The Gypsies: Episode 4: The Hideous Game

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
Episode 4: The Hideous Game.

A Breshleyite athlete of great fame and vital importance to his team, and his family, sneak aboard the Wise Owl hoping to be healed by Kylie, and that no one will know he's there. While he's in her medical bay, she treats him as a normal patient, ignorant of his fame and importance until Quail sees him and exposes him to her, and someone else exposes him to the Breshleyite Emperor.

Featured cast of The Hideous Game: Quail, Kylie, & Falcon.

Submitted: November 08, 2016

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Submitted: November 08, 2016

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Episode 4: The Hideous Game.

 

Breshleyites played a game on a strange field that looked precisely like a diamond with bases on top of a football field. Only, one had to make a touchdown underneath the batting cage, and there was only one batting cage, if you could call it a cage, that is.

A priest of the Breshleyite religion, which in itself was a strange mixture of militant Christianity and emperor worship, wore a referee's uniform but full religious regalia. He held a black flag and a white flag, but seldom used the black flag.

The players were all geared for battle, clad in fortified game armor. And the audience up above in the overfilled stands were equally primed for a violent time. A few had even gotten an early start by instigating brawls.

There were several people on safe bases, with people on both teams on the ground by the bases, and far away from them, ready and waiting for a skirmish.

The pitcher threw a massive ball at a batter, who batted the ball successfully. It flew up high into the air to the point where no one could see it. Then down it came, and everyone started to scramble to the the first to take it.

“Come on!” a man shouted to his teammates. “If we don't catch it, the other team will!” Most members of both teams rushed toward the ball, each man guesstimating where it would land, and pushing anyone from the other team out of the way.

Naturally, several people forgot about the ball and got into a fight. A man abandoned his safe base, and another man from the opposing team forgot his place guarding a safe base, to assist in the fight. This only ended up making it bigger and worse.

Down fell the ball, with one man jumping up straight into the air to intercept it. He succeeded.

“I got it! I got it!”

He quickly discovered that he had it, for he was promptly tackled, and the ball stolen from him.

“Weakling!”

“Wimp!”

“Infantile baby!” The crowd went wild with vulgarities, and someone poured his drink all over the poor man's head.

The poor man was also trampled on, with his tackler crushing his face under his footwear. And once he had it, he began rushing toward the batting cage, using the ball as a physical weapon against anyone who tried to rush him or catch him. The only person he refrained from bashing with the ball as they tried to nab him was a man who had not abandoned his safe base.

But nothing worked, and no one could stop this runaway train of a Breshleyite man. He performed his touchdown, while his fellow teammates protected him from the other team that desperately tried to stop him.

“Touchdown!” he shouted, throwing the ball down and performing a taunting dance that suggested that the opposing team had inferior manhood. “Eat this! Can't stop me!”

He then returned to the field, returning the ball to the pitcher.

A pitch was made, and this time, the batter missed.

“Wuss, wuss!”the fans shouted. They then burst out in even worse denigrations, and a couple even threw whatever objects they could find that they could heft at the batter.

“Strike!” the priest exclaimed, raising the white flag but not actually waving it.

And he was struck in the face by a whip with a sharp object inside of it to increase the pain. Then a second pitch was made, and the batter hit the ball this time. It did not go that far, so the player at the nearby safe base grabbed it.

“No you don't!” snapped the man who got the original touchdown. He attacked the player who got the ball, and hit him directly in the head.

Down fell the other player, who put his hand in front of his face.

“I'm blind!” he shouted.

This only won him having his body trampled under the other player's feet as he seized the ball and tried to score an easy touchdown. He anticipated the batter, who had forsaken tradition by staying at the batting cage because of how insufficiently far the ball had gone, permitting him to play defense and try to block a touchdown. And the bully with the ball tried to evade the defending player. What he did not expect was a quintet of massive explosions taking place in the stands, killing lots of people and sending enough debris out to kill a couple of the players. Lots of people screamed in horror.

Not allowing common decency to stop the game, the defending ex-batter snatched the ball and ran, making a touchdown of his own.

“Order!” screamed the preacher, waving the black flag. “All of you come here, gather around me!” But everybody else just stood there, mortified as the smoke cleared, while the military security patrols started oozing their way through every nook and cranny of the stadium.

 

“Ah!” shouted a male orc who sat in a room that looked like a beautiful chapel devoted to nature. It had all the trappings of a religious room, but also had wild plants and flowers growing everywhere and had grass instead of carpeting.

It also had a wooden table on the grass, which the male orc sat beside. There was a circle of clear quartz crystals on the table in an astrological alignment.

“Are you all right, Captain Falcon?” asked a younger female orc with very short hair in a greencoat uniform with the addition of a sepia cloth martial artists' headband, and a brunette sash. She sat on the opposite side of the table, keeping her hands folded and in a meditative stance.

Falcon wore a greencoat uniform, an aubergine mantle, and a pair of knee-high black boots. With the mantle added to his uniform, he looked every bit the starship captain his crew expected him to be. He was young, too young to be in charge, but he now had some experience under his belt, and the scar on his face to prove it, as well as the beginnings of a handsome beard. And he had flaxen hair and soulful teal eyes.

“No, Commander Iris, I'm not,” Falcon said. “It was terrible.”

“Tell me what you saw,” she said.

“An act of terrorism at a very savage Breshleyite game,” Falcon answered. Iris raised her eyebrows.

“That is strange,” she said. “Such an event would have little meaning for us unless Kylie was asked to aid in medical care.”

“Perhaps we should discontinue my training in psychic development,” Falcon suggested.

“Captain, nonsense,” Iris rebutted. “We both know that you have the capability of being quite a potent psychic, and that if anything should happen to me, someone will need my powers. Even in a lesser form.”

“And Kylie can't do everything or solve everything,” Falcon confessed. “As the commander, I should be ready for anything and able to take decisive action.”

“Without second-guessing yourself,” Iris added. “Now relax. Breathe. Pick up a crystal and clear your mind. Let the crystal's vibrations guide you.” He picked up a crystal.

“I see the scales, but the balance is off,” Falcon replied. “For too long, a serious problem has been swept under the rug and now the bill is coming due.”

“For us?” Iris asked him.

“I don't know,” Falcon said. He cried out and began to shiver. “I can't get through the death. Too much death, and too many jeering voices, mocking laughter.”

Iris placed her hand on Falcon's hands.

“Follow my light,” she directed. “I can guide you through the doom you see until you're safe.”

Falcon sighed and permitted her to lead him up to a point. But as she lead him back to the ship, he tore away from her guidance and began to look around on his own.

Iris recognized what he was doing, a very beginner's level of astral projection. She allowed it, but kept a psychic vigil over him to shelter him from harmful spirits.

“What's this?” Falcon asked. “Another game?”

“Is anyone dying?” Iris inquired.

“Just a bishop,” Falcon replied with relief.

 

 

It was early in the morning in the dining room, and six members of the ten-person crew of the Wise Owl's were watching an exciting chess match between two other crewmen.

“Shark, move your . . . no, Kylie, don't interfere,” said a female orc with sage green skin, who wore a green robe with silver spirals, and a viridian lab coat. Her unruly crimson hair was like a wildfire.

She waited at the edge of the dining table, now biting her lip to prevent herself from giving advice.

“Isn't this galvanizing, Professor Winters?” Kylie asked, looking at the wise old orcish crone standing beside her, with an apricot-colored lab coat.

“Thrilling, Kylie,” Professor Winters replied, twiddling her thumbs to see how everything would turn out.

“Okay,” said a male orc in a greencoat uniform with a mechanic's tool belt. He stood on the sidelines, not sure what he was seeing. “I get the idea of capturing pieces, and that this is a war game, but where are the weapons? What about the blood? Doctor Porpoise, please explain.”

He looked for direction and guidance from his immediate neighbor, a older male orc with tufts of white hair, who looked like a kooky old professor emerged from the other side of the newly repaired door. This orc wore a scarlet suit with crimson diamonds all over it, and he had a far more elaborate, and equipped, tool belt.

“Hecate love you, Ensign Quail,” replied Doctor Porpoise with an uproarious laugh. “Chess is a game of strategy, not violence. And no matter how many times you play it, it's never the same game twice.”

“And both players come to the board with an equal army and an equal chance,” said a white Persian catfolk in a greencoat uniform. She was watching the game far more closely than anyone else. “Only practice and experience tilt the game.”

“And even then, not always,” Kylie added. “The lowly pawn can capture the mighty queen if even the best of players isn't playing keen enough attention.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant Sequoia,” said Ensign Quail to the catfolk. “So all pieces are valuable?”

“Yeah, honey,” said a young female orc in mauve and rose causal clothes with her hair dyed an unbecoming shade of turquoise. She held a time and kept her eyes on the board at all times, constantly switching the timer whenever someone completed his move. “Running out of time, Shark. One minute left.”

“Thanks, Moss,” said one of the people playing chess.

He was a young male orc with several tattoos and hair that seemed to be caught in a civil war between straight and curly and brunette and blond. He was in a greencoat uniform as well.

The other person playing chess was a white-eyed, blond male elf in a modified greencoat uniform, with a red coat and a grand black sash.

“Almost got you now, Shark,” said the elf, moving his bishop.

“No you haven't, Salamander,” Shark replied. “I see something you don't.” He quickly moved his queen into a place where Salamander would be only too tempted to capture her.

But if he did, Shark would be able to take Salamander's bishop. Only the kings would remain on the board.

“Giving me your queen, Shark?” Salamander asked. He quickly took her, only to have Shark finish by taking Salamander's bishop before Moss could even switch which timer was ticking down.

“Nothing but kings now,” Shark said. “That means stalemate.”

“Yes it does,” Salamander replied. He offered Shark his hand, and Shark shook it. “You're improving, Carmine.”

“Thanks, Doug. That means a lot coming from you,” Shark said.

“Stalemate!” Moss declared excitedly, stopping both timers. “Mutual victory. Congratulations to you both,” she said, continuing her tone of boosterism. “That was intense, and I daresay epic.”

The others cheered, except for Quail, and each moved forward in turn to congratulate the joint winners. Only Sequoia lingered with Shark longer than necessary and seemed to give Salamander short shrift, but everyone understood why she would do that. Sequoia and Shark were practically twins. When she was ready, she too moved over to congratulate Salamander.

“A little slow, Holly?” Salamander asked.

“I'm glad you both won, but I am just a bit biased,” Sequoia confessed.

Salamander slapped her on the back and laughed, dispelling her nervousness.

“He'll beat me next time,” Salamander said.

“That's not really the point,” Sequoia rebutted. “It was a fine draw. I'm proud of you, Douglas. I'm just a little prouder of Shark. It's not as easy for him to discipline his thoughts like it is for you.”

“That's why we play chess, Holly,” Kylie dictated. “It sharpens the mind like a stone does a blade.”

“Yes, Nurse Moriarty-Korat,” Sequoia replied, submitting with a nod.

With a few more congratulations granted to both players, the others dispersed to go begin their morning jobs. But Kylie, Quail, and Porpoise remained in the room.

Kylie headed directly for the chess table and began to play on her own, satisfying her urges to intercede on the boys' match.

Porpoise watched her, while Quail blinked and tugged on Porpoise's arm.

“Yes, Bernard?” Porpoise asked of Quail.

“Sequoia said it was a fine draw,” Quail stated.

“That's right,” Porpoise answered.

“But a draw means no one wins,” Quail said.

“Among more competitive people, yes,” Kylie interjected. “But for the Bre-ayne, no.”

“A fair draw means everybody wins,” Porpoise explained. “Both players gave it their all, so both should be honored. It's a druid thing. You'll understand in time. Now come, apprentice, we've got toilets to fix.”

“Yes, Doctor Porpoise,” Quail said, and together, they left the room.

 

 

Lieutenant Shark, Lieutenant Sequoia, Corporal Salamander, Sergeant Moss, and Professor Winters entered the control bridge together and assumed their respective places.

Shark went to navigation, Sequoia to helm, Salamander to tactical, Moss to media operations, and Winters to the science station.

“Hello all,” said Captain Falcon, who sat in a center chair. Beside him stood Commander Iris.

“Hi, Captain Falcon,” Shark said.

“We're all here and ready to work,” Sequoia replied.

“I wonder what kind of misadventure we'll get into today,” Moss mused. Falcon turned to glare at her, so she turned back to him. “Kidding, Captain Falcon. You know I love this more than my hair dyes.”

“Speaking of which, turquoise?” Captain Falcon asked with a mild tone of disgust.

“I'm so glad I'm blind,” said the younger woman at his side. “I only have to see your mind, not your face and your hair don't.”

“I'm very beautiful, Iris” Moss teased to the woman at Falcon's side.

“I'm very engaged, Moss,” Iris countered.

“All right now,” Falcon directed. “I see the chess game has put everyone in high spirits today. Good. I like a happy crew, so long as nobody's been nipping Kylie's medicinal drugs.”

“We don't do that!” Shark protested. “Not even me.”

“It was a draw,” Salamander said gladly.

“I know,” Falcon said.

“I'd been teaching him clairvoyance so he could have a play by play,” Iris answered.

“Couldn't have done it without you, Svetlana,” Falcon said.

“Only for now,” she replied. “In time, you'll be better.”

“Iris, you can see what's going on in a room you're not in but you can't see what's right in front of your face,” Moss replied. “It's an amazing thing to me.”

“I can see through the eyes of others when they let me, but in your case, Moss, I will never ask,” Iris rebutted.

“Cool it, girls!” Falcon snapped. “I don't like the hostile thoughts swirling in your mind, Iris, nor the lustful thoughts in your mind, Moss. How do I turn this off?”

“Close your mind,” Iris told him. “It is like willing not to see.”

“Thank you,” Falcon said, as he practiced Iris' advice. “Are we ready to get out of the pocket and back into the world of Saldimyr as we search for our way home?”

“Just a few more seconds,” Sequoia replied. “I need to finish clearing up the helm board. Hurricane, what do you do at night when I'm not working?”

“I search for a way home,” said the unseen voice of the spirit of the ship, Naomi Hurricane.

“Preferred course, Captain Falcon?” Shark asked.

“Let's try southwest today,” Falcon replied. “I feel we need to be southwest.”

“Southwest it is,” Shark said back, programming the computer.

“Shall I raise the Reflective Great Wall?” Salamander asked.

“Yes, but only half power,” Falcon said. “Be ready to throw it to full if we need it, but Doctor Porpoise said we shouldn't run it at full power all the time because it's too hard on his engines, and I'm willing to accept his advice.”

“Aye, Captain Falcon,” Salamander said, pressing keys on his computer.

“Hurricane, where is everyone else right now?” Falcon asked.

“Doctor Porpoise and Ensign Quail are repairing the leaky toilets,” Hurricane said. “Kylie is playing chess with herself like a madwoman. Shall I stop her?”

“Heavens no!” Falcon said. “What Kylie wants, Kylie gets. If chess satisfies her, I say let her play to her heart's content. Are we ready, Sequoia?”

“Purrfectly now, Captain Falcon,” she answered.

“Out of the pocket and away we go,” Falcon ordered.

“Ready to exit following the one minute countdown,” Sequoia said after she pressed the keys.

Iris turned her face toward Moss, even though she could not see the woman. Yet still, she wore a disapproving scowl.

If Moss saw her, she did not care. Instead, she pressed a few keys on her computer and rested. Though the lyrics were changed so that the song praised Hecate the Crone Goddess, the song Moss played was still Day By Day in every other way.

Captain Falcon turned to her, as did the rest of the crew, when the music started. He was about to chastise her, raising his hand, but he stopped himself when his elbow was at a perfect ninety degrees.

“Praise the Crone,” Falcon said.

“The Crone,” the rest of the crew on the control bridge responded.

Each of the control bridge crew found themselves singing along as the music began, including Captain Falcon and except for Iris.

Why should I sing, Hecate? Iris thought. My faith is better served in private displays.

You'll understand why I compelled her to do this, Hecate replied, and then you will sing.

Iris did not understand, until she noticed with her intuition that the upbeat tempo and lyrics, and collective singing, lifted the control bridge crew's spirits. It also improved the quality of their work, especially Lieutenant Sequoia, as she piloted the ship out of the pocket and back into the world of Saldimyr.

“We're clear,” Sequoia said, though nobody heard her and she went right back to singing.

That is, nobody heard her except for Commander Iris. And as Hecate directed, Iris too joined in the song.

Only then did Quail walk into the room, unnoticed. He saw Iris singing with the others, and he was stunned to see it.

“This can't be,” he whispered to himself, in a blend of confusion and delight.

When the song ended, Moss turned the music back off.

“Oh, that was fun. Thank you, Captain Falcon,” she said.

“It was just what we needed,” Falcon replied. “Are we out of the pocket?”

“Quite, Captain Falcon,” Sequoia confessed. “And we've already begun on our heading at twenty percent speed.”

“Twenty percent is advised because of an asteroid belt the navigational sensors detect near the area,” Shark added.

“Verified,” Salamander said.

“But it should be cleared up by the time we arrive,” Winters contributed.

“Capitol,” Falcon stated.

“Svetlana, what were you doing?” Quail asked, then he approached Commander Iris.

“It's called singing, Bernie,” she replied coldly. “We do this sometimes.”

“Do what?” Quail asked.

“Sing to Hecate,” Falcon replied.

At that moment, he and everyone else noticed that Shark was still singing. Only he was singing something else now. He stopped signing Day By Day when the others did, but now he was expressing an entirely different song.

Let him be! the entire crew felt Hecate say in their souls. He is vocalizing to me.”

So no one stopped him, instead, watching him with rapt attention. Eventually, Winters realized what he was singing.

“How lovely,” Winters said.

“What?” Falcon asked.

“Shark's a bard, so of course he'd know stage songs and show tunes,” Winters explained. “He's singing Our Kind of Love from The Boys in the Photograph. I remember. I went with my dearly departed Pierre to see that show a few years back.”

Shark added a little to it, in the typical way bards will embellish things, but then he stopped. He wiped tears from his eyes, only to find himself applauded by the rest of the control bridge crew.

“Beautiful, Shark,” Falcon said.

“What was that?” Quail asked him.

“It was a song from a play about violence back on Earth and the game of soccer,” Shark explained. “The song is performed by a girl who loves a boy from the wrong religion, but they don't care and vow to be together come what may. This couple proves to be one of the lucky ones. They flee the country, Northern Ireland, to escape the violence and wind up spared much of the heartbreak the rest of the cast suffers.

“Just think about the sentiment she's expressing. Her and the boy's love is stronger than the religious hatred around them that should tear them apart as it almost tore their country apart.”

“Who are you people?” Quail asked.

The others laughed, except for Commander Iris.

“It's such a shame you Breshleyites have such a poor concept of music,” Moss said. “Let's all visit Shark's quarters tonight. Bards never turn down a chance to be on stage.”

“How about a full concert?” Shark offered.

“How about you concentrate on your jobs?” Iris argued. Everyone sighed.

“Such as the other ship coming up on my monitors?” Salamander asked.

“Or the fact that so far there are no messages on my screen?” Moss inquired. “Oh, wait, scratch that. Sir, it's that ship that's coming up.”

“What do they want?” Falcon asked.

“They're slowing,” Shark stated.

“Indeed,” Salamander agreed.

“Read it, Quail,” Falcon ordered. He opened his mind to this new ship, but felt uneasy.

“I'm already doing it,” Winters stated from the diagnostic-engineering computer. Quail approached her and put his hands on the computer, looking at the monitor alongside her. “The ship reads as a privateer.”

She stepped aside to allow Quail to take the post, while she returned to the science station.

“That's right,” Quail replied. “It isn't flagged by any planet.”

“I'm sensing deception here,” Falcon said. “Iris?” She nodded in agreement. “What do they want, Moss?”.

“They're asking to bring some passengers aboard,” Moss said, “rather forcefully.”

“As in hostile?” Falcon inquired. “No, as in desperate. But why?”

“Do not fatigue yourself, Captain Falcon. That is enough. Let me handle this,” Iris said. “There is a sick, desperate man on that ship. One who does not want anyone to know that.”

“Ask them why they want to come aboard, Moss,” Falcon pressed.

“Hello,” Moss said back over her computer. “This is the Wise Owl. Why do you wish to transfer your passengers our ship?”

“We have a terribly sick man aboard, along with his family,” replied a man. “And we've heard of the legendary healing powers of the witch aboard your ship. He hired us to find you, and we found you.”

“Well, you can't be clearer than that,” Moss said to Falcon.

“Iris?” Falcon asked. She nodded positively, so Falcon blinked his eyes. “Let them come, Moss. Salamander, to the door.”

“Yes, Captain Falcon,” Salamander replied, then he headed to the door.

“Welcome aboard,” Moss said back over her computer.

“Captain, may I join them at the docks?” Winters asked. “Kylie might need me.”

“Oh, that's right, she trained you as a paramedic,” Falcon replied. “So what are you doing here?”

Winters smiled, then Falcon smiled, and Winters left her post and stood with Salamander.

Kylie, you're needed in . . . Iris telepathically informed her.

I know, Svetlana, Kylie thought back. Already waiting at the docks.

And for once, Commander Iris smiled. Then she, Winters, and Salamander went to the docks.

 

 

Pushing a Breshleyite man in a wheelchair, Kylie led his family into the examination room in her practical hospital, with Winters and Commander Iris behind them.

The Breshleyite man was tall, brawny, and very handsome, but very battered and bruised. He had blond hair and a trim, but handsome beard, and he had been dressed in a casual blue and red shirt with a form of indigo jeans, but was now in nothing but underwear, while his wife carried his clothes.

His son was a teenager, roughly fifteen years old, and was the virtual image of his father, though he sported black leather clothing, while his wife was a beautiful blonde woman with long, braided hair, and a pretty dress.

The last of them was his daughter, who had dyed her blonde hair with brunette streaks, and she wore a white shirt and grey shorts, with combat boots.

“All right,” Kylie said, as she brought the man to her examination table. “Are you the only one who is sick?”

“Yes,” the man replied, only to have his wife look at him sadly. He ignored her and began trying to stand with Kylie's aid, slowly. “I can't get up too fast or I get dizzy.”

“Darling, let Nadrell help you,” the wife pleaded. “Naddy.”

“Dad, get up!” the son barked.

“Mind your mother!” the father demanded.

“Coming,” the boy acquiesced. At once, he scurried over to his father and helped him get up.

“I'll need you on the table,” Kylie directed. “Slowly now, gently.”

Together, they got him onto the table. His ass was first, of course, then he rested on his back, while Nadrell put his father's legs onto the table.

“Damn,” he complained. “I'm already dizzy.”

“Oh no,” his wife said.

“Could be inner ear trouble,” Kylie replied. “I can curtail the vertigo if you'd like.”

“Please,” he replied.

And once he said it, Kylie placed her hands upon his head and cast one of her light healing spells. The green magic emerged from her hands and into his body, and cleansed him of his dizziness.

“Wow,” he said. “You are good.”

“That was nothing,” Kylie replied. “Please remain motionless.” With that, she flipped a switch on the table, then went to go get a data pad. “Winters.”

“Of course,” Winters said, then she went over to a computer monitor. Already it was filling up with data, which Winters read. “If you're ready, Kylie?”

“Quite,” Kylie answered.

“Height is six feet and five inches,” Winters rattled off. “Weight is two hundred and ninety-seven pounds.”

“Percentage of body mass fat?” Kylie asked.

“Estimated at seven percent,” Winters stated. “I thought you hated the body mass index.”

“I do,” Kylie replied as she entered the information into her data pad. “It is included in this examination only because he is obviously an athlete.”

At hearing this, the man sat up. This time, he was unconcerned with his no longer present lightheadedness.

“Do you know who I am?” he asked Kylie, glaring at her.

“You've not told me your name, and please resume resting,” Kylie replied.

“He's . . .” the boy started.

“No, son! I'm Karlizen Prontellis,” he said. “We're the Prontellis family. My wife, Lourdlyn, my son Nadrell, and my daughter, Narella.”

“Pleased to meet you all,” Kylie said, then she shook the man's hand. She looked at Nadrell, not liking the shadowy sullenness she saw in him, but she shook her head and let the feeling go. “Right. Continue, Winters.”

“Body temperature is at ninety-eight point one,” Winters said. “Blood pressure is at one hundred and twenty-four over eighty-three. A little elevated, but not severe.”

“All right,” Kylie replied.

She turned off the table, then she went to a drawer. A few moments later, she removed a syringe and some alcohol wipes. Then she wiped Karlizen's arm.

“I'm going to need to do a blood test,” Kylie replied. “Do I have your consent?”

“Yes, of course you do,” he said, so she pricked him and drew some blood. He seemed to show absolutely no reaction.

“You have some very large veins,” Kylie remarked. “But you did not show any pain. Are you stoic?” She then put the blood into a vial.

“No,” he said, “but I'm so used to taking big hits that I don't feel little things like needles anymore.”

“Not today, anyway,” Narella groused.

“Cut it out, Ella!” Karlizen barked.

“Dad, don't lie to her,” Narella retorted.

“He's not lying,” argued Nadrell. “He's faking!”

“Winters,” Kylie said, passing her the vial. “I want a full spectrum of tests.”

“You got it,” Winters replied, then she left the room with the vial.

“Do you want your family outside?” Kylie inquired to Karlizen.

“I'll send the kids out,” Lourdlyn interjected, “but I want to stay.” Karlizen nodded his agreement. “Is there somewhere for the kids to eat? They're probably hungry.”

“I will lead them to the dining room,” Commander Iris offered. “Come along.”

“Thank you,” Lourdlyn replied as Iris ushered the children out of the room.

That man is keeping secrets, Kylie, Iris warned telepathically. He doesn't want you to know the whole story. He didn't even want you to know his true name.

I'll find the secret, Kylie thought back. And if I don't, you will.

Once Iris and the children were gone, and the door closed, Kylie put her hands on her hips.

“You may sit up now,” she directed, so Karlizen sat up. “Now tell me, what's really going on here? A Breshleyite doesn't just come up here looking for me to tend to sprains and bruises. I know you're an athlete of some type. That is obvious from the battering your body has taken. So how can I help you, exactly?”

“We have to tell her, Karlizen,” Lourdlyn beseeched.

“No,” he argued.

“Please,” she begged.

“Sir, I can't help you if I don't know what you need,” Kylie said.

“We came for your magic,” he answered. “They say you can remove diseases with a touch.”

“True,” Kylie said, “if I know what it is I am removing. There are some things that are a considerable drain on my power to cleanse. Now, please, help me help you. Why are you here?”

“He's not the man I married,” Lourdlyn blurted out. Karlizen glared at her angrily, and she bowed her head. “I'm sorry, Karli, but she needs to know. He's confused, dazed, angry all the time, has no balance, forgets who he is. Forgets who I am! He's been blinded in-game and passed out twice.”

“That is rather typical for concussions,” Kylie said.

“Really? The team doctors told me that it happens so often that it's nothing to worry about,” Karlizen said.

“Obviously you suspected better than that,” Kylie countered, “or you wouldn't be here.

“I'm sure they're right,” he rebutted. “It's just because I'm going blind almost every game now that I'm here.”

“How frequently are you concussed?” Kylie asked.

“Nearly every game, and just about every player has been through it at least once per game,” Karlizen said.

“And that's not all,” Lourdlyn added.

“Don't get hysterical, Louri . . .”

“Karli, I must!” she barked. “Our son, Nadrell, is also starting to show the same ailments as his father.”

“It's part of the game,” Karlizen protested.

“Which means your son plays, too,” Kylie replied. “Do you or your daughter?”

“No, it's not allowed,” Lourdlyn said. She wanted to speak, and Kylie knew it.

“What is it you're wanting to say?” Kylie asked. Softly, she reached Lourdlyn, but all Lourdlyn did was sigh.

“So what do you think is going on?” she asked.

“I'll need to examine your brain,” Kylie stated to Karlizen, turning back to him. “Hurricane, can you do me a favor?”

“Sure, Kylie,” Hurricane's unseen voice answered. “Spill it.”

“Ask Winters to begin with the neurological blood tests first,” Kylie said. “I want to know what the blood reveals about the brain chemistries.”

“No problem,” Hurricane said back.

“All right,” Kylie said. “I'll need you up. My spell is still sheltering you from the vertigo for the time being, so on your feet.”

She helped him stand up, then she helped him sit in the wheelchair.

“Where are we going?” Karlizen asked.

“To get a scan of your brain,” Kylie explained. “If I'm right, you've got big trouble.”

 

 

“This is our dining room,” Commander Iris said to the children. “We have carrot cake and milk if you are hungry. I will get you some.”

“Haven't you got any steak?” asked Nadrell. “I'm a growing boy and I need my nutrition.”

“There are many things you need,” Iris informed him coldly, “but steak is not one of them. We do have steak, but it is not prepared. It would need to thaw and we only eat it on special occasions. But I can make you a sandwich if you want one. And you, young lady, must be careful. Do not indulge yourself.”

“Please make us sandwiches, and bring us carrot cake,” replied Narella. She shot her brother a critical glance, which he ignored and Iris could never have seen.

“As you wish,” Iris said. “Should anything occur, I will be with you in mere moments.” With that, she retreated into the kitchen, using a cursory reading of their minds to discover what they liked to eat.

She was left with a distinct impression that the girl was in danger, but she could not tell from what. All Iris saw in her premonitions was the girl grabbing her stomach and screaming in pain.

I must take great care that she eat only the freshest of things, and eat only a little. These two children could use some discipline anyway. Both are wild and overly energized, and something is wrong with both of their minds.

“Well, hi there,” Quail said to the children as he entered the dining room. “Who have we here? Breshleyites.”

“Hello,” said Narella.

“Hi,” Nadrell said, as if he did not care that Quail was there.

“I'm Ensign Quail, assistant engineer,” Quail said brightly. “It's a pleasure to meet you. I don't often get Breshleyite company anymore.”

“You seem like you know us,” Narella said.

“Not you personally, but Breshleyites,” Quail admitted. “Let's just stay I lived among them for years, and now I'm learning to be around my . . . my own kind.

“Say, where are your parents, and where is Commander Iris?”

“I'm in the kitchen, Bernard,” Commander Iris called out. “The children are hungry.”

“Do you want help?” Quail asked.

“No,” Iris answered.

“Our parents are with your doctor,” Narella explained. “Dad is sick.”

“Dad's not sick!” Nadrell barked. “He's cowardly. Getting wimpy in his old age.”

“Naddy, not among outsiders,” Narella chastised.

“Shut up. You're not Mom!” he retorted, staring at her and sticking out his tongue.

“Thank God for that,” Narella rebutted, crossing her arms and tapping her foot.

“Ooh, my, a pair of firebrands,” Quail said. He looked at the two siblings, whom seemed ready to go to verbal war with each other. “Do you play the game, son?”

“I do,” Nadrell said, “second tier ranking in my school, but I'm still in my sophomore year.”

“Oh good,” Quail replied, then he let out a sigh of relief as he took a seat. “If you were still second tier as a junior, it'd be rather bad for your military career.”

“At least he gets to play,” Narella said. “We women don't matter much on Breshley.”

“You have more power than you think,” Iris told her as she returned with two plates. The plates contained the sandwiches and the cake.

She put them down, and the two children grabbed their plates and looked at them.

“Pretty paltry portions,” Nadrell complained.

“It is more than you need,” Iris said coldly. “Gluttony is a sign of personal weakness.”

“Svetlana, they're children,” Quail said. “Gratify them a little.”

“They have food,” Iris answered. “Let that satisfy. Don't promise to mollify them later, Bernard. I can hear you thinking.”

“Drat,” he said, snapping his fingers with a gesture of dashed hopes. “Don't knock her, kids. She's the reason our ship is safe most of the time.”

“As well as its guests,” Iris added. “Do you want food, Bernard?”

“Just some cake,” Bernard said.

“All right,” Iris answered, then she returned to the kitchen.

“So who are you people?” asked Nadrell.

“We are the Bre-ayne,” Quail explained. “These people were kidnapped by those evil pirates who were friends to the Malecormans, but they got away and now they're stuck here in Saldimyr.”

“Breshley!” Nadrell barked.

“Of course,” Quail remarked. “The empire owns everything just about.”

“He meant what is with these people?” Narella interjected. “They seem so strange, and not just their monstrous looks.”

“Monstrous?” Quail asked, then he laughed. “Did you hear that, Svetlana? She thinks you look monstrous.”

“Her knowledge of monsters is too limited for her to make a proper judgement,” Iris answered back.

“What do you do, lady?” Nadrell complained. “Read minds?”

“Quite,” Iris said, “though in some people, there is virtually nothing for me to read.”

“Are you insulting me?” he asked, slamming his hand onto the table.

“No,” Iris said.

“She wasn't,” Quail interceded. “When she insults you, she uses your very personality against you. Every flaw, every failure, every blunder, she can see it all.”

“That's kind of creepy,” Narella argued.

“No, my girl. What is upsetting is that I cannot turn it off,” Iris lamented as she returned with Quail's cake and milk and cups for all hands. “Thoughts flood me constantly, as do glimpses of the future. Let me know if you feel the slightest bit ill.”

“I'm not going to feel ill,” Narella said, but she and Iris both immediately knew it was a lie.

Iris reached out and removed her plate from her.

“I suggest that you eat nothing,” Iris warned. Everyone looked at her with shock, and Narella added contempt to that.

“Give me back my plate!”

“Let the girl eat,” Quail begged, so Iris relented and pushed the plate back. Then Iris stepped off to a corner and began a vigil, insofar as a blind woman who relied on hearing and psionics could manage to do that.

“Can I ask why your dad came to the Wise Owl for treatment?” Quail inquired.

“Your doctor is a living legend,” Narella stated. “He wanted to be treated by the best, and he decided that was her.”

“And didn't want Breshleyite doctors to so much as look at him,” Nadrell said. “Why bring an outsider into game business?”

“Game business?” Quail asked. “So your father's a player.”

“And now,” Nadrell said.

“Naddy, don't!” Narella ordered. “Mother said nobody was to know.” She quickly looked at Iris, but Iris did not know that. “Do you know?”

“I do,” Iris answered, “but the information has no context for me, and thus, it has no importance. He is a patient in Nurse Moriarty-Korat's care, and is keeping secrets she will need him to share if she is to heal him properly. Beyond that, it is none of my affair unless he, or she, should find themselves in any danger because of it.”

“There's a game coming up tomorrow,” Quail said. “I'd love to watch it. You two going to?”

“I won't, but you can bet Nadrell will,” Narella replied. “He never misses one.”

“Nope, I never do,” Nadrell answered. “But there's been a problem lately. The last couple of games, well, incidents have been happening.”

“Incidents?” Quail asked. He placed his hands on the table and leaned forward in his chair. “What kind of incidents?”

“Random stuff,” Nadrell said. “At the last game, a bomb was found. But the army discovered it in time and defused it. Before that, someone started a fire and a lot of people were hurt.”

“Terrorism,” Iris announced.

“But who would want to shut down our . . . your national past time?” Quail asked.

“Some deplorable degenerate,” Nadrell snarled. “Some traitor.”

“Were there any demands?” Quail continued.

“If there were, the military didn't tell anyone about them,” Nadrell continued.

“Hurricane,” Quail pleaded, “can you check with Sergeant Moss and ask her if anything was reported about the last two footbase games?”

“I could, Bernard, but I'm sure Moss has more important things to do,” Hurricane said.

“Please,” Quail beseeched.

“Oh, very well,” Hurricane groused. “If it's that important to you, I'll ask her. But she may say no, and if she does, I won't question it.”

“Thanks, Hurricane,” Quail said gratefully.

“Who was that?” Nadrell asked.

“The spirit of the ship,” Quail explained. “We're on a living space ship. Oh, you didn't know? Her soul is infused with this ship, and so we are all here by her consent.”

“Which means Hurricane, is entitled to respect and that her word is law aboard the ship,” Iris answered.

“Why call her Hurricane?” Narella inquired.

“Because that was my name,” Hurricane explained. “I was Naomi Hurricane. So what is this game all about, anyway?”

“The best way I can explain it to you is that it's a lot like what you'd get if you melded baseball and American football,” Quail said. “And made it as violent as possible.”

“If you get the ball, you have to tackle a person who is running to the safe base,” Nadrell added. “But their defense team waits to block you.”

“More often than not, it ends up in a ballet of violence. There's at least one melee skirmish every quarter,” Quail said.

Check your excitement, my love, Iris warned him telepathically. I can sense the bloodlust rising in you, and in a Bre-ayne, that is verboten.

I understand, Quail thought back. Thank you, my dearest.

With that, he took a deep, cleansing breath and began to count to one hundred. Only when he was finished did he resume, while the children ate their sandwiches and cake.

“Now, where were we?” Quail asked. “Oh yes, the skirmishes.”

“Do you people play games?” asked Narella.

“Yes,” Iris stated. “We play chess.”

“And baseball,” Quail added. “It's their national past time, though they don't all admit it. Baseball is a far less violent game, where you're at most only supposed to touch a player running to a safe zone, not tackle them. A melee battle is not allowed.”

“Sounds like a bore,” Nadrell said. “A game for old people.”

“That's another thing,” Quail replied, laughing. “The Bre-ayne revere their old people as a source of wisdom.”

“Is that wrong?” Iris asked icily.

“Not a bit,” Quail said, “but to Breshleyites, the only person of age who is worth honoring is the emperor.”

“That isn't honor that you people hold for him,” Iris advised, “it is fear.”

“You must be a real scream at parties,” Nadrell groused.

“Parties are for quests,” Iris corrected him.

“Are they all like her?” Narella queried.

“No,” Quail said. Then he laughed again. “She's the one I'm madly in love with and going to marry! But everyone on this ship is different. Captain Falcon is learning how to assert himself and get what he wants, and yet respect the abilities and knowledge of his crew. Doctor Porpoise is a kooky old inventor who is teaching me every nook and cranny of this ship, and loves to try new things.”

“Lieutenant Shark is a minstrel,” Commander Iris added, “with a wild soul that makes the beasts look tame, while Sergeant Moss is like him, but prefer to break the limits of decent behavior in a different way.”

“And your doctor?” Narella asked.

“She's trying to teach herself not to solve everything for everyone else,” Quail said, “to accept being everyone's advisor and let other people shine. Medicine alone is her private domain.”

“And the garden, of course,” Iris added. “Though she lets us in for rituals or to commune. Though I personally am not, most of the crew are druids, a religious sect that honors nature and draws power from it, and worships Hecate.”

“Don't you people ever fight?” asked Nadrell.

“Sure, the Bre-ayne compete,Quail corrected. They compete to out-gracious each other towards rivals while still playing well. They actually strive for ties and consider stalemates best because it means everybody wins.

“To the Bre-ayne, aggression is actually seen as dangerous unless it is used strictly for self-defense, and even then, they fear it has a price. They believe that harmful actions come back to haunt you in illness, misfortune, screwed up spells, and other punishments. They call it karma.

“It's so strange. They respect their opponents, play fair, and require the same of their rivals. Only when they don't get fair play back do they turn to their magic to right the situation. And only then do they try to win, for the purpose of teaching the unfair opponent a moral lesson.

“Even in the most competitive game of chess, and those can get fierce, there is still a sense of respect and fair play required of both players,” Quail continued.

“Yes, much like the game played today. If anything underhanded had dared been tried, Moss, as clockwatcher and judge, would have disallowed it,” Iris added. “Clever and cunning are fine, but cruelty is against Bre-ayne law, even in games. Balance is always required.”

“You can outsmart your rival, but not outright humiliate,” Quail continued. “If you do, you violate the divine balance and will face your actions back to haunt you three times over.”

“And that shall be the law,” Iris concluded, folding her hands and bowing her head as if in prayer. “Quail, something's wrong.”

Kylie, medical emergency. Please report to the dining room at once, Iris sent out telepathically.

At once, Narella started to scream and grabbed her stomach. She fell from her chair and landed on the floor.

“Ella!” Nadrell cried out. He and Quail rushed straight toward her.

“Get Kylie!” Quail ordered.

“I already have,” Iris answered.

At that point, Narella vomited all over Nadrell, disgusting him.

“Yuck! Damn, sis!”

“I can't help it,” she complained, then she screamed from the pain again. She also began to breathe deeply and rapidly.

“Hello,” Professor Winters said as she entered the dining room at a quickened pace. “Kylie's tied up so she sent me ten minutes ago.”

“She knew this would happen?” Nadrell asked.

“Let me have a look here,” Winters said.

Aware at once that the girl was breathing abnormally, Winters used her paramedic skills to determine the situation. With her stethoscope, she discovered that the girl had a rapid heart rate, yet she had a very weak pulse. And she then discovered that the girl's breath had a strong, fruity order to it.

“Do you get sick like this often?” Winters asked.

“Never this bad,” Nadrell said to Winters in his sister's stead. “Usually after she eats, she spends all day rushing back and forth to the toilet and drinking water like a fish. She says she can't see right and she's lightheaded. I thought she was faking.”

“No, this isn't a fake,” Winters said.

She opened a surgical kit and removed a glucometer. Quickly, she set it up.

“My girl, this will sting for a moment, but I need to know what's going on,” Winters said. “Okay?”

Narella whined, so Winters pricked her and took a blood sample for the glucometer. Her eyes bulged when she read the number. Then she touched her necklace.

“Kylie, we've got a problem,” Winters said. “The girl's a diabetic. I'm sure of it.”

“How high?” Kylie asked.

“Over five-hundred,” Winters answered.

“Bring her to me. She needs insulin immediately.”

“We're coming,” Winters vowed.

“I'll prepare a strong dose,” Kylie said.

“So this is for real?” Nadrell asked.

“Sickness is no illusion, child,” Iris warned. “Continue as you are doing now, and I see you in a wheelchair in less than two years.”

“Iris, we never predict disaster for people . . .” Winters barked.

“I don't believe in false hope,” Iris said. “Truth is always best.”

“That's debatable,” Winters countered. “Help me get her to medical.”

 

 

Using magic to levitate the girl, Winters brought her into the examination room, where Kylie waited with a syringe of insulin.

Nadrell, Iris, and Quail followed them into the room on foot. It was then that Nadrell touched Iris' hand, and she felt a strange sense of intrusion. She pulled her hand away from him.

Lourdlyn waited with Kylie, clutching her hands together in a silent prayer.

“Bring her to the table,” Kylie directed.

So Winters did just that, gently placing Narella on the table. Once the girl was securely placed on it, Kylie went directly to her with the insulin.

“What are you doing?” asked Lourdlyn.

“I'm giving her medicine,” Kylie announced. “This will save her life, if you permit it.”

“Save her?” Lourdlyn asked. “Nobody can save you from the food disease!”

“On the contrary,” Kylie said. “Insulin injections replace the insulin your body cannot produce, or help your body overcome the insulin resistance it has developed, depending on the type. There are also pills that can be taken, but with her sugars at this a level, a pill won't work.”

“So what will this do?” Lourdlyn inquired.

“Diabetes is a disease where your body cannot process sugar when you eat, so it stays in your blood rather than getting stored as fat,” Kylie answered. “That means your blood sugars become far too high. It leads, if left unchecked, to blindness, to foot amputations . . .”

“We know all the horrors of the food disease,” Lourdlyn said.

“Insulin forces the blood to be stored as fat, lowering the sugars back to reasonable levels,” Kylie answered.

“You mean she's not faking?” inquired Nadrell.

“Oh no, child,” Kylie said, “diabetes is no game. It's a scourge, unless it is properly controlled. But it can be controlled with insulin and pills.”

“So it's a wonder drug?” Lourdlyn asked, with a great deal of fear.

“Not exactly a wonder,” Winters answered, “but it does mean that diabetes is no longer a death sentence.”

“So may I inject her?” Kylie asked.

“Proceed,” Lourdlyn said. “If it will save her life, inject her.” And Kylie did just that.

“It won't take long now,” Kylie said. “That was fast-acting. So which one of you also has diabetes, Missus Prontellis? You or your husband?”

“I do,” she confessed.

“I'd like to do a three-month test, both on you and your daughter, so I'll know what treatment you need,” Kylie declared.

“I'll get what you need to do the A1C tests,” Winters said, and then she left the room.

Nadrell approached Narella and clasped her hand. He also brushed her hair back.

“I'm sorry, sis. I didn't know.”

“You really are a legendary healer if you can cure the eating . . .”

“I can't cure it,” Kylie said. “But I can provide you medications and advice that will enable you to manage it and learn to live with it, if you obey me to the letter, rather than die with it.”

“So what's going on with my husband?” Lourdlyn asked.

“Thus far, it is not looking good,” Kylie told her. “There are a lot of further tests I need to do, but what I see in the preliminary studies are disconcerting.”

“How disconcerting?” Lourdlyn pressed. She pressed her fists onto Kylie's chest and closed in on her. “Tell me what you know! He's my husband. I have a right.”

“What I'm seeing so far is that is tau proteins have become defective,” Kylie stated.

“I don't understand,” Lourdlyn protested.

“It means that he is at far greater risk of developing debilitating mental diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease,” Kylie stated. “You get into this kind of problem because of repeated head injuries. The brain is full of soft tissue, to the point that it is almost fluid. It simply cannot take crashing into the skull, which violent head collisions cause.

“He also appears to have second impact syndrome, which means he got a second concussion before he had healed from the first one,” Kylie continued.

“So what can be done about it?” Lourdlyn asked.

“I can try to develop some regenerative medications as therapy,” Kylie said. “They'll be experimental and I cannot guarantee success. Again, do I have consent to do this?”

“What, precisely, do you mean?” Lourdlyn asked.

“That, if my drugs work, some of the damage will be undone as your husband's body repairs itself to a certain, limited degree. But he must avoid further head injuries or he'll be left worse than he started.”

“And how does he do that?” Nadrell asked angrily.

“He must give up the game,” Kylie replied sternly.

“This kind of thing causes behavior changes?” Lourdlyn asked.

“Quite easily, but . . .”

“I want my son checked, too!” Lourdlyn demanded.

“Mom!” he snapped, turning to her with a wild, enraged look in his eyes.

“Don't argue, Naddy! I insist that you be checked out.”

“Are you saying the game made Dad sick?” Nadrell barked furiously. “That's impossible!”

“The blows to the head made him sick,” Kylie said. “And if you play the game, they're especially dangerous to you.”

“How so?” Lourdlyn asked, while Winters replied with the supplies.

“Because the adolescent brain is still developing,” Winters replied. “Any head trauma can, theoretically, be catastrophic.”

“Fear not, Missus Prontellis. When I am done with your husband, he will be next,” Kylie promised. “I know this is a lot to take in right now. Quail, would you please bring her a cup of tea without sugar?”

“Sure,” Quail said. “Without sugar?”

“That's what I said,” Kylie directed. Quail nodded, and left the room. “There is quite a lot to cover, and I'm not going to overwhelm you. So for a start, let's concentrate on you and your wellbeing.”

“Why me? Why not my husband or my daughter?”

“Because your condition is tied to your daughter's, and a healthy wife can provide more support and succor to her ailing husband than an infirm one can,” Kylie stated. “May I check your blood sugar?”

“Young man, put that down!” Iris directed. “We do not throw things on this ship.”

“Damn!” snapped Nadrell. He threw a silver tray to the floor, only to have Iris already on her way to intercept it.

She caught it with her foot, while he stormed out of medical, kicking a door on his way out.

“Naddy!” Lourdlyn called out. “Get back here! You do not behave that way!”

“Shall I stop him before he wrecks the ship?” Iris asked.

“Watch him, but let him stew,” Kylie answered.

“That is unwise,” Iris said. “This experience has breached many of his most deeply loved illusions. He will not accept the possibility that he and his father are not invincible, that illness is a real thing, and that the game is not vital to their mutual manhoods.”

“Poisoned by his own culture,” Winters said with a sigh.

“I'll get him,” Lourdlyn said.

“You're needed here,” Kylie replied. “Let's get you better.”

“But my son . . .”

“Will be under Commander Iris' sightless watch,” Kylie said. Iris nodded and left the room.

 

 

Kylie was in the garden with Captain Falcon and Professor Winters, and both women held data pads.

“And I am telling you, Luigi,” Kylie argued, “that this man has concussive trauma that has led to severe brain damage.”

“I've reviewed her studies and I totally agree, Luigi,” Winters added.

“But how can we tell this man that his career is over if he wants to survive?” Falcon asked.

“As well as the son's,” Kylie added.

Falcon turned to her, looking at her with alarm. He rested his arm on a tree and crossed his legs.

“He's got it, too, doesn't he?” Falcon asked.

“Not as severe,” Kylie replied, “but yes, he's got it. Breshley is looking at a major medical crisis here. It's not just these two men.”

“What are we looking at here?” Falcon inquired. “Exactly?”

“It looks very, very close to the American problem of the football concussion disease,” Winters said.

“What do you expect me to do, ladies?” Falcon replied. “Call the Emperor of Breshley and beg him to cancel all the games now and forever? What if we worked up a spell to protect the players?”

“That won't help with the fans, Captain Falcon,” Moss answered. Nobody noticed that she had entered the room, and she had a huge stack of pages.

“Why aren't you on the control bridge?” Falcon asked.

“Shark's subbing for me,” Moss explained. “Sir, you have to see this. I've got hot stuff. Just take a gander at all this.” She passed pages off to each of the trio.

One by one, the three of them started to read it over.

“I've seen this before, just this morning!” Falcon exclaimed.

“You have?” Kylie asked.

“When Iris was giving me a lesson in psionics to foster my powers this morning,” Falcon said. “I can't believe what I saw really happened, but here it is in inkjet color.”

“It looks like news reports about the footbase games,” Winters said. “Very drastic reports. Player deaths are a constant element just from the sheer violence of the game alone. It looks like a kind of gladiator event disguised as a game.”

“More than drastic,” Falcon said. “These fans. They go even battier than soccer fans. They're not above killing a player who has displeased them. I heard this most horrendous laughter, jeering. Was it from the fans?”

“It's these increasing terrorism reports that worry me most,” Kylie added. “Look at this. Bombings, snipers, a kidnapped player.”

“It's getting more frequent,” Moss added, “and getting worse. Now, on page thirty-two, it's an incredible story that they barely even wanted printed, but a rogue journalist broke the story anyway. And on page forty-seven, there's a . . .”

“We get the picture,” Captain Falcon said.

“Not until you read page ninety-three,” Moss answered. “That one was so hot it actually burned me when I printed it out. Each of you got one.”

“I thought I felt my hands burning,” Winters joked.

“Hurricane,” Falcon said. “Call Ensign Quail in here. I want his perspective on this.”

“Sure,” Hurricane replied.

“Ladies, you need to go back to work,” Falcon said. “I'll read this stuff over.”

“I'd like to read it, too,” Kylie pleaded.

“When I'm finished, you'll get it,” Falcon told her. “In the meantime, you've got three patients and a health crisis.”

“And what do you intend to do?” Kylie pressed.

“I'm talking to Quail first, then I'm reading these,” Falcon stated. “After that, I'm going to decide what is best. I know, Kylie, you want to declare a health crisis . . .”

“I do, but I'm not the captain, Luigi,” Kylie replied. “I'll go along with what you command.”

And with that, she headed toward the door, only to have the door open before her. Quail stood there, and walked into the room, brushing past Kylie.

“Captain, you wanted something?” Falcon asked.

“I did,” Falcon answered. “How much do you know about footbase?”

“A lot,” Quail replied. “It's a real big thing in Breshleyite culture. I almost never missed a game. Few people do.”

“Did you know about the terrorist attacks?” Moss asked.

“The what?” Quail remarked, so Moss passed him her stack of papers. He looked at the top page for a moment.

“Quail, how badly would Breshleyites take it if the games were canceled?” Kylie asked.

“Canceled? But why would you do that?” Quail protested. “Kylie, you can't! Captain, please don't let her . . .”

“She won't,” Falcon promised, “but there is a problem. Two players have serious damage and the game seems to have a big violence problem, both on the field and with terrorism.”

“The two players we have aboard,” Quail answered at once. “That doesn't make the game tainted.”

“Quail, you're hiding something,” Kylie blurted out. “I want to know what you're not telling me.”

“She's right,” Falcon said. “I feel it, too. There was deception around that ship and I want to know who, or what, is responsible. I won't have trickery on my ship!”

“It's your patient, Kylie,” Quail replied. “Don't you know who he is?”

“I am concerned with his medical condition,” Kylie stated, “not his true identity. But you know it, don't you? So you might as well tell me, because the more I know about him, the better I can help.”

“All right,” Quail replied. “He's not just a player, Kylie, he's a superstar. He's a world-class athlete. Quite a career, and loads of money. What he's done to his opponents . . .”

“So that's why he's here,” Kylie said. “He knew Breshleyite doctors would never be objective to him. If he's so famous, they'd only release him and turn him back to the game.”

“As where here, he could get real care,” Winters answered.

“So what happens if the Breshleyites discover that he's here?” Moss asked.

“Explain to me every nuance of this game, Quail,” Falcon said. “Ladies, back to work.”

 

 

Kylie returned to the room where Karlizen Prontellis was resting. On a tray, she had a syringe and a large bottle of clear fluid, as well as a bowl full of herbs and plants and a cup of tea. But as she opened the door, she thought she heard a sniffle.

“I've brought you some medications I've come up with that might treat your illness. Are you all right?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied. “I am just having an allergy attack.”

Kylie put the tray down on his table and sat down beside him, giving him a quick checkup.

“What are you allergic to?” Kylie inquired. “Is it one of my herbal remedies or a basic flower allergy? Tell me what the symptoms are.”

At that point, she noticed that the only sign of allergies he had was a tear-stained face. She looked at him, and she touched his face, using her oracular powers.

“That's no allergy, luv, that's grief,” Kylie said. “What is it?”

“There was an explosion,” said Karlizen, “at the game where I was last played. In fact, there were several explosions. And one of them, Lourdlyn told me later when I awoke in the doctor's office facing my demerits, that my grandfather had been one of those killed in the blasts.”

“I'm sorry,” Kylie replied kindly. “There is lots of grief and sadness in you.”

“I'm sorry,” he stated. “I should not be such an emotional wimp.”

“Grief is a natural thing,” Kylie answered. “Now you finally feel it.”

“You mean it can hit like this?”

“Oh yes,” Kylie said. “Grief, especially when you're burying your pain and sorrow in a stoic mask, can break loose at any time. You can't repress this kind of emotion forever. Now it's coming out.”

“How do I stop it?” he asked.

“You're not going to stop it. It won't let you, not for long. So let it out,” Kylie advised.

“I can't!” he protested, his voice crumbling and his tears starting to flow again.

“You already are,” Kylie said. She took his hand and rubbed it sweetly, giving him all the emotional support she could.

“No, I can't,” Karlizen complained. “To the Bre-ayne, all emotions are forbidden except for lust and rage, and pride. It gives us strength . . .”

“That isn't strength, luv, that's mental illness,” Kylie said. “It's not like you're crying over spilled milk. Your grandfather died. If that doesn't give you an excuse to weep, what would?”

“But if I cry in public . . . even letting Lourdlyn see me is a disgrace among the Breshleyites.”

“I am not a Breshleyite,” Kylie countered. “I'm your doctor. You can tell me anything. In fact, the more honest you are with me, the better I can help you.”

“No,” Karlizen argued. “I'm going to beat this. So what is this stuff that you brought?”

“A combination of herbs,” Kylie said, “to increase reception to the liquid in the jar. The liquid is a chemical I've developed with regenerative properties. It may reverse some of the damage to your head.”

“Can't you use your magical powers to heal me?” he inquired.

“Afraid of my medicines?” Kylie asked with a slight chuckle, putting one hand on her hip.

“It's not that, it's just that . . .”

“Let me put it this way, luv,” Kylie suggested, “I can use my magic to heal you, or heal your son, since he's got the same disease you do but at a much less prevalent level. So do you want me to fully heal him or you?”

“Heal my son,” Karlizen said.

“That is what I hoped you'd say,” Kylie replied. “I have your consent to treat the boy? I'd appreciate it if I had your thumb print.” She removed a data pad and placed it before him.

He took it and read it, and saw that it was indeed a type of permission slip to treat his son. Just in case, she had a declination form for him on the same page. Naturally, he pressed his thumb onto the proper box.

“Thank you,” Kylie said. She put the data pad away again.

It was at that moment that Karlizen grabbed her hand, and sniffled, against his own willpower.

“I'm losing control!”

“I know,” she replied. “Let it go. I promise, you will feel worlds better getting in touch with it, especially under my guidance and protection.”

“You won't report me?” he pleaded.

“Hurricane, can you leave the room for a while?” Kylie asked. “I want no one here to witness this.”

“I'll make the room sound-proof,” Hurricane replied.

And as soon as they felt Hurricane's presence withdraw from the room, Karlizen broke down in tears. Kylie hugged him.

 

 

“So from what I've heard and seen, the game itself is a chaotic mess,” Falcon said as he and Quail came into the medical.

“Oh no,” Quail protested. “It's nothing of the kind, Captain Falcon! To us, er, them, it's a game that actually evolved from the battle tactics used in a crusade. One of our priests officiates at every game.”

“What does he do?” Falcon asked.

“He's the arbiter,” Quail explained. “His word is law. He's got a pair of flags to wave, and you'd better keep watch on his flags after every move. His white flag, the most frequently waved, approves what just happened. But every once in a great white, a black flag will be waved, and if it is, the game must stop. He then removes the offending player, and that's a great disgrace.”

“Why?” Falcon asked.

“Because the players are paid per game,” Quail said. “Iris told me that most people in the Bre-ayne, including chess professionals, are in a union. That's not allowed among the Breshleyites. The military makes all the choices that the emperor doesn't make. And each player gets a specified amount of money per game, with the promises of tremendous bonuses if he brings glory to his team.

“But a player who fumbles, who shows any injury from the beatings he gets from tackles, fights, or whatnot, basically a player who blunders in any way is docked ten percent of that pay.

“It's not rare to have players who owe money rather than make it.”

“Why does anyone play this game?” Falcon asked, disgusted with what he was hearing.

“Because if you get the play of the game, you're an instant millionaire,” Quail replied. “Our man has been a millionaire five times, especially in the start of his career.”

“So what's this I read in Moss' papers about fans killing players . . .”

“Oh, that,” Quail said. He dismissed it with a wave of his hand. “Those are just exaggerations. They don't really do that. Other players do that. The fans just seem to help by excoriating a bad player and distracting him so that someone else can clean up the field by removing . . .”

Falcon glared at Quail, and Quail himself could feel both Falcon's disapproval and his own revulsion at the concept that an unworthy player needed to be killed by a player and complicit fans. Quail shuddered and shook his head.

“Forgive me, Captain Falcon,” he implored. “A good game can take away your ability to think.”

“Losing yourself is only appropriate in meditation,” Falcon stated. “But I forgive you this time. You're still learning.

“I've noticed that there were a lot of kids involved in the game,” Falcon continued. “Tell me why that is.”

“Because kids have their own league,” Quail said, “and to be chosen for it is an honor all on its own. Every grade school has it, and every kid has been expected to play at least once. The league is a separate thing, for the kids who show promise.”

“But why is every kid expected to play at least once?” Falcon inquired.

“Easy,” Quail said. “Children players are ranked for future military service, and they get honors and demerits, which reflect either excellently or badly come recruitment time. An apex level of demerits equal the worst military assignments, as where the best players get a plethora of plum opportunities.”

“Let her do it, Naddy!” they heard Lourdlyn snap. Then they opened the door and entered the examination room.

There, they saw Nadrell on a bed, with Lourdlyn off to the side, holding a data pad, and Kylie before him with her hands at the ready.

And there was also a healthier Narella, who was drinking a cup of sugar-free coffee in a chair.

“What's going on here?” Falcon asked. When he saw Nadrell, just for a second, he saw a shadow over the boy, like a cloak of darkness.

“I don't need her help! I'm fine!” Nadrell barked. “Make her stop!”

“I have the father's consent to cast a full cure spell on the boy,” Kylie said.

“And the mother's,” Lourdlyn said, glaring at Nadrell.

“So what are you waiting for?” Falcon asked teasingly.

Kylie cracked her knuckles, placed her hands on Nadrell's forehead, and cast a powerful spell that sent green magic all over the room. She chanted in druidic and held the boy close to her chest. Once that was done, she stepped away and the green magic faded.

“Wow,” said Nadrell. “I feel terrific!”

“He is cleansed,” Kylie answered, though she was quite enervated. She fell to the floor, and Quail rushed right to her.

“Kylie?” he asked.

“I used a level ten spell,” Kylie explained.

“I was told there aren't any level ten spells,” Quail replied.

“There's a very small few,” Falcon answered, “but only someone like Kylie dare cast them.”

“And only in the rarest of occasions,” Kylie said.

“Most druids don't even know they exist,” Falcon continued, “nor would they need to.”

Quail brought Kylie over to a bed in a nearby room, and let her rest.

Nadrell rushed over to Kylie's bed with the biggest grin.

“That was amazing, lady! It felt like absolute pleasure coursing through my body. Do it again! Do it again!” he insisted.

“Don't pester Doctor Moriarty!” insisted Lourdlyn. She entered the room and pulled Nadrell away by the arm. “But I do want to thank you so much for giving us this insulin.”

“Read the paperwork I gave you,” Kylie said feebly. “It will explain everything a patient needs to know. Follow the dosing information. It's on the paper for both you and Narella.”

“Bless you, Doctor Moriarty,” Lourdlyn gushed. She dragged her son away and went over to Captain Falcon. “Sir, I don't know how to thank you. My whole family has been bettered. She's saved us all.”

“That's what she does, Missus Prontellis,” Falcon said. “Well, I came in here to check on everyone's progress, but with Kylie down . . .”

“Captain, my daughter and I are improving thanks to this wonderful insulin stuff,” said Lourdlyn.

“Yeah,” Narella said. “I haven't felt this good in ages! Even if I do have to poke myself several times a day.”

“That's great!” Quail exclaimed.

“And that spell,” Nadrell said. “I don't know what she did to me, but it was wonderful.”

“She removed all disease from your body,” Falcon answered him. “The big question is your husband. Did Kylie tell you how he's doing yet?”

“Yes,” Lourdlyn said. “She's started him on some experimental medicines designed to regenerate damaged brain tissue. The early results seem to say it's working, albeit very, very slowly.”

“So it looks like you're all on the mend,” Quail said.

“Indeed,” Lourdlyn replied gaily.

“Is there something to do?” Nadrell asked. “I'm bored.”

“Captain, there is a game upcoming in an hour,” Quail said. “It's the season for it.”

“And this impacts us how?” Falcon inquired.

“Sir, I would like to watch it,” Quail requested. “As I'm sure the boy and his family would.”

“Not me,” Lourdlyn said. “Kids?”

“Sure,” said Narella.

“You bet!” Nadrell exclaimed.

“Captain, please,” Quail beseeched.

“Moss won't let you use her computer just to watch a game, and I'm not giving you the scrying pool because I don't want to see it,” Falcon said. Then he sighed. “But if you want to use the shuttlecraft, you can watch it from there.”

“Thank you, Captain Falcon!” Quail said. He shook Falcon's hand, then fell at his feet and kissed his boots.

Falcon rolled his eyes, and sighed. At once, he had a strong intuitive sense that he had just made a very poor decision, but it was too late to go back on it now.

“Get up. I don't want you to genuflect,” Falcon insisted. So Quail stood up.

“Kids, let's go to the shuttlecraft,” Quail chirped excitedly.

“Thank you, Captain Falcon,” Nadrell said. He shook Falcon's hand, and for a moment, Falcon felt a strange sense of transference, but then it was gone.

So was the child, for Quail led the children out of the room, while Falcon went over to the communications panel in another part of medical.

“Hello,” Falcon said. “Falcon here.”

“Hi,” Moss replied. “What can I do for you?”

“Tell Salamander that Quail and the kids are going to the shuttlecraft,” Falcon said. “They won't be blasting off. Just watching the game.”

“Not that game!” Moss protested.

“Yes, Moss, that game,” Falcon said with resignation. “Just see to it my orders are relayed and performed.”

“All right,” Moss groused.

Kylie, Falcon asked telepathically, did you see what I see in the boy?

Yes, Luigi, Kylie replied. That's treachery you saw. I just don't know which parent he means to betray yet.

 

 

Quail waited with Nadrell and Narella, while Salamander watched the open door that led to the shuttlecraft. Salamander quickly turned his eyes back to the panel by the door, reviewing the oxygen-gravity bubble readings.

“Everything all right?” asked Quail excitedly.

“Oh yes,” Salamander said. “Except for you.”

“What does that mean?” Quail replied, with a touch of annoyance. He looked at Salamander crossly.

“There is an evil present in you,” Salamander answered. “While it's there in everyone, this game is drawing it out, drawing you in.”

“It's just a game,” argued Nadrell.

“It's never just a game,” Salamander retorted. “Any game can become dangerous if used in the wrong way.”

“We can't all shun fun because you don't know your limits, Douglas,” Quail rebutted.

Salamander shook, as if he were stricken to the quick. He took a deep breath, and returned to watching outside the door.

After a minute, Sequoia emerged from the shuttlecraft and walked back into the Wise Owl. She stepped to the side of the door, and gestured with her paws for the family to cross through it.

“The modifications are all in place and all media equipment passed the diagnostic testing,” Sequoia answered. “You'll still find Doctor Porpoise in there, tinkering.”

“Typical,” Quail mused. “If it exists, he tries to improve it.”

“You're a real fox!” Nadrell said to Sequoia. “The first beautiful woman I've seen on this ship. I'd tap you so hard . . . I'd love to get you into my bed and . . .”

“Nadrell!” Narella protested, while Sequoia turned to him, and blushed, then turned her face away.

Salamander detected her distress at once, and moved closer toward her.

“Don't you think you should ask if she wants you first?” Salamander interjected. “Which she wouldn't. Young man, we don't speak to our women that way.”

“Thank you, Corporal Salamander. I should get back to the control bridge,” Sequoia answered in a soft whisper. “Excuse me.” She walked around the Breshleyite siblings and Quail, and rushed down the hall. “Quail, come with me. Now, Ensign Quail!”

She walked to the end of the hallway, and Quail quietly followed her. He put his hands behind his back and watched her.

“I didn't like the boy's attitude, Bernard,” Sequoia informed Quail. “It was rude and uncalled for. Yes, I know, he's just a boy, but I've met dogs who are more civilized.”

Then why didn't you speak to him, Holly?”Quail argued back. “Let him know that you don't appreciate his juvenile attempt at hitting on you.”

“He'll listen to you, not to me. You tell him,”Sequoia countered.

“Like he listened to Salamander? It doesn't help you that you're too shy, and scared, to deal with a little boy,”Quail said. “If you want to be treated like an equal, you should fight like one.”

“Very well,” Sequoia said.

With that, Quail returned to the group. Then Quail took the kids by the hands, when Sequoia raced up from behind.

“Young man, we need to have a quick chat,” she said.

“Oh?” Nadrell asked, turning around. “We going to have ourselves a party, sexy?”

“You are a child and you are a guest, so I will be gentle,” Sequoia told him. “Breshleyites may have no respect for women, but I'm not a Breshleyite. I'm a Bre-ayne, and will be treated like one.”

“But you're not an orc . . .”

“Doesn't matter,” she said. “As a fellow druidess, as well as being born an islander, the orcs do not care. Different in body, but the same in spirit.

“And in that spirit, I am here to tell you that a woman wants to be treated with respect and tenderness. You don't just up and tell a woman that she's your sex object. Now, you can tell her that she's beautiful, but you'll get a lot further with kindness and respect than you ever will with an immediate invitation to, shall we say, hit the sheets. Remember that.

“You're not dealing with a body that exists to serve your needs. You are dealing with a fellow humanoid, with her own needs, her own dreams and ambitions.”

“And even her own tastes,” Narella added. “Just because you think she's your fantasy come true doesn't mean she thinks you're anything but a flea.”

“Very true,” Sequoia said.

“You're saying I have to ask a woman if I even want to compliment her?” Nadrell grumbled. “Get serious, lady! But if you'd close your mouth, we could . . .”

“That's enough,” Quail said. “I see your point, Holly. Come on, kids. We've got something to discuss on the way. Are we ready, Douglas?”

“More than,” Salamander said. “Enjoy the game, Bernard. Just leave whatever it does to you in the shuttlecraft.”

“How do you know he's so evil?” sneered Nadrell.

“Because I'm a paladin,” Salamander stated. “Detecting evil is the first thing we learn. Bernard Quail is not evil, but the game is, and it stirs up something in him that doesn't fit here.”

“Is he telling you to split?” Nadrell asked.

“No,” Quail said. “He's a gambling addict, so, except for chess, he can't play any games. So he wants to rob other people of the pleasure to escape his own temptation.”

They made it to the door,

Sequoia nodded to Quail gratefully, then she watched as he led the kids off. She felt Salamander put his hand on her paw, and she looked at him.

“There is something wrong with that boy,” Salamander announced. “A darkness. I'm not psychic, or even a caster, but . . .”

“No, I see it too,” Sequoia said. “We should talk to Kylie or Captain Falcon.”

“After I shut the door, that is,” Salamander corrected, watching as Quail and the children entered the shuttlecraft and shut its door.

He returned to the panel, and first ordered the Wise Owl's door to close, and then dissolved the bubble.

 

 

Quail and the children entered the shuttlecraft to find Doctor Porpoise monkeying around with the media operations computer. Part of it was removed from the rest save but for the multiple colored wires connecting it. This left all three of them in a state of minor shock, as each stood motionless with their jaws agape for several seconds.

“This is your shuttlecraft?” Nadeera asked when she finally recovered.

“Uh, well,” Quail stammered, still not there yet.

“This is a pile of junk!” Nadrell barked.

“Well, of course it is,” Doctor Porpoise told him excitedly, not bothering to look up from his screwdriver shenanigans. “But that's part of the fun.”

“Sequoia said that the shuttlecraft . . .” Quail began.

“I made more modifications when she left me,” Porpoise explained. “Just had to eke out that final bit of perfection for you.”

“Perfection?” Nadeera inquired.

“Why yes,” Doctor Porpoise said. He stepped over his own pile of rubble and led her to a new installation on the shuttlecraft.

It was a vertical scrying pool on the wall, and a rather large one. She did not understand at first, but then Porpoise returned to the media operations computer, and pressed several buttons. Suddenly, there was a picture on the pool that looked as clear as crystal and as sharp as real life.

“With a bit of rerouting and a little draining, and a piece of this and a part from that, I've created the ultimate visual experience,” Doctor Porpoise replied. “You'll feel like you're really there.”

“How real is this?” Quail asked as he and Nadrell gathered around and watched the screen.

“A spell from Moss, and you'd have a portal,” Doctor Porpoise said. “Of course, I don't know what would happen to you if you used it as a portal, but that might well be my next great invention.” He then cackled wildly like the gleeful mad techo-scientist he was.

“Sequoia wouldn't have helped you dismantle the shuttlecraft for this,” Quail answered. “Shark would, but not Sequoia.”

“I conjured up fish,” Doctor Porpoise stated. “She couldn't refuse me afterwards. Besides, it's not as if she actually did anything other than test out the shuttlecraft's functions. They all still work fine, mostly.

“Mostly?” Quail argued. “She said they were fine.”

“They were,” Porpoise confessed, “but after she left I just . . .”

“It's only been a minute or two!” Narella protested. Porpoise merely turned to her and shrugged.

“So fish is how to win her,” said Nadrell. “Mister Quail, you have to help me get her. She is so sexual. That is one puss . . .

“Oh yeah,” Quail interjected. “About that. The Bre-ayne don't talk about their women, our women, in the same lurid way most races do.”

“You mean you don't talk with the men about her?” Nadrell argued.

“No, since I have a partner,” Quail answered, “so I have no need for it. But yes, the men do talk about ladies, but never in such a disrespectful way. You see, to them, to us, to disrespect your partner aside from a brief lovers' quarrel, is to disrespect Hecate. She's our Mother Goddess. We just don't do it.”

“That's so boring!” Nadrell snapped.

“No, it sounds fair,” said Nadeera. “Do you ever talk about sex?”

“We do, but in a way that describes mutual pleasure between a married, or at least engaged, couple on equal terms. There is no sense of possession, and certainly no sense that women exist to be violated and deflowered. To even say deflowering among the Bre-ayne is a horrible thing.”

“Why is that?” Nadrell asked.

“Because they're all druids,” Doctor Porpoise stated. “To them, nothing is more importance than balance. They love the idea of equalization of energy. Breaching that balance in one place brings ruin to another. And you never violate another's free will.”

Porpoise picked up a screwdriver, and started to disassembled something else. He saw nothing wrong with looting it for parts to patch up what he had done to so much of the shuttlecraft.

“We Bre-ayne are not the perfect paradise you might think it,” Porpoise continued. “For one, they haven't abolished or exterminated evil. They still accept a form of evil among the druid tradition, provided that the evil abides by druidic tradition and rules.”

“Why wouldn't you eradicate all the evil in your world?” asked Nadrell.

“Yes,” Narella added. “How can you be good people if there are still evil ones among you?”

“Because evil is part of the balance,” Porpoise said. “We hate evil's behavior, but we need its input. They remind us that too much good turns evil in its own way.”

“Salamander thinks I should get rid of the evil within me . . .” Quail said.

“Well, he would, wouldn't he?” Porpoise asked. “He's a paladin, after all. Paladins are holy warriors committed to defending the weak and helpless, as well as the church. But a paladin cannot be a true druid, even if they are part of its church structure. You must maintain a measure of dispassion, of neutralized balance, that a disciplined, holy paladin can never know.

“Nor would a druid have the ability to truly reach the internal passion and drive a paladin would. They can be devoted to their faith, truly love Hecate, or be absolutely fascinated by magic. So yes, there is a passion and drive among druids, but with paladins, it's to something. Druids don't feel the passion to something. They feel it with something. To completely meld with and unite with Great Dame Nature, to lose yourself and all that you are in this great communion, is the highest state for a druid.

“A paladin would never do that,” Porpoise finished.

“How can you look at them both so objectively?” Quail asked.

“Because I am neither,” Porpoise stated. “I believe in druidism as a religion, and in Hecate as my queen, of course, but I am a wizard with some training as a rogue. To me, knowledge is the greatest prize, not communion nor crusading.

“Druid, wizard, what's the difference, you would ask? Easy. Druids and clerics cast what is generally considered white, or divine, magic, while wizards and sorcerers cast black, or what you'd call, arcane magic. Bards can go either way, depending on their preference. Now, druids use the kind of magic you think of when someone mentions witches. That is, they use herbs and cauldrons, they work spells with hair and other forms of sympathetic magic. Making potions and brews, herbal infusions and, as Kylie loves to do, herbalism and remedies. Druidic magic is a cooperative art, taught my mothers and grandmothers and handed down generation by generation.

“Wizards, in contrast, use books, scrolls, and rigid academic scholarship, in a highly competitive atmosphere. Rather than deep wisdom and greatness of soul, one must develop their intellect and learn how to reason things out. Study and research. Our spells are drawn from memorizing them, which is something druids don't generally have to do.

“On the other hand, we can also learn from other people by watching people cast spells around us, but only if we're really adept at wizardry. Druids don't do that. So getting into a magic battle with a wizard could easily mean that some of your spells can be cast back against you, though probably less effectively.”

“Is that why you're a wizard?” Nadeera asked.

“Oh no,” Porpoise said with a laugh. “Druids detest technology unless it is scientific or medical. I am too much of a rogue for that, so I'm in love with machinery. As a wizard, I can make constructs and automatons, and of course, starships. As a druid, I never could. So I like the freedom, even if it does make me a bit of a loner among the crew.”

“In some way, we're all loners,” Quail said. “Sequoia's not an orc, nor is Salamander. Moss is a lesbian, and Winters used to be a man. I'm new to the race, my Svetlana is blind, Kylie's a law unto herself . . .”

“The difference is that druids accept all natural things,” Porpoise said. “None of what you've said is an affront to us. It is only unnatural things, such as the unrepentant undead, that druids loathe.”

Nadrell went to the media operations computer. He looked at it, and mulled it over.

“Is this your communications system?” he asked.

“Yes,” Porpoise said. “Curious about it?”

“How does it work?” Nadrell inquired. “I just want to call a friend.”

“Well, I guess there's no problem there,” Porpoise answered. He showed him how to send a message, but then he noticed a signal arriving. “Oh my, let me sit here, child. Something's coming in.”

Nadrell left the seat, and Porpoise took over. Then he accepted the transmission.

“It's your game,” Porpoise said. “They're starting it. I'd better go. Enjoy everything.”

He then saluted Quail, and left the shuttlecraft, leaving them alone.

Nadrell returned to the chair, while Quail and Nadeera found other seating, and watched the show begin.

 

 

Kylie was in her office, reviewing the information she was getting back on her computer.

“Knock knock,” Professor Winters said, rapping on the door of Kylie's office. “How is everything going in here?”

“So far it's looking good,” Kylie stated. “The regenerative therapy is working. It's working at a glacial pace, and he's going to need a dose at least once per day, but thus far, I'd say he's on the mend. Of course, it is too early to make a full . . .”

“What is it?” Winters asked. “Kylie?”

Kylie looked away from her computer and off in the distance. She was distracted and removed from the world, mentally.

Winters had long seen this before, and approached Kylie, but she wisely did not touch her.

“What is it, Kylie?” she asked. “Tell me what you see.”

Then Winters placed her hands on Kylie's desk, looking at her. She paid her rapt attention.

“There is fire,” Kylie announced, still distracted. “Lots of fire. Death.” Suddenly, Kylie reached out and touched Winters on the shoulder, surprising her.

And then Winters saw what Kylie saw.

Winters saw herself in a stadium. There was a very violent game being placed. She recognized the baseball aspects, but it was bastardized by a fusion with another game. And there were a lot of people playing, with even more people watching.

“What horror,” Winters remarked. She physically recoiled as she saw a man batter an opponent just because he wanted to, and nobody complained about his conduct.

There were plenty of complaints about the victimized player, however. The crowd in the stands rose up and verbally excoriated him, laughing at him and mocking him.

“Do you see?” Kylie asked Winters, suddenly manifesting in a place on the field far away from the rest of the players.

Winters ran straight to her, stopping every few seconds to witness increasing acts of brutality.

“This is what the Breshleyites want to see?” Winters complained. “This is what they love?”

“Something is wrong,” Kylie warned. “Stay with me. And do not be drawn in by the mockery that bolsters the damage driving this attack.”

Winters joined her, and Kylie immediately cast her viridian shield spell, sheltering them both. At that moment, Winters could hear the mocking laughter amplified. Not only was it coming from most of the fans in the stadium, and other players, too, but it was also coming from the echoes of the laughter of people who were not there. Some were still living, some were dead, but Winters intuitively knew that it was all from previous games. Someone had not pleased the fans, and they were letting him know it.

Then Kylie pointed to the stands on the right side, and Winters soon discovered that she was pointing to a man. He seemed nondescript, but Winters was too good of a biologist to fall for it. His behavior was strangely agitated and tense, and there was a bit of delirium in his manner.

She turned to Kylie, but Kylie was doing math in her head.

“No doubt calculating what he's up to and how long it will take,” she said.

“Forty-two seconds, given his reaction time,” Kylie replied. “I can try to slow him, but that will only buy you time to fetch security.”

Winters blinked, and she took a deeper look. This man was holding a device that Winters immediately recognized, being the experienced scientist she was.

That's an incendiary device! Winters thought.

“He's got a bomb!” she cried out. “Kylie, stop him!”

“I cannot,” Kylie told her. “My magic is too drained today because of the spell I cast on the boy.”

“I'll call Captain Falcon and we'll cast an emergency cooperative spell . . .”

“Too late,” Kylie warned.

“Then slow him!” Winters said. She ran from Kylie, searching for any security guards or Breshleyite soldiers she could find. Winters noticed that Kylie allowed her viridian shield aura to remain on her, while Kylie herself was unprotected.

“I can stop the voices that you hear,” Kylie said. “Let me in and I can shelter you. Listen to me! Do not hear their derision. I can silence it, if you just but listen to me. Focus on me.”

Kylie stayed where she was, but turned her eyes and body toward the man.

Though the laughing voices weakened a bit, Winters did not dare to stop and look to see if she was succeeding or not. Instead, she just rushed to the nearest Breshleyite military officer she could.

“Hey!” Winters said. She grabbed hold of the man by the clothes. “Look at him! He's got a bomb! Stop the game. Stop him! Do something!”

The soldier looked at the man as she pointed him out desperately. Then the jeering returned, even fiercer than before.

“Ah!” Kylie screamed. Winters turned back and saw Kylie forcefully thrown into a wall.

“Kylie!” Winters shouted.

“Get out now before it's too late!” Kylie beseeched, then she disappeared into the grass.

“Oh no,” Winters said.

Boom!

Four bombs exploded, one in each of the four corners of the stadium. Winters' soldier was killed in the blast, and she would have been too if she had not still been protected by Kylie's viridian shield spell, which reflected the force and the fire back. It also reflected back, to the relief of the people trapped above her, the collapsing part of the building that was within the aura's force.

Winters slowly backed away, allowing the protective shield to let these people come down safely like an elevator. But everyone else was dead.

Once the people she could save were down, Winters spun around to get a look at all the devastation and loss. It overwhelmed her. And she found herself right back at Kylie's desk in her office.

“Kylie?” Winters asked. “That was a vision.”

“And a fact,” Kylie replied.

Winters took stock of the situation. She saw that Kylie had left her office and was crackling her knuckles.

“Have the shuttlecraft prepared,” Kylie ordered. “I'm going to be needed, only I can't go, so I'm sending me. At least, I'm sending all my skills.”

“What are you talking about?” Winters asked.

“Stay in my office until I'm done,” Kylie directed. Drawing not on her magical powers, but on her power over plants from Project Hercules, Kylie twirled her hands and filled the room with green energy.

Winters watched as sixty-seven human-sized trees formed. Kylie also took the precaution of ensuring that two of their branches had a crude but effective sort of hands.

“Remember to give them opposable thumbs,” Winters advised.

“Naturally,” Kylie said. And she did just that, as well as faces. “How like a biologist. My spells will be completely depleted for the remainder of the day and much of tomorrow, but I must.”

Exhausting all her remaining magic, not to mention herself, Kylie cast a powerful spell over the trees.

“Awaken with my intellect. You know every bit of nursing I know. And you can practice every bit of nursing I can. The language of the druids, English, draconic, orcish, elvish, celestial, infernal, and the tongues of the four elements are all as familiar to you as they are to me.

“Be part of me, yet apart from me. You're not just smart, but empowered too. I now cast empowered awaken on you!”

Kylie passed out, but the trees, one by one, transformed into treants. Not only did they gain intelligence, but because the spell was empowered, they gained incredible intelligence.

The treants looked around, not sure what Kylie intended. They turned to her and looked at her, then at Winters.

“Of course,” Winters said. “I will lead you to the shuttlecraft. You're going to a terrorist event because they're going to need you. That is what she created you for.”

“As you wish,” the plants respond, “since you act in her stead.”

Winters smiled.

Captain, you're never going to believe this, Winters telepathically said.

 

 

Meanwhile, Commander Iris rushed through the hallway. She stopped when she got to the door that led back to the exit.

“Hurricane, I need your help,” Iris said fretfully. “Open the door!”

“What are you doing? This isn't like you,” Hurricane replied.

“Bernard is in danger. I can sense his fear growing,” Iris rebutted. “And those children, too. I need to get there.”

“Very well, but I'll have to inform Captain Falcon,” Hurricane said. She ascertained that everything was safe, then opened the door for Iris.

“Thank you, Hurricane,” Iris said when she heard the door open. She pressed on through and rushed toward the shuttlecraft.

Once she reached it, she pressed the proper keys on the side panel and opened it. This came as a surprise to Quail and the two children, and to Doctor Porpoise.

“Svetlana,” Quail said. “Come here and join us. Happy to have you here.”

She was surprised when she entered the room.

“The emotions now do not match the emotions I . . .” Iris wondered. “Oh no. Something horrible is coming. I can see the face of Lord Death himself. And I hear these voices.”

“She's gone batty,” Nadrell said.

“I heard that!” Iris rebuked.

She began to wander the room, and since she did not know about Porpoise's work, she tripped and fell before the scrying pool.

“Ah!” she cried out.

“Svetlana!” Quail said, rushing toward her.

“Iris,” Porpoise added, joining him. Together, they put their arms on her and started to lift her up.

“Bernard!” Iris shrieked suddenly.

Boom!

“Ah!” Nadeera screeched, covering her face.

“What the . . .” Nadrell said.

Quail and Porpoise looked at the scrying pool and saw the four bombs going off.

“It's a massacre!” Quail remarked.

“A slaughter,” Porpoise added.

“All those souls dead,” Iris said. “Yet there's Kylie, too.”

“I can see that,” Quail answered. “Some ghostly thing that looks kind of like Georgeanne Winters is using what looks like Kylie's viridian shield aura to control how badly one section falls.”

“She's a hero,” Iris added.

“But not much help to the other victims,” Porpoise said. He saw that it would not take much for the stadium's stands to collapse completely. “Don't look, children!”

The children did not turn away, but he did, as the stands crumbled and the screaming audience died. And at that moment, as it was done, Nadeera began screaming and rocking and she never stopped.

“I was wrong,” Iris said. “The fear is now, but you weren't in danger.”

“Are you sure?” asked Nadrell. He pointed to Nadeera.

Porpoise rushed to the media operations computer and made use of it.

“Control bridge, this is the shuttlecraft,” he said. “Emergency.”

 

 

Meanwhile, back on the control bridge, Moss was working at the media operations computer, still collecting data on this hideous game. Then she saw that a message was coming in.

“Hello,” Moss said, “this is the Wise Owl. Go right ahead.”

“This is the Emperor of Breshley speaking. I want to talk to your commanding officer, and I want to do it now!” the emperor declared furiously.

“Captain, it's for you,” Moss said.

Captain Falcon left his command chair and went to the media operations computer. Moss stayed by his side.

“This is Captain Falcon,” he replied.

“And this is the Emperor of Breshley speaking! I believe that you have a stowaway on board.”

“A stowaway?” Falcon asked. “I don't understand.”

“Oh, of course,” the emperor answered. “He didn't tell you who he was, did he? You have one of the most important men in my empire on your ship.”

“We do?” Falcon asked, taking the most innocent of tones. Moss smiled when she saw him attempt his ruse. “Whoever do you mean? Not Kylie's patient.”

“The very man,” the emperor replied. “He's run away from his squadron without proper leave. I'm sure you'll understand what a bad idea it is to harbor fugitives. But since I'm also aware that you're new to this world, and don't understand everything you need to about Breshleyites . . .”

“Sir, you know Kylie won't release him until she's cleared him. That's just who she is. I daren't cross her,” Falcon said. “But I will allow you to bring some officers aboard to, shall we say, secure him.”

“And a doctor? Just to be sure Kylie's diagnosis is correct,” the emperor included. “I'm afraid I must insist on this point.”

“What harm is a second doctor aboard?” Falcon acquiesced. “Bring what you want to.”

“Excellent, and I'm so sorry that he lied to you,” the emperor replied. “But honestly, you people are too sympathetic. You should get tougher.”

“But why should we, when we have such a great emperor like you to keep everyone safe?” Falcon mused.

“I like that answer,” the emperor stated. “Breshley out.”

Falcon gave Moss a gesture that called for severing the link, and she complied.

“It's off,” Moss answered.

“Now then,” Falcon said. He stepped away from Moss, then returned to her with his nostrils flaring. “He's right about me getting tougher. It seems we have an information leak, and I won't sanction it one iota!”

Salamander, Moss, Sequoia, and Shark all turned to him, with absolute dismay. Shark even put down the cup of coffee he was drinking.

Falcon had all their eyes, and he knew it, but he was concerned only with Moss. Immediately, he leaned into her face, making her nervous as he violated her personal space.

“Captain, I . . .” Moss stammered, trying to back away. “Excuse me, but I . . .”

“Be quiet, Zelda!” Falcon commanded. She felt a strange jolt in her soul, like a minor shock, and it made her shiver.

At the same time, Falcon felt a sense that a bit of wild energy, directed at Moss, had left his soul.

“Captain, you're scaring her!” Shark protested.

“Sir, what is this about?” Salamander added.

“How did the Emperor of Breshley know that Mister Prontellis was aboard this ship?” Falcon asked Moss sternly. He found himself searching for an entrance into her mind, without even realizing he was doing it. “Don't try to argue, Zelda. No other computer can transmit to anywhere except your computer. Only the media operations post, your computer, can broadcast anything!”

She sensed his feebly unfocused but mentally powerful attempt at intrusion.

What do you think you're doing? Moss thought to herself, using her willpower to block and defeat his efforts to penetrate into her mind until he stopped.

“That will be quite enough, Luigi!” Moss barked back. She spun around in the chair, and then stood up. “Do you actually think I don't understand how important it is not to go blabbing, especially not to the Emperor of Breshley? You think I'm incompetent at this job, then you can just say so, and you can just shove it!” She walked away from the computer, throwing her hands up.

“Moss, you get back here!” Falcon ordered, sending out another invisible mental jolt at her.

“Never!” Moss fired back verbally, quivering again from the bolt. Fearing a psionic duel, she then walked over to Salamander for a sense of protection. “You know, it's bloody insulting to me that you think I'd leak information like that.”

“Well who else could it possibly have been?” Falcon argued. “No one else has access.”

“Maybe it was Shark,” Salamander suggested. “Or Quail?”

“Shark doesn't know, or at least he isn't supposed to,” Falcon rebutted. “And has Quail even been at the media operations computer all day long? Well, has he?”

“No,” Salamander said.

“There, you see,” Falcon replied. “So it had to be you, Moss. Besides, you were the one who did the research, and you were there when Quail began to tell me . . .”

“I remind you that I am still a mere sergeant,” Moss countered, “by my own choice. If you say one more word to me that isn't tied to an apology, you will have my resignation. Effective immediately.”

“At this point, I don't know if it's that great of a loss,” Falcon countered, while Moss crossed her arms.

“Luigi, this anger isn't like you,” Shark said.

“Stay out of this, Carmine!” Falcon directed, and now it was Shark who was the victim of his unintentional energy jolts.

“No, I won't!” Shark countered, earning Falcon's glare. “I've seen this before. You've overdone it in your psychic training. It's left you both too sensitive to impressions, and just plain exhausted. Not to mention that you're acting like an uncontrolled wild talent. Close your mind and cool it, and I mean it!”

“Shark, mind your place!” Falcon snapped. Before Shark knew it, his cup of coffee overturned.

Sequoia, Salamander, and Moss gasped. Shark turned to the coffee, then to Falcon, with a look of contempt. Falcon took a deep breath and put his hand on his mouth.

“Did I cause that?” Falcon asked. “I'm sorry. What's happening to me?”

“Hurricane, we need Kylie,” Sequoia beseeched.

“No, at the moment, Holly, you need me,” Hurricane countered. “Back off, Luigi. You have no right.”

“I am in command of this ship and I will have order and decent behavior!” Falcon dictated.

“Then try showing same,” Hurricane retorted. “Remember that I am the soul of the computer. I know what I've been used to do. Instead of throwing wild accusations and recriminating a good, if chaotic, crewwoman, why didn't you just ask me?”

Lights and all sorts of information spread out on the computer's monitors. Falcon looked at it, which Hurricane allowed, but she was done with it far before he was.

“There have been plenty of broadcasts from the media operations post today,” Hurricane said, “but they've all been inside the ship. Moss may be a gossip among her shipmates, but there have been only a four external broadcasts.”

“Who were they directed to?” Falcon asked. “Who authorized them?”

“You ordered three and the fourth order came from Kylie,” Moss said.

“Correct,” Hurricane stated. “But there is a question of a download in progress.”

“What kind of download?” Falcon asked.

Hurricane displayed the video for Falcon on the small scrying pool at the media operations computer. It proved to be nothing but a collage of adorable cub and kitten videos.

“This job is so high-stress that I wanted something cute and precious to watch on my data pad on my lunch break,” Moss said. “I still don't see what's so wrong with it.”

“Nothing,” Falcon stated. “I apologize, Moss. Hurricane, was there any other way to send a message? Has Porpoise or Quail . . .”

“No other system aboard is able to send messages to anything but the media operations computer itself,” Hurricane answered.

“The shuttlecraft can,” Moss contributed. “If it sent something out, I'd never know it.”

“And wouldn't be involved,” Shark added. “She'd be blameless if someone else sent the message from there.”

“But someone would have to be . . . Quail,” Falcon remarked with anger. “Moss, I'm so sorry. I don't know what to say.”

“Why are you doing this, anyway?” Sequoia asked. “You're not yourself.”

“No, I'm not,” Falcon answered. “Something's wrong. It's agitating me, wearing me out.”

“Hell yeah,” Moss said. “And making you leak psionic energy. You zapped me. You actually zapped me! I'm so angry with you that I just want to . . . I am a Bre-ayne, however.” Moss took a deep, cleansing breath. “I will meditate and seek communion. But you're going to have to get yourself a new media operations officer for a day or two.”

“Captain, what is it?” Shark asked, daring to walk over to Falcon. “What are your insanely frantic gifts telling you?”

“A strange feeling,” Falcon said. “An intrusive thought that won't go away. Disaster is coming, and it's coming fast. No! No!” Falcon hunched and fell to his knees, though Shark caught him in time to stop him from crashing to the floor.

“Close your mind,” Shark said.

“I will help him,” Hurricane asserted.

Falcon felt her presence as she guided him in esoteric mental closure. It was easy for Hurricane to do this, since she was a spirit as where Shark was a living being.

At once, the computer alerted Falcon to an incoming message. He escaped from Shark's grasp and began to work the computer, but Moss rushed over to it.

“Step aside,” she said. “This is how I do it.”

“Are we good?” Falcon asked her.

“Hardly,” Moss countered, “but this is too important to be left to a boss.” She answered the call properly. “This is the Wise Owl. Go ahead.” Several more calls flooded the switchboard, so she returned to the chair and began to answer them.

“What's happening?” Falcon asked.

“Another bombing at a game,” Moss said. “Just a few seconds ago. Yes, I read you, Doctor Porpoise. It's Porpoise, calling from the shuttlecraft.”

“I need to talk to him,” Falcon said, so Moss made that possible. “Porpoise, Felix, listen. Were any broadcasts sent from the shuttlecraft aside from what you're doing now?”

“I, uh, I don't know,” Porpoise confessed. “Wait, yes. The little boy sent a message to a friend of his.”

The treachery, Falcon realized. He's the one.

“Forgive me, Moss. Transmit the coordinates to Moss, please,” Falcon said. Then he looked at her. “Moss, what can I do?”

“We'll talk tonight. This is a crisis,” Moss said, though she was still fuming.

“I can get Shark,” Falcon said.

“Get Shark here now and you really will have a problem,” Moss whispered to Falcon. “Got it. Thanks, Felix.”

“Where do those coordinates lead?” Falcon asked.

“Will navigation help?” Shark offered.

“Not yet, we'll see,” Falcon said, while Moss made a mock version of the call signal.

“Sir, these coordinates lead to a private receiver,” Moss said.

“If he said he's calling a friend, that's not surprising,” Falcon replied.

“It is,” Moss countered, “if that receiver isn't some little boy or classmate but the manager of an athletic team for adults.”

“He tipped his manager off about his own father,” Falcon said with disgust.

“So it would appear,” Moss replied.

Captain, you're never going to believe this, Winters telepathically said, catching Falcon off his guard.

At this moment, Winters, I'd believe anything, Falcon said. There's been another terrorist attack at a game, only just moments ago.

We know, Winters said. Kylie wants to use the shuttlecraft, which means we'll need a pilot.

For what?

She's made a bunch of treants, Luigi, and then she used her last magical energy for the day to awaken them. Each of them was infused with her nursing knowledge, so I assume her intent was to ship them to the epicenter and have them assist the medical efforts.

As usual, ten steps ahead of the game, Falcon replied. Get them going.

“Moss, now I do want you to call the Emperor of Breshley,” Falcon directed.

“What?” she asked.

“And get everybody out of that shuttlecraft except for . . . you,” Falcon said. “Sequoia, take over media operations. You, Moss, get to pilot the shuttlecraft.”

“May I take Shark?” she requested.

“No problem,” Falcon replied. “Shark, go with Moss when she's ready and remember, this time she's in charge.”

“Yes, Captain Falcon,” Shark said.

Sequoia, meanwhile, put the ship on full stop and then went over to Moss.

“Captain, we're on full stop until you decide on a relief helmsman,” Sequoia stated. “Porpoise or Quail, or Kylie can all drive this ship in my stead.”

“I want Quail, Porpoise, and that boy up here,” Falcon insisted.

“What do you mean you've put it in a state of disrepair?” Moss asked. “Are you the fixer or the breaker, Felix?” She rolled her eyes and sighed. “Thank goodness I've got a full compliment of spells to undo whatever you've done today.”

 

 

Falcon, Shark, Quail, and the two children waited outside of the shuttlecraft, while Salamander waited at the door back inside the Wise Owl.

There was a stream of mauve magic that swirled in and around the shuttlecraft, and then it faded away. A dejected Doctor Porpoise walked out of the shuttlecraft and down to face a glaring Captain Falcon.

“Sir, I had to . . .” Porpoise pleaded.

“Did it even cross your mind to ask me for permission before you did this, Felix?” Falcon argued. “You virtually ruined the shuttlecraft, all for the sake of a game! A stupid game! I want to discuss this with you in the hall. And don't any of you go anywhere, except for Shark. I want to have a nice, long talk with both you, Quail, and with the boy.”

“What's he going to do?” Nadrell asked.

“I don't know,” Quail replied.

Falcon led Porpoise back into the hall, then Falcon gestured to Salamander. Salamander was surprised, but he nodded and went outside with Quail and the children.

Meanwhile, Shark went inside the shuttlecraft. Though everything still had a mauve glow to it, the shuttlecraft looked like its typical self.

“Can you believe the number he did on this thing?” Shark asked. “Now Luigi's going to do a number on him.”

“This can't go on,” Moss said while she checked the helm computer. “His temper has been going out of control for days. It's not like him.”

“What are you going to do?” Shark asked. “Porpoise actually did something seriously wrong. You didn't.”

“I understand why Felix did it,” Moss said. “He gets so excited when it comes to inventing. But he really breached the rules. Falcon should have authorized this.”

“Sequoia is right,” Shark answered. “We do need Kylie.” He went to the media operations computer, and did a little bit of tinkering of his own with a little spell to allow the shuttlecraft to send and receive messages to the rest of the Wise Owl. “Medical, this is Lieutenant Shark. Kylie, are you there?”

“I am,” Kylie said, groggily.

“Say, Kylie, I think Falcon needs you,” Shark replied.

“What for?” Kylie asked. “Didn't he like my treants?”

“Your what?” Shark asked.

“If the treants are not the problem, what is?” Kylie asked.

“Luigi's temper,” Shark said.

“He's losing it, Kylie,” Moss added. “He'd already gone off on me and now he's verbally slaughtering Felix.”

“Why?” Kylie asked.

“Because he all but tore the shuttlecraft apart to make a perfect scrying pool,” Shark said.

“I am not going to intervene in this,” Kylie proclaimed. “I will speak with Luigi later, and alone. Now enough of this subterfuge. Break this spell now, Carmine.”

“No, Kylie,” Shark said.

“No?” she scoffed.

“It's more than that,” Shark stated.

“Luigi is leaking psychic energy,” Moss said. “And it's acting very destructively. He actually hurt us, Kylie, though not much. Yet.”

“He's losing it, Kylie,” Shark warned. “It's just a matter of time.”

“Very well,” Kylie replied. “I will come down. But if I find you two have overstated the fact, I will be highly displeased. Now break this spell.”

“All right,” Shark said glumly. He hung his head and sighed heavily.

Moss blinked.

“At least she's coming, but I am flabbergasted that she reacted like that,” Moss said. “She never fails to come when she's called.”

Shark did not respond to Moss. Instead, he turned to the computer and canceled his own spell. Now media operations was the only part of the Wise Owl that the shuttlecraft could contact, just like everything else.

“Wait a second?” Moss asked. She spread out her arms, and left the shuttlecraft.

“Zelda?”

“Do you hear that, Carmine?” she added.

Shark followed Moss outside, and they could both hear a large thudding noise coming increasingly close, and increasingly louder.

“Ah!” screamed Nadeera, who immediately hid behind Quail. She pointed, with her teeth chattering, as she held on to his shoulder. “My word, Mister Quail. What are those?”

“I don't know,” Quail said.

“They're blastable!” Nadrell barked, looking for a laser gun.

“No!” Shark cried out. He and Moss ran toward the trio. “They are treants. Walking plants.”

“Kylie made them,” Moss added.

“They're hideous!” Nadrell snapped.

“No, they are beautiful,” Salamander mused, awed by the sight of them.

“How can she do that?” Nadeera asked, ceasing her anxiety a bit.

“Why did she do it?” Quail joined in.

“She always has a reason,” Salamander added. “What she doesn't have is any inclination to explain herself to we mere mortals.”

 

 

“And another thing!” Falcon shouted to a huddling Porpoise, who was cowering in the corner as a powerful storm composed of ectoplasm swirled around him. He was also strongly wishing he was a druid now so he could wild shape into a turtle and hide in the shell. “I hereby command you to report to me if you so much as change anything on this ship! Or on the shuttlecraft! Your job here is to fix things. Invent on your own time, with your own things!”

“I'm sorry,” Porpoise pleaded, rocking back and forth. His mind had been breached by a psychic attack that induced paralyzing fear in him.

“Captain!” Winters exclaimed.

Falcon turned around to see her, and at once noticed that she was with sixty-seven treants as well. He gasped.

“I know they would be treants, but not this many,” Falcon said. The distraction stopped the ectoplasm storm, so the goo dropped from the sky and fell all over the floor and the carpet.

“What are you doing?” Winters argued. She ran to Porpoise's side and knelt beside him, comforting him. “You are scaring him!”

“Winters, too many things are going on around here without my knowledge, or permission,” Falcon replied. “Have you got any idea what he did to the shuttlecraft?”

“Winters!” Moss called out, then she ran to the door. “Kylie's coming to check him out. He's been quite bent out of shape of late.”

“Moss!” Falcon snapped.

He was about to yell at her, but then he gave her a second glance. The tirade he had put her through for nothing flashed back through his mind. At once, his fury turned to shame, and he exhaled.

“I'm sorry, Felix,” Falcon said.

He came over to the cowering Porpoise, who looked at him with anguished eyes. Winters continued sitting there, ready to protect Porpoise if she felt it warranted.

“For the next twenty-four hours, you are the new media operations officer,” Falcon announced to Porpoise. “There will be no modifications, and no inventing. Hurricane, if he does anything outside of the normal course of work at the post, I want informed at once.

“Well, get going, Felix. I want Sequoia back on helm. And twenty-four hours means twenty-four hours. Even if we're in the pocket, you're still on duty. Plus you will always ask me first if you want to putter around on anything.

“Now go on. The clock doesn't start until you're actually sitting at the computer.”

“Yes, Captain Falcon,” Porpoise replied, barely able to speak the words. “Forgive me.”

Falcon nodded, and Porpoise stood up with Falcon and Winters' aid. Then Porpoise silently apologized to the treants, and they made space for him to leave.

It was that this point that he saw Kylie. At once, she marked his horrified face and sensed the mortal dread within his mind.

“Felix?” she asked.

He was too afraid to say anything to her, so he tried to fake a sheepish smile as he scurried to the control bridge. Kylie reached out for him, but stopped herself and dropped her hand as she recalled that her magic was spent for the day.

“Sir, what about us?” Quail asked.

“You return to quarters until I decide what to do with you,” Falcon said. “After you've cleaned up this ectoplasm, that is. And you, little boy, are to wait with your mother.”

“Can I see that beautiful kitty again first?” he asked.

“No,” Falcon directed. “You're coming with us to have a nice, long talk with your parents. Winters, I know what's wrong. Even with closing my mind, something's coming in anyway. It's like a building pressure, and I can't stop it!”

“Did you put the fear into Doctor Porpoise?” Kylie replied, surprising everyone.

“I don't know,” Falcon said.

“This ectoplasm didn't didn't get here all by itself,” Winters argued.

“And Moss says you hurt her,” Kylie said. “Did you?”

“I don't know,” Falcon replied. “When I was so livid with her, I felt an energy leave me and she reacted a mere microsecond later . . .”

“He hurt me,” Moss said. “One zap, and then another. And he did it to Shark, too.”

“You're getting a medical exam, now!” Kylie directed.

“Can we help?” asked a treant.

“It would be nice to have a nurse to aid me, but no thank you. Please do get in that shuttlecraft,” Kylie insisted, “because all of you were created to assist the doctors in treating the terrorism attack victims at the stadium. That's where you're going.”

“Oh, I see,” Moss said. “Now this trip all makes sense.” Moss gestured to the shuttlecraft, and all of the treants left the hallway, and all of them except for a single one walked into the shuttlecraft.

The one stopped in the middle of the way, stepped to the side, and let the others pass him.

“Amazing,” whispered Narella. Now that she had seen the treants up close, she was no longer afraid, but in awe. “They're beautiful.”

“Only if they burn,” Nadrell groused. Moss quickly cast a little spark spell on his pants, creating a tiny little fire that could lead to only a mild bit of pain and no other harm. “Ouch!” he shouted, then he beat the fire out.

“Oopsie,” Moss said, giving him a sheepish grin. Then she and Shark turned their backs on him and returned to the shuttlecraft with huge grins on their faces.

Once the door was closed, the two of them chuckled together for a few seconds over what Moss did.

The sole remaining treant took a quick look at Nadrell where he had been burned.

“Very lucky child,” he said to him, while Nadrell glared at him. “Not even a red spot. Fire is nothing to play with.”

“Eat flames and die, plant!” Nadrell barked. The treant nodded and then returned to the Wise Owl hallway.

“Master Kylie,” he said, extending a branch hand, which did include the opposable thumb Winters called for.

Master Kylie?” Kylie asked of the treant. “Why are you here?”

“Because in your current state, you cannot do everything alone,” the treant replied. “You are exhausted and you have no more remaining spells for today. Your last bit of energy gave life to me and my siblings. So I am here to assist you, Master Kylie.”

“Doctor, if you please,” Kylie replied, then she smiled at the treant. “Welcome, Mister . . . I have no idea who you are.”

“Hmmm,” he began. He mulled his answer over. “What is the most beautiful tree in the world?”

“The most beautiful fragrance is cinnamon,” Winters said. “Beauty isn't only for the eyes.”

“I like that, Professor Winters,” the treant answered. “I want to be called Cinnamon, please.”

“As you wish, Mister Cinnamon,” Kylie said. “Today, you shall shadow me so that I can instruct you in every nuance of this hospital.” Cinnamon nodded. “First thing we're going to do is get a neural scan of you, Luigi. Come with me, everyone.”

“That includes you, boy,” Falcon directed.

“If anyone wants me, I'll be on the control bridge,” Winters said.

“Actually, Winters, I'd like you to go on the shuttlecraft with Shark and Moss,” Falcon said. “The treants seem to know and respect you, and besides, someone needs to babysit those two. They can't be trusted alone together.”

“Got it,” Winters said.

With that, Kylie led Falcon, Cinnamon, and Nadrell all down, except for Winters. She left for the shuttlecraft.

“This is quite interesting,” Falcon replied. “You can really aid Kylie?”

“We know what she knows, at least as far as medicine is concerned,” Cinnamon replied.

“Not quite,” Kylie replied. “You're all trained at an R. N. level, not full as doctors like I am, well, was. But you will find he is a capable medic, as are all the rest of them.”

“I want you to keep him, Kylie,” Falcon directed. “If anything happens to you, or if we end up in a position where we need a healer in two places, he'll be smashing to have around.”

“As you wish,” Kylie replied. “Though as he has been awakened and is an independent treant with a mind of his own, we should ask Cinnamon if that is what he wants.”

“I do,” Cinnamon replied. “For now, anyway.”

 

 

Moss closed the door, then went to the helm computer.

“Shark, I want you on tactical,” Moss said. “Would one of you treants please be kind enough to sit at the media operations computer?”

“I will,” said one of them, and she went to the computer. “What do I do?”

“All you have to do is watch and see if anything changes,” Moss said. “If a light comes on, then you call Mister Shark over and he'll do the rest.”

“Okay,” said the treant. Once she figured out how to sit in the chair, she did so, and smiled.

The other treants then released sap from their branches so that they would stick to the wall or to each other, and formed a chain of living plants.

“We are prepared,” a treant said.

“Perfect,” Moss stated. “And away we . . .” Moss sighed and shook her head. “Go.”

The door opened, and Professor Winters walked up and into the shuttlecraft.

“Nobody else is coming,” Winters announced. “It's just me. Captain Falcon gave me an order at the last minute.” Then Winters closed the door and made her way to the tactical computer. “Mind if I take it, Sharky?”

“Do what?” Shark asked, looking up at her.

“Does this mean I should surrender the media operations computer?” asked the treant.

“Winters, what do you think you're doing?” Moss inquired.

“I may never get another chance,” Winters said. “Besides, you need three people to run this thing and without me, you've only got two.”

“You don't know how,” Shark argued.

“Of course I do,” Winters stated, then she laughed. “Hurricane's been teaching me all the bridge computers at night. That's our little secret.”

“You're serious?” Moss pressed.

“Quite,” Winters retorted. “I wanted to be more versatile, and it's not like we've got a huge number of relief officers waiting around. Now, I confess, I haven't learned navigation yet, but . . .”

“And she taught you tactical?” Shark queried.

“That was the first post,” Winters announced.

“Prove it,” Shark ordered. He stood up from the chair and let Winters sit down in it, but he stood behind her to keep watch.

“What do you want me to do?” Winters posited.

“Raise the shields,” Shark declared.

“You got it,” Winters said. She examined the computer and found it to be a match to what she knew from the control bridge, and with this knowledge, she raised the shields.

Then she looked back at Shark with a victor's grin.

“Satisfied?” she asked.

“What's on the long-range scan?” Shark asked.

Winters worked the computer and studied the information.

“It looks like we've got two starships, one south and one west, and an asteroid belt off to the south-east,” she said.

“Slightly off,” Shark said, reading the monitor, “but passable. Okay. I think she can do this, Zelda. But if you need me, just call.”

“Thanks,” Winters said. “I appreciate this, Shark.”

“No problem,” Shark replied, trying to hide his nervousness. He then went to the media operations computer. “Why don't I train you in how to work the post?”

“Please,” the treant said gratefully. So Shark trained her.

“Are we finally ready to get up and go?” Moss asked. “No more sudden visitors?”

“The Wise Owl's door is closed and the oxygen-gravity bubble is dissipating,” Winters said. “There's on one out there now.”

“Splendid,” Moss proclaimed. Then she released the shuttlecraft from its magnetic holds, and piloted it away.

“How long will it take us to get to the stadium?” a treant asked.

“About half the day,” Moss confessed. The treants groaned, but Moss only flashed a wicked smile. “Sharky, care to change that with me?”

“What are you thinking?” Shark asked. “A teleportation spell?”

“A quicken charm,” Moss replied. “Make us move like the wind. We'll be there in an hour instead of half a day.”

“Treading dangerous ground,” Winters warned.

“Damn,” Shark said. “I thought it sounded like fun.”

“It does,” Winters said, surprising Shark and Moss.

“You're willing to do this?” Moss asked.

“No,” Winters stated, “but I'm willing to protect the ship with a repulsing spell so that if we get too close to anything, it'll get pushed away from us in time.”

“And you won't stop us?” Shark asked.

“No,” Winters vowed.

So Moss created her quickening spell, and Shark assisted as Moss directed him to. And soon, the spell was cast and the ship took off like a rocket, while Winters cast her own spell to add a layer of repulsive effect to the shields.

 

 

Falcon, and the single treant returned to medical. Upon seeing them, Kylie blinked.

“You're not supposed to be here,” she said. “Neither are you, Luigi.”

“Kylie, something's wrong with me,” Falcon said. “I can't control my temper.”

“Is this related to Felix's blunder?” Kylie asked.

“More than that,” Falcon confessed. “I'd gone off on Moss, too, and I wouldn't listen when she protested her innocence. Even after she really did turn out to be innocent.”

“He's absolutely right, Kylie,” Hurricane interjected.

“There you are, Captain Falcon,” Iris said as she burst through the doors.

“Yes, here I am,” Falcon replied. “Why were you looking for me?”

“I've come to warn you that your power is spiking,” Iris proclaimed. “Any intense emotion will trigger it.”

“So are you saying he needs to be sedated?” Cinnamon asked.

“So you're the new life I was sensing,” Iris replied. “There were legion, but only one remains. That would be you.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Cinnamon said. He offered Iris a branch hand, but she did not reciprocate. He looked at her quizzically.

“Do not bother,” she answered him. “I cannot see, yet I see more than anyone else.”

“She accepted psychic powers at a grossly empowered rate at the cost of her eyesight,” Falcon said. “Will that happen to me, Kylie?”

“No,” Iris warned. “I see violence and rage. If you unleash what you feel, you will do much damage and harm. You must stop now.”

“How do you propose I do that?” Falcon asked. “You helped me open myself up and now I can't close myself down. Can you do it?”

“I can try,” Iris said.

Iris reached into Falcon's mind, and she found herself on the side of a lake.

 

 

Falcon stood beside her on the edge of this lake. It was a beautiful lake, and a lot of people were going sailing today. Most of the people who were on boats were actually happy couples, engaged in various stages of romance interludes.

But on the ground beside the lake, it was a desolate and lonely place. Rather than water, there were volcanoes. They were leaking trace amounts lava, and bubbling up with resentments, but they were being controlled by a strong repressive force.

“That is a witch's cauldron of rage,” Iris said. “I can see through your eyes.”

“I did not ask you to do that,” Falcon replied.

“In this state, you're leaking so much energy that getting into your mind was easy,” Iris retorted. “The question is how hard it's going to be to pull myself out.

“In the meantime, Luigi, we need to see why you are so miserable.”

She went toward each of the volcanoes, and examined them. Though she did not get close enough to be harmed by the lava, she was able to pick up some sand and throw it in. In there, she read the scald marks.

“It's not the crew,” Iris said. “They annoy you in minor ways, even Kylie. But you know they're all good, decent people. It's refreshing to me that you can see more good in each of them than bad.”

“And you don't?” Falcon asked.

“I hold people to a certain set of ascetic standards,” Iris replied. “They do not meet them. Not even Kylie. Only Bernard can breach my defenses. I see nothing but my love for him when I try to read him.”

“If no one else can get in, your walls are too high,” Falcon warned. “Can you tell me why I went after Moss, Porpoise, Quail, and the boy?”

“And Shark,” Iris added. She threw more sand, this time concentrating only on those people. “They got on your nerves and served as a trigger for your emotions, but you were not really mad at them.”

“Is it what I've been sensing all day?” Falcon asked. “I think it's related to the terrorism.”

“You're in an emotional storm,” Iris replied. She stepped away from the volcanoes and went straight back to Falcon. “We must seal your powers off until the storm has passed.”

“What's causing the storm?” Falcon entreated.

“A sense of helplessness,” Iris answered. “The sense that you can't do anything has left you feeling immobile, so you are lashing out. Only doing something truly constructive, that brings results, will lift you out of the doldrums and put you back in command of yourself. The answer for now is to seal your powers.”

She reached out to touch him, then Falcon pointed to the lake.

“Look,” Falcon said. Iris turned, and there she saw a female orc alone in a boat.

This female orc with green eyes and black hair, with feathers in her hair sailed merrily along, singing a romantic ballad to herself, and searching everywhere for single men. She never found any.

“Vasya!” Iris exclaimed.

“Vasya Flamingo,” Falcon said, then he sighed wistfully. “I wish she'd survived the trip up the stars to produce light to destroy the escaped denizens of Hell. If I could, I'd find a spell to go back in time and stop her from going. In fact, once I'd saved her, I'd never let her go.”

“You would?” Iris asked. “But if you stopped her from joining the others, there may not have been enough celestial light to win that war.”

“Maybe I should join her,” Falcon said.

“She is gone, and we need you,” Iris declared. “I know you are lonely, but even I never knew you loved her.”

I didn't know until you opened my powers up!” Falcon remarked. “I thought of her often, but I never knew how deeply I miss her.”

“As badly as Winters misses Pine,” Iris said. “Maybe you and Winters should consider a date.”

“She's too old for me,” Falcon replied. “But maybe she'd appreciate a spell to restore some of her youth.”

“Love must wait,” Iris dictated. “We must close your mind.”

Then Iris reached into Falcon's mind even further than she already was. She followed the leak, which she now could see as a stream of purple and silver. Calm but determined, Iris soon found the tear in Falcon's soul that was causing this psychic leaking, and she pushed past the swiftly flowing power, as if she were swimming upstream, until she came right to the tear. Once she got there, she tried to press the torn parts of his soul together to hold it in place as she used her own powers to seal the rip.

But instead of succeeding, as she should have, she saw something strange. She saw a strange purple thing that looked like a large worm. Wisely, she backed away, only she lost her footing and got washed away by Falcon's stream of leaking energy.

Iris looked up and saw that the stream had only ripped more of his soul open, worsening the tear. Now power was flowing out of him like a broken dam.

“Oh God,” she said. She tore herself free of his mind.

 

 

Iris found herself back in medical, and was immediately aware of several happenings. Though she could not see them, Kylie had taken Nadrell and Cinnamon and fled to her office to escape the random problems Falcon had already caused.

At that moment, an energy bolt escaped from Falcon and hit one of the walls, badly burning it.

“Ah!” Hurricane screamed from the pain.

Then Falcon's body transformed into living iron. After that, a minor fear attack was directed at Iris, but with her superior powers, she was able to dispel it. And then he hit Iris with a confusion attack.

This she did not have enough ability to prevent, and she could do nothing but stand there and babble incoherently.

“Enough of this,” Kylie said. “I still have some psychic power. I will generate a catapsi field.” She opened the door to her office, while Cinnamon and Nadrell screamed.

Concentrating with the last of her energy, Kylie conjured a field of psychic static, which stopped Falcon's wild power cascade. But right away, she knew something was wrong. The field seemed off somehow.

“Thank you,” Falcon said. Kylie collapsed, but Falcon rushed to her and caught her just in time.

“You must undo what you've done to Iris,” Kylie said. “It will be much harder, but if you focus, you can do it.”

“Okay,” he said. He focused, and pulled the madness he had induced into her into himself, restoring her but rendering him unable to do anything but babble.

“Oh,” Iris said.

“Hurry,” Kylie warned. “Cinnamon, take my necklace. It will let you call Winters and have her teach you how to use the neural scanner. You haven't much time before the static field expires, especially if he's got what I think he's got.” And Kylie passed out again before Cinnamon could ask her what she suspected.

“Help me!” Iris ordered. After taking the necklace from Kylie, Cinnamon came toward Iris, and Iris led Falcon and Cinnamon toward the neural scanner.

 

 

“Kylie!” Lourdlyn shouted. She saw Kylie and shook her, reviving her.

Kylie moaned, but she did manage to fight to stay awake.

“Lourdlyn, please bring me my bag,” Kylie begged. “I need it, pronto.”

“Sure,” Lourdlyn said. She went to Kylie's office and soon found her bag. “Here you are,” she chirped as she returned with the bag.

Kylie opened it and removed a bottle of orange fluid and a syringe. She filled the syringe, then injected herself.

“You need to have quite a talk with your son,” Kylie replied. “Or rather, your husband does.”

“What for?” Lourdlyn asked.

“He's brought two things aboard this ship that have no business here,” Kylie directed. “Captain Falcon told me in his delirium. One answer verbally, the other by his actions. He's hooked into a neural scanner now to confirm my suspicions.”

“Suspicions about what?” Lourdlyn asked.

“Kylie, you're awake! Oh good!” said Cinnamon, who carried a printout. Lourdlyn gasped when she saw him.

“Oh, I'm sorry,” Kylie stated. “This is Mister Cinnamon, my nurse.”

“But I didn't see you . . .” she said.

“My shift started an hour ago,” Cinnamon quickly lied.

“Oh,” Lourdlyn replied, letting out a relieved sigh. “What are you?”

“A nurse,” Kylie explained. “I trained him myself. Is that the neural scan, Cinnamon?”

“It is,” he said. “There's something here that I don't understand. Strange worms . . .”

“Not worms,” Kylie corrected. “Parasites. Specifically, cerebral parasites. I had them, but the injection I gave myself will kill them off. I'll have to inject Captain Falcon. Probably Iris too, perhaps even the whole crew and guests.”

“Are these parasites . . .”

“If you don't exercise psychic powers, they don't do much to you,” Kylie explained. “But if you do, they leech your energy. It is what feeds them. The primary symptoms for them is a psychic cascade, which is when your powers go haywire and you become a fountain of unwanted power. You can see what Falcon did to my wall over there.” She pointed to the wall.

“I did notice that,” Lourdlyn said.

“And Lourdlyn, your son brought them aboard,” Kylie continued.

“What?” she protested, standing up at once. “How can you say that? Why would you say that?”

“Because he's also the one who is responsible for the coming of a doctor chosen by the Emperor of Breshley,” Kylie proclaimed. “He called your husband's coach while everyone else was watching the game and tipped the coach off.”

“He didn't!” she said, putting her hands on her hips. “I don't believe you! He couldn't have. You're delirious. Yes, you must still be exhausted. Maybe you should actually just go to bed.”

“No,” Falcon replied. “He actually did it. We checked. I reamed out my communications officer to the point where she no longer wants to even work for me because I thought it was her, but a review of our computers proved that he alone sent a message to Breshley. To your husband's coach, to be exact.”

“Wouldn't she have stopped him?” Lourdlyn asked.

“Not from the shuttlecraft, where she wasn't present, but he was,” Falcon answered. And finally, Lourdlyn gasped. She went to a chair and sat down.

“You are both telling me that my son brought a disease aboard this ship and betrayed my husband?” she pressed.

“Yes. Ouch!” Falcon shouted as Kylie injected him. “What did you do that for?”

“You're suffering from cerebral parasites, Luigi,” Kylie said. “That is why you can't control your temper and why your powers are going out of control. As a prophylactic measure, I will inject the entire crew. I have to find Iris next. Pardon me.”

She took the bottle and some clean syringes and left.

“I should help her,” Cinnamon said, and he followed Kylie.

 

 

Inside of Karlizen's room, there was a silver candle on the floor in Kylie's candlestick.

Kylie injected Karlizen while he rested in his bed. Lourdlyn was standing by his side, and had already gotten her injection. Captain Falcon sat in a chair, tapping his fingers on the sides agitatedly.

“Kylie,” Hurricane said, “Salamander, Sequoia and Porpoise have been given their injections by your new corpsman. Quail alone remains untreated at this point. Shall I unlock Quail's door and direct Cinnamon to him?”

“Yes,” Falcon said. “And tell him that I want him to take over for Porpoise. I have forgiven Porpoise for his stupidity, on condition that he never pulls a stunt like this again. If he does, he's on that post for a full week with no breaks. But I don't want Quail talking to the Breshleyites without my permission until this mess is all over.”

“As you like it,” Hurricane stated.

“What about my daughter?” Lourdlyn asked.

“I injected her,” Kylie replied, easing Lourdlyn's fears to the point that she breathed a sigh of relief. “She is fine.”

“We're all right, Louri,” Karlizen said, patting his wife's hand with his own. “We are strong people.”

“You'd better be, for what is coming,” Falcon said.

“I pray that you're dead wrong,” Lourdlyn remarked. “I'd give my life for you to be wrong.”

“Wrong about what?” Karlizen asked. He looked around at each of the people in the room. “I agreed to this meeting, but what is this business all about?”

“She did not tell you?” Kylie inquired, scratching her head. “Still in denial, Lourdlyn? Then I'm sorry that it has to come from me, Mister Prontellis, but we have it on good authority that your son intentionally contacted your coach to inform him you were here, and that in turn, your coach contacted the Breshleyite Emperor.”

“What?” Karlizen snapped. “Did he really do that?”

“That is why we are here,” Kylie said. “To confront him and get the truth. He may be innocent.”

“Or he may be as guilty as an American,” Falcon said.

“As a what?” Lourdlyn asked.

“A savage, barbaric race from the realm of Planet Earth,” Kylie said. “Emotional and willing to believe anything as long as it isn't true, with a deep suspicion and loathing of logic, reason, knowledge, and critical thinking.”

“She's very biased,” Falcon confessed. “They mistreated her. Let us not get sidetracked. Please. I can still feel the anger rising, Kylie. Even through the sedation and the injection to kill the parasites.”

“Illness builds in time and takes time to resolve,” Kylie replied. “Ah. Here they are.”

Commander Iris came into the room, bringing Nadrell with her. He was still struggling to be free, but her grip was iron-clad. Only when she was in the center of the room did she release him.

“Stand before the candle,” Iris ordered.

Falcon lit the candle, then grabbed Lourdlyn by the wrist.

“By work of fire, by work of flame, all lies be banished in Hecate's name,” Falcon proclaimed. “Questions be answered, no quarter to liars. All deceivers be burned in the enchanted fire.” He moved her wrist over the burning candle.

She gasped, and looked at the candle. Karlizen sat up and tried to get to his feet, but Kylie blocked him.

“You will not be harmed at all if you speak truthfully,” Kylie advised. “Now what do you most want to know, Karlizen?”

“Do you love me, Lourdlyn?” Karlizen asked. “Truly love me?”

“More than anything, except for the children,” Lourdlyn said. She cringed and winced, but to her relief, found that there was no harm.

“Lie,” Falcon ordered.

“Did you marry me for my money and my fame?” Karlizen answered.

“Yeah, that's what I wanted in you,” Lourdlyn said. Then she screamed, and Falcon moved her wrists away from the fire, which ended the flames.

She looked at him with fury and disgust, but then noticed that the pain was gone.

“Final question, and speak the truth,” Falcon said. He moved her wrists back to the fire.

“Do you dream about, or worse yet have, flings with other men?” Karlizen asked.

“I am tempted, as every woman is,” Lourdlyn stated. “I look when a man has made himself attractive, as you do with women. And yes, I do fantasize, but so do you. As for actually accepting another man's advances, as far as two-timing on you, never! Never! I wouldn't do that to you! I love you.” And to her pride, there was no pain.

“I love you,” Karlizen said, and this time he pushed past Kylie to kiss his bride. “I doubt you no more.”

Falcon released her, so she fled the fire and kissed Karlizen back. To his surprise, Karlizen offered his wrists to Falcon. So Falcon put his wrists over the fire.

“One question, Louri” he said. “And you know the one.”

“Did you have sex with anyone after our marriage?” Lourdlyn said. “I don't care about your ex from before we met, but after our marriage, did you ever stray?”

“I almost did with Elisondretta,” he confessed, and Lourdlyn nodded sadly. “But when it was time to start getting undressed, I took off my shirt and then found I couldn't get my pants off. Do you know why? It was because I suddenly thought of what you gave up by marrying me, and I just couldn't spit in your face like that. I kissed her, I touched her, but I couldn't have sex with her.

“I chose you, Louri, and I never looked back. Sometimes I think of her, but I won't do it. Not now, not ever.” And there was no pain.

“Any other women?” Lourdlyn pressed.

“More than one question,” Falcon warned her.

“No, it's all right,” Karlizen said. “Any other woman is only after my money and my fame and glory. You're different. You're special. I want no one else beyond lingering thoughts and memories.”

“Let him go,” Lourdlyn said, and Falcon did.

“What is this supposed to prove?” Nadrell scoffed. “That my parents are too lovey-dovey?”

“A test of truthfulness,” Kylie said coldly. “Now it is your turn.”

“What about Nadeera?” asked Nadrell.

“It is you we are concerned with,” Karlizen rebutted. “Now get over here!”

He hesitated, unwilling to meet even his father's gaze.

“I do not want to,” Nadrell said.

“It makes no difference what you want,” Kylie replied. “Bring him, Iris.”

She grabbed the boy and brought him to the fire, then Falcon seized Nadrell by the wrists and held his wrists above the flames. Nadrell struggled to break free, but found that orcish strength, even at the emaciated level of the wisdom-preferring Bre-ayne, was better than Breshleyite strength.

“Ask what you must know,” Falcon said. Karlizen and Lourdlyn looked at each other nervously, then she sighed heavily and with resignation.

“I can . . .” Karlizen said.

“No, I must,” Lourdlyn replied, raising her hand in a silencing gesture. “Naddy, did you inform anyone about your father bringing us here to this starship?”

“No!” Nadrell shouted, still struggling to escape Falcon's grip. But then he screamed, and Falcon moved his wrists away from the fire.

Kylie and Karlizen rushed toward Nadrell and looked at his wrists. She was ready with a can of burn ointment, and Karlizen slapped his son across the cheek.

“Liar!” he snapped. “You filthy traitor!” Karlizen barked.

“Karli!” Lourdlyn cried out.

“Sir, there's no need for that,” Kylie said. She reached out to apply the first dose of burn cream, but Karlizen grabbed her hands and turned her away.

Kylie looked at him with disbelief, but Karlizen then gestured to Falcon. Falcon returned the boy's wrists to above the fire.

“Now that you know what happens to liars, who did you tell?” Karlizen asked.

“And why did you tell them?” Lourdlyn added. “Was it just a good friend who blabbed to another friend? You know, something innocent like that?”

“It was . . .” Nadrell started. He was about to lie again, but he soon came to think better of it. “It was Coach Walker.”

“My own coach!” Karlizen snapped. He prepared to smack his son again, but now it was Kylie who turned Karlizen's hands away.

“Didn't you understand what would happen?” Lourdlyn asked with tears in her eyes.

“Yeah, I knew,” Nadrell said. “Dad's taking the coward's way out. He's pretending to be sick, just like you and Nadeera.”

“There is no pretending with the kind of head trauma your father has suffered,” Kylie countered. “Nor with the disease, diabetes, that the women of your house share. Speaking of which, I have a question for you. Did you bring aboard the cerebral parasites?”

“And if you did, why did you do it?” Karlizen added.

“And where did you get them from in the first place?” Lourdlyn chimed in.

“Coach Walker gave them to me,” Nadrell confessed furiously. “He'd overheard you say that you were going to see the green witch, and everybody in the locker room knew what you meant. Her. So he asked me when he saw me next game if you were serious about breaking your contract by seeking medical care outside of the permitted providers.”

“Which means the team doctor, if you can call him much of a doctor,” Karlizen said. “Walk it off is all he ever says.”

“Quack,” Kylie protested. “So the coach gave you the parasites, I presume.”

“He did, but he said only to use them if Dad actually left for your ship,” Nadrell explained. “You act like it's such a bad thing.”

“Child, you don't understand what a nasty attack that was!” Falcon exclaimed. “You haven't a clue, yet, what those things do to you.”

“They attack psychics,” Iris explained. “Technically, they attack everyone, but they are particularly dangerous in psychics. If madness is all you get out of it, think yourself bloody lucky.”

“And clearly then he had you report to him if your father ever came to us,” Kylie added. “He must have.”

“Was Nadeera involved?” Lourdlyn inquired.

“No,” Nadrell said. “She doesn't have a clue what I was really doing. She wouldn't have the guts.” And with that, Karlizen punched Nadrell in the stomach, pushing the boy to the floor.

Falcon fell forward, and would have crashed into the fire if Karlizen did not catch him as if Falcon were just another player.

“I . . . I . . . Daddy!” Nadrell complained. “You never hit me before!”

“Do you have a brig?” Karlizen asked.

“We do,” Iris replied. “And you want him in it. Captain, you are wavering.” Which was also true, as Falcon had his hand on his chin, stroking his flax facial hair and twiddling his thumbs.

“Is this really necessary?” Lourdlyn asked, rushing to her husband.

“If I look at him again, I may well just kill him!” Karlizen snapped.

“Lock him up for his own protection, and for our own,” Falcon ordered. Nadrell winced.

“Mother, save me!” he cried out. As Iris picked him up from the floor, he reached for Lourdlyn.

“Not this time,” Lourdlyn tearfully said, and she turned her back on him. She wept, and Kylie and Falcon comforted her.

“What horrendous betrayal!” Karlizen snarled. “I'm just so mad at that boy that I . . .”

“You have every right to be,” Falcon replied.

“Where, oh where, did we go wrong?” asked Lourdlyn, who was still weeping bitterly.

“Recriminating yourself isn't going to help you much right now,” Kylie said. “The real question is, what are you going to do about your son? And about the Breshleyite Emperor.”

 

 

Salamander waited at the control panel beside the door that led outside. Captain Falcon waited a bit further down the hall, flanked by Commander Iris.

“They're ready!” Hurricane cried out.

Salamander opened the door and let the group in. Into the room walked a highly decorated and surprisingly muscular Breshleyite man, two male security officers, and a handsome blonde male doctor.

“Welcome,” Falcon replied, with his hand extended. “I'm Captain Falcon . . .”

Abrupt as could be, the highly decorated man stepped right into the hallway and bypassed Falcon, examining the ship. Iris intercepted him.

“Please do not take liberties on a ship that your empire does not control,” Iris replied.

He turned to her, ready to lash out at her. That is when he noticed that she was blind, and he swung his hand out to smack her. To his surprise, she parried the blow with a swift block.

The two security officers were ready to intervene, drawing their laser guns, only to have Salamander slash the barrels of both weapons off with a slash from his scimitar. He also used it to prevent them from proceeding forward.

“I see you've met Commander Iris,” Falcon said, chuckling. He approached the Breshleyite man, again extending his hand.

“You've got talent,” the man replied. “Breshley really needs you.”

“You are General Macouver,” Iris said. “No, we are not what you expected us to be, and we won't do what you expect us to.” Then she shook her head. “Your men. Their strength is all in their weaponry. Take it away, and paper tigers are deadlier.”

“How can you know us?”

“You never even met us!”

“She's highly psychic,” Falcon answered. “General, she knows where you'll attack from before you've even moved. Now let's dispense with this business and start over again. I am Captain Falcon and welcome to the Wise Owl.

“But I'm afraid we'll have no violence here,” Falcon continued. Salamander dropped his scimitar, granting the two security officers safe passage. “Now then, your orders are to escort your doctor to my medical department so as to evaluate Mister Prontellis. Is that right?”

“Straight from the Emperor of Breshley himself,” General Macouver replied.

“Then we do well now to conform with what the emperor requires,” Falcon answered.

“Splendid,” replied the doctor. He stepped forward and shook Falcon's hand. “I am Doctor Yuesmin, one of the emperor's chosen doctors. You don't know what an honor that is. And by the way, that information your medical officer sent me about treating diabetes with insulin is earth-shattering for us. Saldimyr hasn't been able to come up with any effective way of treating the eating disease.”

“Shall we proceed to medical?” Iris asked.

“By all means,” Falcon replied. “I'm needed on the control bridge. Salamander, go with Iris and stay with these men. She has a . . . another responsibility that is far more pressing.”

“Yes, Captain Falcon,” Salamander and Iris replied. They led the quartet to the practical hospital.

 

 

Doctor Yuesmin ran a battery of tests on Karlizen, with Kylie assisting him. She knew that Karlizen was already angry and that having an unwelcome Breshleyite doctor redoing tests Kylie had already done only made him angrier. He become so mad that he grabbed a piece of crystal from the wall and threw it to the floor when Doctor Yuesmin had gone to carry some vials to the lab.

Kylie rushed to Karlizen's side.

“I know, you're all worked up,” Kylie said. “I'd be livid too if I were in your position.”

“Yeah, that's it. I can't stand this man!” Karlizen barked.

“Did I hear something?” Doctor Yuesmin asked, poking his head back out through the lab's doors.

“Yes,” Kylie quickly replied. “He said he can't stand this pain, so I'm going to administer some lucterol.”

“That'll make him groggy and put him to sleep for a short while!” protested Doctor Yuesmin. “I can't allow that.”

“This is my hospital, luv,” Kylie countered. “You don't allow anything. Besides, we're not Breshleyite subjects. We respect your emperor, but he doesn't rule us. So what harm does it do you to give him a good four hours of rest to escape excruciating pain? Besides, we're going to need to analyze what we've found. Him being asleep gives us time to do that.” She gave Karlizen the medication.

“Thank you,” Karlizen said, realizing at once the help she was giving him.

“Look, lady,” Doctor Yuesmin complained. “I'm concerned about Emperor Skarredcrim and the report I have to give Mister Prontellis' team.”

“I understand that,” Kylie said back, “but I'm concerned about Mister Prontellis. I do what is best for my patients, not the emperor. You should do the same. And you know it.”

He sighed, and with a dejected face, he returned to the lab.

“Kylie?” Quail said over the intercom. Kylie rushed over to it and answered it.

“Hello,” she said. “What is it, Quail?”

“We just got a report back from Shark,” Quail stated. “Your treant nurses were a big hit. Several of them have been hired by Breshleyite doctors or emergency medical teams. The other half decided to form their own union, but they're staying with Shark and the girls for now.”

Kylie could not help but laugh.

Admittedly, it's self-indulgent, but my treant nurses know more medicine than this doctor ever did, she thought. Better practitioners, too, I suspect.

“Thanks, Quail,” Kylie said. “Let me know if there's any other news about my treants.”

“Will do,” he replied.

Kylie severed the link and headed to the lab to help Doctor Yuesmin.

“Do you want me to do these secondary things or help you with the first ones?” Kylie asked.

“I want you to undo what you did,” he answered.

“You know I can't,” Kylie said. “If our roles were reversed, you'd do the same thing. Do you want my help or not? We can still take some samples from him.”

Doctor Yuesmin sighed.

“He probably will be a lot more cooperative with taking samples,” he agreed. “Fine. Do the secondaries. I'll get more samples, then come back for the priorities.”

Kylie nodded.

Finally, after a few more hours of work, it was all over. Kylie led Doctor Yuesmin to her office, and created a document for him to write on with her computer.

 

 

“Here you go,” he said, grabbing two printouts. He passed one to Kylie and kept the other for himself, in addition to the others that he had. “My business here is done and I thank you so much for your help.”

“You're welcome,” Kylie said. She began to read the document while he walked out of her office, then began to leave the medical department altogether.

As Kylie read it, her eyes bulged.

“I haven't read such junk science since the last time I was sent American papers to review for a journal,” Kylie said, her voice full of contempt.

She chased after Doctor Yuesmin and soon found him in the hall. He noticed her, and quickened his pace, forcing her to quicken her pace to match.

“Hey!” she called out. “You get back here! I am talking to you!”

“I'm sorry, but I have to go,” he said, trying to move even more quickly.

“Oh no you don't,” Kylie replied. “You're not going anywhere.” She still had her power over plants, and so she used it to create a wall of vines right in front of Doctor Yuesmin.

He realized that he was trapped, and stopped in his tracks. Kylie approached him.

“Would you care to explain this?” she asked. “You found the same things I did. Yet you're arguing that they're meaningless.”

“That's right,” he said.

“Neurological damage is meaningless?” Kylie asked. “This was grossly irresponsible. You call yourself a doctor? Well, I call you a quack. In good conscience, you have no right to make this kind of reckless . . .”

“I know,” he said. Kylie was taken aback, and dropped her copy of the paper.

“You know?” she asked. “Yet you did this anyway?”

“He's badly damaged,” Doctor Yuesmin confessed. “With ailments and injuries, especially in his brain, I've never seen before. I don't know how you knew.

“But if I go back to the emperor, or his team, with a report that tells what's really going on, do you have any idea what they'll do to me?”

“I do,” Kylie said. “Then stay with us. We can grant you asylum.”

“I can't!” he cried out. “What about my wife? My son? They can't be fetched first, can they? If I don't give them the lie they want, my life is ruined.”

“And if you do, Karlizen's is,” Kylie said. “So decide now. Are you good or are you evil?”

“It's not that simple,” he said. “Emperor Skarredcrim himself told me that I was to see to it Mister Prontellis was released. I wasn't to come back without him. Tear down this wall and let me pass.”

Kylie dissipated the wall of vines. She did not bother to stop him as he fled down the hall. Instead, she turned another way and went to the control bridge.

 

 

“He's going to do it, anyway, Luigi,” Kylie groused, pacing around the control bridge. Falcon read the paper, but did not understand much of it at all.

Quail, Sequoia, and Porpoise, who had been called to take over the helm with Sequoia at tactical, watched with alarm.

“How bad is this?” Quail asked.

“If someone pulled this in England, and got found out, it could lead to the revocation of their license,” Kylie said. “Mistakes are one thing, but blatant fraud . . . Luigi, it's malpractice! Pure and simple.”

“And all to save his own neck,” Sequoia complained. “What a creep.”

“I'm not giving Karlizen and his family back to the Breshleyites to be abused again,” Kylie said. “Maybe the son, but as far as I care, we can make the man and the ladies members of our crew! I refuse to hand them over.”

“Let's not go too far,” Falcon said.

“I can handle that silly emperor,” Kylie stated.

“But we can't,” Falcon replied. “You are the Lady Moriarty. We are nowhere near as powerful as you, even cumulatively.”

“Then maybe we should ask another planet to take him and his family in. At least the decent ones,” Porpoise suggested. “Centaubric . . .”

“Treats men like Planet Earth treats women,” countered Sequoia. “They won't help him. And who else has the military might to fend off Breshley?”

“I can't think of any planet where he'd be safe,” Quail added. “His only way out may be to die.”

“Don't say that!” Falcon barked. “Kylie, calm down. We've no reason to kill and reincarnate the family as orcs so they stay with us. And I'm not creating an incident with the emperor and some other planet, or even worse, with us.”

Commander Iris entered the room.

“You will require my presence here,” she said. “So I am here.”

“Fine. Quail, get me the emperor,” Falcon stated, which caused gasps among the group. But Quail pressed the keys that transmitted exclusively to the Breshleyite Emperor's private frequency.

“I have it,” Quail said.

Falcon walked toward the computer, along with Kylie.

“Punch it up and let's begin,” Falcon said. So Quail activated a communication link.

“Hello?” asked a woman.

“This is the Wise Owl calling, and we will speak only to your father,” Falcon said coldly. “Fetch him at once.”

“I can normally handle . . .”

“Princess Ropincarn, we know, he's lost without you,” Falcon said, “but this time, he is the only one I want to talk to.”

“Hold on,” she said. A few seconds later, Emperor Skarredcrim answered.

“Greetings,” he said gaily. “I was just reading this glowing report that only just came in . . .”

“It left out a beginning,” Kylie countered. “Once upon a time . . .”

“Kylie,” Falcon groaned. “But all in all, she is correct. Your doctor gave a tailor-made diagnosis. We have a recording of him saying so.”

“Then he will have to be dealt with,” the emperor replied.

“If you punish him at all, it should only be for his medical malpractice,” Falcon retorted. “There are secrets that he did not know, and Kylie forced him to do it. When she wants her way, she gets her way.

“And this time, her way is to protect her patient,” Falcon said.

“That is unfortunate,” the emperor answered. “She stands in the way of the final game of the season, the biggest, and the most powerful.”

“You're still hosting games?” Sequoia added. “How much terrorism is enough for you?”

“We will not give in to their threats and tactics!” the emperor barked. “The game will proceed, with Karlizen Prontellis on that field as an active player, doing his damnedest out there. If your worrywart of a doctor . . .”

“There may be a way out,” Kylie answered. “We will supply him.”

“What?” Porpoise snapped. “But you just said . . .” Falcon raised his hand.

“What are you thinking, Kylie?” Falcon asked. “I love your ingenious mind.”

“Yes,” the emperor said. “What are you cooking up?”

“We shall produce the semblance of your player,” Kylie stated. “We will cast a powerful glamour no one can pierce or see through.”

“A glamour is a powerful illusion,” Falcon explained.

“But an illusion can't interact with the physical world!” the emperor protested. “The moment it gets hit by the ball it'll melt.”

“A glamour cast upon a person,” Falcon countered, “will work out just fine. No one will know they're not Karlizen.”

“Nobody can play like he can!” the emperor argued. “One fumble, and the man's career is over.”

“It's over anyway,” Kylie said. Falcon turned to Iris, and smiled.

“Commander Iris will be the player,” Falcon said. “We shall cast the glamour on her.”

“On a woman!” barked the emperor. “Now I know you're all bonkers!”

“Scarcely,” Falcon retorted. “Show him, Iris.”

She silently reached out telepathically, making sure the emperor knew she was in his mind. Then she reached out to Princess Ropincarn, making sure she knew she was in her mind. Finally, Iris brought their minds together so that father and daughter could share the same consciousness.

When she was certain they had time to adjust and that the severance would cause no harm, she returned each to their proper minds.

“That was incredible!” Emperor Skarredcrim exclaimed.

“To me, that was nothing,” Iris answered.

“Which means,” Falcon said, “that Iris can easily open her mind to Karlizen. He can guide her what to do, playing the game through her body rather than through his uninjured body.”

“All the while under a strong semblance so that no one will know it's your woman, not my man,” the emperor replied. “I love it. I want to see her first, of course.”

“Of course,” Falcon said. “But in return, we've a few demands.”

“Oh brother,” he complained. “Always complications. Go on.”

“You will retired Karlizen from the game after this last match is over,” Kylie explained. “Permanently, with no penalties of any kind. And you'll grant him and his family enough money that they need never play the game, or even work, again.”

“That's actually fair,” the emperor said.

“We don't do extortion,” Falcon replied. “But we would like some starship that you don't care about any further because Kylie created a group of treant nurses.”

“I heard about that,” the emperor said. “Good show.”

“Thanks,” Kylie said. “About half of them were hired and went off with the doctors who hired them, but the other half wish to work together and need a starship to do it.”

“We should be able to find some older models we consider obsolete for them,” the emperor replied. “Is that all you want?”

“Want, no,” Kylie stated.

“But ask of you, yes,” Falcon said. “Those are our conditions for getting Karlizen and his family back.”

“Done,” the emperor said. Then the link was severed.

Kylie turned to Falcon and nodded.

“I was going for a different answer with the illusion, but I must say, you surprised me. And impressed me,” Kylie confessed. “Well done, Luigi.”

“High praise from you, Kylie,” Falcon said back. “Thank you. Are you okay being used this way, Svetlana?”

“No,” she said. “But for the good of Karlizen, I will do it. However, I will request one week off for me and Bernard.”

“You've got it,” Falcon promised her. Quail smiled, relishing the prospects of a full week alone with his lover.

Then Kylie cast her eyes to the wall, but she was not actually seeing it.

“She's starting a vision!” Falcon cried out. He put his hand on his head, and found himself subject to a wave of troubling feelings.

His mind was sent reeling, but he soon felt Iris anchoring him. As she steadied his mind, he came to understand the problem.

“Another case of terrorism is coming,” Falcon said.

“And very soon,” Kylie replied. “There is another game held in a couple of hours, and there will be a strike in the courtyard.”

Falcon saw it. In the middle of the courtyard of a combination of a stadium and a cathedral, there was a huge flock of people that were joyfully going to the game. Mothers, fathers, children, all blissfully pretending that they had no reason to fear. Then several pieces of the courtyard blew up, and a toxic gas was spread almost immediately afterwards. Those who survived the blast died of the gas.

Falcon wanted free of this vision, so Iris threw him out and returned his consciousness to the physical world. She returned to it soon after, followed by Kylie.

“Terrifying!” Falcon cried out.

“Delfaris gas,” Kylie remarked. “Quail, contact Winters. Tell her I need her to whip up a surplus of tridellis root straight away, and that the shuttlecraft will be needed at . . .” She stopped, for she did not know where it was going.

“What are you talking about?” Quail asked.

“We need them to go stop the terrorist, if they can, and use the treants to treat the victims of a poison gas he's planted,” Falcon said.

“The problem is, where do we send them to?” Kylie continued. “What I saw seemed to be . . .”

“A church,” Falcon interjected. “One conjoined with a stadium.”

“And used for both things, often at the same time,” Iris contributed.

“Oh!” Quail said, snapping his fingers. “You're describing Winner's Cathedral. But Breshley wouldn't host a game there now. The newest game takes place this afternoon in a very different place.”

Kylie drew a tarot card and nodded.

“It's a dummy game for the public, with the Breshleyite security forces waiting to snare the terrorist there,” Kylie answered. “The true game, in secret, is being played at Winner's Cathedral, but only very important people have been told.”

“The terrorist must be among the very important people!” Falcon cried out. “Or very close to one that's feeding him information. It's the only way he'd know.

“Iris, use your . . . no,” Falcon remarked. “We'll need your power to keep the mental link going while you're playing. So Kylie, no, you're exhausted and barely running.” He looked around the room, then sighed.

“I guess it's up to me,” Falcon said.

“To do what?” Quail inquired.

“To find this terrorist,” Falcon answered. “How do I do that?”

“Come with me,” Iris stated. “We will return to the vision, then find one of the explosives he placed. After that, we will use psychometry to learn his name. I will instruct, but you will do.”

“Kylie, you've got the control bridge,” Falcon said.

“Quail, send an alert out to the emperor,” Kylie directed. “Warn him to move his forces to Winner's Cathedral. Then, since you've still not yet contacted the shuttlecraft, inform them of everything. We can help with spells, but it's up to them. Now where is this place?”

“Bathington Station,” Quail said.

“Hurricane,” Kylie requested. “We'd best tell the Breshleyite doctor and his companions that we're heading to Bathington Station.” With that, Kylie rushed to the helm computer, took it over, and prepared the ship for flight there as fast as it could go without affronting Hurricane.

 

 

Moss landed the shuttlecraft in a starship parking lot, while Winters made sure the treant nurses were prepared with basic doses of medication. She had turned to a spell to conjure it up.

Shark had abandoned media operations for the sake of finding gas masks. He had also used a spell when he found one to duplicate it for everyone aboard.

“Door is open!” Winters declared, still working the tactical computer.

The door did open subsequently, so Moss stood up.

“Winters, I want you and the treants to stay aboard until we find something,” Moss ordered. “Shark and I will go looking.”

“All right,” Winters said.

Shark and Moss donned the gas masks and went down. They each had invincibility suits in a bag full of gear Shark carried, but they did not don them because they did not work with the gas masks.

“Let's cast a chameleon spell,” Moss suggested, and Shark agreed. So they did, the magic washing over them and causing them to blend into the environment seamlessly.

This allowed them to avoid the milling crowd, and the Breshleyite patrols, thin as they were and focused only on crowd control and catching those trying to enter without paying.

“This is absurd,” Shark complained as he and Moss searched the courtyard. “I'm not seeing the typical Breshleyite army's presence. Normally they send an invasion force to kill a gnat.”

“I noticed that too,” Moss said. “Don't they understand that Kylie's visions are always the real deal? And if her visions weren't, my . . .”

“Zelda, she's not your girl and she's never going to be,” Shark insisted.

They looked under every stone and searched everywhere they could think of for several minutes.

“There's nothing here,” Shark said, sitting down on a rock. “I can't believe it.”

“Well don't,” Moss directed. “I'm going to try wildshaping. Maybe what we can't see as orcs, I can sniff out as a doggie.”

“Don't tell Sequoia,” Shark said playfully. “She doesn't like dogs.”

“Good thing she's not here then,” Moss retorted, equally playfully but upping the game. She promptly wildshaped into a bloodhound.

“This is Professor Winters,” she said over a hand-held device. Shark quickly answered it.

“Hi,” he said. “What's up?”

“Quail just told me that Captain Falcon found the guy,” Winters exclaimed. “He's big, burly, with brown hair and perfect white skin, but twelve missing teeth and a skull tattoo. And he is here at this stadium. Please be careful. If you see him, no show-boating. Call a Breshleyite officer.”

“We will be careful,” he vowed. “Thanks, Georgeanne.”

Moss howled, capturing Shark's attention. He rushed over to her and found her next to a gorgeous flower bed. It was, to the Bre-ayne, the only thing of beauty here. And Shark gasped from shock when he saw Moss as she began to dig through the flowerbed like the dog she temporarily was.

“Zelda, those plants may never grow back,” Shark said. “Have you asked their permission first?”

She ignored him and stuck her head into the hole she dug. Then she came back up with a small bomb, which she retrieved and dropped cautiously at Shark's feet.

“Wow,” he said, too afraid to pick it up.

Moss abandoned Shark to go sniffing around for more bombs. So Shark returned to the use of the hand-held device.

“Say, Georgeanne, Moss just found a bomb,” Shark stated. “Do you want to defuse it?”

“Bring them to the shuttlecraft when you've found them all,” Winters replied. “Then leave me alone in the shuttlecraft. It's better to lose me than a huge crowd.”

“Don't talk like that!” Shark cried out. “How about I bring them to a Breshleyite officer?”

“That works,” Winters answered.

Moss howled and brought Shark another bomb.

“I'm going to help you,” Shark said. He also turned to wildshape and assisted Moss by searching the other side of the courtyard.

 

 

Much to a handsome Breshleyite soldier's dismay, two bloodhounds brought him a large array of deadly bombs and carefully put them at his feet. He knelt down to look, and he tried to touch one, but Moss growled at him. He promptly backed off, but remained squatted.

“No!” Shark and Moss, still being canines, heard Winters scream. Leaving all thought of the officer, they ran toward the shuttlecraft.

They did not know, or care, that the soldier was following them.

What mattered to them was that the terrorist was present aboard the shuttlecraft, while the treants were not. And that the player had some kind of high-energy projectile weapon pointed at Winters' head.

“Hey!” Shark shouted, resuming his orcish form. “What in Rellium do you think you're doing?”

“Help!” Winters begged.

“Shut up!” the man argued, placing the weapon to Winter's actual flesh. “I saw what you were doing with my poison bombs!”

“You think this is the best way to get revenge?” Moss asked, resuming her orcish shape.

Shark dared to move forward.

“The ladies can't help you much,” Shark lied. “Take me instead.”

Remember, ladies, I am immortal. You two are not, he reminded them both with telepathy.

The man kicked Shark in the shins, then picked him up and threw him far away. With that, he turned the weapon back to Winters.

“I've chosen my hostage. It's going to be her!” he shouted.

“What's the meaning of this!” asked the Breshleyite officer as he arrived on the scene.

“Your terrorist is here,” Moss said, “and you'd better do something. That monster's got my friend!”

The Breshleyite soldier reached for his gun, and was quickly shot by the terrorist. This caused the treant nurses to rush to him and provide care.

It also gave Winters a moment to think.

Svetlana, we need help! The terrorist has me as his hostage! I know you can hear me. Get the crew and work a spell. Please!

Actually, Commander Iris retorted, I've got something better. Just watch. And make it look convincing.

Before Winters' eyes, the terrorist collapsed. She promptly faked the casting of a spell, then stepped on his back.

“That's what you get for messing with the Bre-ayne,” she said.

 

 

The terrorist found himself inside the courtyard, except that it was entirely empty save but for himself, Captain Falcon, and Commander Iris.

“Hello,” Captain Falcon stated.

“What's happening?” the terrorist asked.

“This,” Falcon replied. He fired a bolt of mental force at the man, which the terrorist dodged. Then the terrorist jumped into the air and kicked Falcon, knocking him down.

“You fight like one of the game's pro players,” Falcon said.

“I am,” he answered.

“He a is victim of the madness,” Iris warned. “What Karlizen Prontellis could have become had he not sought Kylie's assistance, this man is.”

“The blows to the head, the injuries,” Falcon said. “Yes. I can sense your rage.”

“Sense this!” he said, grabbing Falcon by the throat and choking him.

Falcon teleported behind the man, and hit him with a blast of energy.

“This is the astral plane, sir,” Falcon said. “Your muscles won't work here.”

“Sure they will!” he barked, kicking Falcon in the chest. Falcon fell down, so the terrorist grabbed him and issued a flurry of brutal punches and kicks.

Falcon became bloodied and battered, and was soon reduced to a virtual rag doll. Aware of this, the terrorist kicked Falcon like a ball. He watched as Falcon flew through the air, then landed on the ground with a thud.

As he came to his senses, Falcon, with his body aching all over, sat up. He saw the man charging him and ready for a tackle. He pressed his hands to the ground and sent out a shock wave, tripping the man. Instinctively, he gave the man an uppercut on the way down.

“It is a shame that we must resort to violence,” Falcon said. “Forgive me.”

“Forgive this!” the terrorist barked, smacking Falcon in the face.

He tried to seize Falcon in a bear hug, only to have Falcon disappear and reappear right back where he was. The terrorist had passed that place, putting him behind Falcon. Then Falcon called forth a tornado to capture the terrorist and deposit him onto the ground.

“You can't win,” Falcon said. “Surrender or I'll forget to be nice.”

“Oh, I'm so scared,” the terrorist retorted with a sneer.

The terrorist charged, trying to ram Falcon. But a quick thought from Falcon sent the creep flying, until he landed flat on his back. And Falcon was reduced to resting on one knee, wiping the blood from his forehead before it could get into his eyes.

“What will you do with him?” Iris asked to Falcon.

“I will purify his mind and remove the disease,” Falcon stated. Then he sighed. “I'm going to need Kylie for that.”

“Here I am,” Kylie announced as she appeared. “I sensed your distress and came as soon as I could.” Then she saw the terrorist. “Sorry to be late.”

“We need to heal his mind, Kylie,” Falcon said.

“Yes, but you can't do that. I can.” She walked over to Falcon and placed her hand on his. “Stand up and lend me all your power. I haven't enough alone.”

“I can't stand up. It hurts too much!” Falcon cried out.

“Ignore it,” Kylie answered. “The man is not a psychic. He cannot truly harm you here.”

Falcon concentrated his mind, and soon saw that he she was right. This was akin to getting hurt in a dream. He called for a cleansing rain that washed away his injuries, and restored a limited amount of power to Kylie.

Then he put his hand on her forehead.

“Use my power, Kylie,” Falcon said. “All of it.”

“Just what I need,” she replied.

She used the very last of her powers, down to the deepest core of her soul. Kylie included the energy Falcon's refreshing rain had given her, and used nearly, but not quite, every bit of Falcon's power as well.

Keeping her focus on the terrorist, she altered her healing powers to eliminate the madness and repair enough of his body to negate it.

The terrorist blinked, gasping as the cloud of rage in his mind faded away.

Kylie collapsed, dropping to the ground and disappearing.

“Kylie!” he cried out.

“What have I done?” the terrorist asked. “Tell me!”

“Your crimes were unspeakable,” Falcon said. “Now you're stopped cold.”

“It is over now, Luigi,” Iris said. “Let us leave.”

And so they did.

Upon awakening, the terrorist found himself in the custody of the Breshleyite soldier. He struggled to get out of his handcuffs.

“What's going on here?” he shouted. “Let me go!”

“Never!” declared the Breshleyite soldier.

“Whatever did I do?” he protested, continuing to struggle.

“You put poison bombs all over the courtyard,” Winters replied.

“And you've blown I can't tell you how many other stadiums, and the poor people in them, to bits,” Shark added.

“I couldn't have! I love this game! It's my livelihood! My life. I couldn't! I didn't!”

“You held me at firearm-point and tried to take me hostage, then you shot that man,” Winters countered. “Don't try to deny it, bloke. There's proof.” This made the Breshleyite soldier smile. “We've got it on tape.”

The soldier brought the man to the media operations computer, while Winters prepared the flight recorder to playback the events since the landing. Soon, before his eyes, the terrorist was confronted by his own criminality.

“But I . . . I must have been insane!”

“You can say that again,” Winters added.

 

 

Falcon entered the control bridge. He was exhausted needed Iris to help him walk, but he made it.

“Where's Kylie?” he asked.

“Cinnamon took her to medical,” Salamander said. “Sir, are you all right?”

“I think I want that Breshleyite doctor back so he can . . .”

“Sir, there's no need,” Iris reassured Falcon as she brought him to his chair. “He knows what she knows as far as medicine is concerned. That doctor knows how to look good before the emperor. He'd be better as a researcher than a practitioner.”

“You're right,” Falcon said. “I need coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.”

“I'll get it,” Porpoise chimed in. “Svetlana?”

“Please,” she said.

“Captain, there's been an arrest at the real game,” Quail blurted out.

“There'd better be after what I went through,” Falcon said. “Call Shark and the ladies home.”

“Yes, Captain Falcon,” Quail said back.

 

 

Kylie returned to the control bridge. Her powers were restored, but she had a deep sense of a loss of time. She saw Karlizen and his wife and daughter on the control bridge, watching the game on the large scrying pool.

Moss was back at media operations, Shark at navigation, Sequoia at the helm, Salamander at tactical, and Quail watching the game.

“Captain, is everything all right?” Kylie asked.

They all turned to look at her, and everyone cheered when they saw her. Only Karlizen kept his eyes on the game.

“Yeah,” Falcon said. “But you've been asleep for a solid week and the big game is going on. Care to watch?”

“No,” Kylie said.

“Nor do I,” Falcon replied, revealing that he was reading a compelling novel that he kept on the side of his chair. She smiled at this.

“Winters told me I'd been asleep for a week when I woke up a few minutes ago,” Kylie said.

“She never left your side,” Falcon stated. “But Cinnamon's skills have sure impressed her.”

“I'm not a bit shocked,” Kylie said.

“Where is she now?” Falcon inquired.

“She's starting to cook lunch for us all,” Kylie explained. “Now then, I see the family, but where is the boy?” Kylie asked. “Surely he's not still in protective custody in our brig all this time.”

“He was arrested,” Falcon explained. “His infecting us with cerebral parasites was a major crime under Breshleyite law. It was also the downfall of the coach who gave the parasites to him. Apparently, he did it to anyone who got on the wrong side of him. But he'll never do it again in a Breshleyite jail.”

“Thank Hecate,” Kylie said, sighing with relief.

“You missed all the fun,” Shark blurted out. “Winters, Moss, and I were treated like heroes for days. I mean, those people just loved us.”

“They thought you three caught the terrorist rather than Luigi,” Kylie remarked. She turned to him. “And you permitted it?”

“I owed Moss big time, remember?” Falcon quipped, and again Kylie smiled.

“Wait!” Quail ordered. “Wait, wait wait! This is it!”

Quail and the Prontellis women huddled together, spreading an infectious excitement. The entire bridge crew felt the need to watch, as if something grand were going to happen to Iris.

And indeed it did. With a surprising sudden use of her martial arts skills mixed with telepathic direction from Karlizen, she completed a move that scored more points than is usually possible and thus win the game.

The priest blew the whistle, and called the game. There were so many cheers that Moss had to silence the media operations computer for a few seconds because they nearly deafened her.

“Ouch,” she complained.

Kylie went to her, and used a little bit of her fully restored powers to heal Moss.

“We won!” Karlizen shouted, breaking the psychic link with Iris.

“And the glamour trick worked,” Quail said.

“Ooh, that hit a nerve,” Moss stated. “Seems a lot of people are ticked off.”

“Why?” Kylie asked.

“With Mister Prontellis out of the game for so long, there were more bets against his team than for it, so 'his' return, and 'his' victory, have cost them big time. Money,” Moss complained. “The things is makes people do. Sickening. Oh. Uh, something's cutting in. It's the Emperor of Breshley.”

“Put him on,” Kylie said.

“Like I had a choice,” Moss stated. “Go ahead. We hear you.”

“So it seems you got your way after all,” the emperor complained. “I wasn't actually sure you'd be able to pull it off. Just get your woman out of there before your spell wears off. She'll find a ship waiting for her with a team of instructors inside. She can lead your plant creatures to it.”

“That is why you don't see Felix here,” Falcon said. “He was sent to pilot the shuttlecraft to take Iris to the game and bring her home again. And he can lead Iris to the ship easily.”

“Thank you, Emperor Skarredcrim,” Kylie stated. “And of Karlizen?”

“She's doing it!” Karlizen shouted as Iris stepped up to a podium, guided by using her powers to see through Doctor Porpoise's eyes.

“Thank you all,” she said. “It is with a heavy heart that at this point, I must announce my retirement from the game . . .”

“Bless you, Emperor Skarredcrim,” Karlizen said.

“Yes,” Lourdlyn added.

“Do not make me regret this,” Emperor Skarredcrim said.

“Listen you,” Falcon said, “we didn't just win that big game exactly as we said we would, we bettered that bargain by capturing your bomber for you. We aren't asking for anything else or anything new. So I should think you're far from hurting here.”

“Quite so,” Kylie added. “Wise Owl out.” Moss severed the link. “So what of the terrorist, Luigi? He was a player, wasn't he? Driven to madness by his concussions.”

“Yes,” Falcon said. “Or so that's what Breshley's news reports say. So, now that the game is over for you, Mister Prontellis, where will you go?”

“May we stay with you for a couple days to think it over?” Karlizen asked. “Just two or three.”

“Of course you can,” Falcon said.


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