Chapter 1: (v.2) The Gypsies: Episode 2: Checkmate.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 345

Episode 2: Checkmate.

 

 

Kylie Moriarty-Korat walked around the Wise Owl with unusual glee. She was singing a song with no lyricscontinuously, spreading verdant plant life throughout the starship everywhere she went. As usual, the female orc had wild crimson hair, a pine-colored robe, emerald-colored sweatpants, and a viridian lab coat, and she was still sporting her green backpack.

She must be lost in her revelry, or was it another of her autistic reveries? thought a male orc in a greencoat uniform and a mechanic's tool belt. A greencoat uniform is a redcoat uniform with all the red replaced by green, and is the typical uniform for the Bre-ayne navy.

He himself was rather busy at the moment trying to repair a door that had decided it was not going to open any longer, but found it impossible to concentrate on the task because of Kylie's singing, and her proliferation of foliage.

“Nurse Moriarty?” he asked.

“Hello, Ensign Quail,” Kylie replied.

“Bernard will be fine,” he answered.

And she answered that by taking his hand and singing Dance Magic to him, eventually drawing him into the song and dance as a backup singer as he learned the lyrics, but not the point.

As she passed the broken door, she repaired it at once with a wave of her magic wand, green magic practically bathing the door until it was fully functional again.

When the song stopped, she let him go with a smile, then continued on dancing throughout the ship on her own, just Kylie and her plants.

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. He wore a scarlet suit with crimson diamonds all over it, and he had a far more elaborate, and equipped, tool belt.

“Doctor Porpoise,” Quail asked nervously, “should we have someone like that as our ship's medical officer?”

“Have you ever seen her like that before?” Porpoise inquired.

“Never, but maybe she got into her own drugs . . .”

“No, my boy,” Porpoise said, patting Quail on the shoulder. “Little assistant, you've still got a lot to learn about being a Bre-ayne. We're druids. I'm not, personally, but culturally, we all are druids. And tomorrow is Samhain.”

“Samhain?” Quail asked, blinking.

“It's the new year for us,” Porpoise explained. “The feast of the dead.”

“The what!?!” Quail protested, to which Porpoise laughed uproariously.

“Calm down, Bernie,” Porpoise said when he finally pulled himself together. “It means the time when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is thinnest, so the ancestors are revered. We feast to remember and temporarily reunite, if the spirits will it. And, like all new years, it's an excellent time for absolutions and new starts.

“It is common for Bre-ayne orcs to rededicate themselves to Hecate, atoning for past misdeeds, on the day. And for us, it's a high holy day, a sacred sabbat.”

“So she's behaving appropriately?” Quail asked.

“Oh no,” Porpoise replied. “She's not being jubilant enough. Hurricane, do you know Loreena McKennitt's All Souls Night, by chance?”

“I do have that in the music memory banks,” Hurricane answered, her voice unseen but her presence felt. She was, after all the spirit of the ship, having had her soul infused into the starship itself after her death. “I just did not know if I wanted to play it yet.”

“Please do,” Porpoise replied. “The lad needs some education.”

“As you wish, Doctor Porpoise,” Hurricane answered. And the song played, while Quail listened, and Porpoise took over the engineering work that still needed to be done.

He looked on his list, and saw that the next part of the ship that needed mending was in the baseball room, so off Porpoise went.

 

 

Doctor Porpoise entered the baseball room, which was completely dark, but he did not immediately begin his work. Instead, he stood in the doorway, watching a young male orc in a greencoat uniform, wearing a visor.

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, and he swung a scimitar around before the incredibly nervous female catfolk.

“Nice technique, Lieutenant Shark,” Doctor Porpoise announced.

“Thanks, Doctor Porpoise. Come on, Sequoia! Step in, step out!” Shark insisted. “Slash and withdraw.”

Fretfully, the female catfolk tried to parry his assault with her own scimitar, but she failed and dropped the weapon. She was a white Persian with teal eyes hidden behind a visor, and she also wore a greencoat uniform.

Clang!

“I'm sorry!” Sequoia cried out.

Shark stopped and lifted his visor, then dropped it on the floor of the ship's gymnasium.

The room looked like the Bre-ayne Island at sunset, with the walls decorated like a tropical paradise, and even sections of the floor being replaced by soil. But as for the rest of the room, it was easily usable for any number of sporting events, especially the Bre-ayne favorite – baseball.

“Hey, Holly?” Shark asked. “What's the matter? Didn't I promise that I'd teach you to fence today?”

“Yes, Carmine,” Sequoia replied, “but I don't feel like it today.”

Sheathing his scimitar, the male orc walked to the female catfolk and put his hand on her forehead.

“No fever. Is it your stomach?”

“I don't know what it is,” Sequoia answered. “Something just feels wrong.”

“Chicken,” he teased, and she frowned. “Hey, you know I'm only kidding! We always rib each other. What else are best friends for?”

Gently, he put his hand on her shoulder. She looked at his hand, then looked at him and smiled. Then she pounced on him, landing on top of him and holding him down.

“Got you!” she announced, then she began to purr.

“You tricked me,” Shark complained.

“And you wouldn't have it any other way,” Sequoia replied.

“Nah,” Shark admitted. “Anybody else, I'd probably transform into an asp and bite them in the butt, but you can pounce on me anytime.”

Sequoia finished purring, and released him by moving to the side. Then she stood up and brushed herself off.

“Don't draw,” she declared. Then she went to her scimitar, retrieved it, and put it away. “I still think something's wrong.”

“Let's get some tea,” Shark suggested. “We can read the leaves and see if anything is wrong.”

Sequoia laughed, then waited for Shark to approach her. He did, and then he wrapped his arm around her own.

“You bet,” she replied.

“So are you two done in here?” Porpoise asked.

“I am,” Sequoia replied, “but I can't speak for Shark.”

“Something wrong?”

“Yes,” Porpoise replied. “The lights keep burning out.”

“We're orcs,” Shark remarked. “We can see in the dark, and so can Sequoia.”

“Quite so, but I don't like it when something's wrong on my ship, even if it is something that seems unimportant,” Porpoise stated calmly. “Little things add up to big trouble if they're left unchecked.

“Oh, that reminds me. Happy Samhain.”

“It's not today, is it?” Sequoia asked.

“Tomorrow,” Shark said. “Oh yeah, and I plan one smashing party.”

“There's going to be no smashing on this ship,” Porpoise playfully countered. “I'm not repairing any damage your party causes.” The three of them laughed at that, then Shark and Sequoia left the room.

 

 

Shark and Sequoia entered the dining room. There was no food available for them except for a basket of fruit on a little table by the wall. Blithely, Shark walked over to the table and helped himself to a banana.

“Want one?” he asked to Sequoia.

“No, thank you,” she replied politely.

She looked for some tea, and she found it the gallon tank. But it was in the possession of another orc eating a salad with French bread, and drinking tea by the figurative gallon.

He was young, 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. This orc had flaxen hair and soulful teal eyes, and he wore a greencoat uniform with an aubergine mantle and a pentacle necklace.

“Good afternoon, Captain Falcon,” Sequoia said.

“Luigi,” Captain Falcon countered. “There's no need to be formal when we're all off-duty, Holly.”

“I see you're already enjoying yourself, Luigi,” Shark said. “Comfy?”

“Recharging, Carmine,” Falcon explained. “I've got quite a sermon to give tomorrow, and a lot of rituals I needed to prepare, and I've completed most of it, but I've been up virtually all night to do it. So now there's going to be more tea in my body than blood.

“If you're hungry, Winters made French bread and she left it warming in the kitchen.”

“Smashing,” Sequoia cooed. “It'll mix splendidly with our tea.”

“Captain Luigi here's hogging . . .” Shark said, which Falcon wisely ignored.

“So I'll just brew some more,” Sequoia replied. “Small pots are more intimate than the big tank, anyway. You get a good talk when it's just tea for two.” Then she departed for the kitchen.

Shark pulled up a chair, and continued to eat his banana. He looked lustily at Falcon's bread, so Falcon tore part of it off for him and passed it to him. At once, Shark grabbed it and took a bite with some banana still in his mouth. The admixture caused him to raise his eyebrows, and smile.

“Hey, this stuff is great!” Shark said after he swallowed. “What do you call that blend?”

“Banana bread,” Falcon explained, “literally.”

“Winters has got to make some of this stuff!” Shark declared.

“She didn't make it in the first place,” Falcon replied.

Sequoia returned, carrying two adequately-sized pieces of bread with butter on it, and three cups full of loose tea leaves.

“Kettle's on,” she said as she took her chair. Each of the men took a cup, which surprised her. “By the way, Captain Falcon, when you're finished with your tea, could we see the leaves?”

“Nothing like fortune-telling done in the morning, before day starts,” Falcon retorted. “If it makes you happy, have at it.”

Sequoia nodded.

“Holly, don't be such a grumpy cat,” Shark pleaded. “Let me cheer you up.”

She kindly shook her head, torn between letting him cheer her and wanting to leave the room.

“You may be about to lose your audience,” Falcon advised, “unless you come up with some fantastic trick out of the blue.”

“But who could ever feel blue when they see my juggling act?” Shark asked playfully.

He juggled thin air, creating magical spheres of energy in the air. Then he juggled the spheres, moving them in kinds of crazy places, including one that went all the way around his body.

Falcon and Sequoia laughed, while Shark continued playing with his spheres. Suddenly, they transformed into butterflies without his consent.

Tempted, Sequoia tried to catch one with her paw, only to have it dissipate at her touch. The next thing anyone knew, the butterflies exploded harmlessly, like fireworks.

“Oh, the tea kettle!” Sequoia cried out.

Abandoning her chair, she ran to the kitchen. A few moments later, she returned with the tea kettle and poured water into each cup.

“And now the ultimate reward!” Sequoia declared.

“Nature's best blessing,” Shark added.

“The miracle elixir,” Falcon contributed.

Each picked up their glass, and clinked glasses together in the air.

“Tea,” they said simultaneously, and then each took a drink.

“So, Holly, what could you use as tonight's miracle?” Falcon asked.

“That's just it,” Sequoia answered. “I don't know. Something's bothering me, but I can't imagine what it is. Maybe I missed something. I don't know.”

“If you think so, I suggest you go check your computer and see,” Falcon recommended.

“Yes, good idea,” Sequoia answered. “Maybe I forgot to disengage something at the helm yesterday. Excuse me.”

She stood up and left, carrying her tea.

“Even if she made that kind of mistake, wouldn't Hurricane have caught it and fixed it herself?” Shark suggested.

“Yes,” Falcon said, “but something's clearly disturbing her. Watch her closely, okay? I expect trouble out of you, Carmine, but Holly's one of the best officers I've got.”

 

 

Sequoia walked into the control bridge. It was devoid of life, with she the only person in it. She looked at each computer as she passed them, and noticed that they were running only on minimal power, all set on standby. Yet with each step she took deeper into the room, she felt an increased sense of dread. Prudently, she sniffed the air, but found nothing odd.

Soon she reached her computer, the helm, and sat down in the chair. From there, she began checking the computer completely, making sure she had forgotten nothing.

“Okay, the main drives are off. The ignition is off and the key is out,” she said. “Oh, yes. I forgot. The fuel gage says it's a little bit low. Hurricane, can you tell me if there's a fuel leak anywhere on this ship?”

“No leaks, Sequoia,” the unseen voice of Hurricane replied. “What are you doing?”

“I wanted to check things over and make sure I didn't make a mistake,” Sequoia admitted.

“You kept the ship at one tenth greater speed than is good for me yesterday,” Hurricane answered. “Keep it up and you'll wear me out, and we don't want that, do we, dear?”

“I'll keep that in mind,” Sequoia said. She then used her computer to type herself a note and save it. “Anything else? How are the brakes?”

“Calm down, girl,” Hurricane advised her, “everything is fine this morning. Now drink your tea and relax.”

“Thanks,” Sequoia said, breaking into a smile.

She drank her tea, careful to leave the leaves in it. When she was done, she took a look into her cup to see what the leaves foretold. Sequoia saw a mask in the cup.

“That's strange. I don't understand,” Sequoia stated.

The door opened, revealing a joyful Kylie and surprising Sequoia. She dropped her cup, and it shattered on the floor. Turning around, Sequoia noticed Kylie spreading plants all over the room, and singing a melody that turned out to be All Soul's Night.

“Oh, good, Kylie, it's you,” Sequoia said.

“Why are you here, Sequoia?” Kylie asked, stopping her joy.

“I wanted to check on . . .”

“On why you felt so fretful,” Kylie interjected. “I share your concerns.”

“Do you?” Sequoia asked, pleased and hopeful. “But you were so jubilant when you came in. “What bothers you?”

“Cats are masters of ambivalence, Sequoia,” Kylie said. “I should think you'd understand it well. I can be joyful that Samhain comes on the morrow and yet so filled with a sense of foreboding that I felt I should end my dance at the control bridge.”

“You're the most powerful person aboard,” Sequoia said. “What do you feel?”

“That someone is trying to communicate,” Kylie replied.

“Nobody's calling us,” Hurricane complained. “Not a signal in or out of the pocket. And Sequoia, I want you to clean up that mess!”

“Of course,” Sequoia said.

She started looking around for something, only to have Kylie clean it with a prestidigitation spell before her very eyes.

“You're welcome,” Kylie said. “What did the leaves reveal?”

“Something strange,” Sequoia complained. “A mask. What does it mean?”

“A liar,” Kylie explained. “One who is not what they pretend to be.” Kylie assumed the media operations computer and began to review it.

“What are you looking for?” Sequoia inquired, joining Kylie there.

“The same as you; something overlooked,” Kylie said.

While they were searching, the lights on the media operations post began to flicker, and the computer started to beep. Both of them knew that a signal was coming in.

“But there's shouldn't be anything coming in while we're in the pocket,” Hurricane argued.

“Remember, if you will, that the noise that almost drove you all insane penetrated the pocket. I made it for complete invincibility, but the world of Saldimyr works a bit differently than the worlds we know.” Kylie flipped the switch. “We are receiving. Go ahead,” she said.

“This is General Sambik of the planet Pisces,” said a male voice through the computer. “I have been instructed to invite the leaders of every race to Aquarius Station.”

“For what purpose?” Kylie pressed.

“A galaxy-wide meeting,” he explained, “to discuss the creation of a planet of universal peace. As the leader of your little race, it was decided that your captain should attend this meeting.”

“The liar,” Kylie said, and Sequoia nodded in assent. “Take over, Holly.” Kylie abandoned the post, permitting Sequoia to take it.

“Hello,” Sequoia said. “How did you get through our inter-dimensional pocket? Part of the reason we have it is that nobody can breach it.”

“We have our ways,” he answered.

Kylie stepped away from Sequoia and shut her eyes.

Captain Falcon to the control bridge! Kylie cried out telepathically. There is possible danger to this ship and crew, especially you!

Once that was done, she went to the diagnostic-engineering computer and began to study the ship, concentrating on communications.

“Hurricane, I'd appreciate your help,” Kylie said.

“My what an unusual morning” Hurricane remarked. “Normally, nobody's clocked on and working at all until just before we're out of the pocket.”

“This is not a normal circumstance,” Sequoia countered.

 

 

Five minutes later, Captain Falcon entered the control bridge.

“What's going on, Kylie?” he asked.

Kylie still sat at the diagnostic-engineering station. She turned to him, and motioned for him to come to her. Complying, Falcon approached her.

“Take a look,” Kylie said.

She pointed to a window on the monitor, which revealed a long chain of streaming red numbers. Falcon scratched his head and clutched his chin.

“What is that?” he asked.

“Sequoia!” Kylie called out, so Sequoia turned to her. “Come and look at this.”

Sequoia abandoned the post and looked at the frame, examining it carefully.

“It looks like lines of code!” Sequoia exclaimed.

“Precisely,” Kylie stated, “but at a very advanced level.”

“What's it doing?” Falcon inquired.

“Intercepting all our communications and reporting them back,” Kylie explained. “Every word said back and forth through media operations all transmitted to a third party.”

“It's doing something else, too,” Hurricane announced. “It's been emitting a signal, but at a level of sound that orcish and humanoid ears could not detect it.”

“But no doubt catfolk can,” Kylie suggested.

“So that's why I felt so disturbed for so long!” Sequoia said, snapping her fingers. “I could hear this noise, but so quietly that I couldn't make it out.”

“I pray it's not like the noise that drove us all batty last week!” Falcon groused.

“No, it's quite different,” Kylie answered. “For one thing, there is none of the signature radiation. Instead, this is more reminiscent of a computer virus.”

“That means external sabotage!” Falcon declared, and Kylie nodded in agreement. “Sequoia, start a general alert. If they sabotaged our media operations computer, they may not stop there. Kylie, check each other computer to see if there are foreign lines of code running.”

“Of course,” Kylie said. “Sir, two more things. The reason I called you is that there was a message specifically for you. Secondly, Sequoia, I'd like you to begin tracing the virus back to its source.”

“That means we'll have to leave the pocket,” Sequoia said.

“So be it,” Falcon answered. “Now start the general alert.”

“After that, play back the message we just received,” Kylie ordered.

Sequoia nodded, returned to media operations, and then pressed several keys.

“Attention all hands!” she warned. “We are now on general alert due to computer sabotage. I repeat, we are now on general alert due to computer sabotage.” Then she pressed more keys and turned back to Captain Falcon. “Sir, if you are ready.”

“On speakers!” he ordered, and she complied.

“We are receiving,” a recording of Kylie's voice said. “Go ahead.”

“This is General Sambik of the planet Pisces,” said a male voice through the computer. “I have been instructed to invite the leaders of every race to Aquarius Station.”

“For what purpose?” Kylie pressed.

“A galaxy-wide meeting,” he explained, “to discuss the creation of a planet of universal peace. As the leader of your little race, it was decided that your captain should attend this meeting.”

Then came a few seconds of silence.

“Hello,” a recording of Sequoia's voice said. “How did you get through our inter-dimensional pocket? Part of the reason we have it is that nobody can breach it.”

“We have our ways,” he answered.

“Sir, please understand that this would make us arch our backs,” Sequoia replied. “You can't just take people by surprise like this, especially in a zone we consider to be a safe haven.”

“My girl, we do not wish to harm or disturb you. It is just that we saw no other way of communicating with you without being intercepted,” General Sambik stated. “Now may we please speak with your captain?”

“He's been called already and should be back in touch with you shortly,” Sequoia said. “May I have your coordinates so that I can call you back when he is ready?”

“Yes,” General Sambik said. “Prepare to receive our broadcasting coordinates.”

“Does it say anything more important in that message?” Falcon asked.

“No,” Sequoia declared.

“Shut it off,” Falcon insisted, and so she did. “Kylie?”

“Captain?” Kylie countered.

“They don't seem to be hostile,” Falcon said, “though they are Pisceans. Thus far, what we know of the Pisceans is that they are scoundrels and pirates who take a life of high-seas adventure quite literally.”

“With outer space as the deep blue sea,” Sequoia added.

“Would he or his crew have sent us this line of code?” Falcon asked.

“It is possible, but not immediately provable,” Kylie remarked. “I suggest we ask Ensign Quail if this type of trickery matches the Piscean pattern.”

“I'll go do that. One thing boggles me, Kylie,” Falcon said. “Your magic altered our Great Wall to become the Reflective Great Wall, capable of turning any attack back against the ship that fired it. Why didn't it reflect this attack?”

“Cyber-attacks do not play by the same rules as conventional weapons, Luigi,” Kylie explained. “Cyber-terrorism requires separate types of defenses, such as passwords, firewalls, and biological scans, such as the retina and the fingerprint scans.”

“Can you put that in elemental terms?” Falcon requested.

“Certainly,” Kylie said. “The Reflective Great Wall reflects the power of fire. This came from the power of air.”

“Thus it could slip through as where a direct attack would not. Sequoia, punch up their coordinates and give them a call,” Falcon ordered. “Tell them I'm ready to accept their invitation.”

“Captain, you can't!” Sequoia protested.

“Don't do it!” Hurricane added.

“Be careful, Luigi,” Kylie cautioned. She returned to the diagnostic-engineering computer and began a vigil concentrating on media operations. “There is a lie here somewhere. I suspect a trap.”

“Probably, but you're always telling me that I need to step up and lead these people instead of relying on you,” Falcon said. “And now I've chosen.”

“May I question why you've elected this course of action?” Kylie queried.

“It is a matter of faith, Kylie,” Falcon replied. “One of these leaders may know a way home for us. And even if not, the more information and experience we have with this world, the better.”

“But I remind you, Luigi,” Kylie commented, “you are the captain. I daresay it's not your place to leave the ship unless there are extenuating circumstances . . .”

“That's why you're staying aboard, Kylie,” Falcon said. “If it is a trap, I want you here. We can't both of us leave. The Wise Owl can permanently lose one of us, but not both.”

Kylie sighed and nodded in silent acquiescence.

“Sir, you're patched in,” Sequoia interjected.

“Thank you,” Falcon said. “General Sambik, are you there? This is Captain Falcon of the Wise Owl.”

“I've been waiting for you,” Sambik said. “Forgive my bluntness, but I'm sure you and your crew are busy so let us make this quick. Will you come to the meeting to represent your people?”

“I will,” Falcon said, “though you will understand if I bring some of my crew along for security's sake.”

“You and every other prudent leader,” General Sambik answered. “We would welcome them. Let peace and unity reign, beginning at Aquarius Station.”

“The meaning is wrong,” Falcon answered. “For that, you need Libra. What time should I be there?”

“Our conference begins the day after tomorrow,” General Sambik said. “At noon.”

“Then I shall leave this morning,” Falcon declared.

“What about Samhain?” Hurricane argued.

“A pleasure to see you and your legendary crew,” General Sambik replied. “Farewell for now.”

“Sir, he's severed the link,” Sequoia said.

“Very good,” Falcon stated.

“He's done more than that,” Kylie replied. “There must have been a kill prompt embedded in the code, designed to go off when you and he actually conversed with each other.”

“So we're no longer being tracked?” Falcon asked.

“I don't feel disturbed any longer,” Sequoia said.

“That's because we are no longer being spliced into,” Hurricane declared.

“I'm still going to quarantine the code,” Kylie advised. “This computer virus could either spread or reactivate at any time.”

“Good idea,” Falcon said. “Now I don't want to hear a word about my going there.”

“Very good, Luigi,” Kylie stated, glaring at Sequoia to cut off her arguments.

“Sir, since I can't object to you going, and since I can hear this noise, barely, I volunteer to go along with you,” Sequoia pleaded. “You may need me.”

“Accepted,” Falcon said. “Now get me Ensign Quail and call everyone up for duty.”

“All hands,” Sequoia directed through the media operations computer, “report to duty stations immediately, except for Ensign Quail. Quail, report to the control bridge.”

 

 

A few minutes later, all of the control bridge crew was working at their respective stations. Sequoia was back at the helm, with Shark by her side at navigation.

Now manning media operations was a young female orc in a uniform, but with a rose-colored sash around it, and mauve ribbons in her rose-colored hair, while at the tactical computer, there was a male elf wearing a greencoat uniform with a red coat and a grand black sash. He had blond hair and white eyes.

Working at the science computer was a wise old orcish crone in a greencoat uniform, with an apricot-colored lab coat.

And lastly, there was a much younger female orc with very short hair in a greencoat uniform with sunglasses on her eyes. She had a brunette mantle on along her back and chest, and a headband with the cords behind her as well. This woman stood beside the captain's chair, with her hands behind her back.

“No further lines of code detected,” Kylie said from the diagnostic-engineering computer.

“And no more attempts at communication,” said the woman at media ops. “Whomever sent that message must have gotten what they wanted.”

“Thank you, Sergeant Moss,” Falcon stated. “Now, if you're done, Kylie, I want Moss to use the diagnostic-engineering computer to replace media operations. I don't want media operations used until we're totally sure it's safe again.”

“Yes, Captain Falcon,” Kylie said. She converted the computer to make it easier for Moss, then stepped aside so Moss could abandon the media operations computer and use the diagnostic-engineering post as a temporary replacement.

Moss got there, and gave the computer a quick check to ensure the conversion was flawless.

“Picture perfect,” she said, taking a photograph for good measure.

“Cool it, Moss,” Falcon said. “Corporal Salamander, raise the Reflective Great Wall and keep alert for any ships that come within long-range scans. I don't care what nationality they're from, I want to know about it.”

“Certainly, Captain Falcon,” vowed the elf as he set about to his work.

“Definitely a mild cyber-attack,” said the woman at the science computer. “They were looking for something, but they did not find it. It did not spread beyond media operations.”

“At least that's some relief, Professor Winters,” Falcon said. “Are we in any danger right now, Commander Iris?”

“No minds or souls are nearby, and I can sense no danger,” the woman beside the captain's chair replied. “The danger that I feel is deception.”

“That seems to be the general consensus,” Falcon stated.

“Captain?” asked Quail as he entered the control bridge.

“Bernard,” Falcon pressed, “our chat last night about the Pisceans was rather brief. Could you answer more questions for me?”

“A pleasure,” Quail replied. “The Pisceans are a free people, both in their chaotic culture and in their rejection the Breshleyite Empire's generous offers of protection.”

“So they are rouges,” Falcon said.

“In a manner of speaking, yes,” Quail replied. “Their world was once a normal world with a normal culture until a natural disaster caused a great flood that submerged eighty percent of the land masses, resulting in a few scattered islands. With resources scarce, the leaders of each island declared war on the other islands, and the wars have never stopped.

“Since the planet was already a heavily water-oriented land anyway, there was a large boating culture among the young, permitting many of the residents to survive the flood. But due to the lack of usable land, most people had to learn to live on the sea entirely.

“Between the lack of land, the lack of resources, and the war between the islands, skirmishes between the crossing ships became incredibly common.”

“So anyone who was just out for a sail was attacked as if they were a privateer?” Falcon inquired.

“Yes, actually,” Quail continued. “Planet Pisces degenerated into a culture that behaves akin to, as Shark told me the tales, the pirate culture in the history of Planet Earth.”

“When did the Pisceans evolve so they could breathe water?” Professor Winters asked.

“And has this changed the inter-island warfare?” Kylie added.

“When every part of the great sea was mapped and claimed, the Pisceans mostly lost interest in remaining on the planet and built starships instead,” Quail explained.

“So instead, they turned to outer space to continue their revels,” Falcon said. “The raiders of this galaxy.”

“Yes,” Quail agreed, “but nothing like the menaces the Malecormans and their slave-trader allies have proven to be. It is said that the Pisceans were one of the first peoples here, captured by the slave traders and brought here. But they escaped the slave traders by using the water of the planet this particular group was placed on. And, in fact, the ship they were said to be taken from was called the Pisces.”

“Which means they either were humans or knew of them. What a world this is,” Falcon complained. “I want to go home!”

“I know, Captain Falcon,” Quail said. “One day we'll find a way. From what I've heard from the crew, the Bre-ayne Island is a druid's paradise.”

“It is,” Falcon said. “Sometimes you have to lose what you have to appreciate it. All right then. Quail, Winters, Sequoia, Iris, and Shark, I want you all to meet me at the shuttlecraft in two hours.”

“Yes, Captain Falcon,” Winters said.

“At your command,” Iris replied.

“This is going to be fun,” Shark mused boisterously.

“Aye sir,” Sequoia whispered.

“Yes Captain Falcon,” Quail said, saluting yet again.

“Bernard, you're not Breshleyite any longer. You can relax – a little. Dismissed!”

Quail smiled, then turned and left the control bridge.

“Captain, that's our piloting crew,” Kylie advised. “Who will steer?”

“You and Doctor Porpoise will do it,” Captain Falcon said, “unless you'd prefer to run media operations and let Moss take the helm.”

“As you wish, Captain Falcon,” Kylie said without complaint. “I shall pilot. Moss will navigate, and Felix can handle the media post.” And at that moment, Falcon stood up and headed for the door. “Sir, where are you going?”

“To do something I haven't done in some time,” Falcon replied.

Kylie looked at him nervously, but she allowed him to leave. After all, he was the captain due to her not wanting it, despite who she really was. Ship medic and first officer was enough for her.

 

 

The hallway was well-lit and vast, with a large airlock and door on the wall that led to the attached shuttlecraft outside. Corporal Salamander waited by a panel, while Lieutenant Shark was juggling with a pack of playing cards, using a little minor magic to help him control them.

“Have you enough spells to spare to be casting that, Carmine?” Ensign Quail inquired.

“Hi, Bernard,” Shark said. “Yes. It's just a little spell that doesn't even have a power rating. I can cast it practically for free.”

“One shouldn't waste their spells so shamelessly!” declared Commander Iris. “Kylie once told me that even the weakest spell can infrequently save one's life.”

“I'll keep that in mind, Commander Iris,” Shark complained, “the next time I'm out of my higher-rated spells.”

Svetlana Iris, Shark thought, you are nothing but a spoilsport and a stuffy old stick in the mud.

I am also a powerful psychic, Carmine Shark! Iris countered telepathically, surprising Shark. You would do well to remember that.

“We must be on our guard down there,” Iris replied. “I sense treachery afoot.”

“Yeah,” Shark agreed. “Wouldn't it be nice if someone in this world would just have the courtesy to come right out and stab you in the front instead of being sweet to your face and sour behind your back.”

“Please don't fight,” Sequoia beseeched. “Iris, I know that you, as a sworn monk and a master of ascetic discipline, and Carmine, as a wild bard with a great zest for living don't exactly agree on, well, anything, but please, not today.”

“I can get along with Mr. Shark,” Iris answered. “At least he isn't Zelda Moss. Ick!”

“But you love me,” Bernard Quail interjected, taking Iris by the hand.

“Oh indeed I do,” she said. “Are you ready, Professor Winters?”

“Indeed I am,” said Winters as she walked down the hall.

She wore a brand new necklace made of yellow cloth enchanted to be made as strong as steel, and within that necklace was a gem of flawless turquoise. Furthermore, she carried a green bag with her.

“Keep those feelings of love as long as you can my dears,” she advised.

“We intend to, Georgeanne,” Iris said.

“What a stunning new necklace!” Shark called out. “Don't you all think so?”

Except for Iris, who could never have seen it, the group gathered around her.

“It's delightful, right?” Winters asked. “Kylie invented it, and its twin. She's been working on it for days but finished it today. All she or I have to do is touch it, and we'll be able to talk to each other telepathically from any distance, so long as we're both wearing it.”

“What a useful device!” Salamander declared. “Why don't we all have one yet?”

“This is its first test,” Winters stated. “And being open for everyone instead of being enchanted for a specific pair causes incredible psychic confusion. So she and I are bonded. The theory is that, since I'm the one sent out on most missions, but I am at best a paramedic, that I'm to report to Kylie and let her tell me how to evaluate treat any patients I get.”

“Without putting her at risk,” Sequoia said. “Brilliant.”

“I certainly think so,” Winters said.

“Oh good,” Captain Falcon remarked as he approached, carrying a box. “I see the gang's all here. Splendid.”

“What is that heavenly aroma?” Quail asked as he sniffed the air, promptly followed by all the others except for Falcon.

“Banana bread,” Falcon indicated. “Shark's request. Half of it is for us, and the other half is a gift for the great meeting.”

“You can cook?” Quail asked.

“Not whole meals, but I can cook desserts,” Falcon clarified. “See, every druidic priest in the clerical seminary must select a profession in the church and learn that trade in addition to their theological, natural, and magical training. I chose to work as the pastry chef's assistant. Now let's get cracking.”

“May I ask why you have to learn a skilled trade?” Quail inquired.

“Father Kojyc believes that it helps you stay connected to the natural and physical world, and thus helps priests avoid becoming so caught up in religious theory that they can't relate to the real world. Who needs a bunch of priests who preach about the laws of Mother Nature but spend no time with her?” Falcon explained. “So, now that we've got the bread business out of the way, are you all ready to go?”

“Sir! A monk is ready for any circumstance,” Iris declared. “At least, she should be.”

“Ready as I'll ever be,” Sequoia stated.

“I have a recording device and, should the need arise, a translating device,” Quail said. “As well as one for detecting bugs and . . .”

“Very good, Ensign Quail,” Falcon said. “Shark?”

“Oh, me,” Shark mused, then he sang Who could ask for anything more?

Everyone laughed, except for Iris.

“All right now, everybody get on board the shuttlecraft,” Falcon directed. “Quail and Iris, I'll give you two two minutes.”

“Thank you,” Quail said.

“I wish you all a safe travel and a swift return back to the Wise Owl,” Salamander stated.

Salamander opened the airlock and the door, then Falcon, Shark, Winters, Sequoia, and Quail went to the shuttlecraft. They deliberately refused to look back, so that they would not intrude on Iris and Quail's lovers' embrace.

“You know, I don't have to say a word to you,” Quail said. Then he kissed Iris. “You know exactly what I'm thinking, what I want to do, how I feel.”

“I wish you could see what's in my mind, my love,” she replied. “Maybe one day I'll awaken your third eye.”

“I wish you would . . .”

“I know.” She put her hand on his lips. “In time.”

They shared some sensuous moments together, but did not allow it to go too far due to the presence of a politely back-turned audience. Then they broke apart, and Quail and Iris joined the others.

“Best of luck and hurry back,” Salamander said.

“We will try,” Falcon answered.

Salamander shut the airlock and the door, and the shuttlecraft began to fly away shortly after that.

 

 

Kylie reentered the control bridge, wearing a necklace that was the twin of the one she had made and granted to Georgeanne Winters. She looked around to see who else was in the room. At once she saw Moss at the tactical computer and Doctor Porpoise at the diagnostic-engineering computer, which was still being used in the stead of media ops.

“Is the Reflective Great Wall up, Moss?” Kylie inquired.

“Not yet because the shuttle is still in our immediate area,” Moss replied.

Kylie approached the monitor with Moss and viewed it alongside her. Together, they watched as the little shuttlecraft escaped from the range of the Reflective Great Wall. Once it had, Moss engaged it, and a green wall formed on the monitor surrounding the image of the Wise Owl.

“Up and running,” Moss replied, “and all defensive systems read as top notch.”

“Smashing,” Kylie said. “Doctor Porpoise, I'd like a full examination of the media operations computer, physically please.”

“Just let me go get my toolbox,” he replied. He abandoned the engineering computer and walked to the media operations post. Then he disconnected its power plug. When he was done with that, he waved his hands around and conjured up his favorite toolbox out of the engineering room.

“Hurricane, would you be so good as to take over media operations responsibilities until Felix Porpoise is finished?” Kylie asked.

“At least I'm getting noticed,” Hurricane groused.

“Hello,” Salamander said as he returned to the control bridge.

“This is your place,” Moss said, abandoned the tactical post to permit Salamander to reclaim it. “I'm navigating and you're helming?”

“Quite,” Kylie said. “I've helmed before, and besides, I want to be able to fully pilot this ship. Everyone should be able to work the control bridge, in my opinion. You will be there at my side at navigation, to properly instruct and correct me.”

“Never throw away a chance to teach your boss,” Moss mused, then she and Kylie went to the respective helm and navigation computers.

“It's strange,” Hurricane said, “but I'm getting several signals from the shuttlecraft that don't come from the shuttlecraft itself, but something on it . . .”

“That's not strange,” Porpoise explained. “Quail asked me to make him some ground instruments, which I did. That's what you're reading. I just love alchemy.”

“Mixing science and sorcery is one of life's great joys,” Kylie agreed.

“Now where are we going?” Moss asked.

I want you to lock on to the shuttlecraft,” Kylie directed. “We're going to follow them, albeit at a distance.”

Kylie started to examine the helm computer and started driving the ship, but was slightly too rough with it and caused the ship to jerk.

“Here,” Moss said, “do it like this.” She then pressed several keys, but kept her movements slow so Kylie could follow them. “That's what you did wrong.”

“Oh, I get it!” Kylie declared. “Thank you. We shall be following them at eight tenths of their speed. Enough to grant them independence, yet close enough to respond in minutes should Captain Falcon need us.”

“Incoming message!” Hurricane called out.

“Let's hear it,” Kylie replied.

“Playing now,” Hurricane answered.

“What are you doing?” Captain Falcon asked. “We know you're following us.”

“Quite right,” Kylie answered, “and we shall continue to do so. You are our captain, Luigi. We cannot let you take such a risk alone.”

“We will be fine,” Falcon countered.

“I know,” Kylie stated. “I shall ensure that.”

“Kylie, I'm ordering you . . .”

“Sir, may I make a counter-proposal?” Salamander interjected. “Let us follow you for a little while. As the station becomes within scanning range, if any other starships that have come to protect their captains and leaders are present, we will stay too. And if not, we shall withdraw and find something else to work on.”

“That is fair,” Kylie suggested. “I'd agree to that if you would.”

“Reason shall prevail over ego,” Falcon replied. “We are agreed.”

 

 

“Lots of ships in scanning range now,” Sequoia said from the pilot post of the shuttlecraft. “We are nearing Aquarius Station. Thirty minutes at present speed.”

“And lots of messages being sent back and forth,” Quail said from the media operations computer. “Most of them are coded so I don't know what they're saying, but . . .”

“I should think we have a rather flawless idea about what they're saying,” Falcon remarked. “No doubt every ship has a Kylie aboard.”

“It is concern that I sense, mostly,” Iris blurted out. “There is a lot of distrust in the air, hidden by brave facades.”

“Then I'm suddenly glad Kylie followed us,” Falcon replied. “When everyone shows mutual distrust, or worse yet, doesn't show it but feels it anyway, that is a harbinger of doom for peace summits.”

“And for the great men who attend them,” Shark added from his position at the tactical post.

“I don't know about the rest of you, but to me this feels like some kind of game,” Winters warned.

“Which means there's going to be one winner and a whole bunch of losers,” Shark concluded.

“It's not about winning and losing,” Falcon said.

“Not to us,” Shark countered, “but what about someone else?”

The only answer to that was an uncomfortable silence that was only broken, several minutes later, by Sequoia's computer alerting her to a speeding ship nearing the shuttlecraft's path.

Prudently, she compensated by slowing down and adjusting course slightly, proving a narrow escape. But it did not allow them to escape the reverberative shaking.

“Did we collide?” Falcon asked.

“No,” she said, “but that was close.”

“Reduce speed,” Falcon said. “Get us behind everyone else. Who cares if we're the last to the party if we're also the only ones who show up intact?”

“A force field is forming around us,” Shark said.

Falcon stood up with alarm and walked to Shark, then looked at his monitor.

“Yes it is. What kind of force field?” Falcon asked.

“Oh, no worries,” Shark said after making a good scan of it. “It's just a shield spell.”

“Kylie's intervention again?” Falcon pressed, somewhat pleased.

“Close,” Shark said. “Kylie's magic is primal, not arcane or divine. This is arcane magic, so it's probably the work of Zelda Moss. Her newest magical creation.”

“Sometimes it's nice having a sorceress aboard,” Falcon replied. “And other times, it's . . .”

“Exhilarating,” Shark finished for him, cutting him off.

“Not exactly how I'd put it,” Falcon insisted, then let the matter drop.

“Revised estimate on arrival time,” Sequoia said. “Currently, it will take us two hours and thirty-two minutes.”

“Still, they know we're coming,” Quail said. “Lots of chatter about that speed demon. Nobody's impressed, and whomever they were as they cut straight to the front of the procession, they're pinched for it now. There are so many profanities in the communications that it might turn into noise pollution.”

“That's why we're staying in the back of the line,” Falcon said. “Let someone else have the ten-ship pileup.” He turned around, and looked outside the shuttlecraft's window.

“What disturbs you, Captain Falcon?” Iris asked.

“They are going to cause a crash, aren't they?” Falcon inquired. “Those speed demons out there.”

“Yes,” Iris answered.

“Quail, can you cut through the expletive-loaded chatter and warn everyone to give those speedsters a wide berth?” Falcon asked.

“I can try,” Quail remarked. He turned to his computer and did just that, but it became obvious after a few attempts that he could not break through. “I'm sorry. There's too much foul language for me to get a word in edgewise.”

“Don't fret. Can we protect each ship?” Falcon asked.

“Unlikely,” Shark answered.

“So be it. Quail, initiate the recorder to pick up visual feed,” Falcon instructed. “I want a clear picture of every ship out there available for us to pull up at a moment's notice.”

“Yes, Captain Falcon,” Quail answered, and he switched tasks at once.

“Winters, use that necklace of yours,” Falcon demanded. “Have Kylie cast her regenerative aura spell over the area. That should be enough to heal all injuries the coming crash will cause.”

“All right,” Winters said.

 

 

The flight continued on uneventfully for about fifteen more minutes. Then alarms began to beep at the tactical computer, but Shark hastily silenced them.

“Lots of debris,” Shark said.

“Floating ship pieces,” Winters corrected him, as she analyzed the wreckage from the science station. “Clearly the crash has happened, right at the start of this parade.”

“Confirmed,” Sequoia answered.

“Distress signals and verbally violent arguments,” Quail added. “It sounds almost like a verbal war. If we aren't careful, a Breshleyite ship could show up to investigate and then everyone would be in trouble.”

“Nobody likes a busybody empire,” Shark mused.

“Captain,” Winters stated, “Kylie reports that Hurricane told her the crash was caused by two ships competing for the lead against a third that actually had the lead legitimately, but did not notice the other two ships were coming. One of the two in the competition was the speed demon and the other, trying to match it, became a speed devil. They were both Granitesians.”

“Oh,” everyone said collectively.

“That explains a lot,” Falcon complained.

If there's one race everyone loathes even more than the incorporeal-corporeal traitors, the Malecormans, and the meddling Breshleyites with their militant military empire, and the Pisceans with their rampant thievery and piracy, it's the Granitesians, Falcon thought to himself.

Quite a race aren't they? Iris joined him telepathically. They have mental powers on a scale even greater than we Bre-ayne have in collective magic.

But, Falcon rebutted, as where we are communists who believe in working together for the betterment of all, they prefer rugged individualism and sheer, unregulated competition. In a competition where there's no rules, the players always destroy themselves. Throw in such a high level of psychokinetic power, and you have a real problem.

But as sworn druids, committed to the cause of Nature and the Goddess She represents, Iris countered, we are required to accept and honor the diversity of all living things.

Honor and accept, yes, but we don't have to like or trust them, Falcon remarked.

“Defensive measures, but prepare to offer assistance to all who ask,” Falcon instructed verbally.

“It's bad,” Winters stated. “You were right, Luigi, it's a ten-ship pileup.”

“Get us close, Sequoia, but do it defensively,” Falcon commanded. “Once we're there, stop engines. Quail, as soon as she's stopped us, pull up each picture. We're going to repair their ships.”

“How?” Quail asked, turning to the captain in shock.

“Through cooperative magic,” Falcon said. Iris smiled at him, pleased. “When Sequoia and Quail are ready, all hands join with mine. Those who are not druids, well, call the spirits for us.”

 

 

“Now we're getting nothing but praise and thank yous from every ship out there,” Quail said. “It's so syrupy sweet I think I should have my blood sugar checked!”

Winters smiled, but said nothing as she turned her eyes back toward her monitor.

“All ships have been repaired and the regeneration field is still running,” Winters announced. “They also appear to be completely immobile.”

“They're staying put on purpose,” Sequoia told her. “Courteously allowing us to take the lead.”

“Is this a race?” Shark asked.

“Not anymore,” Falcon replied. “Get us back on course at the proper speed. Not too fast, but quicker than this.”

“How about halfway?” Sequoia offered, and not getting any rebuke or argument, that is what she implemented. “Our new speed will take us to Aquarius Station in just under an hour.”

“Splendid,” Falcon said. “I wonder if that's the danger Kylie was so worried about.”

“No, if it were over I'd feel better, but instead, I just feel worse,” Iris said. “I sense that that ship intended to cause trouble.”

“Intended?” Falcon asked. “Not rash carelessness but a deliberate attack? Okay, so if they're a race that's likely to cause trouble, the question is why. What could they hope to gain out of attacking in space here that they could not get somewhere else?”

“There is only one thing that's different,” Winters replied. “The leaders of each nation are gathering at Aquarius Station.”

“But what could the Granitesians have to gain from attacking us?” Falcon said. “Don't they know they'd incite the wrath of every planet in this world?”

“Perhaps that's the point,” Shark said. “They could be planning war.”

“Against Breshley?” Quail asked. “Foolish. Even with their powers, they'd never win. The other races would flock to rally with Breshley. Even the Centaubrics would temporarily unite in common cause.”

“But what if they had leverage?” Winters suggested.

“What kind of leverage?” Shark asked.

“Us,” Falcon stated. “Myself and the other leaders.”

“Is this whole conference a trap after all?” Sequoia worriedly asked.

“Not if we're wary,” Falcon stated. “Quail, set one of your gadgets to monitor the Granitesian ships. I want to know every word they broadcast.”

“You got it,” he replied, and set straight to work. “So far, all I get is how offended they are that we stepped in and helped everyone else out. They seem to believe that they could've done better.”

“Petty bravado,” Iris declared.

“Continue on,” Falcon insisted.

As they flew toward the station, they passed the ships. Through magic, each ship was swiftly being set to right, and the crewmen within them healed of all injuries. Taking advantage of the courtesy offered, the shuttlecraft flew right by.

 

 

“Aquarius Station ahead!” Sequoia called out.

A few minutes later, everyone could see it through the window. It was a large space station that was shaped like a fish, gracefully orbiting the planet Pisces. This was a very elegant silver space station, complete with gills. The mouth opened and closed to allow ships in and out, and being set above the sparkling water of the planet, the station looked like a fish leaping out of the water.

“All they're missing is Cancer,” Shark commented.

“No, it's missing Libra,” Falcon replied, “the sign of justice. Quail, announce us.”

“As you wish,” Quail replied, pressing the keys on his computer. “Aquarius Station, this is the ship bearing Captain Luigi Falcon, representative of the Bre-ayne Island. We seek General Sambik. Is he available?”

“Currently he is not,” a female voice responded, “but I shall alert him to your presence the moment I see him. I shall now clear you for docking. Please stand by.”

“Standing by,” Quail said.

“Not exactly the reception you wanted, was it, Captain Falcon?” Shark asked.

“Just let me know if we have any unwanted receptions,” Falcon insisted. “Iris, what do you think?”

“There are problems they don't want to reveal,” Iris answered. “Don't be surprised if they try to keep this conference purely saccharine sweetness and light.”

“No doubt of it,” Falcon agreed. “I wonder what has them so concerned that they want us kept in the dark. This painting gets blacker and blacker the more I look at it.”

“Shall we turn back?” Sequoia asked, hopeful.

“We're in too deep now,” Falcon said. “Ease your course and keep your eyes open.”

Sequoia knew he referred both to the ship and the situation.

“Am I reaching the party of Captain Falcon?” the woman asked.

“You are,” Quail said.

“They are clearing the dock for you, so please proceed,” she stated. “Aquarius Station welcomes you. A greeting party will escort you to your rooms upon arrival. How many are in your party?”

“Six,” Quail said. “Three men and three women.”

“That makes it easier, since we'd prepared for four,” she said. “I'll see to it an extra bed is put in each room.”

“Don't go to all that trouble,” Falcon interjected. “Two of my crew shall sleep aboard the shuttlecraft. I insist on it.”

“So be it,” she answered. “I am transmitting the docking instructions.”

“Sequoia, I'm forwarding them to you,” Quail advised.

“I see them,” Sequoia replied as one of her monitors lit up like a Christmas tree. “Thank you.”

While Quail smiled, Sequoia divided her attention between the instructions and her monitor, comparing the two every few seconds to ensure that she did not crash.

The others watched in the window as Piscean ships yielded to the shuttlecraft through the opening of the mouth of the fish, except for Iris, who kept her mind focused on the station.

Instead of watching this, Sequoia guided the shuttle through the opening mouth and into the aperture.

Danger is here, she warned Captain Falcon telepathically.

Understood, Falcon thought back.

Soon, everyone except for Iris and Sequoia could see an impressive ship dock, with several ships moored and sitting stationary and several people milling around doing all kinds of work, most of them Pisceans.

“The Breshleyites are already here,” Shark commented as they passed a Breshleyite war cruiser. “Maybe that's what's keeping General Sambik busy.”

“Breshleyites are a double-edged sword,” Sequoia dared to say. “They're wonderful when you need an army or a police force, but when you don't, they're oppressive and demanding. The ultimate in lawful-neutrals.”

“With a touch of lawful-evil but convinced they're lawful-good,” Falcon said.

Sequoia continued to guide the ship, following the instructions and her computer screen, until she came to a safe place in the docks where she could land the shuttlecraft. With a turn to the east and a twist to the north, Sequoia made piloting a ship look easy.

“We are now landing,” she said. “Tell her that, Bernard.”

“Madame,” Quail related, “we are landing now.”

“Affirmative,” she enjoined. “I can see you now.”

Making a silent countdown in her head, Sequoia landed the shuttlecraft delicately, then she shut the engines down. Silver cords flew and connected to the ship, producing a mooring effect.

“Purrfect,” she cooed.

“Very good,” Falcon said. He walked to the media operations computer. “So do we wait here for the greeting party?”

“Well, you can get out of your ship if you like,” the woman answered.

“It's safe, Captain Falcon,” Winters announced. “The environment has been adjusted to meet the average survival conditions for all races known to this world. We'll be fine, if we don't breathe too deeply. The air is slightly thinner than we're accustomed to.”

“If we must, we'll wildshape into smaller forms,” Falcon said. “Everybody out.”

He went to the door and opened it, then emerged from the shuttlecraft into the very large docking bay. The carpet felt like softened coral reef under his boots, and looked like it to the eye. Falcon observed people arguing about shipments, people having their identifications and papers checked, workers moving crates with tow dollies, and a linguist intervening in a dispute between a Breshleyite man and a Piscean woman.

Shortly after his exit, the others also exited, except for Shark.

Falcon turned back to Shark and rested his hands on the top of the door. He saw that Shark was holding one of the gadgets Quail had asked for and was examining it closely.

“Coming, Carmine?”

“Yeah,” Shark said, “I just want to finish up. Those Granitesians have been talking up a storm.”

“Quite,” Quail said, “but nothing but idle chatter.”

“Permission to stay aboard and monitor their transmissions,” Shark requested. “I love a good bit of skulduggery.”

Iris sighed and shook her head.

“You just can't help yourself, can you, bard?” she asked.

“For once I'm glad of it,” Falcon countered. “You may stay. If they do say anything important, I expect it reported at once.”

“Yes Captain Falcon!” Shark said with a salute. Then Shark closed the door, and the others waited outside.

“Keep an ear out, Quail, in case he does try to call us,” Falcon said.

“Okay,” he replied.

“Hello!” cried out a hand-waving Piscean woman in an aquamarine and teal uniform, with long blue hair down to her chest and azure eyes. Behind her came two other Pisceans, one a younger man and the other an older one. “My name is Ylandia Geril, and I'm General Sambik's executive assistant.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Falcon said, offering her a hand to shake. She looked at him with dismay. “You do this.” Falcon then grabbed her hand and shook it, catching her by surprise.

“It's a friendly greeting in many worlds,” Winters explained.

“Oh,” she said, and answered Falcon's shake with one of her own. “I'm glad to know that.”

“This is not quite what I expected,” Falcon said.

“Well, from all the glowing reports we overheard about what you did when the other ships crashed, I figured you were something special. Shall I lead you to your rooms now or shall I get you something to eat first?”

“The cabins, please,” Falcon said. “But I do have several questions . . .”

“I'll answer as we walk. Tide! Undertoe! Flank us!” Miss Geril ordered, and the men obeyed.

“I'm Captain Luigi Falcon, and this is my crew,” Falcon said. “Security officer and bodyguard Svetlana Iris, helmswoman Holly Sequoia, one of our greatest scientists, Professor Georgeanne Winters, and our assistant engineer, Bernard Quail.”

“Is she a slave?” Miss Geril whispered to Captain Falcon, who only burst out laughing.

“Sequoia, a slave? We don't do such a thing on our island!” Falcon replied between laughs.

“Catfolk are a minority race on our home island,” Sequoia said.

“But since we're committed to nature, racial discrimination is forbidden,” Winters said. “We see her as just plain one of us.”

“How egalitarian,” Geril commented. “If you'll just come this way . . .”

 

 

Geril and her two bodyguards led the team toward the specially prepared cabins where the leaders and their guardians would be resting.

“And so that is why this place is often referred to as the flying fish,” Geril explained. “Well, now you've seen the shopping plaza and the food court, and the entertainment sections. Your cabins are the only place left that you haven't seen.”

“Where will we be during the conference itself?” Falcon asked.

“In the auditorium,” Geril stated. “It is being refurbished to accommodate, well, the leaders of just about all the races here.”

“How many races exist in this world, anyway?” Winters inquired.

“Seven major ones, with a smattering of minorities and variations, depending on the world,” Quail answered. “So, not counting us, roughly fourteen races.”

“That's right,” Geril said, “but only the actual leaders of the planets have been invited, along with a couple of people such as yourselves.”

She led them to a barrack, and opened the door with a security key card. The doors opened, revealing that what was once a barrack had been converted into a hundred cabins.

“There you are,” she said, inviting them in with a gesture.

“Have we already been assigned spots?” Falcon asked.

“Yes,” she answered. “You are rooms seventy-three and seventy-four.”

“And are we permitted to leave the cabins?” Falcon continued.

“That depends on where you wish to go,” she explained. “If you just want to wander around, or violate our no trespassing, top-secret areas, then you will be confined to the cabins. But if all you want to do is dine in the food court, catch a show, or go shopping, you are more than welcome to do that.”

“What about returning to my ship?” Falcon queried.

“If you've a valid reason, it is fair game,” she said. “Didn't you say two of your crew would sleep aboard that little shuttle?”

“I did,” Falcon said. “We'll assume it's going to be Mr. Shark. Who wants to bunk with him?”

“I'll do it,” Sequoia offered in a delicate whisper.

“Delightful,” Geril said. “Then we shall bunk the men together and the women together.”

“May I request . . .” Quail said, but Iris gently clasped his hand.

Not here, dear, she advised telepathically, so he felt silent.

Geril led them to their cabins, first with the women, and then the men.

Winters entered cabin seventy-three, then she helped Iris enter. Once they were inside their cabin, Falcon and Quail were led to cabin seventy-four.

It was a nice cabin, and looked what one would expect to see very close to a lake in the countryside.

“Charming,” Falcon declared.

“So glad you agree,” Geril said. “Remember that the conference begins at noon tomorrow. Until then, you and your crew are free to enjoy the areas I showed you. But keep in mind that this is a peace conference. If you want to get into a scuffle with anyone else, don't.”

“Not a problem,” Falcon answered.

“Come men! See you tomorrow,” Geril said, then she turned on her heels and left.

Falcon and Quail began to explore the cabin, after Falcon closed the door.

Sequoia entered it, but decided to sit on the couch and scratch her head.

“I don't like this,” Sequoia verbally ventured out.

“Nor do I,” Falcon said. “This is a beautiful cabin, and this station is amazing. But it feels like the sea itself.”

“I don't understand,” Quail disclosed.

“Stormy and mercurial,” Falcon said. “Never turn your back on the sea. The only thing you can trust about it is that you can't dare trust it. Speaking of things that are mercurial and stormy, I'd like you to call Shark and see if he's found anything yet.”

“Yes Captain Falcon,” Quail said. He pulled out one of the devices and utilized it. “Quail calling Mr. Shark. Shark, come in, please.”

“Shark here,” Shark answered.

“Have you found anything interesting yet?” Quail asked.

“Oh yes,” Shark said. “There's a third Granitesian ship heading this way. It contains a leader from some kind of splinter group, but it's running very late.”

“A splinter group?” Quail asked.

“Yeah,” Shark answered. “I can't tell anything directly about it other than that they refer to the main Granitesian leadership as being heretics.”

“That's all we need,” Sequoia complained. “Granitesian in a spiritual civil war.”

“This is a harbinger of trouble,” Falcon said. “I wish Shamrock hadn't betrayed us. We could really use a sociologist now.”

“Maybe she could help us,” Sequoia suggested. “We could call her telepathically.”

“No,” Falcon said, “for once we reopen her powers, we know just what she'll start using them for. Kylie judged her to be permanently deadened for a reason.

“But I wish there was a way we could be sure as to what, if anything, this means for us and for the peace conference,” Falcon continued.

“Well, we could always get some tea,” Sequoia suggested.

“This is no time for reading tea leaves . . .” Falcon argued, then he snapped his fingers. “Actually you're right, my dear. This is the perfect time for reading tea leaves. Anybody want lunch?”

“I'll go tell the girls,” Sequoia said.

 

 

The food court was busy, with all kinds of races roaming around. There were Malecormans who had taken their usual physical form, Breshleyites, Pisceans, Granitesians, Centaubric women, Shalkens, and Temmarans buying food, eating food, talking to friends, and having a good time.

The twelve restaurants in the food court openly competed with each other trying to wring the most money out of the visitors there.

And the six Bre-ayne sat at one bench together, the men on one side and the women on the other.

“From what I've been able to gather thus far,” Shark said, “this third ship coming wasn't expected to the peace conference. Only the first two Granitesian ships know they're arriving. One is happy about it, and the other quite irate.”

“That's so peculiar,” Sequoia remarked. “One is a friend and one is an enemy?”

“This isn't proper,” Winters added. “It would help, Shark, if we knew which side was the legitimate ruler and which side was just jockeying for power. Do you know which is which?”

“Not yet,” Shark answered. “Can you help, Bernard?”

“Well, I'll tell you what I know, but it's mostly space chatter and gossip,” Quail said. “Aside from abusing their powers and trying to out-do each other, there isn't a lot to Granitesians.”

“Just enough to make them dangerous when they get riled up,” Falcon said. “All right everyone, drink your tea and see your answers.”

One by one, each of them drank their cups of tea. Sequoia could read leaves, so they all gave their cups to her.

“In your cup, Captain Falcon, I see the tiger,” Sequoia said. “It means that you are subtle and sleek, using your power with wisdom rather than with muscle like a lion would. He knows when to act and when not to.

“In your cup, Shark, I see the shield. Whatever is coming, you will be protected from it, almost as if decreed by Hecate.

“How strange. In my own cup, I see a large cat. I don't get it.

“In your cup, Iris, I see a flood. I'm sorry, but something bad is going to happen to you, and it will work against your psychic powers. You shouldn't use them tomorrow.

“Quail, in your case I see the storm. Your arts will fail, no matter what you try.

“Winters, in your case, I see what comes from behind. Watch your back, literally.” Sequoia then looked at the rest of the group. “I'm sorry, guys, but that's all I can see.”

“You've told us enough,” Falcon said. “Something bad is going to happen tomorrow . . .”

“Unless we prevent it,” Iris interjected.

“But how can we do that?” Winters asked. “Calling spirits and elementals? Casting protection spells? On who?”

“We'll cast them on ourselves, but we'll also make charms and pass them out to everyone who'll take them,” Falcon said. “So we're going to be busy. Who among you is trained to infuse items with spells?”

“I can do it, but I need items to infuse,” Winters said.

“Time to go shopping,” Falcon said. He threw his hand into the air, magically creating a fair amount of money that landed on the table. “Quail, you go with her. Buy whatever she needs as soon as you're done eating and drinking.

“Sequoia, go back to the ship and take over monitoring communications. Tell Kylie everything that we've discovered thus far and ask her to verify it.

“Iris, you stay here and begin reading minds. Search for treachery and any schemes you can find to disrupt the conference. Shark, stay with her.”

“Yes, Captain Falcon!” everyone said at once.

Falcon stood up and left the table, taking his wrapped sandwich with him. Soon, the others left as well, with only Shark and Iris remaining.

“Sense anything yet?” Shark asked.

“Yes, in you,” she said. “Chaos and disorder. It interferes with my telepathy.”

“I'm not that disturbing,” Shark countered. “I just love having fun . . .”

“Quiet! I feel it now!” she ordered. “One who is not what they pretend to be.”

That could be anyone here, Shark thought, knowing Iris would pick that up, but not caring.

“I see the danger now!” Iris cried out, catching the attention of everyone nearby.

“She's fine,” Shark quickly improvised. “She's just an actress. Come on, Svetlana, give them a show.”

“You seem to be doing that just fine yourself,” Iris complained.

“No, no, no!” Shark argued. “You've already forgotten! It begins like this!”

He then burst out into a spontaneous song, starting with Iris' outburst. It was quite a crowd-pleaser, winning Shark lots of money, cheers, and applause.

Iris shook her head with disgust.

But in the corner of his eye, Shark saw one person who was not pleased by his performance, Miss Geril. She was talking on a communication device in the corner, trying to hide.

Hey, Svetlana, redirect your powers onto this spoilsport over here, Shark suggested mentally.

Knowing she could not see who he was talking about, he took her hand and pointed it exactly at Miss Geril.

I sense conspiracy in her. She has two bosses. This woman plays up her subservience to her boss here at this station, but her true master is the man she loves, Iris informed Shark telepathically. She will do anything to help him. Whatever it is happening, she's in on it. I'd bet my life on it.

Thanks, Svetlana, Shark replied.

He immediately stepped away from Iris and went into the bathroom. But he did not stay there. Instead, he cast the chameleon spell on himself, making him blend in with his environment. Then he emerged from the bathroom and started to follow Miss Geril.

 

 

He followed her as long as he could, unseen by anyone. This caused him to get bumped into several times, but he endured this grudgingly. His progress was eventually stopped when she opened a security door with her key card, and it let her in, but closed itself before he could get through.

Shark felt the door for weakness but could find none, but he did find enough of a gap that a gnat could get through. So, he transformed into a gnat and entered through the gap.

“Intruder alert! Intruder alert!”

Alarms then followed in a loud cacophony. Shark was forced to resume his orcish form to be able to even withstand it.

“Oh damn,” he complained as he felt that the chameleon spell was wearing off. He could also hear the loud clomping of boots running down the hallway where he happened to be. “I've got one chance.”

Thinking quickly, Shark looked at the nearest alarm and cast a silencing spell on it. It worked, but the energy robbed him of his chameleon spell.

“At least now I can stand it,” he said, transfiguring himself back into a gnat.

As a gnat, with that alarm silenced, he could handle drifting around on the ceiling.

But if they've got video footage, we're all done for! Shark realized. First things first. The woman.

He resumed trying to find her, while a squad of Piscean men raced on the ground far below him.

They examined the door and found it to be both intact and sealed.

“It must have been dust again,” one of them said. “False alarm. Discontinue.”

 

 

He carried on, searching through the corridors, and he soon found a room that was a combination of a war room and a control room. It was a room that was perfectly capable of issuing the kinds of communication the station had sent to the shuttlecraft, and it had several maps designed for battle.

“Yes, I read you,” Miss Geril said over the radio. “You're coming in for a landing now? Yes, everything will be prepared by morning. Sorry, but that is when you said . . . Oh, all right.”

Shark, maintaining his gnat form, listened to every word. But becoming increasingly worried about what was being discussed, he purposefully sat on the button that would add a second frequency to the broadcast.

Holly, if you're on the ship, pick up on channel seven, Shark warned telepathically.

He hoped she was listening to him, and he waited.

“Yes, every leader is here . . . oh, very well, my love. We'll act now. Success, my beloved.” With that, she turned off the link and prepared to switch to another link.

“Don't touch that dial!” Shark ordered, resuming his orcish form.

Miss Geril gasped and clutched her chest.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

“I could ask the same of you,” Shark answered. “Where is General Sambik?”

“Don't worry,” Geril answered. “You'll see him soon enough.” Then she flashed a wicked smile and turned a laser gun at him. “In death, anyway.”

“You know I can hear you, right?” Sequoia pointed out over the radio.

“What?” she asked, turning to the control panel.

Shark drew his wand, and threw a fireball at Miss Geril. The fireball hit her and knocked her over, damaging much of the control panel.

“You've done nothing but slit your own throat!” she declared.

She stood up, but when she did, half of her face was hanging off, revealing a second face; a Granitesian face. Geril was a Piscean-Granitesian hybrid who had been masquerading as a pure Piscean.

“Oh no!” Shark gasped.

“Surprise!” she shouted, firing the laser at him.

Shark tried to avoid it, but failed and was struck right in the chest. He fell down, moaning. Miss Geril, looking like a melting hot mess, approached him, dripping psychically grafted false skin in grotesque droplets with each move.

“Do as I ask, I care not how . . .” Shark chanted, desperately clutching his wand.

“It's time to die, beast!” she shouted, firing at him a second time.

“I need to be where she is now!” Shark screamed.

At once, he and Miss Geril switched positions in a flash, causing her to be hit by her own laser shot, while he had a chance to escape.

“Spinning stars to block and ward me from her dastardly weapon of war,” Shark ordered, conjuring the spinning stars to encircle him with a flick of his wand.

She countered by shooting the ceiling above him, forcing him to dive out of the way. A pile of rubble from the destroyed ceiling fell on top of him, burying him.

“As I said, it's time to die,” she said, closing in on Shark.

He suddenly stood up from the rubble, undamaged, though most of the stars were gone. Angrily he threw the rest of them at her, pushing her away and knocking her into the nearest wall, which made all of the stars disappear.

“Now where is Miss Geril?” Shark asked.

She pointed to the left, to a large patch of freshly painted wall. With his wand, Shark threw a fireball at that patch of wall, and it exploded, revealing a secret room.

Miss Geril and General Sambik were both inside of that room, trapped in crystal. Shark dared to enter the room, only to have another door suddenly appear, and slam shut, behind him.

He turned around and threw a fireball with his wand, only to have the fireball deflect off of the door and damage part of the eastern wall.

“Damn,” Shark complained. Then he snapped his fingers. “If that's the way you want it, lady. Do as I ask, I care not how. I need to be where she is now!”

Yet again, Shark and Miss Geril had switched positions in a flash. Now he was inside of the moderately damaged control room, while she was trapped in her own prison.

“When I get out of here, little one, I'm going to . . .”

Shark raced to the door and touched it with his wand.

“Door be obedient and slick, and protected from any of her powers and tricks,” Shark said.

There was a flash of mustard-colored power from Shark's wand. Then he went to the computers and began to try reviewing them.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

She pounded on the door with her fists like a madwoman. He knew his time was short. Seeing that there was no chance for him to study all the data on these computers from here, he instead started a broadcast program.

Holly, it's me, Shark said telepathically. I'm going to send you some stuff, a lot of it, and I want you to begin downloading and saving it.

Carmine, what's going on? Sequoia asked.

I'm not sure, but it's bad, Shark said. Miss Geril is a hybrid, half Piscean and half Granitesian. The real lady, and the real general, are both in some kind of trap in a hidden room.

Oh dear, Sequoia replied.

The door exploded, with bits and pieces flying everywhere, and the wind throwing Shark straight in to the computer.

“Oh no!” he cried out.

Miss Geril emerged, with her face put back together.

“I am more powerful than you ten times over!” she declared. “I appreciate the parlor tricks, but you're nothing compared to a Granitesian!”

“I'm one thing you aren't,” Shark said. “Gone!”

She ran to the computer, only to see Shark disappear. She tried searching for his mind, but she did not find it.

“I'll get you if it's the last thing I do!” she screamed, and stormed out of the room.

She had failed to realize that Shark had turned himself into a germ and was hiding just inside the computer.

He waited until she was gone, then resumed a gnat shape and flew out.

 

 

“It is that bad, Kylie!” Sequoia moaned. She sat aboard the shuttlecraft, watching the control bridge of the Wise Owl through the scrying pool. “Did you catch any of that conversation? Have you read any of this stuff Shark sent me?”

“Yes, I did hear the fragments of a conversation,” Kylie remarked. “And I'll begin reviewing the downloaded information presently. We've also picked up on signature the ship with which she was conversing. It's not Granitesian. It's Piscean.”

“What?” Sequoia asked. “Kylie, what would it mean if a Granitesian ship that carried a man who considered himself the true leader of his people, considering the established Granitesian leadership a pack of heretics, was coming here to the peace conference?”

“Normally it would suggest either anger that he was not consulted and that he intended to crash the conference rather than boycott it,” Kylie replied, “or that he intended to disrupt the conference. But as I said, the ship she was speaking to was Piscean, and I suspect we'll find the signature matches precisely with the ship that claimed it was running late and carried the Granitesian apostate leader.”

“How will we know that?” Sequoia asked.

“I'm working on it now,” Dr. Porpoise answered. “Ah yes, it's clear as crystal. The two ships are the same. So why be a Piscean starship pretending to be a Granitesian one carrying an apostate counter-pope?”

“And for that matter, why have a Piscean-Granitesian hybrid woman first capture a Piscean woman and then pretend to be the same woman she captured,” Kylie answered. “Only one good reason strikes my mind . . .”

“They're out to ensnare the leaders!” Sequoia cried out. “Including Captain Falcon!”

“Precisely,” Kylie said. “Send the shuttlecraft back up here. We're going down, all of us!”

“Kylie!” Sequoia screamed. “I'm losing your signal. I'll try boosting the output.”

“Don't!” Kylie ordered. “This is a coded channel. You'll risk breaking code.”

“Kylie, I can see you but I can barely hear,” Sequoia complained.

“I'm losing her,” Dr. Porpoise said from the repaired and restored media operations computer. “All signals from the station are being interfered with and will soon break down completely.”

“A force field is rising,” Kylie said as she reviewed the science computer. “Multiple layers of force fields, surrounding the entire station.”

“Verified,” Salamander declared. “It's a very strong field, like a shield made into a weapon.”

“And as each layer rises, they're more and more cut off,” Kylie stated, “and we more and more powerless to save them. Porpoise, send an emergency broadcast to every ship outside of the station. Ask them if they're detecting what we're detecting and inform them of what we've learned. See if they can confirm.”

“Kylie, it's Holly Sequoia,” Doctor Porpoise said, his voice loaded with concern. “I've lost her and I can't get her back. Too much interference from the force field . . .”

And that was the last of any communication Sequoia could receive from her seat on the shuttlecraft before the final layer of the force field barred all external assistance.

The outside world can't help us anymore, Sequoia thought. If something's to be done about whatever's going on, it's up to us. But what, exactly, is going on anyway? What's the game? There's no way to get the leaders out of here. Is there?

Sequoia nervously went to the science station. Though she was no scientist, she could use the computer there to boil the computer data Shark had sent her down to a summary of its most important points.

 

 

Captain Falcon told no one where he had gone. He now sat on his bed in his cabin, thoroughly engrossed in his reading. He had a stack of books he had purchased, two of them read and one he was going through now.

“So the schism that has led the appointment of a new religious leader who declares the papacy a band of heretics is based entirely on the interpretation of prophecies, all of which have thus far been found to be false,” Falcon said to himself. “Prophecies which include the conquest of this entire region by the original Granitesian race. Oh yes, from the master race that the Granitesians once were. But even with their incredible powers, the likes of which the current breed of Granitesians know only a mere fragment, they were unable to conquer this entire world.

“The wars against all races were declared null and void due to the rise of the advent of the slave traders, who, with the aid of the Malecormans, defeated and humiliated the Granitesians. As a result, the papacy declared the war to rule the world null and void until the Granitesians could restore the full powers that had been sacrificed.

“But not everyone was willing to accept this, because it was seen as a shameful capitulation. So a small band arose, following a new leader who believed in Graniteasian glory and declared all compromise betrayal to the ancients. Their leader also condemned the legitimate papacy as heretics because they accepted the basic facts of reality instead of pressing for a permanent war in the name of faith.”

Falcon closed the book.

Now the zealots are here. I'm sure of it.

He walked to a communication computer in the cabin and tried to figure out how to use it.

“Strange. It should be working, but I just can't seem to raise anyone,” Falcon complained. “Some kind of interference. Well, I guess I'll go back to the shuttlecraft and see if I can get a message there.”

Everyone meet me back at the shuttlecraft on the double, Falcon informed his crew telepathically. I believe we have some very serious problems developing here.

No kidding there, Shark answered. Miss Geril isn't who she pretends to be. This woman is a Piscean-Granitesian crossbreed. The real lady, and the real general, are prisoners.

And so are we, Sequoia added. They've thrown a force field around the whole station. I was talking to Kylie and Doctor Porpoise when the force field cut us off. So far they can't break through it. I'm afraid we're all trapped in here, Captain Falcon.

Anything from that information I swiped and sent to you? Shark pressed.

Nothing yet, Sequoia announced. I'm working on it.

I'll come and help you, Shark offered.

So will I, Winters interjected.

She's right, Quail added. All communication, and all travel, from outside of the station are being blocked by the force fields. Any attempt to send a signal through it, on either side, is useless. I can't even pick up on non-communications signals such as ship exhaust, from outside of the force field.

Iris, Falcon demanded, warn everyone about what's happened. Then we're all to meet right here at the shuttlecraft.

I'll get right on it, Iris thought.

“Damn it!” Falcon snapped, breaking the psychic link.

 

 

Sequoia sat in the chair, trying to study the information from the computer when she heard a knock at the door.

“Shark?” she asked.

Standing up, she headed to the door and opened it only to find Miss Geril and her two men standing outside. She held her firearm and aimed it at Sequoia, while the men flanked her, ready to pounce on Sequoia.

“We don't appreciate your little chat with your big starship, nor your being the recipient of stolen information,” Miss Geril declared. “Then you compound the crime by brokering it! Come with us, young woman. You just fucked up real bad.”

“Wind, wind, blow them away!” Sequoia cried out.

The spirits of air agreed with her spell and helped her with a gust of wind, which indeed did knock Miss Geril and her two goons down.

Sequoia ran out of the shuttlecraft, silently thanking the spirits. Behind her, the door closed and locked.

But before her, the door also closed and locked, and a cage appeared around her.

“You think you're a match for a Graniteasian?” Miss Geril asked. “Hardly! Men, seize that cage.”

Being a catfolk, Sequoia put her whiskers to the cage, and found that she could squeeze through the bars. So she did, escaping it.

“You know, lady,” Sequoia said, “I try my best to get along with most people. But you really drive me up the wall!” She jumped onto the wall and made good use of her claws, scampering up the wall.

Miss Geril and her goons fired shots at her, but unlike Shark, Sequoia had the dexterity and alacrity to evade their blows.

The door opened and a Malecorman man walked out, so Miss Geril shot him and he fell down. Sequoia took the chance and escaped through that door.

“I'm sorry,” she said to the man as she fled. “I promise I'll get you help!”

“Tide, you come with me. After her!” Miss Geril snapped. “Undertoe, you get to play with their little shuttlecraft.”

Her men obeyed, Tide running after Sequoia with Geril, while Undertoe decided to try breaking down the locked shuttlecraft door.

 

 

Falcon, Winters, and Quail met together in the food court again. Winters and Quail had several shopping bags full of supplies for charms.

“Where is Iris?” Falcon asked.

“She's over there,” Quail said.

“Go and get her!” Falcon ordered, so Quail did.

Quail found that retrieving the exhausted Iris was quite difficult, because nobody in the food court was contented anymore. They were quite displeased by the force field and the captivity it implied, and seemed on the verge of an open revolt.

“Hey,” Quail said to Iris as she sat on a chair, looking spent. “It's me.”

“I know,” she said. “Have you ever tried talking to the minds of a hundred people before?”

“I can't say that I have,” Quail replied.

“It's like a million little hands grabbing at pieces of your soul, not sure who you are or what you're doing, and in most cases, they have never dealt with a telepath before. Get me to Captain Falcon, Bernard. Now!”

“Why?” Quail asked.

“There is danger in the air, and it's drawing very close!” Iris snapped.

Quail tried to lead her back through the crowd, only now it was harder because everyone was sheerly incensed.

“Well,” Quail said, “if anyone wanted to unite the entire galaxy's leaders in a single cause, I believe they've succeeded, provided that cause is the smiting of whomever is responsible for trapping us all here.” At last, Quail managed to steer Iris through the crowd and back to Falcon and Winters.

“Now, together,” Falcon said, “we move toward the shuttlecraft. Slowly and calmly.”

“But where is Shark?” Winters asked.

“He's on his way there,” Iris said, “but Sequoia. She needs me. Excuse me, everyone.” Iris then turned and fled, despite how tired she was.

Nobody was willing to let her go alone, and started to follow her. Suddenly, a male Graniteasian, leading a dozen armed Piscean men, burst into the room.

“Hold it!” he ordered. “All of you. You're all under arrest. Please come quietly.”

“Arrest?” protested an older Breshleyite man with a cane and a saber. “How dare any of you first confine us here, then claim any authority to arrest us?”

“Admiral Forro,” pleaded a younger Breshleyite officer as he tried to reign the admiral in.

“Let me be, Spedduk!” he insisted. “I am the representative of the Breshleyite Empire and I command you to set us free or face the wrath of Breshley!”

“I take no commands, and there will be no wrath,” the Graniteasian said. “Not if they want to see any of you alive again.”

“At him!” Admiral Ferro declared.

He, followed by his men and his one female officer, dove right in to an attack. Despite his age, he was a warrior. Admiral Ferro and his young guardians fought valiantly, but one by one, were defeated by Piscean lasers and, in the woman's case, Graniteasian power, for she was turned to glass and shattered to death when she attempted to punch a Piscean man. Everyone was shocked and horrified.

Admiral Ferro was the last of his band, and he walked right up to the Graniteasian leader.

“You and me, mister,” Admiral Ferro said.

“Master,” he said.

“I said mister,” Admiral Ferro snapped. “Now I demand your name.”

“He's Inmadcher,” Captain Falcon declared. “Pope Inmadcher, the heretic anti-pope, leader of a schismatic band of fundamentalist fanatics dedicated to the cause of holy war.”

“Silence, orcling!” Inmadcher barked. “You know nothing about our sacred cause!”

“I know enough to understand that it is blasphemous in the eyes of Nature,” Falcon said.

Inmadcher growled and raised his papal staff.

“I'll smite you for that, orcling!”

He swung at Falcon, only to have his blow parried by a female Centaubric in royal clothing, of silver and scarlet. She held a strange and lethal type of sword.

“I am Duchess Kauldeena, sister of Queen Jujaylia,” replied the woman. “For once, Centaubric will stand with Breshley instead of against it.”

“Out of my way, peasant!” ordered Inmadcher, but Duchess Kauldeena would not get out of his path no matter which direction he tried to move.

“No,” Ferro declared. “You'll fight me!”

“Then we fight together,” she added.

Duchess Kauldeena assisted Ferro as he and Inmadcher fought each other bravely, matching each other blow for blow, with the duchess getting a couple of good hits, ripostes, and parries in against Inmadcher herself. Kept in check by the Pisceans with their firearms, everyone watched this epic battle, knowing their fates would depend entirely on the outcome.

 

 

Sequoia ran, chased by Miss Geril and Tide. She headed for the food court when she was grabbed to the side and thrown to the ground.

“Oh!” she screamed.

“Speak not,” Iris ordered her with a whisper. “I am under the shelter of a chameleon spell, and so long as I touch you, so are you.”

“Where is she?” Geril asked.

“I don't know,” Tide said.

“Find her! She mustn't be allowed to get away!”

“Spell I transfer so that when my touch is gone for sure,” Iris chanted quietly, “my enchantment shall remain with her.”

“Why are you doing this?” Sequoia whispered.

“Because you and Shark are the last hope. The rest of us can't do anything,” Iris insisted. “It's up to you two now.”

“But you can fight . . .”

“Not without rest,” Iris said. “Leave now!” She then released Sequoia, making herself visible. “I know who you truly are, Miss Geril. Or should I say, Miss Doogethel?”

“Blast her, damn you!” Geril barked.

Tide fired, but Iris easily dodged it.

She then leaped off of a wall and kicked Tide in the face, knocking him out. Then she spun around and punched Geril in the face.

Geril fell down and screamed.

“So that's your secret,” Iris said. “Your lover is a hybrid, too. I can read your mind as surely as you can read my face. You have no secrets from me!” Iris was suddenly hit from behind and passed out.

“But he does,” Geril said.

Behind Iris there stood a statue that had been turned into a robot by Geril's powers. It was he who had defeated Iris.

“Some psychic she is,” Geril scoffed. She picked Iris up. “Find the female cat and kill her. She's here somewhere.”

Silently, the robot obeyed its orders.

Sequoia stood up and tried to run, knowing she was camouflaged. It did not take her long to realize that the robot did not need eyes to see her, and had started his pursuit.

Geril laughed wickedly as she took Iris away.

 

 

Admiral Ferro fought on the table, Inmadcher on the floor. But a pair of worthy adversaries they were, and in combat they seemed perfectly matched. Adding in the duchess, it would have been a worthy fight.

But suddenly, the table became covered in ice, and when Ferro put his booted foot down on the table after a riposte, he lost his footing and slipped.

Inmadcher was no ethical foe, and closed in on the admiral. The duchess tried to defend him, but the floor under her boots turned to ice as well, so Inmadcher pushed her away so that she landed on the wall. Then, with her out of the way, he stabbed the admiral. Everyone gasped from shock, except for Professor Winters.

Bold as she could, she marched right over to him.

“What are you doing?” Inmadcher barked.

“You've made your point, sir. He's lost,” Winters answered. “But do you really want a charge of murder added, knowing what the Breshleyites will do to you? I've received emergency medical training and I'm going to treat him. Let me pass.”

She then opened her medical bag and began to tend to Admiral Ferro, only to have two Pisceans seize her from behind, and Inmadcher to point his papal staff at her.

“Look, good orcling. See your healer?” Inmadcher asked. “Do you wish her turned to glass as well?”

“No!” Falcon barked.

“Then I'll accept your surrender.”

“No!” Winters screamed. “Kylie can solve this. She can solve anything. Just give her time . . .”

Then Miss Geril entered the room with Iris in her arms.

“Iris!” Winters screamed, so they all turned to look at her.

“Now I kill them both if you refuse,” Inmadcher stated.

“Kylie can't save us this time, Georgeanne,” Falcon said. “We surrender.”

“Good choice,” Inmadcher said. “Now you're all to come with me.”

 

 

“Carmine!” Sequoia screamed. “Help me! Carmine!”

Sequoia ran back to the docking bay, where she saw the merciless Undertoe having his way with the shuttlecraft. He was deconstructing it with glee.

Behind her, the robot continued to give chase.

Sequoia moved to the wall, trapped and terrified, holding her hands to her face.

“Oh, it's you,” said Undertoe. He abandoned the ship and pointed his laser at Sequoia. “Care to see what I've done to your ship before I turn around and do it to you?”

Suddenly, he was bitten in the leg by a viper, who slithered back under the shuttlecraft.

“Ouch!” Undertoe shouted.

“Reverse a delay poison spell,” Sequoia quickly blurted out, “that it speed his way to Hell.”

With the poison empowered by her magic, Undertoe fell over dead in only a few seconds.

But this still left Sequoia with the problem of the robot.

“Give the robot ears to hear,” Shark said, though Sequoia could not see him, “that he can appreciate music. For music is the art of the soul, and give this monster soul quite quick!”

The robot stormed into the room and grabbed the screaming Sequoia.

Shark started to sing, and the robot dropped Sequoia in favor of hearing the song.

Sequoia knew Shark well. He was using his bardic arts to make the robot bend to his control, like a charm monster spell revamped to work on constructs.

“Now,” Shark said, appearing on the other side of the shattered shuttlecraft, “my robot friend, would you be a love and fix our ship for us? In return, I'll play you more music. Any song you want.”

“Carmine, you're brilliant!” Sequoia cried out, running to the shuttlecraft.

“Get the girl,” said the robot.

“Please don't,” Shark begged. “She's my friend too. How can she be bad if she loves music?”

Sequoia danced to the music Shark played, and so did the robot.

“Girl . . . good,” the robot declared. “Friend.”

“Friend, that's right,” Sequoia said. “Thank you.”

“How can I repair a ship I don't know how to build?” the robot asked.

“That is a problem,” Shark said.

“No it isn't!” Sequoia argued.

She ran into the shuttlecraft and pulled out a fragment of the scrying pool. Then she brought the glass to the robot and cast a spell to show him the technical schematics in the glass.

When the picture appeared, he memorized them.

“Thank you, friend,” he said.

“You are welcome,” Sequoia replied.

And together they got straight to work while Shark played the music that charmed the mechanical beast.

 

 

Captain Falcon and the other prisoners were led into the auditorium. This was the first time any of them had seen it. It had been decorated and made up specifically for their conference. But once the milling crowd had finally been assembled inside, the doors were erased from existence.

“We're really trapped now,” Quail said.

“There's something in the air,” Winters pointed out.

“We are being gassed!” warned Duchess Kauldeena.

A Shalken man who stood beside her began to panic and freak out, causing even more chaos.

“Together, and to me!” Falcon ordered. Winters, and Quail, who carried Iris, gathered with him. “Protect us with a magic shell that purifies the air,” Falcon said, with the other two lending him power. The duchess saw this, and repositioned herself by Falcon's side. “We must remain alert to pounce when they reveal the purpose of their snare.”

An incandescent magic shell formed around the huddling quintet. Soon it became clear that a powerful white gas really was filling the room. There were no doors or windows to escape through.

“What is this stuff?” Falcon asked.

“Most likely a potent sleeping drug,” Winters said. “They'd gain nothing from killing us all collectively, but it could put the leaders in a less than enviable position to watch their people being picked off one at a time.”

“They think we're all going to be asleep,” Falcon said, “but we won't. So long as any one of us stays awake, we can fight this with the dawn charm. They'll expect a sleeping pack of victims, not an angry mob.”

“Can we dissipate the gas?” Winters asked. “Clean the air for the whole room?”

“No use,” Quail said. “This type of delivery system will respond if the room doesn't fill up with gas and stay full by sending more gas.”

“So, exactly what are we going to do?” the duchess inquired.

“No more talk,” Falcon directed. “Concentrate your energy on maintaining our shell. And Duchess Kauldeena, if you'd be so good, would you serve as our eyes while we chant?”

“I can do that,” she agreed.

The room was soon full to the brim of white gas and sleeping bodies.

 

 

With the help of the robot, it did not take long before the shuttlecraft was repaired. With it back in top notch shape, Sequoia turned to the study of the last downloaded information.

“Let me take over,” the robot said.

“Are you sure?” Sequoia asked. “You have the right to enjoy yourself.”

“You need help. I can help,” he said, so she relented.

He sat next to her and looked at the information. What would have taken her hours only took him a few minutes.

“Anything useful?” Sequoia asked.

“All of this is useful in the right context,” the robot said. “What do you want to know about?”

“The woman who made you,” Shark said. “She's part of a horrible conspiracy to do something bad to our captain, and every other captain and leader who came here. Can you tell us what that was with the information you've read?”

“If we know what she wants to do, then we can stop her,” Sequoia begged.

“The woman is a friend to a man named Inmadcher, who claims to be the real pope,” the robot said. “They are trying to restore some kind of long-lost power, and intend to hold the leaders of the universe for ransom until they get it.”

“Who are these people?” Shark asked.

“They are all part of a cult that have had xenografts,” the robot said.

“What's a xenograft?” Sequoia inquired.

“A body part of one species inserted into the body of another,” the robot explained.

“And these people have had this procedure done to themselves,” Shark mused. “But would that make them hybrids?”

“I wish we could ask Kylie about that? She'd know,” Sequoia groused.

“Have we tried telepathy?” Shark asked.

“No, but it's worth a go,” Sequoia replied. She shut her eyes and reached out with her mind.

Kylie, are you there? Please, if you can sense me, let me know, Sequoia mentally beseeched.

I am here, Kylie answered. What is happening?

It's bad, Sequoia replied. I just had question right now. Is a xenograft where you put a body part from one species into another?

Yes, that's right, Kylie informed her. Is this pertinent?

Perhaps. Does having a xenograft turn one into a hybrid? You know, a half and half?

No, Kylie clarified. Putting a pig's heart into another animal to replace a damaged heart does not turn the original patient into a pig.

Then why are people who've had Granitesian xenografts hybrids? Sequoia inquired.

A fascinating problem, Kylie replied. I can offer a theoretical answer. It is possible that the xenograft is invasive. This is purely supposition, but it gives me something fascinating to research with the science computer.

Invasive?

Quite, Kylie explained. By that, I mean that the new part could alter the genetic code of the patient so completely that they slowly mutate. Instead of the body coming to adapt to the grafted part, the patient converts into the new race. It should never happen.

What if it was the intended result? Sequoia suggested. Suppose that you wanted to turn a Piscean into a Granitesian?

Granitesian mental powers are incredibly strong, but maybe they're not powerful enough on their own to cause that kind of change, Kylie presaged. A tainted xenograft could bolster the power and allow such a transformation, if it were backed by Granitesian mental power. But remember, this is all theoretical. There's not a shred of proof and it's not in the least bit scientific.

It'll do for now. Thanks, Sequoia replied. With that, she severed the mental link.

“Anything?” Shark asked as Sequoia returned her attention to the mortal world.

“Kylie suggested that the xenografts were tainted to cause a mutation,” Sequoia stated. “She wants to research it because to her, it sounded implausible, but for now, it's the only answer we've got.”

“So what does it mean?” Shark asked.

“They're not true Granitesians, or proper hybrids, not even Miss Geril. They're Pisceans who want to be Granitesians, because they're part of the anti-pope's cult! Only they're not because they aren't truly Granitesians. He wouldn't accept them.”

“So what, exactly, do they want?” Shark asked. “Even if they're turning themselves into Granitesians, how does this plot against the leaders get them what they want?”

“Each leader is to be held for ransom,” the robot said. “If they want their leaders back, each planet must help these people become closer to the pure Granitesians they all want to be.”

“Pure?” Shark asked. “I don't understand, but we must find the answer somehow.”

“How?” Sequoia said. “We can't find any information unless it comes from the station itself. That big force field's in the way.”

“That's it!” Shark said, snapping his fingers. “Come on, guys. There's some people we have to save, and it's not who you are thinking.”

 

 

The robot walked through the security door that had given Shark trouble, with the aid of a card key so there was no problem for him. He then easily walked down the hallway until he came to the control room. There, he stopped and waited.

“And so as you can see, you have no choice,” Inmadcher said. On a screen before him were the assistant leaders of the seven populated planets, including Breshley, Pisces, and Granitese. “We have all of your leaders and if you don't do what I want, I will begin executing first their assistants and then the men themselves. To show we are sincere, bring Admiral Ferro.”

Miss Geril brought Admiral Ferro with great joy, and the nine gasped and protested.

“Yes, we have kept him from death thus far, but that decision could change at any moment,” Inmadcher said.

“But what do you want?” a female leader pleaded.

“To complete the xenograft process,” said Miss Geril. Each of you was given a fraction of a true Graniteasian brain to study after their defeat. We want those fractions of brains put into our bodies, his and mine.”

“And we won't stop until we get it!” Inmadcher said. “So do you give us what we want now, or do I start with Breshley's top military officer and work my way down?”

“So at least we know what they want,” Sequoia said, revealing herself to be a bird inside of the robot's stomach.

“Yeah,” said Shark, who was also there, as a raccoon, “And there's only one real way to stop them. We have to tear down that force field. Let's get to it.”

“Where and how?” the robot asked.

“Leave that to me,” Shark said. He emerged from the stomach, ran into the room, and stood there in his orcish form. “The game's over, Inmadcher!”

“He is not Inmadcher,” boomed a tenth voice. A tenth screen opened, revealing a Granitesian face. “I am! I am the true pope and spiritual leader of the Graniteasian people, and I declare that he is a charlatan! A fake, an impostor!”

“We tried to work with you,” the false Inmadcher said, “but because we were not perfect you turned us away. So we'll do this without you.”

“You act in my name, taking actions I would never do!” the real Inmadcher barked. “How dare you?”

“That's not the first time,” Shark said. “She's not the real Miss Geril. In truth, she's in there.”

He pointed to where the secret door once was, and it revealed itself again. Then it opened to show the captive lady and general.

“Yes, that's our work,” said Miss Geril. “And it'll happen again unless we are given those brain parts!”

“Those parts will not give you what you want,” another female Centaubric in royal dress. “They were ruined by psychic burnout. Too much use of psychic power at such a level burned their brains to death. That is why they lost.”

“Nothing but lies, and even if so, we can restore them,” Miss Geril insisted. “Or do you prefer another demonstration of our power?”

“Argh!” Admiral Ferro shouted. He sat up and stabbed Miss Geril, then pushed the false Inmadcher down.

“What's this?” the false Inmadcher asked.

“That orcess put a revitalizing spell on me when she touched me,” Admiral Ferro said. “It just took this long for me to become fully restored so I could give you the beat down you really deserve.”

“Want a hand?” Shark asked, throwing a fireball at the false Inmadcher.

“I'll tell you what,” the real Inmadcher stated, “if you defeat these people, I'll consider helping you. If you fail, you are what I said you are, impure charlatans.”

“Help us or go damn yourself!” the false Inmadcher snarled.

Then the robot entered the room and joined in the battle. Shark and Admiral Ferro fought with Miss Geril and the false Inmadcher. Nobody noticed Sequoia fly into the secret room.

He turned Shark to glass, and then punched Shark in the face. Shark shattered to bits.

“Pure enough for you?” the false Inmadcher asked.

“Clearly not,” Shark said, pieced flawlessly back together and no longer glass. “A gift from Hell. I'm immortal.” Shark then drew his wand. “Too bad you're not!”

Suddenly, Shark was thrown to the wall and pinned there by strong psychic force. Both the false Inmadcher and Miss Geril were holding him in place.

“You may be immortal, but you can have every bit of knowledge in your brain ripped from you so that you are reduced to a mindless newborn!” the false Inmadcher said.

Shark moaned and groaned, helpless against the pain.

“Friend,” the robot said. “Help friend.”

He stepped over to the two hybrids, grabbed them, and bashed their heads together, so they turned to the robot and turned him to rubble.

“Murderer!” Shark moaned as he collapsed to the floor. “He was my friend.”

Admiral Ferro was not finished and tried to fight as well, though it was not very successful against the pair of them.

Shark, Sequoia cried out telepathically. Withdraw. I have an idea but we have to get back to the shuttlecraft.

Then Sequoia revealed herself, and her wand.

“You!” Miss Geril snapped, aiming for her.

“Sunlight so pretty, sunlight so bright,” Sequoia said, “strip them of their precious sight!”

She touched the computer, which suddenly shone as bright as Earth's sun. Everyone moaned and groaned from the pain.

Sequoia grabbed Shark's hand, and Admiral Ferro's, and ran with them.

 

 

She ran until they came back to the food court.

“What did you do that for?” Shark asked.

“Because we couldn't win that fight there,” Admiral Ferro said.

“I have an idea,” Sequoia stated. “The force field blocks all broadcasts in and out, right? So how could they be sending anything to the other ships?”

“That's right!” Shark said. “They must have an auxiliary communication system that can penetrate the force field.”

“I'll go and find it on the shuttlecraft,” Sequoia said. “Then I'll get to work on doing something about the force field. You two go find the prisoners. We'll get them to the shuttle bay.”

“With the shields down, everyone can escape,” Admiral Ferro said, “then the troops can move in.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Shark said.

“But how do we find the prisoners?” Admiral Ferro asked.

“With this,” Shark said, revealing the communication device he had been given from Quail. “It may be useless outside the force field, but inside it, that's a whole other matter.”

 

 

Sequoia ran to the shuttlecraft. When she got there, she felt Kylie's penetrating psychic presence, and she accepted it.

Hello, Sequoia, Kylie said telepathically. I know what's happening now. The xenografts indeed are tainted, and they are triggering a mutation they shouldn't be causing.

More than that, they want brains, Sequoia explained. And they've got the leaders' assistants, waiting to be slaughtered if they don't get what they want.

They're in for a bit of a surprise, actually, Kylie countered. One of the Piscean ships was kind enough to share the schematics of Aquarius Station with us in return for the help we gave them in repairing the ships after that dreadful crash.

But how can you get it through the forcefield and give it to me? Sequoia inquired.

I'm not going to, Kylie said. Instead, help is coming.

None of you can get through the forcefield, Sequoia protested. Not even you, Kylie.

I can, Hurricane stated, adding herself into the conversation. And since Doctor Porpoise has installed the schematics for Aquarius Station into my memory banks, that knowledge is inside me forever.So do you want my help?

Tell me what to do, Sequoia insisted.

Just take my hand and let me take over, Hurricane said telepathically.

Sequoia found herself back in the shuttlecraft, with the ghostly Hurricane waiting beside her. So Sequoia took Hurricane by the hand, and Hurricane possessed her at once.

 

 

Sequoia ran through the station's engineering decks, led by the technical schematics that she knew because Hurricane had shared the knowledge with her. She continued running until she came to the door. The door opened without complaint.

“Thanks,” Sequoia whispered, then she stepped through. Suddenly, she was hit with a pipe from behind.

She turned and saw Tide standing there, waiting and ready.

He dropped the pipe and pulled out his firearm.

“Let's go, kitty,” he said. “Miss Geril wants to have a nice, long talk.”

I'll take care of him, Hurricane reassured Sequoia mentally. Just watch me work through you.

Spontaneously, Sequoia quivered and shook, and promptly kicked Tide in the genitals.

“I'm not kitty,” said Hurricane with Sequoia's voice. “I'm Hurricane the unfriendly ghost, and I'm here to make a coward out of you.”

Hurricane then psycho-kinetically threw pipes, wrenches, nuts and bolts, and anything else she could find at Tide. She also opened a nearby valve that sprayed him with hot steam.

Tide ran off screaming, driven completely insane.

“Enough of him,” Hurricane said. She moved on, reaching the shielding system.

Having had some training in engineering by Doctor Porpoise, as well as having been the spirit of the starship for some time now, Hurricane knew how to deal with a force field.

Working expertly, she managed to disengage it.

“The shields have dropped,” Hurricane said. “And now you know how to defeat them should they rise again. I must return to the Wise Owl now, as it's crippled without me.”

“Thank you,” Sequoia said.

Hurricane abandoned Sequoia completely, and returned to her proper place aboard the Wise Owl.

Sequoia walked over to a monitor and watched as, layer by layer, the force field melted away.

Let the invasion begin. My job now is to get back to the docks and open the doors.

And that is just what Sequoia turned around and headed for.

 

 

There were four Piscean men guarding the auditorium when Shark and Admiral Ferro arrived.

“I'm running low on spells,” Shark said. “I've only got a few good ones left.”

“Then I'll handle this,” Admiral Ferro said.

He dove into battle with his trusty saber and slashed two of the Pisceans to death right away before the other two began to fight with him. Like an expert duelist, this showman actually put one hand behind his back and still kept the fight fair.

Shark crept up behind him and used magic to open the door.

“Get away!” Duchess Kauldeena cried.

“It releases gas!” Falcon ordered.

Shark covered his face and fled, while Admiral Ferro and the two Pisceans collapsed.

Falcon cast the dawn charm, breaking the power of the gas and waking everyone up.

“Get out before it knocks you all unconscious again!” Falcon ordered.

Though slow and staggered, the prisoners fled the room and spilled out into the hall.

Admiral Ferro was also helped by the dawn charm, and Shark saw this and pulled him to safety. Soon, everyone was out, so Quail closed the door.

“Is that everyone?” Falcon asked.

“My scanners say yes,” Quail stated.

“Is anyone injured?” Winters asked. “If you are, let me take a look.”

Falcon then turned to Shark.

“Status report, Lieutenant Shark!”

“You are rescued and Sequoia's dropped the force fields,” Shark said. “Now she's trying to open the door so your ships can come in and clean house.”

“I want to do that myself,” said Duchess Kauldeena leader.

“And me,” snapped the Malecorman leader.

“Don't leave me out!” barked the Piscean leader.

“Let's have a victory parade, right to the office where they hide,” Shark said.

“Lead the way, Shark,” Falcon said. “And Quail, call our damned ship.”

“You got it!” Quail exclaimed.

“I'm proud of you, Shark,” Iris said. “Sometimes even a man of chaos can be a hero.”

“I couldn't ask for a greater compliment from you,” Shark replied, then they saluted each other. With that, Shark led the victory parade.

Everyone followed Shark in a mob bent on justice, except for Professor Winters. She remained behind to treat a wounded Malecorman.

 

 

As the parading mob stormed toward the food court, the false Inmadcher and Miss Geril were running to the door.

“Hold it right there!” Admiral Ferro ordered.

They turned and looked with horror at the freed prisoners now coming back for revenge.

“Let us away!” the false Inmadcher barked.

“You won't get far,” Shark called out. “They're waiting for you out there.”

Immediately, everyone was surrounded by a wall of deadly spinning swords that were not there before.

“We'll get away from you,” the false Inmadcher snapped, and he fled the room.

Miss Geril turned to see the group.

“Watch as it closes in around you and slices you all to ribbons!” she demanded.

“No,” Iris declared.

The wall of swords dissipated as fast as it arrived, caused by Iris' will.

Miss Geril's jaw dropped.

“I'm not exhausted now, bitch!” Iris said, seething.

She stared at her, attacking Miss Geril's mind with her own.

Geril tried to strike back at Iris, but Iris' anger was too great for her to penetrate. So instead, she tried to defend herself, but this left her open for another wave of unseen psychic lashes.

Though no one could see what they were doing, everyone could tell that the two women were locked in mental mortal combat.

“She's got a xenograft,” Shark advised, “with part of her brain being Graniteasian while most of it is Piscean. And what defeated the old true Granitesians she aims to be one of was psychic burnout.”

“I know,” Iris answered. “I have seen this in her.”

Iris pressed her attack on the grafted bits of the woman's body, while she eventually fell down and screamed, with her hands on her head.

Iris collapsed, but she looked at Shark.

“Go get Winters!” Falcon ordered.

“I am fine, just tired,” Iris said. “She, however, is now a mental vegetable and will remain one the rest of her life. Now get that man! Even now he nears the docks. Don't let him get away!”

“You heard her men,” Shark declared. “After him!”

The mob followed Shark at once, leaving Iris behind.

 

 

Sequoia sat in the control booth high above the docking bay, paying no attention to what was going on down in the bay below her through the glass window. Her concentration was focused on trying to figure out how to operate the control panel.

Cautiously, she pushed a few buttons and turned a knob, then pulled a lever.

Alarms cried out an overly loud warning as the mouth of Aquarius Station slowly started the opening process, but in a most improper manner, for Sequoia had activated the emergency opening system as opposed to the proper method. Still, it worked. A new force field formed around the docking bay, but this one was only useful in preventing air from escaping.

Since she now felt she was safe, Sequoia left the control booth and walked down the spiral staircase that led to the docking bay. But once she got down there, the false Inmadcher burst into the room.

Sequoia gasped, and stepped backward, but he grabbed her.

“All of you back!” he shouted, knowing the crowd was behind him. “I've got a hostage. Weapons down or I'll kill her!”

Then he felt a sting in his neck, and Sequoia looked to see a blow dart had struck him. He fell down and rubbed his neck.

“What have you done?” he asked.

“You have no powers now,” Professor Winters replied, then she grinned. “That's a potent neuro-toxin, my friend, and it works on Granitesians.”

She stood on the floor of the dock, alongside the Malecorman she had treated, and she had a blow gun in her hands.

“Travel is so much easier when you don't need a physical body,” the Malecorman said.

Since she was safe and free, Sequoia ran away from her captor and headed straight for Winters.

“How did you know what to . . .” Sequoia asked.

“My dear, I am a wildlife biologist,” Winters indicated.

At this point, Shark led the angry mob into the room.

“That's the creep,” Sequoia said, pointing to the false Inmadcher. “He's down there on his knees.”

“Good work, girls,” Captain Falcon declared. “He's yours, Admiral Ferro.”

“Thank you,” Admiral Ferro said. “Duchess Kauldeena?”

“With pleasure,” she added.

He and his Breshleyite men, along Duchess Kauldeena and a team of Centaubric women, surrounded the madman and captured him, then they handcuffed him.

“The door is open,” Sequoia answered.

“I think we know that,” a Piscean man of rather high rank stated. “Flood, go up there and turn off that damned alarm. Still, not bad for a foreigner.”

Sequoia smiled.

“We still have a problem,” Shark interjected. “The real Miss Geril and General Sambik are still in pretty bad shape, and still trapped in that room.”

“Show me!” insisted another Graniteasian, a woman in an elegant dress. “What one Graniteasian can do, another can undo, if I have a bit of help.”

“Show her, Shark,” Falcon insisted.

“What about the conference?” Sequoia asked. “Is it canceled?”

“Now that they've been routed, young lady, I for one do not see why it should be called off just for their sake,” Admiral Ferro stated.

Nobody disagreed, or if they did, nobody spoke of it.

At that moment, an alien ship landed in the docking bay and opened its door. Then it unfolded a set of stairs, and lowered a team of ten heavily armed troops. They were female Centaubric warriors, who were dressed as if they were a blend of astronauts and Amazons. After the troops came out, Kylie, Doctor Porpoise, Lieutenant Moss, and Corporal Salamander also stepped out.

“We're here to save the day,” Salamander said, but he was instantly deflated, as was his chest.

“Looks like they saved their own day,” Moss added.

“So,” Kylie said, “our presence was not required after all.”

Falcon laughed, quickly followed by the rest of the conferencers.

 

 

Captain Falcon returned to the control bridge along with Winters, Shark and Sequoia. Kylie abandoned the helm and let Sequoia take it, while Shark took the empty navigator's chair.

Winters assumed the science station, while Salamander and Moss remained at tactical and media operations, respectively.

“Welcome back,” Kylie said.

“It's good to be back,” Falcon stated. “That was an exhausting day. Take us to our pocket, Sequoia. Then we're all going to get a nice long rest and celebrate Samhain.”

“Yes, Captain Falcon!” she declared. Then she turned to Shark, and they smiled.

“I'm curious,” Moss blurted out. “The inter-planetary peace treaty they hammered out there . . .”

“It must be ratified by three quarters of the planets involved,” Falcon said, “meaning it must be voted on by all governments. We, of course, are not part of the treaty because we have no home to represent, but we're not warlike.”

“Do you think it'll succeed?” Salamander asked.

“The spirits of peace and the spirits of war fluctuate, like the wheel of fortune,” Falcon said. “Time for one, then time for the other.”

“I do rule, I have ruled, I will rule,” Kylie said. “It's from the tarot card, Captain Falcon.”

“I know that!” he said. “And the brain fragments of the original Granitesians have been destroyed to prevent something like this from ever happening again.”

“One last question,” Kylie replied. “The real Miss Geril and General Sambik . . .”

“Are back in living form and recuperating in a Piscean medical center,” Winters said.

“Thank you, Hurricane, for your help,” Sequoia said.

“It was great to actually be helpful,” Hurricane replied. “But I think I'll stay a spirit. That way I can go spy on Doctor Porpoise when he's busy tinkering with me, which he is right now.”

“As usual. Now let's get out of here,” Falcon ordered. “We've a new year to celebrate.”


Submitted: October 30, 2014

© Copyright 2021 Chronologist. All rights reserved.

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