. They promised the world that they would only act as peace keepers, and only go where they were invited. Kuwait, Somalia and Afghanistan where three countries I remembered who had asked them for help. They were at peace now, but the Canadians had been ruthless in bringing it about. They completely wiped out the opposing forces. The UN tried to restrain them, but it didn't work. The Canadians hadn't committed any kind of war crimes; they had just fought those wars extremely efficiently. With an army like that willing to come in and help a country fight off invaders you'd think there wouldn't be any wars anymore, but it wasn't so. Countries still fought each other and most of the time neither one of them called in help. We were lucky that our war with Iraq was so short; no one had time to call them in. Maple Leaf's uniform was the colors of the Canadian flag; a white maple leaf on his chest and the rest red. He was standing in mid air talking with Techno, by the expression on his face he was more likely shouting. Techno's face was hidden behind his helmet's silver visor so I couldn't tell what he was feeling but he looked relaxed, his jet boots keeping him level with the Canadian parahuman. The camera focused on the reporter. "I've just received word from the studio that Canada is claiming the craft belongs to them. That it's part of an experiment they ran in the eighties and that Maple Leaf is simply there to ensure it is returned unarmed. "Do we have any way to hear what they're saying?" She wasn't talking in her microphone but to the people around her. Someone pointed to an older man sitting on the sand wearing large earphones. He was pointing a parabolic antenna toward the parahumans. "Excuse me, sir" the reporter asked tapping him on the shoulder, "are you able to hear what they are saying?" The man looked at her and blinked before removing one of the earphones. She repeated her question. "Yeah, I can. The guy in red identified himself as Maple Leaf, he said that the saucer's his and he's taking it back to Canada. Techno said it was in US airspace so it was going to remain here until they were done with it. They've been exchanging threats. Oh My. Techno just said that he wasn't getting it without a fight. Maple Leaf said 'gladly'" "The Leaf's strength and invulnerability against Techno's armor," dad said, "it isn't going to be pretty." I nodded. Maple Leaf was suppose to have been the inspiration for the superman character in the comics. The camera turned and caught Maple Leaf just as he threw something behind him. There was a flash of light and five people were standing on a silver disk floating a little higher than the Canadian Parahuman. I didn't recognize any of them, I'd have to ask Maggie later. One of them looked like an Eskimo, with winter gear and everything, one looked like a large bear. There was a thin woman who glowed slightly and one who seemed to be absorbing the light around her. The last one was crouched with his hand spread on the disk. The Parahumans who had been studying the craft flew to join Techno, although two of the civilian ones seemed reluctant to do so. Phoenix's flames burned brighter and larger. The crowd gasped and the camera looked around trying to find what had caused the reaction and eventually zoomed on the craft. There was a small black rectangle on the underside, it hadn't been there the last time the camera had show it to us. As I watched someone jumped out of the rectangle. The camera zoomed close enough I could tell it was woman, she had short dark hair with almost white bangs around her face. She fell of a seconds and then sparks lit up around her. My mom gasped and stood. The sparks became a field of electricity around her and she wasn't falling anymore, she was flying. "It's Electrika," mom said a moment before the reporter, "She's back." Electrika flew next to Techno, and a moment later he and the others left as fast as they could fly, leaving her alone with the Canadian team. Maple Leaf seemed amused. "What are they saying?" the reporter asked off camera. "Dunno," the old man answered, "all I hear now is static." Maple Leaf lost his amusement to rage. Electrika just shrugged and there was a bright flash of light followed by static. "What happened?" dad asked. I had no idea. Had Electrika caused that? I couldn't remember any news story where she did anything like that. The static was replaced by colored bars and 'please standby'. A moment later we were looking at a news room where the news anchor was running toward his desk. "It seems that Lisa is experiencing some technical difficulties. To recap, this morning, around seven pacific time a saucer shaped craft was spotted off the coast of Pirate Cove . . ." I tuned him out and answered the phone. "Did you see?" Maggie almost screamed in my ear, "Electrika's back. I knew she'd get back." "Yeah, I saw." I couldn't quite work up her level of enthusiasm. "Can you believe it, she's back. I hope Claw's back too. Do you think he's in the flying saucer?" "Take a breath Magster." She paused. "don't you find it amazing at all?" "I guess," I said after a moment of hesitation. "You guess? Come on, this is Electrika we're talking about. She's been missing for months now." "Was there ever any doubt she'd be back?" I asked. Maggie was silent. "You said it, she's Electrika, leader of the Justicars. Of course she was going to come back. And of course Claw's with her, probably in the flying saucer." "You could sound a little happier about it." "I know, I'm sorry," I said. I looked in the living room to make sure my parents weren't paying attention to me and lowered my voice. "It's just that after being attacked by parahumans myself the whole thing starts losing some of its appeal. You're having fun playing hero, but I'm just the victim here, over and over." "You don't have to be the victim," Maggie said after a moment, "you can be a hero too." She was right, of course, but. . . "No, I'm not going to fight, ever, I told you before, I don't care what happens, I'm never going to fight. I'm leaving that to you." Mom walked by and I covered the receiver. "What's going on?" I asked her. "Electrika fried all the electronics on the beach when she stunned the Canadian parahumans. The reporter was able to call in the station. Electrika and the flying saucer are heading to Los Angeles, to the Justicars headquarters. They'll be there in a few hours and they'll give a conference. I'm going to make lunch while we wait." "Ok, I'll be there to help you in a minute." "There's no need honey, you keep talking with Margaret." So I did for a while. After that we ate. Around two the flying saucer arrived to LA. And as it flew between the taller buildings I get a better sense of its size. If you took a Boeing 747 and spun it around the middle point you'd have a disk that was pretty much like the one I was watching. The Justicars building was twelve stories tall, just outside the financial district. It looked like nothing more than an office building; no big neon sign, no spotlight on the rooftop, but as the saucer came to a stop a few feet over the roof it seemed to acquire something special I couldn't place. I couldn't help feeling that even after the saucer was gone no one would ever look at the building like it was ordinary. A podium had been setup and hundreds of reporters were seated and standing looking in silent awe as the saucer stopped moving. The underside that was facing the reporters opened up, Electrika, Claw and someone else stepped out. Their companion was tall, almost seven feet tall and very thin, almost gaunt. His bald head was proportional, but looked larger because his features were smaller than usual. A group of people welcomed them with hugs, most, but not all, were parahumans. After that Electrika took to the podium. "Before we start," she said, bending down to the microphone, "I'd like to say that it's very good to be back." "Mirian Bromont, from MSNBC. Where exactly have you been?" "It's more of a when, rather than a where. We don't know how, but while we were sailing on the Pacific we found ourselves in the mid eighteen hundreds." "George Snip, CNN. What did you do while you were there?" "We were taken prisoner by pirates," Electrika said with a chuckle, "we escaped, we lived in the town that used to be where Pirate Cove is now. We investigated ghost stories, which turned out to be an alien, fought it and met Alistair in the process." "Did she say alien?" I asked chocked. "Who's Alistair?" George asked quickly. Electika indicated the tall being who had exited the flying saucer with the. "This is Alistair. It's not his real name, but we never managed to pronounce it so we gave him that one." "Can we talk with him?" an Asian woman asked standing up, "Chen Lee, LA Kanton news." "Do you mind talking with them?" Electrika asked him. He moved to the podium and bent down to the microphone. "Is the space ship yours? And where are you from?" Alistair pointed to the ship, nodded and then indicated he sky. The reporters gasped. "What's going on?" dad asked. "Maybe there's problem with the microphones," mom volunteered. A short man with bleached blond hair stood. "Could you repeat that? seems my studio didn't get it." Alistair nodded and bent down closer to the microphone. The man put a finger on his earpiece. "No, they still can't hear you." Claw moved to the podium. "You're gonna have to 'scuse us. We been working with Alistair for a year, we forgot about that." Claw was around six feet tall. He only wore some tattered pants. He was muscular enough to rival Coach Warner and he was covered twith light brown fur from muzzled head to toe. "What did you forget?" the man asked. "Alistair's race is telepathic. It's the only way they talk. No vocal cords. I'm gonna translate for everyone at home. "The ship's not technically his, it belongs to the exploration guild, of which he's a member." Claw turned to the alien. "You sure 'bout that? You never know, might still be around. "That he was a member of," he said to the reporters, "he doesn't think they're still around anymore. Which I guess means the ships yours now." There were a few chuckles. "As for where he's from, he hasn't been able to figure that out yet, the computer was damaged when it crashed here and his maps were scrap, but he's been able to work out that the trip took 'bout five million years." My jaw dropped. An alien, a real live alien. * * * * * School opened up as usually the day after, but none of the teachers could get anything done. The only thing anyone wanted to talk about was the alien. I wasn't any different. Eddy Maggie, me and even Marvin spent the day trading theories as to where he was from and what he was doing here. Billy even forgot to bully me because of Alistair. The Sunday church service was interesting. The two priests got into an argument over if Alistair was from God or the devil. It might have been funny if the answer hadn't been so obvious. He looked like us, so he had to have been made in God's image. It made me realize just how much of an impact on the Church his arrival had. It hadn't occurred to me to question God because of him. I mean God was everywhere, not just on earth but in the entire universe, so of course it made sense that He had other creations. Ok, if Alistair had had hooves and horns maybe it would have been tougher for me to think that, but the guy pretty much looked human. The Church didn't agree. Within a week there were a dozen groups that splintered off, the most extremist of them declaring that Alistair had to die because he was an affront to God. Didn't we already have enough extremist bigots using God's name to justify their hate? We had a serious discussion about if we were going to Christmas Mass. Dad ended up calling our priest and letting him know in no uncertain terms that if there was any discussions of aliens we would be walking out. Christmas was about the birth of Christ, not some species from far off in the galaxy. We picked up Grandma Doris, my Mom's mom before Mass like we do every year. The congregation that year was smaller than usual. After Mass we headed home to celebrate. It wasn't the party it had been when I was a kid. I was old enough not to need to have gifts anymore, although I was always happy with the pencils Grandma gave me. Just the four of us around the table was special enough. I knew it meant everything to Grandma. We were the only ones spending the holidays with her. Her two other daughters lived out of state and never visited. I hadn't even met them. The reason given every year was that it was too far, but what I'd been able to piece together led me to think that it had to do with a lot of money being lost in the eighties. After the Christmas dinner we went to drive grandma home, only to find a foot of snow on the ground. I couldn't believe it. I had never seen real snow before. Even mom and dad were overcome with wonder. Grandma sat on the porch wrapped in multiple blankets while he had a snow ball fight. The next day she took care of us as we came down with colds. I was the first one to get over it so I helped her. The snow only lasted the day here, but in Dallas it fell for three days, they had six feet of it by the time it was over. The city was completely shutdown, and they had to deal with flash floods when it melted over the next day. My dad's folks were ok. The flood cause some damage to their house, but nothing Grandpa couldn't fix himself. The freak storm sparked a debate about Climate Change. Debate might be the wrong term here, shouting match would be more accurate. Everyone agreed the weather was changing, but no one could agree what was the cause. Scientist pointed their fingers at the carbon emitted by the various industries. Corporations pointed their fingers at weather controlling parahumans. Except for one, parahumans stayed out of the argument. Green Peace hacked the conference's video system to give the Terrorist's opinion on the matter. Science showed Oil using corporation were to blame and since they didn't want to work toward fixing the problem he was going to do it for them. The next day he destroyed an entire oilfield in Iran by petrifying the oil in the wells. * * * * By the middle of January you couldn't really tell anything had happened. The water damage had been repaired, Alistair's ship was parked at the government's parahuman research center in Area fifty-one, the church had put out most of the fires caused by the splinter groups and Billy was bulling me again. Like the previous ones the next attack came out of the blue, I'd almost started to believe they were done and over with. It was the weekend and I was hanging out with Maggie and Marvin. She'd invited him along of course, and he drove us to the old textile factory on the outskirt of town. We were there for two hours chatting about everything and nothing when the guy dropped in front of us. We looked at him mouth opened as he dusted himself off. He'd landed on his feet, cracking the pavement. He was wide shouldered, heavily muscled and chomping a cigar. "I got to go take care of my car," Marvin said, the first of us to find his voice, before running off. "I'll help you," Maggie said as she ran after him. "Nice friends you got there kid," the man said in his gruff voice. It matched the rest of him; ripped jeans, dirty wife beater, unshaven chin and messy black hair. I knew why they had left, I knew that they were going to change and come right back, but I couldn't help feeling abandoned anyway. I pushed that feeling aside and tried to calm myself. All I needed to do was stall him long enough for them to come back. "What are you called?" It sounded like a stupid thing to ask, but that was all I could think of. "Don't have a name yet," he said as he took the cigar out of his mouth, "media hasn't heard of me yet. He spat before putting back in. "But after I'm done with you they're gonna call me the ass raper." I stared at him and he just smiled around his cigar. For once my legs obeyed me; I turned and ran. "That's it, run. 'Just gets my blood going. Don't expect anyone to come to your help this time. I checked the place out and it's just the two of us." Right then I didn't care about help. All I wanted to do was get as far away from him as possible. I wished I'd paid attention while we were walking around because then I might have known how to get out of here. The place wasn't one large building, it was a dozen of smaller ones, although smaller was a relative turn, placed in what felt like random. That created a bunch of maze like path that often became dead ends. It forced me to keep my speed much lower than I'd liked. I was back tracking away from another dead end when he stepped in front of me. I didn't have time to stop so I sped up. I didn't gain that much speed, but I figured it would be enough to shove him aside. Running into him was like running into a wall. I bounced off him and into the brick wall. I then ended up face first on the dirt. "Well that was fun," he said as he pulled me up by the neck and shoved my face against the brick, "just the thing to get me worked up." I saw starts for a moment and then I felt the pain flare up as he scraped my face against the wall. I ignored it. He was pulling my belt off. Please God don't let him rape me, I prayed as I grabbed his arm and tried to get him to let go. Instead he pressed himself against me. "Keep fighting me," he whispered, "you have no idea how much of a turn on that is." He wasn't lying; I could feel how hard he was. I fought harder to get him to let go. "Release him mortal!" boomed behind us. My attacker tensed. "How the fuck did you find us?" I managed to crane my neck just enough to catch a glimpse of the parahuman who had spoken. The media called him the modern day Viking with his winged metal helmet, chainmail shirt, fur lined cape and boots, sword and shield. I was familiar with how he looked, after all Maggie as enlisted me to help Marvin design his costume. "Why the hell do they keep showing up? You their pet or something?" "Unhand him immediately or feel my steel." I winced internally, Marvin had to work on his one liners. My assailant shoved me to the ground. "Don't move. I'm going to take care of the anachronism and be right back." The Viking stood still as the man stomped in his direction. He raised his shield to take the punch and the symbols on it lit up. The man struck it again hard enough that Marvin reeled back even if the magic on the shield was suppose to absorb the impact. Marvin swung his sword over head and the man caught it with one hand. I couldn't understand how he'd done that, I'd seen that sword slice through steel. The man's smirk lasted only until the blue flame erupted from the blade and engulfed his arm. "How do you like the feel of Hearthfire?" Viking said as he watched to other man try to put it out. I winced again. When this was over I was going to tell Marvin not to talk when he was Viking. He sounded way too corny and fake. With a yell the man slammed a fist on Viking's shield and he went down to a knee. "Hey Vicking, scram," the Fist said as he stepped out from between two buildings. The man looked at the new arrival while Viking did what he was told. When the man looked back Viking was several feet away and running. The Fist lobbed two balls at the man's feet. It took me a moment to realize what they were. I covered my ears and looked away just before they exploded. I was going to have to ask Maggie where she'd gotten grenades. The man stood back up. His clothing were in tatters and pieces of shrapnel were imbedded in his skin. He locked eyes on the Fist and ran toward him yelling in rage. When he was close enough the man swung wildly and the Fist dodged. Viking joined in the fight, but he was swatted aside quickly. Seeing Marvin fly back before crashing down shocked me. It finally dawned on me just how dangerous the man was. He'd shrugged off fire and grenades, he'd swatted Marvin without even thinking about it. What was going to happen to Maggie when he finally connected a fist? Thinking about it made it happen. I didn't see the impact, but I heard Maggie's grunt before she flew into the wall. I heard something crack and then she was on the ground, immobile. I looked from her, to Marvin who was trying to get back on his feet, to the man who was smiling with satisfaction and I saw red. I ran at him screaming. He swung at me, but I caught his arm, twisted it hard and punched his shoulder, dislocating it. He was still yelling in pain when I tripped him back and kneeled over him, knees on his shoulders. Then I started punching him in the face, over and over and over again. It felt good to finally hit someone back, to hear bones breaking under my fists. After all the bullying I had taken, after all the times I had held myself back to avoid drawing attention to myself this was one time when someone was going to feel what it was like to be on the receiving end. "Jayson!" My name finally registered and I looked up a Viking. I had the feeling he had been calling it for some time now. He pulled his helmet off and it shimmered, turning into the hood of the shirt he wore under his trench coat. With it off the rest of his costume shimmered back to his normal clothing. "Man, I wish you'd told me you were able to take care of yourself like that." I looked down at where he was indicating and didn't immediately understand what I was looking at. It looked like a rumpled bag in shades of red and pink with a black carpet on top of it. Why did I have a bag between my legs? I looked behind me and for a moment saw only a buck of town clothing before the image readjusted itself into a body. I looked back at the 'bag' and this time I knew it was a face. There were no recognizable features. Where the eyes, cheeks or nose should have been there was only a bloody mess. I jumped off the body and got to all four before throwing up. "Are you ok?" Marvin asked putting a hand on my shoulder. "Don't touch me," I yelled, shoving him back harder than I'd meant to. I ran off, but I couldn't shake the bloody image from my head. I'd killed him. I had killed someone. But worst than that. I had enjoyed it.
  3. Kindar

    Chapter 03

    Part 3: Revelations and Complications The office was large and well furnished. The occupant was obviously wealthy, but his wealth wasn't displayed in gold or silver, it was displayed in age. The desk was over two hundred years old and if the stories were to be believed had been Abraham Lincoln's presidential desk. It was massive and made of mahogany wood; polished to a shine by the care of many previous owners. He had acquired it from the museum where it had been on display for years. The two chairs before the desk had been obtained from Buckingham Palace and were supposed to have been built by Leonardo daVinci. The fabric had been replaced multiple times, but the wood was original. The chairs had been so well built that there wasn't even a crack in them. The settee by the window was from Louis the sixteenth's castle and had to have been liberated from a museum in Paris. The book case taking the entire wall behind the desk was the man's most prized piece in his collection. It had been built in the fifteenth century in a Monastery in Ireland. It had been the most difficult piece to acquire as the monks had been quite reluctant to let go of it. In the end he had had to pay the mercenaries extra because of the trouble the monks had caused them, but it had been worth it. The man was sitting in his only concession to modern time, the presidential chair of Eisenhower. For all his time spent behind his desk he was a well built man. He made sure to go to the gym every day and the gray suit he wore enhanced his form. His black hair was cropped short and it flowed on the side of his square face directly in his beard. "Come in," he said in his deep voice when someone knocked at the door. He was reading a risk to cost assessment on a lumber project in the Amazon. Attached to it was a report on the big cat population in the area. The man who entered was rail thin and much older, with only a crown of gray hair left on his head. "The second attack failed," he reported as he closed the door behind him. "Do we know what happened this time?" He set the report aside and leaned back in his chair. "Sanguine was left tied up, but alive," the man said. He didn't move away from the door. "The Combine liberated him from the police and forwarded us his report. According to it a parahuman intervened and prevented him from terminating the target; some unknown martial artist." "How reliable is Sanguine?" the younger man asked after a moment of silence, "can he have made up the parahuman to cover up his failure?" "That's unlikely, sir. While he's very much at the bottom of the ladder among the Combine's assassins, he has no history of lying with previous failure." "How likely is it for two attacks to be interrupted by two different parahuman?" "Rather unlikely, sir, but still possible." The younger man rubbed his chin for a moment. "How about the people we have studying him, have they reported anything?" "Nothing out of the ordinary; as far as they can tell he's a perfectly normal boy. He's bullied, he's among the better runners the school has and has a small circle of friends, none of whom also seem to be anything special." "Thank you Albert, please remind the Combine that they will not be paid until the boy is dead, and that I will take it very poorly if they decide to renege on the deal. Also, call my wife to confirm she still wants me to pick up the children from school." "Very well, sir." The man waited until his secretary had left before taking an envelope out of the desk. It was yellow, but it wasn't because of age or coloring. His scientists had told him that the paper was made from untreated wood pulp, but they hadn't been able to identify the type of tree it came from. He was surprised that there was a tree left his scientists hadn't catalogued, but the world was large and still kept many secrets from him. From the envelope he took out a Polaroid of a skinny boy. On the back was a name, an address as well as the name of a school. With the picture was a letter written on the same type of paper. The writing was very precise, the mark of someone who had to take great care with his writing. The ink was made from squid ink, but it didn't contain any of the impurities now common in it. "The picture," it read, "is that of a man who will cause you great problems if he is allowed to come of age. You must take every step possible to destroy him regardless of the cost." The letter had arrived over the summer, it had showed up in his personal mail without postage and no one in the mail room could recall seeing it before. Unlike what the letter advised he didn't rush to have to boy killed. He hadn't become a successful businessman by blindly jumping at every warning he was given, but he also wasn't going to ignore something that had seemingly magically appeared in his office. He'd had one of his researchers compile a file on the boy and nothing unusual came up. Still he had contacted the Combine and hired them to remove him, but not at all cost. He wasn't going to put his plans at risk for some unnamed potential ally. "Who are you," he asked the letter, "and what do you have to gain by this boy's death." He folded the letter, put it and the picture back in the envelope. He probably wouldn't find that out, but it didn't matter. With the Combine executing the work the boy would die, it was just a question of time. * * * * * As I'd predicted, after a week of Maggie meeting me after each one of my classes, people started talking. It took me that long to convince her that she didn't have to follow me around in school. No one was going to attack me here, not with a school's worth of witnesses. Of course, by then I had already been branded as the uncaring boyfriend since she was obviously head over heel in love with me and I didn't treat her as anything more than a friend. Those who knew us a little figured it was about time that we got together; we'd been best friend for so long it was the natural next step. Eddy was the only one who knew us well enough to believe us when we said we weren't together. He did question why she was following me everywhere if that was the case. I could tell she wanted to tell him the truth, but instead she told him it was a social experiment. After that she'd meet up with me at my doorstep and then as we left school. She also forced me to get over my aversion of that spot of sidewalk in front of the Pater's house. It was about a week later, we were heading back home. As I started to turn to go to the other side of the road she grabbed my arm and stopped me. We were at the corner of the block. "Okay, this has gone on long enough," she said as she started pulling me along, "you have to deal with this." I dug my feet in and we stopped moving. She was a little shorter than I was but about the same weight so I only had to put a little of my strength in it to keep us where we were. "You can't make me," I stated. "You can't ignore this for your entire life." "I figure that once I've moved out to go to college I won't have to think about it anymore," I replied trying to make light of the situation. She sighed and let go of me. "This isn't healthy. If you don't deal with this it's going to come back to haunt you." "Look, I don't want to deal with this," I said, "not now." Or ever, a voice added in the back of my head. "Well you can't just avoid this like you're trying to avoid fighting. You need to learn to deal with stuff." "What do you want me to do," I said angrily, "just pick a fight with someone and hope I don't break their necks?" "Of course not," she said with a touch of exasperation in her voice. "Obviously fighting isn't something you can just jump in and work on, but this is." She pointed down the length of the sidewalk and I looked in that direction. Like every time before I saw the blood and the body parts. "I can't," I said weakly. "What are you so afraid of? They aren't going to come back." She eyed me for a moment. "Or do you think you should have saved them?" "Of course not," I said forcefully. Don't you? the voice asked, 'thy shall not kill' is one of God's commandment. Shouldn't you have stopped him from killing them? "Then what's the problem?" "I don't know, I just can't." "Let's just try okay? We'll walk together." I looked at her and the earnestness in her eyes made me nod. I looked down at my feet and took a step forward. The second one was shaky. On the third one I happen to look up to see how far I was from the spot and the sight of all that blood froze me. "I can't," I was barely able to say. I wanted to turn and run in the opposite direction, but I couldn't get my body to do anything but stare ahead. "It's okay," Maggie said, "breathe." Only when she said that did I realize I'd been holding my breath. "Close your eyes." I did as she instructed. The inside of my eyelids was blood red. "I want you to imagine that you're jogging on the track at school. You told me once that when you jog you feel like you can leave all your worries behind you so that's what I want you to do now." I did that and the red was replaced by the blacktop of the track. I forced myself to hear the sound of my shoes hitting the ground rhythmically and I felt my breathing calm down. I had to keep my breathing calm when running to maximize the oxygen going to my lungs. "Are you ready?" she asked. I felt her place hand in mine. I nodded as I closed it over hers. "Good, were going to take one step now." There was a flash of red but I focused on the blacktop again. "Another." My breathing sped up. I forced myself to slow it down. I couldn't afford to hyperventilate while running. "Another. "Another. "Another. I froze as a cut up body appeared on the track. The blood pooling around it was vivid red. "Are you okay?" she asked when I didn't move. "Just a minute." There was no body on the track. Coach Timberson was adamant about the track always being clear. There also was no blood. In fact there was nothing red anywhere near the field. The closest to that was the brown brick the school was made out of. The body and blood disappeared from the track and I started jogging again. I took a step, and then another and another. When Maggie had me stop and open my eyes we were on the other corner. I was panting and shaking. I felt as if I had been running around the track instead of imagining it, but I had made it across. "How about we don't do this ever again?" I asked fighting the impulse to look behind me. "How about we do it again tomorrow instead?" Maggie replied with a smile. It took me over a month to be able to walk this block with my eyes open, but it wasn't until after Halloween that I was able to do it without Maggie holding my hand. During that time the Terrorist destroyed an oil refinery in Fort Worth. It made the news because it was the first time he destroyed something in Texas. In the last five years he had destroyed over thirty factories over the world, all of them big polluters. Each time he gave a warning a week ahead of time that he was going to do it. That if the plant was completely shut down by then it would be spared. No one ever did it, even after all this time. Three of the Dallas/Fort Worth parahumans; Smack Down, Whiplash and Reverb, tried to stop him, but by the time the fight was over they were left unconscious and the refinery had been turned to dust. There hadn't been any casualties. He always gave everyone inside his targets time to leave, sometime going as far as throwing them out himself. How he destroyed his targets was something of a mystery. There weren't any explosions or radiations afterward, only a large pile of dust. Some scientists claimed that he had found a way to break the bound between atoms, but even they didn't know exactly how he did that. Some argues that he was obviously a scientific genius; his power armor was ample proof of that, so it had to be a device, while others thought the suit was just to confuse them and it was a parahuman ability that allowed him to do it. Green Peace released another of the Terrorist's message after the destruction stating that until mankind started taking steps by itself to stop polluting the environment he was going to continue protecting it his way. The mayor of New York City went on TV claiming that he was the perfect example of why parahumans needed to be registered. The President also went on TV to say that the United States wouldn't give into terrorism. That if the Terrorist really wanted to protect the environment he should turn himself in and use his obvious intellect to help them come up with a less disruptive solution. Personally I thought the guy had to be plain nuts. * * * * * "What are you guys dressing up as for the Halloween party?" Eddy asked. It was free period and we were sitting in the cafeteria just wasting time. "I haven't decided yet," I said with a shrug, "a ghost maybe." "That's creative," Maggie said, "Maybe you should go as Claw. He's big, strong and can really lay the smack down on the bad guys. You know, what you don't do." The look I gave her told Eddy there was some subtext he was missing, but he didn't comment. "What about you Maggie?" he asked instead. "I'm going as Madam Curie." We both stared at her. "What?" "How come you aren't dressing up as a parahuman again this year?" "Not everything I do has to revolve around parahumans you know," she answered with a distinct lack of conviction. I reached in her bag and pulled out a random note book. On it were half a dozen stickers of Justicar Members. Electrika, Claw, Black Jack, Goliath, Plasma and Phoenix. With a smirk she took the book out of my hand and shoved it back in her bag. "You should dress up as Electrika," I said, "it maybe Reverb." "How about Whip?" Eddy offered. Maggie guffawed. "No way, even if I dared wearing as little as she does I don't have the figure to pull it off." Whip was the most popular parahuman out of Atlanta. All she wore were leather high heel shoes, leather panties, leather bra and a leather mask. I wasn't surprise Eddy had suggested her. She was the subject of a lot of teenager's fantasies. "What are you going as?" she asked him. "I'm going as a Na'vi." "Well you certainly have the height and thinness for it," I commented. "Are they even going to let you in wearing that little?" Maggie asked. "Good luck getting a date being that much of a geek." I said. "I already have a date. Eliza is going with me, also as a Na'vi." "Eliza Munroe?" Maggie asked and Eddy nodded. We both looked at him. Eliza was among the best looking girls in our year, I mean even *I* had noticed how much of a looker she's become. "Err, are you sure she isn't pulling a prank on you?" I asked. "I am, we been going out for a few months now." Now I outright stared at him. "How come this is the first we've heard of it?" Maggie asked. "Because my private life is private," Eddie stated. We were both surprised at that comment. Eddie used to be someone who shared everything about his life with us, even stuff we'd rather not know about at times. "And we won't be the only Na'vi there. There's going to be about a dozen of us. Even Chris Landon is doing it." "Chris Landon?" I asked, "Small and pudgy Chris?" Eddy nodded and I opened my mouth to say something, but I closed it just as fast before I said something even I would think was stupid. "I will not judge, I will not judge," I repeated softly to myself instead. "How about we change the subject," Eddie said, "have you decided what to write about for the history essay?" "Yeah," I said, "I'm going to write about how the Church mishandled things during the Second World War." "Aren't you Catholic?" Eddie asked. "Yeah, so?" "That doesn't sound like a very Catholic thing to do, speaking against the Church like that." "We're not blind followers," I said with a shrug, "anyone who bothers reading history books can see that the Church made mistakes at times. What are you going to write about?" "The destruction of the Twin Towers." "Does nineteen-ninety-eight really qualifies has being history?" I asked. "It might not have been that long ago, but there never was destruction on that scale due to parahumans fighting before. That's what launched mayor Guiliani on his quest to get parahumans registered." "There isn't any proof that parahumans were responsible for that," Maggie stated. "What else could it have been, and how about the record the news crew made? The explosions, light and other weird stuff that was visible." "That could have been special effects," Maggie replied, "Tell me this, if it was a fight between two groups of parahumans that brought the Twin Towers down, how come not even one of them has ever been identified?" "That's Guiliani's point," Eddie countered, "If they had been registered he would have known they were in New York and it he would have been able to prevent it from happening." I don't think either one of them noticed when I left the table. I didn't want to be caught in the middle of that argument. Eddie was very much a proof and scientific method kind of guy, and Maggie couldn't tolerate having parahumans painted as bad people as a group. So I sought the quiet of a table on the other side of the cafeteria. I took out my sketchbook and flipped through it until I came to the drawing I'd done of the Fist. I'd drawn my first savior so it seemed appropriate I draw my second one. Since saving me the Fist had made it on the news shows twice. The first time because he saved a woman from a robber, the image was grainy, from a security building on an adjacent building. The woman had been interviewed and described the Fist as being quick, efficient and polite. A few days later the robber was on the same news show going on and on about how the Fist had broken his arm and leg. In that report the robber was treated as an innocent victim of a ruthless parahuman attack. That report got at least twice the airtime of the previous one. Maggie had been pissed about it, but I reminded her that this was Tyberon, reports like that were about the best she could expect. It took her a few days to calm down and put it out of her mind. I flipped to the drawing of my first savior. I still looked at it once in a while to see if I would remember anything else to add. Nothing had come in a few weeks but I still did it. "That's pretty good," someone said behind me. "Thanks," I said as I looked over my shoulder at Coach Warner holding a tray. "Do you mind if I sit here?" he asked pointing to the seat in front of me. "No Coach." I wasn't going to complain about having him sit in front of me, I didn't often get to look at a well built guy without looking suspicious doing it. "Please, call me Thor," he said as he sat down. He put his tray down on the table. "Can I see it?" he asked as he pushed the tray aside. I handed him my sketchbook, "I'm not really used to calling one of my teacher by anything but their last name." "That's ok, you'll get used to it." He flipped through a few of the other pages but came back to the top one. "You're quite good. That's a very accurate drawing of him." "Thanks," I said blushing slightly. It wasn't often that an adult other than my parents or art teacher complimented me on my drawings. "Wait a minute. You said it's accurate. You've seen him before?" "Yeah," he said with a small chuckle, "I used to hang out with him a long time ago." I looked at him for a moment. It was strange hearing someone who couldn't be more than thirty talk about 'a long time ago.' He must have known him when they were kids. "Can you tell me his name?" "Sure, it's Kindar." "Do you know why he saved me?" "At a guess I'm going to have to say that someone paid him to do it. He's never been keen on the whole hero thing. He didn't mind saving people, but usually there had to be some coins attached to it." His eyes became distant for a moment. And then he was silent. It gave me the time to work up the courage to ask my next question. "Do you know why he killed them?" I asked softly. "He probably thought it was the best way to protect you," he answered as he gave me back my sketchbook. "Did he happen to say if he'd be looking after you for a while?" he asked with a tone of hope. I shook my head. "He said he wasn't coming back." "I guess I shouldn't be surprised," he said with a sad smile. "It's been a while since you saw him?" I asked. "Feels like many lifetimes ago." "I'm sure you'll get to see him again." "I know I will," he replied with a smile, "so long as certain people keep their promises. I saw you met the new parahuman." He pointed at my sketchbook. "Yeah, he stopped someone else from killing me," I said. Coach Warner, I just couldn't get myself to call him Thor, or even Eric, raised an eyebrow. "He said, Kindar I mean, that others would try to kill me." I wasn't sure why I told him that, other than we both knew him I guess. "What are you going to do?" he asked after studying me for a moment. "I don't really know." "Well, if you need any help you know where to find me." I looked at him as he started on his lunch; the cafeteria meatloaf, a coffee and slice of apple pie. He didn't react the way I expected an adult to react. He didn't tell me what do to, who to call and all that. It felt strange having an adult let me do what I thought was best in this situation. I was tempted to ask him about it, but the bell rang. * * * * * "The Magster wants to see you in the science lab," Eddy told me when he walked by me on his way home. I was standing by the school doors waiting for Maggie to arrive. "Why?" "She didn't say, but I'm guessing it's got to do with lifting some heavy equipment." That explained why I was still waiting for her. Normally she would be the one waiting for me. I went back inside the school. It had been a long time since I'd been in the school after hours. I'd forgotten how quiet it got; just going up one flight of stairs and the noise of the few people still leaving completely vanished. I slowed down my running to enjoy it. I never heard him coming. One moment I was listening to the silence, the next my face was being grinded against a locker. My mind went black with fear. One of them was in my school. "You think you can hide it," he whispered in my ear, "but I know what you are. Soon there's going to be a reckoning." He pushed my face against the locker again before letting me go. I spun around, this time I was going to defend myself, and watched Randall Mitchell walk away. I sighed with relief and leaned back into the locker. Randall wasn't out to kill me, he was just one of Billy's cronies. What he said confused me, what did he know, and how had he found out? Did it mean Billy knew too? And why had Randall harassed me on his own, Billy usually didn't let anyone else bully me. I looked around while I caught my breath and noticed that I was alone. With Randall gone there was no witness if someone decided to attack me. I ran all the way to the science lab. I heard Maggie exerting herself in the back of the room. "What are you doing?" I asked. She was bent over a slab of metal. "Good, you're here. Put that in there." She indicated one of the two square buckets against the wall. "Sure." The slab looked to be about a foot by a foot and a half and a few inches thick. It had been cast with handholds on each side. I grabbed one and lifted it, and almost wrenched my shoulder out of its socket instead. "Fuck, what is this thing made out of?" "Tungsten," she answered as she went to the storage room. "How much does it weigh?" I bent down and grabbed both sides this time. "About four hundred pounds." I believed her. I carefully put it in the bucket. It looked to be homemade. "What are you doing with it?" "I want to see how strong you are." She came out of the closet pushing a cart with more slabs on it as well as a disassembled bench press. "You're kidding, right?" "Nope, completely serious. You're afraid of your own strength. First step to overcoming fear is getting to know it. So we're going to figure out how strong you are and go from there." "Look, I'm not afraid of my strength, I just don't want to fight." "Fine," she said rolling her eyes, "then just think of it as indulging my curiosity. You're the only Parahuman I know. I want to see what you can do." "Okay, but you try to get me to fight and this friendship is over." "Sure," she didn't believe the threat any more than I did. "Now help me assemble this and we can get started." Once it was assembled she put the bar on the top notch. "I don't think so," I told her, placing it on the lowest one. "But I need to know how much you can support." "Doing it that way the moment there's more weight than I can lift the bar falls, breaks my neck and your parahuman best friend is dead." "Oh." "Yeah, oh," I echoed, "this way if I can't lift it, then I just can't lift it and you'll know. Also we're going to put something under those bucket so there's no weight on the bar when it's resting." We built a stand for them out of the notebooks and I put the buckets on them before adding a slab in the empty one. "Are you sure the buckets are going to hold up? There's going to be a lot of weight in them." "Yeah, I had them made by a guy I know who has shop classes." "I hope you're right," I said as I lied down on the bench and grabbed the bar. "Okay, we're starting with four hundred pounds on each side." She hooked the bucket and moved away. I easily lifted the bar a dozen times before putting it back. "That easy?" she asked. "Pretty much." I put another slab in each bucket. "We now have eight hundred pounds in each." Again I did twelve reps, but this time I felt the last three. I added one slab each. "twelve hundred pounds," Maggie said with trepidation. I didn't feel her excitement; in fact I was a little worried. I wished we had smaller weights. I lied down and gripped the bar. I focused my breathing for a moment and then forced it up. And I do mean forced. It took every ounce of strength I had to lift it. I lowered it and went for a second one. I was halfway there when I knew I shouldn't have tried it. Before I could lower it my arms gave out. The buckets slammed on the books and sighed in relief. It didn't last long. The stack of books on my left leaned out, I hadn't worried about it because it seemed solid enough, but now with the weight bouncing off it it moved a little more and then fell apart. I only had time to move the bar over my chest before I felt the full weight. At least I'd saved myself from a broken neck, but I had trouble breathing. Maggie ran off and I heard her break open a cabinet. I grabbed the bar and tried to lift but I couldn't get any leverage. I could barely take some of the weight off my chest so I could breathe. I swung an arm and hit the buckets, but it didn't move. Maggie came back with a large jar and a Bunsen burner. She emptied the jar around the inside of the bucket and then lit the content with the burner. The stuff burned so bright I had to look away for a moment. When I looked again there was a glowing line through the metal around the bucket; then the metal stretched and ripped. As soon as the bottom half fell off I threw the bar off me. To the sound of the slates tumbling out of the bucket I sat and held my chest. "How painful is it?" Maggie asked. "Pretty painful," I answered weakly; breathing was difficult. "Take off your T-shirt, I want to see how bad it is." I tried not to make faces as I took it off, but moving my arms caused the pain to flare up. "That looks pretty bad," she commented. "I know," was all I could say. The line made by the bar was red and the skin had broken in places. The Magster took out her camera. "Do you mind if I take pictures, I want to document how fast you heal." I tried to sigh, but the pain wouldn't let me. "Go ahead." She took her pictures and then we cleaned up. She poured sand on the fire that was still burning and melting more metal. I have no idea why there was sand in the science lab. She didn't want me to help, but I was the only one who could pick up the slates, although I had to be careful doing it. When everything was back in the storage closet the only evidence left were the vicious burn marks on the floor around where the bucket had landed. Maggie was going to have to do some creative thinking to explain that. * * * * * Maggie had to spend the next two weeks helping out her science teacher clean up the lab after school to pay off the damage to the floor and the material we'd used. She didn't mention my involvement, she told him that she had been testing the reactivity of burning magnesium to tungsten, whatever that meant, and that it had gone out of control. I offered to help out, but she wouldn't let me. I still waited for her. Partially to keep her company but mainly because Randall's attack had reminded me I was in danger and I didn't want to take a chance by walking home alone. On the up side, my reputation as a boyfriend got better for it. Mom approved of my making sure Maggie didn't walk home alone. She said it made me a gentlemen. Dad thought it was sweet how I paid attention to her now that she was becoming a woman. I just rolled my eyes; dad had started hinting that I should find a special lady friend since the school year had started. I'd told him I wasn't interested in getting a girlfriend, but I don't think he really heard me. It was Friday when I was attacked again. It was suppose to be Maggie's last day of punishment, but her teacher let her go instead because she'd been so good about doing her sentence. To celebrate we were heading to the mall for a few hours before our Karate class. We were walking through the park when I saw the man come toward us. He was of average height and build he wore jeans and a white t-shirt. There was nothing out of the ordinary about him, but my body froze anyway. "What's wrong?" Maggie asked. She'd taken a few more steps before realizing I'd stopped. I didn't answer, I was too busy looking around for people. If I could find someone who could act as a witness I could convince myself I was panicking for nothing, but there was no one. We were in one of the small clearings that dotted the park and normally there would be people picnicking or just lounging, so where were they? When I looked at the man again he's covered half the distance separating us. He was looking straight at me with determination. I forced my body to take a step back. Maggie looked at the man coming toward us. "Oh shit," she said. I wanted to echo her, but I couldn't get my mouth to work. She looked around quickly. "I'm, I'm going to go get help," she said before running into the woods. I knew what she was going to really do, but I couldn't help feeling like she was abandoning me. "The pretty girl is smart to run," the man said. "Sharp doesn't like hurting pretty girls." He was now within striking distance. I told my hands to close into fist and hit him, but they wouldn't obey. He swung at me and at the last moment I was able to move out of the way. I dodged the next swing and took a few steps back. I closed my hands into fists and felt relief wash over me. I'd be able to fight back this time. Maggie was right. I couldn't spend my life being afraid. I'd take it easy with him at first and hit harder as needed. The pain of his fist hitting my jaw broke my chain of thoughts. Next there was a fist to my stomach and another to the jaw. Then I was on the ground. "Sharp waits for you to get up," he said. "Sharp is patient." Sharp didn't sound like he was the sharpest tool in the shed. "Hey," someone yelled, "get away from him." The Fist had arrived, I thought, but then realized the voice had been wrong. I looked up to some someone in black holding a sword running toward us. "You don't move," Sharp told me, "Sharp fights the black man and comes back to you." Sharp turned and walked toward the new guy. "Get out of here while I keep him busy," the man in the black said just before swinging at Sharp. I wanted to obey him, but again my body wouldn't obey me. He looked vaguely familiar with his black trench coat. What was it with trench coat, did everyone who saved me had to wear one? Even his shoes were black. "You have a sharp thing," Sharp said, "Sharp has sharp things too." His fingers elongated until they were thin, two foot long, skin colored blades. He used them to block the next swing and then swung at the swordsman. The man brought it up to block and the finger blades sliced through it. "You have got to be fucking kidding me," the man said as he looked at the three inches of blade still attached to the hilt. "I just finished making it today!" "Then you shouldn't have attacked Sharp," he said before swinging back and forth at his opponent. The man in black could only back up each time. Maggie came out running of the woods wearing her mask and trench coat. When she was just a few feet behind Sharp she jumped and kicked him. The man in black moved aside as Sharp toppled to the ground. "Get up Sharp," she said in her deepened 'Fist' voice, "I want to show you what happens to parahumans who come to my city causing trouble." "How do you know Sharp's name?" he asked as he stood. "You're joking, right?" Fist answered, "You're saying it every time you open your mouth." Sharp looked at Fist doubtfully before rushing. Fist easily moved out of the way of the swings and threw in a few strikes in the process. Sharp swung wildly to force Fist to move away. I could see the anger in Sharp's eyes now, and so could Fist. He reached inside his trench coat, and when Sharp rushed him again he threw what he was holding at him. Sharp stopped as the cloud of fine dust spread around his face. I closed my eyes as Fist brought the lighter out and even through my eyelids I saw the flash of light as the magnesium dust ignited. When I opened them The Fist was putting his foot back on the ground after kicking Sharp in the face. Sharp spun and stumbled around trying to keep his footing. The flash had pretty much blinded him, I'd been there the first time Maggie had experimented with the magnesium dust; I hadn't seen anything for a good two minutes, so he didn't see the man in black flip his hilt and hit him across the jaw with the pommel, hard enough that the hilt went flying out of his hand afterward. Sharp dropped like a rock. It was over. I couldn't believe I had been attacked again. It had been so long I'd begun thinking I was safe now. And I couldn't believe that someone else had been drawn into this. This hadn't been just a thug sent to hurt me; this had been a real parahuman. Maggie could have been really hurt, or worse. "What the fuck is wrong with you," I yelled at them, "you could have gotten killed!" "You have to excuse him," The Fist said as he handcuffed Sharp, "He gets like that when he's scared. He still doesn't get that this is what us heroes do." "Oh no," the guy in black said backing away, "I'm no hero, this was just a one time . . ." he froze in mid step. Maggie took off her mask as we exchanged a look. The unexpectedness of it chased my anger away. She stepped to him and waved her hand before his eyes. "Marvin, you okay?" she asked. Marvin didn't reply or even move. I couldn't even tell if he was breathing. "You know him?" "Yeah, he made the buckets we used to test your strength." He was in shop class. That's why he seemed familiar, I'd seen him at school. "You okay?" she asked me. "I'm fine, I'm more worried about what could have happened to you. This guy was an actual parahuman, not just a hitman in costume." "It was bound to happen eventually. Even if whoever wants you dead didn't escalate I'm considered a parahuman crime fighter. Someone was going to take a shot at me eventually. That's why I've been working on those gadgets to help me. All I need now is some form of protection and I'll be good." "No! You one eyed son of a bitch! That wasn't part of the deal!" Marvin said fist shaking at the sky. "All I was supposed to do was make a sword. You were supposed to leave me alone after that. I don't fucking care what the fringe benefits are going to be, I am NOT playing your game." Maggie waited a moment after Marvin was quiet. "Marvin, what's going on?" "It's Odin," Marvin replied with a groan still looking at the sky. "The bastard won't leave me alone." He paused and looked at Maggie. "Hey Maggie, when did you get here?" "I've, err, been here for a while." Marvin looked at her, his eyes going to the mask she was holding. "You're kidding. You're the Fist?" "Yeah, I am," she said, "you don't seem too surprised." "It's tough to be surprised anymore when you have an ancestral God meddling in your life. And it explains the experiment you had me helping with. Who's your friend?" "Marvin, this is Jay, Jay this is Marvin." "Pleasure to meet you," I said as I shook his hand, "not that I'm complaining, but what are you doing here?" "Odin told me to come here." "You mean here, here?" I asked. "Wait. Are you talking about the Norse God Odin?" "Yes, and yes." He took out a GPS unit. "The coordinates he gave me are just behind the tree line." I kept my mouth shut, the guy was obviously deranged. "Did he tell you to come here to help me?" Maggie asked him. "No, I was here to bless my sword." He looked at the pieces on the ground. "Aww man, now he's going to tell me to make another one." He reached for the hilt and as soon as he touched it, it started glowing. The other pieces glowed as well and then slid on the ground until they were all together. The glow intensified and then disappeared where the pieces touched. When the glow dissipated the sword was in one piece. "Okay," Marvin said with awe, "that is cool." He picked it up and swung it a few times. "How did you do that?" Maggie asked. I would have asked the same thing, but I was too stunned at finding out there was another parahuman in my school. "I don't know," Marvin answered. He was still looking at the sword in awe. "I take it that's one of the fringe benefits to whatever Odin wants you to do." "I guess so." "What does he want you to do?" "He wants me to become a hero." "Cool," Maggie said, "you wanna join my team?"
  4. Kindar

    Chapter 02

    Part 2: The unwanted Bodyguard The clearing was a hundred feet across and lined with trees so wide that thirty men holding hand couldn't wrap around them. Each one had scars to mark the years, decades and centuries they had lived through. They were tall, proud and old; older than any now alive except the being standing in the middle of them. He, for there was no denying that he was male, stood over ten feet tall. He was human in general shape, except that his head had a wide muzzle and triangular ears on top. His arms and legs were thick with muscles that bulged with every movement he made. His entire body was covered with short onyx fur and a thin tail with a tuff of slightly longer fur at the end danced behind him. To anyone who didn't know this being, and there were only a handful left who did know him, the movements he was going through would look like a dance, the fluidity of the motions, the gracefulness of the acrobatics he went through. But they belied the power behind them. When he stuck one of the trees with a closed fist the bark and several inches beneath it exploded due to the force of the impact. If he struck it with an open hand the vicious claws at the end of his fingers would rip out bark and wood out as if it was soft cotton. The being stopped and bared his teeth as he sniffed the air. They were sharp and many of them, more than should fit in a normal mouth. He turned swiftly and roared at the man standing at the edge of the clearing. "He was attacked my Lord," the man said without reacting. He was dressed in a simple robe made from the woven fiber of a local plant, it was very pale green and had a pleasant scent to it. The language the man was speaking wouldn't have been recognized by anyone alive today, or by anyone who had lived in the last four thousand years. It wasn't a language that had ever become commonly used among humans even when more of them might have heard it spoken. Now only a hand full of being still spoke it, and none of them humans. "How did it happen," the large being roared as he slammed a fist in a tree hard enough to make it shake all the way to the top. "No one was supposed to know where he was." "I do not know my Lord. The message simply stated that he had been attacked, but that he was all right." "Good, I have no desire to go through what was required to bring him about a second time. The man who brought you the message, what of him?" "He would not stay, even when I ordered him to. He left through the same portal he arrived in." "Take care with what you say rat," The being said piercing the man with his gaze, "you have no authority over any who are linked to me." "Of, of course my Lord," the man whimpered, "I merely thought that you would want to talk to him." "Yes, you do like to try to do my thinking for me," the being said with a snort before turning and therefore not seeing the hateful looked thrown at him. "It matters not. He would not have stayed even if I had been the one to order so. Considering what I represent to him it was a wonder I was able to make him honor his debt to me." "There will be other attacks on him now that they have found him, my Lord" "I know," the being said studying the damage he'd done to a tree rather than to look at the man. "How can my Lord be so calm about this? Didn't he send the child to the Americas for his protection?" The being's laugh was loud and powerful. "Protection? There is only one place where I could keep him safe, and that is within me. I sent him there so he could learn the way of these new humans. If those who are mine are to survive they will need him." "Surely my Lord is mistaken. You are the most powerful being I have ever known. Those humans are nothing compared to you." The being turned and studied the man carefully. "Even the mother to us all has given up trying to contain them. Within the next hundred of those human's years there will be nothing left of my domain. I may rage against them all I desire, but I will not be able to stop them. They will eventually defeat me, even without your help." The man gasped. "What is my Lord suggesting? I would never?" "Would you not?" the being replied with a sad smile. "Never, I am your loyal servant." "You only serve me because you have not found a way to steal my power. Keep to your schemes, in the end they and you are irrelevant. Now leave me, I have to make arrangements." The man left as instructed, but he was fuming. "Irrelevant?" he grumbled to himself, "I'll show that oaf who is irrelevant." * * * * * The day after the attack I didn't get out of bed. Mom and dad tried to convince me to at least get up, but I wouldn't move. My bed was the only place I felt safe, the only place where no one could get to me. Mom brought me breakfast, which I didn't touch. It was all I could do to look at it and not throw up. My body felt exhausted, but my mind was in over speed. The questions came back as soon as I woke up. When I closed my eyes and tried to chase them away my mind threw me the memory of those two dead men. The man who had saved me had dispatched them efficiently. He had been calm and precise in his strikes. Each time he swung his sword a body part fell. With a groan I pushed the memory away and questions fell in the empty space. What was I going to do when I was attacked again? Would I freeze again? Maybe I could run away this time. At noon she asked me if I wanted to eat something and I just shook my head. My stomach was growling in protest, but I couldn't imagine eating anything. Exhaustion took me again at some point and I woke up to the phone ringing; my dad answered it. I looked at the clock, almost six. I caught the smell of steak, carrot and potatoes and my stomach growled at me. This time it wasn't going to be ignored. Still wearing my PJs I slowly made my way down the stairs. My hands were shaking and I could feel my legs wobbling under me. I felt like I had after running as fast as I could for half an hour. I'd gone to Mam Johansson's field just outside of town to test just how fast I could go. I'd barely been able to make it back home. "Jay," my dad exclaimed as hung up the phone, "I'm happy you decided to get out of bed." Mom looked up from the pot she was stirring. "If I didn't make it down now, my stomach was going to come by itself." I tried to give them a smile, but it didn't come out quite convincingly. Dad pulled out my chair and waited for me. "That was Kenneth on the phone. He wanted to know how you were doing." "How did he know?" I asked as I sat. "Margaret called him." That made sense. Before his dad had been transferred to Houston, me, Maggie and Kenneth had been an inseparable trio. Maggie was the brains of our group, Kenneth was the rogue and I was . . . I have no idea what I was. "She called after school," my mom said as she brought me a bowl of stew, "she wants to come over tonight to see you." I shook my head. "I'll see her at school tomorrow." "Oh, I'm so proud of you," mom said as she hugged me. "Now be careful, don't eat too fast. You don't want to make yourself sick." "I'm proud of you too," my dad said. He reached over and squeezed my shoulder. "It takes courage to go back out after what happened to you." "I don't know about that. I just don't want to fall behind this early in the year." We said Grace and I started on my first bowl. The stew was wonderful; I had to force myself to eat slowly when all I wanted to do was wolf it down. The second one went down just as easily. I would have had a third, but mom wouldn't let me. She was afraid I'd make myself sick if I ate too much. I slept very well that night. * * * * * The next morning I was running down the stairs and eating a hearty breakfast like nothing had happened. I had decided that it was in the past. I was done with it. I wasn't a baby anymore; if I was going to be a man I couldn't let something like that continue to affect me. That's what I told myself, and I think I even managed to believe it a little. I kissed mom on the cheek and waved to my dad before running out the door. My speed didn't falter until I got close to the Patter's house. I slowed and then I stopped. I was standing in front of where I had been beaten. I don't know how long I stood there watching the spot. Someone had cleaned the sidewalk, my eyes couldn't see any of the stains, but my memory showed me where they all were. I could see where each limbs had been, where the pools of blood were. Eventually my stomach turned and I had to look away. I crossed to the other side of the road before continuing to school. When I got there it was too late for me to go to the gym so I dropped my bag in my locker and went to the cafeteria. The place was a hub of activities with at least half the school in it. I couldn't see the Magster, but finding her was easy. All I had to do was look for Eddy, tall and lanky Edward. Eddy was a nerd, plain and simply. Like me he was skinny, but he was taller, over six feet tall, and he had the glasses. He always wore a button up shirt and pleated pants. Throw a lab coat on him and pocket protector and you'd have a stereotypical scientist. His shaggy blond hair was my beacon and a few seconds later I was sitting next to them. "Jay, you're back," Maggie exclaimed, "how are you feeling?" "What are you doing here?" Eddy added, "shouldn't you be at the gym?" "I didn't feel like going this morning," I lied to him and ignored the look he exchanged with Maggie. "I'm good," I told her, "what did I miss yesterday?" "Are you sure?" She asked instead of answering me. "Yeah yeah, I'm perfectly fine." "I mean after what happened to you I'd be a wreck." "I said I'm fine!" They jumped in surprise. I didn't mean to be that harsh. "Sorry, but I really am fine." The look she gave me said she didn't believe me, but Eddy prevented her from saying anything by handing me a stack of paper. "Here, those are my notes from chemistry, you can transcribe them. The Magster here got the notes from history and grabbed yesterday's assignments from your math teacher." She wasn't happy at having been interrupted but she pulled out a sheet. "I was going to bring it to you last night, but things got crazy at home." I looked it over; it was the chapters I needed to read as well as the exercise I needed to hand in at the start of tomorrow's class. The bell rang as I finished reading it and we went to our separate classed. The day was eerie. As it progressed more and more people asked me how I was doing. At first it was mainly people I knew, but by the end of my second class strangers were asking me. Principal Pullox sought me just before lunch to ask me that same questions. The only point of normality in the day was Billy and his cronies. They ran into me in the afternoon. I knew they were coming even if they were behind me, I could smell Billy's horrible aftershave. I never understood why he put on so much of it. The shove came and I flew forward in the lockers. The only thing I did was raise my arms in front of my face to protect it. "I guess you think you're special now," Billy growled. "Can't say that I had," I mumbled to myself as I turned. He grabbed me by my shirt and pushed me back against the lockers. Everyone was giving us a wide berth, but hardly anyone stopped to see what was going on. Billy bullying me was just part of the regular day at this school. "What did you say?" He said pushing his face against mine. The guy needed to use some mouthwash pretty bad. "I said that I don't," I replied looking down. "You got that right Mortimer," he said as he let me go, "You're not special, you're not anything. You're just scum for me to pick on. So don't let the way these idiots treat you go to your head. I'm going to continue beating you up and making your life miserable is that understood? Hell if you could afford to have money for lunch I'd steal that too." He turned and walked away. Well at least he hadn't punched me this time. His newest follower kept watching me for a few moments longer. I didn't like the look he was giving me, it was speculative. He was wondering if Billy would let him get away with what he was thinking of doing to me. He then turned and caught up to his leader and I breathed a sigh of relief. * * * * * "Are you sure you're ok?" Maggie asked me. We were walking home and it was the first time she did since the morning so I controlled my desire to snap at her. Every time we'd run into each other during the day I could tell she could barely stop herself. "Yes, I'm fine. I really wish everyone would stop asking." "We're just worried about you, that's all." "I know, but it gets tiresome when the same person asks me over and over, like she didn't believe the answer I gave her." "Fair enough," she said with a small smile. "Esteban said that you didn't fight back, you just let them beat you up." I wasn't surprise Esteban had said that. He was the son of one of the cops at the stations so he'd have heard about it and he was a really bad gossip. "What did you expect me to do?" I said flatly as I crossed to the other side of the street before reaching the Patter's house. "It was two adults who surprised me and one of them had a gun." I saw the look she gave me as she followed me across the road. "Sensei Ilsy has taught us ways to react to surprise attacks." "It's not the same. In class and even in competitions it's all controlled out here it isn't. I just, I just froze." I looked away. I wished it had been the other reason why I hadn't dared fight back, but I hadn't lied, when the attack at started, my mind had gone completely blank. "Then we need to ask Sensei to give you more training so you won't freeze up next time." "No! Look I appreciate that you're just looking out for me, but I'm not learning Karate to kick other people's b. . . . to beat someone up, ok." "You can't depend on a passing Hero to come and rescue you. This wasn't Billy just pushing you around. You could have gotten seriously hurt. You need to learn how to defend yourself "It's done and over with ok, just leave it alone. I'll deal with the next attack when it happens." I almost stumbled when I realized what I'd let slip. "What do you mean 'next attack'?" "Just leave it alone please." "Like Hell I will," she said getting in front of me and forcing me to stop, "Now tell me exactly what you mean by 'the next attack'." I stopped in my track. She knew I'd be utterly shocked by her use of the 'h' word. I tried to out stare her, but I lost. "The guy who saved me said there was going to be other attacks like that one," I said softly in one breath. "This is insane, why?" She looked around quickly. "I don't know. He didn't tell me that." "Then do you have a death wish or something? You know you're going to be attacked again but you don't want to make sure you can defend yourself?" "Of course I want to, but I'm going to do it on my own." I looked her in the eyes. "I mean it Maggie I don't want you to tell anyone about this, not our teachers, not your dad, or my folks, is that understood?" Maggie hesitated before nodding. "Promise me you won't say anything," I told her firmly. "I swear," she said through grating teeth, "I won't tell anyone that you're a stupid idiot for not wanting any help with this." * * * * * Starting the next day everyone went back to their normal behavior. I was back to being just another guy in the school. I got a curious look here and there but that was it. At first I was relieved at being left alone, but then I realized that without the constant annoyance to keep my mind busy it started thinking again. Were those looks just of curiosity I found myself wondering. After all the creep who had attacked me had spend the day watching me. I didn't know most of those doing it now, maybe my next attacker was hiding among them. It got so bad that by lunch time I was jumping every time someone bumped into, even when Eddy grabbed my arm to pull me out of sight of Billy I pretty much wrenched it out of his hand and backed right into the bully. I got out of that with only a punch to the stomach and my books littering the floor. He must have been busy with something important to just leave it at that. When I told Eddy I was fine after that he didn't believe me. The next day was much the same, I jumped at every noise and worried about the motive of everyone watching me. The only bright note in it was that coach Timberson wasn't on the field when I showed up. Mister Milton was there instead and informed us that the coach had been in a car accident and he'd coach us until the school had found a better replacement. Rumors about the accident ran rampant over the next week. Some said he'd been drunk, that he'd killed a kid, that he'd run off the road to avoid driving over a kitten even that he'd done it to kill himself. * * * * * By the end of the next week I'd managed to convince myself that no one was out to get me, for the moment at least. I still jumped once in a while at loud noises, but I wasn't as obvious about it as before. I found that if I sketched something it made it easier to ignore those feeling so I started drawing in my note books and even in a few of the text books. Most of the sketches revolved around my rescuer so I set about doing a proper drawing of him. The replacement coach arrived in time for my last PE class of the week, and man was he a looker. He was tall and buff. He was wearing track pants and a white t-shirt. It was tight enough that I could make out ever muscles under it. He had dirty blond hair that went down to his shoulders and just a bit of fuzz over his square jaw. "All right everyone, my name's Eric Warner, but you guys can call me Thor," he said casually in his low voice. "I'm going to be your track and field coach for this year. I'm replacing Coach Timberson who was in a car accident." "Man I hope I can get him to use his hammer on me," whispered one of the older girls in the class to her neighbor who nodded in appreciation. I knew what they meant, I wasn't *that* sheltered, I had access to the internet. I didn't want that, but I both hoped for and dreaded that he would shower with the rest of us after class since this was the last class of the day. "Cranford, Mortimer, Jurgen and Kelvin; According to Timberson's notes you four are our best runners. I want you to do a slow mile around the track. Don't push yourself this is just a warm up, a jog will work fine." "What about the rest of us?" someone asked as I headed to the track "Who likes to run?" the coach asked and a few hands came up. "Ok, you can go for a run too." He checked his clipboard. "from what I've read of Timberson's method he expects each of you to excel at everything. That's not the way I do things. We're going to find what you are good at and that's what you will focus on." He kept talking, but I was now to far from him to listen by that point. * * * * * With the start of the next week my paranoia had changed. I wasn't jumping anymore, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was being watched. Multiple times a day I had to fight the desire to look around me to catch whoever it was, but I couldn't stop a few furtive glance here and there, without much success. I wasn't surprise I couldn't find someone spying on me, it was just my mind playing tricks. That lasted the whole week while I was in school. On that Friday I decided to walk to the old mall and back instead of going home for lunch to get a change of air. The mall had been closed for the last few years but security still drove around to prevent bums from taking over. The feeling of being watched followed me there. I had hoped coming here would have given me some peace. I sat on the concrete flower box near the locked up entrance and ate the sandwich mom made me. I was berating myself over having become so paranoid when I was shoved forward. I was so surprised to find myself lying on the pavement that I didn't move. "Come on Kid," a guy said behind me, "get up and show me what you can do." I slowly stood and turned. The first thing that hit me was that he guy was red. He was wearing a one piece jumpsuit that was blood red. His muscled body filled the suit out pretty well. He rushed me and before I could do anything he punched me three times in the chest. I backed up and bent over but managed to remain standing. The guy took a step toward me and I swung at him. I didn't think I just closed my fist and swung, and missed. He punched me in the face and I fell to the ground again. While I was there I had the time to think it was a good thing my fist hadn't connected. I would have hated to see what would have happened to him if it had. "Got to say I expected more out of you," the man said, "they said you killed the guy they sent before me, but I guess he was just a wimp." I looked in the distance and I forced myself on all four. I had to run. If I could get going I'd easily leave him behind. I dug a foot in the ground and tensed. "Oh no you don't." He kicked me in the stomach and I was back on the ground, curled up in a ball. "I got to say this was fun," he said as he knelt next to me, "probably the easiest fifty grand I've ever made." He grabbed my head in his hands. "Just so you don't go to the great beyond wondering, the name of the guy killed you is Sanguine." He turned my head to the left; I could feel him tense his arms. I started to say a prayer, asking for God to look after my parents once I was gone, but the man released me with a curse. I looked up to see him backpedal fast and then someone in a gray trench coat run by. By the time I could sit up they were a dozen feet away from me exchanging blows. The guy's trench coat obscured most of the fight as it flew around him, but what I could see showed that Sanguine knew how to fight but relied mostly on brute force. The other guy's strikes were quick and precise. He hit and moved out of the way before the other guy could strike back. The few times he did get hit he rolled with it and quickly got back on his feet. I saw that he was wearing a black ski mask which left only his eyes exposed. His fighting style felt familiar, but I was too mesmerized to think about it. Trench coat guy did a spin kick to Sanguine's head and he went down one final time. That kick had been more than familiar; I'd seen it practiced three times a week at the dojo. "Are you ok?" he asked as he walked by me to pick up a backpack lying on the ground. 'His' voice was deep, but it sounded forced and the curves I saw didn't belong on a man. I didn't answer, I was too stunned by the realization. She took a rope out of the pack as she went back to Sanguine. I was finally able to get myself to stand and followed her. She knelt and tied the man's legs and arms before pinning a card to his jumpsuit. It was white with the picture of a fist on it. While she was admiring her work I grabbed her mask and pulled it off. "Holy shit," she exclaimed as she stood and faced me. Yeah, now it sounded like her. "What's the big idea? You don't pull off a hero's mask." "What are you doing here Maggie?" I growled. I was angry at her for being here. "What does it look like? I'm saving your sorry ass." "I didn't need your help!" I knew I was lying. "Oh yeah, 'cause you were doing so great when I got here." Het tone went up a notch "I was fine." "So you do have a death wish," she said harshly. "Of course not!" She opened her mouth to say something, but instead grabbed my arm. "We don't want to be here when security drives by," she said as she pulled me along. Once we were far enough under the multi level parking lot she let me go. "What was the big idea not going home for lunch as usual? I was lucky someone saw you head here or I wouldn't have been here in time." "Since when did I have to start checking in with you before doing anything?" See eyed me for several seconds and I started getting nervous under her stare. "Ok, I want to know what the fuck is going on with you," she said in an unusually calm voice. "Nothing's going on," I replied defensively. "Bullshit, you defending yourself." "I told you why, I just froze." "But you don't want to get over that? This isn't like school Jay. There Billy gets bored of pushing you around and moves on to something else. That guy was about to snap your neck. If I'd missed his head with that rock you'd be dead right now. Why do you bother coming to the Dojo if you're not going to use what you learn to defend yourself?" "I don't go there to learn how to fight." "Then why?" "I'm doing it to learn better control." "Control over what? Damn it Jay, You're not making any sense. I'm not saying you have to be some crazed fighter and pick a fight with everyone you meet, but you're good enough that you should be able to take down someone who attacks you." "No," I stated, "I'm not going to fight." "Why?" she pleaded. "Because out here it isn't like at the dojo, things aren't controlled here. If I fight here I don't have the time to think about what I'm doing I'll just react and I might hurt someone." "So WHAT! If someone attacks you, planning on killing you why should it matter if you break a bone of his or two while you're defending yourself." "Arrrg," I grabbed my hair and turned. She didn't understand. I couldn't tell if she didn't want to understand or if this was just beyond her. I looked at the concrete post a few feet from me and I felt my anger rise. She was going to force me to show her what the danger was. With a scream I took the few steps to the post and slammed my fist in it, sending a six inch deep chunk of concrete flying off its corner. I looked at my fist with bits of bloody concrete embedded in the knuckles. I had expected it to hurt more. It had been years since I'd hit anything with all my strength and the pain had been so strong that I hadn't been able to open my hand for an hour. I opened my fist and the bits fell to the ground. The damage to my hand had been worst too. Now she knew I wasn't ordinary. "Oh my god. You're a parahuman." She hugged me. "This is wonderful." "No it isn't." She forced me to turn. "Of course it is, my best friend is a parahuman what could be bad about that?" "Wake up Maggie, ok?" I said with a sigh, "this isn't LA. This is Tyberon, Texas. About the only place more intolerant to Parahuman is New York City." "This place isn't that bad, we have the Shroud after all." "And how much good press has he been getting? The cops are after him, the paper says he's just as bad as the criminals he stops even 'tho he's the only reason we have such a low crime rate." "So? I don't care. I still think it's wonderful that you're a parahuman." I rolled my eyes. "You idolize anyone who's a parahuman. I guess you even Idolize the Terrorist," I said with a teasing smile. "Fuck no. no criminal, parahuman or not, should ever be idolized." "All right," I said raising my hands in surrender, "I'll never bring it up again, and it's wonderful that I'm a parahuman." I lowered my arms and looked at her seriously. "Please don't mention this to anyone. I mean it. This has to remain our secret." "Of course it is," she said as she wrapped her arms around my neck. "Where did you get the trench coat?" I asked once she let go of me. "From the attic, it was my granddad's from when he was in the war. "And what was the card about?" "That was my calling card, every hero needs one." "You're kidding, right?" "No." "You can't play at being a hero Maggie, you don't have any powers." "So, the Shroud doesn't have any powers either." "Of course he does. He can create darkness." "That's just a rumor; it's never been shown that he does that. He just uses his black costume to take advantage of it. That's why he's only active at night. How strong are you?" "I don't know," I said shrugging and happy for the change of subject. It would give me time to think of a way to discourage her to play hero. "I put six hundred pounds on a bar last year, that's all it would take and I was able to lift that a few times without too much trouble." "Anything else I should know?" "I'm pretty fast." "Like SS?" I shook my head. "No, I'm nowhere near as fast as her, I think my maximum speed is about forty miles an hour, and unlike the Scarlet Speedster I accelerate normally." "What else?" "I heal faster, not instantaneous or anything, but by tomorrow night all the bruises from the beating I just got will probably be gone." "And?" "That's it as far as I know." "So strength, speed and healing; not an unusual combination, add to that you know how to fight and you could be a decent hero." "I've already said I'm not fighting. And neither should you, you could get really hurt." "Well, you're not going to stop me. The only way you can keep me safe is to become my side kick." "That's not funny." "Sorry. And just so you know. Until you decide to start defending yourself I'm your personal bodyguard. That means you don't go anywhere without me." "You're joking." "No. I don't plan on losing my best friend just because he's being a scardycat." "You realize that the school is going to notice and start talking, right?" "You realize that a guy your age is expected to have a girlfriend, right?" Only the fact that I knew she wasn't serious stopped me from feeling sick at that thought. Maggie knew how I felt about the subject. "Speaking of school, we should head back before lunch is over. Any chance you can help me redesign my card? I had to make that one from a photo I found on the net." "I'll think about it."
  5. Kindar

    Chapter 01

    Part 1:The day my Childhood ended I was sixteen; it was my first full day as a Junior. It was six AM and I was already running down the stairs. "How many times do I have to tell you not to run in the house Jayson?" my mom said. "Sorry," I replied weakly. I couldn't help it, I ran everywhere I went. I've loved running ever since I could walk; used to drive my parents crazy. I forced myself to walk to the counter and grabbed an apple out of the basket before turning around and heading for the door. "Where do you think you are going young man?" My mom looked up from the stove and pierced me with her steel blue eyes. She was wearing the light green flannel gown dad had given her last Christmas. "To the gym, I want to get some weight lifting in before class." "Not on an empty stomach you're not." "I've got an apple mom." "That's a snack not breakfast." She waved at the table with her spatula. "Now sit down, breakfast's almost ready." I looked at my dad for support. He was reading the newspaper like he did every morning. "Do what your mother says Jay," he said without looking up, "you can spare ten minutes to put some food in you before you exercise." I dropped my backpack by the door and sat down. They were right, but I'd been itching to really workout for the last two weeks, ever since my subscription at the local gym ran out. They only had monthly subscriptions. It took me two weeks to get the money from my job at the fast food joint down the block to pay for one, and it was going to be a waste of money to get a month's worth and only use it for the two weeks left before school. I filled my glass with orange juice from the jug that was already on the table and waited for mom to put the customary scrambled eggs and bacon on our plate. I liked mine sunny side up, but mom and dad liked theirs scrambled, so unless I made them myself scrambled it was. Dad folded his paper and set it aside as mom was sat down. I put my hands together and bowed my head. "We thank you lord," my father said in his deep voice, "for this meal before us, and ask for your blessing as we go through our day. Amen." "Amen," my mom and I repeated. I finished my plate under two minutes. It was rinsed and in the dishwasher before the third was over. I had kissed my mom on the cheek, grabbed my bag, waved to dad and was running out the door in the middle of the fourth. It took me just under ten minutes to run to the school. I could have done it faster, but that would have made me stand out. Before six thirty I was changed in my gym shorts and an old t-shirt and at the bench press. I was the only one there so I threw on a couple hundred pounds of weight and started doing repetitions. I was going for endurance rather than strength so the weights were low. I did three sets of one hundred repetitions. By the time I was done two other guys had arrived, Jud and Billy. They were two years older than I was, but they were Juniors too because of all they grades they had failed. They were bullies and had been picking on me ever since they first noticed me. They noticed me and snorted in my direction. "You'd think he'd have given up by now," Billy whispered to Jud. He said that because even after lifting weights for almost eight years I still looked like a rake. I was five nine and weighted a hundred-thirty pounds on a good day. No matter what I did I just couldn't build muscle, so I'd stopped trying. The two of them have pushed me around and thrown verbal jab at me so much now that I've grown used to them. They were part of what I considered a normal day. Sometime I envied how they looked. Lets face it, they were jocks, plain and simple; bodies built like Hercules and Atlas and the following to prove it. Girls were always following them. The rumours were that by the time school ended last year they had slept with every girl in their grades, including some of the teachers. Maybe that was how they finally managed to graduate because they certainly didn't have much brain upstairs. I went through the machines doing my best to ignore them. They purposely bumped into me twice, making me drop a weight on the second time. More than once I've been tempted to show them how much weight I can actually lift, just to shut them up, maybe scare them into leaving me alone. But that would attract attention so I just did my best to ignore them. I'd gone through all the machines and was going chin ups when Maggie yelled across the room. "Jay! If you don't hurry up you're going to be late for class." I didn't respond to her call and she didn't wait for me. She knew that the reminder was all I needed. Maggie, or Magster as her close friends were allowed to call her, was my best friend. I'd known her for as long as I could remember. She lived across the street and had been sneaking in my house since should could crawl. She was a year younger than I was, but she'd skip ninth grade because she was so smart. Sometime I thought that she was holding herself back just so she could continue looking out for me. She loved science and science fiction. Her bedroom walls were covered with pictures of robots from Japanese cartoon as well as posters of the Justicar team, in its many incarnations. Her favourite of them was Techno, although recently she had started collecting posters of Techknight too. I finished my sets and headed to the locker room. The gym was almost full now and the lockers a frenzy of activity. I quickly showered, and was almost out when someone shouldered me aside. "Fag," he whispered. I looked at him walk away frozen in surprise. I didn't know him, so why had he said that? I watched as he high fived Billy. They had found someone to help them torment me. * * * * * My first class was Biology, it was the only class I had with the Magster. The teacher laid out what he was going to cover over the year. I could already feel the dread forming in my stomach and he hadn't even given us an exam yet. Bio wasn't my thing. Maggie assured me she would help me with it, I could only hope it was going to be enough. "I'll see you at class after school." She said before disappearing in the crowd on her way to her history class. I was heading to the field for Track and Field. Our after school class was Karate, she dragged me to it when she was ten, she'd heard that the Shroud was a master martial artist and decided she was going to become one too. I liked it. It gave me a way to work on my control. Now we both participated in a few tournaments every year. She's won a few trophies while I rarely place higher than fourth. Track and field was run by coach Timberson. He also coached the football team, basketball team, baseball and any other sport taught at the school. The only thing he didn't touch was figure skating, which he left to Mister Milton, the dance teacher. He firmly believed that if you weren't trying to get first place you shouldn't even bother trying. "Not bad Mister Mortimer," he said as I was running in place after the two mile run, "with a time like this you might have a chance at first place, if Miss Cranford and Jurgen were to break their legs." He stared at me with disdain. "You might be happy with third place, but I'm not. I'm not teaching you so you can lose." I sighed with relief when he turned to the rest of the class. "I'm teaching all of you to win. I know the majority of you will never win, and if it was just up to me I wouldn't even bother, but the school says that I have to teach all of you so that's what I'm going to do." Everyone was silent as he looked everyone over. "Now give me two laps around the course." Being talked to like that really made me want to run faster than everyone in class. Place first and shut mister Timberson up. But that would make me stand out. After track and field I had art. On my way there I walked by this creepy older guy. He looked too old for be a student. Maybe he was a new teacher, but the way he kept looking at me made me nervous. I worried that he might follow me, but he just stood there, watching. Only when I turned a corner did I relax. I hoped I wasn't in any of his classes. I wasn't bad at drawing. I wasn't great either, but at least I enjoyed it. There was something about putting lines on paper and transforming them into an image that made sense that felt spiritual, like God was guiding my hand. After that was lunch period. The nice thing about living just over two miles from the school is that I can run home and enjoy a freshly cooked meal instead of whatever passed for food at the cafeteria. "Hi mom, I'm home." "You're just in time sweetie," she replied from the kitchen, "they found it." "What did they find?" I asked as I joined her in the kitchen. "Listen," she said nodding toward the small television set on the counter. She was stirring what smelled like her famous cream of mushroom soup. "Earlier today Randall Salvage pulled into the Pirate Cove marina pulling the Wandering Rose, the boat of the newlywed superhero couple Electrika and Claw. They left on it for their honeymoon a month ago and were expected back two weeks ago." The reporter was silent as the camera panned over the boat. The light was provided by powerful spotlights since the sun wasn't up. "What do you think happened to them?" I asked my mom. "I don't know," she said, studying the screen, "but look at the coral on that hull. It would have taken years for that to build, not one month." My mom might be a house wife, but she wasn't dumb. She mentioned before that she had been considering becoming a scientist before I came along, but that she never regretted her decision to take care of me instead of pursuing her studies. Now she listened and watched science shows throughout the day as she took care of the house. "Tony Randall," the reporter started again when the camera was on him, "an associate of Electrika from the early days of the Justicars has been combing the sea looking for them since they went missing. While Mister Randall declined to comment on his find PCTV was able to contact John Doe, also known as Shape and the only original member of the Justicar still active with the team and he had this to say." The image switched to a picture of a man with brown curly hair. "Patricia and Mark are two of the most capable people I know. Whatever happened to them while they were out at sea I know that they will contact us as soon as they find a way to do so." I studied the photograph as he spoke, trying to see why his image felt so familiar. I'd never seen it up close before. Sure I'd seen him on the news before, but I wasn't the Hero worshiper that the Magster was so I'd never really paid attention before. In the end I couldn't place him and I decided that it was like Maggie had told me before. Shape had build his face from everyone he'd met once his shape shifting ability had stabilized so everyone felt like they knew him. "Where ever they are we send our wished to Electrika and Claw and hope they will return to us safely," the reporter said. Mom turned the television off at that point and served me a bowl of soup with two slice of fresh made bread. My mom's a great cook. I ran back to school as soon as I was done eating. I was hoping to catch Maggie in the cafeteria so I could tell her about the Wandering Rose, it wasn't often I beat her on super hero news. I could hear the banging of metal against metal as I got close to the room where shop class was held. I'd just passed the door when the curse rang. "Holy fucking Gods!" I stopped in my tracks just as I heard something heavy hit the floor. My family had strict rules about swearing. We didn't do it. We didn't speak God's name in vain. But that wasn't why I'd stopped. I'd felt 'something' when I heard it. I took the steps back to the door. It was open and on the far side was a guy with his thumb in his mouth who looked to be my age. He had black hair, was wearing black jeans and a black t-shirt. His shoes were also black, as well as the trench coat that was thrown on the back of the chair next to him. He didn't look like a Goth, he didn't have pale skin, makeup or anything, but he certainly looked dark. "Are you ok?" I asked. On the floor was a fairly large sledge hammer and next to him, on the shop's anvil was something long and shiny. "Do I fucking look ok to you?" he snarled before putting his thumb back in his mouth. It looked swelled. "I sorry, I mean . . ." I shut my mouth I was going to ask another stupid question. "I mean is there anything I can do to help?" He glared at me for a moment and then closed his eyes. "No, I'm ok," he said opening his eyes. The anger was gone from them. "It's my own stupid fault for not being careful." He glared at the hammer on the floor. "Where's the teacher?" I looked around among the tools and workbenches. "He isn't here yet. I'm getting an early start on my project." I looked at the guy in black. First day and he already had a project that required him hammering metal? What were they teaching in Shop this year? "You sure you'll be ok?" I asked him. "Yeah yeah, I'll be fine." "Ok then, bye." I headed to the cafeteria to share my news with the Magster. Of course she'd beaten me to it. She'd downloaded they news report on her cell phone. Sometime she's such a techy. I had math after lunch and ran by the creepy guy from the morning again. His hair was brown and cut short, like he was in the army. He was wearing a blue sport jacket with a logo I didn't take the time to look at. He had pleated pants the same color as his jacket and was wearing running shoes. Except for the fact that he made my skin crawl he looked completely normal. Math went well. And then it was history. I was ok at both. I didn't have a third afternoon class to I headed home to start on my studying before karate class. I couldn't believe that on the first day of class they gave us homework. The year was going to suck. I was running by the Patters property when I saw the creepy guy again. He was walking in my direction and I stayed close to the cement wall to give him as much space as possible. I kept my gaze forward, but his eyes never left me as the distance between us closed. I was next to him when his fist came up and hit me in the face. My feet flew out from under me and I was on my back, head ringing louder than the pain in my face. "What a wuss," the man said as I turned on my stomach and tried to stand. His foot connected hard enough that I flew back against the wall. "Enough!" someone else said as I sat up, holding my stomach. I looked up to see who had saved me from this nightmare. Through the tears in my eyes I saw the man had grey hair and wore a beige business suit. The creepy looking one wrenched his arms from the older man's grip and took a step back. "I'm sorry about that," the gray haired man said to me. I wiped the tears from my eyes and when I looked at him again he was pointing a gun at me. "The contract didn't include causing you pain." * * * * * If this had been a comic book I would have pushed the gun away, kicked the guy in the shin, I would have done something. Instead I just stared down the barrel of the gun. I didn't even Pray, I just waited to die. The next thing I knew there was a flash of light in front of me, I was splashed with something and there were screams of pain. When the silence came back there was a man crouching in front of me. "You ok kid?" he asked. I tried to answer him, but my mouth wouldn't work. I was still trying to figure out what had just happen. "You in there?" He snapped his fingers in front of my eyes a few times. "What happened?" I finally said. It wasn't what I wanted to say, but it was the only thing that would come out. My voice was flat, and I couldn't get myself to move. "They tried to kill you, I stopped them." "Why?" I was finally able to move my head so I could look at him. He was wearing a sandy coloured cowboy hat and his hair fell down around his shoulders; it was light copper with darker shades in place. He had deep green eyes. His beard was trimmed short and the colour matched his hair. I wasn't trying to memorize what he looked like but the details were burning themselves in my memory "I owed someone a favor," He replied before getting up. He was wearing a light brown trench coat over a white button up shirt, there was something round and dark under it in the middle of his chest, but I couldn't tell what it was. He had blue jeans on and cowboy boots. I watched him pull a sword out of the creepy man's chest. I also noticed several body parts littering the sidewalk, the hand that was still holding the gun, a leg and a head. I turned away and threw up. Then I started shaking. "Good, you're ok, I was starting to get worried." He wiped the blood off the sword on the beige suit. "What happens now?" I asked, barely able to even hear myself over the sound of my heart beat. "Now you wait for the cops to get here," he cocked his head, "shouldn't be too long now. Tell them what happened don't bother covering anything up, I don't care if they know about me. I'm not going to be back here anytime soon." "You're leaving?" "Yep, my part of the bargain's fulfilled." As he put the sword to his hip the air behind him started shimmering blue. "What if more of them show up?" I couldn't stop myself from looking around. "Oh, more will come for you, but not today. These two worked alone." "What am I suppose to do?" "Not my problem," he said as he stepped through the shimmer and disappeared. I brought my knees to my chest and held them tightly as I heard the police siren in the distance. * * * * * "Jayson?" my mom asked as she pushed police men aside to run to me. "What happened to you?" She hugged me and I held on to her as tears started running down my face. "Your son was attacked and according to the story he told us some cowboy showed up and rescued him." "It isn't a story," I said softly in my mother's shoulders, "he was dressed like a cowboy but he had a sword instead of a gun. Then he vanished in a blue light." "Listen here son, that's pretty unlikely, no one around here can do that." My mom glared at the officer and he took a step back. "My son does *NOT* lie." "Great," the man said after a moment of silence, "another parahuman dumping bodies on the street, just what he need. Like the Shroud wasn't enough." "Can I go home?" I asked my mom. She looked at the officer. "We have his statement and contact information, if we need anything else we'll contact you. The paramedics looked at him and couldn't find anything more than a few bruises, but they'd like him to get checked out at the hospital." "I just want to go home." "Then we'll go home. I called your father and he should be there by then." * * * * * After assuring my dad I was ok I went straight to my bed and curled up under the cover. Why did someone want me dead? I was just a kid. I hadn't done anything to get someone that mad at me. I Prayed to get some sort of answer, but nothing came. At some point I heard my dad talking with Maggie. She wanted to see me, to make sure I was ok, but he wouldn't let her in. he told her that I needed to rest after what I had been through. I didn't think he was right, I didn't think I could rest. The questions wouldn't stop. But eventually I did fall asleep. Thankfully it was a dark sleep without dreams.
  6. Kindar

    Chapter 57

    Jeremy looked around the meeting room, as he was being wheeled in, and started worrying. Were they going to try to take away his ship again? He frowned, no, that wasn't right. This room was too big, there were too many people, it wasn't a meeting room on Kelser. Was this when he had been accused of murdering those two taournians? No, that couldn't be right, he'd been seated to the front, not an elevated balcony, like he was now. He stopped moving, and a female moved in front of him. "Are you certain you want to be up here, grandfather? You should be down there, you were part of it." He snorted, which probably looked silly on a male his age. "I just helped a little," his voice was weak, and trembling. "It's their time, I don't want to intrude." The female took a blanket out of her bag, and spread it over his legs. "There, you won't get cold now." "Thank you Tamirik, that's very nice of you." Her smile dropped, just a little, and Jeremy cursed internally. "I got it wrong, didn't I?" "I'm Shimilion," she told him, "I'm Asheter's daughter." Asheter, that named sounded really familiar, where had he heard it before, then it came back to him. "That's Alix's son." She smiled at him. "That makes you Alix's grand daughter." He patted her hand. "That's good. You should probably sit down now, they're about to start." He could tell, because a holographic projection of the table, and its occupant had just appeared in the air, at their level, much larger than normal. She sat next to him, and he noticed that there were many other kelsirian on either side of him. For a moment he worried that he was in the wrong section, but before the panic could set in, he remembered they were his family. The people around the table started talking, and their voices were projected so he could hear them, not that he was paying attention to what they were saying, this was just ceremony, the important event had happened an hour before, behind closed door. That's when Paradise had become the only human settled planet to become a full member of the Federation. This show was for the vids. They never liked the simple signings, they wanted something bigger than life. So every current members were now giving speeches, probably about how an asset the new member was going to be. What he wanted to hear, was the taournians. He really wanted to find out what they were going to say, considering they had allied themselves with the humans, and had tried to ruin Paradise. Oh, the humans had been livid when they found out that the Leafers weren't just surviving, they were thriving, building trade with the kelsirians, and anyone else willing to do business with them. Paradise had turned out to have very fertile soil, and the area near the black storm proved particularly good to grow coffee. They hadn't been able to say anything when they found out they had been conned into believing the planet was mostly inhospitable, since they had turned around and spun a story about how the planet was rough, but habitable. And now, with Paradise being inducted, more human colonies were breaking away from their government, in the hopes of joining the Federation. Jeremy yawned and looked around. Why was everyone looking at that projection? He wondered. He thought about asking the male to his right, but he was watching intently, so he decided not to bother him. He just settled in his chair comfortably, and watched, maybe he'd figure out what it was about. * * * * * "It's time to leave, Jeremy," someone whispered in his ear. He opened his eyes, not having realized he'd fallen asleep, and before him was a hand, covered in chocolate brown fur. He took it, was pulled up, and found himself gazing into deep amber eyes. He sighed, it had been so long since he'd been able to lose himself in those eyes. "What are you doing here?" he asked. "Shouldn't you be on the bridge?" Gral tilted his head at him. That wasn't right, Jeremy realized. Tamirik was captain now, she'd taken over when he'd retired, and he'd become the captain when Gral . . . Jeremy pulled away slightly, and looked at his Heart's face. He looked younger than he remembered, younger than the first time he'd met him even. Jeremy turned, and looked at where he had been sitting. In the hover chair, his body looked like he was sleeping. He raised a hand, it looked young, no wrinkles, no blemishes. Gral wrapped his arms around him. "You really lived up to being my little warrior," he said. "Tutecamongartin tried to bring you home three times, and you fought him each time." Jeremy could hear the pride in Gral's voice. He tried to recall the last time he'd been sick, didn't he remember a male standing there, completely black? Yes, he thought he did, and he also thought he remembered feeling angry, and a little bit afraid of him. "Why are you here?" "Tutecamongartin didn't want to have to deal with another fight with you. He though you might be more receptive if I was the one asking you to come home." Jeremy turned to face Gral again. "Home?" Gral nodded. "The Gods honored you." Jeremy's eyes grew wide. "You didn't think they wouldn't, did you?" Jeremy wanted to tell his Heart that he hadn't, but it had been one of his deepest worry, that he'd never be honored by Them, and therefor kept away from his Heart. "There wasn't even any argument, not that I was going to let any one of Them refuse you. So, my Heart, a you ready to come home?" Jeremy looked at him, eyes wet, but looked behind him, at the projection, where Patrick was now standing and talking. His gaze dropped to the kelsirians seated on either side of his body. "What about them?" he asked. "They are going to go on living, until the Gods honor them." "Will I see them again?" "Possibly, that'll depend on what they decide to do." "Do?" Gral nodded. "The life after the Gods have honored us is what ever we want it to be." "And what is our life going to be?" Gral smiled, and stepped to the side. Behind him, there was an open doorway, hanging there, in the middle of the lane. In the doorway, he could see the Viper's Bane's bridge. "It's going to be space, hunting down pirates, being in the way of the taournians, and the humans." The male in the pilot's seat turned, and smiled. Jeremy's heart swelled. "Toom's there." "Of course he's there. He's been waiting for you to come home as much as I have. Most of the crew's there." Gral stepped through the doorway and extended a hand to him. Jeremy took it. "How long will this last?" "As long as we want it." "What happens afterward." "Once we're tired of the hunt, we come back." Jeremy looked at him, worry in his eyes. "Don't worry, we'll come back together. We will never be apart again. I exacted that promise from Them." Jeremy nodded, and stepped through the doorway, which then disappeared. * * * * * As the ceremony ended, and everyone stood and applauded to welcome the new Federation member, Shimilion noticed that grandfather didn't stir. She touched his cheek, when he didn't move she placed a finger against his neck. Not feeling a pulse, she shed a tear and kissed his head. "Goodbye grandfather, Good hunting."
  7. Kindar

    Chapter 56

    Jeremy walked through the ship, alone. He was the only on in it. The repair crews had left, now that they were done. On top of repairs, upgrades had been done. The two generators had been replaced with the newest models, more powerful, more efficient. He could already hear Alix cursing. One of the cargo bay had been modified to house twelve fighter ships. He'd need to find pilots for them. They were turning his ship into a full military vessel, not just a patrol ship. Probably the most galling thing they had done, was to put a captain's chair on the bridge. He wasn't *that old. When he could no longer stand on his own two legs, he'd pass the captainship on to Tamirik. As soon as his crew was back on board, he'd get Sayane to remove it. The walk through confirmed what he'd suspected. The ship didn't feel the same. It wasn't just the modifications, he no longer felt Gral walking the halls with him. He step into their room, currently empty. He hoped that when their things were back in, he'd feel Gral again, at least here, because, as far as he could tell, the ship's Heart was gone. * * * * * "You don't have to do that, Pa," Tamirik said, standing in the doorway. Jeremy looked up at her, while continuing to pack the few things on the desk. Gods, she looked amazing, she was tall, proud, a captain. "I don't mind going back to being communication chief, until you're ready to hand over command to me." "And demote Rasilin? I don't think so, he worked hard to get there. It wouldn't be fair to him." "This isn't fair to you either, this is your ship." Jeremy shook his head, and paused. "To tell you the truth, the ship hasn't felt like mine since the repairs. Those last six years have been, difficult." He ran a hand through his hair, which was now more gray than not. "I'm happy to hand it to you." "What will you do now? Retire groundside?" Jeremy laughed. "Groundside? Me? Can you really imagine me just lying in the sun days in days out. No, I belong in space. Anyway, unless you're kicking Toom off the ship, I'm staying with him." "Gods no, I'm not kicking my near father off. He's still the best pilot I've ever seen." "Good. And I can be useful, I can watch over your cubs, I can't believe you managed to raise three of them, and still left the Academy with the highest honors. I can't remember getting much sleep when you were that young." "Rostol helped, as did Xenial, before the ship was ready." "Xenial helped with cubs?" Jeremy asked, surprised. The male had never mentioned that. "He was quite good with them. He would have been near father to them, if he'd been willing to stay groundside with us." Jeremy sighed, and missed his friend. "The Gods honored him," he said. "Only until he made off with their possessions," She added, with a wry smile. "He is going to make their lives interesting." Jeremy smiles wistfully. "No, your father is going to keep him in check." He forced himself to back to the present. "I can also help with dealing with the humans on Paradise, if you're planing on keeping the patrol route I had." He'd been offered, and had accepted, a new patrol route, which included Paradise. It allowed him to be back there every year, and he saw their settlement grow and prosper. The patrol had become vital when the Human government realized that not only were the leafers on Paradise surviving, they were thriving. Building an economy and trading with the federation. The humans had complained that they had been tricked, but that didn't last long, since they would have to reveal their own trickery to explain it. They settled on discreetly trying to disrupt trade, which had lead to putting more ships to patrol the trade routes. Jeremy had smiled when he learned that Patrick had been made leader of the settlement, much to the male's bafflement. Jack had outright refused. He was done with politics. He spent what time wasn't taken up with his mate advising Patrick, but that was the extend of his involvement. "I'm keeping it. I don't trust the humans not to do something stupid." "At least they aren't part of the Federation." "Yet. The Federation council is still seeing them allowing the exodus as a good gesture. Talks, to restart the process, are on again." "Gods," Jeremy sighed. "Nothing good will come of that." "I agree. That's why I'm keeping the patrol route. The Leafers are about the only good thing to come from the humans, they need to be protected." Jeremy agreed. * * * * * Jeremy settled quietly into retirement. As he'd promised, he looked after Tamirik's cubs, when needed, as well as anyone's cubs. He still took the bridge, when she needed him to, and he found himself regretting having the chair removed. As he aged, remaining standing became more of task than it had been. Over the years, his title went from captain, to grandfather, and he found he enjoyed it. He and Toom became the ones to take care of the cubs, entertaining them with stories of their lives, bringing Gral back to life for them. The humans eventually left the crew, to settle on Paradise, first the unattached ones, and eventually even those who had built relationships with kelsirians. Alix's Heart was the last one to leave, when one morning, Alix didn't wake up. Jeremy didn't hold it against any of them. The crew had never been their family, like it was his. Even with the change in personnel, he could never leave them, and they wouldn't want him to. One day, Toom fell sick, and none of the wonders they possessed made him better. Jeremy almost lost his will to live then, but the crew rallied around him, and he remembered that he wasn't alone. He was even more surprised when Roumalger joined the crew. Jeremy still wouldn't be his mate, but that didn't stop the male from moving in with him. Jeremy found another reason to live when he learned that the Federation was considering making Paradise a member colony. He found that he needed to be there to see that happen, no matter how long it took.
  8. Kindar

    Chapter 55

    Jeremy leaned on the railing, looking at his ship. From where he was, he could see the three aft decks that had been destroyed, two sections deep and twenty long, six guns. Fortunately, the casualties had been minimal, but that didn't make him feel any better. He hadn't wanted to look at the damage while being on Paradise, he knew it would have ruined his stay there, and he had dearly needed a respite. The two months there, helping the settlers buildup their infrastructure had been a balm on his aches. He had been tempted to stay there longer, just so he wouldn't have to see this sight, but he had a duty to his crew, who had taken that time to make as many repairs as they could. Still the two months trip back to Kelser took them eight. And now his ship was at dock, to be repaired and refitted. No one knew just how long that would take, so he was grounded until then. If he still had his ship by then. He could just imagine how those who wanted to take it away from him would use this incident to justify it. "You don't have to be so gloom," Toom said, as he stopped next to him. Toom was the only one of the crew left on the station, as far as Jeremy knew. Korfas had been the first to request permission to leave, which Jeremy had granted. There were no reasons to keep anyone on the ship once docked. "We only retrieved twenty of the twenty-eight dead," Jeremy said. "The families understand." "I know, but how can they be properly mourned, if they aren't burned? Are the Gods going to honor them, if their bodies are floating in space, somewhere?" "Of course, the Gods are going to honor them," Toom said with a chuckle, "you'll see." "Will I?" Jeremy let out a long sigh. "Will the Gods honor me?" "Why wouldn't they?" "Look at me Toom, I'm human. I hate it, but I am human." Toom did look at him. "You're not human. You body might be, but you have Gralgiranselhelrarvnir's Heart, that makes you kelsirian, and that is what the Gods will see." He put an arms around Jeremy's shoulders, and pulled him close. "I think we should head out, staying here is making you morose, and they should be arriving to get us soon. Jeremy let Toom lead him away, and he did start to feel better, once he could no longer see the sorry state of his ship. As soon as they got to the shuttle docks, someone yelled his name. Jeremy looked in the direction the yell had come from, and Toom stepped away from him just in time for Roumalger to hug Jeremy and spin him around. "I'm so glad you're back," He whispered, while nuzzling him. "I'm glad to see you too," Jeremy replied, as he was put down. "Are you finally mated?" "Ah! No, I'm not." "When are you going to finally settle down?" "As soon as you agree to be my mate." Jeremy's smile cracked a little. "You do know that's never going to happen, right? I like you, but I can't be your mate." "You're just being stubborn," Roumalger said, going to hug Toom. "It's good to see you too." He nibbles his neck. "Do me a favor and talk some sense into that mate of yours." "Why are you so damn interested in me anyway?" Jeremy asked, before Toom could say anything. "Because you're exotic, and a the most fantastic lover I've ever had." "He does have a point," Toom said. "You don't get to say that," Jeremy said, pointing at his mate. "You've had sex with Xenial, so you know I'm not the best out there." He put an arm around each of them. "You know Roumalger, if it's exotic you like, you should take a trip to Paradise, there are a lot of humans there." "Really? Maybe I will, that way I'll be able to find out if it's humans who are such great lovers, or just you." Jeremy rolled his eyes. "Let's go join our parents, I see them, and I'm pretty sure they are getting impatient." "No, they just didn't want to follow me and be witness to all the embarrassment I put you through." "At least they are considerate," Toom commented. Parkiler and Marsef hugged and nuzzled both of them. "Welcome home," Marsef said, ushering them inside the shuttle. "I'm sorry it was under such circumstances, but we're happy to have you over. Do you know how long you'll be staying?" "No," Jeremy replied, "but we won't be spending all our time with you, we'll be visiting Toom's family also." "That's good," Parkiler said. "I don't remember seeing them at the cremation." "My father couldn't make it. He couldn't afford to close his shop, and my brothers didn't come, they don't agree with me becoming a spacer, they believe I should have stayed and help father with the shop, just like they did." "But you're father is fine with you being in space?" "Yes, he's happy for me. He knows I couldn't stay limited by the atmosphere." "Where is your family from?" she asked, turning to look at them, in the back. "Roumalger! What have I told you about having sex in the shuttle?" Roumalger had been nuzzling Jeremy, with hands roaming all over his body, and he had turned toward him so he could grind against him. Roumalger let out a sigh, and seated himself properly, but he didn't do anything to hide the tent in his pants. "Don't you have any self control?" she asked him "Not around Jeremy, I don't." "I'm sorry," Jeremy said. "Don't be," Marsef replied. "It's isn't your fault. It's that son of mine. He has sex with anyone willing. Although in you case I can understand his lack of restraint." Jeremy raised an eyebrow. "I didn't know you were interested." "Who wouldn't be?" he replied with a chuckle. "Why haven't you initiated anything then?" "I'm forty years older than you. I couldn't see you being interested." Jeremy smiled. "You won't know unless you try it." Parkiler slapped her mate's lap. "See, I told you he wouldn't mind." "Mom, Dad. If you want me to keep my mind off sex, could you not talk about dad getting it on with Jeremy, that isn't helping." "What's in the crate?" Toom asked, to change the subject. "Oh, that's just something Marsef picked up while we were waiting for you," Parkiler said. "Yeah," Roumalger added, "I think it was delivered by someone from your crew." "My crew?" Jeremy asked, and then realized something. "Okay, no one say anything about the crate. As a captain, I'm required to report any contraband." "Except," Toom said, "that technically, you aren't currently a captain, you sort of need a working ship for that." Jeremy thought it over. "You know, you're right. So, Marsef. You finally got your hands on some coffee plants?" "Yes, the contact you gave me all those years ago finally came through. There's a one year old plant, six seedling, seeds, and also some coffee grains. He said I could use those to bribe your silence." * * * * * Jeremy was standing before the council table. He and the four members seated behind it were waiting for the fifth person to arrive. He wondered if she was doing this on purpose, making him wait. At least, they had had the courtesy to tell him a month ahead of time when the meeting would be. He didn't have to stress every day, wondering when he was going to be called. It also gave Toom time to look into who would be there. He knew the two on the right, Turkamilrir and Snifurnolkah. The general and politician who had been present at the last meeting. Both were looking to take the ship away from him. The two on the left were new. An admiral Tirak, just that. He had the shortest name Jeremy had ever come across among kelsirians, And a general Lancasgirakil. Toom couldn't find any indications that they had any sort of agendas toward the ship. So it was two against him, and two who might see reason, plus her. This wasn't going to go well, but if she was expecting him to just give up the fight, she had another thing coming. He was going to fight her as hard as he could. The door at the back finally opened, and admiral Oturslgirnal entered, to Jeremy, Turkamilri and Snifurnolkah's surprise. "Please forgive my tardiness, there was a last minute change. I came as quickly as I could." He put his datapad on the table and sat in the center seat. "This meeting is to go over Captain Jeremy's initial two year, well, almost three now, as captain of the Viper's Bane, to find out if he will remain captain. Who wants to start?" "Why don't we just retire the ship?" Snifurnolkah asked. "Why would we do that?" Tirak countered. "Have you seen the list of repairs it needs? It might be best to just give him a new ship." Jeremy kept his mouth shut, but the moment he was allowed to speak he was going to argue against that. He wasn't going to captain a different ship, this was his last tie to Gral, he wasn't going to lose it. "Really? I don't remember you saying that when the Revenge came in for repairs. I remember you there, you were awake, weren't you?" "Of course I was." "It's damage was more extensive, and you let it be repaired. The Bane is about the same age, a little younger actually," he corrected after checking his pad, "Is there something I don't know about it that makes it unsuitable for repairs?" "I'm just not sure continuing to spend money on repairs is wise, that's all." "That's what the military budget is for," Lancasgirakil said. "Maybe you need to stop trying to tell us how to manage our fleet. And focus on keeping your promises, that station is still waiting for you to approve those expansions you promised them." Snifurnolkah didn't reply. "I don't particularly care about the state of the ship," Turkamilri said. "I'm more concerned about the deaths." "Really?" Lancasgirakil asked. "Why?" "Twenty eight deaths, of which . . ." Turkamilri checked his pad. "Twenty seven hunters and one crew," Jeremy provided. "Ahh, yes, and I see there was a human death." "That was the crew member. He was a structure tech, and chose to continue the repairs he was doing, instead of evacuating, as ordered." "You had a human as part of the crew?" "I have forty six." "That is unacceptable, we can't have humans getting access to our technology. What's to stop them from sending the information back to Earth?" "Those are my humans, not part of the passengers we carried to Paradise." He didn't mention Alix's Heart, that was none of their businesses. "I don't care. You don't have the authority to make a decision like that. You should have contacted us." "Jeremy did contact the council," Oturslgirnal said. "He spoke with," he glanced at his pad, "Councilor Querikdarfingalse, who approved his decision." "How can he have approved such a thing?" "You'll have to take that up with him. All that matters right now, is that Jeremy proceeded as expected." "Fine. There's still the matter of the deaths. "I don't get what you problem is with that," Tirak said. "They are hunters." "We die, so our people live," Jeremy said, by reflex. Tirak looked at him. "I didn't know anyone still knew the creed." Jeremy just nodded. "So?" Turkamilri asked. "It isn't because they are hunters that their lives should be thrown away." "Thrown away?" Tirak eyed Turkamilri. "Exactly how do you define throwing away a life? Captain, how did your people die?" Jeremy took a deep breath. "Nineteen gunners died when we took fire during the pursuit, after the ambush. Eight hunters died in the aft breach." "Where the gunners needed?" "Yes, we were firing on the pursuing ships, trying to disable them enough to make it to kelsirian space alive." "The hunters?" "The hunters were keeping fires under control. Those fires occurred when a missile breached a section, early in the pursuit. The electrical system overloaded, and the fire suppression system didn't respond. If I hadn't sent them there, fire would have spread along the power conduits, without any way to know how extensive the damage would have been." "And you said the tech had been ordered to leave." "Yes." Tirak looked at Turkamilri again. "You call that throwing lives away?" "You find twenty-eight deaths acceptable?" "Are you serious? Are you telling me you didn't have any deaths during your career? Never mind. I don't want to know how you went up in ranks. Lancasgirakil, you read the report about the ambush, and pursuit. How many deaths would normally be expected in such a situation?" "Considering the opposing force the Bane was up against, and the sabotage they had been subjected to," he paused for a moment, "at the very least, I would have expected a third of everyone one on board to have died, and if I was running this as an evaluation scenario, up to half would still be acceptable." "So, how would you judge twenty-eight deaths, all crew, no civilians." Lancasgirakil chuckled dryly. "We don't have enough medals to show just how amazing that was. And to address general Turkamilri, no, that does not constitute throwing away lives. That is exactly the opposite. Now shut up, you're making the rest of us look bad." Turkamilri glared at Lancasgirakil, who ignored him. "What does concern me," Lancasgirakil continued, "is this human hunter squad you formed. Twenty-two humans, who were trained in our hunting ways. I understand they are trusted, but they aren't kelsirians, would they really do our ways proud?" "The squad was formed for the purpose of infiltrating the passengers. By that time it was obvious we were the subject of sabotage, but we couldn't get those humans to trust us, they would only open up to other humans. They didn't get full training, and I made them hunters so they would receive the protection accorded to us, should things escalate. I didn't want them to be abandoned, if it came down to that. "Before you bring them up, six of them were cubs. We chose them, because they were old enough to be responsible, but looked young enough for other humans to feel protective of them, humans have a tendency to open up more to cubs than to adults. The cubs volunteered, and their parents gave their permission. Also, everyone was under strict orders to keep them away from the worse of the dangers. The use of the human hunter squad led to the capture of four of the six saboteurs." "What happened to the other two?" "They chose suicide over capture." "And the squad?" "I disbanded it once the mission was accomplished." Lancasgirakil nodded. "I still question the use of cubs, but none of them were hurt, and only six of the human hunters were hurt. They can't be considered civilians at the time of the mission." "Do we know that Jeremy didn't force them to join the squad?" Snifurnolkah asked. Lancasgirakil sighed. "Did you actually bother to read the reports? Or are you too busy repeating what you're handlers tell you?" Snifurnolkah opened and closed his mouth, trying to say somethign, but failing. "Each human on the squad wrote a report describing what happened. While the translation makes for something of a funny read, there is no indication they were under duress at any time." He looked at Jeremy. "Thank you for answering my questions. I'm satisfied you showed good judgment in your decision." There was a moment of silents. "Does anyone have anything to add?" Oturslgirnal asked. Lancasgirakil and Tirak shook their heads. Snifurnolkah and Turkamilri remained silent. "Then, I'm happy to say that they ship is yours, Captain. As soon as it's fit to fly, you're free to go back where you belong." "Thank you admiral." He nodded to each of them, in turn, left, and almost walked into someone as the door closed behind him. "Kosfas, I wasn't expecting you here." "I wanted to make sure things went well." "It did, your mother wasn't there." "Good." "I take it you had something to do with that?" "I told her to stop meddling in my life. She not the Gods, so she doesn't have the right to do so. I'm happy she listened." "Thanks." "No, I'm the one who needs to thank you. Until you took me in, I had no idea that I wanted this. I was just doing what mother told me. I'm actually terrified to think what would have happened if she had succeeded in getting me a captainship." He surprised Jeremy by giving him a tight hug. In all the time he'd trained him, they had never hugged. "I won't be returning to the ship. I've been accepted the to Command Academy. So this is goodbye." "Congratulation. I'm certain you'll excel." "Thank you." Korfas turned and left. Before Jeremy could also leave, the door opened and admiral Oturslgirnal stepped out. "Captain, I'm glad I caught you before you left." "Korfas was just informing me he was accepted in the Academy." "Yes, I saw his application, and pushed it through. I also saw that your daughter applied. Do you want me to push hers through?" Jeremy shook his head. "No. I appreciate the thought, but she will be accepted by her own merits." "Very well. What will you be doing while your ship is being repaired?" "I have no idea. I've never been groundside this long. At this point I'm counting on Toom to keep me from going stir crazy." Oturslgirnal put a hand on his shoulder. "If you get too bored, you can always consider spending some time at the academy, teaching." Jeremy looked at him in horror.
  9. Kindar

    Chapter 54

    The door buzzed. "Come in," Jeremy said, finishing reading the report before looking up. Repairs were coming along. The ship wouldn't be back to how it was before the ambush, but at least it would run better. At least the atmospherics were back online. "Erik," Jeremy said, surprise to see the human. He worked in Engineer, Alix was teaching him. "What can I do for you?" Erik looked from Jeremy to Korfas, "Can, can we speak in private?" Before Jeremy could say anything Korfas shutdown his screens and grabbed his pad. "I need to go talk with procurement." He stood. "They're suppose to have done checks on the vegetation on the planet, to see if we can eat any of it." He left the room. "Have a seat," Jeremy offered. Erik sat down, looked at the floor for a moment. "I think It's going to be best if I leave the crew, and settle on the planet." "That's entirely your right, you know they'll be happy to take you in, and I already said anyone who wants to stay, can. You didn't need to come see me for that." Erik stood and started pacing. "It's Alix, I don't know what to do about him." "Is he being unreasonable in what he expects you to do?" "No, no. It's just . . . He keeps looking at me. Sometime he gets this, I don't know, hungry look on him." He sat down. "He makes you uncomfortable." Erik nodded. "Have you told him to stop?" Erik looked at him, eyes wide. "No! I don't want him to stop! That's the problem." He put his head in his hands. "God, I think I'm falling in love with him." "That's good." "Good? How can that be good? He has a wife and a kid. I don't want to be a home wrecker." He took a deep breath. "That's why I need to leave." Jeremy had to work very hard at keeping his face still. He couldn't believe that some humans were still stuck in such a narrow mindset after being on his ship for a few years. Granted, these last month, over crowed with humans from earth probably had something to do with his humans regressing. Once he know he could open his mouth without laughing, he punched the com. "Alix. My office. Now!" With the order given, he stood and opened the cabinet in the corner of the room. He poured a finger of the drink in the black bottle, and handed Erik the glass. "What is it?" he asked. "A ridoshi drink. The closest thing to scotch I've been able to fine. You look like you need to calm your nerves" Erik down it, and then gasped. "My god, that stuff's horrible." "It's an acquired taste," Jeremy confirmed, sitting. Alix might be a while, he and the other repair crews were the only ones on the ship. Everyone else was enjoying their time groundside. Jeremy would get back there himself, once he was done with his work. The door opened and Alix stood in the doorway, panting. "Reporting, captain. What's the problem?" He looked at the human. "Erik, what are you doing here?" He looked at Jeremy, "Captain, if he's done anything wrong, I can take care of it. He's a good engineer, he's just still learning." His ears folded back, then forward, sideways. Jeremy had never seen Alix be that nervous. Jeremy canted his head to the side. "Tell me, Alix, when did you become so timid?" Alix stared at him. "What?" "Erik's been telling me how you look at him, sometime hungrily." Alix's ears turned red. "How come you haven't made any advances on him?" Erik stared at Jeremy. "He's human, I. I didn't want to make him uncomfortable." "You screwed up. You've been making him uncomfortable enough that he wants to leave the crew." "What?" Alix went to Erik. "You can't do that. Please, you've got to stay. I've been looking for you for too long, you can't leave now." Erik leaned back away form Alix, and looked at Jeremy. "What doed he mean, he's been looking for me?" Jeremy just nodded toward Alix, who was now on his knees. "I'm sorry I've made you uncomfortable, it really wasn't my intention." He took Erik's hand in his. "I've been hun . . . looking for my Heart since I've been a cub. I went to space still looking. You're him, Erik. You are my Heart. Please don't leave. I love you." Erik stared at him. "You can't love me! You have a wife!" Alix looked at Jeremy, confusion on his face. "Your mate." Alix nodded and looked back to Erik. "I can still love you." "No you can't! You're committed to her! I'm not going to have you leave her for me!" Erik tried to stand, but Alix forced him back down. "No. Erik, I am not letting you go that easily. I'm not human. I don't follow your rules. I am not limited to loving just one person. Please look at me." He said, and slowly Erik looked at him. "This is why I didn't do anything. I was trying to find a way to make sure you understood that we did things differently. I remember how Jeremy was those first few years. It took him time to come to terms with our customs. I'm not going to ask you to move in with us, all I ask is that you stay. Please stay, give me time to show you we can make this work." Erik looked at Jeremy. "What should I do?" "What do you want to do? Not what you think you should, what do you want?" Erik looked at Alix again. "I want to stay," he whispered. Alix hugged him tightly, which made Erik tense. He pulled away. "I'm sorry, too fast, I know. I'll keep my distances. I'll see you back at work." Now, Jeremy couldn't hide the smile, as Alix rushed out. "What's funny," Erik said, still stunned. "Sorry, I've never seen Alix act like a cub in love for the first time before." Erik was silent for a moment. "Am I making a mistake?" "If you're referring to breaking them up. It won't happen. As I've explained before, we don't limit ourselves to loving just one person. Don't force yourself into something you aren't comfortable with, Alix won't force you to either. Just follow your Heart, it will lead you true.
  10. Kindar

    Chapter 53

    The Viper's Bane limped in at Paradise two month late. Jeremy couldn't wait to get his passengers off the ship, and at this point, they probably couldn't wait to be off. He wiped his brow, the temperature on the bridge was just this side of suffocating. Except for the living decks, atmospherics through out th ship were just barely working. Half the engines had been damaged beyond repairs, which didn't matter much, since their main generator had been pushed past its limit. They were on the backup, and it hadn't be designed to power the entire ship by itself. Everyone on the ship was cranky, the brig couldn't hold anyone, it was just to hot down there, so trouble makers had been locked in their quarters. It was bad enough that a few of his crew were also under arrest. The screen showed the planet, a ball of blues, greens, browns whites, and something black, and nasty, in one area. It also showed that there were eleven other ships parked in orbit, in a loose group. "Viper's Bane," came a voice over the com, "Hargral Glory here. Whose army did you take on?" "Very funny, Glory. The Human government decided they didn't want to let my passengers go, after all. How is the disembarking going?" "It . . . isn't." There was a silence. "Seems the humans can't decide who should be first to set foot on their new planet." "Gods, tell me you are joking." "I wish I could. We've been here three weeks. The Ridoshi ship twice that long, although they don't seem to mind." Jeremy looked at Korfas, whose fur was matted to his skin, like everyone one else. "Right now, that chair of yours sound like a great idea." He looked to Tamirik. "Get me in contact with all the captains." "Yes, sir." It took her a few minutes, during which Jeremy had to wipe sweat off his face constantly. "They're all listening." "This is Jeremy, of the Viper's Bane. Please give me all ship, I need to talk with your passengers." Over the next minutes he got eleven confirmations. He took a breath, he didn't want to make this decision for everyone else, but he wasn't staying in space any longer than he absolutly had too. "My name is Jeremy. This won't mean anything to most of you, but two of you know me. We met at a bar in the San Francisco space port, a long time ago. Please find a com, I need to talk to you, both." It took a few minutes, then someone said "Jeremy? It's good to hear your voice." "What's your name?" There was a moment of hesitation. "I'm Louis." Jeremy had remembered his name, but he wanted to make sure he had the right person, ultimately who had the honor didn't matter, but he felt wrong to have someone he hadn't met usurp it. "Please tell me your mate traveled with you. You two were apart long enough that you shouldn't have to come here on different ships." "I'm here," said someone else. "I'm glad to hear that, Patrick. Which ship are you on?" He heard them asking about for the name. "They are aboard my ship," cut in a voice, in very proper kelsirian, with clicks between the words, a ridoshi. "It is called." What followed was unintelligible. "Thank you in helping with the exodus," Jeremy said. "Louis, Patrick, you have the honor of being the first humans to set foot on Paradise, find a shuttle and get moving." "What? Why us?" "Because you guys have had weeks to work this out, and haven't. The atmospherics on my ship are barely working, so I want fresh air." "You should be the first one, you're the one who set things in motion." "I didn't do anything more than follow my Heart. And I'm not human. The honor belong to humans, not me. Now get going, because if I have to board your ship to get you down there myself, I am going to do it." * * * * * Jeremy relaxed the moment the shuttle doors open, the fresh air entered like it had been blasted in. He'd piloted it, he wasn't going to stay on the ship a moment longer, he also wasn't going to steal a spot from one of the humans. Once they were all out he left the cockpit, patting the other pilot on the shoulder. "go up for the next group. I'll relieve you when you get back." "Yes sir." Jeremy stepped out, and raised his head to the sun. He closed his eyes, and soaked in the heat. A lot of other people were doing the same. It had to have been because of the atmospherics on the ship. He never had this kind of reaction to going groundside before. After enjoying the heat for a time he opened his eyes and looked around. They were in a plain, with ankle high grass that was a little more yellow than it was on Earth, or Kelser. There we a few trees, here and there, one of which seem to have a fruit of some type. Parents already had to keep children form climbing them. In the distance were mountains. He couldn't tell how high they were, but seemed to touch the sky. "Jeremy!" someone yelled. He turned to see two males coming toward him. He didn't recognize them, but there's only two people they could be. "Patrick, Louis," he said, ignoring the offered hands, and hugging them, much to their consternations. "Which is which?" "I'm Louis," the shorter, bald one, said. "And I'm Patrick," his hair was black, heavily peppered with gray. "This place really is paradise." "Except for that black zone, what was that?" "As best as the explorer who found this planet could tell, it's a zone with a permanent storm. The government was led to believe that most of the planet is like that. And spun it to the federation as this place being rough, but livable. Since the federation was insisting they had to stop persecuting the homos, the government said they would relocate us here." "Well, no matter if this planet is rough, or not. You'll be winning from not being under their thumb anymore. You're free to be who you are, and be with who you want." "That's going to take some getting use to, as you can probably tell." Jeremy nodded. Looking around, almost no one was holding hand, or even standing too close to one another. "Yeah, I can tell it might be an adjustment. I was lucky I guess. When I found Gral, I found myself in an environment where everyone touched, so I didn't have to be afraid. Some habit did take a while to lose." "Like what?" "Well, having sex with someone other than my mate." Louis and Patrick looked at him, horrified. "They forced you to do that?" Jeremy laughed. "No, it wasn't forced. It's the way we are. For us sex as nothing to do with love. It just took me a while to realize it. Now, I can't imagine another way of being." Jeremy laughed again at the look they gave him. "Hey, this is your planet. We're not going to tell you how to live. You find what works for you guys." Patrick put a hand on his shoulder. "This is your planet too, you're one of us." Jeremy shook his head. "No, it isn't. I already have a home, on Kelser. Like I said earlier, I'm a kelsirian." "Are you sure? It can't be easy, being different from everyone else." "I'm not different." "How can you say that? You're . . ." "Furless?" "Yeah." "They don't see that. I mean, sure when someone meets me for the first time, they are surprised, but that doesn't last. Even people I've never met back on Kelser know who I am. Look, don't worry about me. I'm happy. I'm not making due, I'm actually happy. I have cubs, a mate, friends and family. I really wouldn't change any of it. You guys focus on your lives. Build a society that you will be happy with. If you see some things from other people you think will work, look into it, but don't force it on yourself just because it seems to work for them." Louis looked at him. "Are you sure I can't convince you to take charge of this place? You have the perfect outlook for it." "Gods no. I have enough with my ship, but feel free to steal those mindset, if you think they'll work." The shuttles returned with more people. Jeremy bid them goodbye and went to replace his pilot. Over the rest of the day the humans, and most of the crews, as well as equipment made it to the planet. Three ships were still unaccounted for, and Jeremy worried they had fallen into similar traps. As night fell, enough buildings had been erected so everyone could sleep indoors, not that anyone did. The evening temperature barely cooled, and once the sun set, the sky lit up with stars. Toom found him, and they had sex under them. * * * * * The next day a new ship arrived, but it wasn't one of the missing ones. No one had any idea what it was doing here, so everyone was tensed. Jeremy had a few of his hunters stand close to where the shuttle landed, ready for trouble. The door opened, and a lone human male walked out. He was in his mid forties, dressed in a black suit, hair slicked back. He looked around and waved. Jeremy could smell the political stink coming off him. Obviously he wasn't the only one, because others started jeering at him. When a rock almost hit the male, Jeremy had his hunters interpose themselves. There was more anger here than he had expected. "What the fuck are you doing here?" someone yelled. "You have no rights to be here!" someone else. "Haven't you hurt us enough already?" yet someone else. "Enough!" Jeremy yelled. He had no idea what this was about, but he wasn't going to have a war on the second day here. "You must be Jeremy," the male said, extending his hand to him. Jeremy whirled in his direct. "Don't think this means I like you. I don't like any politicians. So don't move until we've sorted this out." "Jack!" someone yelled. Jeremy looked over his shoulder to see a male running toward them. He shoved Jeremy aside and jumped in the other male's arms. "Brian, baby. I've missed you so much," Jack said, kissing him, tears falling down his face. The display seemed to baffle the humans watching. Jeremy didn't understand their reaction. Patrick made his way toward them. "Mister Kirby," he said, extending his hand. "I'm Patrick Monroe." Jack stopped kissing Brian, and, keeping an arms around him, he shook Patrick's hand. "I'm sorry," he said, studying him. "Are we suppose to have met before?" "No, but I'm one of the few people who knows what you did for us." Patrick turned to the crowd. "Senator Jack Kirby is one of us," he stated. Which got him booed and cursed. "Listen to me! If not for this man, none of you would be here right now." "You got that right!" someone yelled. "He's the guy who pushed for mandatory testing." "Do you know why he did that?" Patrick yelled. "Do you have any idea why this man stayed away from the man he loved for twenty years? Why he made sure we all hated him? It was so that when the time came for the government to decide what to do with us, they would have a reason to listen to his suggestion. If not for him, we would have been rounded up and killed." That quieted the crowd. Jack put a hand on Patrick's shoulder. "I don't expect you to like me," he said. "I knew what i was getting into when I set myself on this course of action. All I ask is that you let me and Brian live in peace. We'll stay away, as much as we can, if that's what you want, all we want, is our chance to be happy.
  11. Kindar

    Chapter 52

    "Captain," the com said, it was Korfas' voice Jeremy growled. What did the gods have against him? Couldn't he get one day to himself, with Toom? After four months of dealing with all those humans making a mess of his ship, didn't he deserve one day of peace and quiet? He'd been sure Korfas could handle having the bridge for the day. He'd grown in the half year since he'd come on board, and he was more level headed when dealing with the humans, these days, than Jeremy was. With a sigh he turned over, and away from Toom, and grabbed his com. "Yes." It took a lot of effort to keep his annoyance out of his voice. "You need to come to the bridge, sir." "Are you sure you can't handle this yourself?" "Yes, sir, I'm sure." "Alright. Let me grab a shower, and I'll be right there." "I . . . I think we can handle the scent of your mate being over you." That made Jeremy sit up. It wasn't exactly proper etiquette to show up to work smelling of sex. For Korfas to say it would be okay meant he was worried. "I'll be right there." Jeremy got out of bed. "Where are you going?" asked a sleepy Toom. "The bridge." "Aww, let Korfas deal with it. Come back to bed." "I can't, he's worried about something." Tomm let out a jaw cracking yawn. "You want me to come?" "No, go back to sleep, one of us should get to fully enjoy his day off." He put on a clean pair of pants, grabbed his jacket and was out the door. * * * * * "Alright," Jeremy said as he entered the bridge, "what's happening." "We have . . . something on the scans, about half a light year away." "Something?" half a light year was at the edge of their range, but they should get more than just 'something'. Korfas nodded to the tech seated at the scan board, and the main screen was filled with the vastness of space, with something in the middle of it. Jeremy frowned, what was that? The only way he could tell there was something there, was the distortion it caused against the stars behind and near it. Korfas joined him, and quickly sniffed the air. "You said I shouldn't bother with a shower," Jeremy remarked, not taking his eyes off the screen. "Sorry. It's not emitting anything we can detect, the scan results are as fuzzy as the image the cameras are giving us." "Any idea how big it is?" "As best as we can determine, the distortion is close to a hundred meters across, but we have no way of knowing if that's the size of something within it, or even if there is anything inside." "As anyone been by here before? Any reports of strange phenomenons?" "No, we're inside the unclaimed territories, if anyone has been here before they haven't reported it." Jeremy went to the communication board. Tamirik sniffed once, before saying. "Hi, pa." "Hey Tamirik. I know, I smell." He looked through the directory. "It's okay, I'm used to it. I lived in the same quarters as you for years, but it's strange just smell Toom on you." Her voice was wistful. "I miss him too." He found the sensor lab and called it. "Huar." "I'm here," the male said, entering the bridge. Jeremy looked up, surprised. "I called him, right after I called you," Korfas said. "Good call," Jeremy commented. Huar took the tech's place at the board. "Before you ask. This isn't caused by the sensor. I did a check before coming here. What ever problems we've been having on the ship has not affected them. I'm preparing to cycle a pulse, if there's a generator in there, powering the field, it'll tell us." "When ever you're ready," Jeremy said. "I've set the result to over impose on the main screen. Pulse is go." Jeremy, and everyone else, watched the distortion, waiting to see what would happen, so they were caught by surprise when six points lit up around the distortion, instead of anything happening there. "Huar, run the harmonics against the database!" he quickly dialed the gunner Chief. "Girgan, I want all the guns maned." "Yes, sir." Next he dialed 'all ship' "this is the captain, we will probably come under attack. All civilians are to go to the core. All military personnel, go to your position. This is not an exercise, I repeat, this is not an exercise." "Get ready to field calls," he told his daughter. It had been a long time since they'd had to do this. With this done he went back to the center of the bridge, looked at the screen, where Huar had brought back the six lit points. Six generators, that meant six ships. Who could they be? They had to be humans, nothing else made sense. "Huar, who are they?" "I don't know, sir. The harmonics aren't matching up with anything, and there's something strange about them. Like they're distorted. I've never seen anything like that." "How can they not be in the database?" Korfas asked, moving next to Huar. "I thought we'd pulsed everyone one over the years." Six ships, humans. Why here, why now? "We have," Huar answered. "If it was just that they wouldn't in the database, I'd say they are brand new ships, but this distortion, this is new. Even a new ship shouldn't show anything like that. I'm going to cycle another pulse, maybe I can get more precise readings, now that I know what to expect" Why? They were after them, that was obvious. Why draw them to this distortion? Humans were devious. They never attacked facing you, if they could find a way to stab you in the back. They would prefer to hide and ambush you . . . "Don't!" Jeremy yelled. "Don't pulse." He went back to the communication board. "Girgan, do not power up the weapons. Have them manned, but powered down, until I give the order." Everyone on the bridge was looking at him. "Captain?" Huar asked, "I need another pulse, to get an idea of what's causing this." "They're shielding their generators." That got him strange looks. He indicated the empty space on the screen. "They found a way to make themselves invisible to our sensors, so they had to do the same for the generators." "It didn't really work then, we still saw something, even if it didn't make any sense." "Yes, but I don't think they know that." Huar's eyes lit up. "They haven't been able to test the shielding. They don't have pulse tech, since we haven't make it available to anyone else in the federation." "So," Korfas continued, "if we do a second pulse, we'll reveal we saw them, since that would be the only reason to do so. What do we do then?" "This is an ambush," Jeremy stated. "The only advantage we have, is the element of surprise, so we need to maximize that." The door opened, and Toom entered. "I though I told you to stay in bed," Jeremy said. "You know I hate sleeping alone," Toom answered, giving him a nuzzle, before heading for the pilot's chair. "I was done with my shower when the 'all ship' went through. We're in trouble, this is where I belong." "Alright, then take us toward the anomaly, at a very safe speed. That's why it's there, to attract us, kelsirian curiosity, and all that. So lets go see what it is, assuming it could be dangerous. That will give us time to figure out something. Huar, keep scanning it. Let them think we don't know about the ambush." Everyone focused on their boards. Tamirik was fielding calls, mostly from humans, based on her English. Korfas and Huar were talking. Jeremy looked at the screen again. Six ships, completely unknown, there was no way they could take them on, they needed to run. But without knowing what they were facing, he couldn't know what they could do. Someone said something that didn't quite register to Jeremy, but was enough to make him look around, and then at Huar and Korfas. "What did you just say?" Both of them looked at one another, and then at Jeremy. "You were talking, what did you say?" Huar hesitated a moment. "I said, that I wondered how they were fooling our sensors" "And I said," Korfas continued, "that I wonder if it's only elecronic sensors that are fooled." "Right!" Jeremy exclaimed. "Tamirik, get me Thuruk." "Thuruk here," his voice came over the com after a moment. "Thuruk, I need you to send someone in each of the recreation rooms that has a view of space." There was a long silence. "They're on their way. Why am I sending them there?" "There are six ships before us, that our sensors can't see. I'm hoping that organic sensors aren't affected." "As soon as they are in place I'll let you know what they see." Jeremy nodded to himself, as the communication ended. "Do you know who they are?" Korfas asked. "Humans. It has to be the humans." "Why would they ambush us?" "Ignoring the vendetta they've had against me for decades, we have over three hundred Leafers." "Which they wanted us to take off their hands." "Yes, but that doesn't mean they want them to live. Leafers are proof of how they've been subjugating some of their people. They would rather destroy all of them, then letting them settle peacefully. We're in the middle of nowhere. There aren't any trade routes near here. They destroy us, and it will be years before anyone figures out what happened. We'll just be another lost ship. If they're clever about it, they could even arrange it so there aren't any trace of the attack." "How could they do that? Weapons leave distinct impact marks." "They could weaponize debris, or even small meteorites, then it looks like just another accident." Korfas shivered. "Humans really are that devious?" Jeremy nodded "No wonder they get along so well with the Taournians." "Any idea on how we can get out of this?" "We can always wait for the Gods to intervene." Jeremy looked at Korfas to confirm he wasn't serious. "Lets consider that the backup plan." "Until we know more about the ships, we can't plan much." "Captain," Thuruk said. "We have visual on six ships, of a design I've never seen before." "What are they doing?" "They're moving away from each other. The logical move is for them to encircle us." Jeremy wasn't happy, but he wasn't surprised either. "Let me know if things change." He looked at the screen. "The one advantage we have, is that they want us alive for the moment." "Why?" "I don't know. Maybe they want to torture them, or 'cure' them. But you can be sure that what ever else they are planing on, destroying us is part of it." "Captain," Toom said. "I know Thuruk said he's never seen those ships before, but there's only a specific numbers of ways to can build a ship. Someone from Structure might be able to determine what they can do." "Good idea." He nodded to Tamirik, who nodded back after a moment. "Sayane." "Here, captain." "Contact Thuruk, get your people with his, I need you to figure out what we can do against the ships surrounding us." "Yes, sir. What kind of readings do we have?" "None. Our scanners aren't getting anything from them. It's going to have to be entirely visual." "Seriously?" "Seriously." "That isn't going to make the work easy." "What can I say, I thought you could use the challenge. Bring in Alix, he might be able to help pinpoint where their generators are." "Can't we use a pulse to find out where they are?" "Not without having the ships on sensors first," Huar said, before Jeremy could. "How far from the distortion are we?" "About a quarter of a light year," Toom answered. "We're going as slow as we can, without making them think we're afraid of it." "Anything on the distortion?" "Still too far to get anything precise, but I'm confident that what ever is in it, is smaller than the distortion." Jeremy nodded. "Is there any way we can use a pulse to blind them?" Huar thought it over. "I don't see how. The pulse itself is a fraction of a second. I guess that in theory, it would be possible to boost the duration, and the power of the pulse, but I couldn't even make an attempt at it in the time we have." Korfas sighed. "This is when I think a chair would be a nice thing to have on the bridge." "You can have one on your own ship," Jeremy replied. "I happen to believe we think better on our feet." He looked at Tamirik. "Get me Sayane." "Here captain." "Quick question. If we were to ram an object, about a hundred meters all around. What kind of damage to the ship should I expect." "Depends what kind of object, what is it made out of?" Jeremy looked at the distortion. "Let's say it's a shuttle." "At full speed? It might pierce the hull. You'd want to make sure all the personnel has been evacuated from the impact area, maybe two section deep, just to be safe." "Thanks." "What are you thinking?" Korfas asked. "That not matter what, we can't take them on in a direct fight. We need to run. I'm remembering that over all, humans like to play it safe. They have an expression: 'to err on the side of caution'. They see an obstacle, and they do their best to go around it. I'm thinking that they won't expect us to ram whatever is causing the distortion." "They can still chase us." "That's why we need to cripple them." "What if we can't find anything vital to shoot at?" "Their engines are still visible. In fact, so long as they are moving toward us, they have to remain visible, and parallel. Toom, how much time to you need to get us to full speed?" "Depends on how much power Alix can give me." "Alix?" "Here." "Forget the enemy ships. I need you to give us as much power as possible, both generators. Bring down anything outside the core to the bare minimum." "Yes, sir" "Tamirik, have the front of the ship vacated, four section deep." "The gunners?" Jeremy cursed. "No, they have to remain at their post." Hopefully hitting the distortion wouldn't kill any of them "Girgan." "Here." "Anyway to give your gunners a visual without powering the guns?" "No, sir. The guns point inside when powered down." "Alright. Instruct the gunners to aim at the engines. Our goal is to cripple them. We have no way to know how fast they are, so the more damage to their engines the better." "I'll instruct them and wait for your signal." "Thuruk." "Yes, sir." "Where are the ships?" "One is in front of us, slightly higher. The other five are coming along side." "Alix! Time is of the essence here." "I know! I'm working as fast as I can. If you're not happy with my performance, feel free to come do the work in my place." "I take it, by your tone, that you haven't out done my improvements to the generators, then." The expletives that came over the com made Korfas' jaw drop, and many ears on the bridge turned red. Jeremy just chuckled. Five minutes later the light on the bridge dimmed. "There, you have everything I can spare. Just don't breath too heavily, you might over load the atmospherics." "Thuruk, tell me when most of the enemy's engines are visible to our gunners." "Well, except for the ship in front of us, now would be a good time." "Girgan! Fire at will!" A moment later the main screen indicated the battery of missiles being launched. "Captain?" Toom asked. "Not yet," Jeremy replied. "Thuruk, I need to know when we've done significant damage to their engines." The ship shook. "In case you haven't noticed," Thuruk said. "We're taking fire." On the screen, one of the enemy ship became visible. "Huar, give me a scan of it!" "On it." The ship shook again, and something, in the distance, exploded. "We've lost two section on the port side," someone said, "nothing vital, no casualty." Gods, Jeremy hoped that had been enough time. "Toom, maximum speed. Ram the distortion and get us out of here." Jeremy didn't feel anything as the ship sped up. That was good, meant the gravitics were intact. Based on the scan Huar had done, the enemy ships were about the same size as his. While he didn't know how fast they could go, he had the advantage for the moment, they had to turn around, even without damage, that would give him the lead. The question was, could he maintain it. "How far are we from our territory?" "Twelve light year," came the reply. Then the ship shook. "That was the distortion," Toom said. "I got a scan of it," Huar added. "It was a bouyee, ten meters across." "At the speed we're going, the damage is still going to be significant," Toom added. "Any pursuit?" "They're out of sensor range." "I'm running a pulse sequence. On main." Every second a pulse went out, and updated the positions of the enemy ships. "Two are still shielded, the other four aren't, I'm registering the harmonics." On the next pulse there were only five ships. "Looks like one blew up." "I think the Gods meddled," Korfas deadpanned. "You can thank them for me." Two of the ships were in pursuits. "Toom, how's our speed?" "We're maxed out, I think." "How long until we're in kelsirian territory?" "Four hours." "Send a distress call ahead." Jeremy said to Tamirik, and then looked at Korfas, "while you're thanking them, see if you can get them to put a patrol ship close by. Because I really don't think they are going to respect the border markers." "I'll see what I can do, captain."
  12. Kindar

    Chapter 51

    "Him and his furball of a boyfriend tried to rape me!" the human said, hands on the desk and glaring at Jeremy. "Why is that cat sitting here instead of being in prison!" Jeremy looked at the human, flatly. "Mister Diamond, why don't you sit down." "I don't want to sit down. I want to know why you haven't taken cared of that!" He pointed to the kelsirian seated before the desk. His fur was lack luster, eyes bloodshot, and he looked like he was going to be sick any moment. "Mister Diamond, you've just spoken three phrases, and manged to insult me and my people in each one of them. So I recommend that you sit down, before I sit you down myself." "You?" the surprise on the human's face was genuine. "I didn't insult . . ." "Sit down!" he didn't want to have to deal with this right now. Only one month in the trip and he already had enough other troubles around the ship, he was regretting agreeing to ferrying those humans. Mister Diamond was seated. "Good. Now, don't let the fact that I look like a human mislead you. I am kelsirian. I'm intervening, because you are accusing one of my people of attempted rape, something I won't stand for, but I'm not your ally. Do you have anything to add?" The human shook his head. Jeremy looked at the kelsirian. "How are you feeling, Dalfin?" He kept his tone neutral, even if he was hurting at seeing him in such a bad state. "I'm managing, I'm doing better than Ullallar, but I'm to go back to the medical bay after this." Jeremy nodded. "Tell me what happened." He raised a hand to prevent the human from speaking, and looked at him. "If you disagree about what he says, you can interject, otherwise, I want you to remain silent, understood?" The human nodded. "We met George at the mess. He has a large collection of human vids, and you know how I am about Vids. He invited us back to his quarters so he could show some of them to us. The one we were watching was amusing, but somewhere during it, I don't really remember when, I started feeling, well, amorous. I started nuzzling him, Ullallar must have felt the same, because he had his hands roaming over his body. I don't know why we didn't stop, I swear to you captain, I don't. If Ullallar hadn't fallen over, sick, we would have forced ourselves on him." He put his head in his hands. "Gods, we would have forced him to have sex with us." He looked even more sick. Jeremy waited for him to continue, but he didn't. He looked at George. "Do you disagree with what he said." He opened his mouth, but seemed to think better of saying whatever he had planned on. He shook his head. Jeremy nodded. "I have some questions." He'd read the preliminary report on Ullallar, and he knew they had omitted something. "Did you eat or drink anything while in George's room?" "We had a few beers," George said, "you know, the regular for watching a movie." "How many did each of you have?" "I had one bottle," Dalfin said, "I'd opened a second, but I didn't drink any before . . ." He looked at his feet for a moment, and then back up. "Ullallar finished at least two of them. He might have been partially through a third bottle. Jeremy looked at George. "I had two. What does that have to do with what they tried to do to me?" At least he kept his tone civil. "What kind of beer?" "It's called High Crown. My cousin makes it." "What's the alcohol content?" Just a few bottles didn't explain the readings that was in the report. "Twelve percent," George said. "What?" Dalfin exclaimed, pushing the chair back as he stood, and then had to lean on the desk to avoid falling over. "What?" George asked, surprised at the reaction. "It's beer what did you expect? It said it right on the bottle." "This explains one thing," Jeremy said. "We don't have strong alcohol. At most our drinks have one percent alcohol in them. Consequently, we don't have any tolerance for it. That's why Dalfin and his mate lost control." "They should have said something," George said, defensively, "it was written on the bottle." "Do you read kelsirian?" Jeremy asked him. "What? Of course not." "Then why are you expecting them to read English?" "They speak it." "But they don't read it. I'm the only one who's capable of reading English, here. Now, are you willing to let this go let this go as a loss of control do to an accidental over consumption of alcohol? Or do you want to push this further?" George looked at Dalfin, then at his feet, and back at Dalfin. "Yeah, I'm okay with this being an accident. I'm really sorry, I didn't know you didn't drink alcohol, or that you'd have such a back reaction to it." "It isn't because of the alcohol that they're sick. The hops in the beer poisoned them." George looked at him, eyes wide, mouth open. "You had no way of knowing, so I'm not accusing you of anything. This is the first time we've been exposed to it, so it's also an accident. Dalfin, go back to the med bay. George, you're free to go, but I don't want you to offer your beer to anyone of my crew, is that understood? If you do, I won't be kind." George needed before helping Dalfin out. Jeremy looked behind him, at Korfas, who stood still through all that. "Send a notice to the crew, human alcohol is off limits." "All of it?" "Yes. Humans make alcoholic drink for the mind altering effect. They don't have anything that going to be safe for the crew." "Very well." Korfas continued looking at him. "Yes?" "Do you drink human alcohol?" "No," Jeremy said, "human products are banned, remember?" "Your coffee is a human product," Korfas pointed out. "Yes, but coffee is worth smuggling in. To answer what I think you really meant, yes I do drink the strong stuff. The ridoshi make something I've grown the enjoy. But I rarely drink it, and only in small quantity. When I've had a really bad day." Jeremy looked at the door. "At this rate I'm going to become addicted to the stuff by the time we reach Paradise," he grumbled. * * * * * Jeremy looked at the chiefs sitting around the meeting table. This wasn't how he normally did his meetings, he preferred one on one, but circumstances were calling for something drastic. "Alright, I'm hoping we can make some headway into resolving these problems, because we still have four months to go, and at this rate, I'm starting to worry the ship will fall apart before we get there. Pernic, what's the status of the brig." "We're at capacity, sir. I've had to increase guard duties to be able to keep the peace, I've even had to borrow some of the hunters, to give my people some relief. The humans are constantly causing troubles." "All the humans?" Jeremy asked. "No, our humans are behaving, mostly, I've had to put a few of them in the brig, for getting into fights with the other humans. I don't understand, they're all Leafers, they should be getting along, shouldn't they?" Thuruk glanced at Jeremy, who ignored it. He would be dealing with that later. "Humans can be confrontational, and lets remember that quarters are cramped, that's not going to help keep tempers calm." "I thought humans liked small spaces." "Only if they're alone in them. What's the reasons for the fights?" "Over all, it's the humans over drinking, then getting into arguments, which escalate into fights." "Maybe we should take away the alcohol," Alix commented. "That's going to make them angry," Jeremy replied, "which is just going to make matters worse." "I'd have thought they would have drank all of it, by now," Thuruk said. "You'd have thought. Sayane, can we turn one of the cargo bay into holding cells?" "Certainly," she answered, "I can probably double the numbers of cell we have, just by using one of the smaller bays." "Alright. You and Pernic work it out together. Janilan, what is the food status." "If things continue as they are, not good. Food is disappearing, not that we're eating more than expected, someone is stealing it. The refrigerated storage failing is going to make things worse. We are already getting close to having to ration food." "We're working on fixing the storage," Retik piped in. "Janilan, run calculations, and start planing for rationing. Keep in mind that cubs and pregnant females are to be excluded from it. We can't risk their health." Janilan nodded. "Thuruk, get some hunters looking into the theft. I know that would normally be your field Pernic, but your people are already being over worked, and we can't afford for those theft to continue." Both males nodded. "Retik, what caused the storage to fail?" "A power relay exploded." "Exploded?" Jeremy repeated. "How does that happen?" "An energy spike." "I've scanned the whole ship," Alix interjected, "there haven't been any spikes that could have blown out a relay." As he finished talking, the lights dimmed and brightened back to normal. "Can someone cause a specific relay to explode" Thuruk asked. "Not through the system," Retik replied. "How about from outside the system?" Jeremy asked. "Can someone manually cause a relay to overload?" Retik thought for moment. "Yes." "We have what's needed to make that happen?" "In storage." "Xenial, I need you to do a full inventory. Something's going to be missing, I want to know what it is." Xenial nodded. "Alix, have you worked out what's causing the power to fluctuate?" "No, not yet. It shouldn't be happening, the generator is running fine, and not at capacity, but if we don't find the drain, we're going to need the backup to keep up." "No, the backup stays offline," Jeremy stated. "Sir, if we don't find the drain, we will run out." "Then we ration the power, if it gets to that. I don't think it will, but the backup stays offline. That's final. Sayane, how's the ship's structure?" "That's fine. Seems to be the only thing that's not having troubles." "I'm not surprised," Jeremy mumbled to himself, but still drew looks from Korfas, seated to his right. "Brafern, how is medical?" "There's been an increase in minor injuries, the older female answered, "but that's to be expected with the increase in fighting. We have a few theft of medicine, but that's stopped. I think who ever it was, discovered that it didn't work as expected with their biology." "Alright. Does anyone have anything to add?" shakes of the head all around. "Then we are done." Everyone but him rose. "Thuruk, please stay." Korfas started sitting again. "I need you to leave," Jeremy told him. "Why? I'm suppose to be learning from you." "I know, but I can't have you here right now." For a moment it looked like Korfas might argue, but then he left. Jeremy leaned back in his chair, and ran a hand over his face. "Gods, I need a scotch." "Already out?" "No. But if I drink one each time I need one, I'm not going to be able to do anything. So, we're both thinking sabotage." Thuruk nodded. "Even crowded like we are, we shouldn't be having failures like this. They are being manufactured. I just don't know how to find out who is doing it, other than catching them in the act." "That's what I want to talk to you about. Among our humans, how many of them would you trust with your life?" "With my life? Maybe a dozen. They're all good people, but those are the only ones I know well enough for that." "Just twelve? I don't know if we'll be able to do this with only twelve." "What are you planing?" "I want to form a human Hunting Squad." Thuruk's ears folded back. "Train humans to be Hunters? I'm not so certain about that." "I'm not thinking full training, just make them into a squad, and have them infiltrate the new humans. We can't get close enough to them to find out who is sabotaging my ship, but humans could." "That's why you want some we can trust." "Yeah." "I have a few squad leaders under me who've gotten close to our humans, they can probably give me more we can trust with this." Thuruk was silent for a moment. "How do you feel about putting cubs into that squad?" Jeremy had an immediate reaction against that idea, but he forced it aside. "What do you mean?" "I've noticed how humans tend to be more open toward cubs, they could help with the infiltration." Jeremy forced himself to consider it. "How old are you thinking?" "Around fourteen. Older than that, and human cubs are sometime treated as adults." "Fourteen," Jeremy whispered. It's wasn't like with their cubs, who at fourteen would already be working on ships, or be in the process of being trained to become hunters. At fourteen, a human cub was still a cub, it would be at least two years before he would even think about doing adult things. "Are you sure? I'm not comfortable with them being that young." "I might be able to find a few who are older, but look young, but I really think that's the best age. I'm not willing to bring in younger cubs." "Okay, and you think you'll be able to find enough of them you can trust?" "With ease. The influx of new humans has caused a lot of frictions between their cubs and ours. Seems one groups thinks it deserves to be treated better, even if they have just arrived." "Alright, but the moment it looks like things might go wrong, you are pulling them out. I don't want them put in immediate danger." "Agreed." "Get to it." Thuruk left, and Jeremy sighed, enjoying the silence. The lights dimmed, and he growled. He left the room, only to find Korfas waiting for him. "You don't trust me, that's why you didn't want me there." Jeremy sighed. He didn't want to deal with him right now. He wanted to go find Toom, pull him from what whatever was occupying him, and go to bed. But Korfas deserved an explanation. "If this had happened four month ago, you would be correct." Jeremy started walking, and Korfas fell in step with him. "To tell you the truth, back then, I didn't think you'd stick with this. I thought you'd realize this isn't for you and focus on something more appropriate." He looked at him. "Now, though, now, I think you're going to make a good captain, eventually, and I do trust you. I didn't include you in the discussion to protect you. What we agreed to do in there might not be entirely legal. If you know the details, you could be held accountable." "Shouldn't that have been my decision to make?" "No. A captain's duty is to protect his crew. That doesn't always means keeping them away from danger, sometime, it means keeping them ignorant of what's happening." "I don't agree," Korfas said, "we know what we are embarking upon when we sign up. We're here to support our captain, to help him however we can." Jeremy smiled. "You're going to make a very different captain then I am, Yankorfasbernipol, And that is not a slight on you."
  13. Kindar

    Chapter 47

    Toom rejoined him as Jeremy was heading to the ship's berth. He'd stepped away to answer his com. They could have stayed groundside, the family had wanted them to. Roumalger had been most insistent, but to Jeremy, he looked too much like Gral. As much as he'd enjoyed having sex with him in the past, and knew that once he'd finished mourning, he would again, right now it would be too much a reminder of who he had lost. So Jeremy had decided to go back home, to the ship, his ship he had to remind himself, still not use to it. Jeremy wrapped an arm around Toom's and rested his head on his shoulder. "All I want to do is curl up in bed with you." That Toom didn't immediately reply made Jeremy look at him. "I wish we could, but we need to talk." "What's wrong?" "Not here. Lets go to your office." * * * * * "Okay, what is wrong?" Jeremy asked, as soon as the door closed behind them. "You're going to want to have a seat." Jeremy sat, constantly looking at Toom. "You're making me really nervous." "Sorry. I was hoping I'd have more time before this happened." He stopped Jeremy from saying anything with a gesture. "You probably didn't know this, but Gral had enemies. I know he was careful to keep this from you." "We're hunters, considering the number of people we've sent to the colonies, we've all made enemies." Toom shook his head. "No, within the fleet. One of the reason Gral spent so much time away from Kelser, is that each time he'd came back, they'd try to take the ship away from him." "Why? How?" "The why can be summed up by: politics, which he hated, the how, by promoting him to a position that wouldn't allow him to captain." Jeremy looked at Toom, thoughtful. "Why do you need to tell me this now?" "Because you've inherited his enemies." Jeremy straightened up. "Why? I haven't done anything to them, who ever they are?" "It isn't really about you, not anymore, it's about the ship. What you need to know is that you're going to be called in to see a military council. You can't refuse to go, since you're not currently on a mission, or on patrol." "I take it, it's too late to leave now." Toom gave him a sad smile. "You wouldn't be able to get authorization to leave the station, let alone get a patrol route assignment." "How do you know this is coming?" "One of my contacts in that chain of orders owed me a favor, and he repaid it by informing me. And now I have to do my best to prepare you for what ever they will try. They can't promote you, so they are going to try something else. The thing to remember, is that they will make it seem like they are doing it for your benefit. Also, they can't force you to give up the captainship, not yet anyway." "Alright, so they have to convince me to step down." "Yes, and if you do it, even temporarily, getting the ship back would be almost impossible." "Do you know who I'm up against? Why they want the ship, and what I can use against them?" Toom eyed him. "What?" "Gral never asked for armament against them." Jeremy nuzzled him. "You need to have your eyes examined, I look nothing like him." Jeremy had to dry his eyes, as did Toom. "The council will be composed of five people. Only one of which may be an ally." * * * * * "Admiral Oturslgirnal, what a pleasure it is to run into you," Jeremy said, sitting at th admiral's table. The restaurant wasn't exactly cheap, and he was happy he wasn't going to be staying. "Captain Jeremy," the admiral said, not too happy to see him. "What is the meaning of this." "Well, if you hadn't spent the last two days dodging me, I wouldn't have to resort to hunting you." "How did you know where to find me? This isn't on any of my calenders." "I'm a hunter, Admiral. We have our ways." The server came next to Jeremy, but he waved him away. "I'm going to make this quick, since I know you're expecting the rest of your party in twenty minutes. I know I'm about to be called for a meeting. I also know who's going to be on that council, and that four of them want my ship. Having found out I inherited my Heart's political enemies, I need to know if I inherited his friends." The admiral looked at him for a moment. "Friends might be too strong a word for what Gralgiranselhelrarvnir and I shared. Our interests were aligned, that's all." "Are they still?" Jeremy studied the male opposite him. "Or are you worried that because I'm human born, my loyalties might waver." The admiral laughed. "I read the reports of what you did when humans tried to abduct your cubs. And the extent you went to to send those humans a message. No, I don't doubt your loyalties." "Then, what do you doubt?" "I've read those reports, all of them. I know the kind of hunter you are. That is supported by you just showing up here at my table. That's what concerns me." Jeremy nodded, and then was silent. "Do you know one of the things Gral loved about me?" Jeremy asked, and waited for the admiral to shake his head. "He loved how determined I was. I'm not afraid to go after what I want, I'm also not afraid of the consequences. That's the kind of hunter I am." It was the admiral's turn to study him. He drank from his glass. "I will not say that I am your friend, not yet. But I am not your enemy, I will give you that." Jeremy nodded, and stood. "Thank you." He left. * * * * * Jeremy entered the council chamber. It was his first time, in one of them, on Kelser. It was much smaller than those the federation had. The room only had the curved table, behind which the five people sat, and a space for him to stand, before them. No room for an audience. The only thing that didn't belong, from what he'd read, was that there was a chair placed where he would normally stand. "Why is there a chair?" he asked. The female occupying the center seat smiled at him. "We thought that after what you've been through, you might prefer sitting during this meeting." She was Faraldinortelshel, she was currently on the planetary board of leaders, which meant that she really shouldn't be here, such a meeting was far below her station. She had been behind many of the attempts to take the ship away from Gral in recent years, in the hopes of giving the captainship to her son, who still hadn't achieved it on his own. The ploy was clever, Jeremy had to admit, if he accepted the offer, he would be in a bad position to deny he needed rest. "I'll stand, as is protocol." He pushed the chair with a foot and took it's place. He took a comfortable stance, and held his hands behind his back. "First off," said the male on her right. General Turkamilrir. He, and Snifurnolkah, a politician, sitting to his right, were part of a faction that wanted to take the ship and send it to the combat lines in Alamir, and used its reputation as a moral weapon. "We want to start by offering our sympathies, Gralgiranselhelrarvnir was a great hunter. He will be missed by all, and most profoundly, you." "Thank you." "Having said that," Konserafin, another politician, this one's faction wanted to retire the ship from active duty and turn it into a propaganda piece. How they could think that would help anyone, Jeremy couldn't figure out. "We believe that you might want to stay planet side for some time. Give yourself the time to grieve." "What Konserafin means," Faraldinortelshel added, "is that since you lost your Heart, you haven't had time to pause and take in what has happen. And we would understand if you thought some time under the sun might be helpful. I understand that your Heart's family would be more than happy to take you in while you rested." Jeremy was really happy Toom had warned him. If not for that, their offer would seem reasonable. "I appreciate the offer, but I can't abandon my post. Yes, the lost has hit me, but I'm hunter. Lost is something we all to deal with as some point in this work. I also have a hundred and fifty-nine humans on my ship. I wouldn't feel right passing them along to a captain who isn't used to working with them." "The report we read said you had a hundred fifty-seven," she said "That's correct. We had two birth in the month getting here." "Birth? I was under the impression you had rescued Leafers." "We did." "Aren't Leafers humans who have sex with the same gender?" asked Konserafin. "Leafers also include family who support them, as well as anyone who helps them and their cause. Only eighty-three of the rescued are people of have sex with the same gender, but not all of them exclusively. Some are like us, and will have sex with either gender. We currently have three pregnancies in progress." That left them silent for a moment. "There is some concern over your methods," Snifurnolkah said, reading something on a pad. "The event on Herontig Station are disconcerting." "Are you arguing my right to protect my cubs?" "Of course not, but the severity with which you enacted that right . . . Then there's the incident that followed that. You illegally infiltrated a ship and placed a bomb near a military leader on that ship." Jeremy eyed the politician steadily. If he'd hoped to unnerve him by bring him this back up, he was out of luck, Jeremy had come to terms with what he'd done. "Ignoring, for a moment, that it happened years before I was given the captainship. That military leader was human, in our space illegally. I didn't actually harm him, I just gave him a message, to pass along. Also, this was already brought up to a council. It was decided that it was up to my captain to punish me." "And what did he do?" "He made me paid for it." Jeremy's tone was glacial. "Well, yes. Still, it does bring up your competency to captain a ship." "I see. So this meeting is about taking my ship away from me." "It isn't your ship," Faraldinortelshel stated. "It is," Jeremy countered. "As per Kelsirian Military protocol, establish by General Liamtirfelselportamir, and approved by the planetary leaders. Upon a captain's death while on duty, the ship will be passed to a person of his choosing. If that person accept the position, he, or she, has two years to demonstrate competency." He paused. "At most, I've been captain for a month. You have no justifications, or rights, to take my ship away." That left them speechless. "I like to read," Jeremy explained. Faraldinortelshel looked to admiral Oturslgirnal. "You haven't said anything admiral, don't you have something to add?" Oturslgirnal looked back at her. "I do. I want to know why this council is obsessed with taking a ship away from the people the Gods have assigned to it." "What?" She exclaimed. "I thought you agreed with me." He snorted. "I did. You said you wanted to make sure the right person captained the Viper's bane. That right person is Jeremy, not your son. You want to try to take the ship away from him? You're going to have to wait two years, but I can promise you, you won't be able to find a reason to take it away. This farce has gone on long enough." He stood. "Captain Jeremy, you are free to go."
  14. Kindar

    Chapter 42

    "Captain," the older kelsirian said, a moment after his image appeared on the screen "Admiral Oturslgirnal, thank you for taking my call so quickly." "I wasn't going to keep the Hunter at the Line waiting," he replied, smiling warmly. "What is the reason for you call?" Gral kept the grimace from showing, he hated that title. He'd acquired it after the general had fabricated a vision that let Gral continue to patrol the kelsirian-human border. He was grateful to the Admiral, but he didn't like the reminder of the fabrication. "I think we need to meet," Gral said. "A meeting? Are you close to Kelser? You could have arranged that through my secretary." "I'm not. And I'm not sure you want this to go through channel. We've come across . . . something." "Isn't that a little presumptuous of you? Requesting a meeting, just because you found something?" "I'm confident you don't want me to file a report on this, considering you're the one who assigned me this patrol route." "I didn't assign you anything, you have Freedom of Hunt." "When I'm pursuing a quarry, yes. The rest of the time I follow my assigned patrol route, and you are the one in charge of assigning those." The admiral leaned back in his chair and eyes him. "You're certain this is that important?" "Yes, sir." "Be in your sensor lab in ten minutes, you'll get a message there." The communication cut, leaving Gral perplexed. "Huar," "Yes captain?" "Meet me in your lab in five minutes." Gral left his office. * * * * * The sensor lab wasn't much to look at for Gral. A reasonably sized room, with more readouts screen lining the walls that he could count. He knew Huar could find out the state of any individual sensor from here, he also knew he didn't spend much time in this room, preferring to do visual inspections. They had been waiting for a few minutes, when a message arrived. A string of number that was meaningless to Gral. "That's a frequency setting," Huar said, "but that isn't within sensor range." "Can you get the sensor to reach it?" "Sure, I can adjust the sensor to 'see' anything, it's just surprising. There's nothing in that range." He typed commands, and then entered the frequency he had received. "I'm brining up on screen, but we're not going to see anything." The admiral's face appeared. "Gods," Huar exclaimed, "how is that possible?" he started typing. "Leave it, Engineer," the admiral ordered, and Huar stopped. "We're using the frequency as a sub-carrier wave. It's outside standard scan ranges, and even then, it's almost undetectable. I'd appreciate it if you didn't look into it any deeper." "Yes, sir," Huar replied. "Please leave us," Gral said, and Huar left the lab. The Admiral made a sign, and Gral saw shadows move, heard a door open and then close. "Now, captain. What's so important." "I have a human exploration ship, and its pilot. Which isn't a surprise to you, I take it," Gral added, at the lack of reaction from the admiral. "It isn't, humans have been been exploring unclaimed territories since before we met them." "So have we. But I'm guessing you know more about this ship than any of the others, am I right?" "You are," that admiral said, after a moment. "What state is the ship in? And it's pilot?" "The ship's engine is offline, damage cause by a micro meteorite. The pilot is physically fine, but his state of mind is dubious, at best. He spent eight years in total isolation, from what I saw, even humans can't take that much." "I need you to repair his ship, but in a way that can't reveal you did it. Then you need to send him back to the humans." "Why?" "He's part of a group that's working to free a subset of their citizen from their government's oppression." "The silver leaf pin." "You know about it?" "Yes, I ran across it when I escorted Jeremy to see his mother." "I don't recall this being mentioned in a report." "I didn't think it was relevant, just two males, accosting us in a bar, giving us the pin, and mentioning something about a plan. I thought they were just part of a small group wishing their situation was better." "Their group isn't small. We don't have any numbers, but there are a lot of them. The human government calls them 'Homos' "They call themselves, 'Leafers'." The surprise on the admiral's face told Gral he hadn't known that. "The human pilot, Adam, told us." "They have placed some of their people in positions of power, and they are working toward something they call 'exodus'." The word was human, and unknown to Gral. He'd ask Jeremy about it. "How are they infiltrating their own government?" "By being careful not to be noticed. If no one knows about their preferences, they are invisible within their society." "What does an explorer who's been away from human space for eight years have to do with their plans? The only thing in his databanks are scans of planets." "I don't know. Maybe you can get him to tell you that. All I know is that he and a few other explorers are very important to them." Gral nodded. "Adam mentioned something about applying pressure. Do you have any idea what he means?" The admiral though it over and shook his head. "No, but I'll pass the information to the ambassadors working close with the humans, they may know. Is there anything else?" Gral shook his head. "Then, good hunting, oh and thank your mate for the upgrade he came up for the sensors. What's how we have this sub carrier wave." The admiral cut the transmission without explaining further. * * * * * "Hello Adam," Gral said, as they stood before his cell. "I'm Gral, I'm the ship's captain. You remember Jeremy, my mate, and this is Leiha, the ship's mentalist." Adam was sitting on his bed, nervously looking at them. "That's a mentalist? So I want to know? Am I suppose to know?" "I help people who have problems with their minds," she answered. "You're a mind doctor," Adam stated, regarding her suspiciously. "That would be an appropriate description." "I don't like mind doctors. They do things, they try to change you. To make you 'normal'." Gral and Jeremy exchanged a look. "I do nothing of the sort," Leiha said. "I help people quiet their mind, so they can know who they are. If there is something in their mind that hurts them, I help them find out what it is, and come to terms with it." "Where are your machines? Mind doctors always have machines. Big machines, small machines, painful machines." Leiha looked at Jeremy, who wasn't showing any of the discomfort he was feeling. She could tell that he was now wondering if Adam's problems had been caused by those doctors, instead of the isolation. "I don't use machines, it's only me, and you." "And them." Leiha nodded. "The captain and his mate have questions for you. And if you'll let me, I'd like to help you answer them." "No, I'm not suppose to tell anyone. The plan won't work if they know." "Who's 'they'? Jeremy asked. "No, no, no, no! You won't get me to tell you!" He put his hands over his mouth. Gral crouched before the glass. "Adam, we want to help you. My ship's structural engineer is repairing your ship. When that's done, we'll send you back toward human space, even if you don't tell us anything. But we want to help you, and it's going to be easier to do that if we know what's going on." "Why? Why would you want to do that? No, no. No one whats to help. They just want you to be normal. Being different is wrong." He had pulled his knees to his chest an he was rocking back and forth. "Adam," Leiha said, "tell me about Robert." "Robert?" Adam stopped rocking, and his features softened. "Robert's an accountant, he lives across the hall from me. He helped me forget the nightmares, he's waiting for me to come home." "What happens once you get home?" "Nothing," Adam sighed. "He going to have to ignore me. I'm going to be too visible, I'm going to be on tv a lot. We're going to have to be apart until e leave." "Why do you have to remain apart?" Gral asked, before Jeremy could stop him. "Because if they find out about us, the doctors are going to come back. I don't want the doctors anymore. I don't want them to know about Robert." "Adam," Jeremy said softly. "What can we do to help you and Robert?" "You have to send me back. I have to go home, and be ignored by him, even if that's going to hurt." "Why?" "Because I found it. I found the place where we can go to. He got off the bed and leaned against the glass. "And you know the best part?" he whispered. "They are going to send us there willingly." "Why will they do that?" "Because they're going to think they are sending us to hell, when in reality they are sending up to paradise."
  15. Kindar

    Chapter 40

    "Pa! you're home!" Rudyum ran to him, and jumped in his arms. Jeremy caught him and twirled him around. "How was you day?" he asked his son. Rudyum had been greeting him this way since he'd first return, six day ago. Jeremy could tell that Rudyum hadn't taken his absence well, and that he was worried Jeremy wouldn't return from work one day. Jeremy did his best to comfort him. "Today we learned all about Thuruksamian, did you know he created everything?" "I remember reading about that," Jeremy replied, putting him down. He wasn't going to be able to pick his son up like that for much longer, he was growing fast. He went to his room to change out of his work clothes. He came back to the living area to Tamirik reciting 'dadadada," as she waddled toward Gral, who had just entered their quarters. Gral picked her up, and nuzzled her. "Hi dad," Rudyum said. Gral had gone from father, to dad when Tamirik started speaking and calling him 'da'. There use to be a lot of warmth when he said that. Now his face was cold. What Jeremy and Gral had one through had affected their son, and he could only hope that as they healed the rift, Rudyum would start warming up to his dad again. "Welcome home," Jeremy said, before heading for the cooking area. Gral deposited their daughter back among her toys, and sat down in his favorite chair to read. She went back to playing. "What do you think I should make for the meal, hatary? Or kourren?" Jeremy asked. "Doesn't matter to me," Gral replied, not looking up for his pad. Jeremy stifled a sigh. "Please Gral. You know that's not how this works." Gral was still being difficult about this. Jeremy didn't miss Rudyum, looking from him to Gral, frowning. "Tary, tary, tary," Tamirik sang form where she was sitting. "Can we, pa?" Rudyum asked. "Can we have hatary?" Jeremy looked at Gral, ho didn't look in his direction, but at least put the pad down. "Yeah, hatary sounds good, we haven't had that in a while." "Hatary it is." Jeremy started taking the ingredients out of the cooler and pantry. Rudyum's face lit up, and Tamirik continued with her chant of 'tary, tary, tary.' He was halfway through preparing the meal when the door opened. Tamirik stood unsteadily, and then waddled her way to the new commer. "Toomtoomtoomtoomtoom." Jeremy found himself wishing she would greet him the same way, but at least she was no longer looking at him wearily. Toom picked up as soon as she was within reach. "And how is my Tamirikaniesoulima," he asked, nuzzler her. "Soulima!" was her reply, and then she giggled. Tamirik was to the stage where she could do more than string single words together. "Toom," Gral said, putting his pad aside, and standing. "This is a surprise." He hugged them, Tamirik squeeing. "I missed my favorite little female," Toom replied, wrapping his free arm around Gral. Jeremy looked at them, and smiled. He was happy to see that Gral could still smile, a genuine smile, not the things he forced once in a while when looking at Jeremy. Gral looked up at him, and gave him this genuine smile. A moment later, it was gone and Gral's eyes clouded over. Jeremy focused back on preparing the meal. "How are you doing?" Toom asked him, standing on the other side of the counter. "As well as can be expected," Jeremy replied. "I wanted to give you both some space, I hope I'm not intruding." "Of course not." Jeremy reached over to pull him closer into a nuzzle. "You're always welcome here, you know that." Toom smiled and licked him on the cheek. "Thanks. How are the two of you doing?" "I don't know. Better, I hope. I know he saw Leiha yesterday. But he's still being difficult on some of the things she wants us to do." He looked over toom's shoulder. Tamirik was on Gral's lap, and he was making faces at her. "Have you seen her?" "My session is tomorrow." Toom put a hand on his. "You're going to get through this" "I know," Jeremy said, smiling at him. "The Gods worked too hard to bring us together, I'm not going to let that be in vain." For a moment it looked like Toom was going to say something, but Rudyum wrapped his arms around his belly. "Are you going to eat with us?" Toom rubbed his head, and scratched at the base of an ear. "I probably shouldn't, this is a time for your family to be together." "Even more reason for you to stay," Jeremy stated, "you're family." "Jeremy's right," Gral said. "You're as close to a near father to them as anyone of the ship." "Thank you, both of you. I'll be honored to eat with you." * * * * * The meal was good, both the food and the atmosphere. There was laughter, and stories. Rudyum told them what he'd learned about Thuruksamian. Gral recounted a story of when he was a cub himself, and managed to get tangled into one of his father's tree, trying to go after the biggest fruit on it. Toom's story was about his first operation, a rescue, where he not only didn't come back with the right person, but he'd ended up bringing back his commander's mate. Jeremy talked about his family, his brothers, who loved to play tricks on everyone, his sister, who could make you feel like she was reproachful, even when she was giving you a compliment, and his mother, who loved everyone she knew, as unconditionally as she could. At no time during the meal did Gral speak directly to Jeremy, but he did glance at him, and the smiles were genuine. This was the first meal that had felt normal since his return. After the meal the five of them sat in the living area and continued talking, until the cubs had to be taken to bed. After that, Toom excused himself, needing to go back to his quarters for the night. Jeremy wanted to ask him to stay, He was part of their family, and he shouldn't have to sleep apart from them, but he didn't. It wouldn't be fair to Toom to bring him in while he and Gral still had so much work to do. He nuzzled him, and wished him a good night. After that, silence descended on their quarters. Gral went back to his pad, and Jeremy pulled up reports from engineering that had come in after he'd left for the day. When bed time arrived, they both undressed and sat on the edge of the bed, on opposite sides, their backs to each other. Jeremy closed his eyes. "I love how safe I feel when I'm with you." It wasn't a lie, not so long ago, being in Gral's arms had been the safest place, and he knew that it would be the same, one day. He didn't move. There was a deep breath form Gral. "I . . . I love how determined you are. How you will keep to a hunt once you set your mind to it. How you will confront what ever obstacle that finds itself in front of you, that you will stay the course, regardless of the consequences." He got in the bed. Jeremy turned before sliding in. Gral's back was to him. This hadn't been Leiha had instructed them to say, but he didn't care. He could tell in the tone that it was genuine. Normally he'd sleep with his back to Gral, but he found he didn't want this time. The bowl shape naturally moved him so he was pressing against his back, and he tentatively put an arm over Gral's side. When his Heart didn't shake him off, he pressed a little closer. "I miss you," Jeremy whispered. After a moment, Gral took his hand, and squeezed it. * * * * * Jeremy and Gral were panting on the bed. The sex had been amazing, as it usually was. It wasn't the first time, it had taken them six month to reconcile enough that sex together became a regular part of their lives again, and for the year after that, it had just gotten better, but this time, it felt different. Jeremy couldn't say why, but now that they were catching their breath, covered in sweat and bodily fluids, he felt more at ease in his Heart's arm. "I'm afraid of loosing you," Gral whispered. Jeremy looked up at him, that was a strange thing to say. "I'm not going anywhere." Gral shook his head. "When you hurt those males, who tried to kidnaps the cubs, the idea that you might be taken from me hurt. After the operation you ran, I was afraid the humans would take you, and find a way to make you hate me. It hurt so much I didn't know how to deal with it." "It's alright, they won't take me, ever." Gral smiled at him. "It doesn't matter. I'm terrified of how much it will hurt if I do lose you. I'm so afraid of it, that I want to lock you away, someplace no one, not even the Gods will be able to get to you." He was silent for a moment. "I know it's stupid. I'm not really going to do it, but that fear is always at the back of my mind." "I wish I could tell you that I'll never leave, but we're hunters, we live dangerous lives. All I can do is promise that I'll do my best to always be here for you." "Thanks," Gral nuzzled the top of his head. "That operation I ran, against the humans. The reason I did it, was because I'd realized that you and the cubs were in danger because of me. I was scared that if I didn't make the point hard with the humans, that they would keep coming and one day I'd lose one of you." They were silent, and Jeremy realized that he felt a weight lifted from him, now that he'd admitted why he'd done what he'd done. * * * * * Jeremy was preparing some tatsuro. He didn't particularly like the dish, but he wasn't doing this for himself. The door opened, and Toom ran in, panting. "What's wrong?" Jeremy looked up, and stifled a smile, Toom's pants were on backward. Gral calmly stood from his chair. Toom looked from one to the other, confused by their calm demeanor. "I got a message to come here urgently." Jeremy washed his hands. Gral was next to Toom now. "What's wrong," he said, "is that we were wondering why you weren't home yet." Toom frowned. "I was home. I was almost asleep when I got the call." Jeremy joined them. "That isn't home," he said, putting a hand on Toom's cheek. "Your home should be here." Toom was obviously confused. "I don't understand." Gral nuzzled him. "We're told you over and over, you are family. You are our family." "You, you want me to be your mate?" "Yes," Jeremy answered. "The cubs already treat you as their near father, an we both love you. If you'll have us, we want you to be our mate." Toom hugged them tightly, and rubbed his muzzle against both their face. "Yes," he whispered. "The Gods be praised, yes."
  16. Kindar

    Chapter 39

    Jeremy had been in the brig for a week, alone. On a ship like the Viper's bane, the brig was almost exclusively used to hold prisoners, so he wasn't surprised to be the only one held there. What surprised him, at first, was that no one came to see him. Then he realized that Gral had probably ordered the guards to prevent his friends from dropping by. So, for a week it had been lights on at six, three meals, and lights out at twenty two. With nothing to do. "Finally!" Jeremy exclaimed when he heard the door open. It wasn't meal time, so it could only mean he'd finally decided to come talk to him. "It's about time you decided to . . ." His words died as he saw it wasn't Gral. Jeremy looked over Toom's shoulder to see if there was anyone else, a stupid move, it wasn't like Gral would have been able to hide behind the smaller kelsirian. "The captain's not coming," Toom said. "Of course he isn't," Jeremy snorted. He sat back on the bench. "How long is he going to keep me locked up?" "Until we reach Kelser, there he's going to have you transfered to an incarceration center." "What? This is ridiculous. Gods, what does he think he's doing?" Toom eyes him for a moment. "What is he doing? What did you think he was going to do when he found out about that operation?" "He wasn't suppose to find out about it." "So, on top of everything, you think your Heart is stupid." "Come on, he can't be that mad. We didn't get caught, and I don't see the humans brining it up, ever." "Mad? You didn't see what he did to his office, after throwing you in here." "It's kind of obvious I didn't see it." Jeremy pointed to his surroundings. "And you're not taking any of this seriously," Toom said, with a sigh. "How am I suppose to take this seriously, when I don't understand what the big deals all about. Humans were operating inside our territory, I made it pretty clear to them they would leave, and I didn't hurt anyone." "You're wrong, people have been hurt." Jeremy frowned at him. "Even if I assume that you really did that to get them to leave, which I don't. I know you too well. It wasn't your place to do it. You should have brought the information to the captain, and he would either have acted on it, or passed it along to his superiors. You endangered all of us, again." "No, I didn't! I did it exactly this way to make sure the crew would be safe. If the humans ever managed to trace anything back, it would only lead to me. No one else. Gods, the crew's safe, the ship's safe. What is he so angry about?" Toom tilted his head. "You really don't see it?" the surprise in Toom voice perplexed Jeremy. "See what? What are you talking about?" Toom let out a small, sad, laugh. He put a hand on the glass separating them. "After all these years, I really though you'd finally get it." He turned and left. "Get what?" Jeremy screamed after him. * * * * * Jeremy was standing before the council, the second time he'd been in such a position. The first time had been less grim. He was showered, shaved and wearing prisoner's gray. His hands were no longer restrained - they had been for the entire shuttle flight and walk to the groundside military administrative center. Gral had been by his side the entire time, but he hadn't said a word, he hadn't even looked at him. It was the first time they had seen each other in a month, and his mate wouldn't even looked at him. Jeremy hadn't thought he could hurt much more than when he'd been thrown in the brig and ignored there. He'd been wrong. "Captain," the central councilor said, "we've read the files you sent us, but we're still uncertain why you requested this meeting." He was an older male, Jeremy could tell because even sitting he was stooping forward. His fur was still a vibrant golden brown. "I'm here to turn over this terrorist, for judgment." Gral replied. "What?" Jeremy yelled, looking at his mate. "The prisoner will be silent," a female said. He didn't see whom, because he was glaring at Gral, who continued to look in front of him. "Do you deny the accusation?" "I deny being a terrorist, but no, I don't deny what's probably in that file." "You haven't seen the file?" she asked. She was sitting left of center, and looked to be a little younger, even if her fur as light gray. "No. I haven't." "They why don't you tell us what you did?" "How much detail do you want?" "Just give us the over all hunt. If we need details we'll ask for them." Jeremy nodded. "The operation consisted of infiltrating a ship crewed by humans. One of my operative procured one of their uniform so I could move about undetected. Another infiltrated their computer system, he monitored my progress and gave me access to where i needed to go." "The captain was unable to find out who your operatives were, will you be naming them?" Jeremy couldn't stop himself form looking at Gral, in surprise. "No, sir. I won't. As operation leader, I take full responsibility for what was done. They were following my orders, nothing more." He didn't know why Gral hadn't included them in his report, but he wasn't going to give them up, if he hadn't. "Very well, continue." "I made my way to the office of the human general Walter Malcolm Concryte. I installed a bomb to his office chair. The bomb was set to become active when he sat down, and detonate if he left the chair. Once the general sat, I explained to him that he needed to leave me alone, and go home. Once I said what I had to say, I neutralize the bomb and left." "What I'd like to know," said another female, on the left, her fur was mate black with random white stripes. "Is why you took it upon yourself to give a message to human illegally operating within the federation. You should have given that information to your captain." Jeremy didn't answer immediately. "I had to make a point. Humans have kidnapped me twice, and attempted to kidnap our cubs. Which happened on the Sitory station, deep in Kelsirian territory, where no humans had any business being. "I had to make them understand that I didn't need my Heart to protect me, or my crew. I needed to show them that if they came after me again, *I* was going to make them pay. I believed that a direct operation against them was the only way to make that point." "Why didn't you involve your captain?" "He wouldn't have let me do it." "Would it have been because he didn't think you couldn't accomplish the operation?" "No. Like you said, I shouldn't have done it. I knew he would have force me to stay in the sidelines while an official response was mounted. I also didn't tell him, because I didn't want to the operation to be traced back to him and endanger the crew." Gral snorted, and Jeremy grated his teeth, fighting not to ask what that was about. "So you left the ship, and no one was hurt." "That is correct." "Did you do anything else to the ship?" "I had one of my operative install three minor programs in their system, to trigger and deliver a message as a reminder of what I'm capable." The five of them talked among themselves for a few moments. Jeremy noticed that a few of them consulted their pads during that time. When they were done they returned their attention to the two of them. "Captain, based on the file you provided," the older kelsirian said, "and Jeremy's testimony, which corroborates your findings, we can't level a charge of terrorism against him. The Humans have not indicated that any such actions have been done against them, and since Jeremy's actions were not against any kelsirian assets, the best we can find is running an unauthorized operation. Which would normally fall under the ship's captain to resolve." Gral was visibly not happy about this. "If you insist, you can have Jeremy removed from your crew, and we'll find another ship willing to take him." He paused and studied the both of them. "If I can offer my advice, not as an admiral, but as someone who has lived a long time. What I read in this file, and how I saw you react to Jeremy's testimony, speaks of a problem that is deeper, and unrelated to the operation he ran. Wouldn't it be best if you both went back to your ship and worked it out, instead of trying to shut yourself our of each other's life?" "Is that an oder, sir?" Gral asked. "Do I need to make it one?" "No, sir." "Good." He looked at the other councilors. "Do we have anything else for them?" after a moment they all shook their head. "Alright, then, we're done here." Gral turned, and stormed off. Jeremy left at a more controlled pace. The two guards, standing just outside the chamber, looked at their captain's vanishing back, and then at Jeremy. "So, where are we taking you?" asked Breniel. "The captain didn't say anything as he passed." "The council basically said I was his responsibility," Jeremy replied. "So you'll have to check with him." "Why don't we start by getting back to the ship." Armoil commented. "We can have someone braver than us ask him, once we're there." "That works for me," Breniel said, and looked at Jeremy. "I have to go to the ship, so that sounds like a plan. Can we forgo the restraints?" "I don't see why not. The captain didn't say anything about having you wear them." * * * * * Gral rushed in Leiha's office. "What's wrong with Rudyum?" asked a the door closed behind him. "He was fine this morning." He saw who was sitting in one of the two chairs in front of Leiha's desk, and growled. He turned to leave, but the door didn't open. He slammed a hand on it. "Open the door." "No." Leiha said. "I am ordering you to open it." "Captain, as ship mentalist, it is my responsibility to catch situations that have the potential to put the crew in danger. When that happens, I have the authority to do what is needed, even ignore a captain's order. Now, please sit down." She indicated the vacant chair, next to Jeremy's "And where were you when he set his operation in motion? How come I never saw a report from you about what he was planing?" "I had to weigh which one was more dangerous. Letting him go along with it, while using that as leverage to get him to have regular sessions with him, or stopping him, and having his anger continue to build until it boiled out of control." "And you call hat he did being under control?" She studied him and then looked at Jeremy. "Would you tell your Heart what your initial plan was?" Jeremy sighed. "I was going to assassinate the general, and then send a message to the humans telling them what I'd done, and why." "That's insane!" Gral yelled. Jeremy winced. "I know," he growled. "Through the sessions with me, he was able to realize that, and changed his plans." "And you couldn't get him to abandon them outright?" "I didn't have the time. Please sit, captain." Gral sat, grumbling. "I'll start by pointing out that I didn't have to trick Jeremy in coming. You've been ignoring my requests, until now. He's willing to talk and try to resolve the problems." "Of course he is," Gral said, "it's his fault things got to this." "What's that suppose to mean, my fault?" "You know exactly what I mean, don't try to act like you don't." "Right, because I'm the one who threw his Heart in the brig and ignored him there for a month, only to have him taken out because he wanted to get him thrown into an incarceration center. Right. I'm the one who blew this up out of proportion." Gral stood and glared down at Jeremy. "And What did you expect me to do? Cuddle you? You're constantly lying to me. You took over a year planning an operation, and then carried it through without approval, you could have started a war!" Jeremy stood and glared back "what do you mean, 'constantly lying'? When have I ever lied to you!" "You said you'd come she her so she could help you." "I did, and she did." "Then why did you through with the operation!" "Because it had to be done! Didn't you hear anything I said to the council?" "Gods! You're like talking to a wall!" he turned to Leiha. "What do you expect me to say to him . . ." He stopped, looking at here, muzzle open. She looked back at him, over the sandwich she was holding. She finished chewing and swallowed. "Don't mind me," she said, "continue screaming at each other." "Aren't you suppose to be helping us?" Gral asked. "Yes, but you are screaming at each other. I figured that was going to go on for another fifteen minutes at least, long enough for me to finish eating." "Shouldn't you have stopped us?" "You weren't listening to each other, there was no chance you'd listen to me. Food sounded more appealing." Gral and Jeremy looked at her, baffled. "Does this mean you're done screaming at each other? That you're ready to sit and actually talk?" They both sat. Leiha sighed and put her sandwich aside. "Jeremy, Gralgiranselhelrarvnir says that you lied to him, have you?" "No." "And yet, you haven't told him the truth either, have you?" Jeremy didn't say anything. "How about you? Have you told him why you were so harsh?" "Yes, because he put the ship and crew in danger." Gral's tone was controlled. "So, you're not willing to tell him the truth either." Gral glared at her. "Alright, I can tell that this is as far as we are going to get today. Jeremy, I want to restart your regular appointments. Captain, I want you to also come see me, within the next seven day. Don't make me have to hunt you down." Jeremy nodded. "How often do you expect me to come?" "At least once a week, and for as long as it takes to resolve this situation. When I feel the time's right, we're going to have another session with you together." "Alright." "Good. Now. Here are some rules. First, you will consult with each other for every decisions." "Every decision?" Gral asked. "I have a ship to run, I can't spend my time running my decisions by someone else." Leiha thought it over. "You're right. For you, ship related decisions are excluded. And for you Jeremy, anything to do with engineering is excluded." "But for everything else, I have to check with him?" Jeremy thumbed in Gral's direction, Leiha nodded. "What's the point?" "The point is that the two of you need to start talking again." "We talk," Gral said. "Possibly, but do you actually listen to each other?" Neither replied. "Second rule. You live in the same quarters. You've been apart long enough, and you have cubs that need you both. You will live together, and sleep together. "Rule three, no screaming. If you feel like screaming at each other, I want you to come here. Wake me if needed, but you are not to raise your voice at each other, is that understood?" They nodded, reluctantly, but did nod. "Good. Finally, before going to bed, you will tell each other a reason why you are happy to be together. You'll do that each night, and you can't have repeats." "No repeats? That's not going to last long." "You're going to have to make it work, because I want both of you back here the morning you can't find something new to be grateful for. Now. I'll see each of you at your next appointment."
  17. Kindar

    Chapter 50

    Korfas let out an exasperated yell and threw the datapad on the desk. "Why do I have to read all those?" Jeremy looked through his screen, at the male seated at his old desk. Jeremy was at Gral's desk. It hadn't been easy for him to move to that desk, he hadn't wanted to. If he hadn't agreed to train Korfas, he'd have left this desk untouched, but life had required he moved on. "You need to know what's going on." "What do I care if six gunners are sick, or if some of the food has gone bad?" "What are you going to do if you get in a firefight with some pirates, and only discover half your gunners are in the medical bay when you can't shoot back at them? Or that you're running out of food, because it spoiled, when you're weeks away from the nearest station?" "That isn't my job," Korfas growled. "It's the Chiefs jobs to make sure everything's running correctly." Jeremy sighed. That's what came of putting someone on ships he didn't care to be on, with captains who didn't care to have him there. Years in space, and he didn't even know the basics of running a ship. "Being a captain isn't all about standing proud on the bridge, making threats to your enemies, and giving orders. If that's what you're looking for, become a vid actor. The Chiefs don't decide where the ship goes, the captain does. They update you on how things are going in their department, so you can decide what the ship needs to do. I don't like doing management and more than you do. I'd rather be buried in the generator, than sitting here, but I'm the captain, so I put my ass in this chair and read data. If you are serious about being a captain, this is something you need to learn to enjoy, or at least tolerate. If you don't think you can, you might want to consider doing something else." Korfas grumbled under his breath. "Tell me something. Who is after my ship. You or your mother?" The male looked up at him, "What?" "Your mother, then." Jeremy nodded to himself. "Do you actually want to be a captain?" "Of course I do. It's just that no one's ever told me any of this was involved in it." "Didn't you take the Command Courses at the academy?" Korfas shook his head. "Mother didn't feel it would be worthwhile, she felt the best way to learn was to be assigned to a ship." "Sounds like the captains you were assigned to didn't particularly want you around. What did they have you do?" "Relay orders, fetch drinks, watch over the shoulders of each boards." Jeremy stared at him. "Sixteen years of playing gofer? And you never questioned it?" "I asked mother about it, but she said it was fine, that I'd get my ship eventually." "She meant you'd get *my* ship. I don't know why, but she's obsessed with giving it to you. You're not getting it, by the way. I'm not saying that to discourage you. It's just that by time I'll be passing my ship on to its next captain, I'm hoping you'll have been captain of your own ship for a long time already. If you end up decide that the captainship isn't for you, that's fine too, what ever your mother might think. Your academy records show that you're good in combat, so I can put you with one of the hunter teams, and you could probably rise to leader." "As captain, wouldn't I lead all of them?" "If that's how you decide to do it, yes. My Heart lead them, I don't. I'm a good hunter, but I leave that side of the leadership to someone who is better at it than I. Just remember, this is your life. Make sure you're going to be happy with it, because you're the one who will have to live it, not your mother." Korfas nodded, made a face as he looked at the datapad, but picked it up again. "Captain?" the com asked. "Here." "We're in range." "I'm on my way." He shut down his computer. "You want to stay with the reports, or shadow me?" Korfas looked at his pad, and then to Jeremy. "What do you want me to do?" "I told you before, you have to make your decisions yourself. You're not here to pass the time. You're here to learn how to lead a ship." He kept his gaze on the male. Korfas was silent for moment. "Will it count against me if I decide to shadow you?" "No. So long as you go through those reports in a timely manner, and write a summary of them, with your opinion as to what needs to be done about them, I'll be happy." Korfas put the pad down and stood. * * * * * "On screen," Jeremy said, as he entered, and took position in the center of the bridge. On the main screen, a station appeared. It was toroid shaped, with spokes connecting a central cylinder. Jeremy smiled. It had been decade since he'd seen it. He hadn't thought he'd ever be back here. Even without considering the ban on kelsirian ships within human territory, Jeremy had never planned on coming back here, where he'd spend his last fifteen years within human space. "You said you're familiar with the boards?" Jeremy asked Korfas in a low tone. "Yes sir," he replied. "Look them over and give me your report." Korfas left his side. "Have they hailed us?" Jeremy asked, in a normal voice. "No, sir," Tamirik answered. "Alright. Initiate contact with the station." Tamirik nodded to indicate she'd done it. "Station, this is the Viper's Bane, please respond." Korfas rejoined him. "The station's weapons are powered down, their sensors are going full strength, no military ships within sensor range. No unusual chatter on the com." "Opinion?" "They didn't know we were coming?" "They knew. If you had surprised them, their weapons would be hot. Remember, if not for our orders, we'd be breaking the ban." "Viper's Bane, this is Newton's Station. State your purpose here." "As per the relocation order, we're here to pickup two hundred and twenty-three humans. You guys must be pretty crowded right now." "Yeah, we are. We're going to be happy to get rid of those perverts." Jeremy kept his mouth shut, even with the look of dismay Korfas was making. Arguing wouldn't resolve anything, and just delay their departure. He wanted to be out of here as soon as possible. "Where do you want us to dock?" "Dock? No one told me anything about you docking." "How do you expect the passengers to board my ship, walk?" "That works for me. They might even be able to hold their breath that far." "Look, are you, or are you not, going to assign me a dock?" "Like I said, no one gave me any indications that you're allowed to dock." Jeremy sighed. "Bring the weapons online." The weapons board lit up, and Shoriden moved to it. "What are you doing?" the station asked. Korfas was eying him suspiciously. "I'm pointing out that I have the superior fire power. And indicating that I have very little patience for human stupidity. Now, I'm here under federation orders, so you are going to assign me a dock, or I'm going shoot the doors off one and storm the station." He motioned for Tamirik to disconnect, and the voice was cut in mid protest. "Toom, give them five minutes. If they haven't assigned us one by then, pick one and head for it." "Is this wise?" Korfas asked, "sir?" "We're here under orders, they know it, they're just being difficult because they can. And don't worry, as much as I'm tempted to do so, I'm not going to open fire on them." He paused. "At least, not until all the Leafers are on board." * * * * * Docking had been uneventful. They were at the dock that had been assigned to them. Jeremy was standing in front of the access, waiting for the Leafers to arrive. A group walked toward them, but they weren't Leafers, he recognized the human leading them. Jeremy's smile took on a vicious tint. "Commander O'neil," he said, walking toward them, hand extended, he had to remind himself of how humans greeted each others. "It's such a pleasure to see you after all these years." He indicated Korfas, "this is Korfas, I'm afraid he doesn't speak English." The human glared at him, at the offered hand, and ignored Korfas. "What the hell are you doing here?" "When the exodus was announced, and my ship drafted, I requested to be the one to come here. I have to say, I would have expected you to have been promoted out of this hole, after all these years? Still paying for letting me go, I see." The human was livid, which only made Jeremy smile wider. "Get the fuck off my station." "I'll be happy to do so, as soon as all the Leafers have boarded. Are the armed guards really needed?" He turned to Korfas, and said, in kelsirian. "Go in, and get me some hunters, armed. Don worry about armor. Aim to match the humans one for one." Korfas nodded and left. "What did you tell him." "I told him that it would be dishonorable for us not to match your honor guard. He's gone to fetch some, after all, we wouldn't want any kind of misunderstanding to happen, would we? Although I have to wonder, which will look worse on your file. A firefight? Which you'll lose, or letting all those Leafers escape human control?" The jab actually made the commander smile. "Oh, you don't have to worry, I have no intention on preventing them from leaving. I want them to settle on their pervert world, what's in called, of yeah, Paradise. Let them settle there, and reap what they sowed." If Jeremy didn't know what he knew, that would have worried him greatly. Armed kelsirians formed a corridor from the ship's access to the a third of the distance to the cargo bay's entrance, where people were starting to file in. Jeremy looked at them, males and females, of a wide range of age. Fear and worries on their face. Hopefully, his human crew would be able to calm and comfort them. His ship was going to be crowded for the six month it would take to reach paradise.
  18. Kindar

    Chapter 46

    Jeremy stood next to the container in which Gral's body lay. It was a cryo unit, to prevent the body from deteriorating, until it was time for the ceremony. The container was etched with signs of Gral's name sake, the Hunter - a stylized animal with an arrow in it. The room was kept dark, in case the deep one sent one of its minion to steal it. Jeremy held a light, knowing that if one of them should appear it would be his duty to defend Gral's body. Outside the light were banners, with names, the names of anyone who had been affected by Gral's life. It had started with everyone on the ship, and, as news of his death spread, others had contacted them, to have their names added. Except for the path to the door, the entire room was filled with those banners. Outside the door, two guards stood. The room was never without guards, to keep enemies from taking the body. The Gods had warned that anyone who stood for them, who helped advanced their plan would make enemies, and those enemies might come looking for revenge. Jeremy looked at the container. He'd been here, in this hastily converted cargo bay, every day since he'd been able to pull himself out of his room. He'd been here trying to say something, but he never could. Now this was the last time he'd be alone with his Heart. They had docked and the main station orbiting Kelser, and they were waiting for Gral's family to arrive to take him. "I'm angry Gral," He stated. "I'm angry you died, I'm angry that you wont get to see Samilor grow up. I'm angry they took you from me. I'm angry I couldn't save you." He thought he might cry, but he was cried out. Even the anger he felt was just a low fire. He didn't know if he'd have the energy to go through what was coming. "I know I'll be saying goodbye to you groundside, but I wanted to tell you what you meant to me, Gral. You didn't just save my life, you saved my spirit. I know I didn't always make your life easy, but ultimately, you were always there for me. I will miss you, but you asked me to go on, so I will. I'm not sure how I'll do that, and I know Toom isn't sure he can support me like you've done. Maybe you call find a way to tell him I don't need him to do that. Just having him in my life is helping, and I know he misses you as much as I do." He put a hand on the container. "I'll see you groundside. Your parents should be here soon to take you." He stepped out, momentarily blinded. "Pa?" someone said. Jeremy turned to the voice. "Rudyum!" he went to him and hugged him tightly. "What are you doing here?" "I wanted to make sure you were okay." "You didn't have to wait out here, you could have come in." "I know, but the guards said you liked being alone with him." Jeremy nodded. "Do you want to see him?" "No. I'll say goodbye to dad one we're on Kelser." "How did you get here so fast? We only docked a few hours ago." "Tamirik contacted me as soon as you docked, and I jumped on the first shuttle heading here. How is she? I didn't get a chance to talk to her." "She's taking his death hard, but her mates are supporting her. How about you, I know you'll say goodbye later, but how are you handling this?" "I'm sad he died, that he isn't with you, but as much as I loved him, we were never . . . close." "It's okay. You know he loved you too." Rudyum nodded and wiped his eyes dry. "Why don't we go wait for your grandparents, they should be here soon." * * * * * They all stood outside, in the center of the orchard. Marseforderiven stood before the pyre on which his son lay. The wood was only symbolic now. The body wouldn't be burnt, it was going to be disintegrated by the unit resting under Gral's body. "Thuruksamian made our bodies from the rocks and the soil," he began, looking over those assemble, Gral's immediate family. "He took the air, and gave us breath. He put fire in us, so that we would know passion, and he added water, so that we could express sorrow. He gave us only one command - Live. And my son lived. From a young age, as he ran through these trees, and hurt himself falling out of them. When he threw himself in his studies at the Academy, As he fought to earn his command, and as he defended us. He lived. He rejoiced in what he had, in what he accomplished. And he was fortunate enough to find his Heart. Thuruksamian gave life to my son, and today we will be returning the components back to Him. "We are here to say goodbye to him. Even though his spirit is already with the Gods, through his body, he will hear us, one last time." Marsef motioned for Jeremy to take his place, and once he was standing before Gral's body, he forced himself to look at it. It was the first time he'd seen it, the container had been opaque, and it was damaged. Unlike humans, who prettied up a body, before it was seen, kelsirian left it in the condition it was at death, so that people could see how valiantly death had been fought. Gral's death hadn't been pretty, part of his face was caved it, and fur had been scraped off an arm, and the other had a bone piercing the flesh. He looked up, and forced himself to remember that those injuries were because Gral had been saving lives. "Gral saved my life. Everyone here knows how we met, and what he saved me from, more than once. Before him I didn't know I could live, that I could be happy. And through him I met you, who added to my happiness. Gral said we'd always be together, and while I'm angry he died, I know he didn't break his promise. I have his Heart, I just have to be patient until he come back to claim it." Jeremy stepped down, so someone else could say their goodbyes. Toom held him tightly, and Roumalger hugged them both. Jeremy tried to listen to what the others said, but he found that all he could do, was remember his Heart and the life he lived with him.
  19. Kindar

    Chapter 44

    "Captain, you're needed on the bridge." Gral looked up from the pad he as working on and in Jeremy's direction. "Go ahead," Jeremy said, "you deal with it. I'll handle balancing the rest of the accounts." Gral stood and stretched. "I'll be back as soon I've dealt with this." He kissed the top of Jeremy's head and turned to head out. "Not so fast." Jeremy caught his arm and pulled him back, planting a kiss on his lips. "This is a proper 'I'll be back in a while' kiss." He let go of his Heart, and Gral just shook his head in amusement and headed to the bridge. "What's the situation?" he asked as the door closed behind him. "We're receiving a broadband distress signal." Nimil pressed a key and a male voice spoke in English. "This is Eugene Lincoln, head of the Lincoln mining facility. We are in dire need of assistance from anyone receiving this message. We've had tremors and cave-ins. We don't know how long the planetoid will hold together. Please, we have families with children, we need to be evacuated." The voice stopped. "The message repeats after that," Nimil said. "Origin?" "Unclaimed territories." Gral thought the situation over. Humans in unclaimed territories could mean anything, from prospectors to pirates, and too many things in between. It was impossible to fully keep tract of what was going on in those. It could be a trap, relationships between earth and Kelser were not good. "Toom, how far are we?" "Close to three hours, at top speed." "Tamirik, what's a scan of our patrol route look like?" "It looks clear, captain," his daughter answered. "No suspicious chatter, or out of place energy signature." He nodded "Toom, set a course. Nimil, establish contact with them. I need more information. I'll be in my quarters, let me know when they reply." He turned and head to the door. "I have them," Nimil said, as the door opened. Gral stopped. Already? He frowned. It either meant things were quiet enough they could afford to leave someone by communications, or so desperate they couldn't afford to leave the post unmanned. "This is Viper's Bane, responding to your distress call. My captain is waiting to talk with you." Nimil's English was unbroken, but heavily accented, he hadn't had the occasion to practice it much. "Hello?" a male said. Gral couldn't be certain if it was the same one, through the static. The screen burst into light and then broke to static. "Damn this thing." The sound was clearer now and it was the same male as in the distress call. Something was hit multiple time, and an image appeared on the screen. The man had dark skin, with short cropped frizzy gray hair. He was clean shaven, as humans tended to prefer, was Gral's observation, after dealing with many of them over the years. Even Jeremy was unwilling to let his beard grow. He wore a faded brown jacket, with a silver leaf pinned to its lapel. Gral eyed it for a moment before speaking. "Are you Eugene Lincoln?" "Yes, i am." "Call me Gral, I'm captain of the Viper's bane. What is your emergency?" That pin changed everything in his mind. "The planetoid is breaking apart, and we don't know why?" "How many have you been able to take out with your own ships?" "We don't have any. He settled here fifteen years ago and have been mining since. We never expected to have to leave in such a hurry." "How many people do you have?" "A hundred and sixty two, thirty one of whom are under fifteen of age. We really need your help." "Get everyone to the evacuation point. We'll be there under three hours." "Thank you. God, thank you. We'll be ready." The screen went blank. "Jeremy," Gral said, through the com, "I need to you to give me as much power from the second generator as you can." "Really? I don't know that's wise, we're running to the limit on our fuel usage." "That doesn't matter right now. Lives are depending on us traveling as fast as we can." There was a moment of silence. "Give me ten minutes to run the calculation and set it up." * * * * * Two hours and twelve minutes later they were docked to the planetoid. Gral and Jeremy had a squad of medics with them as the large access doors slid open. Humans started pouring through and they were guided deeper in the ship, and they both noted that a large number of them wore the silver leaf pin. The last one in was Eugene. "Is this everyone?" Gral asked. "No. Just before you arrived there was a tremor and one of the doors closed and locked for safety reason. There's a dozed families trapped on the other side." He pulled a pad and it projected a 3-D image of the section. "Can you over ride it?" "Yes, but we can't tell what the conditions are on the other side. I don't even know if anyone's alive." Jeremy took the pad from Eugene and plugged it in the ship's system. "Tamirik, I'm uploading part of the planetoid to your screen. We need a scan of that section. Life forms, oxy-levels, exposures to void." "I have thirty eight life forms, they are clustered at the far end of the tunnel," his daughter answered after a moment, and the pad's image changed as she sent it the information. "It's the only place with any oxygen left. There's hard exposures to the void, the cracks in the stone are all under a centimeter in width. So long as there aren't any other tremors the section is stable." "Any idea on when there might be one?" "No. I'm running scans now to try and figure out what's causing them." "Thanks." Jeremy handed the pad back and looked at Gral. The captain looked over the people he could see. "Thuruk! Get six of alpha here with portable breather for the eight of us plus thirty eight. We're going in for a rescue!" Thuruk ran out, pushing people out of his way, and minutes later he was back with five others, carrying tanks and masks. "Eugene, take us to the locked access. We'll go rescue your people." * * * * * Eugene led them through the hangar and processing area and then to the mining section and called the lift they were standing before. "This will take us down to their level. Fifty meters further is the locked access." "Can you unlock it remotely?" Gral asked. "Yes." "Good, then stay here. We'll send them up and you make sure they head to the ship." The lift took them down. They put their masks on, and made sure their bottles were secured. Each one had the standard two hours of oxygen required by military protocols. "We're ready for you to unlock it." He said when they stood before the access. "It's unlocked." The control turned green as confirmation. Gral looked at his males. "The targets are at the end of the shaft. We know they are alive, in an oxygen zone, but not what conditions they are in, we can expect them to be hurt, or even incapacitated. This may take more then one trip, so no looking around. Stay target focused." Everyone nodded, he opened the door, they went through and he closed it behind them. Silently, and quickly they crossed the close to five hundred meters to the living quarters where the families had taken refuge. Why anyone would want to live this deep under the surface was beyond him, but Gral had to admit that decision had saved lives. The door was locked. He looked in the view port and saw a group of people in the middle of the room, from what he could tell they were trying to keep the children calm. He banged on the door and as one they jumped. One of the males ran to the door and shook his head. "We can't leave." His voice was muffled by the thick door. "There isn't enough oxygen to fill the shaft." Gral lifted the tanks he had in his hand so the male could see them, then moved out of the way so he could see that everyone had them. The male hesitated a moment, then went to the others. Quickly they disappeared from view. He came back, opened the door and quickly backed into the room. The eight of them entered and closed the door behind them. Gral offered a mask to the male. "We're okay in here. This section generates its own oxy." "Good. We have oxygen for everyone. Is anyone injured?" "No, nothing serious, but we have three elderlies, I don't know that they'll be able to move very fast." "We'll carry them. But the first step is to make sure everyone can breathe." It took them thirty minutes to ensure everyone had a mask, their tank was secured, and could comfortably breathe. The elderlies had two alphas each helping them. Jeremy and Gral took the rear and they headed to the lift. The journey was again in silence, but slower. The lift was still waiting for them. The elderlies and their escorts went in first, then, as many of the children they could put in without crowding them. When the lift came back, Jeremy took the rest of the children, and as many of the adults as he could. Gral only had five left with him. Jeremy nodded to him as he closed the lift, and then he picked up the child next to him. "It's going to okay. Soon we're going to be on a ship, and away from here." The girl nodded, just as the lift shook. She grabbed on to him tightly, and worries echoed from everyone. "It's just a small one, everything is fine." He said. There was a second small tremor, then the doors opened. Waiting for them was Thuruk, and another alpha. "Eugene took the other group to the ship," Thuruk said, "Amadila is going to take this one, and we'll wait for the captain." Jeremy nodded and handed the child he was holding to her, while Thukuk sent the lift back down. A moment later everything shook, making everyone fall. Sound of snapping came from the lift, and then a rockfall. "Gral!" Jeremy screamed as he got up and rushed to the lift. The door wouldn't open. "Gral!" he screams again, this time over the com. "Are you okay?" "We're okay. The doors prevented the rocks from leaving the lift. But we're not going to be able to leave that way. Tamirik, is there another way to the ship from here?" She didn't reply immediately. "I don't know," she finally said, angry. "I only scanned your immediate area, but you have another problem. This last tremor has made that entire section of the planetoid unstable. The next one is going to bring everything down on top of you and Jeremy." She sobbed. "I don't know what to do." There was a long silence. "I'm coming down," Jeremy said. "Have Danyl and Relio bring the drilling equipment." "No," Gral stated. "I won't have you die with me." "What? Don't you dare give up now." "I'm not giving up. I'm accepting the inevitable." "Sir," Thuruk added his voice. "We can do this. If we get enough hunters here we can dig you out." "No. That is out of the question., i won't have anyone on the crew endanger themselves to save me." "We can't lose you," Thuruk whispered. "We are hunters," Gral said. Thuruk didn't say anything. "We. Are. Hunter." Gral growled. "We die so our people live," Thuruk finished, crying. "Good. You know what to do." "No!" Jeremy yelled. "I won't accept that. Do you hear me. You swore to me that we would always be together. Don't you dare go back on your promise." "Jeremy, my Heart is yours. It will always be with you. Take care of it for me. I will come back for it, one day, but you need to live. The ship's yours now, and the crew will need you. If you die here, who will look after them?" "Who will look after me?" Jeremy pleaded. Thuruk put a hand on his shoulder. "We will." He pulled Jeremy to him. "We need to go." He guided him away, gently at first, but then faster, as the ground started shaking and pieces of the ceiling falling. Jeremy let himself be lead until they were in the ship. Once there he shook Thuruk off and headed directly to the bridge. "Tell me who did this," he ordered as he entered. Everyone looked at him, surprised. "I don't understand," Tamirik said, her eyes wet. "Who sabotaged the planetoid so it would become unstable." "No . . . No one." "I refuse to accept that. Scan it again., you must have missed something! That colony was full of leafers. So it must have been the Humans, or the Taournians. Tell me who to hunt." "It wasn't them," she said, wincing away from his anger. "All those years of mining weakened the planetoid's structure, and the tidal pull of the neighboring planetoids weakened it even more. It was just a matter of time." "No. That can't be right! I need you to tell me who did this. I need someone to hit! Someone has to pay for Gral!" Someone grabbed his arm, and he shook it up, turning in the process, and looked into Toom's eyes. "I need you to come with me, captain, please," he indicated the door with an outstretched arm. Jeremy glared at him, but Toom returned it. Jeremy growled and stormed pass him. "Scan for the bodies, we're not leaving him here. Once you've retrieved Gral, get us back to our patrol," Toom said, before joining Jeremy in the corridor and leading him to a combat training room. He ordered the four already there, practicing their unarmed combat, out, and then stood in the center of the room. "What are we doing here?" Jeremy asked, looking around. He'd been in such a room before, decades ago, as part of his training to ensure he could defend himself when humans tried to kidnap him. "You wanted someone to hit. So go ahead, hit me." "I don't want to hit you. I want to hit those responsible!" "You really are being dense," Toom sighed, "you heard your daughter. There isn't anyone to blame, but that's not really why you want someone to hunt, isn't it? Now that you can't hide behind him, you have to prove that you're not the weakling I've always known you to be." Jeremy glared at him. "I don't have anything to prove to you." And headed to the door. "What I never understood was how he could be such an idiot to never realize that about you." Toom never saw the punch coming. His head spun from the impact, his balance went, but his training was ingrained deeply. He feel to the ground, rolled and let the momentum help him back to his feel, if a little unsteady. He wiped blood from his muzzle. "Don't you *dare* say such a thing about him." "Why not? He devoted his life to you. He gave you his Heart, do you have any idea what that means to us? And you're honoring him how? But setting yourself on a course to die?" Jeremy lunched himself at Toom. "What do you want me to do?" he punched him in the face again. "Just let him die in vain?" a punch in the stomach. "He is to be avenged." To the face. "He can't be forgotten just because he died." The face again. "He was strong, a leader." The shoulder. "He made hard decisions for us?" A kick to the groin, that one, Toom blocked. "What do you want me to do?" Toom caught the next punch and pulled Jeremy tightly against him. "I want you to strong, like him. You have to make the hard decisions now. And you have to start with the hardest one of all. You have to live." Jeremy was silent, and then the tears came. "I don't know how!" he scream through the sobs. "You're right, I'm just a weakling. I always was." "No. You are not weak. Your are his warrior. We all saw it as soon as you joined our family. Why did you think I couldn't stand you back then. You didn't have to tell us you were strong, you showed us, by having to learn to live among us, the only one of your race. You learned to be one of us, without ever sacrificing who you were. That's how I knew you were the male for him, and that he was willing to be with only you, to follow human culture, in that, if you'd asked him. You are not weak, you are hurting, but you don't have to hurt alone." Jeremy nodded and slowly the sobs ebbed. "I need you to be the acting captain, I can't . . . Not right now." "I understand. Will you be okay?" Jeremy nodded, and Toom released him. Jeremy looked at him and winced. "I'm sorry, you need to go see a medic first." "I'm your mate, if taking on some of your pain this way helps you, then you have nothing to be sorry about. But yes, I will see a medic." Toom could feel his shoulder swelling, and he was certain some of his ribs had broken, not to say anything of the few loose teeth in his muzzle. "If you need to do something like this again, I'm here for you." Jeremy nodded, and Toom continued watching him. "I'd like to be alone, if you don't mind." "Of course not." Toom kissed the top of Jeremy's head, and left. Jeremy stood there for some time. His legs felt like they were going to fold under him, but he wouldn't let them. Toom had been right, Gral had been right, he didn't know how he was going to do it, but he had to live. He went to their quarters now. He closed the door and locked it. Right now, he needed to be alone.
  20. Kindar

    Chapter 41

    "Captain," Nimil said, "I'm getting some sort of distress signal" "Some sort?" Gral asked, moving behind the communication officer. "It's very faint," he said. "It's the standard federation distress code. No voice, no details." "Where are they?" "Unknown. They're outside scanner range." "Huar, if we pulse, what are the odds we'll be seen by anyone?" "The only ones who'd notice anything would be ours. This far in our territory, there wouldn't even be human military in the unclaimed territories." "Okay, give us a pulse then." "Scans on main," Huar said. "Pulse in two, one, now." Gral watched the pulse expand from them, and nothing showed for almost a minute, and then there was a blip. "Where is that?" "Twelve or so light years from us, two deep within unclaimed territories. Checking the resonance signature. Nothing on file." "Nimil, what exploration ship do we have out here?" "None," he replied after a moment, "must be a private prospector." "They're still suppose to register their planed exploration." Gral grumbled. "Set a course. Let see what the problem is." * * * * * Jeremy entered the cargo bay, "What do you need me for?" he asked Gral, who simply pointed to the small ship in the middle of the bay. Jeremy whistled. "That isn't one of ours, is it?" "No, it's human." Jeremy walked around it. "Small, solidly built, I'm guessing it's a one person ship, cockpit, living area and little else. It's an exploration ship, but a model I've never seen before. What happened to it?" "Micro meteorite made it through the plating and damaged the engine," Erhik said, as she stepped out from the ship. "Do humans really live in such tight quarters?" "All the time," Jeremy answered. "Come on in, I need you to verify something for me." Once inside, the cockpit was immediately to his right, the pilot's chair and controls tightly packed. He'd have to climb over the chair to sit in it. Before him was a bed. To the left of the bed a minuscule kitchen and eating area. Beyond the kitchen the corridor opened up into a room. On his left were controls and readouts, in front the engine, and on the right, the generator. Jeremy looked at it, four feet wide, and probably the same depth, and floor to ceiling. He could still feel the heat coming off it, even though it was turned off. "Well, we now have undeniable proof that humans have built an anti matter generator, against federation rules. If we bring this up, we can make sure they are never allowed in. Gods, what was he doing to need this much power?" "He was flying fast." Erhik said. "I've gone over these engines and they are somethings I've never seen before, if I can find a way to adapt them for our fighters, they'll be even more deadly." "Lets wait for the pilot to wake up and find out what he's doing this close to our territory," Gral said. "Before you start taking this apart. What's the generator like?" "It's years ahead of what I was working with back on the station," Jeremy stated. "Which isn't surprising, it's been over fifteen years since I've looked at a human generator. Considering what we had back then, this is actually quite impressive, but nothing close to ours." Gral nodded. "You're free to inspect it, but don't damage it." * * * * * Jeremy entered the brig. The human had managed to escape from the medical bay, and almost made it back to his ship before being caught. He fought hard against the guards who had brought him here. Gral figured that seeing another human might make him more cooperative. The man was pacing, mumbling to himself. He stopped on seeing Jeremy and moved closed to the glass. He was wearing some jeans and a shirt, but he was barefoot. Someone had found clothing on the ship. His hair was black, long and wild, he hadn't shaved in a few days. "What's your name?" Jeremy asked. The man took a step back. "No, no, no. You can't fool me. You look right, but you sound wrong. I'm never going to tell you." "Tell me what?" "You can't trick me!" the man laughed. "You can't trick me. I've spent too many years on this. I'll die before I tell you." He looked to the side. "No, I can't die. I have to report it. The plan won't work if they don't know about it" "What plan?" "I'm not telling you," the man sang. "Fine, at least tell me your name." The man pressed his face against the glass. "Whats *your* name?" "Jeremy." "Ah! Jeremy, right, Jeremy." The man froze. "Jeremy?" He squinted in Jeremy's direction. "No, no. That's can't be. You don't sound right, but there are cats. Jeremy Krommer?" he asked tentatively. "Yes" "No, no, no. You don't sound right. You can't fool me. You're lying." Jeremy opened his jacket, moved closer to the glass and showed him the thin scar on this throat. The man looked at it. "Why?" he asked, horror on his face. "So I can pronounce Kelsirian." "Why would you want that? You're human!" "No." Jeremy's tone was glacial. "No?" the denial seemed to surprise the man. "No. I'm kelsirian," Jeremy stated. "Kelsirian?" The man started pacing. "He can't be kelsirian. No, he was dating a cat, he wasn't one." He looked askance at Jeremy. "He doesn't look like a cat. Can he be one, if he doesn't look like one?" "What happened to you?" "To me? Nothing. Why? Do you think something happened to me?" "You don't sound like nothing happened to you." "Ah! You try spending eight years alone in a small ship and see what happens to you mind!" "Didn't you have anyone to talk with? Your ship has a working communication system." "No! I can't talk. You can't make me talk. No one can know what I was doing. It's a secret." He started giggling. Then stopped. "You're Jeremy," he stated. "You have to help me. I can't stay here." "Why?" "Because I'm . . ." He started searching his pockets. "My things, my uniform. There's something in the pockets you have to see." Jeremy looked up at the camera, and then back at the man. "Someone will bring it, in the mean time, why don't you tell me your name? I told you mine." "My name is . . ." His mouth hung opened for a moment, than closed. He looked around, searching. "No, no, that isn't right. Right! My name's Adam, Adam . . . . Douglas? Yeah, that's right, Adam Douglas." He chuckled, "why didn't I remember it?" "Alright Adam, why do you have to leave?" "Do you have it?" "Have what?" "Arrg. If you don't have it I can't tell you." "Why not?" "Because you have to know." "Know what?" "That I'm . . . .I'm . . ." He looked up and screamed. "That I'm like you!" Jeremy was taken aback. What did he mean? He couldn't mean he was part of a kelsirian crew . . . Was it that he didn't consider himself human either?" The door opened and Gral entered. "Is that him?" Adam asked. "Is that your boyfriend?" Jeremy glared at Adam, as a warning to watch what he was going to say next. Gral put something in his hand, and Jeremy looked at it. It was silver, in the shape of a leaf, with a clip at the back so it could be attached to clothing. Why did it look familiar. Gral put another, identical, in his hand. Adam had two? No. Jeremy remember now, one of them had been given to him the last time he'd been on Earth. He looked at Adam, eyes wide. "Yes! Yes!" Adam did a little dance. "You have one too, I'm like you." "You have sex with other males" Adam sat, and his body relaxed as he let out a sigh. "Yes. I'm a Leafer, just like you." "Leafer? That's the term you use for a male who has sex with males?" "Or women who have sex with women, or family that support them, and people who help them. It's all part of the plan." Adam stood. "That plan! There has to be pressure. You have to apply pressure. The plan won't work if there isn't any pressure." "Adam," Gral said. "We will help you." "You will? Why?" Gral held up the two pins. "Because we are like you." "Right." "But for now, I need you to rest. Jeremy will come back tomorrow, and you can tell him how we can help." "You need to apply pressure!" "We will, but for now, rest." The two of them left the cell area. "Lower the lights so he can sleep." He told the guard. Then looked at Toom. "Did any of that make any kind of sense to you?" "No, but are you surprised? Eight years without any contact, in that box they call a ship. It's amazing he's even that coherent. That human must have had a very strong mind when he set out on what ever this is." "Come on, lets go rest ourselves." They left the brig. "Tomorrow I'd like you to reach out to your backroom contacts, see if any of them know what a human explorer is doing here." "I will, but don't expect much. Politicians aren't really known for knowing who goes where." Gral's paces slowed, until he stopped. "Gral?" Jeremy asked. "You two go ahead, the cubs will be missing us, you keep them entertained. I'll be there shortly, I have an idea who might have answers."
  21. Kindar

    Chapter 49

    Jeremy groans as Toom nibbled on the back of his neck. They had just gotten into bed, and were settling in for some tender times. "Can I ask what you intend to do about Korfas?" Toom asked, between licks along Jeremy's ear. Jeremy shivered, and had trouble getting his mouth to work. "Do you really have to bring him up now?" Toom stopped moving, pressed against Jeremy's back. He rested his head on Jeremy's shoulder. "I think I should." "It must be really important, because your body is telling me you'd rather do something else." He sighed. "What do you mean?" "Are you planing on leaving him the ship?" Toom said, after a moment of silence. "What? No, of course not. Once I'm done training him, I'm dropping him off on Kelser, and he can get a ship on his own. Are you worried you won't be getting the ship?" "Gods no. I'm a pilot, not a captain. Don't even think of giving it to me, but . . ." "Yes?" "Tamirik was worried." Jeremy turned to he face his mate. "She was? Why? She never gave any indications she was interested in getting it." Toom rubbed his cheek. "She'd been thinking of taking command courses." "What? She never told me about that, I can teach her what she needs to know. She doesn't have to go to the academy." Toom smiled, and nuzzled Jeremy. "She'll be happy to know Korfas isn't getting it." He pressed himself against his mate, but Jeremy turned and got out of bed. "Where are you going?" "I'm going to go talk with her." Jeremy put on his pants. "Now? But we were just getting started." Jeremy leaned over the bed, and groped him, making Toom grunt. "You shouldn't have brought up my daughter, if you wanted to have sex." "But I'm your mate," Toom made eyes at him. "I'm a father first." He nuzzled Toom. "If you haven't gone to find someone else to have sex with by the time I'm back, we can pickup from here." "I make no promises," Toom smiled at him. "Good," he smiled back, and nuzzled him again, before heading out of the room. Jeremy considered grabbing a shower, first, but figured it wouldn't be the first time he's walked the halls smelling of sex, and the humans wouldn't notice the scent. He grabbed his com from the table. "Connect to Tamirik," he said as he left his quarters. The com gave him the chirp that indicated it had connected to her com. "Tamirik?" "Yes, Pa?" she answered after a moment. "Are you busy? I'd like to talk with you." "I'm not. Me, Xernial, and Rostol are just watching a vid." "I'll be there in a moment." "The door's unlocked." A few minutes later he entered her quarters, it was a family unit, since her and Rostol were mated. The three of them were on the couch, watching a vid, as she'd said. Rostol and Tamirik were seated next to one another, leaning against each other. They were rubbing each other's legs. With the three of them being naked he could tell Rostol was quite enjoying it. As was Xernial, who was stretched on the other half of the couch, his head on Tamirik's lap, and she was running her claws in his chest fur. "Do you mind if I steal my daughter?" Jeremy asked. "No at all, Jeremy," Rostol said. "Sure thing, captain," echoed Xernial, who lifted his head, and then scooted back, so his head was on the other male's lap. Rostol proceeded to rub his chest and stomach. Jeremy indicated the bedroom, and Tamirik preceded him there. "Why didn't you tell me you were interested in becoming a captain?" He asked softly, once the door was closed. His daughter's ears turned red, and folded back. "I've been thinking about it for a while, but I wasn't really sure until recently." "Toom told me you were worried I was grooming Korfas to take over. I'm not. I'm just training him as a favor for a friend." Her face lit up. "Why didn't you ask me directly?" "It wasn't my place. I'm just a communication officer." "Silly cub." Jeremy messed up her head fur. "You're my daughter, you can always ask me anything. When ever you're ready, I can start training you too." She shook her head. "I want to go through the academy?" "Why? I'm perfectly able to train you." "You're my Pa." She smiled. "I don't want you to worry about being to harsh with me." "Okay. If you had approached me with this while we were on Kelser, we could have made the arrangements for you to start immediately." "No, I couldn't have started then. It would have felt like I was abandoning you right after dad died." He hugged her. "Thanks." And then held her by the shoulders. "Don't you think Xernial is a little old for the two of you?" She snorted. "He isn't old, he's experienced. You've had sex with him. You know how good he is. He's going to show us some things." He couldn't argue with her. They went back to join the other two. Rostol's hand had moved further down in their absence. Jeremy leaned against the back of the couch while Tamirik took back her position between the two males. He looked down at Xernial, once they had settled back in. "Don't think you'll be getting special treatment, just because you're getting close to my daughter." "Wouldn't think of it, captain." "Good," He leaned down to nuzzle him. "Go easy on them, okay, they're not as experienced as the rest of us." "I promise, your daughter has nothing to fear from me." "What about me?" Rostol asked. "I make no promises about you," Xernial replied. With a chuckle Jeremy left them to their evening of fun, and went to find out if his mate had gone out to find his own relief.
  22. Kindar

    Chapter 48

    "Captain," the com called, as Jeremy was going through the procurement requests. He knew he had to keep an eye on them, Xenial loved sneaking extra stuff in. He didn't want to stop everything, but there were some things he didn't want to see on his ship. "Captain?" the com called again. Jeremy me frowned. Why wasn't he answering them? "Gra . . ." His call died as he looked at the unoccupied desk. He needed a moment to be able to breath again. "I'm here," he finally answered the com. "We have someone who's interested in being our Anti matter Engineer." "Already?" He'd only posted the availability a few hours ago. "Alright, send me the information, I'll go over it." "Actually, sir, he's at the access." Jeremy considered it. It wasn't customary to just show up, but it did show initiative, and a confidence he could respect. "I'm on my way," he finally said. He could use a break. * * * * * Jeremy stepped off the ship and looked around. Further down, at the cargo bay, supplies were being taken in. In the other direction, was a male standing around, his back to him. He was wearing colorful pants, and no vest, his golden fur broken up by black stripes. He looked familiar to Jeremy, even before he turned. "Alix?" Jeremy exclaimed, before hugging the male and nuzzling him. "What are you doing here?" Alix nuzzled him back. "I'm here because you need a good engineer." "How did you find out? The posting is still fresh." "I knew you'd need me, the moment I learned about Gralgiranselhelrarvnir. I knew he'd leave you the ship, and you're not such a great male that you can be both the captain and engineer." "The position's yours," Jeremy said. "What have you been up to? How did your hunt go? You never let us know how you were going, once you left the crew." "The hunt wasn't successful." Jeremy hugged him. "Don't give up, you'll find your Heart eventually." "I know, but I did find myself a mate in the process, so I'm comfortable putting the hunt aside for the time being." "Congratulation. Male or female?" "Female, and we have a cub." "Are they coming with you?" "Why? You want me all to yourself?" Jeremy slapped Alix's shoulder playfully. "You were the one after me, remember?" "No, I clearly remember you sneaking into my office and hoping to have your way with me." Jeremy barked a laugh. "Right, because I wasn't already scared enough of loosing Gral back then." Jeremy sobered up. Alix looked at him, and hugged him. "I'm sorry for stirring up memories." "Thanks, but it's okay. I have to learn to manage it. So, are they coming?" "Yes, they're coming, actually, there she is." Alix pointed to an approaching female, an the headed toward her. Jeremy paused for a moment, and then ran to her "Illsone!" he hugged her tightly. "Jeremy!" she replied. "It's great seeing you again." "You two know each other?" Alix asked. "She kept me out of the brig once." Illsone glared at Alix. "You didn't tell me you were going to be working on the Viper's Bane." "I didn't realize it mattered," Alix replied, defensively, "you said you didn't care what ship I worked on." "I don't, but if I'd known, I would have told you I knew it's captain." "You never mentioned you knew anyone from my old crew." Alix said. "That's true," she replied. "I didn't want you to think I was interested in you because you knew them." She nuzzled him. "I love you for you, and I worried you might not believe me, if you heard me gushing over how I'd met Jeremy and saved him." "Gushing?" Jeremy asked, "really?" "Of course," she replied. "You're the star of your very own romance Vid, remember?" Jeremy grinned. "Alix mentioned you had a cub. Any chance I can meet him or her?" "Her," Illsone led them to a small sitting area, where and older female was rocking a bundled cub in her arms. "My mother is looking after her." "Will she be coming with you?" Jeremy asked. "Oh no," the older female answered. "This is as far into space as I go. I leave the exploring for the young ones." She handed the cub to Alix. "I just wanted to see them off." "I'll take good care of them," Jeremy promised. "I have no doubt." She nuzzled Illsone and Alix. "Remember, I want you two to have a whole litter by the time you come back. Now I have to go catch my shuttle back down." She left without giving them time to reply. "How are you going to continue your advising work from the ship?" Jeremy asked as they headed back. "I no longer do on site advising. I got tired of always being on the move, and never being able to meet anyone. I now do the advising remotely. Much quieter work. And with being on your ship, it just means it's going to be easier for me to keep you out of the bring the next time." * * * * * "Admiral," Jeremy said as he appeared on the screen. "Captain. I'm happy I caught you before you left." "I can't go anywhere until you assign us a patrol route. What can I do for you Admiral Oturslgirnal." "I need a favor." Jeremy's datapad beeped. "You know I'll help in any way I can." "I'd like you to take an extra crew member. I know you've filled all the positions you had available, but I think this male can learn from you." Jeremy quickly went through the file he'd received. The male had good academy scores, had served on quite a few ships. "I don't see anything here that requires you asking for a favor, he could just have applied for one of the positions." "Check the name." He did so. "You can't be serious. You want me to take him on my ship? After the extent his mother went through to try to take it away from us?" "Yes. I've looked over his career, and from what I can see, he isn't a bad male. From what I can gather, the obsession with your ship is his mothers, not his." Jeremy shook his head. "What do you want me to do with him?" "I want you to make him a captain. If he doesn't have the temperament for it, find him a place he can be productive." "Alright, I'll do it." "Thank you, captain." * * * * * Jeremy observed the male as he walked up the ramp. His fur was mostly black, with brown and gray patches. He was close to Jeremy's height, and more muscular. He was wearing a vest and pants, both of which were utilitarian, rather than ornate. The male didn't know it, but he was already making a better impression than what Jeremy had expected. He had a bag over his shoulder, containing his personal belongings. The male stopped on seeing Jeremy. "You're . . ." "The captain," Jeremy finished for him. He straightened. "Yes, sir." "And you are mister Yankorfasbernipol. How do you prefer being called?" "Korfas, sir. My father's Yankor." Jeremy nodded, and turned to head deeper in the ship. Korfas followed him. "What position within the crew would you prefer?" Korfas shrugged. "Doesn't matter to me, sir." "What do you mean?" "Just tell me what you want me to do, and I'll do it." Jeremy stopped and turned to face him. He'd been afraid of this, based on what he'd read in his file. "We need to clarify a few things right now, otherwise, neither one of us is going to enjoy your stay on my ship. I went through your file. You served on nine ship in the sixteen years since you left the academy. None of the captains you served under had anything bad to say about you, but they didn't have anything good to say about you either. From what I was able to hunt down, you did the minimum required of you, and nothing else." "Sure." "Why do you think you're here, Korfas?" "I'm here to pass the time until I get my own ship," he answered, exasperation in his voice. "And what are you going to do, once you get your own ship?" Korfas shrugged. "Do you know what it takes to run a ship like this?" Another shrug. "Do you even want your own ship?" "Does it matter?" "Okay. Here's something you need to know. Your mother isn't the one who assigned you on my ship." "What do you mean?" "I mean, that you aren't here to pass the time. You've been assigned to my ship so you can learn something. When I return you to Kelser, you are either going to be qualified to captain your own ship, or you are going to know what you'd rather do instead."
  23. Kindar

    Chapter 45

    Jeremy entered the hangar, and looked over what had become something of a camp for their refugees. He didn't particularly want to be here, but he had reached the point where he couldn't stand being locked up in his quarters. He decided that was a good time to take his captain duties back from Toom, which meant dealing with this. He wandered through them for a moment before finding Eugene. "I'm sorry I haven't been here before," Jeremy said, "I've been dealing my Heart's death." Eugene gave him a curious look. "My mate, husband, in human parlance." "My condolence. I didn't realize you were a leafer too." "I am, but we don't use that term." "What term do you use?" "We don't have one. I'm just a male who has sex with other males." "How do you know who's safe to approach?" "What do you mean?" "How can you tell if you can . . . You know." "Have sex with him?" "Yes." "I ask him." Jeremy replied simply. "But before we get sidetracked by an explanation of the difference between our species' behaviors toward sex. I'm Jeremy Krommer," he had to pause for a moment. "I'm the ship's captain. I'm here to inform you of the situation we're now all in, so we can decide what we can do. Do you mind if the rest of your people listen in?" Those closer had already formed a circle around the two of them. "I don't." "Bridge, Override all the datapads in the hangar. Broadcast our conversation to anyone not within easy earshot." "Done, captain." Jeremy took a breath to steel himself. "Okay. Because of the destruction of your mining planetoid, you are currently homeless. We don't have the resources to help you settle another one. And you'll agree with me that taking you back within human territories isn't a good idea." Eugene nodded. "We contacted other ships we know to be sympathetic to your plight, unfortunately none of them can take your whole group. At best each ship could take, two families." A murmur and shaking of heads spread through the crowd. "I think it's best if we stay together." "Alright. The reason I looked for another ships for you to go on, is that the Viper's Bane is a military ship. Things are quiet now, but it's only a question of time before we get called to a fight. You are civilians, I can't force you to take part in them, but you have to understand that by staying with us, you could become targets." "Can I have some time to discuss this with my people?" "Of course. You can communicate with everyone over the pads. I tell the bridge not to listen in." "That won't be necessary. Our discussion isn't secret. I just want to make sure everyone is okay with staying here." "Very well." Jeremy found a crate to lean against. He was surprised he was still standing. It had taken a lot of will to keep himself from shaking when he mentioned the planetoid. Now he felt like he'd run the entire training course. "Captain," Tamirik's voice sounded in the ear piece, "What do you want me to do with their conversation?" He took a moment to consider it. "Log it apart of the rest, just in case there's trouble down the line and we need to study it to see if this was part of the cause. Other than that, unless you hear something that you feel is a treat to the crew, I don't need to know what they are talking about." "Understood." Eugene spoke with his people for twenty minutes, and then came back to him. "We need your assurance that you will not purposely put us in danger," he said once he rejoined Jeremy. "You have it. You are civilians. We have security zone where family members go to if we get into a firefight. You'll be told where the are." Eugene nodded. "Then we're satisfied with staying here. "Alright. Now, as for accommodations. You won't be staying here. We'll be moving some of the crew so you have a sections to yourselves." A sigh sounded through the crowd. "Actually," Eugene said. "I'd prefer that my people have quarters mixed within yours." Jeremy straightened, and Eugene raised his hands to placate him. "Nothing nefarious, I promise, but what this last week or so living here, clusters and apart, showed me, is that we insulate ourselves. I don't think anyone did more than poke their nose out the doors, even though there were no guards and they weren't locked. We have to stop living afraid. I believe that the best way to do that is to mix in with your people." Jeremy eyed the older man, and then leaned back against the crate, relaxing. "Okay, we can make that happen. Tamirik, get . . ." He paused as he tried to figure out who to give the logistics of housing all of them. "I have it captain, when we come off duty, me and the rest of the bridge will handle it." Multiple acquiescences came over the com. "Thank you, everyone." Jeremy's pride in his crew rose, especially in his daughter. "When you find out their preferences make sure you check if anyone is willing to share quarters with a kelsirian, and also check on our side who's willing to take in a human." "What about those of us who have families?" "We have sections of family units, they'll be locate there. They are suits of four rooms who are linked with six other suites via a shared kitchen. That way you don't have to depend on the mess hall for your food. "This leads to something else. Tamirik, put the symbol for the recreation rooms on the pads. On all of them appeared a six tier spiral which ended with a flower on top. The symbol for Danirag, the God of pleasure. "When you see this symbol next to a door, it means that the room is for recreation. They aren't all setup the same so when you want something specific, you may have to search around, until you're familiar with them. "The reason I bring this up is that it helps illustrate one of the biggest cultural difference between humans and kelsirians. One thing that you will see happen there, is sex." There was a shocked gasp. "For us, sex isn't something to hide from others. Obviously, we won't do it in the middle of just any public spaces." Jeremy reminded himself to send out a memo to his entire crew, reinforcing this order. He didn't want to have to deal with traumatized humans, just because a couple felt playful and thought they were alone in the loading bay. "But recreation rooms aren't 'just any public spaces'. I have to admit that I'm not familiar with human sexual cultures, but I have read human porn. I have to warn you. A couple having sex there, isn't an invitation to join them. If you don't know them, wait until they are done to ask them questions, be it to join them next time, or what ever questions you might have about our sexuality. You might manage to embarrass them, but I can promise that you won't anger them. If you are interesting in having sex with someone, just ask politely. If he or she refuses, don't be offended. It won't be personal. One final thing, jealousy is almost unheard of among kelsirians, this is something I know humans have difficulties with. We have no interest in breaking up the relationship you are in. If you and your partner are in an exclusive relationship, just tell who ever propositioned you, and they will move on. Right now, you are a novelty, and I have to admit that we have a lot of curiosity when it comes to sex. If for some reason one of my people keeps insisting, after you're told them no, contact me. Unless I'm in the middle of an emergency I will come and resolve the issue. "And one last thing on this subjects. Kelsirian cubs become sexually active between the age of six and nine. That means that you will see, at times, people you consider under age having sex." "You mean with an adult?" someone said. "Possible, but that isn't common. Cubs usually prefer staying close to their age group. You have to understand, that this is how things are for us, and not apply human morals on us. I will make sure that everyone on the ship knows it's different for humans. We all have to understand that this one point is probably going to be the one that causes the most friction, and we will all have to work at minimizing them. "Now, the bridge crew gets off shift in about 3 hours, so take that time to discuss how you want your living arrangements to be. If there's and problem, contact me." Jeremy turned to leave. "Wait," Eugene said, "there's something I need to discuss with you." Jeremy stopped and turned. "I'm listening." "We are immensely grateful that you and your crew rescued us, and thankful that you are taking us in, but we don't want to be your guests. We want to be working crew." "That isn't necessary," Jeremy said. "I know, and you probably don't want humans working kelsirian systems, but we have technicians, engineers. We have cooks and doctors, and those of us who don't have skills you can use, we aren't afraid of hard work. We've spent our lives working hard in the mines, we aren't people comfortable with nothing to do." Jeremy studied him, and then looked over the crowd, which was nodding in agreement. "This is something I need to talk over with my superiors. I can't offer you any promises." "I understand, and we will accept your decision, when you make it." Jeremy looked them all over again, before leaving. * * * * * "Captain, the council is returning your call," the com told him. "Route it to my office." The space in front of him, over the desk, shimmered and the council symbol appeared. He moved it to the side. He hated having the screen form right in front of him. He'd tried for years to change it so it would appeared to the side, but he couldn't make it happen. The symbol disappeared and was replaced by a face. "Thank you for taking my call, councilor . . . Querik?" It took him a moment to recognize his old friend. "They made you councilor, congratulation." Querik waved it aside. "When you reach a certain age. It's the only thing they can do with those of us who aren't ready to leave the service and bask in the sun. How are you holding up?" Jeremy opened his mouth to answer, but his voice caught in his throat. He closed his eyes and took a moment to get his emotions under control. "I am managing," he said finally. "I'm trying to remain busy right now, it's helping. And that's why I needed to talk with someone from the council. Have you read the report I sent?" "Yes. The humans you rescued want to work on the ship." "Which means some of them would be exposed to our systems." "Have you seen if anyone else can take them?" "Yes, unfortunately no one I'm willing to trust can take such a large groups, and they are leafers, so I can't return them to human space." Querik though for a moment. "We could find space for them planet side." "Is that wise? Groundsiders aren't exactly used to other species. I get stared at each time I'm down there. I'm just an oddity, but what's going to happen when a hundred human show up. It's going to make people nervous. We like to think of ourselves as enlightened, but there are still a lot of old ideas ground side, furless beings who steal cubs in the night and work for the lord of darkness. "And how are the humans going to cope on a world where almost no one speaks their language. Almost everyone here knows enough English to hold a conversation, and we're used to dealing with other species. This minimizes the chances of frictions." "Which just leaves the issue of our technology. What is your opinion about them? Can they be trusted?" "They're leafers, so they don't have much allegiances to earth. While here, they can't broadcast anything they learn, and by the time the plan comes to fruition, who knows what the situation will be. Speaking of which, have you heard anything about it?" "The rumors circulating in the back rooms hint that everything should be ready in a few years. I'm registering my support for whatever decision you make. You're on site, so you're the best person for it." "Thank you councilor." Jeremy reached to end the transmission. "Jeremy, the next time you're in system, come see me." "I will."
  24. Kindar

    Chapter 43

    Captain Gralgiranselhelrarvnir walked through the halls of the penal colonies' control station, heading for the temporary holding facilities. The halls were metal gray, no paint, no decorations. He pitied whoever was stuck living here. He wouldn't be able to stand it. Stops like these happened every few years. He'd be sent here to do an evaluation of the current director, and his treatment of the prisoners down on the planet. Normally he'd be told what his superiors wanted him to evaluate when he received his orders. This time, they hadn't. He wasn't bothered by it. He'd go through the regular checks, find a thing or two to do surprise inspections on, then file his report. So he was quite surprised, upon entering the holding area, to see two humans in one of the cells, behind the director, an old male, with orange and white marbled fur, that seemed to be falling off in patches. "No," Gral said, cursing internally. "Captain, these prisoners have done their time. They need to be returned to their people." "Get someone else to do it." He didn't actually recognize them, but who else could they be? It wasn't like any other humans had been caught in kelsirian space. They'd only been on his ship for a few month, in the brig, and there had been six of them at the time. He wasn't surprised they weren't all alive. Actually he was surprise even two of them had made it. While he hadn't though about them over the years, he would never have expected humans to survive for twenty five years on Barren, with all the others incarcerated there. "I'm afraid that I wont," the male state. "You have your orders, captain. You are to return these two humans to FarSpace station, where they are to be freed. A human ship will be waiting for them. Gral looked the humans over. Their clothing were tattered, and dirty. What he could see of their body was tightly muscled, with hardly any fat on them, but a lot of scars. Barren was a very rough world, even before you counted the other criminals there. He took out his com. "Pernic. I need four guards, armed with two sets of restraint." He wasn't happy about this. "Also, clear a path from the access to the brig. I don't want anyone in those corridors." He looked to the director. "They've been searched?" "Of course, and scanned." The tone was offended, but Gral didn't care. Ten minutes later his guards arrived. "Restrain the prisoners, and then search them," he ordered. The guards weren't particularly gentle in their search. When he got confirmation the prisoners didn't have anything on them, they headed back to the ship. It must have been shift change, because this time the halls were packed. They had to push people aside, and all they got in return were shoved back and growled at. Armed guards didn't seem to impress them. Gral guessed that after years in a place like this, they probably didn't care about much, except when they'd be leaving. Such a posting wasn't given as a reward for great work. The access opened when they reached it, and closed behind them. As he'd requested, the corridors were empty as they made their way to the brig. They were halfway there when Gral heard a grunt behind him. He turned to see one of the guard sliding down the wall, something sticking out of his side. Another one was already laying on the ground, blood pooling around his head. One of the prisoners was lifting a gun in his direction, the other one was aiming his at the other guard. Gral moved to the side, but the blast hit him in the shoulder, sending him spinning, and hitting the wall, hard. * * * * * Jeremy was heading to the mess hall, when yellow lights started flashing at the top of the walls. The light galvanized everyone, and like most of them, he changed direction, to head to his quarters. Unlike most, he was heading there to get his weapons, not to get out of sight. "Bridge. What is the situation?" the yellow alert indicated danger to the crew, and the response was for all civilians to head back to their quarters for safety. "The captain was escorting prisoners to the brig. They have escaped his custody." Jeremy took his concern and shoved it to the back of his mind. "How is the captain?" "Scans show he's alive, but unmoving." Jeremy allowed himself a sigh of relief. "The prisoners?" "I'm tracking them, and relaying the information to Pernic." "Where are they?" "Level eight, heading toward the aft, from corridor three eight." Jeremy started running, and took the first right. He was on level eight, as was engineering, and it was aft of of their present location. It was probably a coincidence - yeah, right - but he had a lot of techs still there, most of whom were only tech, with just the minimal combat training. "Thuruk." "Here," the reply came after a moment. "Tell me you're still in engineering." "No. With they alarm, I'm heading toward the security office, to see what support I can give to Pernic." Jeremy cursed, nothing to be done about it now. "Two prisoners are loose on level eight, and heading in the direction of engineering. I'm heading there now. Do we have any hunters among the techs?" Jeremy was usually good at knowing who among his people was working at any specific time, but this was the mid day shift change. Thuruk, on the other hand, had the uncanny ability to always know where his hunters were. "Jamol and Pursin were part of the morning shift. Gilgan and Ullallar have the afternoon one. They would have been in transition when the alarm sounded." Which would have redirected them to their Hunting squad room for orders. There was no doubt about it, Someone was meddling. "Okay, keep with your course. I'm heading to engineering." He quickly entered a code on his com that would make all the coms in engineering request a response. "Yes?" the voice was low, and there was trembling. Jeremy slowed his pace. "Are they there?" "Two humans," she replied. "They're armed, and are forcing everyone in the back of the room." "Domnial, I'm on my way. Security is on their way. I'm going to terminate the call, and then I want you to do what ever they tell you to do. Don't anger them. Make sure everyone obeys them, I don't want anyone to take risks. It isn't your job to take risks, understood?" "Yes sir," she whispered back. "Good." He terminated the call. He didn't bother calling security, the bridge officer would have informed them. He stopped next to a door, and entered his code in the lock. Every strategic location on the ship had such a locker near it, which could only be unlocked by a guard or a hunter. The door opened and he took a hand laser. He didn't know what grade of weapons the prisoners had obtained, but he wasn't going to bring something that could do major damage in engineering. He wished there was a set of glove in it, but he was the only one to wear them, so it would be a waste of resource to have one in every locker. Still, he didn't feel adequately armed without them. Security hadn't made it there by the time he reached the entrance. The door was open, it was always opened, unless there was a specific need to close it. He quickly peeked inside. The two prisoner were at the back of the room, facing away from him. Jeremy made it a quarter of the way in before one of them noticed him, turned and pointed medium grade blaster at him. Not good. If it was fired at anything more than half strength that thing could do major damage to the generator, or the conduits behind the walls. Jeremy stopped moving, and kept his weapon at his side as the human glared at him. "You!" the human's voice sounded like it was full of sand. The other turned at the sound. A growl came from him. "Lets remain calm," Jeremy said, not moving, studying them. "No one needs to get hurt. What do you want?" they were wary, looking left, right, and behind Jeremy. "To hurt you is going to be a good start." The other one grunted. Jeremy couldn't tell if he was simply unable to speak, or there was something wrong with him. He didn't behave like his mental faculties were impaired. "Why?" "We spent twenty five years in hell because of you. Four of our friends died there." Jeremy looked at them, trying to figure out who they were, what he might have done to them. He didn't point out he didn't know them, that would probably just anger them. He'd heard the penal colonies were extremely rough, so he wasn't surprised heir mind might have addled over time. He'd only been close to one human, the one time, then they had helped him aback to ward Earth. A moment later he realized who they were. This could turn bad, real fast. He heard sound behind him, and raised a hand, to stop them from moving, at the same time as the humans aimed their weapons at the newcomers. "Sir?" someone said. "I have this under control," Jeremy replied, not taking his eyes off the humans. "Take position in the corridor, leave the door unobstructed." Movement, and the humans were aiming at him again. "That's smart." "I don't want anyone to get hurt," Jeremy said. "That includes you." The silent human snorted. "You're going to get hurt." His companion said. "You hurt me, and you will not make it off this ship alive. If you're here, you finished your sentence. You hand over your weapons now, and I'll make sure this is ignored. You'll be returned to human space, so you can go back to your lives." "What lives? We were abandoned. You think we have anything to go back to? All we have left is revenge." Jeremy closed his eyes. I am a hunter, he recited mentally, I die so my people can live. He opened his eyes. "Alright." He put his weapon down. "You have me. You let the techs go and you can do what ever you want to me. I won't offer any resistance." "They stay," he growled. "They have nothing to do with this. Just let them go." "They stay. I'm going to make each and everyone of them pay for what we had to go through." "You hurt just one of them, and I will make you suffer." Jeremy noticed that the tech were looking at each other, they were nervous, but he could also read resolve in their face. He wished he had kelsirian ears, they could be used to show intent, and some hunters had even developed a simple language using them. "This is the only chance I am giving you." He said, to keep the humans attention on him. He wished the techs wouldn't do whatever they were planing, but if the humans noticed them, they would shoot them down. He wouldn't allow that to happen. "You want to hurt me, that fine. But they are to remain unarmed. I can make your last moments here extremely painful, if you give me reason to do so." The silent one raised his arm at Jeremy, his intent to shoot him evident on his face. The techs moved, the noise of their rush making him look aside. Jeremy ran for him. The human looked at him again, and fired, but his aim was off. He readjusted quickly and fired again. Jeremy was hit in the shoulder, and was knocked of his feet, but his momentum made him slide toward the human. He saw him hit one of the tech with the back of a hand, and then start to turn, his weapon heading for the tech. Jeremy was close enough. He clawed the human's forearm. It didn't do the damage the claws on his glove would have, but he kept his nails long enough to still rake flesh off, making the human grunt, but not drop the weapon. Jeremy raised a foot and planted it in the human's crotch, hard. He doubled over, pain in his eyes, but he still hadn't dropped the weapon. Rage replaced the pain, and the human stood with a roar. He was cut down by multiple blasts hitting him in the chest. The other human was on the ground screaming in anger, six tech on him, clawing wildly, if ineffectively. Jeremy rested for a moment, while people rushed around. "Sir?" Jeremy opened his eyes, and one of the guard was offering him his hand. He took it and was pulled up. The guards had taken the techs off the human, and were keeping him face down on the floor. Two of the techs had been shot, and were being looked over by some of the guards, as was the one who had been backhanded. He stood over the human, part of him wanted to rip his limbs off one by one, for having hurt his crew, but he kept it under tight control. "I told you I would make your last moment painful if you hurt anyone." The human looked up at him, hate in his eyes. "And I'm very tempted do to just that." I am a hunter, he told himself, I know better. "But my hate for your kind has gotten me into enough trouble." He reached down with his good hand, and pulled the human up by the collar. He looked him in the eyes. "Fight me now, and I will hurt you." The coldness in Jeremy's eyes finally reached through to the human, and fear appeared there. Jeremy pulled him along, escorted by six guards. They headed back to the station. Jeremy was close to the holding cell, according to the bridge's direction, when a short male appeared, orange and white fur, with patches where he could see skin. Jeremy stopped and wrinkled his nose. "Who are you?" the male said. "What are you doing here?" "I am Jeremy, Hunter from Alpha squad." He threw the human at the male. "I'm returning that to you. Lock it up. It attacked my crew, injured at least four of them, and killed one. As soon as my captain is able to, he will be laying formal charges. That thing is going to be spending the rest of its days here." Jeremy forced himself to step closer to the disgusting male. "And if we discover that you had anything to do with them getting free of their restrains, you are going to join him groundside." Jeremy turned and headed back to the ship.
  25. Kindar

    Chapter 20

    Jeremy turned into the recreation room, to cut through it, and immediately turned back with a quick 'sorry' on noticing the two bodies lying on the couch and thrusting against each other. He'd gone twenty steps or so, when he stopped, shaking his head. Going around would add twenty minutes to his trip to engineering, that's why he liked cutting through that room. And it wasn't like they would mind. He'd noticed fairly quickly just how casual kelsirians were with sex, and he should really get with the program. He turned around and headed back. He did his best not to looked at them, but he found himself slowing just enough to notice that it was a male and a female, the male had black, white, and orange fur, the female had solid sandy fur. She was under him, and what ever he was doing to her had her screaming in delight. Jeremy swallowed, and looked at an empty couch as he walked by it. What would it be like for him and Gral to have sex in a public place like this? His pulse quickened and he started sweating at the idea. He shook his head. No, at least, not now. Probably not any time soon. Sex in public was a little too much. * * * * * He'd mostly calmed down by the time he reached the engineering office. He entered, and Alix was already seated and working on something. Jeremy went behind him and looked at the screen. Alix was running theoretical stress against he components, and seeing when they broke. Alix sniffed the air, and turned to look at Jeremy. "Someone's excited this morning." He stood. "What do you mean?" Alix moved in close and breathed in Jeremy's sent. "You smell like you could do with some release." He gave him a smile, that made Jeremy take a step back. "Release? Oh, no, I just wanted in on a couple errr . . . having sex in one the recreation room I cut through. It sort of sent my mind wondering about somethings . . ." Alix nodded. "We can have sex here, and get it out of your system. I have a bed in the back." Jeremy's eyes went wide. "Ah, no. No. I'm with Gral." Alix tilted his head to the side, and ran a finger along Jeremy' cheek. "That's too bad." He stepped back. "Do you want to go find your mate to take care of that, and come back later?" "What? No, I'm here to work." Alix eyed him. "You current state won't distract you too much?" "It won't distract me at all," Jeremy stated. "Alright, then grab your tools. We're going to level three on the port side, we need to test the power conduits on sector two through ten. It shouldn't take more than a couple of hours. After that you can go have sex with your mate." "I really don't have to," Jeremy mumbled, blushing, "I can wait until after work." Alix pulled a tool bag out of a locker. "Why wait? Have your fun, grab a shower and get back to work. Are humans so obsessed with working they forgo simple pleasures?" Jeremy didn't reply immediately, taking his own tool bag out. "I guess we are," he finally admitted. Alix shook his head and placed an arm around Jeremy's shoulders. "We are going to have to do something about that. Yes, there are time when work has to take precedence, but it shouldn't be all the time. Emergencies are stressful enough without turning every day of work into something stress filled." Jeremy looked at the kelsirian. "Just how do you get anything done, with that mindset?" "It's called having a balanced life. You work, you rest, you have some good times with people you like." He patted Jeremy's rump and brought his arm back on his shoulder. "Too much of any of them, an you get in trouble. Just ask your mate to help you, I'm sure he'll be happy to make sure you have enough sex." Jeremy found himself blushing again, as the image of him and Gral, naked, on that couch popped back in his mind.

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