First Glimpse Into Serronousa

As promised, here is my first short story introducing a key character in Serronousa.  Enjoy the read and don’t forget to follow my blog to stay updated on news and future publishing info.

Becoming Equintius

“Where is Tau?”  Jodener could feel the spit flying out of the Prenousan’s mouth as he asked yet once again, “Where is Tau?!”

Jodener did not answer, could not answer.  He jumped as the Prenousan turned the weapon to another human captive and pulled the trigger.  The woman, if she was old enough to even be called a woman, fell dead like so many before her.  Jodener wept.  He could not tell them what they wanted to know.  He simply did not have the answer.

Jodener’s knuckles whitened as he pushed the memory out of his head and forced the joystick forward.  The small ship hurtled into the planet’s atmosphere.

Zarah leaned back into the ill-fitting takeoff harness and braced herself.  She tenderly wiped the back of her hand across her forehead, rubbing off the blood and sweat.  Her hand caught in a small clump of dried blood that clung to her blonde hair.  Cringing, she dabbed at the swollen spot above her left eye then took a deep breath, closing her green eyes and putting a hand on her round belly.

Yelling above the roaring engines and rattling metal walls, she asked, “Where do we go now?”

Jodener’s silence heightened Zarah’s fears.  He brushed his black curly hair off of his face.  “The only human colony left is the underground network in the Garrasota system.”

“No! Jode, there’s got to be another human colony out there somewhere.  Garrasota is the last place we want to go.”

“We may not have any other choice.”

Zarah lashed out.  “If we go there, it will be only a matter of time before the Gradokkans wipe us out!  And if they don’t finish us off, the damn Prenousans will!”

Jodener took a deep breath, seeing no point in arguing above the noise.  As their ship escaped both gravity and atmosphere, the turbulence and noised ceased.  A brief stomach-churning sense of weightlessness lifted them out of their seats only for them to be plopped back down as the artificial gravity kicked in, confirmed by a beep and a green light on the control board in front of Jodener.

“Zarah, I know you’re scared.  I am too, but the Riskossu people have carefully protected our race for decades.  I’ve heard a great deal about the underground network.  I know that there has always been political instability between the Riskossu and Gradokkans, but it’s not an all-out-war.”

“Why can’t we leave Leandrika?  We can go to another galaxy in another sector.”

“We were promised a home here.  Are we giving up so soon?”

“So soon?  We have been hunted to the brink of extinction, Jode!  Our existence—our survival—has become a joke!”  Zarah cried as she stroked her belly.  “Did you not see what they did to us just then?  To the rest of our colony?  They’re all dead now!  Every single-”

“I know!”

Jodener reached and grasped her hand.  “It’s all right now, Zarah.  We’re safe.  What you saw is not going to happen to us.”

“I don’t want our baby growing up like this—always hiding—always running.  Why can’t we just leave?”

“And where would we go?  Leandrika’s a whole sector—a multi-galactic network—the apex of advance civilization.  There are plenty of options, literally billions upon billions of planets to choose from.  Why can’t you settle for one here?”

“Don’t quote Leandrika’s size to me, Jode!  The Prenousan Empires have turned the whole place hostile to humans!”

“They don’t control all of Leandrika, Love.  There are plenty of other territories, like Garrasota.”  He said as he stared at the vastness of space with awe and wonder.  No matter how hard life got, he never ceased to appreciate the beauty of space.

“I will jump out of that airlock before you drag us to that hell-hole!”  Zarah’s sharp comment shredded the moment of child-like wonder.

“Zarah, Love.”  Jodener took a deep breath and activated the autopilot.  He gently unbuckled her harness and lovingly kissed her pregnant belly. “Come.  Sit beside me where we can be comfortable and talk this through.”

He led his wife to the small lounge area with well-worn plush seating built in along the wall.  Zarah maneuvered herself onto the long seat, half reclining.  Jode picked her feet up and placed them in his lap as he sat beside her.

“I love you more than anything in the universe,” he said as he slipped her shoes off and rubbed her swollen feet.  “I would lay my life down for you and our little one that we will get to meet soon.”

“I love you too… but I could not go on without you, so no hero stuff, alright?”  Zarah tried to laugh.

“Tell me where you want to go.”

“Oshmindecca.”

Jodener coughed and reigned in his reaction.  “Zarah, I know our ancestors have passed down many fond tales of where they came from, but that place is full of darkness now.  If you think Leandrika is bad…”

“Then how about Anartha?”

“Sector one?”

“Yes!”

“Have you ever met someone that came from Anartha?  I mean, that place is nearly as lost to mystery as the human race is.”

“Exactly!  Think about it, Jode!  The Oraczoans are said to be there!”

“So now you want to go see the ‘crazy old birds’?”

“Yes!”

Jodener chuckled.  Outer space was his fascination that brought him joy and he knew that the mystery—the countless tales and legends passed down through the generations about the Oraczoans—was hers.  He reached over to rub his wife’s big orb of a belly.  “And what say you, Little One?”

Zarah cringed.  “She doesn’t care as long as we get there soon.”

Jodener studied his wife’s face with a puzzled look then sharply inhaled.  “Right now?”

“I think my water just broke!”

Jodener jumped up.  “We’re going to Garrasota.”

“No, Jode!”

“We need a doctor that actually knows something about human physiology.  Zarah, trust me on this.  After the baby’s born, we can go literally anywhere in the Civilized Universe that you want, except Oshmindecca.  But you can pick anywhere in any of the other five sectors.  Sound good to you?”

She nodded as she allowed him to help her back into the harnessed seat.

Jodener input the coordinates for a warp jump to Garrasota and braced himself. The small ship, not being a luxury model known for smooth travel, jolted in then out of warp just outside the Garrasota defense ring.  Jodener scanned the moons for the colony and sent out a signal requesting passage.  After receiving landing clearance and coordinates, Jodener piloted his little ship through a tunnel that ran deep into a snowy mountain on Garrasota’s seventh moon.  Upon docking, he carried his wife out of the ship.  A medical team with a hover stretcher met him.  The team consisted of a doctor who was a purple, eight-armed Riskossu woman standing a whole head taller than the tallest human man, two human nurses, and a short, brown, Gradokkan nurse.

Jodener eyed the Gradokkan.  She was noticeably more petite than his fellow humans.  Her prickly brown shell covered her thin bipedal frame and bright hues of scarlet gave her eyes a nearly luminous effect.

The Riskossu doctor helped Jodener place his wife on the stretcher.  “Don’t fret, my friend.  She is one of us.”

Jodener peeled his eyes off of the Gradokkan.  “Sorry to judge.”

“You’ve only heard the bad.”  Despite the sharpness of her race’s accent, the Gradokkan had a grace that surprised Jodener.  Watching her swift work accompanied by her gentle spirit, mesmerized him.  It was the exact opposite of what he had heard about the Gradokkan race.

He followed the team into the hospital.  It wasn’t as bright and clean as he had hoped, but much better than what he expected given that it was a small outpost hospital.

The team rushed Zarah to a small room with a simple cloth divider between her and another patient.  Jodener squeezed into a corner of the room, nervously tapping his foot.

The healthcare tech rolled a portable scanner over Zarah’s midsection.  The Riskossu doctor motioned for Jodener to come watch.

“We can see the progression and monitor for complications,” the doctor said as she pointed to the scanner’s screen and tilted it for both Jodener and Zarah to view.  “This is your contractions.” She pressed the screen to change images. “And this is your baby pushing her way into the universe.”

“The image is so clear…” Jodener let a tear escape as he gently took Zarah’s hand.  She squeezed his hand roughly.

“Try to relax.”  The Gradokkan spoke calmly.  “It shouldn’t be long now.  I will get medicine to help ease your pain.  Would you like some water, Sir?”

Jodener nodded and the Gradokkan briskly walked off and returned with a metal cup.  Jodener sharply inhaled.

“Oops.  Sorry, that’s her medicine.  Here’s your water.”  She pulled back the cup holding the glowing purple gel and presented a glass of crystal clear water.

Jodener took a deep gulp.  “You said that other stuff’s for Zarah?”

The Gradokkan nurse nodded.

“It smells horrible.”

“The taste is slightly more tolerable I’ve heard.”

“You know, we humans don’t trust glowing stuff.  It’s not radioactive or anything is it?”

The Gradokkan laughed.  “No, Silly!  It’s a special blend of organic Garrasotan herbs and fruit.  It’s safe, even for the baby.”

“Uh huh…”

“Just give it to me.  I don’t care what it tastes like!”  Zarah held her nose and swallowed the medicine.

The Gradokkan nurse smiled reassuringly.  “There’s a nasty cut and bruise over your left eye.  What happened?”

“Prenousans.”

There was silence for a moment.  “I’m so sorry.  Were there any other survivors?”

Jodener shook his head.  “Others come here saying the same?”

“All the time.”  She quietly replied.  “My name’s Anshetta by the way.”

“Jodener.  And this is my wife, Zarah.  Pleased to meet you.”

Anshetta smiled and bumped the back of his hand with hers as a form of greeting.

“So how’d you get involved with the underground network?”  Jodener asked.

Anshetta smiled as she recounted the memories that composed her drive.  “My parents were harsh, but our Riskossu neighbors were kind and gentle.  They softened life for my brother and me when we were young.  It was through them that I met a human for the first time.  They made my life worth continuing with their caring ways.  I want to do everything I can to forward that kindness to others.  It’s hard for many to see the good in life these days.  I can’t change the world, but I can soften the harshness of life for at least a few.”

“Wow.”  Zarah said as her contractions subsided.  “Can’t say that I’ve met many that lived for something more than survival.”

“No one lives forever.  Fighting to survive just for the sake of extending time a little seems pointless without there being a greater purpose.”  Anshetta smiled.  “But that’s just me.”

“It’s inspiring.”  Jodener softly said.  “So you said that you have a brother.”

“Yes.”  She let out a heavy sigh.  “He scored too well on the mandatory military aptitude test.  High Command took him when he was a teenager and put him in a military academy.  He’s a lieutenant now.”

“In the Gradokkan military?”

“He’s not exactly proud of it.  He does what he can to mitigate things.  High Command isn’t exactly an easy force to sway though.  I worry about him sometimes.  He’s not afraid to stand up for what’s right… and let me tell you something about High Command and their propaganda against the Riskossu, it’s anything but right.”

“To be stuck in a military that you don’t agree with… damn and I thought my life was rough.”  Jodener shook his head.  “Speaking up at all is exceptionally brave of him.  What’s his name?”

“Vetkhan.”

“Vetkhan…”  Jodener repeated the name.  “Sounds daunting.”

Anshetta chuckled.  “His name means ‘Valiant’ in our tongue and he truly tries to live up to that.”

Zarah tensed again as the contractions returned more closely spaced and more intensely.

“How are you feeling?”  Jodener attentively looked to his wife.

The Riskossu doctor chuckled.  “The only men that ask their partners that during these moments are either incredibly brave, or incredibly stupid.”

“Exactly!  How do you think I feel, Jode!”  Zarah tried to laugh as she groaned but the sound was drowned by blaring alarms.

Jodener looked to the doctor.  “What’s going on?”

“A raid.”  She turned to Anshetta.  “If they see you, they will certainly kill you as well as your brother.  You must hide.”

“I’m staying here.  I’ll defend the room.”

“Very well.”  The doctor said to Jode, “Can you help with defense?”

He looked at his wife, not wanting to leave her side.

“Go ahead.  I’ll be fine.”  Zarah tried to control her breathing.

“If the hospital is overrun not only do we all die, but so dies the hope for the last known colony of your kind.”  The doctor pled.  “Follow the hall and you’ll find an armory.  One of our squad leaders will tell you what to do.”

Jodener nodded.  “I’ll be back, Zarah.  I love you.”

He pulled away from her savagely tight grip and ran down the hall.  He paused, not knowing which way to go.  He heard what sounded like a human barking out orders.  He followed the sounds around a corner where he came upon a large, gruff elderly human male tossing plasma rifles out of an armory to the awaiting people.

“Haven’t seen you before.”  He tossed a gun to Jodener.  “The name’s Jek.  Follow us.”

Jodener looked at the weapon in his hands.  He was not familiar with this type of energy blast rifle.

“It’s not science,” Jek growled.  “Just point and pull the trigger to shoot the ugly crab people.”

A Gradokkan in the group let out an angry rattling sound.  “I may not know what a crab is but I know what you mean by ‘crab people’!”

“I mean the bad guys, will you chill, Grak!”

Grak’s Riskossu friend nudged him.  “Not worth it.”

That soft-skin never is!”  Grak laughed.

“Enough chit-chat, ladies!  Let’s move!”  Jek said.

Jodener huffed.  “One of those types huh?”

Grak muttered back, “Jek’s an old one stuck in his ways.  He’s not worth fussing over too much.”

The group followed Jek down the hallway.  He announced, “Security says the breach is in docking bay Gamma Ten.  We’ve already got a squad at the bay doors.  Our job is to set up a defense line inside the access corridor.”

Jodener watched as the squad came to a stop.  Jek deployed an energy shield system that provided some cover to duck behind and fire over.  The team took their positions.

Something hit the sealed hatch door in front of them.  Screeches and gunfire followed the thump.  Then silence.  The only sounds Jodener could hear other than his drumming heartbeat, were the subtle clacking sounds of guns being positioned and aimed, fingers coming to rest on triggers, and the quiet hums of the energy-based weapons charging.

The door burst open.

Gradokkans in uniform ran in, firing not at the waiting defense, but back towards their pursuers.

“Runn’n the wrong way, Pals!”  Jek yelled as he raised his hand to give the command to fire.

A high pitch battle cry rang out as another defense squad blocked the Gradokkan unit.

“Drop your weapons!” The tall Riskossu squad leader yelled.

“No prisoners!  Not us, not them!” answered the Gradokkan raid unit’s captain.

The next thing Jodener saw was half a Gradokkan’s body being flung in their direction.  Jek’s squad ducked under their cover as blood splattered.

“Aim carefully and fire at will,” Jek ordered.  Jodener gauged the height of the energy shield and fired over it after locking a Gradokkan soldier in his sight.  The soldier fell.  Jodener immediately ducked back below the shield.

The Gradokkan unit faced the defending shield and shot simultaneously to bring it down.  The shield flickered and a comrade fell dead in front of Jodener.

“Stack formation!” Jek commanded.  His squad of rag tag soldiers immediately formed a staggered line with the front line on their knees.  The line crouched directly behind them initiated personal shields for the front line and the remaining stood behind them guns at the ready.

The sounds exploding in front of them were deafening to Jodener and he became slightly disoriented.  He was conscious of his weapon no longer firing as he had used up all the energy.  Others fired a few more shots, then silence.

Jodener looked around.  There were no injured, only survivors and those that did not. He walked past the fallen defenders and stared at the butchered Gradokkans in the blood-covered access corridor.  He bent over and heaved, trying to keep from vomiting.  He felt a hand on his back.

“It’s never easy, Son.”  Jek said, his gruff voice softening slightly.  “Today we survive.  Tomorrow will be another challenge.”  He walked past Jodener and said to the Riskossu squad leader, “Not exactly a place for ladies, you know.”

“We saved your sorry back-sides again, didn’t we?”

“Sure did.”  He chuckled and slowly shook his head.  “Sure did.”  He trudged off.

Jodener was still bent over dry heaving when he felt a gentle hand pat his back.  He looked up to see an older woman covered in battle scars.  “First time?”  Her voice was just as rough as Jek’s.

He nodded and slowly stood up straight.

“It’s nice to see a new human face.”

“Likewise.”  Jodener replied.  “Every new face means our numbers aren’t as low as I thought.”

“Well.  I don’t know about that.”  She looked around the bloody scene.  “But at least for another day, we resist extinction.  Don’t be embarrassed about getting sick.  It’s normal and it never gets prettier.”  She walked away.

Jodener cleared his throat.  “Jek, Sir, uh, can I be excused, my wife’s having our baby right now.”

“Nice excuse.”  Jek laughed.

“He tells the truth,” Grak said.  “I saw him carrying his bout-to-burst woman through the docking bay.”

“Fine.  Lad, you’re excused… and congratulations.”

“Thank you, Sir.”  Jodener awkwardly looked around for a way to ditch the gun.

“I’ll take it for you.”  Grak said.

“I appreciate it.”  Jodener handed him the gun and took off down the corridor, backtracking to his wife’s room.  He walked in to find Zarah leaned back, holding a messy bundle of tiny blankets close to her chest.  Anshetta sponged the sweat off of Zarah’s face while the Riskossu doctor gave her a sip of water.

Jodener quietly walked to Zarah’s side.  Anshetta smiled.  “What a beautiful baby girl.”

“Thank you.”  He barely felt the words flow from his lips as he gazed down at the tiny baby in his beloved’s arms.  Pride and joy rose within him, threatening to burst him wide open.  He kissed Zarah’s forehead.  “You’re amazing.  How are you feeling now?”

“Like I need lots of rest and pampering.”

Jodener softly chuckled.  “You got it, my darling.”

The doctor asked, “Have you a name for her yet?”

Zarah gazed down at her daughter.  “I was thinking Ezter.”  She looked to Jodener.  He smiled and nodded.

“Ezter it is.”

“So, I’m assuming you two will be finding your place in the underground network.” The doctor said as she scanned mother and child once more before releasing them from the hospital.

Zarah looked to Jodener who watched for her facial expression then cleared his throat.  “I think we’re actually just passing through.”

“Know of another colony?”  Anshetta’s tone carried a hopeful ring.

“No.”

“Oh.  Just know how bad it is here, eh?”

“I don’t mean to show any ungratefulness.”

“No apology necessary.  It is rough here.  If you can find another place to go, take your chances and go.  The reality is that you don’t want to raise that precious baby here.”

“We’re hoping to get out of Leandrika.”

“Inter-sector deep space travel is ambitious,” Anshetta said looking at Jodener’s little ship through a window overlooking the docking bay.  It was covered in visible signs of amateur repairs.  “Especially in that.  What sector?”

“We’re hoping to find Anartha.”

“Most give up and settle in the border galaxies of Ragadah, but the whole Civilized Universe knows what a hedonistic trash-heap that sector is.  Have you considered skirting around Theoshon and going to Azia?”

“Next door to Oshmindecca?”  Jodener shook his head.  “Got a bad feeling about it.”

“I see.  And there’s no way Theoshon will grant you an immigration pass.  Their strict border control is mind-boggling.”

Jodener tapped his foot.  “The universe wasn’t meant to feel this small.  We were meant to be lost in endless awe of creation.”

“Then might I suggest that you two join an exploration crew that specializes in discovering sentient life that may be scattered throughout the galaxies comprising the Uncivilized Universe.”  Anshetta said.  “Rumor has it many of them are fine with human crew mates.  And they’re family friendly!”

Jodener looked to Zarah.  “I kinda like that idea.  What do you think?”

Zarah shook her head.  “I want to find the Oraczoans.”

Anshetta cocked her head to the side.

Jodener explained.  “Oraczoans are a race that make up a crucial part of our people’s history.  It’s said that they can be found in Anartha.”

“Oh… the ‘crazy old bird people’?”

Jodener nodded.  “That’s what the skeptics call them.”

Anshetta quietly said.  “I remember a man that left to find them.  The other humans said that he was ‘just out chasing ghosts’.”

“They have to be out there,” Zarah steadied her voice.  “They have to have answers!”

Jodener clasped her hand.  He turned to Anshetta.  “We’ve both lost everything but each other to the Prenousans’ slaughter fests.  Every time they strike, they ask us the same question and we know neither the answer nor even why they hunt us and ask us this.  She hopes that the Oraczoans can give an answer.”

“Really?  What is that question?”

“‘Where is Tau?’….  We want to know who Tau is!”

“And why is he so important?”  Zarah asked.  “Why do the Prenousans want the human race annihilated?”

Anshetta quietly said, “I would caution against taking the chance that you spend your whole lives seeking an answer as disappointing and simple as ‘the Prenousans are blood-thirsty racists that will use any excuse to make good sport out of hunting other sentient races.’  But perhaps in some cases any answer as long as it is certain and solid can comfort.  I wish you the best.”

“Thank you.”

A few weeks passed.  Zarah received all of the rest and pampering she could milk out of her husband and they prepared to leave.  Jodener, with baby Ezter strapped to his back, did pre-flight checks on his ship while Zarah checked the fuel cells.  Jek approached them, carrying food and supplies.  “We thought you could use some vittles’n’ammo.”  He plopped the massive military bag into Jodener’s arms.

“Oh!  Thank you.”  Jodener slid it through his ship’s hatch.

“Really going after the crazy old birds, eh Lad?”  Jek asked eyeing the baby strapped to Jodener.  “Shouldn’t Momma be inside with the baby?”

Jodener pinched his brow and ignored the second question.  “We have to get answers.”

“To ‘Where is Tau?’”  Jek’s condescending expression was challenged by Zarah’s threatening posture and unflinching stare.

“Forget where.  I just want to know who Tau is!  Knowing why the Prenousans want to know his whereabouts so desperately would be nice too.”

“Really think the bird folk will know?”  Jek looked down and away from Zarah’s challenging stare and shuffled his feet.

“I aim to find out.”

Jek crossed his arms.  “You know, we humans survive better by sticking together.”

“I know… and I appreciate everything you all have done for me and Zarah, but don’t you think it’s time that we found an answer?  Who knows, maybe the Oraczoans can do more than just give us answers.  Maybe they’ll help us.”

“Lad… the Oraczoans won’t get involved in our conflict.  They show no favoritism.  They left promises and prophesies for many races.  We may be one of the few that still believe that they ever existed but you know what?  So do some of the Prenousans.”

“What?”

“Oh yeah!  Two of the Prenousan tribes from the Teikarrian Empire believe the Oraczoans left prophecies for them.  One of them even uses Oraczoan weaponry.”

A string of obscenities slipped through Jodener’s lips.

Jek shrugged.  “I’m not saying that the Oraczoans won’t give you some insight… if you ever find them.  No Leandrikan has seen them in centuries.”  He gruffly chuckled.  “Still up for take’n your chances, Lad?”

Jodener looked to Zarah.  He smiled.  “I promised Zarah we’d go to Anartha.”

“Well then…”  Jek slapped his shoulder.  “I wish you the best.”

“Thanks.  Same back at you.”

Jek left the docking bay as Anshetta came in.  “Here’s just a little token for baby Ezter that we thought you would like.”

Jodener took the necklace being offered to them.  It was a small metal pendant with elegant engraving.  He studied it.  “What does it say?  Is this in a Garrasotan language?”

“No.  Leikossian is the business language in these parts of Leandrika and is one of the most widely known written languages in these galaxies.  It says:  Ezter, beloved daughter of Zarah and Jodener.”  Anshetta flipped the pendant over.  “Even though I’m not into Oraczoan literature, I know how much it means to you.  This is a traditional Oraczoan blessing.  It says:  May this precious Beloved be always guarded and guided by the Overrealm Guardians and be kept hidden from evil.  Live blessed and loved.”  Anshetta shrugged.  “Whatever that all means.  Sounds nice.”

Zarah studied the pendant.  “What a beautiful gift.  Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.  Be safe out there.”  Anshetta hugged them and gazed down at baby Ezter.  “You’ve got a bright destiny ahead.  I don’t know how, but I just know it.”  She stepped back.  “You three take care of each other out there.”

Anshetta left the docking bay.  Jodener loaded his family into their little ship and departed.

Zarah strapped in, holding baby Ezter.  “Well, Garrasota was a lot nicer than I thought it would be.”  She carefully put the necklace around Ezter.

Jodener glanced at the baby.  “Are you sure you should be putting a necklace on her?  What if she tries to swallow it?  What if it strangles her?  What if-”

“That’s why I’m holding her and watching her, Love.”

Jodener reached over to rub his daughter’s head, feeling the soft patch of fresh blonde hair growing in.  “Ready to go to Anartha, Little One?”  He kissed Ezter’s forehead, kissed his wife, then turned his attention back to the controls.

Climbing to orbit and charting a course, he jumped the ship into warp speed.  “Ragadah may not have strict border control, but every advanced society there will require some kind of travel pass or immigration visa.  We’re stopping at a deep space trading post with a black market to get some passes then we’ll go to Ragadah, pause, restock, and figure out how to get to Anartha from there.”

“Sounds good.”  Zarah said.  “Taking one of the pre-charted highways?”

“No.  I don’t want stopped by Prenousan patrols.”

“They can’t detect us if we’re in warp.”

“I’ve heard rumors of new hunting tech that can scan ships while in warp.  I’m not chancing it.  We’ll stick to the rarely used routes.  It will take us a little longer, but will also be safer.”

“All right.”  Zarah yawned.  “I’m taking a nap.”  She leaned back and dozed off.  Jodener set the ship on autopilot and held baby Ezter, gently rocking her, whispering to her stories from his childhood.

Time passed.  Zarah awoke and Jodener handed her the baby.  “I’ll make us some lunch.”

“Sounds good.”

A proximity alarm blared, followed by a deafening boom that knocked the little ship out of warp.  Jodener slammed into the wall.  Baby Ezter screamed and Zarah consoled her as Jodener scrambled to the pilot’s seat and grabbed the controls, steering the ship around to see a Prenousan patrol vessel.

Another notification beeped.  Zarah looked to Jodener.  “Why are they hailing us?”

“I don’t know.  We’ll open coms and keep visuals closed.”

Zarah nodded and entered the commands.

A pompous-sounding Prenousan voice cut through the coms.  “We are an investigation unit with commands to search all travelling vehicles within the vicinity.  You will be towed into a bay and boarded.  Cooperation is nonnegotiable.  The sooner we get our job done, the sooner you can be on your way.”

Jodener analyzed their surroundings on the ship’s small navigational monitor.  “Isn’t it true that they say the Leikossians look similar to humans?”  He whispered to Zarah.

“That’s what I’ve heard.  Why?”

Jodener pointed to the monitor.  “That is Leikoss Prime.”

Zarah could see the planet out the starboard window.  “How does that help us right now?”

The Prenousan patrol vessel fired a traction beam that latched onto their little ship’s hull.  Jodener flipped open a cover and pushed a button.  Everything flickered off then back on as a massive power surge blew the traction beam, shattering the tether.  Jodener yanked on the controls and flew straight towards Leikoss Prime with the Prenousan patrol chasing close behind.

The patrol vessel fired upon them.  Zarah screamed, holding Ezter close to her.  Jodener spun the ship around and returned fire, commanding autopilot to fire a repeating sequence.  Zarah grabbed the secondary gun’s controls when Jodener pulled her up from her seat.

“What are you doing?”  She asked as he rushed her and Ezter to the back of the ship.

He snatched a few weapons from the military bag and pushed them into an escape pod.  “Take these.  Grenades are last resort.  I love you.”

“Wait!  Jode!”

He closed the pod and jettisoned it.

“Jode!  No!”  Zarah screamed as the pod plummeted straight down to Leikoss Prime’s surface.  Baby Ezter screamed as a sickening gut-in-throat feeling gripped Zarah’s entire being.  She gazed up through the glass.  Their little ship took off, continuously firing at the Prenousan patrol.  “Come back to me, Jode!”  She screamed, watching the fight as her view became more and more obscure by the interferences of atmospheric entry.

Zarah looked down at Ezter and pressed her closer to her as she sobbed.

The pod plummeted to the surface.  Despite the parachute deployment, the pod landed with a harsh thud.  Zarah kicked the door open and stumbled out.  Seeing that she was in the quiet suburbs of an alien city, she ran for cover.

A bright flash in the corner of her eye caught her attention.  She looked back and saw Prenousans arriving via teleportation.  “This is not fair!”  She ducked behind a bush, catching her breath and rocking her baby to comfort her and prevent crying.  Glancing through the foliage, she saw the Prenousans begin their search in another direction.

Zarah ran into the suburban neighborhood.  It was dusk and all was quiet.  She paused halfway down the street and looked around.  Clearly these were civilian families that were well off and had decent social rankings in their society.  The homes were all of a similar ultra-modern metallic and smooth stone design with stylish solar panel roofs and inactive hovercrafts latched in place on the walls, awaiting remote commands for the robotic arms to push them out of their form-fitting storage spots and set them in front of doorways.  Advanced electronic tech seemed to be integrated with everything.  The street was on a hilltop that gently rolled down, providing a view of the big city in the distance fully lit up and showcasing a dreamy skyline.

Staring at the skyline, she longingly pondered if her people had ever enjoyed having a city like this to call their own.

Audible voices yanked her out of her realm of pondering and she poised to run.  She saw across the street some Leikossian children playing.  Amazed by how closely their physique resembled that of humans, she watched them.  Laughter.  She heard laughter.  Tears forming in her eyes she looked down at Ezter.  “This is the childhood I want for you.”  She whispered.  “No running, no Prenousans.”

She picked a home and ran to the covered front porch, hiding Ezter between the door and a large planter.  “Ezter, I love you so much.”  She sucked in down-pouring tears as she gasped for air.  “Your daddy and I both love you.”

Zarah softly knocked on the door with three quick taps then disappeared into the growing shadows of dusk.

Zarah ran as far away from the neighborhood as she could.  Seeing the Prenousans, she halted in wide open view.  They turned and saw her.  She ran.

The Prenousans were tall like the Riskossu, but they were also very strong and physically powerful, not at all graceful and delicate like Riskossu.  Prenousans were natural born predators, a race that thrived off of conquest and combat.

Zarah heard the growing sound of rapid pounding footsteps.  One of the Prenousans caught up.  He grabbed her arm and spun her around.  Keeping a painfully tight grip on her arm, he turned to a Prenousan with well decorated white armor.  Zarah noticed a universal translator clipped to his belt.  The Prenousan said, “Commander Sithereth, Sir, we’ve caught the runner.”

Commander Sithereth approached.  “Good.  The other one didn’t exactly cooperate with us very well.”  He stepped right into Zarah’s personal space.  Looking down at her, he said, “We only got to ask one little question when he blew his whole ship.  Now I’ve got a nasty hole in my docking bay and lost personnel!”  He grabbed her chin.  “But despite how livid I am at the situation, I will let you live if you answer my question.”

Sithereth held up a metallic device with a long needle attached to it and said, “You know what this is, don’t you?”  He didn’t wait for her reply.  “This is a reader and it will pierce the back of your head to download and process all of your organically stored data.  Too bad the process is usually lethal.”

Zarah looked at Sithereth and tightly clenched her jaw.  She slyly reached into her pocket and slipped a finger through a grenade’s pin ring.

He leaned closer.  “Where is Tau?”

Her lip curled.  Adrenaline and fire filled every bone.  She spat on his face, “In every one of your worst nightmares!”

“What was that?”  A Leikossian mother watching her infants leaned up from her sofa.  “It sounded like an explosion.”

“I just sat down from checking out that tapping noise you thought you heard.”  The father of the Equintius family replied.

“Equintius!”

He pulled himself up.  “A’right, I’ll take another look.”  He opened the front door and looked around, seeing no threat to their home or property.  He was about to close the door when he heard the softest cooing sound.  Looking down, he froze and stared.  “Prosca!”

“What?”  His wife hurried to his side.  She looked down and gasped.  Motherly instincts kicking in, she swooped down and picked up the baby.  “My goodness!”  She looked to her husband.  “She’s not… Leikossian.”

He took a deep breath and studied the infant then stepped out from under the covered porch to take another look around.  Returning to Prosca’s side, he reached his cyborg hand forward and gently toyed with the pendant around Ezter’s neck, reading it.  “Ezter…”  He flipped it over.  “Hmmm.  I think I’ve seen this before.”

“What?”  Prosca ushered her husband inside and they closed the door.

“I think we have a human on our hands.”  Equintius said.  “You and I have both heard the rumors.”

“We can’t let the Immigration Agency handle this then.  They’re too close to Prenousan authorities.  What do you think?”

Equintius watched the little baby in his wife’s arms.  “I think… we are a people that survive off of augmentation.  She will blend in just fine.”  He took the baby and held her in his strong robotic arm and softly stroked her head.  He chuckled.  “Can we, Prosca?”

She gazed into the next room, watching their children play.  “Not like the neighbors will notice a quantity difference.”  She smiled and nodded her approval.

Equintius smiled at Ezter.  “No Prenousan is coming through this door, Child.  Welcome to our family, Ezter Equintius.”

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