Home » , , , , » Oblivion: The Day Everything Dies (Book 3) by Vincent Pet

Oblivion: The Day Everything Dies (Book 3) by Vincent Pet

“Father, I’m leaving.”

Kildrew Hemut was not a patient man. Adam saw his father’s neck bulge out as he clenched his jaw hard – just before his fist came smashing down with a dull blow on the granite table top that separated the two.
Oblivion: The Day Everything Dies (Book 3)
Oblivion: The Day Everything Dies (Book 3) by Vincent Pet
If it hurt, it certainly didn’t show. His father’s eyes were furious and Adam even noted a hue of disappointment in them. Before his father could retort, Adam took a deep breath and proceeded to further upset his father. They had been bickering for months. He might as well speak clearly what was in his heart and let the dust settle where it may. He was prepared not to speak to his father for the rest of his life, if constrained. “I don’t feel worthy of the throne, not in this condition. We are the only House on Dragolia which has not joined the war, and when the day comes, I know I will not be able to look into the eyes of the other leaders knowing that I preferred to be a coward instead of following my courage to the very end. I cannot let myself down, father. It is my duty as a Dragolian to join the resistance and defeat the Fions.” Adam stopped short of saying our duty yet his father was fully aware of what he implied. “Son, we are doing our duty. Do not think that the Fions will be defeated so easily. Do not be misled by foolish propaganda. They have been conquering and marching through the galaxy for hundreds of years, defeating and enslaving whole civilizations much better equipped in fighting them than we are. The day might come when we too will face defeat and on that day Dragolia will need a neutral leader to negotiate a treaty and bargain for our freedom. That neutral leader will be our House and it might well become your duty. The other Houses will have to look into your eyes and be accountable for their short sighted actions which placed Dragolia in danger – not you!” Adam fidgeted on the spot, aching to interrupt his father. His father didn’t understand what was at stake. It was not only the future of Dragolia, but of the whole galaxy that was about to be decided. They’d had this conversation numerous times before, but Adam couldn’t do otherwise but remind his father once again of the historical importance of the moment. “Father, the rebels are marching. Worlds are revolting and we have the moral obligation to help them regain their freedom and their dignity. We cannot let the Fions regain their foothold on the worlds which have been able to overthrow them. We must act now, together, and offer our full support for the final blow. We already ignored the warnings and cries for help the first time! We had heard about the Fions and their reputation, but we decided not to take these warning seriously. When we finally did meet one of the Fion’s ships by hazard, remember what happened? They destroyed us and all our worst fears were confirmed. This is the devil, father. We cannot ever, ever trust them! It is an error that too many civilizations have made – civilizations which are now vanquished and their races extinct!” As he talked his father vibrantly shook his head in clear discordance and the more his father opposed him, the more agitated Adam became. “Father, you don’t understand! This is much greater than you and me! This is…” “Adam,” his father interrupted as he raised his tone a further notch. There was also a wretched desperation in his voice as if he finally understood that there was very little he could do anymore to change his son’s mind. “Just listen to me, Adam! I ask you to listen to me just this once and I’ll never ask you to obey me again! For the rest of your life you can do what you wish, but on this issue I want you with me even if you think I’m wrong! We must stand together on this! I don’t want you to go!” Adam didn’t want to see his father plead. He respected his father’s opinion, but just as he knew that his father would never change his mind, so he knew that he wouldn’t be able to make him understand what was at stake. “No, father. My mind is made up. I must go.” He saw his father’s face visibly tremble as he took a step back from the table and turned his back on him. The large room, even if richly furnished with ornaments of their past glory, seemed of little worth and practically meaningless to Adam when compared with the brilliance of the stars which populated the night skies and tugged his heart like a million beacons. “Adam!” His father’s voice was pungent. “You are my only offspring, the only heir to the throne! We are the oldest House, the guardians of the Holy Flag! If you die everything will come to an end!” Adam glanced over his shoulder. His father’s eyes were full of desperation. “Father”, Adam whispered in a calm tone even as his heart ached for his father – he wished it could have been different. He wished his father could accept his wish to be his own man, even if he disagreed. “There are people who are willing to die for a new beginning.” Without waiting for a response, Adam took a few determined steps forward and stepped out of his father’s office. *** Sandri Hemut entered the room and found her son sitting very quietly at the edge of his bed staring through the large window overlooking the lush, yellowish forest spreading out from the base of the castle. She saw his backpack resting to the side, and as her eyes fell on it, she drew in a sharp breath as if someone had darted out a knife and unexpectedly stabbed her. Her step faltered for a brief second before she regained her composure. She softly treaded her way through the dim lit room and sat down at his side. She turned her gaze towards the window. It was nearly dusk and the leaves were assuming their golden, shiny hue. Soon the darkness would engulf them and the Sirmions, the other race they shared their world with, would become active. Adam’s gaze briefly flickered to the side as he saw his mom approach him. She held something in her hands which he could not clearly distinguish. They remained in silence for a good minute, both looking at the distant moonless horizon. “Mom, where do we come from?” Sandri was surprised. Her son hadn’t asked her a question like that since he was very young. She was a little dumbfounded as she responded, wondering why he was asking her such a thing at that particular moment. Was he having second thoughts about leaving? She cleared her throat. Was he looking for a reason to stay? “Well, the House of Hemut was the first noble House of the twenty nine Kingdoms. Legend has it that Lord Brummer…” Adam shook his head, somewhat exasperated that his mom hadn’t understood the underlining meaning of his question. “No, mom. I know the legend and the noble history of our House. I mean where do we really come from? No one believes the legends these days, where god came down from the sky and handed Lord Brummer the Holy Flag and with it he united us and the Sirmiones to live in eternal peace.” He paused. “That’s crap.” Adam frowned slightly as his mother started giggling out loud. At first, he thought she was crying, but as she struggled to contain herself, he turned sharply towards her with puzzlement painted all over his face. She placed her hand on his head and gently ruffled his hair. She knew it irked him, but she didn’t know when she’d be able to touch him again, if ever. The thought of it made her heart turn heavy in an instant. Adam noted the loving timbre in her voice as she spoke to him. “Adam, you’ve grown up so fast. I just realized today that I barely had the time to see you become a man. Now, I wish those years would have gone by slower. You will leave me only with memories – not enough, however, to fill my remaining years.” She pulled back her hand from his hair. “Yet, leave me you must. If it is to be later at the cost of your youth, you might as well leave now for a cause that only youth can justify. You might as well follow your dreams before old age makes you wise and immobile.” A smile gradually returned to her lips as Adam held back the tears which had formed in his eyes. He would miss her terribly. “But you are right. It’s all crap but don’t go tell that to your father!” Sandri’s eyes turned to the sky. Things had changed drastically on Dragolia in the last fifteen years, ever since the first refugee ship appeared. All of a sudden, Dragolians were made bluntly aware that aliens existed, creating a great turmoil in the social fabric of their world and beliefs. Dragolia had been in the midst of a world war, but the aliens unexpected presence literally suspended the eighteen year war overnight, forcing rival Houses to come together to face the unknown threat. Not only did Dragolia suddenly discover that space flight was possible, but also that there were thousands and thousands of inhabited worlds spread throughout their galaxy. The diversity of life searching for asylum that they greeted was overwhelming. Over thirty species were present in the six thousand individuals who came searching for freedom in those first three ships. For not only did the Dragolians learn that the stars were heavily populated, but that unfortunately a good portion of the galaxy was under the barbaric reign of one species – the Fions. The newcomers, however, soon proved valuable and brought many new technologies to their world. Humans and Sirmiones were notably different in physical appearance and behavior so even if the first encounter with the aliens had been traumatic, the fact that they were already used to dealing with an intelligent species of different morphology made the approach easier. They soon found a common ground from which to build on. The fact that most of the races were diurnal and not nocturnal like the Sirmiones advantaged the humans who forged a tighter bond with the newcomers. When eight more ships carrying over twenty thousand more aliens showed up in orbit a few months later, the transformation from a young, industrial society to a star faring race was well underway. Since then, Dragolia had welcomed hundreds of ships seeking relief with the alien population well over four hundred thousand. Just that, thought Sandri, much of the beliefs and innocence that had characterized their world was lost in the process. Was it for the better? She didn’t know. Aat least, it made them realize that humanity was a race. The petty wars that they waged against each other had for the moment ceased. On the other hand, it had made them realize how fragile they were and the horror that awaited them just a few tens of light years away. The Fions were on the march and Dragolia was on their path. The sun had set, but surprisingly the light that emitted from the forest provided a visibility that was not only gentler on the eyes but made objects remarkably sharper to distinguish. Sandri had always enjoyed the night, so different from the hazy, blinding sunlight that seemed to cloak the world. She particularly liked being on this side of the castle. From their view, they could see far up in the mountains in the far distance and observe the Sirmiones cities come to life. “Adam,” she said quietly, not taking her eyes off the mountains as she gathered her courage. There were certain things about the past that she had never mentioned to her son. She had never meant to reveal them either, yet a voice inside her told her that she might never have the opportunity again. It was unfair to let certain moments die forever without respecting them as merited. They were part of her life and a part of who she was. “Adam, before J’gaf passed away, he showed me something.” Adam turned to her, knowing that these were the last minutes he would be spending with her. He would miss many things from this world, for he was convinced, that no matter what happened, it would be many years before his return, if at all. “J’gaf?” She nodded. J’gaf was one of the first aliens that had debarked onto their world. He had been hired as the Chief Engineer to overlook and build the House of Hemut’s first starship. He had struck a warm friendship with their family until his untimely death due to the genetic alteration the Fions had performed on him when he was their slave. “I have not told this story to your father or to anyone else. I will tell it to you, but you must never speak of it again.” Sandri paused, not quite knowing exactly where to start from. Adam saw her clutch what she held in her hands even tighter. He noticed that it was some sort of cloth, neatly folded. He could also clearly see that it was not from a material made from their world. It was an alien artifact and Adam instantly realized that whatever his mother held in her hands was linked to J’gaf. She turned her gaze squarely on her son. “You know that J’gaf was a prisoner. What you don’t know was that J’gaf was not just any prisoner.” She paused again. It was so difficult to talk to her son about J’gaf. “Mother?” Sandri was grateful that the subtle, yellow glow that enveloped the room prevented her son from seeing her blush. She exhaled deeply. “J’gaf was very curious about our history. He came to respect our culture, and one of the things which had always mystified him was the unique situation of our world. He never heard of a world having two diverse, intelligent native species, contemporarily living alongside each other. He expressed it as a unique, never before seen anomaly.” Adam listened attentively to his mother. To him, as to all Dragolians, it had been only natural that Humans and Sirmiones coexisted on Dragolia. They thought it was the natural course of events and that at one time in their history, as legend had it, a certain Lord Brummer was sent by the God who had created both races to unite them in peace. It was what everyone on Dragolia had believed until the aliens showed up. With their new technologies they proved beyond doubt that the Human genome was not native to Dragolia. Yet, even if it had been over a decade that this startling news was announced, most of the population still refuted the idea that Dragolia was not their true home. “When J’gaf was given permission to start living at the castle”, she continued, her voice slightly strained, “he became intrigued about the Holy Flag that Lord Brummer entrusted to us to honor and protect. He wanted to know more about our House history.” Adam held his breath as his mother’s words rushed out. “I showed him the flag.” Adam’s eyes bulged slightly as his jaw gaped open. “Mother! No one outside our royal family and the appointed disciples of the other Houses are allowed to ever lay eyes on it! Even then, there are certain protocols that must be adhered to before the flag is exposed! How could you?” Adam was surprised not only at his mother, but also at his own spontaneous outburst. He sounded exactly like his father and for a moment he reprimanded himself. “I know, Adam, but I did and I don’t regret it one bit! You do understand why I keep it a secret, though? I can never reveal this detail to your father! Kildrew is a very good man, but his ideas are rooted deep in our culture and history and he would never understand my transgression.” Adam felt a little disappointed in his mom. Although, he wasn’t a blind believer in the religious connotations of the flag, he did respect their ancestors and what the symbol meant to Dragolia. To have revealed the flag so frivolously to an alien, no matter how justified the intention, when so many people would do anything for just a mere glimpse of the cloth left him disenchanted. “I don’t understand it either, mother,” he admitted. Sandri glanced at his strong profile. He reminded her so much of her own father and she was grateful for this. She could never explain to her son that the only good thing from the union with his father had been his birth. How could she tell her own son that she had never loved his father? How could she explain to him that she had run away into the high mountains a month before their royal wedding in the hope of disappearing forever among the Sirmiones only to be bartered back like livestock three weeks later? Would he understand the constraints of a fixed marriage, of how her father had no choice but to wed her to Kildrew out of the debt that he had when the House of Hemut had prevented her House from being conquered by enemies? She sighed as her mind wandered to J’gaf. She was at peace with herself, because through that alien she had finally known what love meant. She could now face living the rest of her life with Kildrew, meeting her obligations and knowing that she had known true love at least once in her life. “You still have to understand so much, my son.” Her gaze returned to the pressed piece of cloth in her hand. There was a story to tell. “When J’gaf saw the Holy Flag, he was stunned. He didn’t talk to me for days. At one point, I thought I had somehow offended him and that he was going to leave us. It would have set our House back a few years and we surely wouldn’t have the best ships of Dragolia. I confronted him and reminded him of his obligations to our House.” Sandri paused for a second, her mind trying to remain focused on the story that she desired to tell her son. There was another story to tell, the one where the bold, scorching words of that encounter turned into furious passion, but that was a story meant only for her heart. “J’gaf decided to tell me his story,” she continued as she tried to keep a level tone. “He was a prince on a world similar to ours which one night was brutally attacked by the Fions. He told me the Fions descended from the heavens like a pest and started devouring his people.” “Devouring?” mumbled Adam. “So it’s true what they say.” “Yes,” his mother emphasized. “The Fions started eating them alive and with the smell of blood they became even more vicious; driven to a frenzy which could not be stopped. They came in swarms. They were brutal and unforgiving. They killed, captured, and raped anything that moved. J’gaf was captured simply because the Fion that took him was full and couldn’t take another bite. The Fion was burping out the blood of J’gaf’s sister between his sharp teeth. They brought J’gaf to their home planet where the Fions imprisoned species to entertain themselves with during their cruel and vicious games. They called these games victory celebrations. The Fions toyed with their victims’ bodies and tortured them in every unimaginable way to see which Fion could induce the most suffering before their prey’s death.” Sandri paused as the horror of the words sunk in. She turned towards her son and was brisk with her movement. “He handed me this.” She extended her hands and beckoned him to take what she had held clutched in her fists through all this time. Adam tentatively reached out and took the object from his mother’s hands. He unfurled it and gasped. It contained an identical central image of that which was imprinted on the Holy Flag. The mother stared at her son with zealous ire which bordered on madness. Her voice acquired a passion and furry which frightened Adam. He looked into her iron, hard set eyes. He had never seen so much hatred in them before. Her intense gaze flamed out towards him and he felt his heart tremble. He hardly recognized the person beside him. For the first time, he didn’t see her as his mother, but as a woman. “This is the Fion’s world, Adam. J’gaf risked his life a second time to obtain what you hold in your hands. It pinpoints the star system of that hellish world, for even as he was escaping, J’gaf vowed that one day he would return back and destroy the Fions. He can’t do it anymore. The Fions assured themselves that J’gaf had the most atrocious death possible. I found out in the most terrible circumstances that the Fions inject silent, killer genes that activate years or even decades later in all the prisoners that they bring to their home world. J’gaf is proof. They do so in case someone manages to evade – a captive might succeed and think that he’s forever free from their cruelty, but it’s just an illusion.” The day J’gaf’s skin started to boil and melt before her eyes was still vividly engraved in her mind. She recalled the sharp and horrible sounds of his bones cracking as they slowly bent and snapped inside him, as the malevolent implanted genes activated and started producing the horrifying proteins that self-destroyed his body within minutes. He implored her with his last rasping breaths to end his life quickly and she obeyed out of love, killing with her own hands her soul mate and lover while crying out her desperation. That day had forever changed her views on life. Life was beautiful, fragile, and heartlessly cruel – to breathe meant to kill others to have the right to continue breathing. It wasn’t death which was unforgiving. Death didn’t give – it just took. Life was the villain. It gave with one hand and snuffed you with the other. Adam’s bewildered eyes grew wide with astonishment as he observed a facet of his mom that he’d never seen nor realized she possessed. There was tremendous pain and sorrow in her stark eyes and a resolute thirst for vengeance as she spoke her wish. “Promise me, Adam, that if the Fions are defeated you will burn this flag on top of their bones. It was J’gaf’s dream and it has become my dearest wish as well.” Adam gazed down at the flag his mother had endowed him with. He simply couldn’t understand why the home world of the Fions was identical to the image of Lord Brummer’s holy flag. *** Adam struggled to read the bleached sign on top of the crumbling portal that led to a few steps which descended steeply below. People bumped, jostled and swarmed around him through the narrow, poorly lit street as he tried to make himself as inconspicuous as possible. He glanced up at the sign again. It was a simple board with splintered, uneven edges; probably chopped by a small, dull axe. The sign had once had been composed of two words, but only one word was still somewhat discernible – and mused Adam – probably the only important one for the clientele. Tavern. Adam was a little disappointed, expecting something more noteworthy and remarkable. Then again, he was growing weary of trying to find a ship on which to board, and money was extremely tight. He couldn’t risk going to any bank institute without revealing his whereabouts. He had heard, even if he was two kingdoms removed, that his father had put a reward on his capture and was actively seeking him out. He had to get off Dragolia as swiftly as possible. At this point, any ship that had star drive capability would do. A man bumped hard into him and Adam could clearly see that the person was intoxicated. The individual was also wearing a yellow armband. The advent of aliens on their world had not been a blessing for everyone and there was a growing, grass root movement among the population to kick the aliens from Dragolia. The extremists that blatantly declared their position wore the yellow arm band. The man looked up at him with hard, glint eyes. His unshaven face was caked in dry blood and Adam found himself staring a second too long at the stranger’s face. The stranger belched and awkwardly shoved him out of his way. Despite the man’s torpor, the stiff arm that jolted Adam was hard as iron and Adam stumbled a few steps, hitting the stone wall at the side of the entrance. For a moment, Adam felt like striking back, but cautiously restrained himself. He didn’t want to create a raucous and risk being recognized – not in that decadent part of town. Adam also realized that even if the stranger was drunk, he would not dispose of him so easily. The stranger didn’t even bother to look back at him and cover his back as he descended the stairs. Obviously, the stranger was not used to being challenged and did not consider the boy a threat. As Adam grabbed the hood of his mantle which had flown back in that brief contact with the stranger, his hand instantly froze. A girl, about his age, had been observing him from a close distance away. There was an amused smirk of contempt written across her eyes as she peered sharply at him. It was clear to Adam that his refusal to stand up to the man had forged her opinion of him. Adam felt his face growing hot with embarrassment, but it did not deter him from staring discourteously back at her. What did she want, anyways, and who could she possibly be to challenge a prince, even if, he had to admit, she had no idea at whom she was staring at? Adam saw the girl’s expression turn defiant as she strode determinedly towards him. He gulped, not expecting that reaction from her as his mind froze. His sudden paralysis surprised him as he pondered indecisively on what to do next. Flee, his cautious mind told him as he covered his face deeper inside his hood. What if she recognized you? Yet, he couldn’t keep his eyes off her as she neared him. He noticed his heart was racing faster as the blond girl with grey, pearly eyes stopped inches away from him. Her hand was hidden under her robe, undoubtedly clutching a knife. She probably, he thought as she squinted her eyes at him, knew how to use it too. An attractive girl in a neighborhood like that wouldn’t be able to move so freely around if she didn’t know how to protect herself. No wonder she had scoffed at him. This girl was used to getting into fights and she seemed the type that never backed off either. “You can only glare at girls? Do you want to take your frustrations out on me?” she hissed, almost daring him to follow up on her words. Those were not exactly the first words Adam would have preferred pronounced in his face by a very pretty girl. “I don’t want to fight anyone,” Adam said rather stilted, feeling doubly a fool at that moment. First, he had been confronted by a big, burly man and had desisted, and now, he was even backing away from the words of that girl! Not exactly fit for a prince from the House of Hemut! He flicked his eyes over her and noticed that she was wearing the same yellow armband as the drunken man who had shoved him. Coincidence? She sensed his discomfort and backed off a few inches. The disdain, however, was still clearly etched on her face. Adan was not accustomed in seeing a girl look at him in that manner. All the girls he met had always been so respectful – so enthusiastic and… and… was it because everyone knew he was the Prince of Hemut back home? The question was self-evident and Adam felt like a fool for even contemplating the answer. “Then you must have taken a wrong turn, stranger. It is evident that you’re not from here. Do you know where you are?” She asked him as if he was an idiot. Adam simply nodded. This wasn’t going well. “Then you must know that this is the most ill reputable place, not only in Cargon, but in all Dragolia as well.” Her inquisitive eyes darted into his shaded face. “Why did you quickly clutch your hood to hide yourself? Where you from and what are you doing here? Are you searching for someone? Are you running away from someone?” In a certain way, Adam felt relieved. The girl hadn’t recognized him, although, she was much too curious for his taste. He opened his mouth to give a harmless, generic reply, but at that exact instant, Adam felt a powerful grip clamp down on his shoulder. This time, a surprised Adam did respond. He brought up his elbow to smash back into the face of his aggressor, but as he was doing so, his gaze locked into the girl’s eyes in front of him. In that brief instant, he noted a delighted surprise in her look as she stared behind him. Her expression momentarily baffled him and broke his concentration. That moment of hesitation cost him. He scolded himself as the stranger easily grabbed his elbow, and raising it behind his back, smashed his body face front onto the wall. He noted that the stranger had done it with some restraint. Adam recognized that the man could have easily broken his shoulder if he had wanted to. “Father!” Her father? When would this humiliation stop? Adam felt the pit of his stomach churn and anger rise. He had succumbed to his foe like an amateur. “Evelyn, go inside,” the strong male voice barked rather brusquely. Adam couldn’t see the girl as he was held pinned to the wall, but he heard her voice. Despite the fact that she was intervening on his behalf, her words made him feel more miserable. “Dad, he’s harmless. A lost boy. You should’ve seen how he went flying when Tobbo hit him with his little finger. He didn’t even say a word!” “Just go and wait downstairs,” the voice commanded. It was the tone of a man that did not admit ridicule, and notwithstanding his predicament, the man gained some respect in Adam’s eyes even as they squared off. The girl was obviously gone as the man she had called father neared his face to his. His breath was harsh and Adam tried not to breathe too deeply. “What were you doing standing beside this door?” the man asked in a low, deep, rumbling tone. Many questions went through Adam’s mind as he thought about his reply. There was one fact that he had to consider. These were yellow armbands and they might not take too kindly to someone searching for a starship to join the alien resistance. The yellow armband resistance was of a completely different nature. “You heard your daughter. I’m lost.” Adam felt pain shoot through his shoulder as the man slightly shifted his hold. “Now don’t play dumb on me, Adam, Prince of Hemut. I was catching up to my daughter and Tobbo when I saw your hood fly off. Let’s just say it was not a very wise decision to come to a cutthroat port city like Cargon.” While the man spoke, Adam took a shallow breath and relaxed his body as he tried to figure out the best way to escape that complex hold. Now that his identity was compromised, the nerve wracking tension that he had carried inside from the fear of being spotted had suddenly and strangely disappeared. He could finally focus on his surroundings and concentrate on what needed to be done without that constant worry of committing a careless act and being discovered. With one bold and swift move which surprised Evelyn’s father, Adam twisted out of the shoulder lock and brought his fist squarely onto the man’s face. He too, constrained himself. Adam could have easily snapped off the man’s head from his neck if he wanted to. The two faced off, glaring at each other. A few people stared lazily in their direction as they walked by. There was a hue of curiosity written in their dull eyes, but not much more than that. It seemed, to Adam, that the sort of behavior was very common in that neighborhood. Adam felt a surge of confidence, and judging from the man’s look, the esteem of that man towards him had greatly increased. Adam felt a surge of pride as he thought of his father and the House of Hemut’s military force that the King commanded. His father emphasized one particular skill above all that the troops that defended his kingdom must possess if they wanted to have a career in his prestigious force – superiority in close combat situations. The House of Hemut was notorious for having the best hand to hand combat troops in the world and Adam, for his age, was inferior to no one. “You’re going to turn me in and reap your reward?” asked Adam with a pronounced edginess in his tone. “No. I hope you won’t force me to,” the man replied solemnly. “Even if, it would be the wisest thing to do. I never had that amount of money and it would solve many problems.” The two continued eyeing each other even as they relaxed their stance. Adam felt some confusion. He was not sure of the man’s intentions or what he meant by his words. The stranger came quickly to the point. “I can get you off Dragolia and on your way to Goriullous. I know a human captain that is bringing goods from Goriullous to the colony Hafi. There are many rogue ships gathering at Hafi that will follow the Sixth Fleet from the House of Veltri as it passes by.” Adam was momentarily stunned. “Uh… thanks.” The man sneered. “Do not thank me, prince. I do not do this from kindness. I need something in return.” A minute later, Adam was sitting at a corner table in the low lit, damp tavern with Davis, Evelyn’s father, facing him. Adam’s eyes flicked sideways across the table to the far side of the tavern where Evelyn and Tobbo sat with two others. Evelyn was clearly puzzled at seeing him in the company of her father. She glanced tensely at them while she ate her food. Adam could tell that she was not pleased to see him sitting with her father. “I don’t understand,” Adam prudently proceeded as he broke the bread which had been given to him by Davis. “You all have yellow bands. You are against the alien resistance, but you want to help me?” Davis nodded as he gobbled up his supper. “You should get more informed about what’s really happening on Dragolia instead of just listening to royal propaganda. We’re not against the alien resistance. Actually, we want you to succeed so the aliens can leave Dragolia and head back to their worlds, where they belong. We’re just not going to fight and die for their cause. If we fight the Fions, it will be to defend Dragolia and Dragolians – not to revenge the aliens.” Adam treaded carefully, not wanting to jeopardize what seemed the only real chance he had of getting off the planet. He didn’t want to argue with Davis, but as far as he was concerned, the Fions was everyone’s business. Adam took a sip of water. He had refused the beer, wanting to keep a clear mind. “So what is it you wish in return?” “A family royal pardon. I want a paper with your signature attesting to pardon my family’s name of the murder of two people that I committed. I want my daughter to be free and to have a future. This life is no life for a girl like her. I want her to return to the House of Lempel and regain our modest lands. Once I have that, I will renounce this life as a fugitive and turn myself in to complete my sentence.” Adam held his breath for a second. That the man was a criminal did not surprise him. He suspected that most everyone who lived in that neighborhood was. Yet, the fact that he was sitting with one and sharing food with him made him feel rather odd. Especially since the man admitted that he was a murderer. Adam cleared his throat. “Family pardons are not easily given,” Adam slowly replied with some restraint. All of a sudden, he felt the full weight of his title. “The House of Lempel is a strong ally of my House and we rarely, if ever, interfere with each other’s affairs.” Adam could see the man clutch his trembling knuckles. It was not an act of intimidation, but of desperation. Adam realized how much the man was suffering for his daughter. He must have committed an atrocious crime to be handed a family sentence, which carried in itself the share of the crime to all the direct family members even if they were totally innocent of the crime. Adam had never written a family pardon but knew well all the particulars of it. Royal pardons were very rare. As far as he knew, his father had only written about a handful of them in his lifetime – which was even more exceptional considering that the House of Hemut, because it harbored the Holy Flag, was the only House that could pardon anyone from any House. Davis sighed heavily as Adam remained silent. “If you are telling me that you cannot help me,” he said with a heavy tone, “then there is no use for you to remain here any longer. You are free to leave. I wish you luck on your journey, prince.” Adam was surprised. He had not expected it. His pondered gaze slowly crossed Evelyn’s increasingly worried eyes as she stared at her father who had visibly slumped his shoulders over the hardwood table. She turned her steely eyes on him and he felt her clear disdain traverse him like an icepick. She clenched her chin and threw down her spoon. Adam knew that she was about to get up from the table any time now. He turned his attention swiftly back to her father. “Why did you kill?” He felt awkward asking him the question. Adam had never killed before and didn’t know if he would ever have the courage to kill another man. As a prince, he already should have had his first kill if the world wide war between the Houses was still raging. That his generation of royalty was the first that hadn’t known direct warfare left him an ambiguous feeling – almost as if he was less worthy of carrying the title of his House, even if he knew that keeping peace should not only be a matter of principle, but of necessity. He remembered his father’s words. Anyone can go to war, but it takes someone to bring peace. He saw a veil of iron clad grief shield Davis’s face as his mouth opened to answer him. His eyes were hard and focused, his voice steady and resolute as he described the graphic details to Adam. “I knew exactly what I was doing. I had hunted them for days. I grabbed the first one instinctively and just gutted him out. He was still screaming for mercy as his intestines dropped to the floor. I still remember him trying to desperately clutch at them to bring them back inside his stomach as they overflowed in his hands. The second one, I smashed his feet to pulp first and then his knees. He fainted. I brought him back to his senses before I kicked him to death. I took my time because I wanted to hear him scream. I wanted his screams to be louder than that of my wife whom he had raped and killed under my eyes. I wanted his raw screams to drown out my wife’s voice from my mind so as to not remember anymore, but no matter how much pain I inflicted on them before they died, it was still not enough to match my wife’s horrific ordeal at their hands. I wish I could bring them back to life to kill them over again. It would still not be enough.” Adam felt his throat completely dry as the words captivated him. He found himself staring intensely at the man in front of him. The charged moment was interrupted by approaching footsteps. Evelyn stood next to her father. She looked fiercely at Adam. He remained silent, not exactly knowing what to say, if anything. She stared straight at him with her scorching eyes as she spoke. She seemed to have that ability of making him feel suddenly guilty and insignificant even if he had done nothing to merit that reaction. “Dad, are you alright? What is this boy doing here?” Her father quickly regained his composure along with his rough like voice. “We’re almost finished. Go prepare the ship. We’re going to anticipate our departure.” She nodded, hesitantly, before whipping around with a streak of anger. Adam followed her nimble body as she moved swiftly back towards the table. The others looked tersely towards him. They were undoubtedly the crew. He shuddered. Adam had the sensation that they would not hesitate to kill him regardless if the circumstances warranted it or not. For a brief second, he felt awfully lonely and wondered if he was making the right choice. Maybe his father was right. Maybe this war was not his war. He turned his eyes back on Evelyn’s father as Evelyn and the crew left the tavern. There was a question which had been popping on and off in his mind since they first met. He looked around the place. There were not many people around and the few that were scattered about were semi sprawled on the tables and floors. He saw a yellow ribbon hanging from a hand painted portrait of a sea sailing ship behind the bar. “I was told to come here and ask the bartender to find a ship for the resistance. All I see are yellow ribbons. I don’t understand…” A wiry smile appeared on Davis’s face. “You simply don’t ask about joining the resistance in this neighborhood. No doubt, the desperation of still being on Dragolia was wearing you down, especially since your father put up a sizeable reward for your capture and explained to the whole world what you were up to. He shouldn’t have done that. There is only one place, really, where you can hitch a clandestine ride off Dragolia and that is Cargon. Luckily for you, you asked someone who didn’t recognize you. There are hunting parties of criminals strolling the streets at this very moment looking for you. Unluckily for you, however, the person you asked is a slave trader. You see those people at the bar? They might seem harmless, but don’t be fooled. They were going to seize you as soon as you asked the bartender to sign up for the resistance. In these times, who’d ever know that you were captured? If any friend asked for you, they would be told that you enrolled in the resistance, and if you never came back, then whoever knew you would think you died for the cause. Believe me, there’s a lot of bad people taking advantage of the situation.” Adam felt his face go white. Davis took a sip from his beer. “Luckily, my daughter unknowingly stopped you, giving me enough time to intervene. You seem to have had a lot of luck today, Prince Adam. That is why you need to get out of here as fast as you can before the one who sent you here comes in for his reward and recognizes you. My advice is to contact the royal guards and return home.” Adam felt the urgency of the situation grab hold of him as he realized his peril. “Get me a blank sheet of paper, a sharp object and a pen. Quickly!” Within moments, Davis handed him what he desired. Adam hesitated for a second as the point of his pen touched the sheet of paper. He was perplexed. There was still something that didn’t add up. “I have never heard of a crime involving the revenge of a family member handed a family sentence, no matter how hideous the retaliation was. A family sentence is the most severe punishment that can be given…” Adam’s voice trailed off as he combed his mind to understand why such a crime, horrible as it was, was being shared by Evelyn who had her mother killed in such brutal fashion. Davis’s voice was low and barely audible. “The crime was committed by the King’s brother son and his best friend, the Duke of Formatin’s son.” Adam’s hand trembled as he clutched his pen. He stared fixedly at the blank sheet of paper in front of him. He had been to that funeral over ten years ago. He had been a young child and remembered the terrible tragedy vividly. It was the first state funeral that he had ever attended and his father had actively participated in hunting down the assassin. Adam’s thoughts were reeling as he gaped at Davis. “You killed royalty?” As soon as he uttered the words, Adam regretted them. It was the pomposity of assuming that royalty was above the common people that he had always contested his father with, and now, he found himself slipping into the same preconceptions. He rephrased his doubt. “Are you certain it was them?” There was no hint of doubt in the man’s voice as he replied back. “Yes. I saw their faces clearly when they knocked on our modest home and introduced themselves, pretending to be lost. My wife served them tea as we felt honored to have such company in our home. We talked for a while and laughed, little knowing that they were playing a sick game all along. When they grabbed my wife, I was stunned and couldn’t believe what was happening. The Duke of Formatin’s son shattered my legs with two well-placed bullets and left me bleeding on the ground. I saw my wife’s last breath while I screamed and begged for mercy to no avail. Our struggles and pleas just seemed to pleasure them more. When the deed was done, they stabbed me and left me for dead. A friend found me just in time to save my life. It took nearly five months for me to regain my strength back.” Adam found himself breathing slowly, appalled at the details which seemed so vividly embedded in Davis’s mind. “But what did the court say when you told them this?” Davis’s face remained stoically composed, his eyes unruffled as he answered Adam. “Before the trial, I was told that I had a choice to make. The life of my daughter depended on what I said or didn’t say in court.” Adam nodded, understanding the vileness of the situation. He found himself shaking with rage at the ordeal the man in front of him endured. He was not naïve to think that the Houses were innocent of atrocious crimes and cover-ups, but it still surprised him that such events occurred. “The only thing,” continued Davis, “which spared my life was that I was captured in your Kingdom by your father before being expatriated back to me Kingdom. He is a fair man and has a sense of justice. If I would have spoken to him about the ordeal, maybe the present would have been different.” They remained silent for a few seconds as Adam’s gaze returned to the blank sheet under him. “You are right. My father is a righteous man, morally very rigorous and proud of our House as none can be.” Adam thought of his mother’s words. “But you cannot regret the choices you made.” “It is the choice I didn’t make that I regret. I regret not having told my wife how much I loved her every day. As for my crime, I see it no different than that of the blood spilled by kings for their thrones. My wife was my kingdom.” Adam tightened the hold on his pen. He started to write under the surprised eyes of the man in front of him. “Even if you were wronged, you will honor your sentence?” asked Adam. “Yes,” Davis mumbled humbly. Adam nodded as he took the sharp object and pierced his finger. “Here is the family pardon. You can present it to any royal office.” He placed his finger in three distinct spots on the paper. Each royal House had their code and his blood would serve to authenticate the letter. Adam knew that he had just broken the historic relationship between the two strongly allied Houses in those few seconds it took him to draw up the pardon. Wars had been fought for less, and to think that he had been destined to one day marry the princess of the House of Lempel! The image of his mother flashed into his mind. Every time his father had provoked this scenario, his mother had always tried to temper his enthusiasm with her reflected poise. For the first time, Adam wondered if his mother was trying to save him from committing an error. Adam handed the quite ordinary looking sheet of paper to Davis. Tears were surprisingly streaming down his cheeks as his eyebrows furrowed over his disbelieving eyes. “Why…?” Adam did not hesitate. “Because it’s time. Because it’s time that all men, all aliens, are equal and governed by the same laws. It is time to lay injustices to rest.” Adam picked up his compact back sack which he carried with him. “Now where can I find a ship?” Davis shook his head as he held the pardon close to his chest. “You are coming with me. I will bring you.” “But you can present the pardon first thing tomorrow morning. Evelyn would be free!” Davis looked with his steady eyes at Adam. Despite the age difference, there was a respect in the man’s eyes that touched Adam inside. “It will be too late for you tomorrow. You will never be able to leave Dragolia. Even if you do, you have no idea of the type of men you will be boarding with. Furthermore, as soon as I present your letter, I will be arrested to serve my sentence and my ship confiscated. They will want to know many details about your whereabouts. The farther you are from Dragolia, the better it will be for you and for me. No. You made this sacrifice and my daughter and I are in your debt. I will bring you to Goriullous.” He paused as he searched for words before wrapping his thought. It was evident Davis was not a man given to great affections and although his words were rather stilted, Adam felt the esteem and was humbled by it. “I wish I could deter you from leaving and joining the resistance, but every man forges his destiny. I am privileged that our paths crossed, Prince Adam. One day, you will make a fine leader.” *** “I don’t understand what you can possibly bring to this ship!” Evelyn’s voice was not only blunt, thought Adam, but insolent. It was nearly two weeks that Adam had boarded the tiny ship and his first experience in space had been traumatic, to say the least. “You just take up space and food. Thank God we’re only two days away from Goriullous.” Adam didn’t have much experience with girls – at least not with the kind that spoke their minds so openly. Royalty was not only a closed society, but a very rigorous existence full of behavioral protocols to follow. Then again, could he blame her for being so ill disposed? When the gravity deck first went offline a few hours after lift-off, he had badly struggled to maintain his composure while floating awkwardly through the tight confines of the ship. He vomited as soon as the gravity field came back online. She didn’t bat an eye when her father told her to clean up his mess while, feeling queasy, he was ordered to keep still. It had gone a little better the other two times the gravity deck malfunctioned, but Adam still couldn’t get used to zero gravity. Another thing that Adam was having difficulty coping with was the crew’s overtly hostile reaction towards him. It was obvious that no one understood why the tight lipped captain was going out of his way in bringing a seemingly simple boy who couldn’t even pay his fare aboard to Goriullous. Even though Evelyn supported her father’s decision, it was clearly evident that she shared the same doubts as her crew mates and didn’t approve either. Adam glanced at the door of his quarters and proceeded to remove the Fion’s flag from his back sack. He occasionally took the cloth in his hands and mused about it, going over every detail, even if he had done so before. His eyes observed the violent symbols strewn along the edges before once again darting to the central image of the flag. He shook his head slowly like he had done numerous times before as his eyes bore on a symbol that simply shouldn’t have been there. How could it be that Dragolia’s Holy Flag had the image of the Fion’s home world, at least, according to J’gaf? Could it be that J’gaf’s flag was a hoax, that it wasn’t really the Fion’s flag, but something that he had mistakenly confused? Still, even so, it did not explain why an alien would have in his possession an artifact that came from another alien world that showed the identical image of a planet that only the privileged had seen on Dragolia. Adam traced the horrible symbols around the central image, lingering on each. Were they connected to the central image and indirectly to Dragolia? Were these clues that should be familiar to him? If the two flags had the same planet’s image, perhaps the violent etchings were telling a common story. He sighed, not making much sense of it, but quickly came to attention when he heard someone approaching the door. Whoever it was, the person was loud enough to be heard above the nerve wracking internal humming of that old ship. Adam just had the time to fold the flag before Evelyn stormed into the room. They shared quarters together, much to Evelyn’s displeasure. It was the safest place for him on this ship, Davis told him as he justified his choice. We cannot afford a slip-up, a misplaced word from your part that might lead anyone on this crew to deduce that you are the fugitive prince. Evelyn, of course, was extremely annoyed to be sharing her room with him. “What am I, his babysitter? Plus I’m a woman, dad! I don’t share quarters with guys!” Her father cut short any discussion from her part. “I am the captain and my decision stands.” She had shot Adam a mocking glare as he stood quietly to the side of the door beside her father, waiting to take his quarters with her. “What am I saying? This boy is harmless. Take the bottom bunker, kid. I don’t want you to fall and hurt yourself. I already picked up your mess once!” The flag was still clutched in Adam’s hands as he hastily squeezed it inside his bag. He knew it had been risky to examine it, that sooner or later he might get caught, but he was becoming obsessed with the origins of the Holy Flag – because there definitely was a mystery that eluded not only him, but his people as well. The Dragolian flag could not be explained by the legend of Lord Brummer. At the same time, his obsession also spurred deep reflections about his mother, about J’Gaf, and about the bond that his mother had with the alien. He frequently reflected back on his last encounter with his mom and was slowly starting to realize that there was much more meaning to decipher in the words that she hadn’t told him than in those she spoke. There was a scowl on Evelyn’s face as she came to stand face to face with him. Something was bothering her – which was not surprising, thought Adam, while trying to keep a safe smile on his face and appear friendly. It was only a few weeks that he’d known her, but she always seemed to be in a testy mood. He wondered how she would be able to adapt to a relatively normal life after living in exile for the most part of her life. Adam was starting to doubt that she’d really be better off without her father at her side. Davis would finish his living days in solitary confinement. What would she do? Where would she go? From what he saw, she had no friends, no other family, and no one to turn to. How would she survive if this was the only life she’d ever known? It wouldn’t be easy for her. Then again, he thought as it suddenly dawned upon him that he was in the same situation – royalty was the only life that he’d ever known! “What’s that?” she asked impulsively as she saw him trying to sneak the flag into his sack. She was inches away from him in the tight space of the room. He shifted slightly away from her to give them some space, but also because her near presence made him feel uncomfortable. There was no denying that he was attracted to her. However, it was a peculiar hold, a magnetism that he had never felt before and struggled with. He liked her, but it was much more than this. Adam mentally shook his head. He needed to concentrate on his goal, not on his garbled emotions for a girl. He had stood up to his father and left his kingdom for a reason – a priceless ideal worth a billion individual dreams called freedom. It was the freedom to exist, the freedom against the tyranny of not being – the freedom called life. He considered his response as she waited for him to clarify his actions – of what he was trying to hide from her. No doubt, he thought, she probably was thinking that he had stolen something from the ship. It was an unpardonable crime that if caught meant harsh punishment, which was somewhat of a nonsense, thought Adam, considering that they probably were carrying illegal merchandise. Her eyes were wonderfully focused on him, flashing with a glint of hard steel that cut through his trembling heart. “You always stare like that?” asked Adam, a little timidly, as he could think of little else to say as he tried to deflect her interest in what he carried. Her scowl deepened. The tension on her face was unmistakable and he was fairly certain that he was not the cause of it. He had never seen her as agitated. She must have been sent to her quarters by her father, he reasoned. By the way she breathed, it must have been a very heated argument. She raised her finger angrily at him and came within a hair of smudging his nose. He stood his ground, not recoiling from the stiff hand she threw at his face, and for once, his chin hardened too. Enough is enough, he thought as a flare of anger took hold of him. “Just count yourself lucky that stares can’t kill,” she replied in a low, constrained, gruff voice. Adam didn’t change the pitch of his voice, but his tone was equally as biting. “Listen very well, Evelyn. I’ve tried being nice to you and I don’t think I’ve done anything against you or your father to deserve this treatment…” At that moment, the hatch door flew open. Tobbo filled the doorframe. The first thing Adam noticed was the low energy gun he pointed at them. The gun’s setting would not breech the ship, but it was powerful enough to kill a person. Adam’s eyes darted quickly behind the imposing figure where he managed to see another crewman. There was a startled edginess in Evelyn’s voice even if it was evident that she was used to dealing with situations such as these as she kept a cool composure. “Tobbo, put that gun away before you hurt yourself.” Adam saw that the gun was now directly pointing at him. “Move away, Evelyn. Prince Adam from the House of Hemut will fetch us all a pretty, big reward. Unless, of course, you wish to stand by his side.” This time there was clear astonishment in Evelyn’s eyes as she gasped. She whirled her head sharply towards Adam who, in appearance, remained still even as he was shifting the muscles in his body to suddenly spring forward if the need arose. “You? A prince?” Her incredulous voice tinged with heavy irony made Adam grimace inside. He briefly touched her eyes with his before turning his attention back on Tobbo. He finally recognized the man standing behind him as Franten. Franten was a sneaky, conniving little man that Adam had instantly taken a disliking to. Adam had once remarked to Davis about the questionable characters of his crew, but as Davis had told him, a smuggler didn’t really have a choice when choosing his men. He had to do with what was available. That’s why my daughter and I do most of the work ourselves, he had told him. I can trust no one else. We usually don’t keep more than three crew members with us for fear of an uprising. If our ship is stolen, we have nowhere to go. Evelyn turned back towards Tobbo. “We will discuss this… this news you bring with the Captain. I’m sure there must be some explanation. Maybe he just looks like the Prince. Now put down your gun, Tobbo. Anyhow, even if he is the Prince, he can’t escape this ship.” Even as she talked and tried to downplay the situation, her mind was quickly putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Her father must have known. That’s why he was being so secretive. For what purpose, though? Why hadn’t he turned him in and reaped the benefits? Being a fugitive, her dad wouldn’t have been able to do it himself, but he knew a couple of people at Cargon that would have happily split the reward money with him. The share of the money he would have received from Adam’s father, if he really was the Prince, would have made their lives much less difficult. Not that she cared so much for herself, but she dearly wanted to see her father at peace with himself and live out the rest of his days in a semblance of comfort and dignity. She knew he would never recover from the terrible scars that life had dealt him, but he deserved some grace, a comforting smile that would soothe his wounds and make them bearable. As she thought of the reward money, however, she felt a shameful blush inside as she looked sideways at Adam. Dad would never do something like that, she proudly thought, ashamed of herself for thinking otherwise. Dad would never take advantage of other people’s plight for his own benefit no matter how downtrodden or wealthy they were. Never. She turned her attention back to Tobbo who was waving his gun at her to step aside. She frowned. Dad had protected this boy and she would do no less. Furthermore, she had never met a boy quite like him. He unsettled her. He made her angry and she did not quite know why. Or maybe she did. Perhaps, she saw through him the normal life she could have had which had been taken away from her, even if, in the end, he had turned out to be a Prince! One thing was certain. He didn’t leave her indifferent. Not at all! She liked his pondering eyes, his sense of curiosity, his restraint and his respectful manners when he addressed her. Adam was very different from any boy she had ever met. She was used to dealing with men such as Tobbo. She was used to defending herself with her fingernails and sharp tongue. She didn’t know how to be soft, how to caress or to laugh freely and abandon herself to someone. With Adam, she felt as if she could eventually come out in the open, grow and dream of simple but prohibited dreams of love and family. He was a trap! That’s what he was! She couldn’t afford to fall for him – not if she wanted to stay alive in this world of thieves and murderers. “Tobbo,” she said with a low, threatening voice that raised the tension in the room another notch. “I don’t like you waving that gun at me and I already told you that the Captain will decide what we do next with him. Now put that gun away before you regret it.” Tobbo looked back unflinchingly with his tough gaze. He held his gun tight, this time straight at Evelyn. Adam was not too convinced that Evelyn’s approach would deter a man like Tobbo. If anything else, her confrontation might irritate him even further, especially since she was not in a position to threaten him. Adam noticed that Franten had moved closer behind Tobbo. He poked his head to the side and looked inside the room. Evelyn’s eyes wavered as she glanced at Franten’s disgustingly, satisfied face. “You wanted to speak to the Captain, girl? Here I am! And you better behave or Tobbo is going to put you on his knees and I’ll spank you blue before selling your carcass!” The disgustful and gloating expression on his face left no room for interpretation. Evelyn’s face contorted in a ghastly shade of shock and horror as she opened her mouth to screech out her pain. Tobbo tightened his finger and Adam felt his heart freeze as he knew that Evelyn would be dead in less than a second. Tobbo’s finger did not squeeze any further. His gun went sprawling behind him as Adam broke his iron thick arm with one powerful, jarring kick. Tobbo didn’t even have the time to turn towards his assailant as Adam’s first kick was followed by a back flip. Adam surprised even himself that he was able to perform the maneuver and deliver such a precise blow to the man’s thorax in the limited space. His foot landed with the full fury of his force, plunging Tobbo’s body to the ground. His ribcage had cracked in two. He was dead even before he hit the ground. Franten was knocked backwards as Tobbo’s body tumbled. He desperately reached for the gun which had fallen inches away from his arm. His hand was trembling as he fumbled for it. “Please, please! I surrender!” Franten cowardly screamed in a thin, nasal voice even as he tried clutching the gun to kill them. Adam stepped towards the scoundrel with burning ire. His shaking heart was pounding as the blood gushed through his temples. Evelyn was alive! She frantically dashed by him, desperately running towards the front of the ship yelling out her father’s name. Adam hesitated, looking worriedly in her direction. There was still the third crew member unaccounted for. His thought was suddenly interrupted by a metal clang. The weasel had managed to grab the gun and had a victorious gleam in his eye as he swung the weapon towards him. The House of Hemut’s reputation of hand to hand combat was based on speed and not strength. Techniques that were sworn to secrecy had been perfected and passed down through the ages. Only a chosen, elite force possessed this knowledge. It was the stealth like velocity of the blow which made the warriors lethal, not the force and strength each blow carried. Before Franten could even fear, Adam was upon him and twisted his neck. The revolting words he had shamelessly uttered to Evelyn were still fresh in his mind as he almost ripped the head from the shoulders. Adam stepped aside, breathing hard. The gun was still clutched in the scoundrel’s hand as he lay dead on the ground. Adam fleetingly glanced at the two men he had killed. Even if he felt nauseous inside, he had no time to reflect on what had transpired. Evelyn’s life could still be in danger. He bolted across the short space that led to the front deck of the ship and flung the half closed door fully open. His eyes fell upon a body sprawled right below him. It was the other crew member. He was dead. His eyes then jumped a few feet ahead where Evelyn was quietly sobbing. Her back was turned to him. She was clutching her father’s head in her arms. Adam’s air rushed out of him as he came awkwardly over her shoulder. He was trembling as the full scale of events hit him. Reflexes had guided him until then, but at that moment he felt his knees weaken and stood wobbly on his feet. He had defended his life and that of Evelyn, but he had nevertheless killed two men. It was not a pleasant feeling. He felt vile inside, angered that the only viable option of survival had been to kill. He damned the two men whose lives he had snuffed of not having given him a chance to spare their lives. He damned the Fions of not having given the rest of the galaxy a chance of accepting peace and of constraining him and other innocent people of feeling obliged to leave everything they cherished behind to go out and kill them. He raged against his own kind, those royal bastards who had raped and killed Davis’s wife and who had forced Davis down this path, leaving him to die on a cold ship well before his time. Evelyn would probably have had a sister, a brother, who never were given the chance to be born and experience the miracle of life because of two despicable animals that had killed her mom. With their barbarian and ruthless act, they hadn’t only killed one person, but they murdered the future as well. They obliterated what could have been. As Adam knelt beside Evelyn, he quickly noted the terrible wound in the man’s mid section and knew Evelyn’s father had minutes, if at that, to live. Their eyes locked and Adam felt his stare waver, feeling ashamed that he had been too late to save the man that had befriended him even if he was well aware that there was little that he could have done. “I just told Evelyn that she is a free woman. I never thought that I’d ever feel again so much joy in my life as in this very moment.” Davis’s eyes became more distant. Adam fidgeted, feeling useless, as Evelyn sobbed out her father’s name with heartfelt anguish. “Don’t leave me, dad… don’t leave me alone… please…” Davis’s lips trembled, but his voice was still strong. “Protect her with all your heart, Adam...” Adam couldn’t help but nod at the dying man’s wish as the man stared at him with the deep intensity of his grief-stricken soul. He not only heard the desperate pain that the man felt for his daughter’s future, but the hope that he placed squarely on his shoulders to give her a better life. He stepped back as the breath slowly went out of Davis, leaving Evelyn alone with him. A hard knot formed in his throat as he stood at the side, looking out at the unfriendly vastness of space through the viewport. What happens now, he asked himself, even if deep down inside he knew very well what he had to do. It was time to stop running. *** Admiral Skittle from the Sixth Fleet of the House of Veltri stared with pondering and steady eyes at the Prince sitting in front of him. They were alone, in his quarters, and truth be said, Adams felt very much out of place at that moment. It was not because of the keen and inquisitive regard that the Admiral kept on him that made him feel fidgety, but the overly regal surroundings that literally engulfed him that overwhelmed his senses. The House of Veltri was known for their grandeur and high quality, luxurious craftsmanship, and the Admiral’s quarters fully confirmed the Veltri’s predisposition for their lavish lifestyle. The Admiral’s quarters did not disappoint. Not one bit. It was obvious that, even if the Veltri had embarked on a perilous mission, they were not about to sacrifice their material well-being and lofty standard of life simply because they were going to war. In a bizarre way, Adam could even understand it. Life was simply too good to even waste a day not living it as one wished. “Prince Adam, an agreement has been reached between our Houses and one of our fleet’s ships will be returning back to Dragolia.” Adam nodded, relieved. It was the news that he had been hoping for. The last few days had been tense and hectic. When he decided to transmit the distress signal with his royal signature code towards the Veltri fleet, he knew that he was risking being captured by a renegade, pirate ship. Anyone with the knowledge of the royal codes could have intercepted the message and deduced that the ship contained the runaway Prince from the House of Hemut. They would have been a sitting duck. It had been a gamble, but having reached that point, Adam was ready to fight and die, because it was the best chance they had of survival. The other option was to keep on pushing towards Goriullous. Once he arrived at Goriullous, he probably might have managed to find his way and hitch a ship going to Fion, but leaving Evelyn by herself was not an option. Evelyn surely would have been able to gather a crew together, but he was uncomfortable with the idea of leaving her in the hands of a cutthroat crew without her father to protect her. She could also well have managed to steer the ship, stock up on fuel and provisions, and head back to Dragolia by herself, but she was still an outlaw until she presented her royal pardon back home. That meant that she still needed to take dangerous and contraband routes outside the normal shipping corridors which would mean, in all probability, meeting other pirate ships. Without at least two other people by her side, she would be unable to either dodge other ill-intentioned ships or fight back if cornered. She would have been easily boarded. Fortunately, Admiral Skittle had been swift and decisive with his response. He turned his own flag ship around and came in person escorted by a Veltri’s most powerful battle cruiser. The distance which normally would have taken three to four weeks for a normal stellar ship to traverse, took less than three days for the royal fleet, and within a week, Adam and Evelyn were safely within the confines of a Dragolian naval fleet. Adam had to admit, as much as he disliked royal obligations, that Admiral Skittle had shown him and his House a great deal of respect. He was a fugitive Prince, one who had fled from his duties on Dragolia. He had dishonored his father and Kingdom and the fact that the House of Hemut guarded the Holy Flag of Dragolia added insult to injury. The Admiral would not have been contested by anyone if he had simply sent a low priority ship to rendez-vous and accompany him back home. It would have taken weeks, but it was what he merited after his irresponsible actions had led to grave consequences, bringing destruction and death. Adam was beginning to understand his father a little more even if he did not agree with him. Leadership brought great responsibility and at times, the most obvious solution was not the wisest. Far from Adam was it to show discourtesy to Skittle and to the official royal boarding protocol consisting of three long, pompous hours, but Adam was very relieved when the ceremony was over. There were many issues to confront and details to be worked out. The first was the surprised and shocked reaction of Admiral Skittle when Adam asked to enroll in the sixth fleet as an independent. “Out of the question!” the Admiral instinctively blurted out. “You’re a prince from the House of Hemut, one of the most important noble titles on Dragolia! I think it would be wise to return home and discuss this with your royal parents. Since the House of Hemut is neutral, the House of Veltri might be willing to accommodate your desire, but only if you are able to convince your father of your cause. There will be one other fleet assembled at Veltri that will leave in about four months’ time. Of course, in case all parties agree, a position within the fleet that befits your title will be bestowed on you – that which I cannot give you here. You will find much more gratification than under these present circumstances.” Adam expected the reaction. At this point, there were no secrets to keep. He had to play his hand and show his cards. He would have to bare his inner thoughts to convince the Admiral. First, though, he remembered his father’s precious words. No matter whom you are speaking to, his father told him countless times while he taught him the art of bargaining, you should always start by summarizing a fact to entice a yes to establish respect and authority. For if the other doesn’t agree with a fact, then it is useless and counterproductive to reveal your hand. You are throwing it to the wind. “My cause,” started Adam, “is much more than a crusade to fight an enemy who threatens our survival. The House of Hemut is the keeper of the Holy Flag. We are the ones that Lord Brummer entrusted the heavy responsibility of linking the present with our past.” Admiral Skittle nodded as Adam spoke, even if with some perplexity as he wondered where the young prince was leading him to. Adam looked into the vivacious and guarded eyes of the Admiral. He was an experienced fighter, Adam could clearly see that. Of strong, stocky stature and about sixty years of age, Adam was certain that the man had lived through many battles between the Houses. Adam cleared his throat. “I have been blessed to look upon the Flag a few times in my royal functions and I have something in my possession which leads me to believe that God has called upon me to fulfill a destiny.” The Admiral’s eyebrow shot up in a look of perplexed respect, simply because Adam was a prince. Adam’s next words, however, made his jaw drop. “I strongly believe that the world of the Fions is the world depicted on the Holy Flag.” Adam was not at all convinced of what he said, especially the part of fulfilling his destiny. He was far from being a religious person, but he was starting to feel that he was involved in a deep mystery that bordered on the spiritual. Somehow, religion, politics, and recent questions about his race’s origin were all becoming embroiled. With the knowledge he possessed, he felt that he was close to an answer, or at least part of it, if he could only get to Fion. This quest to the Fion’s home world was not only a matter of principle. Fate had also thrown in a profound purpose that could shatter age long convictions. “I need to come with you, not only to fight for our freedom but also to look at this planet and see with my own eyes if it really is the planet depicted on the Holy Flag. You understand what this means?” Admiral Skittle dipped his spoon into a jar of sweet molasses and brought it to his mouth. Baffled by what the Prince had just told him, he made a big mess in front of him as the molasses dipped on the table. Adam’s eyes fell on the Admiral’s six, colorful, ruby gemmed plates spread between the two of them. He remembered it was good manners, when hosted by the House of Veltri, to taste a little of every dish before leaving. He reached out and dipped his gold spoon into the molasses. “I see…” the Admiral finally managed to say as he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “So does this mean,” said the Admiral as he struggled for words, “that God is from Fion?” It was clear to Adam that the Admiral hadn’t delved too deep into his thoughts to understand his query. Undoubtedly, Admiral Skittle was very religious and uttered the first thing that came to mind. Adam shook his head. “Not at all. I highly doubt that God is from Fion. It does mean, however, that Lord Brummer had knowledge of Fion. Lord Brummer was the one entrusted with the flag. He was the messenger. The Holy Flag was either there to guide us, like a beacon, or to warn us of the Fions.” Or, thought Adam, as he remembered his religious concepts, it was paradise lost. Since genetics had put in doubt their link to Dragolia, could it be that the planet depicted on the Holy Flag was their true home? Could it be that just as the alien fugitives had come to Dragolia, they had come to Dragolia with Brummer leading an expedition of refugees banished from their real home, Fion? Were they once a proud, star grazing race whose glory had been forgotten once they landed on Dragolia? Then he remembered the small writing etched over the flag which no one had ever been able to decipher. The symbols were “Earth”. *** When Adam walked into Evelyn’s quarters, he found her gazing stiffly through a viewport into the blackness of space. She didn’t turn her head. Ever since her father’s death a few days back, she had remained distant within her own thoughts. He dared not tread, realizing the shock she was under after the brutal attack and death of her father. She had lost everything she knew even if she was about to gain her freedom. As for him, he didn’t know how to separate his thoughts from the tangled web of emotions he felt for her. Time was slipping away and this could very well be the last time he saw her. He tried not to linger too long on that thought for fear of drowning in his own aching pain. He came to stand awkwardly next to her, a little closer than he usually did and which she tolerated. She didn’t budge to move away and somehow this made him feel better. She continued to stare with her distant eyes into the darkness ahead of her. He cleared his throat. “An agreement has been reached between the three Houses. You will be escorted back to Dragolia by a Veltri fleet ship. It will bring you to the House of Hemut where you can present your royal family pardon.” Adam sighed as he continued, wondering how much of it she was listening to. “Of course, the House of Lempel has taken this pardon as an act of treason and has recalled the ambassador from the House of Hemut so don’t expect to go home soon.” He stopped talking, feeling foolish and insensitive after having uttered those words. Did she really need to know these details? It was as if he was accusing her directly of being the cause of the rupture between the two noble Houses. She never asked anything of him. He was the one that had drawn the pardon with the full knowledge of what he was doing and the consequences his actions would entail. Why was he always saying the wrong words in her presence? He had just brilliantly negotiated his passage to Fion with the House of Veltri and dealt with the half reluctance of his father, and yet, he found himself incapable of talking to the girl he wanted the most to impress. “Nevertheless,” he continued, trying not to sound stuffy and diplomatic while searching for a sensitive and balanced tone, “the House of Lempel has no choice but to honor the pardon and the equivalence of your father’s possession will be paid to you in due time. Eventually, you will be able to regain your place in the House of Lempel as a full citizen …” His throat was dry. It wasn’t going that well. His father had never advised him on girls. “…as your father wished,” he finished, as if trying to justify that whole conversation in three or four words and the mention of her father. The sinking feeling inside grew. Even if he was a Prince, he felt worthless at her side. Evelyn remained silent, not budging. “It’s a good deal,” he rambled on even if not fully convinced of what he was saying anymore. “You will not be charged with any crime committed during the renegade years. It’s the best I could do.” This time she turned her head sharply around. Her eyes were blazing fire at him. Her lips were tightly pressed together, trembling in anger and hurt. He held his breath, feeling her ire reach out and torch his heart. He backed off a couple of steps away from her, realizing that his noble sentiments had been misinterpreted. Why couldn’t he utter what he had really meant to tell her at that moment? Perhaps, it was best that they would soon be on their separate ways, he gloomily thought as a bleak, terrible emptiness throbbed inside his ailing heart. “The best you could do?” she blasted back testily. “Is that what I am to you, a thing to bargain with so that one day you can boast about the very good deal you made for me? I can already see you pompously posing with your king-fat belly of lard at some superfluous royal gala with your royal arrogant friends recounting your young adventures! I’ll bet you’ll also say you went to bed with me in your story-telling days!” His face went white. “No! Of course not! I never went to bed with you!” “What a fool I am! For a second I forgot that you are a prince from the house of smut!” “That’s Hemut…” he yammered back, obviously fragmented. Her eyes moistened over even as she blared out at him. Her voice was near desperation and Adam felt confused as his heart beat with an agonizing longing to hold her and reassure her that she meant much more to him than any girl he had ever known. She meant much more to him than he thought possible. He didn’t want to leave her. He didn’t want to think of spending the rest of his life without ever seeing her again. How could she think about him in those terms? “I curse you Adam and hope you get killed! Every time a noble comes into my life, terrible things happen! My mother, my father… just get out of my sight and leave me be!” Tears were streaming down Evelyn’s face. Adam remained transfixed, his stunned gaze innocently open and hurt. He ached for her pain, ached for the terrible hurt he felt inside of him… and felt miserable that these would be his last seconds with her. It would end like this. He slumped his shoulders as he heard her sob. She had made it clear. She hated him. He had eluded himself, but in truth, she had hated him from the very beginning. Adam’s hand had barely reached the door when he felt her rush at him from behind. He turned around and put up his hands to protect himself. She was crying as she threw her two fists wildly at him. Adam felt his cheeks wet as a hard knot formed in his throat. “You promised!” her broken voice lashed out at him with wounded pain. He looked at her with a suffering, beleaguered look, not fully understanding what she meant. She grabbed his head forcefully between both arms as if fearing that he would escape and, standing on her toes, brought his face squarely down on her lips. The raw energy of his desire melded with hers as they searched for each other’s love. As their lips locked together, their eyes slipped into each other’s soul. She suddenly broke off the passionate kiss and looked tearfully into his eyes. “You promised my father that you would protect me with all your heart!” Adam was breathing heavily. He couldn’t hold back his tears either. “I love you Evelyn. It’s just, just that I don’t know how to say it. I thought you didn’t want me. I…” Evelyn put her fingers and ran them across Adam’s lips as he held her. “Shh.” “I have so much to tell you…” he mumbled as he choked up. “I know that you do,” she told him. Adam’s heart filled with wonder at the sound of her tender voice. He had never heard her use that tone and he felt soothed and elated at once. “There is no time, Adam,” she whispered. “You have to leave and I must bring honor back to my father and our family name.” Adam shook his head vigorously. “No, I can’t leave you like this, Evelyn! Not like this!” His voice was unusually shrill as the desolation of not having her scorched his mind. An hour later, Adam was left alone, gazing with wet eyes at a small ship slowly distancing itself from the main fleet outside the same viewport Evelyn had been staring through. It was returning to Dragolia with the only girl that he knew he would ever love in his life. *** Admiral Skittle stared at the image of the Fion’s flag that Adam held in his hand and looked outside the viewport of his quarters, comparing it to the planet within sight. It was identical. “You know,” said the Admiral to the Prince as he handed him back the piece of cloth, “you don’t have to lead the first party down.” Prince Adam looked at him with contemplative eyes. He had changed much, mused the Admiral with fatherly affection, in these last four years. Gone were the boyish hesitations and the sometimes awkward demeanor. There was a purpose in every action the Prince made. At first, he had humbly joined the ranks like any ordinary soldier, gaining the respect and admiration of the fleet. He then slowly earned his command, successfully completing his missions with bravery and courage, leading his men on countless worlds while freeing whole civilizations from the despicable enemy. He had become a true leader as befit a man of his responsibilities and reputation. Still, Skittle couldn’t but have an eye of regard towards the Prince from the House of Hemut. In these four years he had not only become his friend, but also like the son he never had. There was a hint of a smile on Prince Adam’s lips. “Still trying to protect me, aren’t you, Gramps?” he said with a warm, gentle tone. Admiral Skittle shrugged his shoulders slightly, trying to convey a rational explanation to his thoughts. “Not at all! By protecting you, I protect all my crew. If something were to happen to you, you know very well the impact it would have on the moral of everyone on this fleet.” “Furthermore,” continued Skittle as Adam nibbled on the fourth of eleven plates in front of him, “the seventh fleet is about six week’s journey away and they have not seen many skirmishes. They are well rested and eager to see serious action. Together we’ll be able to hit their capital with a formidable force. We can afford to wait and keep the enemy contained until they reach us.” Prince Adam shook his head quite decisively. “No. Every day that passes means an extra day where the Fions can prepare for us. It also means one more day for them to kill innocent lives. We are the only ones in a position to act now. The nine alien fleets are engaged in hand to hand combat throughout the solar system. They are also fighting to liberate the other major cities on the planet. The fighting is ferocious and they cannot spare troops to hit the capital. The House of Gwelps fleet and the two House of Jagyun fleets are engaged freeing the last nearby stars under Fion rule and we cannot take them away from this mission to support us. We cannot ask for more from the third and fourth fleet from the House of Veltri. They deserve to return home after accomplishing their missions despite having suffered heavy losses. Lastly, the rogue independents that joined us are badly equipped and even if they are doing their best by ambushing and disrupting the Fions, their ships are being destroyed at an alarming rate. We have to help them. We have to put an end to this nightmare as soon as possible. We must attack as planned even if I know it will be the most difficult battle of our journey. However, with the troops we have, I expect complete victory and control of the city, nothing less. Once that is done, the war is virtually over.” Plus, he had to keep a promise that he made to his mother a long time ago. Admiral Skittle sighed as he nodded. The final decision was the Admiral’s responsibility and as much as Adam wanted to strike, he knew it too and waited for his superior’s confirmation. “Then it will be tomorrow,” he said with a slight tinge of sadness. Adam frowned. Something was not quite right. It was unlike Admiral Skittle to have second thoughts or put in doubt decisions that had been taken and planned for. Actually, the Admiral had quite a reputation throughout the galaxy. He was feared even by the Fions, if such could be said, and was known as the commander who never bluffed. He used his artillery and blunt force every opportunity he got. There was never any ambiguity on his part. “Gramps, is everything alright? You’re not regretting that this is the last battle?” Adam asked teasingly even if there was an edge of seriousness to his tone. Skittle scowled. “Of course not! Do you know how many battles await me back home? If you think the Fions are tough, wait until you meet my wife!” Adam finally broke into a full smile, but it soon turned nostalgic. He couldn’t help but think of Dragolia, his father, mother, and especially her, Evelyn. He wondered, as he did every day, how it had all turned out for her. Communication was impossible when more than seventy thousand light years separated him from home. It would take well over five hundred years for an accelerated electronic space message to cross space and reach destination. The last note he had received from her was sent a few months after they had separated. She had given in the royal family pardon and was remaining at the Hemut palace as a guest while waiting for her papers to be acknowledged by her House. The message he received from her had been simple, rather Spartan and a bit disappointing after he had sent her a long love letter. It simply listed the details of her situation and ended with ‘Thank you for your kindness and that of your House. An affectionate hug, Evelyn.’ Adam had remained days looking at the message, re-reading her dispatch with various connotations to try to give those words a deeper meaning than what they so starkly stated and revealed. It was a hopeless endeavor which only made him glummer. In the end, he had to reluctantly admit that the passion of the last hour together was a consequence of the bundled up emotions of that particular moment. In that instant, reality and dream had crossed paths. Then the wave of that wonderful dream receded, leaving him on a gray, solitary beach and the warm memories of a bright sun. He had to move away from that strip of a gone paradise no matter how much it hurt. The sun was not returning. He had to find reality once more. The Admiral noted Adam’s lost melancholic gaze and knew perfectly well what Adam was thinking. He had avoided bringing up the subject for some time, hoping that Adam would eventually move on. “Do you still think about her?” he asked. It had been quite a while since Adam had talked about Evelyn to Skittle. Adam nodded, barely perceptible. Skittle shifted uneasily in his seat. He drummed his fingers on his desk. “I’ve been battling with myself for weeks now, wondering if I should tell you or not what I know.” Adam slowly turned his head towards the Admiral with guarded incredulity. He heard his heart suddenly thump. Was the Admiral about to reveal something about Evelyn? Did he know something about her that he had kept secret? Adam’s voice was a little strained. “Tell me what?” The Admiral clasped his hands together and looked Adam straight in the eye. “Adam, I worry about you. There are many eligible girls on this ship that would die just to go out on a date with you, let alone become your girlfriend… or wife.” Adam gulped, knowing full well where the Admiral was leading with his conversation and dreading the subject once more. “Of course, I understand you are a prince and have responsibilities,” he continued rather diplomatically until he got stuck. “I understand that perfectly well. I know that there are not many nobles on the fleet that you can, em, well, you know. I don’t need to complete my thought.” Adam leaned back on his chair, a little uncomfortable. “Exactly. I have responsibilities.” “Bull!” retorted the Admiral gruffly. Now that was much more like the Admiral he knew, thought Adam. The Admiral found his no nonsense tone and rammed straight ahead. “You’re always thinking of Evelyn and you’ve been hanging on to her since the day she left this ship. I bet that there hasn’t been a day that’s passed where you haven’t thought of her! That’s admirable of you, but life goes on, Adam, and while you’ve brilliantly succeeded at command you still have to grow up emotionally! In other words, Adam, you don’t understand women! Enough is enough. Adam. Grow up!” Adam stared back dumbfounded, at loss for words. The Admiral got up from his chair and paced a few steps, before turning back to Adam, who remained sitting with a quizzical look on his face trying to make sense of the Admiral’s outpouring. “Grampy,” Adam finally said. “What has all this to do with Evelyn?” The Admiral huffed. “I wanted to tell you this after tomorrow’s battle, but you know how hard it is for me to keep secrets from you. I know there will be a lot of emotions going through your head tomorrow when you set foot on that planet and I don’t know if I am doing the right thing by telling you this at this time.” Adam cleared his throat. “Grampy, you know how single minded I am in battle. Whatever it is, if it has to do with Evelyn, I want to know.” The Admiral nodded. “Then I might as well clear this from my chest. I have the troop roster from the seventh fleet of Veltri. Evelyn’s on it.” Adam’s eyes suddenly lit up, but one look at the Admiral’s face made his leaping heart freeze. The next words made his heart shatter in a million pieces. He knew he would never be able to pick them up again and make them whole. “Adam, she is married and has a child. Her husband’s name is Jon Thilms. He’s a trooper. They live together on the family fleet ship.” Adam remained very still, hardly breathing. His face was clad in a mask of pain and denial. The Admiral heaved his shoulders and moved away, leaving the prince alone with his thoughts. In a way, his heart was broken too. He had so much wanted a fairy tale ending for Adam. *** Rrrtk snapped his long, scaly head up towards the bright blue sky. His lidless eyes glared at the ships swooping down towards the capital a short distance away. His claws dug in the soft earth as he lunged forward. He raced blindly through the foliage, and as he emerged in the open savanna separating the jungle from the city, the plumes on his arms gave him a slight lift as he soared forward. He heard cries of excitement around him as his clan abandoned their hunt and scurried with all their might back towards their home. Their city was being attacked. The aliens had broken through the domed barrier and their ships were about to destroy the last remaining city of the empire. Rrrtk knew that the end had come. There was only one hope left. They hadn’t completed their theories, but the enemy left them no choice. All of a sudden, his feet were taken from under him as he went sprawling to the ground. He whipped his tail instinctively over his head to protect himself but Faad pounced over him and rolled over his body as she locked him in her strong, bulging arms. She butted her head on the smaller male a few times to calm him down. Her nostrils were flaring in rapture as she smelt his strong, secreting hormones. He was very desirable and it took much control not to mate. “Rrrtk, this is our chance to kill the emperor. Jaoopp will be leading the assault on the palace. You are with us?” Rrrtk growled in ecstasy, already envisaging the privileges that went with wielding so much power. For a few moments, his head pulsed with excitement as he thought of pleasurable ways of eliminating his enemies. He would make a cocktail of their eyes, bleed them out and pluck their feathers from their head one by one as the life drained out of them. Then he remembered. He had a task to accomplish. “I cannot. Not now!” he roared back with frustrated anger as she held him pinned down. Faad spit at his head and slapped his prominent jaw from side to side. “Stupid scientist. I would kill you right on this spot and eat your brains out if you weren’t so stupid.” She squeezed his genitals. “I’m going to get you Rrrtk. You just remember that.” She scrambled from his back and leaped forward, scratching him purposefully with her claws down the side of his body as she lurched ahead. Rrrtk grunted and quickly rose to his feet. He whirled around to regain his equilibrium, making sure that no one took advantage of his vulnerable position. He noted that his cousin Kttu had veered towards him as if he was getting ready to charge, but had thought better of it and desisted at the last second. Kttu didn’t have much money and killing Rrrtk would certainly solve his debts. He would have taken possession of a nice bank account and more than modest dwelling, not to mention his nine male slaves. He doubted, however, that any of the females that owned him would want to have Kttu as a replacement. Kttu’s crest was simply not bright enough. As Rrrtk entered the city, others joined his side. The explosions had started. Some of the ships were landing and the alliance troops were spilling out to engage combat. Cowards, thought Rrrtk as he hissed at them in the distance. The whole galaxy had united to defeat them. There wasn’t one race brave enough to face them alone. Rrrtk thought that they should have annihilated them all when they had a chance instead of simply conquering them. And they would, once his plan was successful. For a moment, Rrrtk was tempted to join his comrades in battle for a few swipes, but resisted the urge. He saw his sister Oooyt crush her mighty jaws through the head of those soft, humanoid, mammalian aliens and start devouring it. The red blood was very appealing. Rrrtk ignored his intense hunger pains and continued on his way, focusing on the task ahead. His destination was the city’s military scientific center. He would win this war by himself and become a hero. There would be feasts in his name and he would become the mightiest emperor of all time. *** When Adam spun around, it was already too late. He felt the Fion’s blazing breath on his neck as it rounded the corner in full flight. Reflex made him follow through. As soon as the Fion would dig his claws into him, he would make sure his dagger would penetrate through the Fion’s neck. Their lives would both end in a stalemate. To his surprise, the Fion simply glared at him with his hateful eyes as it leaped past him. It was obviously intent on not slowing down, not even for an easy kill. For a brief second, Adam remained paralyzed, not at the thought that he was still alive, but at the fact that a Fion had purposefully spared a life. It was the first time that he had ever witnessed or heard of such a thing. A Fion never passed on an opportunity to kill. The Fion deftly avoided four of his men and was out of sight before they could even aim to shoot it down. Adam once again marveled at the speed of the creature. It was fortunate for them that the Fions were single minded in their attacks. They only rushed forward to engage the enemy, having no sense of tactics or strategy. With the speed and the strength they possessed, they would have been an impossible race to defeat if they had any sense of planning. Adam had seen enough of the Fions to know that they fought individualistically. Their sense of kinship and social empathy was nearly nonexistent. Many times he had witnessed Fions bickering and killing each other even as they fought against them on the battlefield. Adam shuddered. What kind of race would kill their own during a battle with the enemy? On one planet, Adam had pulled his troops back and watched horrified as the last remaining two hundred Fions killed each other in a fit of rage as they mutinied against their commander. There was no more time to ponder and think. Adam regrouped his squad and pressed forward. He had to divide the city into sections by nightfall. Then, the real fighting would start. *** Two months. Admiral Skittle hadn’t seen Adam in two months. His eyes were moist as they tightly embraced. “Easy Grampy,” Adam said with a lump in his throat. “That shoulder has taken a real beating down there.” Adam glanced at the twenty-eight plates set on the table for the occasion. “I see you really outdid yourself this time!” Not that he minded. Not at all. His joy at finally being back on the fleet was indescribable. It had taken him a good five hours to finally get to the flag ship. He had taken a personal tour of every ship of the fleet to celebrate victory. It was only the start. There was no need to say much since they had been in constant communication during this period, but there was one thing which bothered Adam. “You know,” he started saying as he already nibbled on his third plate, “I am a little troubled by the fact that we have to kill every single Fion. Why?” The Admiral stared back with a philosophical smile. “I wouldn’t have expected this from you, Adam. It is a far cry from how you felt just two months ago. What happened to change your mind?” Adam shook his head. “Nothing in particular. The Fions are even more despicable than we can imagine. You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve seen in that hellish city. Just yesterday, we came across mummified faces of Fions laced on a gold necklace around a rich residency. Underneath them were the Fion words, these are my sister’s children. The skulls were exposed as if they were trophies to brag about. Yet, I ask myself if it’s the just thing to do. We are annihilating a whole species!” The Admiral grimaced. “I have thought about it too. The only thing I can say is that Dragolia doesn’t know what it is to be conquered by this race. We’ve never experienced their domination. It’s the wish of every species that have been conquered by the Fions that they become extinct. Not one species wants to spare them this fate. I will not judge if it is right or wrong. It’s simply the way it has been decided. I don’t think it’s Dragolia’s place to argue against this.” By Adam’s reaction, Skittle knew he was not satisfied with the response. The war was won and the last living Fions were being hunted down and killed like animals. Many aliens were killing them in the most barbaric way out of revenge. Dragolians had clear orders not to interfere in this process. There would be no prisoners, no trials, no explanations. The hatred against them was so strong that they would be erased from history. Some races were even going so far as to ban the word Fion from ever being uttered again. One race, reduced to about ten thousand inhabitants, told Skittle that they would never speak about the Fions to their children, and if anyone dared, they would be imprisoned for life, even if the individual was of another race. The Dragolians had been warned. It was too humiliating to carry the savagery of what had been done to them through the years. Skittle understood their point of view. After all, why carry the burden of the past forward when the future offered unconditional freedom with new dreams and opportunities? Why brood about the hurt of the past and cripple the innocence of generations to come? Adam changed subject. “What happens now? Where do we go from here?” The Admiral drummed his fingers on his desk as he contemplated what to taste next. He reached out for the dumplings. “Well, there are many ongoing discussions at this point,” he replied as he grabbed the largest piece on the plate. In the House of Veltri, it was extremely bad manners to take the smaller pieces before the bigger ones were eaten. It was considered being ungrateful to the cook. Adam reached out and searched for the next biggest dumpling while Skittle answered his question. “The distance from Dragolia makes it impossible for us to have any input from our home world. The Houses that are represented through the fleets must therefore negotiate the fate of the Fion’s home planet.” “In truth,” he continued, “you are the highest representative of all the royal Houses! A paradox, since the House of Hemut sent no fleet! It puts us in quite a legal bind, but I don’t think anyone will object to your lead in the negotiations, At least not in our fleet. You might have to win over the other Houses, though. They might be more than a little irritated that a House who shunned the war will lead the victory negotiations!” Adam nodded. He had already talked briefly with the Admiral about this point. He wanted to play a major part in the colonization of this world. There was an affinity with the planet that was undeniable. Adam had felt it when he battled the Fions… the easily breathable air which filled his lungs, the green trees that soothed his eyes, the deep blue sky and fluffy white clouds, the sun which warmed his body and lifted his spirits, the big, wonderful moon which inspired awe… all the troopers had felt the same sensation. There was something about this world which whispered home. Furthermore, the image that Adam had kept guarded for many years was not a secret anymore. The Admiral had convinced him that it should serve as a source of inspiration, especially since autopsies had revealed that Dragolians were genetically similar to the Fions. The Admiral had seen right. There was a palatable excitement throughout the Dragolian fleets and some troopers had even expressed the wish of remaining on the planet to establish a new home instead of returning to Dragolia. Adam was excited at this thought, and the more he thought of it, the more he wanted to play an active part in it. It seemed as if the Admiral had been reading his thoughts. “I know that you want the planet for Dragolia. You want us to possess the planet and start colonizing it, but it will be difficult. The planet is very rich and they are a few alien races that will ask a hefty price to grant us this wish. Actually, there are some races that want to put this whole solar system off limits to everyone. A race actually wants to use nuclear weapons and make it inhabitable.” Adam was not easily deterred. “Need we remind them that although the rebellion had started by the time the aliens reached our shores, it was Dragolia which ensured final victory and freedom?” “Which is why,” noted the Admiral astutely. “why some don’t want us here. They find us too similar to the Fions. They don’t like what they see in us. Some races find us too violent. They have seen us use weapons of destruction with apparent ease and it has struck a chord of fear.” “Especially since,” continued the Admiral, “the analysis of all living material has shown that we are related to everything on this planet. There is no more doubt. We originate from this planet.” “As do the Fions”, the Admiral quietly concluded. “It mystifies the aliens, and quite frankly, me and others.” There was a special light in Adam’s stare. “Ever since I lay my eyes on the flag J’gaf gave my mother, I sensed that this was home. The Holy Flag is the place where Lord Brummer originated. We will never know why and how Lord Brummer found himself on Dragolia or with whom he travelled, or how he managed to cross the gulf of space between this planet and Dragolia, but he did. The Holy Flag, is in reality, the flag of our planet. I think this fact was lost through the generations and we forgot who we really are and where we came from. ” Adam looked at the planet through the viewport. “It had a name before Fion. It was called Earth and it will once again be called Earth. No one will take it away from us, even if it means fighting to the death for it. It is home.” Admiral Skittle straightened up. Adam could see from the man’s eyes that he approved and was proud of him. His eyes softened. “There is one more thing, Adam.” Adam’s eyes widened. “Evelyn?” His intuition was right. The Admiral shook his head. “I will never understand you, Prince Adam.” He continued as Adam waited with anticipation at the latest from Evelyn. “She wants to see you.” Adam lowered his gaze from Skittle’s eyes as the air rushed out of him. His mouth suddenly became very dry. The Admiral shrugged his shoulders. “As I said, I will never understand you. Every time I utter her name you go to pieces. Then again, maybe I don’t understand what love is really all about, and seeing what it does to you, it’s not a bad thing at all in my case!” Adam looked up at Skittle’s face. Adam had hardly heard him. He was clearly puzzled, agitated, not knowing what to think. He wanted guidance. “Well?” The Admiral shot a quizzical look back. “Well what?” “Should I see her?” “I would,” the Admiral rapidly shot back. “It’s the only way you will be cured of her,” he said quite seriously. “Only that, she is married, Prince Adam, and has a child. Are you able to accept this? Remember the reputation you have earned through these years. Remember who you are and what you represent. You are not only a Prince, but a leader of men. Everyone looks up to you. Everyone. You are a hero and heroes don’t disappoint.” Adam looked glumly into his friend’s stern face, fully recognizing the obligation of his role. Evelyn had another life now, and so did he. He couldn’t barge into her life again and risk destroying her equilibrium. He had already done so once. Adam shook his head. “No, I cannot see her.” That evening, Adam wept. During the next few weeks, Adam forged Earth’s first constitution. All men were created equally and all men had a right to freedom and respect. Those were the first words. Fion officially became Earth and Prince Adam would temporarily lead the settlers for a few years until the next fleet from Dragolia arrived. He became the first elected Governor of Earth. *** The fleets of Dragolia were about to leave. A meager four Dragolian ships were left behind for Earth to defend itself with if the need arose – at least until the new fleets arrived from Dragolia, and hopefully, new settlers. There were already a few grumblings about the earthlings from the other species and Adam knew that in time the tensions were bound to mound. It was only natural. The Fions had been overpowered and suppressed civilizations were flexing their muscles to take their place in the galaxy. At least, Dragolians could count on the support of a few close allies and some renegade ships of mixed alien crews that had battled hard alongside them and accepted to make Dragolia their new home. Adam saluted his friend with the biggest hug he could muster as emotions overwhelmed him. It would take Skittle nearly two years to reach home. “I’ll be waiting for you in about five years’ time,” he told Adam. “If I survive my wife, that is.” The fleets from Dragolia left the solar system exactly six months to the day that the Sixth Fleet from the House of Veltri arrived. From the ninety thousand troops, three colonies totaling roughly eight thousand Dragolians and one thousand aliens settled on the planet. It was a fragile community but it would only grow stronger and more numerous in the years to come. Of this Adam was convinced. *** The air was heavy with impending rain, but it wasn’t the rolling thunder closing in that made Adam open his eyes. The door leading outside was open as a cool draft reached him. He chided himself on his carelessness. There were many dangerous animals lurking in the jungle and nearly every month they were losing someone to these powerful predators despite the energy field that they employed. However, it only made their resolve stronger to tame the planet and make it safe for their descendants. He was about to get up to shut the door, but he heard a presence and lay still in his bed, his eyes open wide to accustom himself to the near total darkness of his room. He frowned. Someone was quietly sobbing. This was not real. It had to be a dream. He was almost apprehensive to speak for fear of waking himself up. “Evelyn?” he whispered with a longing desperation in his voice. The sobbing suddenly stopped. “Evelyn, love, is that you?” Oh please, please, let it be her. Let this be a dream and let him dream it as long as he wished, as long as eternity and even then, much longer than that. “You promised,” the voice uttered emotionally, “and I was a fool to believe a prince could ever care for a girl like me.” “No, no, no!” he whispered as his heavy heart tore him inside. This couldn’t be real. Was this guilt? Was this how his heart was torturing his mind? Adam’s whispering voice poured out as a sea of regrets tinged his voice. “You are the only woman I ever loved and the only one I will ever love. Evelyn, why did you send me away? I won the war, but lost my innocence. I’ve freed the people, but enslaved myself.” There was silence. Even the air seemed still as the thunder suddenly ceased. “Evelyn?” Was she gone? Was the dream over? He felt a stab in his chest as he choked down the swelling pain in his throat. He had to go back to Dragolia. He had to search for her. He had to tell her how much he loved her. “Did you keep the promise to your mom?” Adam frowned, momentarily disoriented. What did his mom have to do with this dream? “Yes. I burned J’gaf’s flag over the bones of the enemy… as she wished.” “Good. Your mom told me the story between her and J’gaf. She also told me to follow the man I love until the very end. I promised I would.” “Mom and J’gaf…” he mumbled listlessly as he fully realized what the voice implied. “Yes, Queen Sandri and J’gaf. They loved each other passionately and deeply.” Adam could hear his heart beat faster as his breath, coarser, rasped through his lungs. It wasn’t his mother’s infidelity which at that moment ran through his thoughts. Subconsciously, he had always known that. It was odd how this dream was making him face what his conscience refused to untangle. Instead, he concentrated on her last words. Evelyn promised his mom that she would follow her man until the very end. “Jon Thilms is a very lucky man, then. I am sure he deserves all your love. I also heard that you have a child. It must be a beautiful child.” His eyes were wet. His chest was pounding in anguish. The deep scars reopened and oozed the hurt that burnt his heart and drowned his soul in the bitter regret of having letting her go. “You fool.” The two little words lashed out of him as he cried out his agony. Enough! Enough of this hellish dream! He bolted from bed and was stunned to see that the door really was gaping wide. Against the backdrop of a flash of lightening, he saw a lithe shadow dart through the doorway. Evelyn! It really was her! Adam sprang from his bed and flew through the door as if his life depended on it. He yelled out her name and ran off path, leaping over the giant, colorful mushrooms and thrashing through the deep green ferns, his feet sinking into the soft earth as he desperately searched for the girl of his dreams. She was gone. There was no one there. He stopped and locked his fingers behind his head and looked up to the sky, trying to keep his chin firm. The thunder was getting louder. It would start to rain soon. He should be getting inside. He didn’t want to spend part of the night sleepless and drenched in rain. It would only make him feel more miserable than he already was. Had he really seen her? Or was it just a remnant of his dream? He couldn’t deal with his fate any longer. The loneliness that life projected and the thought of never seeing her again were too much at that moment. He fell to his knees. Evelyn! He cried out under the starless sky. He had barley finished uttering his painful cry of love when someone jumped him from behind. Surprised, his body awkwardly plunged to the ground. He had been unprepared for the blind attack, and as probably the greatest commander and leader Dragolia had ever produced, felt mortified. Hard fists pounded on his back as his face hit the dirt. “I should kill you! I should kill you!” Startled, Adam flipped the intruder on her back and deftly rolled on top of her, hungrily seeking her mouth as she lay still for him to come before wrapping her body around his. They locked into a deep, passionate kiss. The craving of the moment, the elation of finding Evelyn, mingled with the hurt he felt as he trembled in her quivering arms. He suddenly let go. “No, Evelyn. No! You’re married. I can’t love you this way. You’ve made your choice and… you can’t do this to me!” What at first he thought were sobs were simply bursts of uncontrollable laughter. “I don’t understand…” Adam uttered in a low, voice, not knowing what to think anymore. He felt ridiculous. Was she making fun of him? Had she become that callous? They lifted themselves up, and as he confusingly gazed at her shadowy form, she leaned over and grabbed his hand, tugging him back towards the door. Her hand in his felt warm and magical as she squeezed his fingers tightly. He wasn’t about to let her go either. He followed her, in disbelief, as if in a daze, wondering if all this was really happening to him. He couldn’t resist but turn on the lights as they came inside his room. She did not vanish in thin air. It was not a dream. It was really her. Evelyn. She was even more stunning than he remembered. Her girlish features had filled out and she was a woman who would be the envy of any man. Adam gulped as he remembered a girl but instead found himself staring into the splendid, clear eyes of a gorgeous woman. In those eyes, he saw her immense love for him and in that instant he knew that nothing had changed through those years. She had been waiting for this moment as had he. “Adam,” she whispered as her eyes filled with tears. “I let you fight your war, but when I called for you, you did not come.” It was not an accusation but a painful declaration, as if she had been searching ever since for the reason of why he had abandoned her love. “I’m looking into your eyes right now and I see so much love. Is this real, Adam, or are we both dreaming?” He grabbed her hands and held them tightly between his. He stared wide eyed and dumbfounded into her searching face. “But you married, Evelyn! How could I come into your life again if you made another choice? I am still in love with you! I always was…” She looked into his questioning eyes. “So this is how much you believed in me?” His regard remained locked inside her eyes as she let him plunge inside her intimacy. There was a tinge of sorrow coated across her soul. He didn’t say a word as she moved back and slipped away from his arms. “I remained at the Hemut Palace for months,” she started as she told him her story. “Your mother and I became very close friends. Your father was more distant, but it was understandable. The pardon you wrote for me almost caused the first war between Houses since ages. He was very deft in avoiding confrontation. When my House finally accepted and I regained my citizenship, the first thing I did was to enroll as a trooper. I had to be on the seventh fleet because it was the last fleet leaving for Fion, not only from the House of Lempel, but from Dragolia for years to come.” She sighed, as if reliving those anxious moments all over again. “Only that, the recruiting for the fleet was over by the time I regained my citizenship. I could only enroll as a military cadet in the special army force that was being created to patrol the home quadrant. There was only one sure way of becoming part of the seventh fleet. I had to be married to an existing member of the seventh fleet. I was desperate. Life made no sense if I wasn’t going to live it with you. I pleaded with the only one who could help me – your mother. She found me Jon Thilms to marry. He will find a nice retirement sum waiting for him once he returns back home to Dragolia.” Adam was numb and for a moment speechless as images of his mother conniving with outlaws traversed his mind. First J’Gaf and now this! What would father say? He blinked, finally remembering that Evelyn was staring at him with a slight veil of confusion written over her face. “You don’t look that well,” she bluntly told him. He remained silent. It was not a good thing. He had to speak. He opened his mouth. “So nothing happened between you and Jon?” He regretted it as soon as he heard his own words. Evelyn’s face dropped and her miffed eyes flashed in anger. She whipped out her hand and smacked him as hard as he had ever been smacked in battle. “You not only humiliate me, boy, but degrade my love for you!” she shrieked at him with pure, raw fury. “Evelyn, please, no! I mean that’s not what I meant to say! I love you!” It was too late. She rammed through the door, knocking it almost off its hinges, but not before she turned around and hollered at him. “We have a four year old, beautiful baby girl!” When morning came, Evelyn was at his side with little Sandri at their side. *** Dear Grampy, …to conclude, I do not know if I will ever be returning back to Dragolia, unless of course we find a faster way to cross space. Evelyn and I are expecting our third child. I am short of words to explain how satisfied I am with my new life on Earth. I know my father regrets my abdication to my title, but we are really starting a new society here on Earth. Houses and casts have no place in this reality. Judging from the heavy immigration to Earth from Dragolia, I think many people share the same philosophy. Some of the new settlers are telling me, though, that a major revolution is also forthcoming on Dragolia. I still find it incredible that the House of Xinou has abolished its kingdom and is creating a voting electoral system in its place. I also heard that not all are pleased with these events and civil war is hanging over their heads. It could also be true that the House of Gutyp is taking advantage of the unsettling situation in Xinou to ferment a revolt in order to annex the former kingdom. Now that the novelty of aliens has subsided and the threat of the Fions is over, it could very well be that the Houses are reverting back to their old rivalries. Maybe, you will not be staying out of retirement as long as you thought, Grampy! By the way, is it true what they say? The House of Ayyrli is banishing aliens? I refuse to believe it, especially after the King’s life was cured by alien technology! On other notes, yes, the rumors are true. My mother is not sick as my father pretends. She has left the Palace, but he doesn’t want it to be known that she has left him. The last note I received from her was nearly three months ago when a settler ship arrived from Dragolia. She was heading to J’Gaf’s home world. Their culture is being rebuilt and mother accepted J’Gaf’s cousin’s invitation to participate in the rebuilding process. By the time this message reaches you, two years would have passed and she might be back at the Palace – that is, if the House of Hemut still exists. I strongly doubt it, however. Evelyn has told me much about mother and I have discovered an independent, passionate woman who sacrificed her personal needs for her obligations. I realize how I never really knew her, or rather, how I never really took the time to open my eyes and see the depth of her mind and soul. I guess this is normal. It’s difficult for a son to separate the mother from the woman and I love her now even more. My invitation for you to come and visit will always stand. With deep affection, Adam Part VI: Oblivion Usana had a half poignant, half relieved smile on her lips as the message arrived. It would be the last one. The countdown was continuing on Dragolia and Brummer would be leaving in exactly five minutes. With Brummer’s input, her group of scientists had built the time contraption following Karl’s specifications. She sighed as she looked around the large, empty hallway. Her steps echoed nostalgically from end to end as she paced slowly, running her long fingers over the dust which had accumulated through time. No one came there anymore. This part of the government complex had been sealed and abandoned shortly after she resigned. It wasn’t even kept clean. Yet, it didn’t need to be kept proper. There were only a handful of planets left that Earth dealt with and government envoys were a thing of the past. Usana stared at the chair she had once sat in as President and came to stand next to it. She took her shawl and removed the dust as best as she could from its seat. She took her place and looked at all the empty chairs around her. There would never be anyone left that would sit in those chairs again. Actually, those chairs would never be made. In five minutes, they would never have existed. She frowned as the beams of the sun filtered over her as they majestically descended through the thick domed glass above her head. A tear fell down her chin, but she knew that tear was not real. She had never been born. *** Brummer glanced down at the surface as his ship entered the atmosphere. He didn’t recognize it and wondered if the planet was really Dragolia. From outer space, it looked very different from the planet he knew. There was certainly vegetation, but it glowed. A sense of fear and excitement traversed him. There was life down there. Karl was right. At this stage of the universe’s history, there was life outside of Earth! He scanned his control panel. Usana’s team had worked wonders. The theory of entering into the timeline simultaneously into two different frames seemed to have functioned, at least, for this version of himself. He hoped his doppelganger had also made it through. As Brummer entered the atmosphere, he realized, as his ship touched ground, the enormity of the task ahead. All conditions seemed to indicate that there was a rather advanced stage of life on the planet as he saw a herd of smallish, ball furry like animals glance curiously at the ship from a distant cliff. Brummer wasted no time. As soon as he landed, he removed the fertilized eggs from the thin frozen nano-sieve plate and proceeded to set up the miniature lab. There were over a million embryos to give birth and the sooner he started, the sooner humanity would return to life. He would long be dead before even a thousand were born, but if he could give birth every year to a few dozen babies, they would grow and continue his work through time. In order to put all chance on their side, Usana’s team had even put genetic accelerators in the chromosomes during the first year of growth. It was the only modification they did to the original human DNA which Brummer had allowed, and only for that first generation. That one year old would look, have the physical and mental abilities of fifteen year olds, but the children they’d have would grow up normally. He grinned as he recalled Usana rolling her eyes. He had been adamant. “I don’t want any three eye freaks, double genitals, blue skin, and tongues that roll out to my feet! I just want some honest, ordinary, defective human beings! I don’t want to be looking up constantly at some nine foot giant, even if you are my best friend. Do you have any idea of the pain in the neck that you give me?” Brummer took out the flag of the Earth that Usana had given him and hanged it up. *** The ship appeared exactly where Karl had told Brummer it would, a few kilometers above the Earth’s atmosphere. Its occupant, a ten foot reptile, had just the time to bulge its eyes in astonishment. The creature started to thrash wildly, but there was no air to breathe in the vacuum of space. It was strapped to a bulky looking contraption, and having miscalculated not only the period but also the location of the time jump, was unprepared for such conditions. Brummer knew what the reptile intended to do. Karl had told him everything. The reptiles were being exterminated from the face of the planet. Their race was a war hungry species, the end product of the planet’s normal evolution. They had reached space and had started killing and conquering all the other species that they came in contact with. They had destroyed worlds and enslaved whole civilizations for no other purpose than that of greed, power and pleasure – the three dominant emotions of their species. It was encoded in their DNA. Even at the moment of birth, they tried to kill their siblings for the nourishment of their mothers. They knew no such concept as love, not even a word remotely resembling it. Violence brought them the same pleasurable sensation as love did in humans. Once the enslaved aliens had managed to rebel, what remained of their worlds came together to forge an alliance. The aliens wanted more than just simple freedom. They had succeeded in the revolt and had grouped together to attack the most ruthless, vicious species that had ever terrorized the galaxy, and perhaps, the universe. The alien’s scope was not only victory, but the complete annihilation of the reptiles. Never again did they want to face such horror and pain. The only way they could assure this was to exterminate the reptiles. The reptiles, however, had discovered some of the fundamental laws of time travel, but at that stage of their evolution, they had scant knowledge of the enormity of the feat. Facing destruction, a group of reptilian scientists worked desperately to create a prototype. Their plan was to go back a few hundred years in time and bring the knowledge of the future to the past. Their past would have then used that knowledge to create powerful weapons and eliminate all the alien worlds that would have one day formed the alliance. The time ship had partially succeeded. It had traveled in time. It had traveled, though, too far back. The time ship had traveled to an age where the reptiles were still in prehistoric times. Their ancestors had still to develop a marked intelligence. It had also traveled outside the Earth’s atmosphere. This would play a fundamental factor in the planet’s eventual evolution for they didn’t know that in their foolish attempt, they would interfere with a physical constant of the universe. This would have the greatest consequence imaginable. Brummer knew what normally should have happened. The time ship would have reentered the Earth’s atmosphere. As it did, it would have created a time rift that would have pierced through the very fabric of the universe. The physical consequence on Earth would have been a high impact explosion creating what would be later known as the Gulf of Mexico. It would be attributed to an asteroid impact. The dinosaurs, the ancestors of the race that should have been the planet’s true intelligent inhabitants, would become extinct, leading to the rise of mammals and the eventual evolution of man. That, however, was the least of consequences. The time rift was like an explosion comparable to a hurricane. In the middle of the explosion, being Earth, little happened. Outside the solar system though, the time ripple spread throughout the universe in a flash instant like a biological time bomb, like an unstoppable tsunami. Man would later wrongly identify this as background radiation from the big bang. In reality, it was the remnant of the time bomb. Every DNA strand comprising life was denatured, every amino acid scrambled and as the time bomb passed through every living organism, their evolution went backwards and time unzipped and unraveled all that was created in the most atrocious death imaginable. It proceeded to destroy every cell of every organism in the universe and as the biological universe slid back in time, the universal constant responsible for creating the basis of multicellular life outside of Earth was permanently altered. It was ironic that the future of all life depended on a species, humanity, which never existed, thought Brummer. He turned his gaze to the reptile’s time vehicle. It was starting to reenter the atmosphere. It must not hit Earth. He targeted the ship and moments later destroyed it. A reptile race would rule the planet for the next few hundred million years until the day they were destroyed by the alien alliance. Man would never be born on Earth. Many millions of years later, reptilian scientists found the remains of a few bones of a strange skeleton. It was unlike one ever seen before. Along with the skeleton were strange objects that could not be easily explained. It was clearly a ship and the remains that of a pilot. The case was so complex and volatile that the ruling government of the time went to every length imaginable to keep the find secret. Only a few were allowed to study the skeleton and the artifacts. Their conclusions were so disturbing that the skeleton was destroyed at once for fear of falling into public hands. Their focus turned to some of the strange artifacts that they found. Some of the reptilians started working on solving the mystery of the ship. What had at first seemed like a sophisticated spaceship was much more complex than first imagined. Eventually, they would figure out it was a time machine and try to replicate it. While most reptilians celebrated the first mission to the moon that year, the government started to plan for the future. The skeleton was without doubt proof that alien life existed and that they had reached the planet in the far past. If the skeleton was any indication of what they would find in space, then life was not even reptilian, but mammalian. Their civilization had to prepare itself to meet this species and survive at all costs. Fion had to be protected. The military needed more funding.

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