StarCrossed Chapter 8
Mystician Empire. Asellan Solar-System. Mysticia. Facinaturu.
Year: 323 A.A. Month: 5. Day: 19. Time: 2:45 P.M., Facinaturu Mean Time
It had been seven years, Ildon remembered, since he had last visited the Tower of Science. Even then, he had not been here. This area was a hangar, holding all sorts of strange devices. None of them looked to be in use. Many of the devices stood alone, but some stood in groups, or even in formation. Was this place a showroom, or was it a storage facility? Ildon doubted that he had the security clearance to ask such questions, so didnt bother.
He was standing silently, waiting in parade rest. He didnt glance over his violet captains uniform; he knew it was somewhat baggy and crooked, but didnt really care. Ildon was thin and willowy, his long green hair parting only to reveal a pale, grey, cadaverous face. He wasnt happy to have been called here, and didnt pretend that he was, but he was no complainer, and he was no boot-licker. Asellus would have to accept him as he was. He almost wished she wouldnt.
Ildon was not alone. There were others here in the hangar, waiting alongside him. They were all silent. The most silent of them all, of course, was Silence, Ildons blond, human-looking first officer. He stood right behind Ildons right elbow, almost as if he were Ildons shadow. Which was fitting, since Silence didnt have a shadow of his own. Ildon had often wondered about that peculiarity, but had never seen fit to bother the man about it. Why bring up a potentially embarrassing issue for curiositys sake?
Prent was also there. Ildon just managed to keep a grimace from his face every time he glanced at the man. Prent was large. Very large, in fact, but not fat. The man was a brick. Everything about him was square, from his blue flat-top to his blue jaw to his shoulders, outfitted in a perfectly-ironed captains uniform, which was red. Prent wore medals on his chest, and no other jewelry. He was handsome and strong, one of the most powerful Mystics in the Empire. But he would fall to his knees and worship Asellus. Ildons hidden grimace became a hidden sneer.
The other two Ildon didnt recognize. One was dressed as an MIA Agent, First Class. But that was unlikely, thought Ildon; the man was Human. He was tall and muscular and thin, with not a spare ounce of flesh on him. His hair was black, and cut almost to the scalp. His face was sharp, and his eyes stared as if he was trying to bore a hole through whatever he saw. There was contempt in the mans expression, but contempt of what? Ildon wasnt sure he wanted to know.
The last one was a girl. She appeared to be a Mystic, with her slightly blue-tinted skin, but Ildon knew that she was a Princess. He could tell by the half-expectant, half-fearful expression on her face, as well as the dress she wore. It was white, and cut to a fashion centuries out of date. Just the way Asellus liked dresses.
Upon that thought, Zozma appeared in the strange, glowing doorway through which they had all entered. He glanced around, assessing any possible danger. He stared at the five people one at a time before finally accepting that none of them would try anything... this time. Only then did he step aside to allow Asellus herself into the hangar.
Asellus greeted them with a nod as she approached. She then introduced the human and the girl to everyone else. The human was an Agent named Acid. The girl was a Princess named Rosemary. The name nagged at Ildon. Where had he heard that name before?
Having dispensed with the introductions, Asellus walked on, motioning for them all to follow her. The Princess followed almost on her heels, and Prent was only a step behind. Zozma, as usual, led the way. They soon came to a simple door (no glowing portal this time), through which they entered into another, seemingly smaller hangar.
Here Ildon saw two ships. One was a large semi-circular disk, bristling with so many weapons that he wasnt completely sure it could get off the ground. The second was an almond-shaped, black thing that floated a few feet above the ground. Ildon quickly put two and two together: two captains, two ships? But he said nothing. He simply waited.
Asellus began without preamble. Thyme Oregano is alive and on the loose. Prent and Ildon had different reactions. Prents blue skin began to turn dark with anger. The professional rebels name was enough to inspire rage in him. How could anyone dare to oppose Asellus? Ildon, on the other hand, chuckled.
You find such a statement humorous, Captain? asked Asellus in a dangerously calm tone of voice. It sounded strained; Asellus was much less calm than she had been only ten years ago. Perhaps you would care to tell me why you find this a laughing matter. It wasnt a question.
Ildon obliged her. I just won a bet. Ildon gestured behind his back to Silence, Pay me later. He continued aloud, I bet that Thyme would escape before the cryo-stasis killed him. Silence bet against me.
Asellus raised an eyebrow. She was very surprised, and trying not to show it. Officially, Thyme Oregano had been executed upon capture, along with his sister... Rosemary. Now Ildon remembered where he had heard the name. He could see Asellus wanted to ask him how he had known that Thyme lived at all, but she wisely decided against it. It does no good to argue when youre caught in a lie.
Prent looked as if he was contemplating putting Ildons head in a vice for his insolence to Asellus. Ildon ignored him.
Well, Captain, I applaud you on your foresight. However, his escape is more important than it would seem. Besides the fact that his name alone will incite rebellion, he has stolen something very valuable. A ship, in fact.
She turned to the two ships. These, gentlemen, are WHITE Drive ships, invented by Thomas Tenser. They are the prototypes in a line of new ships designed to travel almost anywhere in almost no time at all. Thyme Oregano has stolen one of them.
Though he was almost thoughtlessly loyal, Ildon had to admit that Prent was not stupid. He could put two and two together. Which ship do you want me to use, my Lady? asked the blue Mystic. I shall certainly find this rebel scum.
Asellus smiled. Your eagerness is laudable, but unfortunately I can only send one of you to search for Thyme Oregano. Using both ships for the hunt would scramble the trail. Besides, I have other plans for you, Prent. She turned to Ildon. Captain, henceforth you will be the pilot of the I.S.C. Infinity. I charge you to hunt down and retake my ship. I also want Thyme Oregano, dead or alive.
Ildon absorbed this. And my crew aboard the Suzaku? They need a captain.
Asellus nodded, as if she had expected nothing else. Of course. Your second officer will fill the position until a suitable replacement can be found. Your first officer, Silence, will accompany you.
Ildon had wondered why Silence had been invited to this briefing. Now he knew, but he didnt like it. At least Silence would have made a decent captain. Now the Suzaku would be commanded by some kid fresh out of the academy, put in charge of men and women who were used to experienced command. But Ildon had no choice in the matter. He simply gritted his teeth and waited as she continued.
You will also bring along Acid, here. The man made no motion at the mention of his name, or reaction to his assignment. Either he had already known or simply did not care. Ildon would have bet on the first choice. You didnt get to First Class in the Agency without some skill in investigation. Silence already disliked the man, but also recognized a potential asset in this hunt.
Slightly irked at Acids stolidity, Asellus continued, And Rosemary will accompany you. You may choose any other companions you desire, as the ship is big enough to accommodate a crew of twenty-five. You will also be given an unlimited account. Be sure, however, to keep track of your expenditures. Any questions?
Ildon considered. A crew of twenty-five? Perhaps he would be able to get some men from the Suzaku, men that he could count on. Taking Rosemary along made sense; either she was loyal and would prove useful by revealing her brothers habits or acting as bait, or she was disloyal and would soon prove it through constant proximity to Ildon. A wise move, that. Ildon didnt like Asellus, but he approved.
I have no questions. With your permission, I and my crew will depart immediately. Shall we pick up the ship at a dock, or can it exit this extradimensional space under its own power?
It can do so, replied Asellus. You may go, Ildon. Good luck. Ildon accepted the farewell with ill grace. It bothered him whenever she acted as if they were still comrades. Ildon knew his place and he knew hers. He bowed, and walked toward his new ship, followed closely by Silence. Acid followed a few steps behind, and Rosemary finally jogged to catch up to them.
Ildon smiled. A fine crew they made. A fine crew.
Time: 9:55 P.M.
All right, announced Ildon as his crew sat in the small mess hall, all seven of them. He had managed to pick up several men from the Suzaku. Not as many as he would have liked, but he hadnt wanted to plunder all of the valuable men from the Suzaku. Were going to be spending a lot of time together. That said, it would be wise if we all knew something about each other. If we have any clashing personalities among us, I want to know now. Ill begin.
I am Ildon, of the Goler family of Mystics, former captain of the I.S.C. Suzaku. I am four hundred and ninety-three years old. Ildon gestured to Silence. This is Silence. He is, as his name suggests, mute. Though he cannot speak, his mind is able, and a command from him is the same as a command from me. He pointed to the next person at the table.
The youth stood. He was grey-skinned and green-haired, like Ildon. He was more muscular, however. Im Grev, also of the Goler family. Im fifty-two years old. Im a mechanic. He sat, his store of words exhausted.
Next was a young Human woman. She had a pretty face, a gorgeous body, and long, full blonde hair. Im Ariel dArc, a communications officer. Dont screw around with me or youll find your private moments being broadcast on the intercom. And she sat down gracefully.
The next young man, a Mystic with yellow skin and bright orange hair, didnt get up or even look up from the book he was reading. Varelian. Weapons and tactics.
Then there was the demi-human, from somewhere in the Dominion, as most demi-humans were. He looked like a cross between a Human and a bat. His eyes were pale white, and his large ears brushed the ceiling. Grey fur seemed to indicate that he was aged. His uniform stretched out to cover his wings, which stretched from wrist to ankle, without really impeding the wings themselves. His white eyes focused on nothing as he spoke in a shrill voice, thick with Dominion accent. Im Bat. Im the navigator. I never get lost. I may not be able to see, but I can find my way through space, believe me. And he returned to his seat, where he munched on a fruit of some sort.
Next was Rosemary. She hesitated for a moment, then stood. Im Rosemary Oregano, Princess #52. You can call me Rose. Thymes my brother. Knowing Thyme, hes probably in trouble already, and... well, Id rather Lady Asellus had him than anyone else. Nobody found this statement odd. They all knew that Asellus would probably execute the rebel this time (though the four crew members from the Suzaku had not known that he lived until told a bare hour ago), but they also knew that Rose was completely loyal to Asellus, above and beyond any loyalty she may have to her brother. She probably held the vain hope that Asellus would re-imprison Thyme, since it would be too painful to believe otherwise. The rest of them knew better.
Finally, it was the Agents turn. But Acid showed no sign of movement. He didnt even look as if he had heard anything that was said. But they all waited for him to speak.
A minute dragged on in silence. Two. Five.
Finally, Acid growled in disgust. This is ridiculous. His voice came out as a surprising rasp, as if his throat had been scoured by... well, acid. Dont you people have better things to be doing?
No. The word was quick and firm. Ildons dark eyes met Acids crystal blue eyes. Cold blue eyes. These introductions are not a suggestion. Consider them your first order.
Acid smiled slightly, almost a sneer. No, definitely a sneer. Order? Why should I take orders from a demoted captain? Im not in the Imperial Army. Im MIA. Play your games with these losers. I dont need to be involved in the running of the ship. Just find Thyme Oregano, and Ill take care of the rest. And he stood up and walked to the door.
Rose was the only one that flinched as the blade of Ildons sword whipped around and stopped less than an inch from the back of the Agents neck. Acid stopped, his back and arms rigid. Responsive to his distress or anger, the device on his right arm, his T-Blade, began to glow. He slowly turned so that Ildons sword was against the side of his neck. A drop of blood pooled on the cool metal surface.
Im not afraid of you, rasped Acid. I could kill you even now.
You could, replied Ildon, his soft voice calm and composed. But this crew wont listen to you, and neither will the ship. You need me to complete your mission. But I dont need you. Rosemary has a better chance of success than you do of finding Thyme Oregano. With that in mind, I suggest you try cooperating a little. Or do you want to stay First Class for the rest of your life?
Acid stared at Ildon for a long time before the glow around his arm began to fade. After this mission, Mystic. Afterwards. Ildon sheathed his sword. Acid turned to the others. Im Acid. Im a First Class Agent. He turned back to Ildon. Anything else... Captain?
Ariel spoke up. Place of birth? Ildon could already tell that shed be spending a great deal of her time trying to irritate Acid. Ariel took great pleasure in irritation.
Acid glared at her. Gelidus. And in the ensuing silence, he left.
Hazel had turned red from embarrassment. No wonder Acid was bitter, thought Ildon. A past like that would change anyone.
Six years ago, the planet of Gelidus had been destroyed.
Terrenus Solar-System. Terrenus VII. Trell City.
Time: 8:23 P.M., Trell Standard Time
What a god-damned dump, Zade muttered, staring out of the window. She was thankful, at least, that there wasnt much light. The sun was finally setting, lengthening the shadows and hiding more of the hideous city. But she wasnt really looking at the city.
Its not that bad, replied Ransom. Look at those two moons. Zade merely growled in return. To hell with the moons! Ransom wasnt supposed to be looking at the city, either.
It only gets worse after youve lived here for a few years, said the Chief of the Trell City MysPol Department. Anyway, what brings you two here?
Were here about a theft, Ransom answered. We understand that a woman escaped the planet with some Adamantine.
The Chief nodded, his expression slightly apologetic. Zade had not missed the brief flash of surprise on the Chiefs face, though. He had not reported the theft, doubtless because he didnt want it getting back to HQ that hed let an Imperial Felon get away. Hed probably try to pry out of Zade and Ransom exactly who leaked the information. It wouldnt work; Zade had no idea where the information came from. She took orders directly from the Investigators.
Of course, said the Chief, after a few moments of silence. I just didnt realize youd be here so quickly for such a small amount of Adamantine.
Either the Chief had no idea what Adamantine was worth, in which case he was an idiot, or he was trying to minimize his failure in the eyes of the Empire. Zade suspected the latter, but didnt really care what happened to him. A small amount of Adamantine was worth much more than the Chiefs head, and they both knew it.
Wed like you to take us to the scene of the crime, sir, continued Ransom.
The Chief nodded, as if hed expected nothing less. I would be glad to. Let me call one of my lieutenants-
On second thought, interrupted Zade, why dont you just take Ransom to the scene? Ill look over the evidence you have in storage. It wasnt a request. Ransom was not surprised; theyd discussed this before entering the office. The Chief would have tampered with the evidence if theyd given him time. If Zade had waited to view the evidence, she probably would have found proof that the thief had hired eighty accomplices to hold off MysPol, that only a few ounces of Adamantine had actually been stolen, and that the thief was almost certainly going somewhere well-known but far away, leading Zade on a wild goose chase and out of the Chiefs hair.
The Chiefs smile became almost a grimace. That sounds like an excellent idea. If youll come with me... Ransom, was it? Ill have someone show you the mines.
Ransom smiled. Thank you, sir. Ill wait for your guide. And he sat back as if he was prepared to wait all night.
Zade smiled as well. He was good. She had to give him that. He was good.
Time: 8:45 P.M.
Zade was underwhelmed at the file of evidence. Most of the physical evidence had been confiscated, meaning that it was decorating some cops home. All that was left were witness reports, various job-related records, previous history and a few odds and ends that nobody had really wanted.
The witness reports were pretty useless. Nobody knew how McKenna (the thief) had managed to smuggle the Adamantine from the mine. Apparently, all miners were strip-searched daily (Zade had to repress a shudder at the thought). The file wasnt very clear on how MysPol had discovered McKennas thievery. No doubt whoever had made the discovery had not thought that the MIA would ever be looking at the file.
As for McKennas history... there was none. There were hospital records showing her release two years ago. She had apparently been severely injured. According to the record, she was missing an arm and an eye, and suffering from... amnesia? Zade frowned. A one-armed, one-eyed, amnesiac had outwitted the mines and MysPol? How had she managed to escape notice? It seemed to Zade that such a person would be easy to pick out in the crowd; just look for the empty sleeve and the eyepatch. MysPol werent complete idiots, though... obviously, this McKenna was clever.
Having looked through all of the written reports, and having spotted little else that would prove useful, she began to glance through the leftover junk. There were some photos of a trap door in a ceiling (her escape route) and a safe. There were what looked like blueprints, though Zade couldnt understand the pictures or even the words; they were in a different language. There were a few surveillance photos of the thief: a beautiful Human woman with long multi-colored hair and a regal face. In the picture she wore a trenchcoat with a pinned-up sleeve. She had two eyes, though. Odd. A glass eye, perhaps?
Then she came to the pictures. These caught her attention. Zade was no artist, but she could see skill in these works. Some were drawn in pencil, some done in paint, some in watercolors, and a few in a black-and-white style that she didnt recognize. Some were portraits, but most of them were pictures of battle scenes. Most of these scenes were of one person fighting off several assailants, humanoid or monstrous. The person at the center of the picture was usually very clear, while the attackers tended to blend in with one another.
It was soon very clear to Zade that these were people that McKenna knew. A pale man with blue hair wielding a scythe. Two little aliens, yellow and bald. A woman with glasses, wielding a gun. A man with spiked red hair and a blond woman with a ponytail; these two were usually together, and had several portraits. A demi-human that looked like a frog-man. One portrait was of a man with a soft chin, delicate eyebrows, and long hair. He was in no other pictures.
These pictures intrigued Zade. Was this woman from the Dominion? After all, she didnt recognize the species of the two yellow aliens, and most demi-humans were from the Dominion. She might even be a spy. Who would suspect a crippled amnesiac of being a spy?
And then Zade gasped. A picture fell from her hand onto the pile before her. A picture of a blond man. She knew without a doubt that this was Ransom. She looked at other pictures. There were no portraits of him, only battle pictures, but they were all close enough that his entire face was clearly visible. His clothing shifted from princely to functional to a white robe, and his hair shifted from medium-length to a ponytail, but his face remained almost exactly the same. The only exception was that he had a small scar on his cheek in some of the pictures.
She looked at picture after picture. It was hard to believe, but it was impossible to refute. These were pictures of Ransom. But how? McKenna obviously knew Ransom, but did Ransom know McKenna? He had shown no recognition of the name or the planet. Was he that good an actor?
Zade nearly smacked her forehead. Of course he didnt recognize her name. What good would it be to claim amnesia and then use her own name? This Crystal McKenna, whoever she was, could not have been in contact with Ransom for some time, or there would have been at least one picture of him with his hair cut short, as it was now.
She sat back, cupping her chin in thought. She didnt have the whole story, and speculation wasnt helping anything. She would have to investigate into Ransoms background, despite MIA policy. This situation was far too coincidental. Zade didnt like coincidence. It meant that somebody was planning something. Possibly her father. She wouldnt put it past him.
Zade frowned in thought. Who the hell are you, Ransom Fellone?
Time: 9:00 P.M.
I dont know how anyone could work in there, muttered Rakin to the Lieutenant as they left the mine. Its dangerous, its tiring, and it smells of mold. Hed also smelled something else, something familiar, but had been unable to put his finger on it.
The Lieutenant nodded with as much sympathy as he could muster. He was pretending to care, so as to get on Rakins good side. I know what you mean. Still, someone must dig, and Humans are easier to maintain than machines. He chuckled as if hed made a joke.
Rakin gave the Lieutenant a sideways glance. Yeah. We sure are.
That silenced the Mystic. He seemed to keep forgetting that Rakin was Human. His occasional jokes (of which Humans were usually the butts) didnt seem to stem from any special malice; Humans were just second-class citizens, and he got as much amusement from them as he might from a pack of mules.
At times Rakin found himself angry at Mystics who treated Humans as lower beings, but he never stayed angry for long. Something within him said that things were changing. Slowly, for now, but soon the entire Empire would be different. Rakin didnt know what to expect, and didnt know what he was expected to do, but he felt something coming. Something very big.
Rakin turned. There was a Human, a young man, possibly twenty-five or so, in drab work-clothes. He was smiling at Rakin with a look of recognition. He didnt look familiar to Rakin, but... Rakin signaled for the Lieutenant to go on and wait for him in the car. Like an obedient dog, the Mystic complied, surprised at his own meekness. Rakin paid him no attention.
Do I know you? he asked the young man.
A giggle was the strangers first response. I knew youd come, he said. My sister, she said that you wouldnt, but I... I knew.
Staring at the man, Rakin could tell that he was... unbalanced. Possibly unhinged. Yet there was something sincere about him. Youve been expecting me?
Of course, he replied, as if everyone knew about Rakin. Ever since the Swordsman told us.
Rakin blinked. Now he was confused. The Swordsman?
The mans eyes widened. The Swordsman has not yet approached you? Then the time must not have arrived yet. He smiled. But I will wait, and I will spread the word. And with that he walked away.
Rakin stared after him for a long time. Swordsman? Who was that? When would he be approaching Rakin? No vision appeared for Rakin now. He had not had a vision of the future in years. Hed just have to find out when it actually happened, just like everyone else.
As he turned to follow the Lieutenant, though, Rakin realized something. Though he had barely spoken with the Mystic, Rakin could name the Lieutenants three children, describe his favorite foods, and even recite his wifes favorite love poem. But the mysterious man who had just disappeared had not even left a name in Rakins mind.
Day: 20. Time: 8:10 A.M. Facinaturu Mean Time.
Can I ask you a question, Zade?
Zade glanced over at Ransom, sitting in the passenger seat of the Blackbird. Hed been pretty quiet since hed returned from the mines the night before. Zade had considered it a blessing. Sure, I guess. Got nothing better to do. Indeed, this was the part of the journey during which Zade had nothing to do at all. With no real landmarks, Greyspace was difficult to navigate, so Zade let the Blackbirds computer handle it. It was efficient, but left her with a lot of time on her hands. To stave off boredom, she was willing to endure conversation.
Have you ever heard of a guy known as the Swordsman?
The Swordsman? Of course Ive heard of him. Everyone in the Empire has.
Who is he?
Zade rolled her eyes. Didnt they teach you history at the Academy? she demanded rhetorically. The Swordsman led a rebellion on the planet of Pyrite. He was the head of a group that called themselves the Holy Swords.
What happened to him?
The rebellion was put down and he was executed by order of Lady Asellus.
Are you sure?
Well, I wasnt there personally. This was about thirty years ago. I was still in school, then. A lot of people saw the execution, though. She frowned. Whats with the sudden interest in the Swordsmans Rebellion, anyway?
Oh, I met a man that mentioned the Swordsman. Thats all.
Zade chuckled. Yeah, most of the Holy Swords were killed or imprisoned after the rebellion, but a few still wander around, preaching the evils of magic. I hear they expect the Swordsman to come back to life or something like that.
Ransom nodded, his expression thoughtful. What else had this man said to him? Probably a lecture on the horrors of the Empire. Humans were always complaining about one thing or another. Except for Ransom, who seemed to complain about nothing at all. The bastard.
Hey, Ransom, said Zade, interrupting whatever was going on in his mind. Where are you from, anyway? I know youre only Human, but you should have at least a tiny grasp of Imperial history if you were born anywhere in the Empire.
Ransom smiled slightly. I cant really remember where I was born. Its been a long time since I was there, and I dont remember its name. Zade chuckled inwardly. A long time? Ransom could only be twenty years old, at most. He didnt know what a long time was. Anyway, he continued, Ive spent most of my life on Ventosus.
Zade thought for a moment. I dont think Ive ever heard of that planet.
Im not surprised. It was discovered by the Empire pretty recently.
Zade nodded with understanding. I see... No wonder you dont know anything. Is Ventosus pretty undeveloped?
Ransom chuckled. Ventosus is as undeveloped as planets get.
Your ancestors were probably marooned on the planet when the Dominion withdrew.
Ransom blinked, surprised. The Dominion? The Dominions border isnt anywhere near Ventosus.
Not now, Zade replied, her familiar scowl returning. But the Dominion used to own all of the space in the Empire, except for some of planets furthest from the Dominions center. But there was a rebellion or something, and the Dominion began to shrink, leaving planets to fend for themselves. Thats how Humans first came to Mysticia; they took over the planet for the Dominion.
And now the Mystics are the rulers, Ransom finished quietly.
Zades smile was proud. Exactly. Now the Humans are getting their payback for taking over our planet.
Rakin nodded. I suppose its only fair.
Of course it is. But the statement wasnt heartfelt. Now, for the first time in years, Zade experienced doubt. She quickly put a stop to that. Doubt was the last thing she needed, especially when her partner was Human. If she started thinking of Humans as equals, she might start getting too close to Ransom. And she didnt want that.
No, she said firmly to herself. I dont want that at all.
Humans are nothing more than parasites. Trust me on this.