Authors: Dalo Lorn
By Dalo Lorn
(A.K.A. Neven Prasnikar Jr.)
Published by Art Plus
Copyright 2015 Neven Prasnikar Jr.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Sometimes, the most common of things can lead to much more unusual ones. Similarly, things that appear to be perfectly normal can in fact be the solution to dangerous situations.
What was about to happen near a guard post near a government facility on the third planet of an insignificant little star in the Milky Way galaxy in the year 2684, however, would herald a threat far greater than the entirety of the known galaxy (said threat not included) had ever expected. But what was so special about this guard post, this particular night and this exact moment? Perhaps the discussion the guard was having with a somewhat older man near it?
“Alright, alright, I’ll do it.” Having agreed to do whatever it was his older counterpart wanted him to do, the guard received a packet from him. “And Tom? Make sure that the ship’s actually there when I need it, unlike last time,” he added.
“Don’t worry,” Tom replied, with an apologetic tone, “it’ll be there when you need it, Dennis.” Tom was a man in his early forties, ‘in his best years’, and his appearance reflected it - a black, uniform hair, rarely interrupted by a white hair or two, a rather badly-taken-care of beard, in an unassuming grey coat, dark trousers and worn-out black shoes. His friend Dennis was in his late thirties, taller than Tom, wearing an outfit designed specifically for surviving the environments of the more hostile planets - a tough but comfortable shirt and jacket made from a sort of synthetic fiber, leggings made from the same material (which is typically brown, though in this case certain other colors such as blue were used), and also wore some peculiar boots that appeared to be made of an organic, leathery substance - supposedly artifacts found during Dennis’ trip to a planet called Daserus Three where he claimed to have found them.
“Well, I’ll be going now,” Tom said before going back into the alley.
A few minutes later, somebody came near Dennis’ guard post and asked: “Are you Dennis Salztriem?”
“Yes,” Dennis answered, “What is it?”
“Nothing, really,” the man said maliciously, “It’s just that you have something that belongs to me.”
“Yes, but I can’t afford to have you telling people about it...”
An object resembling a steel blade suddenly emerged from the stranger's sleeve; before Dennis could act, that something was quickly driven through his heart. “So it seems I have to kill you,” the murderer finished with a touch of satisfaction.
Hurrying to take the packet out of his victim's pockets, he noticed his unusual boots. Surprised to see something like that, he took them as well and disappeared into the darkness.
Space. The deadliest and most dangerous part of... well, space. It is filled with bright stars, strange worlds, massive numbers of new forms of life, dust, rocks, ships, and (according to some people) an immense number of coincidences. However, it was no coincidence that some five years after Dennis Salztriem was killed over a packet of what later turned out to be blank datadiscs, a ship was travelling near an asteroid belt in the ancient, planetless Anlaran system, on the opposite end of the galaxy from Earth. It was not one of the crystalline Petran ships with their powerful weapons and resilient hulls. It was not one of the robust human - or Terran, as they were more frequently called - ships that frequently fought for their survival against the Xargans, and it was not one of the unusual biological ships of the Xargans.
It was new. It was alien. If fully operational, the massive, radially symmetrical craft would look to an observer like a flying city, with buildings scattered underneath the shielded dome that housed most of the inhabitants. The shield was a rather nice shade of the color yellow, and seemed to be there primarily for aesthetic reasons. There were four layers of shielding - two visible, and two somewhat less visible to the naked eye - surrounding the ship. The first layer was the city’s atmospheric containment field, ending just above the shield dome and keeping only the air from coming in or out of the city. The second layer - the shield dome itself - was a typical shield that let nothing in or out, and the third layer was a flattened spherical variant of the first layer, just as the fourth layer was a flattened spherical variant of the second one; and not currently operating, as there was no perceived threat to the ship to warrant its activation. The main ship was surrounded by several circular platforms, some of which were large enough to support some smaller cruisers or bulk freighters. In addition to the shields protecting the main ship, they were shielded only by a secondary atmospheric containment field, just in case if the primary field was disabled, and appeared to be linked to the ship by some sort of energy tunnel that probably served as a means of transit between the platforms and the ship. The entire ship appeared to be powered by a gigantic crystal the size of a cruiser, located within the largest structure on the ship. The shield dome extended along five large arms, capable of housing further inhabitants/crew; and the entire ship, along with the platforms, was spinning on its horizontal axis. But what was most unusual about it, was that a small, damaged Terran freighter appeared to be maneuvering in for a landing on one of the smaller platforms.
A few minutes later, the freighter - a relatively small craft, well armed for a ship of its size and purpose, called the Ivory Eagle - landed on one of the smaller platforms. A short ramp was lowered from the ship onto the platform floor; a man came out, carrying a laser pistol, and wearing Dennis’ boots. With the exception of the boots, he wore a simple environmental suit, and was obviously prepared for the worst. He took a look around, concluded that the platform had a breathable atmosphere, and took off his helmet, revealing a young, brown-haired man’s face. After going through the tunnel, he found himself in front of a closed door in a corridor of a design similar to the sleek, curved golden-silvery hull of the ship, with multiple crystals embedded in the walls, flashing randomly. He examined the crystals carefully and decided to press one of them.
The door opened, revealing a somewhat threatening alien figure, slightly taller than him; the pilot raised his pistol to defend himself, but a flick of the alien’s wrist saw the pistol torn from its owner’s hand by an invisible force and slammed sideways into the wall. Now defenseless against a seemingly hostile being, the Terran turned away to run back to his ship.
“If I wanted to harm you, do you not believe I would have had your ship shot down?” the alien criticized with a deep, booming voice, prompting the confused pilot to slow down and turn around. “Or did you, perhaps, expect me to relish in the personal aspect of killing you,” a bright, yellow blade seemingly made of pure energy slowly emerged from his right bracer, as if to add emphasis to that last point before disappearing back to where it came from, “and hanging your remains on some wall as a trophy? A somewhat hasty conclusion, is it not?”
are you?” the Terran finally asked, ceasing his retreat altogether.
“From blind fear to cautious curiousity with but a few words,” he heard the alien say. “There may still be hope for you,” he added amusedly. “To answer your questions, I am Hatos, and I am a Tarhedian.”
“I believe it would be fair if - now that I have introduced myself - you were to do the same before I went into such details.”
“Right, sorry. I’m Lanis Baltor, and I’m... just your ordinary human being. Some people call us Terrans, though.”
As Lanis and Hatos walked through the ship’s corridors and onto a balcony on one of the shield arms, Hatos explained more about his people to the ship’s Terran visitor. The Tarhedians are an unusual race, roughly humanoid in appearance, but physically weaker - more fragile, slender when compared to the average human; hairless, with a somewhat grayish skin, deep voice and elongated neurocranium.
The Tarhedians’ technology is in many ways more advanced than Terran or Petran technology; although they had only recently developed hyperdrive technology comparable to that used by the other races of the region, they had knowledge in fields that had not even been theoretically conceived of by the others, and considerably advanced robotics when compared to the Terrans or Petrans. The former, while achieving artificial intelligence, seemed to be incapable of getting their robots to speak in a way that even vaguely resembled that of a living, breathing human being. As for the Petrans, their drones had adaptive, self-transforming systems, but they lacked any real intelligence to guide it. One of the Tarhedians’ greatest breakthroughs, however, had been the discovery of how to teleport people and inanimate objects across distances ranging from mere meters to - with the right equipment - light years.
Their reason for developing hyperdrives, though, is one of the more troubling aspects of Tarhedian history, a period known as the Tarhedian Civil War. The conflict between the warlord Kezal and his would-be Tarhedian Empire and Hatos’ Gezerhian Order is one that culminated in the loss of Tarhedia and all its colonies as the planets were rendered uninhabitable, forcing the remains of the Gezerhian Order to abandon their homeworld, leaving nothing but death in their wake. To this day, there has been relatively little population growth among the survivors as their search for a new home continued; even now that they have finally found a new homeworld, the Tarhedian population is under half a million people. However, Hatos had started taking efforts to bring the Tarhedian civilization back to its former glory - and, hopefully, beyond it.
Eventually, Lanis couldn’t think of any more questions for the aging Tarhedian leader - whose age would, by human estimates, be between sixty and seventy years. “I am curious,” Hatos asked, taking advantage of the opportunity, “as to what it was that damaged your ship prior to landing on the Tarhedia.”
“Bit of a long story, but the really important stuff’s sort of my fault. So, this... ship... is called ‘Tarhedia’?”
“Indeed. It seemed appropriate.”
“Oh, I’m not judging,” Lanis quickly added.
“I did not mean to imply that you were. In any case, we can take you to your homeworld when we complete our mission here; if you can help us with the navigational side of that effort, of course. I do have one more question, however.”
“Wait, why my homeworld? Wouldn’t any starport be good enough?”
“For your purposes, probably. However, I believe it would be better if we managed to make some diplomatic progress before we departed.
goal would be better served by heading towards the core of your government, which is presumably the same as your species’ homeworld.”
“Good point. Well, I can give your navigator all the data he needs to get us past the border and to the wormhole to Alpha Centauri as quickly as possible. It’s not Earth, but it is the only way
Earth, and I doubt anyone’ll let you through alone. Anyway, what was the question?”
“I was going to ask about your boots.”
“What about them?”
“Living organic matter does seem to be in sharp contrast with the rest of your equipment. I am just curious as to how you obtained it.”
organic matter?” Lanis asked incredulously. “I thought it’s just a pair of boots; I bought them from some stranger back on Earth, I think it was five years ago. Got more than he wanted for it, too.”
“The Tarhedia’s internal sensors would, at first, agree with you. I ordered my crew to scan you and your ship before I left to meet you; they reported the results to me.”
Remembering that nobody had even approached them, much less spoken to them, Lanis correctly assumed this report was another instance of the mental abilities the Tarhedians had displayed and chose not to bring it up. “But...?”
“I sense something - the barest fragments of awareness, instincts. It is far simpler than most animals, but it is there. It
alive. Sensing. Waiting for something; what it is, it does not -
- know any better than we do, nor does it know how it will respond. A most curious sensation, and not one I would expect from a living organism.”
“Yeah, well, you wouldn’t expect it to look like a boot, either.”
“Quite true. They did not independently evolve into this form, that much is certain.”
“No more than a screwdriver grows on trees, I guess... But who could--” Lanis remembered in the middle of his question that the Xargans mutated to adapt to situations; a trait that could only be compared to the adaptive structure of Petran drones. A species only by the vaguest of definitions, the most prominent commonality between the various forms of Xargan is that they are all living weapons, changing with remarkable speed to stay ahead of their opposition. The fact that it had taken the full force of the fragile Terran-Petran alliance - an alliance of convenience first and foremost - to hold them at bay until now was a testament to the power and tenacity of both sides, but eventually, the stalemate had to be broken.
“Xargans,” he finally said.
“Xargans?” Hatos asked; evidently, he had never encountered the aggressive aliens.
“Yes, Xargans,” Lanis replied, proceeding to explain all he knew about the Xargans’ motives and abilities.
This explanation took quite a while, though it was not even close to the amount of time it took Hatos to fill Lanis in on his people. “As interesting as what you have told me may be,” the Tarhedian said after it was over, “This appears to be much older than these Xargans you speak of. It is
to them; that I am certain of. However, it does not have any hostile intentions that I can detect.”
“Who do you think made them?”
“That I cannot say with any degree of certainty. It is possible that this is a... severely altered form of some precursor to the Xargans. Why anyone would go to such lengths to produce
, though, continues to elude me.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s one mystery we won’t be solving today...”
“Indeed. In any case, you should probably talk to the navigator and provide him with any data required to reach the wormhole. I will see to it that arrangements are made for your stay aboard the ship; as soon as we are done with our survey, we will depart.”
“Right, I’ll get to it,” Lanis said before walking away. After a few hours of helping the Tarhedians use the Eagle’s computers, he was shown to his quarters and went to sleep.
The next morning, Lanis was aroused by an alarming noise, followed by a shaking sensation - he immediately thought they were under attack, and ran out of his quarters in the city, only to see a large asteroid shatter against the Tarhedia’s main shield. It didn’t take any telepathy to tell him something was wrong; he rushed towards the command level.
A mere couple of minutes later, Lanis reached the Tarhedia’s control room. In every way the nerve center its name implied, it was here that the entirety of the ship’s operations were typically controlled from. “What’s going on?” he asked Hatos.
“There appears to have been a malfunction in the navigational computer,” Hatos quickly explained, “which has sent the ship on a course through the asteroid field. We’re about to launch fighters to help clear a path; by the time we reestablish control, it may be wiser to continue forward rather than reverse our course.”
“Do you have a spare fighter?”
“Yes, but-- I see.” He brought up a holographic schematic of the Tarhedia. “The main hangars are here,” he pointed to the edges of a large cavity in the ship’s hull leading directly to the power core, then pointed to a more specific location, “and the fighters are launching from this one here. Once you are there, Zeshaira will give you instructions.”
“Got it,” Lanis said before turning and running back out.
Once again, the network of internal transporters throughout the Tarhedia allowed him to reach his destination within a matter of minutes. Inside the hangar, the first person to approach him - and the only one left in the hangar - was a female Tarhedian who, by Lanis’ estimate, would have been in her thirties. She wore a more utilitarian outfit than some of the other Tarhedians he had seen - a bodysuit made from light, sturdy fibers studded with a tough alloy resembling pure gold, as well as a hooded cloak, most likely designed to help conceal one’s identity.