Tari and Pakar came into the Serin’s medical bay just in time to hear a bone-crushing crunch echo from the center of the room; T’bia nodded to herself, taking her hands off Jadyn’s leg. “Now, for the second time, don’t move around! I don’t want to have to break any of these for a third time.”

“Can’t argue with that…” His ears flicked toward the vixen and dragon as the door closed behind them. “Tari… I never did get around to telling you what happened to my world, did I?”

“Is this really the time?”

“It’s vaguely related.” He grunted as T’bia injected a dose of painkiller into his neck. “I don’t know that you’ve heard it all at once before, Pakar. Might make more sense to have it in one complete string for a change instead of all the random trivia bits you’ve overheard out of order.”

“I’m certainly not going anywhere if storytime is at hand.” The drekiran smiled, leaning back against the wall.

“It’s not a terribly pleasant story. I just think you both deserve to know why the unstable fox in your lives is so disturbed.”

“I just have… one question… before you try and distract us.” Tari padded to the bedside, looking at his face. Aside from the singed fur and open patches of flesh, he looked remarkably better already. “How in the Hell did you survive that explosion, let alone the fall?”

“I didn’t.”

“But you’re… You’re not dead…”

“Thanks for the confirmation, doctor.”

“But -“

“Think about it. I died, but I’m clearly no longer dead.” Jadyn smirked. “Stop trying to not laugh, Pakar. It was like this with you, too, when I climbed out of that lava floe.”

“That’s why I find it so funny,” Pakar giggled. “I’m sorry… Just slipped out. What happened, anyway?”

“With the explosion?”

“No, with the ice cream for the pie. Of course I mean with the explosion, you… You…”

“Please don’t injure my patient further,” T’bia requested. “Otherwise I’ll have to do unpleasant things to him.”

Jadyn frowned. “There was a bomb in the freezer.”

“What?” Pakar stood back up. “Seriously?”

“Dead serious. Someone graciously gave me two whole seconds after the door was opened to find a solution. My options were rather limited to ‘react and think later’ or ‘get my guests killed by thinking.’ Carried it as far into the sky as I could manage with a little time dilation on my side. And since bending Elemental Time messes with my equilibrium, I couldn’t protect myself from the blast. Was kind of pretty at ground zero… For a fraction of a second, anyway.”

“Who could have gotten into your house to do that?”

“For being in the freezer, it wasn’t very cold. I know it wasn’t in there earlier when I went hunting for ingredients.”

Pakar frowned. “You don’t think Khris would have…?”

“Let’s figure that out later. I have to explain why I’m not dead after being dead and then almost dying again, before Tari kills me. Maybe I’ll be able to walk again by the end of my rambling if I stretch the tale out long enough…”

I’ve told you already (Jadyn said) that Val’Trax was the world of my birth a tad over five hundred Terran years ago. Beautiful, beautiful world… Large green forests, deep cerulean oceans, brilliantly blue skies with amazingly clean air… The biosphere was really similar to Terra and Veloria. The only major things that set the planet strikingly different were its size and the twin suns. The second star orbited the first, only bright enough for twilight when it rose in the sky.

And the size… The makeup of the planet’s core was so exotic that even with a calculated mass and surface area several times that of Terra, the apparent mass and the resulting acceleration of gravity were comparable to Veloria. A touch heavier, but not too much. Nine billion Val’Traxans called it home. Another six billion others had adopted the place. We still had lots of space for development, both above and underground… Many cities had as much habitable infrastructure underground as they did above. Just think: Terra’s overpopulated now with a mere seven billion humans, and with fifteen billion residents we still weren’t cramped. Our food production infrastructure could handle thirty billion without relying on replicators.

Organic-based technology was our primary export. T’bia and the rest of this ship are shining examples of what our biotech industry could do, but they barely scratch the surface. Trading practices with other worlds were fairly simple - we maintained sole right to redistribute our technology, and enforced that right with anti-piracy software encoded right into the DNA. The Galactic Fleet - our ‘local’ commonwealth of worlds - was our primary consumer. Other worlds occasionally tried to trade for the hardware, but not many were granted permits.

One of those races, the Tr’aal, opened negotiations when I was sixteen. They tried for nearly two years to obtain the rights to use the technology. The world leaders declined once they’d discovered that the Tr’aal just wanted a faster way to zip in, blow up a world, and zip out. So, they left, empty-handed.

And then they came back, several months later. In force. Val’Trax was on the edge of the Galactic Fleet’s territory… The war… Bah. The slaughter the Tr’aal executed was over before any of our allies could get there to assist. Of the nine billion natives, two hundred and fifty thousand survived the initial attacks. A mere two thousand actually made it off the planet alive. Less than half of those survivors left with their freedom intact. I wasn’t one of the few.

It isn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy… Not even on our conquerers. Orbital bombardment, armed troops in the streets shooting anything that moved aggressively… Or at all… No one deserves what they did to us. I was found in a Draekrd, a temple devoted to self-reflection and worship of the Kshorah. They brought me down in an alley as I tried to get away. Energy weapons, of course… Slaves aren’t much good if they’re dead or full of holes.

I woke up in a cell with five others… Three fems, two mels. Two of the vixens I knew - Melichanni, my mate-to-be, and Kishira, a close friend of ours. The rest of our cellmates were strangers. They put males and females together on purpose, you know? More little slavelets that way, especially with our racial mating scents.

After a few days of being kept literally in the dark and fed some sort of protein syrup from time to time, they tagged us all with numbered bracelets and led us off to an arena. There were several floors above us, all like windowed cells with people in them… I can’t really remember the speech the Tr’aal Intendant spouted… He informed us that we were now Tr’aal property, expendable labor… And then he went on to prove the ‘expendable’ qualifier. The armored soldiers chose twenty at random from the main floor and lined them up against the wall… And wouldn’t you know it?

Two of those twenty just happened to be my mother and father.

The Intendant ordered the twenty executed, one at a time. But not just any random method of slaughter… No, they busted out a disruptor tuned to slowly vaporize a body from the inside-out. It’s painful, it’s vicious, and it’s an absolutely horrible way to die. And they murdered twenty people with it, right there in front of us.

Dad somehow kept his wits about him after that excruciating last scream of my mother… He killed the executioner with a blast of the Art even as the disruptor ended his life. That led to a second lesson - their soldiers were as expendable as we were. Every soldier was a clone, programmed in their genes to obey their masters. The Intendant promoted another one on the spot and the executions went on. Why take us instead of rolling their own programmable slave race? I used to ask myself that a lot. I think it gave them pleasure to grind the last bit of hope out of their victims.

I didn’t cry there. I was in too much shock to know if I should be crying or trying to kill the guards. We were marched back to our little rooms before I finally broke down, huddled in the cleanest corner of the cell and sobbing. One of the males from our group of six took down three or four guards before he was killed himself…. I was afraid to eat the food they gave us when it actually had meat in it.

They decimated the atmosphere and the surface before they left, killing the bombardment survivors that hadn’t managed to evacuate at the same time they rendered Val’Trax uninhabitable, toxic, and unlikely to support future life. We were the example for the rest of the quadrant - the Tr’aal did not accept ‘no’ for an answer. Void, I’m sure they would have done the same damn thing if we’d given them the tech. We just gave them an excuse.

I was eighteen when I was captured. I spent six more years in bondage, living with the same four remaining cellmates for several years. Pellia and Marsh - the vixen and tod I hadn’t met before the war… They both contracted a fever and died of the illness. I’d tried to help them, but… Healing with the Art requires that your patient wants to heal. They’d both given up. Both times, more than a week passed before the body was taken away. Pellia had been pregnant when she died. The bastards had taken her off for several days during her heat and forced several males to mate her.

In that last year, I’d been trying desperately to plot a way out. In all honesty we’d been trying to come up with ways all along - the absolute brutality of the soldiers kept anything from coming to light. It was also during the last year that the new Intendant of the labor camp began to take a personal notice in me. I really didn’t find the Tr’aal attractive - very much less than attractive, really - but it was that or take the chance of random execution. So, I did my duties to the Intendant, living as more of a plaything than a person. Over time I managed to gain a very small measure of her trust, but as far as she was concerned I was still her ‘property’ and more than once was re-educated as to my place.

An order came down from above the Intendant that a quarter of the slaves were to be sent to auction. Funds for war efforts. Kish and Anni nearly went on the auction block… The Intendant claimed them both for ‘herself’ and let them stay with me after some major groveling on my part. And then one night, completely out of the blue, she helped the three of us escape the camp. I don’t know why. Maybe she cared for me more than I realized… She gave us access codes to an old shuttle and we made a break for it.

I’ve never seen a Tr’aal since.

Tari stared at Jadyn as he fell silent, uncertain of what to say. Pakar solved the problem by speaking up first.

“I’d picked up that a great number of your people were lost to the war… You’ve never actually mentioned that only two thousand survived.”

“Less than that… Half the enslaved population died in the first few years from disease and resisting the Tr’aal. Add to that maybe a thousand that were off-world when the end came for one reason or another and the five hundred that evaded bombardment, enslavement, and target practice on their escaping ships… At the very most there were twenty-three hundred Val’Traxans alive in the quadrant when the camps were eventually liberated. The liberation didn’t save the few hundred who’d already been sold and resold to other parties for Goddess-knows-what… So yeah, an effective population under two thousand when it was all said and done.”

“Only a thousand offworld? No colonies?”

“On the moon, but they blew the whole satellite into dust. There wasn’t a desire for any others. Most Val’Traxans didn’t ever leave the planet beyond business trips or stints serving in the Fleet because everything we needed was there on that rock. Sure, in retrospect, we should have had a few to help buffer against the chance of mass extinction on the homeworld. It was more than a little arrogant for us to think we were too advanced to worry about such a thing… Instead, when I left, the survivors that weren’t scattered across the quadrant were setting up a genetic diversity project as a last-ditch effort to keep our race from moving into that ‘extinct’ classification.”

“A structured breeding program.”

“Basically, yeah. Simulations and projections agreed that we needed at least four thousand in the pool for any hope of long-term viability. Since we were starting over with less than half of that, there was concern about eventual inbreeding depression if the survivors didn’t plan out their reproductive efforts for several generations.”

“How’d that go?”

“No idea. I left before it got beyond the idea stage. You’re making me jump ahead in my recanting, though. I haven’t even gotten to the part that explains why I’m still breathing.”

“Right, sorry,” the drekiran apologized. “I forgot who this was for.”

“Still…” Tari shook her head. “Billions of lives reduced to a few thousand… That’s one Hell of a way to grow up, Jay.”

“That’s only part of the reason I’m so screwed up… The major part, but only a part.” He smiled wryly, staring at the ceiling. Tears dampened the fur around his bloodshot eyes. “I wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t happened. If Val’Trax were still a thriving world, I’d probably never have gotten out of the quadrant.”

“Well, we’re certainly glad you’re here.” Pakar crossed the room, giving the fox a gentle, loving hug and ignoring his wince of pain. “You have more friends than you might realize, J.T… It doesn’t hurt to open up once in a while to any of them.”

Erasoe,” he snorted. Tari heard the translation in her left ear after a slight delay - ‘bullshit.’ “It’s been five hundred years and it still hurts to talk about it.”

“Yes, but it does get easier to think about, doesn’t it? You lost a lot to that war. Innocence, family, friends, your original hopes of a stable future with those you loved… All parts of your life that you can never get back. The memories are bound to your soul with all the other junk up here.” She tapped his head lightly. “You need to air the laundry once in a while.”

“Shared pain is lessened,” Tari observed. “Shared joy grows.”

“Yeah,” he whispered, a smile slowly creeping over his muzzle. “Yeah, I suppose so. That some ancient kitsune wisdom?”

“Even better. Ancient fatherly wisdom.”

“He was a wise man.”

“You’ve no idea. So, what happened after you three got away?” Tari asked, trying to pull him back to his story.


In a term you’re familiar with (he continued), it was a year of Hell on the shuttle. The damn thing was ready to fall apart. It took a lot of the four-finger-discounting to keep it running. We hated resorting to theft, but we did what we had to do to stay alive. There wasn’t much temporary work to be had. The only viable alternative - which we also had to use several times - was falling to walking the streets, pitching to those looking for a good night in bed. The girls were better at it, but I managed to pull in my share. It wasn’t a high point of our lives by any measure.

The only things left functioning after a year of trying to find our home were propulsion and minimal life support. No navigational computer, no communications, nothing. I’d just completed an FTL jump to get away from some unpleasant smugglers we’d swindled, dropping into normal space near a moon. I’d picked a heading at random and flown until the engines needed a cooldown.

The girls were asleep in the back, sharing a blanket for warmth. I was ready to go join them and get a nap - minimal life support is just about no heat, and space is rather chilly. A small fighter craft dropped in front of the forward viewport. After managing to signal that we had no working comm, the pilot signaled that I needed to follow her. It was a good four hours of travel. She had no tow clamp on the tiny fighter, and at sublight the shuttle didn’t have much in the line of speed.

Kish and Anni woke up as we neared a space station. Following the fighter into a shuttlebay, we touched down and proceeded to wait. Shortly afterward we were signaled to open the door. The pilot, a lady squirrel, led us off through the corridors without so much as a word. Every space station looks the same after a while, but there was something familiar about the architecture as we followed her to a locker room. We were absolutely coated in grime… We’d had some rather nasty things break on the shuttle and there wasn’t enough water to spare for bathing. Can’t lick your fur clean like the ancestors did because the stuff will likely not do nice things to your insides. Rags all around are already coated in the stuff, so that’s not an option. We’d become numb to the smell, but I’d imagine that they had a heck of a time making the halls smell clean again after our passage.

We found basic jumpsuits waiting for us after three hours of scrubbing the grime out of our pelts, and the pilot returned shortly afterward. She led us off to an observation deck on the top level of the station, meeting up with a lupine male who appeared to be her commanding officer. Kish and Anni watched the various ships coming and going; I sat with them silently, looking out at the barren yellow world the station was orbiting. Out of nowhere, it hit me - that dead rock before us had indeed been our home at one point in time. It was a revelation, finding out that we had finally made it home, and the stress of the journey was gone. Poof! Just like that. I think the girls realized it about the same time I did, from the look in their eyes.

A month after we’d been debriefed about our time in bondage came news that the Tr’aal’s empire had been toppled. Their latest attempt at a ‘strategic takeover’ had backfired and their entire fleet had been incapacitated. It was no small pleasure to know they were no longer a threat to anyone… But still, after what they’d done to us… It was a hollow victory, at best.

I started taking trips down to the surface in an environmental suit, looking for relics of our past lives. It took a long time to explore and map the blank surface around where my childhood home had once stood. There wasn’t a landmark left. The forests were dead, the few remaining trees standing as woody skeletons of the grand woodlands that once had been full of life. The rivers and oceans, dry and desolate. The once lush plains and foothills were constantly ravaged by harsh toxic winds that swept over a dead and deserted landscape. The atmosphere was completely unbreathable… I don’t know what they did to cause that much decimation in the biosphere, but they’d been thorough.

After months of mapping I finally found where my young life had been spent… To my surprise, there was one survivor buried beneath the land. The Serin was still parked in the underground hangar my father had kept her within. Almost all of her systems had been in a sort of suspended animation from lack of power and light; the energy reserves had just about depleted after eight years of disuse. The organics are plant-based - more than anything, she needed sunlight. Accomplishing that took three weeks of digging - even using the Art. If I’d gone too fast the cavern would have collapsed and buried the ship even deeper.

The change as those first rays hit the outer skin was simply amazing. The hull, black as death in its stasis, was a vibrant leafy green after not ten minutes. There was plenty of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and by the time the water reserves were low the replicator came online and started refilling the tanks.

First was life support; I wanted to get out of the e-suit. Damn things chafe something fierce… The only pressurized portion is the helmet. The rest is mechanical counterpressure with heating elements woven into the fabric. After I could breathe in the cabin, I tried to bring up Aerin with little success. Oh sure, doors would open and close, but only as long as you didn’t want to go through one. They’d bang open and closed until you walked up to one, then they’d slam shut either before you walked through or during. My tail never has had so much abuse as on this ship…

And then there was T’bia. I spent countless hours reconstructing her from backups. I finally gave up with the enhancement modules and booted the core. Of course, all my time was wasted… Dad had programmed her system to reconstruct itself automatically in case of a mass-failure. The startup script nuked all the files I’d worked on and reloaded everything itself. Half an hour later, she was up and running as if she’d never been offline. Together, we got the ship back together as much as was possible without any replacement parts. No small feat. Regeneration can take care of a lot of damage, but there comes a point when it stops working. Over time we’ve replaced dead parts with inorganic alternatives, but I really hate to defile the ship with that kind of thing.

Kish and Anni joined our explorations soon after that. We found several things in the following weeks that we hadn’t been looking for. Numerous books and research materials were still intact in the Guild’s library vaults. The wards on the vaults had prevented their opening by non-Artisans… And not many Artisans were exploring the surface. Void, not many of us were left alive. Maybe ten or fifteen of us with any amount of skill… One or two Masters…

Tari, you saw the tapestry of the Goddess hanging in the common room, right next to the hologram of Val’Trax? I found it and eight others in the temple I had prayed within the day I was captured, even though the building had burnt down around them. They’re all remarkable works. One of each of the Eight, and a ninth showing them all together. I’ve rotated them around from time to time, hanging a different one in the room.

What else did we find… Oh, how did I forget that? My father’s ktsi - the sword. It was buried in the rubble of our house. The sheath was absolutely ruined, but when I pulled the blade out of the wreckage there wasn’t a scratch to be found. Anni and Kish searched for the other two weapons using mine to try to focus on them, but never came up with anything. The station researchers hadn’t even stumbled across them.

We’d all held hopes of finding certain artifacts with personal meanings, and we weren’t disappointed in that respect. It’s funny how we seemed to find things with that sort of significance that every other exploring soul had missed. Maybe the Spirits were watching out for us after all…

“But even a guardian Spirit needs the occasional vacation… You remember your dream, Tari? My eighth month of exploring the planet and seeking relics of our recent past… I was attacked in the Serin’s private shuttlebay.”

Tari nodded slightly, enlightenment apparent in her eyes as her fingers found the phantom wound on her own chest. “He really killed you, didn’t he…”

“Hence why the dream ended. There wasn’t anything more to see from my view.” Jadyn lifted his arms, flexing his fingers in front of his face. “Death… Dying, rather. Never has been a pleasant thing, except for that very first time. And it wasn’t the dying part that was pleasant. I was cold, surrounded by the Void… It was a timeless limbo I found myself floating within. The Light crept over my soul, warming me to the core… I realized I was dead at that moment. The way our culture sees death is not a time to be afraid, or sad… We’ve strong faith in our Kshorah. I was disappointed that my time had come so soon, but I was happy to be ‘home,’ as it were.

“The Light embraced me, and I embraced It… There was a… sadness, within the Light, and the most peculiar sensation washed over my mind. They speak of the Figure of Good in any given faith loving His or Her Children unconditionally. What I felt was more than unconditional love… It was personal. It still feels, when I think back, as if the Kshorah of the Light Herself knew me and loved me and had only moments to share that love with me before I’d be whisked away. I remember hearing… sensing, I suppose… Just a whisper, a simple and short phrase. ‘Death cannot bring you the solace that you deny yourself in life.’ And then Limbo reclaimed me.”

Jadyn swallowed slightly. “As I hung in that timeless, cold darkness, I felt utterly alone for the first time in my life. Even during our internment I’d never felt so isolated… The memory of being abandoned in that Void, forsaken by the Light… I’ve found it hard to shake that emptiness over the years. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe… No sounds, no smells… Absolutely nothing.

“The endless dark abruptly changed to blinding light. I opened my eyes, unable to focus on anything… The pair of screams that followed are laughable, in retrospect… I’d been in one of the coolers they keep corpses in before an autopsy… They’d thought I was dead. At the time they’d been right. Anni had come in to identify me - as if the blue fur wasn’t enough of a hint to the medical technicians. Spirits, she was mad… She’d thought I’d been trying to prank her. I had no idea what was going on.

“The ‘official’ explanation filed by the station commander was that they missed faint vital signs before sticking me on ice. The truth…. I’m an immortal, Tari. As far as I know I’ll never age another day and I seem to have a standing agreement with Death that I don’t really understand. I’ve come back more times than I care to remember. I really wish I could forget a few of them.”

Tari gazed into his eyes, seeing the old hurt on the surface once again. “I… I really don’t know what to say…”

“Try this: ‘Why the heck didn’t you just say that instead of prattling on for two hours about your crappy childhood?’” T’bia poked Jadyn in the shoulder. “Now, if he didn’t know I was trying to cheer him up with that, he’d be moderately upset. Sit up, meatbag.”

Jadyn nodded, clenching his jaw as he reached something barely passable as upright. “Oi… As a bonus, while I’m conscious my regeneration rate is usually faster than Bee’s ability to fix me up… On par with modern medical tools when I’m not. The only thing that’s never healed is the scar from the stabbing. I assume it won’t go away because that was the event that fully crossed me over from a normal existence to what I am now. Depending on what happens, a few minutes to several hours after an injury and I’m back on my feet.”

“Longest was a day or so,” T’bia offered, poking at a medical scanner. “Please don’t try to break any records. Bah, you’re being slow today, still have some ribs with fractures. Nothing I need to snap into place, though… Lucky you.”

“How’d your two ladies take the news?” Pakar asked.

“Anni didn’t speak to me for a week. She was convinced I’d set up the whole thing as a joke. It took me that long to sort through the experience and figure out what exactly had happened. When Kish finally convinced her to talk to me again, I told them both what I’d seen and felt after my apparent death. There had been some immortals rumored in our history, so it wasn’t completely unbelievable. I… er… I did have to prove it to them, though… They wanted first-hand evidence.”

“They made you -“

“No, I didn’t have to kill myself in front of them. I took a knife to my palm and laid it open to the bone. Bleeding stopped within a minute. The cut was closed within ten. I had my complete range of motion back in half an hour, and the scars were gone within the day.”

Pakar nodded. “Okay… Now, the glaring question that I’ve always wanted to know - why are you so far from home? The other galactic arm is a long way to come from just for a bookstore and some government jobs.”

“Yes, but have you seen your pension plans? Originally, I went searching for my sister, Telara. She’d been off-world when the Tr’aal returned for the extermination. There was a boarding school on another world she wanted to attend with a bunch of her friends, so mom and dad sent her off. When I went hunting for her the records I’d been able to locate said she’d never left the place.

“Anni would have joined my search if I’d asked her to come along, but I couldn’t do that to her. I knew if I didn’t find Telara, I’d probably never be back. Both Anni and Kish both had their own lives to lead and I honestly couldn’t bring myself to stay, to watch them wither away as I remained myself. They’d both found other mates before I left and seemed happy. Kish discovered she was pregnant the very morning I departed… The last news I’d heard from them, she had a little boy.”

“You never found your sister?” Pakar queried.

“No… I searched for a long time. There were leads and trails flung left and right, all conflicting with each other and making no sense. One evening, Bee and I were studying a star chart, trying to decide where to go next… All the leads had dried up. One little point of light drew my attention, made my blood run cold… I knew down to the core of my soul that she’d died there… It only hurt more as I sensed Melichanni’s life had ended on that world as well, like they’d been together and something had happened.

“Bee turned the ship so I could look out at the star, and then… Then… A vision of the very event assaulted my mind. An explosion killed them both as well as a third person, a val’traxan male I’d never met. I don’t know what told me they were dead, or why… But the fact they were gone was undeniable as I stared at that star out the viewport.”

He sighed, a slight smile forming on his face. “Anni and I… We’d always called this one constellation in the skies of Val’Trax our personal one… ‘The Kshorahii’s Tails…’ A vague outline of two foxtails twined together in the stars, joined together by a single star at their base… After I knew Telara and Anni were gone, I decided to find out if Anni was right about the star at the base.”

Tari raised an eybrow. “How so?”

“We’d joked on and off about traveling to the star, making wild guesses at what we’d find. The common bedtime story said it was the birthplace of the Kshorahii. Anni always insisted there’d be scantily clad mels who would honor her every bidding, feed her peeled grapes, the works.”

The vixen smirked. “I like that fantasy.”

“I’ll order some grapes,” T’bia offered.

“Do that. Jay can peel them for me. Did you two find your way there, at least?”

Jadyn nodded, easing off the bed to his feet. “That star is known in these parts as Lo. It’s Veloria’s sun.”

“Your instructions on setting the device were incorrect. It lasted two seconds, not twenty, according to my monitoring.”

Apparently the instructions provided to me were in error -

“Your constant ‘errors’ are not helping. This combined with the botched pirate attacks is making me question your abilities. They attempted to kill him as well, when I expressly told you to relay directions to only leave his ship incapacitated.”

My apologies. To make you aware: the preliminary reports regarding the detonation show it as a meteor exploding in the upper atmosphere, including falsified trajectories of an object leading to the detonation point. Someone with high-level access to the database is editing the records. The report is otherwise valid and I doubt it will get more than a cursory glance.

“I do wonder how he got it so far into the sky with so little time… Perhaps his abilities exceed your logged observations. It warrants more investigation, but it is not a priority. Anything else filed so far?”

Not that I have been able to capture. Our contacts also show nothing abnormal.

“Keep me informed. How are our… guests?”

Their numbers have doubled. The new additions are healthy and faring quite well.

“Excellent. More incentive for them to behave… I have a few more details to oversee before I return. I believe it is time to release the contagion on Terac Lun. You are certain this will work exactly how I have repeatedly explained I want it to work?”

Having tested it on a virtually identical system, I can say with confidence that it will.

“Forward me the files.”

As you command.

A shadow shifted along the treeline, its hooded head glancing at the cabin nearby as lights inside turned out. Turning and moving into the woods, it vanished into the night.

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