David Morrison raced to finish his exam. He hated mathematics! "Two light years are divided by the reciprocal of the fraction of the speed you are traveling..." he was thinking. Who needed to know this junk, anyway? The NAV computers would do all of this work, after all. But he wanted to be an Explorien, a member of the organization that fought for good, and ruled with peace the Explorien Planets. Two electronic beeps sounded. Sighing at his Velexian friend Anto, who sat two seats away in the giant testing hall, David pressed the "Finish" button on his test pad. It went blank as his uncompleted test was transferred into the grading computers. Anto asked, "Find it tough?" Anto never had to study to get good grades. He would probably be a member of the Explorien High Council while David would always be a lowly cadet, toiling away at menial chores, and breaking out in a cold sweat if Ignezzia, the Mistress of the Cadets, found him awake past curfew. In spite of this, David liked and admired the olive skinned, short but muscular Velexian.
"Of course." David answered. "Hey, you want to go to the Merchant's Quarter after class?" That was where the merchants who visited Space Station Gemini traded goods. Not that either of the two friends could ever afford much. Cadet pay was low, only ten credits a week.
"Sorry, I can't. Explorien Dantu wants me to clean Landing Bay 3." Anto's green-brown features grimaced as he made a face. "I hate chores."
So did David. "I might come along, to keep ya' company, anyway. There's nothing else to do on this stupid Space Station. When I'm an Explorien, I'll never set a foot here again!" There really was nothing else to do here. Bringing along a good bookpad and watching Anto suffer could be fun, for a while at least. His extra chores were probably punishment of some sort, but Anto would never admit to doing anything wrong. He ran to catch up with the bulky Velexian as they headed to a Physics seminar, wondering how he could get Anto to tell him what he had done. Neither of the two friends thought that that evening would change their lives.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Explorien Dantu was in a good mood. Those two cadets would be easily dealt with. They probably didn't even know how dangerous they would be. Fingering the device that had accompanied his latest explicit orders, he laughed silently to himself, letting none of it show on his face, and started toward Landing Bay 3.
* * * * *
As Anto Klarisen scrubbed the huge floors of Landing Bay 3, he decided for the hundredth time today that hated doing chores more then anything else. With David, his Terran friend, watching him contentedly from a nearby bench, it felt like punishment for something. But all Anto had done was to ask Explorien Dantu the directions to room C-19. It was enough to make him tear at his own dark brown hair in frustration.
The two friends were not alone in the Landing Bay. Cadets Basha and McConnor were sitting on the only other bench and the floor, respectively, engrossed in whatever was printed on their computer pads. Anto knew them, but not very well. They were probably studying in the quiet of the Landing Bay, as some cadets did from time to time. An Aravillian female cadet who Anto knew by sight if not by name was industriously repairing a saucer ship, the only ship in the Landing Bay presently. Suddenly Basha, a Krigoni, spoke up. "The doors were just locked. I do not know why." Anto had heard that Krigoni had exceptional hearing; that was probably how he knew what he had just announced.
The Aravillian female spoke. "Computer, disengage Landing Bay 3 lock." Her accent was heavy, yet the tone of her voice was high and clear. "Authorization-Cadet Code Yenne Valavan."
"Unable to comply. Launch sequence has begun. Opening airlock." The computer announced cheerfully. Looks of horror passed between the current occupants of Landing Bay 3. They had to get out of here or die! Anto Klarisen was not going to die like this! Running to the door, he called to the others to help him open the door manually. Velexians were among the strongest of races, yet the door gave only half-hearted signs of giving way. With David's and the three other's added strength, however, they made considerably more progress. The door opened first an inch, then six, then a little more. He was about to order everyone to squeeze through when Explorien Dantu's tall frame blocked the small opening. His pale blue face was blank, the same face he had used while ordering Anto to this chore that would kill him. Or should have killed him; Anto was sure the Explorien was here to save him and his companions.
"Too late for you. By order of the sho'gan vin, I exile you!" The sound of the door snapping shut blocked off the last of what Dantu said.
"Quickly, into the Saucer Ship." Bantu Basha said in a calm, cool, yet urgent, voice. How could he be cool at a time like this?! No one argued, however. Running, they crossed the Landing Bay quickly, though it seemed to Anto that it took far too long. They only had seconds left.
"Opening Bay doors." The computer chirped. A sudden gust of escaping air almost knocked Anto off his feet. The air pulled and tugged at him as it rushed out into the vacuum of space. Bantu Basha and David Morrison were aboard. Anto could not breathe. He was about to collapse and be dragged out into space when a hand caught his arm and pulled him up over the closing doors of the Saucer Ship. He collapsed atop Yenne Valavan, the cadet he did not know, who had pulled him aboard.
Before he could catch his breath, white light filled the room. He could not see. The light increased, burning at his eyes, filling his very being. The light was too bright to imagine, yet it continued to grow brighter. He tried to call out, but it was as if the white light filled his mouth. So bright. He could see nothing but white. White, forever and ever.
* * * * *
The first sensation to return was touch. He felt cool metal against his head; it dug at his scalp uncomfortably. Then memory returned, and he remembered how to breathe again with a gasp. After he had fully recovered sight and hearing, fully recovered completely, Shaylor McConnor wished he was dead. Yenne cradled his head, but when she saw he was alright she let go. "Are you alright?" His Aravillian friend hissed fiercely. "I have no idea what happened, aside from we're stuck here with three other cadets. I don't know two of them." The horrible light had disappeared; he still shuddered at that -and he could finally see again, but it quickly became clear that they were not near Space Station Gemini any longer. He had expected them to contact the Station, and pilot the ship back in, not to be lost! Finally the three huddled groups of frightened cadets made contact with each other. Bantu Basha stood alone, and aparently unaffected, Kirgoni calm unruffled. David Morrison and Anto Klarisen were huddled in the opposite corner from Yenne and himself. David was a Navigation major, Shaylor knew for certain.
The panicked Terran, David Morrison, did not recognize any of the stars, which seemed to upset him greatly. He wasn't the only one panicking. Everyone aside from Bantu was near hysterics, running and screaming for help. Finally, they settled down. After some rational thinking, Shaylor himself tried all of the communications channels. Silence was his only response. He did not like this one bit. Maybe if he tried the lower frequency COM channels. "I'll try again." He announced to the room.
His friend Yenne of Clan Valavan laughed bitterly. "That light was probably the Station vaporizing or something. We're hopelessly lost." That was unlike Yenne, but perhaps the shiny bronze-skinned Aravillian had a reason to be pessimistic. Nevertheless, Shaylor scanned the channels with the COM computer. A faint sound made him jump. Quickly he turned up the volume and filtered out the interference.
"Bjahankoko, nu? Bahalallynallyi! Nu! Nu!" Shaylor felt weak with shock. Everyone looked the question at him- ‘What is so shocking?' eight eyes said.
"It is Nu." Shaylor said simply. A great deal of his ‘free studies' had been spent on the Nu. They were a strange race of blue rubbery bipeds who inhabited the most remote planet known. They were not humanoid, however. With a large type of... ball... for a body, the Nu sprouted arms out of the top of his body-head. Its legs were short and bowed, its mouth wide, and on top of its head was a small shock of green hair. Discovered only thirty years ago, they were a technologically inferior race, along the lines of 20th century Terra, or Earth. They must be in the small pocket of space controlled by the Nu! But that was flat impossible!
"Dantu must have sent us here. That flash was probably some sort of teleportation." FLASH? The Terran fool, David or whoever, was trying to make things seem better then they were, as the Terrans always did. Calmly Shaylor reminded himself that he was one half human himself. But still, he was surprised he was not blinded by the horrible light. A flash! Phaw!
Speaking into the translator, he set the dial to Nu. The Nu had a strange language at best. "We are lost Exploriens. We ask directions back home. May you have a happy life?" He believed that was how they said ‘Please.' Or perhaps it was "rich life"?
The translator buzzed. "We may have a happy life." Yes. "Please visit place where we live, the. We give fuel, yes?" The language was very difficult to translate, indeed.
"We give luck to you." That was the proper way to end a conversation, Shaylor hoped. He looked around the Command Center of the Saucer Ship. Four pairs of eyes looked back. David shrugged, and they all took the places they had been training for. Shaylor took the Communications Officer's post, his smokey grey hair shaking as he nodded to himself in thought. Yenne of Clan Valavan, the beautiful bronze-skinned Aravillian, took the Engineer's Outpost. David Morrison fingered his black hair as he took the Pilot's post. Bantu Basha, the tall, pale blue-skinned glass-haired Krigoni, sat at the Main Computer Console. Anto Klarisen, the olive-skinned, muscular Velexian, took Weapons/Defense. "Plotting a course for Nu!" David announced. Shaylor felt the familiar tugging sensation as the Saucer Ship broke the bonds of physics and sped toward Nu.
* * * * * Chapter 3
Nu is a cool planet, thought Yenne of Clan Valavan, as she walked leisurely though the trees toward the village they had landed by. The temperature was no problem for her, though. Most people thought Aravillians wore such revealing attire to attract the attention of others, but really it was to escape the heat that other planets held for Aravillians. Aravil herself was one of the coldest inhabited planets. Yenne was glad Aravillians didn't sweat like Terrans and pigs. Seductive beauties, hah! Yenne wondered how many people who had actually visited Aravil still believed those tales.
Savoring the first actual cold breeze she had felt for years, she smiled. Things were looking up, at last. She had been sure that the End of Civilization had come, as it had come to her own people eight-hundred thousand years ago. The Prophets say it will happen again, and Yenne's own small talent for the Prophecy told her they were right. Strangely, Yenne had had a feeling of dread as that light had enveloped her. Any Aravillian soon learned to trust gut feelings, or pay the price. Something bad would happen, and soon.
"It is cold, isn't it?" her old friend Shaylor said. She had not noticed herself shiver. Nodding to him absently, she tried to think on what that feeling meant. Maybe she would have a chance to Prophecize tonight. But even that was no guarantee that she would know. Not knowing dug at Yenne under her skin.
They had arrived at the Nu kin hall. A Nu who could speak Terran said, "We sent message Explorien, have to." Her accent was strange. "You can fuel ten units Nu Government, have of from." Good. That should do them until they reached Ingor, the closest planet to Nu with any type of civilization, which was very far indeed. She would have to ask David to be sure. "You stay guest houses until then, can at." And even a place for them to stay, too. This was all very good. But why was that feeling of dread still in Yenne, flowing through her veins like a deadly poison.
The Nu live on a very large planet, but their population was barely five million. The kin hall- kin means "welcome"- was filled with Nu from the immediate area. Yenne could barely tell one from another.
She was aware of a conversation Anto Klarisen, the cadet she'd pulled at the last moment, was having with a Nu. The rubbery blue alien was flapping its arms, the Nu sign for ‘No', if she remembered correctly, as Anto argued heatedly with it. Finally the creature stalked off, still flapping its arms.
As Anto rejoined the group, she tugged on his sleeve. "What was that all about?"
"That Nu. Apparently he was pulling some sort of joke. Shaylor did warn us of their bizarre sense of humor."
Yenne felt the feeling of dread slowly settle into her bones, like a skim of slime in her marrow. "What did she say?" Yenne asked Anto urgently.
"He. It was a he. I made a comment about how it might be the year 2229 by the time we get home. She said that if we expect to travel that fast we were in for disappointment. A very strange people, these Nu." Yenne was ready to agree. But why did that foreboding feeling increase with every syllable out of Anto's mouth? She had to make herself speak. "Of course. It must be Nu humor." It was the year 2227 right now, and at best the voyage home would take two years. That was, unless they encountered a faster ship. But wait. As she had thought theses things, the feeling crested. On a whim, she asked her P.S.E unit 2.0 the time.
"September 19, 2230, earth date. Endohs Ohlan, 2230, Velex time..." it said.
"P.S.E, stop." Yenne cut off the spiel of dates in a ragged voice. Their ‘instant voyage' had taken three whole years??
David Morrison had a lot on his mind. The fact that Nu was a very cold planet did not help matters much, either. The borkalyborg, or underground house, where they were staying had no heating at all. He kept trying to think of why, but as soon as he could start any sort of theory, his shivers distracted him enough to make him forget what he had been thinking. What was it again? Or, yes, why. Why would an Explorien try to kill them? How were they here, three years later but without memories? It was so cold. What was he doing?! He had to think!! David relished the thought of returning to see Explorien Dantu put on trial for five counts of attempted murder. That was if he could keep himself from choking the Krigoni Explorien first.
He had to keep reminding himself that three whole years had past since that incidence, in what had seemed a few nightmarish hours. Even so, it would be another two years before they reached Explorien-controlled space! Unless they got a faster ship, that is. Teeth chattering, he began to reflect on how cold he was. No! He would not do this! Maybe a hot drink would help. He wondered if Nu had any decent coffee.
Swinging out of the bed Nu kept for visiting Terrans, David put his feet on the stone floor. All thought of why and strangling Dantu flew from his head as his feet touched that stone surface. "AAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!! Cold!!!!! Cold!!!! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! AAAAAHHHHH!" The floor was like ice to his bare feet! Dancing around on one foot, then the other, he searched for some socks. Jumping onto the bed, he pulled on Yenne's slippers, which had been left in the hall. How the Aravillian woman could stand the temperature so easily was beyond David. As he squeezed them on, he examined his feet. Surely they were frostbitten. After a few close looks he grudgingly decided that they were not, after all. When finally had them on, he noticed Bantu Basha, the tall, pale blue Krigoni who had been... exiled... with them, standing at his door. David envied his calmness, so much so that he wanted to tear out his hair. The Krigoni people followed a strange honor system that ruled social interaction; when Bantu was with a close friend, he could trust the icy mask would be let down to show whatever little emotion he possessed.
"You are a rash young man, David Morrison. Try not to yell so." David wanted to scream, Bantu's voice was so flatly monotonous.
"Uh, just on my way to... check on the repairs. Yeah, that's it." He was not about to admit to giving himself frostbite just to get a warm drink to this, this... fish!
‘Ah, yes. Yenne is a marvel with machinery." David made a noise that could be taken for agreement. He walked quickly past Bantu and up into the streets of the Hamelie, Nu for ‘village'. The three moons, like pale softly glowing balls suspended in the sky, gave some light. It was as quiet as a tomb in the village. He did not notice Bantu walking by his side until he was past the last ormquale, the above ground entrances into Nu's subterranean buildings.
"We landed in this direction." Bantu announced placidly. David had to hold his hands at his side. If not, they would be waving in the air. Could nothing break that Krigoni calm?
* * * * * * * * * * * * The Nu merchant that had come to refuel and resupply StarRunner was a stubborn creature, one set on shortchanging Yenne an entire unit of fuel. But Yenne had bargained him back up again. She was rather proud of that feat; among alien races, only Jagonners were considered better traders then Aravillians, and the reputation was earned.
StarRunner was a good name for the Saucer Ship that had been their refuge from Dantu's attempted murder of them. She'd based the name on an old legend of her people, about a giant that had run among the stars. He was good, and he helped lost travelers find their way home once more. Yenne hoped it was a lucky name, as Aravillians set great store by omens and such.
Yenne sat for a moment and let her tired thoughts drift. Almost two hours ago, David and Bantu had appeared, asking her about how the repairs were coming along. David had seemed distracted. She hoped that the Terran wouldn't cause any trouble. They five would be together for a while, as Yenne saw it, and they had better get along. Sighing, Yenne set back to work. Idle thoughts never accomplished anything, while hard work would get you anything, with time.
Right now Yenne was kneeling in the vegetation, wet with sprinkled dew, by StarRunner, rewiring the Navigation Matrix. Replacing the metal paneling wearily, she said, "P.S.E, time."
"Standard time, 3.5 hours. Earth time, 3:30 A.M. Velex ti-"
"P.S.E, stop." She cut off the happy recital of times just as tiredly as she had initiated it. It was far too late to be out doing repairs, but she supposed any hours saved were for the good. Slowly she got to her feet, brushing damp leaves off her wrinkled uniform. Suddenly the Prophecy had her in its iron grip.
Dantu flung his blue hand towards her. From it a jet black bird flew straight for her eyes. Screaming in pain, she clutched her head. Her hands came away bright red. Inside of her head Dantu laughed at her, then a person covered in shadows laughed at him, then a Metaijjer laughed at both of them, seemed surprised for second, then seemed to know and control her, to be her. A single black feather fluttered slowly to a stony ground wet with blood, as other images flashed unseen. As it touched the ground, the vision shattered like glass, each shard slicing her mind.
Gasping like a fish, Yenne recoiled in shock. The Prophecy had never forced itself on an Aravillian! Always it had to be searched out, hunted. Always! It must be important, a foretelling of an event to rock the Universe. She felt weak, drained of... everything. Suddenly she noticed a hand, pale in the moonlight, reaching out to her. Shaylor.
"Help me. I need to stand. I am needing to..." she fought to rise. For some reason Shaylor looked grim.
"Later. You can tell us later." He looked concerned, as well. The arm Yenne was using to push herself up shook involuntarily, and her elbow joint snapped shut. She collapsed once again. Then the world went black.