Sensual Sentient ♥ Episode 3

BadJack2

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Bad Jack

“That wasn’t rock climbing,” Blake grit out two hours later, when they finally reached the top of the cliff. Hauling himself over the ledge, he anchored the lead and started helping everyone else. “That was a goddamn expedition.”

Sida kept her pussy comment to herself, knowing he’d just counter with something like: “you offering?” He always had an inappropriate comeback. While most people needed inspiration or opportunity for their minds to slide into the gutter, Blake’s owned real estate there.

“Holy stars,” Ketha exhaled, when Blake helped her over the edge first.

Once everyone was topside, they detached their harnesses and took a moment to drink in the sheer megalithic size of the deserted city. Every building, statue, fountain and pillar put them right into familiar territory. It was unnerving. Sida’s gaze followed the cracked remnants of a toppled column about twenty yards ahead and to their left, completely blocking their path. She nearly ordered everyone to put their climbing gear back on, since that might be the only way to get over it.

“And it’s still a long way to the summit,” Blake exhaled, his gaze rising to the top of the tallest stepped pyramid in the distance.

“Bad Jack,” Sida snapped at him. “No more magic beans for you.”

He chuckled, rolling his shoulder with equal parts unease and determination. “And here I thought space was the only thing left to make us feel small and insignificant,” he remarked, before flashing that hidden grin at her again. “Guess next time you’ll take the bottom like a good girl.”

Sida patted the butt of her rifle, which was still on her favorite setting despite the engaged safety. “You wanna be the bastard, Yarring?”

Blake snorted. “Cap, I’ve never not been the bastard.”

“You keep giving me reasons to agree with you, it’s going to confuse the hell out of our crew,” she warned.

“There seems to be an actual source of vegetation up here,” Isiah interrupted, too used to their banter to be fazed.

“Just keep an eye on the mine shaft below, let me know when we reach the heart of the city,” Sida ordered. “We won’t find any answers until we can clear this road block, though, so let’s get a move on.”

“I thought the Maya had the whole stairway to heaven thing in the bag,” Ketha muttered, when they reached the downed column.

Due to its massive circumference and smooth surface, they really only had two choices; either bust their way through it or waste several hours walking around it. It was a tough call for a group of scientists. Fortunately, while Sida was still contemplating, they came across a section that was already partially broken and crumbling. It took little effort to carefully blast their way through just the already damaged area by using a relatively weak setting on their rifles. Pausing on the other side, Sida snatched Blake’s binoculars from his vest to get a closer look at the city, now that the view was completely unobstructed.

“Commander, I see glyphs,” she grinned.

“On it,” he reciprocated, running ahead.

“Ensign, where are we in relation to the mine now?”

“Higher than before,” Darling answered. “There’s definitely a steady sloping grade from the surface to the lowest point in the mine, which is the bend. From there to the entrance, it’s almost completely flat.”

Sida hooked the binoculars on her belt and looked around. “That doesn’t make any goddamn sense. A single shaft well should indicate a Qanat system, but there’s only one access point and it’s at the highest elevation, not the lowest. Unless they had gravity-defying water, I think we need to find more evidence behind the true purpose for this mine.”

“I agree. Another three klicks and we’ll be at the city center, Captain,” he replied.

“Good, any readings on what kind of ore we might otherwise be dealing with?” she asked.

“I’ve got trace amounts of the usual recipe, but nothing concrete. We’ll have to dig into deeper sediments for samples.”

“There should be aqueducts,” Sida noted aloud a moment later. “Every civilization had advanced water systems in place by the time they were building cities of this magnitude. They had rain basins, diverted rivers, something to bring fresh water to the citizens.”

Minnows glanced over her shoulder, though they could no longer see the ledge. “That trench could have been a river at one time, which might explain why only part of the city caved in.”

Sida nodded in agreement, though none of them had seen any evidence of that from below. There would be natural markers, different levels of sediment lining the cliff walls like artwork from the water slowly drying up over time. Unless it evaporated all at once. That was an eerie thought, but then so was the very Earthling-like city they were marching toward.

“Or, perhaps water hadn’t been a necessary part of their diet,” Isiah suggested. “It’s kind of sad when you think about it.”

“Then don’t,” Sida suggested.

“Can you imagine our planet dying before we’d even made it out of the iron age?” he persisted.

“Yet, he does it anyway,” Sida grumbled to herself. “Yarring, what have you got for me?”

“Obviously, they made it off this planet, so logically, they were far more advanced than we ever were during our iron age,” Ketha debated with Isiah.

Sida rolled her eyes. “Commander!”

Why did she always get stuck with the kids, while he went to play in the rubble? Something was seriously wrong with that setup.

“You guys aren’t going to believe what I’m looking at,” Blake’s voice finally came through the comm links in their mini-masks. “These NTs…they’re humanoid.”

“Yarring, have you ever seen the Bremm?” she scoffed. “Ogres would be considered more humanoid.”

“These aren’t Bremm, Cap,” he returned. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear I was staring at the tomb walls of one of our own ancient sites. I’m seeing similarities to all of them. They kept record of everything in the same fashion, too. Farming, fishing, ceremonies, battles…wait–”

“Commander?” Sida prompted, when several moments of silence ticked by.

“Shh.”

Sida arched a brow. He did not just shush her.

“I found the city center events,” he finally spoke again.

“And?” she snapped.

“There’s some kind of procession, NTs climbing onto a platform from an underground chamber right in the heart of the… fucking Christ,” he cut himself off. “It’s an auction block, the bastards were slavers. There’s something extremely off about these glyphs, Captain. Not only are the slaves also humanoid, they’re depicted as being much larger than the citizens.”

“Define much larger,” she replied, peering around at the ginormous city.

“A whole other race kind of larger,” he answered. “And judging by the monoliths used to construct these megaliths, I wouldn’t be shy about labeling them giants.”

“Starblood,” Sida said, looking at Isiah. “Any trace?”

“Not on the surface,” he answered, eyes a little wide. “Giants, Captain? They enslaved giants to build all of this?”

“Yeah, I think they did,” Blake answered for her.

“So much for your advanced theory, Lieutenant,” Isiah remarked to Ketha. “If we find Starblood, no one left this planet by ship.”

“We need to get into that mine,” Sida intervened firmly. “I prefer my facts to be of the non-speculative variety. Why don’t we have a reading on this supposed chamber under the city?”

“I’m not showing any cavities other than the mine, itself, which abruptly stops about a hundred yards below the surface,” Darling confirmed.

“Could have been a cave-in,” Minnows suggested, pointing to the crumbled roads. “These aren’t exactly Imperial quality.”

By the time they reached the city center, Blake was just meeting up with them. “I didn’t find anything depicting the Bremm and I’m really starting to doubt they were ever here. Maybe this isn’t Molta Cremyss, after all, but a completely unknown planet. None of the glyphs I found are pointing toward the apocalyptic event that caused everyone to abandon the home world, but I’m willing to bet all of my gambling debts there’s a lot more where those came from.”

“That’s a lot of negative credit, Commander,” Sida smirked, reluctantly amused.

“I’m a giving man, Cap,” he shrugged. “We need to find their version of a Valley of the Kings.”

“Assuming they buried their dead,” Ketha interjected. “Many ancient civilizations used funeral pyres.”

“I love how scientists are always looking on the bright side of things,” Sida grinned. “Darling, run a perimeter scan fifty yards out and see if you find anything interesting.”

“Got it, Captain.” He didn’t get far, before he was waving them over. “Hey, look at this.”

They all approached the broken, rectangular pattern he was dusting off in the rocky dirt. Crouching at various sections, they all started doing the same, revealing a kind of lip about fifty-five yards long and twenty yards wide.

“This was the auction block,” Blake stated first, studying it more carefully. “Or at least the foundation of it.”

“Which means, this had to be where the entrance to the underground chamber was,” Sida pointed to a large area of the ground that bowled toward the center. “Looks like cave-in wins the pool. Good call, Minnows.”

“If that led to the chamber, and its somehow connected to the mine shaft, we could be looking at trouble,” Blake swore under his breath. “What do you want to do now, Cap?”

It was another tough decision. They were already topside, had spent two hours getting there and another making it to the city center, yet the chance of there being Starblood underground pulled at her.

“What we always do, Commander,” Sida decided. “Find the door to the next planet. Back to base, crew.”

Rising to her feet, Sida peered around the city of ruins once more, suppressing the desire to say the hell with protocol and go racing right into every building, turn over every stone, and learn everything she could about the NTs who’d lived there, because the similarities to Earth couldn’t be ignored. They could very well be standing right in the middle of a missing link in their own evolution. Their own origins. To say she was intrigued was a cosmic understatement. She wanted answers five minutes ago.

First, they needed to solve the mystery of the mine.

Thank you for reading! If you’re just tuning in, check out The Wicked Web link on the menu above for previous episodes. Until next time…

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Sensual Sentient ♥ Episode 2

StepPyramidRuins

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Surprise

Sida stared across the barren wasteland of a long-forgotten planet, her hazel eyes squinting slightly against the stagnant particles of dust. Thanks to modeling the NISS helmet, strands of strawberry blond hair had pulled free from the braid wrapped halfway around her head. She brushed them away from her face and sighed, resigned to her ongoing mission. Turning, she saluted the lecture hall of cadets one last time, before lifting her rifle and pointing it right at them. Rather than penetrating the entrance she’d just climbed through, the shot dispersed like it hit a solid wall and started frying the World Opening out of existence. The small window to Earth shrank in on itself, leaving charred marks on the small rocky hillside.

The sound of boots scraping rubble and scattering loose pebbles had her twisting at the hips. In a blink, her rifle was aimed between the eyes of the intruder, her finger switching the stream from harmless to ‘Fry the Bastards,’ her personal favorite.

“Captain,” Blake Yarring, her First in Command greeted with his usual cocky smirk hidden behind a mini-mask, not in the least intimidated by her itchy trigger finger.

Sida lowered the barrel, until it was his crotch in the crosshairs of her scope, though she never took her eyes off his face.

“Hey, if you wanted another close up,” he offered, his voice slightly digital through the comm link.

When he held up the extra mask and waved it back and forth, she powered down her rifle, propped it on her shoulder and waltzed up to him, like she had all the oxygen in the world to spare. Blake didn’t hesitate to secure the mask over the lower half of her face, when she stopped. The moment the oxygen kicked on and she could breathe normally again, she blew him a kiss and kept walking.

“Tell me you found something on this godforsaken rock in my absence,” she demanded, once he fell into step beside her.

“What, and ruin the surprise?”

Sida gave him a narrowed sideways glance, keeping the spark of excitement to herself for now. She knew the man inside and out. He wouldn’t lead her on about a mission. If he was insinuating they’d found something, they had. Sida merely hoped it was the evidence they needed to officially declare the dead planet as the missing link in Bremm history, so they could move on. She was more than ready for a change of scenery.

“You know, I’ve never seen anyone take time out of a mission to give a lecture a billion light years away before,” Blake commented. “But, you have to admit it’s pretty bad ass that you’re an actual subject of study at NASE.”

“I find it offensive,” she countered, believing herself far too young and alive to be the subject of study anywhere.

“Yet, you do it anyway.”

“I find you offensive, too,” she pointed out.

“Har,” he smirked blandly, before perking up. “Speaking of doing me, have I ever told you how much your cranky side turns me on?”

“Vrolesian heart ticks turn you on, Blake, that’s not exactly praise, so what are you buttering me up for?” Sida paused.

“Nothing, swear,” he held his hands up, sulking. “It’s just been… I mean I can’t even put a time frame on it without a calendar–”

Making sure her eye roll was profound, Sida continued onward. “How about you reveal this grand surprise to me, before I decide to drop your ass off at the nearest Mrelin colony. You’ll get plenty of action there.”

Mrelins had a taste for Earthling flesh, but they particularly enjoyed Earthling males for all their other appetites, before eating them. Again, Blake was unconcerned. Ugh, it was so annoying trying to threaten someone who knew their own damn worth. Blake didn’t say a word, as they continued toward the edge of the rise they’d been traversing. The moment they crested it, he no longer needed to.

“Eyes,” she demanded, accepting the binoculars he held out for her.

Across a fifty yard trench that looked more like the remnants of an abandoned rock quarry, stood a two-mile high jagged cliff topped by the ruins of an ancient metropolis. The air felt tight in Sida’s lungs, and it had nothing to do with the planet’s low oxygen levels.

“Are those step pyramids I’m staring at, Yarring?” she asked in disbelief.

“Sure looks that way, doesn’t it?” he replied. “Yet we’re on the fringes of the Cremylaean Galaxy and according to all of our data, and what we know of their history, this should be Molta Cremyss, the oldest planet with Bremm origins.”

“That’s not Bremm architecture, Blake,” she exhaled tightly. “It’s ours.”

The rubble they carefully picked their way across once they reached the valley floor, was more than just rock. Taking the massive amounts of debris lying across the trench and stacked against the base of the cliff up ahead, it was easy to determine that a cave-in had brought part of that city down at some point. Natural disaster was in the top five causes for city abandonment, but they wouldn’t know anything conclusive until they got topside to investigate.

They found the rest of their field team near a crude opening in the cliff wall, far to the right and partially camouflaged by natural piles of rubble. There was evidence it had originally been hacked away at with metal tools, but the elements had smoothed the roughness over time.

“This had to have been exposed to weather conditions prior to the planet’s loss of vegetation,” Sida remarked.

“Agreed,” Blake nodded.

“Captain,” her two other crew members greeted in off-key unison.

“How was Earth?” Lt. Ketha Minnows asked.

“Crowded,” she nipped the questioning in the bud, before it could get out of hand. “Tell me what we’ve found. Where does this cave lead and did it contribute to the landslide?”

“It’s not a cave, Captain,” Ensign Isiah Darling informed her, dropping a roll of thick material on the ground and kicking it open to reveal the contents. “We think it’s a mine.”

“Think?” she questioned severely.

“You weren’t gone that long,” Blake intervened, crouching to rummage through the find. “Do you really think I’d risk my ass by proceeding without you? I like sleeping with both eyes closed, thank you.”

Sida studied what little she could see of his handsome face, the rugged sensuality of it. The truth was, if they hadn’t been stuck in space together every damn day and night for so long, they never would’ve even exchanged link codes, let alone bodily fluids. They were too much alike to ever be anything more than respected colleagues, but space was cold. It was lonely and it was harsh. There had to be something to take away from that, even if it was only a handful of hot, mind-numbing hours.

“I knew there was something smart about you, aside from your mouth,” she smiled approvingly. “Where are the readouts from the probe?”

While Darling went to retrieve them for her, she crouched beside Blake and picked up one of the modified hydro-torches from the array of mining tools.

“Apparently, we’re not the first modern crew to have landed here recently. Look.” She turned the torch upside down and ran her fingers over the casing of the spent energy core where a serial number should be.

“Black market issue. Nice,” Blake commented. “None of these tools made that opening.”

“No, the mine was already here. The question is why,” she agreed. Standing, she activated the handheld remote for the probe Darling returned with and scanned the results on the central screen. “A single, straightforward mine shaft that curves down, around and up just under the heart of the city? How is that even possible?”

“I’ve been thinking about that while you were taking your sweet ass time on Earth,” Blake said. “It seems unlikely an ancient civilization would’ve had ground-penetrating sonar in order to pinpoint an exact vein of ore without divine intervention. There would be evidence of failed mining attempts, several dead-end shafts branching off the main one, but there is one natural resource every culture in history had a knack at finding with nothing more than a stick–and what typically stands in the center of a town square?”

“A natural spring or well,” Sida nodded. “Sounds probable. I like probable over divine intervention.”

“Me, too. Gods can be dicks,” he agreed. Then, his cheeks moved in a way that revealed a wolfish grin behind his mask. “So, you want top or bottom first?”

Holding his gaze for a moment, Sida addressed the others. “Gear up, crew. We’re going rock climbing, and your Commander just volunteered to take point.”

© A.C. Melody

Thanks for reading! Check out The Wicked Web link above for previous episodes. Until next time…

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Sensual Sentient ♥ An Introduction

Welcome to my latest addition to The Wicked Web. This is for all you SciFi lovers, but don’t worry Thief of Dragons will still be getting new installments. I’ve also updated the Wicked Web page, because I fell behind on episode links – you can now search by episode title! So, if you’re interested in reading some Free Content, please check it out!

Now, onto the good stuff…

Sensual Sentient

Sensual Sentient

Prologue

Captain Sida Marx stared unflinchingly at the fifteen hundred sets of eyes watching her every move. Twenty-four hours ago, she’d faced a panel of her commanding officers inside the Global Defense Command Center, formally known as the Pentagon. That had been far less intimidating.

The lecture hall was packed with first year cadets. They were eager, their gazes hungry and their minds in a state of delusion fueled by romanticized tales and ambitious dreams. Currently, they had nerves of steel and limitless drive, because they were safely tucked away behind hallowed walls on Earth. Sida knew their future. Most of them would never see space beyond the end of a telescope. Some would never make it outside of the Milky Way Galaxy and several of them would never step foot aboard an actual spacecraft.

Those who did make it into space would either quit or get themselves killed. If they were lucky, they’d manage it without taking the rest of their crew down with them. Failure was the only future for a majority of these poor, young souls. It would come academically, physically or psychologically, because the NASA Academy of Science Exploration was grueling on all counts, tolerated zero mistakes and space was the cold bastard that picked off those who still made it to graduation.

Aquacælestis Divinus,” Sida spoke at last, her voice echoing through the giant containment tube she alone stood inside of. It stretched the length of the hall, cutting her audience in half vertically. “Translates to?”

Hands shot in the air, so she chose at random.

“Divine water of the stars,” the girl answered.

“Street name: Starblood,” Sida nodded in confirmation, holding up a six-inch capsule. She could practically hear the cadets’ Interactive Ocular Attachments zooming in on it, despite the live feed projecting from giant holoscreens on either side of the hall. “Once believed to be a form of Mercury, due to its milky quicksilver appearance, Starblood is an extremely valuable alien mineral found in the veins of distant planets throughout the known and presumably unknown universe.”

Sida lifted her Xtreme World Opener–a huge upgrade from the standard issued rifle the Navy had provided–and slid the capsule into the charging chamber. A speculative murmur rose in the hall, as uniformed butts began shifting in their seats.

“Hopefully I grabbed the right batch,” she remarked, enjoying the ability to put the cadets further on edge while keeping a straight face. “Trust me, it’s no fun Opening a blackhole where a planet used to be.”

Setting her rifle aside, she climbed into her safety suit and then modeled it for her viewers, before slipping the helmet on. It immediately engaged, the inside of the face mask displaying her suit’s statistics and her own vitals, while scanning her environment.

“Full visual and activate external comm link,” she ordered the suit. The link icon blinked once, then the mask cleared of all diagnostics, allowing her to see the hall clearly again. “Who can tell me about this suit?”

Several hands shot into the air. Sida chose a girl who didn’t even look old enough to wash space dust off a ship, let alone be inside of one.

“It’s a NISS, a NASA Issued Safety Suit specifically designed for World Openings,” she answered.

Sida tilted her head. “That’s what it’s called, but can anyone tell me what it does? Just shout it out, cadets!”

“It’s capable of being a full life support system for up to four days,” one of them called out.

“Correct, what else?”

“It can withstand extreme temperatures from sub-zero to six hundred and thirty-five Celsius,” another said.

“Good, you in the back,” Sida pointed at a boy who’d been cut off by the first two answers already.

“It has an automatic center of gravity and pressurization deployment system just in case, you know, you did grab the wrong batch,” he replied, causing Sida to grin. Had to love a smart ass kid with brains.

“Yes!” she gave him a thumbs up. “Precisely. Which is where I left off.”

Much to the startled excitement of her audience, Sida didn’t hesitate to grab her rifle, power up the cells and shoot the capsule at the wall of timber someone had kindly stacked near the middle of the containment tube for her. The capsule exploded, charged Starblood feeding on the raw wood. Her mask tinted darker as the mineral glowed brighter, forcing the cadets to look away from the brightness.

“While harmless and completely useless in its natural state, Starblood’s dormant molecules need an intensely focused source of energy–such as this laser here–to become active. Once a World Opening has been established, it will remain stable until it’s neutralized by another stream of focused energy designed to disperse on contact to rapidly fry all of the Starblood’s neurons,” Sida explained. “Each capsule is a single use only. Fortunately for us, we’re scientists and have created the perfect synthetic additive that allows us to produce the same results while using less of the raw mineral, itself.”

As the Starblood finished spreading, its light decreased until it was possible for everyone to look at the wall of timber again. The hall was filled with new and unusual sounds coming from the alien world now visible through the Picasso inspired Opening spanning about four feet wide and six feet tall. What appeared to be towering vegetation in blueish-green shades nearly blocked out a violet sky. They oozed a cranberry red liquid as thick as tree sap. Veined, translucent petals floated lazily to the ground as if some giant kid were plucking the wings off insects at a steady rate.

“How do you keep the Starblood from spreading too far?” A cadet asked.

Sida smiled. She preferred blurting over hand raising any day.

“Two ways,” she answered. “One, the Opening size can be formulated by the additive in each capsule and two, Starblood will only work on a natural resource. Wood, stone, soil, clay, any natural metal ores or anything made of those things would suffice. It won’t spread beyond the size of your chosen resource. Your options are limitless and usually readily available near any newly discovered vein. After you’ve successfully completed an Opening, what’s your first step?”

“Check the atmosphere to make sure it’s breathable and non-toxic.”

“Absolutely correct,” Sida nodded. “Look, I don’t care how smart these suits are, they’re bulky and a pain to try to maneuver in for any length of time. What are we?”

“Scientists!”

“Soldiers!”

“Both,” she corrected. “We’re both, but primarily, yes, we’re scientists and our main objective is to gather data and determine if a planet produces Starblood. Mobility for your safety, as well as getting into those hard to reach places where the mineral usually forms, is vitally important to your mission. So, before doing anything else, find out if you can ditch the suit.”

So saying, Sida pulled her helmet off and rested it on her hip. “I happen to already know that this planet’s atmosphere is safe for us. Can anyone name it just by sight?”

“Everyone knows the Bleeding Trees of Lexitor Gamma,” a boy smirked, earning chuckling support from his buddies.

Arching a brow, Sida set her helmet aside so she could start climbing out of the suit. “Yes, everyone knows about them, but those are not trees. In fact, they’re not any kind of vegetation at all. Bleeding Trees is the layman’s term for a classification of Lexitorian animal, similar to our ocean’s Sea Anemones. Ignorance, my dear cadets, will get you killed in space and that’s not an exaggeration, scare tactic, or figure of speech. It is pure fact. One might even goes as far as saying, it’s scientifically proven fact.”

Free from her suit, she turned and looked at each area of the audience as she continued. “It’s our job to be informed. Ignorance can destroy entire ecosystems, risk the lives of your crew, ruin any possible hope for diplomacy with Non-Terrestrials and has the very real, frightening potential of starting a galactic war with alien races who are far more advanced and have much bigger weapons than we do.”

The lecture hall was silent, the chuckling cadets now red-faced with embarrassment and shame. It was nothing compared to what they’d endure if they survived long enough to make it into space, so Sida didn’t feel bad for it in the least. Let them learn humility now, while they were still safe and had the choice to continue or not.

“First rule of space: Learn before you think, think before you act. We’re the babies of the universe beyond our own solar system. Those NT’s out there have been doing this a hell of a lot longer than you could possibly imagine, and with their advanced weapons, technology and natural abilities, they don’t have to follow the same rules we do. That’s their playground, and we’re the intruders,” she added for icing on the reality-check cake.

Setting her rifle to a different stream, Sida aimed and fired. The single pulse dispersed in an electrical web, completely neutralizing the Starblood. She let that sink in with the cadets, as the Opening quickly shrank in on itself and an ash like substance floated into the air around the charred wood.

“Okay,” she smiled. “Any questions?”

© A.C. Melody

Thanks for reading and don’t let this prologue fool you, as the title would suggest, this is an Erotic SciFi-Fantasy, so prepare for some steamy episodes ahead and 18+ link-only posts. 😉 Until next time…

The Wicked Web

Welcome to the start of my new project: The Wicked Web. A blog series of stories broken down into episodes, as a way to share more Free Content for you lovely readers.  Since I’m an author of Erotica, some episodes filled with 18+ material will be posted as a link only. All of the posts will be located in one place on the Menu above.

The first series I’d like to share was the novel I wrote during the last NaNoWriMo, which despite reaching the 50k word goal, I never completed. I’m hoping to finish it here. I’d also like to make this a regular event, to keep my muse from getting rusty – so, here goes!

Introduction: Thief of Dragons is an Alternate-Earth, Erotic SciFi Fantasy. (Yes, I make up my own genres).

Thief Of Dragons

Thief of Dragons: The Echelonites of Cauldex

Episode 1

They say the universe is infinite.

With her forehead resting against the cool metal of yet another space station, Roehn Cayen stared into the vacuum of space and disagreed.  To her, the universe was very small and focused.  Confined to the only galaxy she would ever know, and the planets within that all shared the same inexcusable flaw.

These abandoned space stations had once served a greater purpose, allowing ancient astronauts to study all of that infinite vastness. Now they were loosely governed shelters for the galaxy’s unwanted. Those extreme misfits who’d been shunned for failing the greatest at meeting their society’s standards. Forced to live away from their homes, their families and any shame they’d brought to both.

Roehn’s home planet, Cauldex, was no exception to the guilt of such an unjust practice. They had their own set of laws, traditions and beliefs everyone was expected to adhere to. At birth, all Cauldexian’s were touched by the Divine, allowing their Echelonite to appear.  Known as companions, they were a symbiotic entity that bonded with their host’s blood and gifted them with their natural attributes. But as their name would suggest, the Echelonites had been used for centuries as a way of keeping the classes segregated. An indisputable way to recognize someone by their bloodline, status or trade.

All royalty had the Echeclonite of the Dragon, for example. Nobles were broken down into different Houses, but Griffins were the most elite. All fisherman had the Osprey, all handmaidens the Dove, and so on. Even long after the monarchies had fallen way to modern governments, the Echelonite had never changed. Royal Armsmen had become hired muscle and personal security, yet were still bound to the Bear.

Roehn’s noble bloodline was that of the Black Dogs of Cayen, but unlike her twin brother, she’d been born without an Echelonite. Snubbed by the Divine, she was a shocking and horrific abomination to her family. She’d been smuggled off planet by her nurse as an infant, and for the past nineteen years they’d lived in obscurity. Trying to survive on overcrowded space stations with the rest of the outcasts, living off rations and stolen goods. Forced to work as mercenaries or smugglers just to scrape by.

Over the years, her nurse had shown Roehn how to trick her blood into casting whichever Echelonite she wanted.  A craft that had been strictly outlawed eons ago. That had led to scores of Cauldexians being publicly executed for practicing the Forbidden Arts. But as with all things outlawed, the knowledge had never been lost, merely passed down to each new generation in secrecy.

Now, Inglid was dead and it was time for Roehn to return to Cauldex to show her family the tremendous mistake they’d made. Through legal means or sincere regret, her family would accept her. They would let her back into their House and not-so-loving arms. Then, Roehn would have her revenge.

“Hey,” Reiter was suddenly right behind her, earning himself a fist to the chest for the mild fright. “Shit, that smarted!”

“What do you think you’re doing?” Roehn fumed, unconcerned. “We already said goodbye last night. I told you that I didn’t want any sappy, crybaby issues from you this morning.”

Taking a deep breath, Reiter held his hands up in an offer of peace, but his expression had her gut turning uneasily. He had the look of someone bearing news they wish they didn’t know. They’d all seen it too many times to have developed any kind of armor against it. In the space stations, outcasts had never been granted the luxury of innocence or the supposed bliss that came with it.

“What?” She pressed.

He glanced around the loading bay, before giving her an apologetic look. “You know that new group that just came in last night?”

Roehn had heard about them, but she’d been too busy preparing for her departure to make it to the mess hall for the evening rations. Her response was a hesitant nod.

“I overheard them talking about Cauldex,” Reiter stammered. “Roehn… I-I think you should talk to them before you board that supply ship.”

“I don’t have time, Reiter,” she snapped, his tone causing her to panic. “I’m leaving as soon as they’re done unloading. Just tell me what you heard.”

“It’s about your family,” he barely managed, turning partially away from her and rubbing his face. “They said… Fuck, why do I have to be the one to tell you?”

“Reiter, please?” Roehn whispered, as her chest tightened with more dread and something worse. Something akin to how she’d felt upon trying to wake Inglid one morning, only to discover her nurse would never wake again. “Please, just tell me.”

The moment his face fell into mournful regret, she knew. “I overheard one of them recounting a recent victory of the Dragons. How they’ve finally reunited the cities by wiping out every last Black Dog-“

Whatever else Reiter said after that, Roehn didn’t hear. All of the blood rushed up her neck to muffle her ears and block out the sound of his voice. Her heart twisted sharply, and adrenaline spiked through her veins. It hurt. She hadn’t been prepared for that, but by the Divine, it fucking hurt.

Why? Her family had shunned and despised her. Her own father had plotted to murder her in her sleep! The pain could only stem from the loss of revenge. The theft of that closure she so desperately needed. That wasn’t the entirety of it, though. In that moment, Roehn realized that deep down, she’d been looking for something more than just vengeance. She’d been looking for a better explanation. She’d been harboring a grain of hope that at least one member of her family had mourned the loss of her all along and that she might actually have someone – her mother, brother, a grandparent – that loved and missed her.

Now, they were all gone. Wiped out by the Dragons.

Roehn’s legs buckled, and her body sank to the floor. When she became aware that Reiter had crouched down beside her in an attempt to gather her into his arms, she shoved him away.  She didn’t want his comfort. Pushing away from him, she sprang to her feet and ran blindly from the loading bay. Into the maze of corridors, where the first tears she’d ever cried for her family broke free.

© A.C. Melody

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