No Distance Greater than the Stars – Chapter 35

Chapter Thirty-Five

Devising a Division of Demons

Eta Scorpii 73.5 Light Years from Earth

Citlally had a dream that she couldn’t forget that night. She hadn’t dreamt anything so vividly since her k’zshyrk dream, and that alone startled her, making her wish that she could forget it.

In her dream, she was descending the stairs of what looked like an old castle. It was a spiral staircase, with torches set in the walls every so often, but not a single window. Instead, there was the mildew that set her off to the idea that she was underground. The stairs seemed to go on for ages.

Then there was the sound of rattling chains, and the stairs gave way suddenly to a level floor. There was a main room, and then several hallways branching off of it, and she knew – innately, somehow – that each one was another part of a dungeon. She stepped forward, propelled by what, she could not tell; she didn’t want to be anywhere near a dungeon ever again, having been locked inside one back on Sardonia.

Again she could hear chains rattling, and when she looked around to find its source, she noticed a trail of feathers on the floor. They were black feathers, like the depths of midnight, thick and strong, some of them even longer than her hand. She felt compelled to follow the trail of feathers, her feet coming down between them. They led her down the left-most hallway, where there was less torchlight than anywhere else.

The chains rattled.

“Is someone there?” Citlally called out, afraid of what she might find. Surely there were only the worst of criminals in the dungeon.

“My queen!” a voice called out. It was frail and timid, and sounded hurt as well.

“Ummm…” Citlally looked around. “It’s just me; I don’t see a queen anywhere around here.”

There was another rattling of the chains. Citlally stepped further down the hall, trying to find out which cell it was coming from. Most of them were empty and silent, and the trail of feathers went on.

“It is you,” the voice insisted. “You, who is destined to give birth to a mighty prince, equal in power to any dragon. What else shall I call his mother but my queen?”

“A prince?” Citlally called back. She stopped suddenly, feeling something wet on her toes. That was when she realized that she was barefoot. She wore a long purple gown, but no shoes to go with it. “What is this…”

“Have you come to free me?” the voice asked again, this time meek and trembling.

“I…” Citlally began, but she stopped short, realizing what she’d stepped in. She looked further ahead, and there were only a few more feet of feathers on the ground, these ones spattered with blood. She gasped, looking to that cell that they led to. “Are you hurt?”

There was a whimpering for a moment, and then the sound of the chains. “They have done such horrible things, my queen.”

“They hurt you? But why are you even down here?” Citlally asked as she stepped further down the hall. There was no way for her to avoid the droplets of blood, and the bottom of her feet were now stained with crimson.

“It is not for anything that I have done, my queen,” the voice replied, “but what I am.”

“And what are you, exactly?” Citlally came up to the cell where the trail of blood and feathers ended, and stopped. It was darkest there, everything in shadows. She peered into the cell, beyond the bars, but could see only darkness.

“My beloved queen,” the voice whispered, shaking, hardly able to get the words out.

The rattling of the chains grew closer to the metal bars of the cell, and an arm reached out. It was long and pale, smeared with blood that had darkened as it dried. Its hand rested on Citlally’s belly, and she looked down at it, realizing only then that she was round and full with child.

“Release me from this prison,” the voice whispered, caressing her belly; the child within wriggled under her touch, “and you shall find out.”

* ** *** ** *

Citlally awoke gasping. As she panted, she looked around and saw that she was alone in her bed. Her body trembled with the events of her dream; she was wracked with a fear far greater than she should have felt from the events themselves. There was some kind of terror filling that other being, no matter how humanoid her arm had looked. It was hard to tell whether it was because she herself was a malevolent being, or that her words had been true and something unspeakable had happened to her.

Her hands went down to her belly, and she breathed a sigh of relief. How could her dream have felt so real, though? She had felt that child moving so vividly…

That was when her heart nearly stopped. The last time she’d dreamed of being a queen, of carrying a child, she truly had been pregnant. She hadn’t intended to conceive again so soon, but was her dream trying to tell her something? After all, she and her husband had been spending their nights together in the closest of ways ever since she had recovered from her massive loss of blood.

She was out of bed and pulling on clothes before her next thoughts could take over. She pulled on some sandals and was soon out in the halls of Space Station Scorpio Eta, hurrying towards the merchant levels.

When Endan returned to their room an hour later, Citlally was already back. He set a shallow box on the table and glanced at Jalingan. There was crying coming from the next room.

“Do you think that she’s upset that we took so long picking up breakfast?” he asked the human.

Endan shook his head. “She doesn’t get upset over things like that. Wait here, would you?” He crossed the room and knocked on the bathroom door. “What is wrong, my Aztec princess?”

“Don’t call me that!” she cried from the other side of the door.

He blinked and looked to Jalingan. “This can’t be any good.” Then to his wife, “Okay, grá mo chroí, but can we talk about why you’re crying?”

There was a pause, a sniffle, and then, “I didn’t lock it.”

Endan turned the doorknob and slid into the room, careful not to let Jalingan get a look at her; he knew that she wouldn’t want him to see her this way. He knelt down beside her and reached up to push a lock of hair out of her face. “Grá mo chroí, you look terrified. What is it?”

Citlally shook her head. “I had a dream,” she told him. “It was dark, and I don’t even know where I was. It was so much like my k’zshyrk dream, and I thought…”

“You though what, love?”

She shook her head again. “It’s stupid,” she told him. “It was just a dream, after all.”

That was when he noticed the plastic stick in her hand. He swallowed hard, recognizing what it was, and looked into her eyes. “Citlally, you’ve been taking your medicine, haven’t you?”

“Of course I have,” she assured him. She took a long breath and handed him the plastic stick. “I’m fine. It’s just… The dream felt so real, Endan. I was huge. I could feel it moving… And now here I am, all upset over a stupid dream.”

He felt his heart pounding as he looked down at the test. Citlally had never felt the urge to use one before, so he’d never felt the nervousness of having to read one. It was a strange feeling, getting that experience now, so far out in space.

“It was your dream that prompted you to do this?” he asked her.

She nodded. “I woke up and rushed down to the merchant level to find one.”

Endan breathed out a sigh as he read the result: negative. It was probably the only time that he’d be glad to see her hand him a negative pregnancy test, but just then, it was the greatest relief that he could feel. With her determination to help Jalingan force the K’zzyrch to stop spreading suffering, they had promised one another not to try again until they were safely back ón Earth. He looked back up at her.

“It must have been some dream,” he said, trying to keep his voice soothing.

“Jalingan siad that they were important,” she reminded him, tears starting to stream down her face once again. “I’m just glad that this one didn’t mean… I mean, I want to, but I’m just not ready yet, Endan, especially if we’re going up against the K’zzyrch.”

“I know,” he told her. “It’s all right. Listen, let’s just throw the test away. You’re okay, right? Jalingan is here right now. We went out and got you some breakfast. Why don’t we eat together, and if you want to tell him about your dream, you can. If not, I won’t bring it up.”

Citlally sniffled, then slowly nodded her head. Endan gave her a tissue and waited for her to be ready, then followed her out of the bathroom. She gave Jalingan a shy smile and avoided his gaze, looking instead to the food containers waiting in the shallow box.

“Breakfast?” he asked her, pretending that he hadn’t heard her crying.

“That sounds wonderful,” she replied. “Tell me that you brought coffee.”

“Even better,” he replied, holding up a large thermos. “Endan siad that you liked cocoa mixed with coffee and spices.”

A wide grin took over Citlally’s face. “Always a man after my heart,” she beamed, rushing over to find some mugs in the tiny kitchenette that their room had. Then she let Jalingan fill each mug, and drank hers down just while he and Endan were getting the food containers opened.

The kitchenette’s eating space was basically a few stools at the counter, so they sat there, close together, sharing eggs and Leomian cannoli-waffles along with slices of bacon and scones covered in clotted cream and jam made from the berries growing on a nearby moon. Citlally was so busy wondering whether she should mention her dream that by the time Jalingan had finished his food, she hadn’t said a word about it. By then, it turned out, it was too late.

“I have to get ready,” Jalingan announced as he got up from his stool. “will you meet me at my room in a couple of hours?”

“Sure,” Citlally replied. “Should we be doing something to get ready, too?”

Jalingan shook his head. “Nothing special, no. Just come ready for serious talk.”

With a nod, Citlally stood up, too, and gave Jalingan a tight hug before he left the room. Then she looked back to Endan.

“I’m going to get a shower in,” she told him, then left him with a kiss and headed back to the bathroom.

* ** *** ** *

She should have guessed that once she and Endan got to Jalingan’s room, he would hardly be ready. He unlocked the door when she pressed the call button, and they walked in to see their friend wearing nothing more than his darkly-tanned leather pants.

“Did you need more time?” Citlally asked him as she looked around. His clothes were strewn all about the room; a shirt or two on the floor, pants draped across the counter, his bandolier hanging over the armchair. There hardly seemed to be anything left for him to wear.

“No,” he replied, heading towards the bathroom. “I’m almost ready, believe it or not. It took me while to get to this point, but now that I’m here, I won’t be much longer.”

“What have you been up to?” Endan asked him.

Jalingan peeked out of the bathroom with a look that told Endan that he seemed to be insinuating something. “Bathing,” the half-Leomian told him.

“It must have been some bath,” Citlally told him with a wink.

He shrugged. “I had to scrub pretty hard.” He turned to the mirror and began running a comb through his sandy hair. He didn’t seem to mind Citlally watching him as he made sure every strang was in place, everything sleek and in order. He tied his hair back, smooth and tight, making sure it was secure befor he moved on.

Citlally noticed that the thick, short hair on his chest and the back of his arms was so clean that it looked fluffy and soft. He’d taken great care to get this clean, and she was starting to suspect the reason why.

Jalingan reached behind a cabinet and grabbed a silk shirt, pale gray, almost white, which he slid on as carefully as he could to avoid wrinkling it, then doing up each silvery button slowly. Then there were his boots, freshly shined and fitted with new laces.

“You finality got tired of tying those ratty ones?” she asked him.

“More or less,” Jalingan replied.

Citlally gave Endan a knowing look, fascinated that he was going to such trouble to looks nice. He left the bathroom and hurried over to the armchair to pick up his bandolier. Then he pulled on his cloak and grinned at her.

“Now then,” Jalingan began, “I think we should get going.”

“Sounds good,” Citlally replied. “Are we picking up Mannarius on our way?”

Jalingan shook his head. “He siad he’d meet us there. Who knows if he’ll actually show up. Hopefully Dhruv is able to drag him down there.”

“Yeah,” she agreed as she and Endan followed him out of his room. “It would be disappointing if he’d come all the way to this station just to hide out in his room the whole time.”

“Don’t give him any ideas,” the half-lion warned her as he made sure his door locked behind him. “I have to say, I think that if it weren’t for you, he wouldn’t be here at all. Can’t say I blame him, though.”

They followed him through the halls of Scorpio Station Eta, taking the elevators down several levels. They had only arrived a couple days ago, but Jalingan seemed to already know his way around. Citlally assumed that he’d been there at least once before.

He took them down to the science level, then down several hallways to a door marked “Biogenetics Lab Beta.” Jalingan enetered a code in the kaypad next to the door, and it slid open to reaveal a small reception area. There was a Lixfelian female sitting at a desk behind a thick glass window, wearing a labcoat and what Citlally assumed was a security bage. She looked up as soon as they door opened, eyeing Jalingan and the humans warily.

“Jalingan Klavernning I reporting,” he told her.

She looked down at something on her desk, then back up at him. “You’ve been expected,” she informed him.

Jalingan chuckled. “Well, I would hope so.”

“Most of the others are here already,” she added.

“That’s good to hear, Chela” Jalingan replied.

Chela enter some code into her computer terminal, and another door – thicker and heavier than the first one – slid open a few feet to the right of her office. Jalingan led his friends through, and the door slid shut behind them. Citlally noticed that Jaling stood up straighter right away, and that his expression changed to something much more serious.

“They’re back this way,” Chela said as she stepped out of the small office. Now that she was standing up, she looked much taller than Jalingan. She led them to the last door on the left and stepped inside.

Several of the people in the room looked up when they entered. Citlally only recognized a few of them, including Xingfei and Yatzerrin. Allanah was there, her guards stationed around the room, and Mannarius was sitting in a chair near one corner, his expression dark and gloomy; Dhruv sat next to him. There were quite a few faces that she’d never seen before

Citlally noticed that the room was a lab, but that the instruments all had their covers on them. Platters of food had been set out wherever they would fit. There were various foods from Earth on one counter, Leomian and Lixfelian dishes on another, and foods similar to what Allanah had told them about in the tavern back on Space Station Liutpyaar. The aromas of Gliesian dishes wafted from a counter further off. There were also many dishes that she wasn’t familiar with, although she supposed that she was willing to try anything once.

A lean man in a lab coat – unmistakably human, blond-haired and blue-eyed – stepped towards Jalingan as soon as he entered. The half-lion nearly froze, but met his gaze evenly.

“So you’re finally here,” the human man said, his smile warm but not overly friendly. His words were coming in through the translator.

“I am,” Jalingan replied with a slight nod, as though he was too nervous to move much. Then he switched to English. “I would like to introduce to you my very good friends, Citlally Winterhawk and her husband, Endan Clarendon.”

Then, with the man in the lab coat looking at them curiously, Jalingan turned to his friends and said, “This is the lead scientist of the chemistry lab, the biology lab, and the aerospace research lab, Doctor Linnaeus Stjärnaström,” He cleared his throat and added in a shaking voice,“My father.”

Citlally’s face brightened when she realized that she was at least meeting Jalingan’s father. She took his outstretched hand and shook it eagerly. “It’s so nice to get the chance to meet you!”

“And it is very nice to meet you,” Doctor Stjärnaström replied, patting her hand. He, too, was speaking English now, and Citlally could pick up on a strong Scandinavian accent. Then he shook Endan’s have. “I have been hearing so many kind things about you from my son.”

Citlally grinned at her husband and looked back to the scientist. “I have to say, I had know idea that you were named after such a historic scientist.”

Doctor Linnaeus chuckled. ”Well, my parents were both scientists, you see. I had the stars painted on my ceiling and planets on my mobile as a baby. I started learning the periodic table almost as roon as I could read. My sister is named after the lovely Ada Lovelace, and my brother – well, there were a good many men in science going by the name Charles, weren’t there?”

“For sure!” Citlally agreed.

“What about you two?” he went on. “Are you folks of science?”

“Astronomy,” Citlally replied, which seemed to please the man.

“Mechanics, for what it’s worth,” Endan added.

“Very good, very good,” Doctor Linnaeus noted. “Now, you must be famished. Go ahead and help yourself to the food. We’ll be getting to the important stuff soon.”

As Citlally and Endan walked off to see what was being offered in the way of Terran food, they could hear Jalingan’s father talking to him, again in a different language.

“You look good, son. I’m glad to see that you’re presenting yourself so nicely.” He patted him on the back before adding, “I keep meaning to get you a new cloak. Well, never mind that for now. Get some food in your belly before we get too serious.”

Endan had a plate of fish and chips in hand, Citlally Swedish meatballs with noodles, as they walked over to greet Mannarius.

“Ye don’ look happy to be here, lad,” Endan noted before taking a bite of fish.

“Why should I be?” the Lion grumbled.

Citlally blinked. “What do you mean?”

“I have to be in the same room with that half-breed,” Mannarius said, keeping his voice low, “as well as his father.”

“You don’t like Doctor Stjärnaström?” she asked, taking another forkful of noodles.

Mannarius scoffed. “It’s not that. He used to be fairly nice to me; he treated me as a nephew.”

“So what changed?”

Mannarius looked from her to his co-pilot.

“Remember what happened on that moon I told you about?” Dhruv asked them. “Doctor Stjärnaström knows all about it. He’d been called to the medical center where Jalingan was receiving medical care, because they weren’t sure he’d make it through the third surgery.”

Mannarius buried his face in his hands. “That was a terrible day.”

“They had a fight,” Dhruv explained. “The doctor knows why Mannarius did it, but he had to stand up for his son. Nowadays, Stjärnaström puts up with my captain, but they don’t talk much.”

“That’s so sad,” Citlally said, her voice wistful. She glanced at the doctor, then back to Mannarius. “Is there something I can do?”

“Not at all,” the captain shrugged. “It is what it is.”

“Then can you tell me something?” she asked. She went on when he gave her a curious look. “Why is he so nervous around his own father?”

Mannarius shrugged. “He never really explained it to me. I think it has to do with the fact that his father was never there to raise him from the time he was a new cub.”

“So…” Citlally began, hoping that she was wording the question carefully enough, “when did he get to meet his father?”

“I think it was right after his pilot training was complete…” Mannarius replied. “Or maybe it was right before – no, it had to be after, because he was flying on his own.”

“Wasn’t he taking all those trips between random space stations?” Dhruv added.

“Yeah,” Mannarius agreed, nodding his head. “Yeah, it was. You see, he knew his dad’s name, and that he was in the science field, so when he happened to meet a scientist by the name of Linnaeus, he didn’t hesitate to start up the conversation and introduce himself.”

“By then,” another voice chimed in, “the doctor wasn’t so put off by the idea of having kids.”

Citlally turned around and nearly gasped. There was Jalingan, standing over her shoulder, several plates balanced in his hands.

“Take one,” he said, holding a couple towards his cousin. “Dad says you haven’t eaten a bite since you got here.”

Dhruv took one of the plates, and gave his captain a nudge to take the other. Mannarius could hardly deny being hungry, and the smell of traditional Leomian dishes, cooked just right, was too much to resist.

Then Jalingan looked to Citlally, noticing the guilty look on her face. “Don’t worry,” he reassured her. “We might as well talk about it.”

“Are you sure?” she asked him. “I really should have asked you directly.”

He shook his head. “I don’t mind; it’s normal to wonder.”

“Then… why does he make you dress up like this? Doesn’t he know it’s not your style?”

Jalingan shrugged. “Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. You grow up without someone, and you always wonder about them. What kind of scientist is he, where does he work, will he like me?”

“Doesn’t he?” Citlally asked, meeting his eyes.

“Sure,” Jalingan nodded. “But he doesn’t know the first thing about raising anyone. He doesn’t even take on apprentices, really. He’ll collaborate with scientists at his own level, but he’s not the teaching type.”

“But he’s not nobility,” Endan added. “Why does he expect you to dress like this?”

The question made Jalingan chuckle. “To him, being an intellectual is just as good as being noble. He’s been recognized in multiple fields of science – that’s why he transfers stations, to focus on something new – and that’s what he considers a great honor.”

“There’s more to it, isn’t there?” Citlally asked him. She finished her plate of food and contemplated getting more once the conversation took a new direction.

The half-lion scoffed. “He wants me to be recognized for being part of a great legacy, especially since I’m not a scientist like he and his parents are.”

“Does he realize that he’s puttin’ too much pressure on ye?” Endan asked.

“It’s fine,” Jalingan replied. “It works to keep the K’zzyrch from recognizing me. The last thing I want is for them to suspect that my dad is involved in anything that I do. This way, we can keep our secret safe.”

“So he’s in charge of all of this?” Citlally wanted to know.

Jalingan scrunched up his mouth and thought for a moment. “I don’t know who is in charge of anything,” he stated. “I just know my dad tends to use his labs as meeting places for making plans to subvert the K’zzyrch. It’s pretty handy.”

Citlally didn’t feel completely satisfied with his reply. Still, she supposed that there were a lot of dynamics to growing up in a big galaxy without a father around that she couldn’t understand. She had, after all, grown up with a rather large and attentive family. On top of that, Jalingan’s father had turned out to be a highly-respected scientist with expertise in several fields.

It wasn’t until he had seen that everyone had taken seconds – or even thirds in the case of Xingfei with the seafood stew – that Doctor Linnaeus Stjärnaström addressed everyone who had gathered. A few others had arrived in that time, one of them with a small barrel of ale tucked under his arm, which the doctor insisted be removed to the front office; he wanted no decisions being made under the bravado of alcohol.

“I’m glad to see that so many of you could make it,” Doctor Linnaeus Stjärnaström began. Citlally could tell that his words were being translated for everyone from whichever Scandinavian language he was using. “As for those who are woefully absent, I can tell you that they are in transit, and will be receiving our transmissions as soon as we are ready to send out our plans.”

“So this it it?” Yatzerrin asked. “This is where we plan to finally teach those lizards to leave well enough alone.”

“It should be,” another one of the guests replied. Citlally did not know him, but he was large and heavily-muscled. “I’m sick of having to fight every time they come around. There’s not much airspace left where we can feel safe.”

Several others voiced their agreement.

“We’ve been wanting this for a long time,” an older, more scarred alien added.

“Yes, yes,” Doctor Linnaeus went on, “we’re all on the same page as far as that goes. I must remind all of you that nothing said in this room is to be shared with those outside, save for the few who need instructions for their mission. If you cannot abide by this secrecy for any reason, leave now, and we shall have no judgment against you. Stay, and I will assume that you agree to keep a tight lip.”

Nobody moved, and the doctor went on. “So, at this point, I have run all the calculations, and – now, this is partly thanks to my son’s ability to attract people to our cause – we have enough force to strike at the K’zzyrch from Vaharrish the Glorious – or not-so-glorious, as opinion might dictate – itself.”

Linnaeus paused so that his words were not lost to the clamor and buzz that filled the room. Many of the aliens were excited to hear that they would be attacking the K’zzyrch home-world; a few sounded afraid. There were several conversations going on that Citlally could hear, and she tried to catch what she could here and there.

“Now, I have to admit,” the doctor went on as the room began to settle down, “this will take a concerted effort on all of our parts. We have stratagems in place that will give us access to the planet and the edge that we need over their technologies. If we follow the protocols that myself and a few other have developed, we can infiltrate their planet and send the message that were are done with their meddling with so many other planets.”

“And failing that,” Jalingan – who was standing beside his father – added, “we will be gaining information about them. Vital information, such as who the Dark Apostates really are, and how to put a stop to them. If this mission fails – and it would only do so at the cost of a great deal of life – we will come out of it with a better understanding of their planet and their culture.”

“This all sounds really dangerous,” Endan whispered to his wife. “Are ye sure ye want tae do this?”

Citlally raised a brow as she looked at him. “Of course I do,” she whispered back. Too many people have been harmed by those damned lizards. If we do nothing, people keep drying. If we do this, it might stop.”

“That’s my spirited lass,” he replied with a grin. “Always ready tae stand up for what’s right.”

“Just by being here,” Doctor Linnaeus went on, “you have all shown a great commitment to make our galaxy a safer place in which to live and travel. Our dear friend Citlally knows first-hand the harm that the K’zzyrch can cause.”

Citlally swallowed hard when she heard her name being said. She looked up at Doctor Linnaeus, wondering if she should say anything.

“Would you like to share anything about what they have done to you, dear girl?” the doctor asked her.

“Well…” she began, trying not to focus on the fact that so many eyes were on her. “First off, they ruined my honeymoon. I was supposed to be having fun with Endan when Space Station Regulus II was attacked. After that, they sent me to Sardonia and – and…” She paused taking in a long, slow breath to steady herself. “There, I was forced to drink lavishta potion, and that didn’t go well at all.”

A murmur ran through the room, saddened, full of condolences, and she waited for it to pass before continuing. “I went all the way to Mekse to lay my child to rest, and there I heard about so hurt by the K’zzyrch. I knew that the people who sought peace on Mekse weren’t the only ones who had been harmed, and that was enough for me to know exactly how badly they needed to be stopped.”

Doctor Stjärnaström nodded. “All the peoples of the Orion Arm have had enough. Too much family has been lost, too many children and life partners and parents. My own two children,” he added, “have been poisoned by their venom. There is no need for us to continue cowering every time one of their ships draws near. It is for everyone’s sake that we’re taking the risk of attacking their home-world.”

“So, good doctor,” Yatzerrin said, “How does this plan start?”

“It starts,” the doctor replied, looking to his son, “with Jalingan taking another mercenary job with the K’zzyrch.”

Citlally saw the way Mannarius’s expression darkened at the mere mention of mercenary work. She dared not say anything about, knowing that there would have been no alternative. Instead, she squeezed Endan’s hand tightly. All that time, there was a murmur running through the room.

“Very few of our operatives are given as much trust by the K’zzyrch as Jalingan is,” the doctor went on. “He’s found a job that he can take that will get him onto Vaharrish the Glorious. He’s going to have to tread very carefully down there.”

“Once I leave this station,” the half-lion added, “I can have no communication with any of you until the final stages. I will have to be completely into my role of one of their lackeys.”

“Which means,” Linnaeus said, “that if something goes wrong later on, he will not be able to help you without completely compromising his ability to be trusted in the future. But I will tell you more about that later on.”

“While I’m on this mercenary job,” Jalingan told his compatriots, “several of you will be upgrading yours ships to install a new crystal-based weaponry system.”

“That will be on my home-world,” Allanah told the crowd.

“Others will be deploying jamming devices near the planet,” Jalingan went on.

“We have your assignments worked out,” Linnaeus said, “and more specific plans will be given to each group as they need it. I don’t want any of you to know too much.”

“Once your parts are complete, you will have rendezvous instructions.” Jalingan paused to take in a long breath. “The jamming devices will keep the K’zzyrch from knowing that ships are coming towards their solar system from all directions. Closer to their planet, their technology gets more sophisticated. I will be working to dismantle and reprogram certain part parts of their planetary defense systems. At one point, a full-scale power failure will occur, which will appear to them as cascading errors and blow-outs. It will only last a few minutes, but it will disable shields and scanners long enough for our selected team to coordinate a simultaneous electromagnetic pulse.”

“This will wipe out their systems,” Linnaeus explained. “Sensors, shielding, certain weapons systems… they won’t work when the power comes back on.”

“And it will come back on,” Jalingan added. Citlally was become intrigued by the way the two of them seemed so coordinated. “They have enough back-up generators and fail-safes that I can’t keep the power off permanently. The important thing is that our electromagnetic strike occurs during the power outage so that the failed systems seem to be due to – or at least related to – the loss of power. Once that happens, our ships can begin to enter their atmosphere and land at key points around the largest city and base of operations.”

“What you do from there depends on what team you are assigned to,” Doctor Stjärnaström said. “You will find out more later.”

“That’s the basic outline of the mission,” Jalingan told them. “Do you have any questions before you split up to learn the details of your part in this?”

The crowd seemed pretty satisfied with what they’d heard so far. Once Doctor Stjärnaström had given everyone everyone their assignments, they began to shuffle out of the room. The doctor left as well, so that he could address one of the teams in another room. Mannarius and his co-pilot stayed back with Jalingan.

“So you’re not as done with mercenary work as you said you were,” Mannarius noted, his voice filled with contempt.

Jalingan sighed. “I’m just as disappointed as you are that I was wrong about what I’d said. At least we’re doing more than undermining them this time.”

“Can you be?” Mannarius ask, raising a brow. “Can you really be as upset as I am that you’re going to work for those beasts again?”

“Just remember that I’m going there to subvert them,” Jalingan told him, trying not to raise his voice. “I was chosen to enter the den of the beast. I’m taking this risk so that the terror they spread will come to an end. Now is not the time to criticize me.”

“Then tell me this, cousin of mine,” Mannarius said when Jalingan started to walk away.

The half-lion paused and looked back at him.

“Have you ever been to the K’zzyrch home-world before, or will this be your first time?”

With a sigh, he replied, “How am I supposed to answer that, Mannarius? I could tell you that I have been there, and then you would hate me all the more. Or I could tell you no, that I have only ever been on your ships, and you would be so smugly satisfied, perhaps even relieved. But then… then you would wonder how I know to take down their power systems. Maybe they are the same as those used on their ships, maybe I will have to learn the systems once I get to their planet. If I’ve been there before, I’m wrong for not harming them back then. If I haven’t, then maybe I have the wrong qualifications for this mission. Either way, you hate me and you distrust me.”

“Jalingan…” Citlally breathed. Then she changed her mind about saying anything.

“I won’t answer your question, Mannarius. Now leave me alone; I have to get my ship ready for take-off.” And with that, the well-dressed half-lion stepped into the hall and closed the door behind him.

About Legends of Lorata

Eleanor Willow is the author of the high fantasy series Legends of Lorata, which takes place on a medieval-style world filled with elves, dragons, and faeries. There is also a fourth race, one that is rare and magical: the angelic Starr. Lorata is a distant planet watched over by four deities: good, evil, elemental, and celestial-- and there are plenty of legends about them all! One of the most important ones is the prophecy of Jenh's champion, Loracaz, who is promised to return to the realm whenever evil threatens to take hold. There are currently three books completed, and the first one can be read online. Book four is currently being written, and a fifth will most likely be in the future.
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