Excerpt for Return To Cinzana by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

SEEDS OF THE GALAXY

RETURN TO CINZANA

By:

JEANNE LINTON

COPYRIGHT

© Copyright 2017 by Jeanne Linton. All rights reserved

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any way by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the author except as provided by USA copyright law.

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, descriptions, entities and incidents included in the story are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, events and entities is entirely coincidental.

The opinions expressed by the author are hers alone.

Published by: Smashwords 2017

For other works including children's books and science fiction please see my website: jeannelinton.com

Available on iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kindle, Kobo, and Smashwords.

DEDICATION

TO

KATRINA

May the joy in your eyes, the kindness of your heart,

and the sweetness of your soul never be taken from you.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Copyright

Dedication

Prologue

CHAPTER 1 - First Encounter

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5 - Carmona

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7 - City of Ming

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9 - Sesro

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12 - Kondor

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16 - Evana's Escape

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19 - Temple of Imar

CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 21

CHAPTER 23

CHAPTER 24

CHAPTER 25

CHAPTER 26 - Leaving Yerba

CHAPTER 27

CHAPTER 28

CHAPTER 29 - Return

CHAPTER 30

CHAPTER 31

CHAPTER 32

CHAPTER 33

CHAPTER 34

Appendix

Profile of Jeanne Linton

Other Books by Jeanne Linton

Coming Soon…

PROLOGUE

Called upon to make sacrifices for the common good, Sen and Evana embark on a diplomatic mission to Yerba where they'll be reliable witnesses and help negotiate a mutually beneficial treaty and bring lasting peace to the galaxy. They leave Preta and their children behind in the capable hands of Evana's sister Tali as they forge ahead into the unknown.

However, things don't go as planned as the rogue faction that thwarted the original peace treaty some years earlier takes this opportunity to rekindle the war between the members of The Alliance and the Garendos. The previously nameless faction, now known as the Pachi, emerges from obscurity when The Alliance moves forward in their effort to reinstate the peace treaty with the help of The Alliance's President, Mando. When the peace seeking envoys land on Yerba, Sen and Evana are caught up in a dangerous covert action that takes them to the island of Carmona where they are helped by the Zapotec.

Join me in this fast-paced adventure and discover the intriguing mysteries of Yerba as Sen and Evana are drawn into the maneuvering between The Alliance, the Pachi, the Garendos, and the Zapotec.

CHAPTER 1 - FIRST ENCOUNTER

Manus hurries along the narrow corridor pondering the dark intrigue that's developing on Avesta which has now turned into a disaster of catastrophic proportions. Upon entering the bridge, the barrel-chested man slumps into the commander's chair that sits in front of the viewing screen displaying the jewel-like planet as his mind contemplates the implications of the developing mystery. Why? Why are they doing this? Nothing makes any sense. Though I'm not a politician, I don't understand the reasoning behind the killing of the Coryphe and then fingering my man. Kos stood heads and shoulders above any other diplomat that the Credens have had in centuries. He was loved by his people and admired by every member of The Alliance. Sen had no motive for killing him and killing a couple of Orandees and two young girls is certainly beneath his dignity. He's a mechanic and fighter pilot, with little interest in politics. Instincts tell me these developments aren't going to end here. Moving his hand to the control panel, "Bridge, what other ships are in this quadrant?"

"The Sebac's within range, sir."

"Hail them. I'll speak to Commander Keiran. Put the transmission through on the highest security level."

"Yes sir."

As Manus leans back in his chair, his mind continues to wander. Obviously, more than the murder of the Coryphe is going on. If killing Kos was their only agenda he would have simply had an accident or died in his sleep. Why implicate us? We're not in a position to afford the loss of another starship with four hundred highly trained personnel aboard. Not with all the losses we already incurred. All I can think of is that it's sedition orchestrated by a rogue terrorist group trying to seize power because the members of The Alliance need peace just as much as we do.

I'm also aware of the fact that our population is diminishing and continued losses could result in extinction. At the current rate of decline, in a few hundred years we'll become like the Zapotec. However, unlike the Zapotec, there's no population for us to assimilate into. I don't want to lose my ship but if I try to leave the quadrant, The Alliance will strike.

The intercom bleeps, "Commander Keiran, sir."

"Thank you, Nuri, put him through."

"Good to speak to you again after all this time, Keiran. What's happening here is I find myself involved in a very thorny situation. What I need is for my crew to be transferred from the Kritania to your ship. I know it's a lot to ask but can you help?"

"How many, and why?"

"I have approximately four hundred people on board: skilled technicians, maintenance personnel, fighter pilots, people difficult to replace. It's become apparent that the only way I can save my crew is to sacrifice my ship. Will you assist?"

"I can, but it'll be tight taking that many people aboard. I don't understand why you're not defending your ship and why you've chosen us instead of the Argost?"

"Because The Alliance already knows the Argost is here. We are being detained while they are investigating the murder of the Coryphe. One of my crew was fingered for the deed which places everyone aboard this ship under suspicion as conspirators. If I move the Kritania, I'll be fired upon but it's highly unlikely that the conspiracy will stop with the destruction of my ship."

"I'd be happy to accommodate your people in this situation but how do you intend to sneak them off the Kritania without raising suspicion?"

"Once my crew's safe I don't care what they do or think because this is a losing situation so I can't make it worse. I'll start by shuttling non-essential personnel to intercept behind Jonk-heer. Because they don't know you're here, you can slip directly behind the satellite. Because of your size and the nature of your technology, you won't be detected by their sensors. We'll jettison the shuttles from the rear hatch in the direction of Jonk-heer and hope that they have enough momentum to reach you but you may have to lock-on and pull them in. Before you approach Jonk-heer, shut down your thrusters and drift in but be mindful of how you approach because you don't have clearance. If you're detected, we'll have a different problem on our hands. If all goes well, we should be down to a skeleton crew by the time this thing blows."

"So what happens if you're wrong?" Keiran asks.

"Then this operation will be my epitaph."

"I'm proceeding to intercept. I'll be in position by the time you're ready to deploy."

Switching off communications, Manus leaves the bridge as his mind again wanders, I hate losing a good officer. As he enters his quarters, that's when it dawns on him. Dorinda, I think that's her name. I should tell her what's happened to Sen. Hailing the bridge, "Have Dorinda, the records clerk, report to my quarters immediately."

"Aye, Aye, Commander."

Opening his closet, he takes out his officer's tunic and drops it on top of the lounge chair beside his bed and takes off his parade tunic. He lays the white tunic, decorated with his achievement awards, on the bed and gazes at it. Well that didn't work out as I planned. I only wore it to impress the powers that be in hopes of winning Sen's release.

The door slides open as the exotic raven-haired clerk enters. "Excuse me, sir, I thought I was expected." Embarrassed, "I didn't mean to enter unannounced."

"It's alright, Dorinda," disregarding the situation. Bare-chested, he slips his commander's tunic on. As he approaches, he looks compassionately into her sultry dark eyes. "There's no way to break it gently, so I'll come straight out. Sen is being held on Avesta charged with the murder of five people. I'm sorry, Dorinda. There's nothing I can do. He's irretrievable."

"But … how? Why?" as her brow furrows.

Touched by her emotional reaction, "I feel the situation's part of a conspiracy but there's no way I can intervene on his behalf." Standing before her, he smells the essence of her hair, and perceives the beauty of her features. But he has no time to think about that now. There are pressing issues before him and he must stay focused. Gently guiding her to the door, "I'll keep you informed if anything changes, my dear, but it doesn't look good. I'm sorry, I'd like to discuss the matter further but right now I have my hands full. If you need time, you may stand down for the balance of your shift. I'm sorry, Dorinda, but there's precious little time for grieving."

"I understand, sir. I'll return to my post. Thank you," as she leaves.

Hailing the bridge again, "Nuri, who's the shift duty officer?"

"Hoa is running this shift, sir."

"Send him to my quarters immediately, please."

Retrieving the personnel files from his consul, he scans the list as the door slides open and a slender light-skinned Zapotec enters. Manus turns to speak, "We have a major problem brewing, Hoa. I have no choice, we must abandon ship but we must do it in such a way as not to be detected. What I need from you is an orderly departure plan. I need to be down to a skeleton crew as quickly as possible. Are you up to the job?" When Manus looks into the small man's eyes, a feeling of uneasiness comes over him. It's as though Hoa's ghostly eyes virtually read his thoughts.

"I see no problem, sir," as the quiet gentle man bows politely. "Where will the personnel be evacuated to?"

"The Sebac will pick up our crew behind Jonk-heer."

CHAPTER 2

Many years later, the high-pitched siren screams throughout the ship's corridors as the nonessential crew scramble to the safety of their containment cones. Only the bridge, engine room and navigation crew remain at their posts as the ship approaches the asteroid belt that circles Yerba. At the helm, Zenfeor, commander of the Sesro, fixes his eyes on the vastness and complexity of the asteroid belt. The ship's computer scans the thick asteroid belt searching for a safe corridor through the dappled maze of hurling rocks. Flicking a switch, "Dolace, can you plot a safe course through?"

"Commander, I think I see a channel through but the maze is a nightmare. The swirling debris appears to be artificially created with only a few clear channels through and many dead ends. If we can hold this position, I'll scan what I think is an open channel to the other side for rogue particles and hidden setups. At these speeds, even the smallest object would penetrate the hull. We could lose not only the ship but everyone aboard."

"Is there a way around the belt?"

"Not really. It's more like a canopy than a belt. An artificial gravity force surrounds the solar system and holds the asteroids in orbit. The belt serves as a failsafe system against rogue asteroids or unwelcome intruders."

"Do your best, Dolace, because our lives and this ship are in your hands." Directing his attention to his second in command, "How far are we from Yerba, Mathes?"

"We're within hailing range, sir."

In a confirming voice, "Is our hailing sequence in place?"

"Ever since we entered this quadrant," reconfirming what the commander already knew.

Switching to the ship's intercom, "This is your commander speaking. Please make sure you are secured in your cone and that the cone's lid is firmly locked in place. Check the controls for life support. If you have a problem, other units are available in the landing bay on deck 14. We'll be engaged in evasive maneuvers as we enter the asteroid belt. If the ship is hit, your only chance for survival is in your cone. We are currently holding our position for just the right moment to enter the belt and then to proceed to Yerba and the end of our very long journey. I am hailing the Garendos to announce our presence as peaceful emissaries. Hopefully, the reception will be cordial. Good luck everyone; we enter the belt shortly."

Time drags slowly as the bridge waits for word from navigation. Zenfeor spends the time reflecting on the path that has brought him to this place. It seems more like a dream than reality as he reflects on the occasion he sat in the Viceroy's office waiting, his troubled mind searching for the infraction that brought him here. He retraces his actions while he and his officers were celebrating the return to Preta after three years of active duty. How could he find out? I'm sure nobody saw me slip out the rear door. They were all drunk and manhandling each other and I knew I wouldn't be missed. The three-year interstellar trade mission delivering goods and passengers to several planets, outposts, and intergalactic docking stations, took us as far as Credenzia. The trip was long and fraught with difficulties. We even engaged the Pachi. If not for the Ortiki coming to our rescue we could have perished or been taken hostage. The Pachi wanted the Sesro intact. If not for that, we'd all be dead men. I understand the value of the Sesro and why they want it. Although not particularly maneuverable, it's one of the fastest and largest starships in the fleet. Its size alone would make it a desirable home base for the marauding Pachi.

I have needs that I can't control. If I can satisfy those needs, I can release the pent-up tension that's been torturing me during the arduous journey. I saw her standing on the corner earlier this evening and instinctively I knew she's one of them … a fallen woman. Even from afar, I drank in her beauty … that is for a Nardanian. I slipped down the alley, my body tingling with excitement. Stepping cautiously out of the dark shadows, I proceeded along the street to where I last saw her. Looking around … she's not here. I expected her to be lurking in a doorway, stepping out only as a vehicle approached in order to not get caught. Like a moth drawn to the flame, his body's wracked with excitement as the very thought of her arouses him. I must be patient. She'll return to claim another customer since the night is still young.

The area is the zone of lost souls where the dimly lit streets are fraught with danger. It draws the free spirited wicked into adventure and in some cases, catastrophe. He fights the shame of his desire but he must have her. It's only with this kind of woman that his depraved innermost needs can be met because any other woman would refuse. As he fantasizes, he's desperate to feel the warmth of soft flesh as he imagines her sweet breath on his face and luscious lips that will surely excite his passions further.

The sound of clicking echoes along the street as she pulls at the loose but very short dress, making herself ready for the next customer. As she approaches the intersection, he bounds across the street. But what is this, she isn't a Nardanian at all as he makes out her unusually fine features. She's obviously a cross between Nardanian and Creden. Not full Nardanian like himself. His very members quiver with the excitement of the revelation knowing that she's indeed beautiful. Without a word, he takes her hand in his. The message understood she guides him down the dark street and into a nearby building.

As they enter the apartment, instantly she throws off her dress to reveal her naked body. "The usual fee," she says as she throws herself on the rumpled bed. He's shocked at her cavalier behavior and shapely form and the fact that she was already naked under her dress. Unlike most Nardanian women, her breasts are plump and firm and her shoulder-length brown hair accents her beautiful face. Extending her hand, she giggles as she pulls at his clothing. His body tingling as he quickly flings his clothing to the floor. She gets up, steps to the table, and picks up a glass of already poured wine, "This will increase your pleasure," in her sultry voice.

Putting the glass to his lips, he tastes the fruity fermented flavor which pleases his pallet. He quickly downs the glass and draws her to the bed that's still in disarray from the previous client. She dims the lights from a switch on the headboard and presses her silky skin against his. Running her hands up and down the length of his body, she touches his members. "Relax, my love, you are about to find pleasure beyond your wildest dreams." She drags her tongue down his neck, shoulder and across his chest, and then sucks on his navel. He closes his eyes as electricity rakes his body and a sensation of falling overtakes him. He sinks into blackness.

Waking with a start, eyes wide with dismay, he rolls about in the cool sheets trying to recall the events … but he can't. The room is now dim, not from the lamp but from the approaching dawn as slivers of light creep through the cloudy broken window. She's gone. Every trace of what happened that night has been removed with the exception of a smudge of blood on the sheets. When he tries to get up, he's struck by a dull stabbing pain at the base of his spine just above his anus. He doesn't remember her entering him. Did I pass out? Oh, my God, does that hurt, as he gets to his feet. I didn't even pay for her services. That woman may be beautiful and she certainly knows how to please a man, but she's definitely no businesswoman. He looks for his purse. Maybe she helped herself. But he finds his purse and money intact. Wow, it must have been good because I can still feel it. I just hope I didn't hurt her and that's why she left.

He collects his clothing, dresses and walks down the hall in the direction of the stairs. As he passes one of the apartments, the door stands ajar. Looking in, the room is dusty and vacant. He opens another door ... empty. He hurries out the front door to discover the board that once barred it. That's when he sees the sign, "Condemned Building." Low overhead, he muses but dismisses the incident.

Walking in the direction of his hotel, What will I tell the men? I got drunk and passed out … not exactly fitting conduct for a starship commander. But surely they'll understand that even I need a diversion from the monotony of space.

His thoughts are broken by the drone voice of the matronly receptionist, "The Viceroy will see you now, Commander Zenfeor."

As Zenfeor enters, "Sit down, Zenfeor," the Viceroy commands.

His body rigid, he takes a seat at the side of the Viceroy's desk expecting a reprimand. "We must enlist your help, Zenfeor. Instead of delivering ore and farm machinery to Credenzia, we are rerouting the Sesro to Yerba. The President of The Alliance is taking an entourage of dignitaries to negotiate a new peace treaty. It's a dangerous mission offering a unilateral proposal. Since they don't trust us, the Garendos may destroy you and your ship before you reach the planet. And then there's the chance of encountering the Pachi. Not to mention the fact that the journey in itself is a huge undertaking. Once you reach the outer reaches of the solar system, there's the danger of navigating the asteroid belt surrounding their solar system. Another problem is the uncertainty of their docking bays for such a large ship, plus the issue of the ability of the Garendos to supply your needs for the journey home."

"Do I have a choice?"

"Frankly … No!" the Viceroy says emphatically. As he clears his throat, "Your ship is being prepared as we speak. Mando and four others have been assigned accommodations in the officer's quarters. Although you're in command of your ship, Mando has superior authority. Don't challenge him! Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir, I understand."

"You may return to your shore leave for now. For security reasons, inform your officers of the new destination only after you leave Preta."

* * *

Mathes breaks the silence as Zenfeor returns to reality. "Commander, we are now entering a channel through the asteroid belt at maximum speed. I'll advise if there's a problem."

Zenfeor feels the pressure as the ship jettisons into the asteroid belt. The ship bounces around as they're hit by tiny particles that failed to show up on the sensors. Although they are moving quickly, it feels like time is passing slowly. Apprehension builds. How do the Garendos cope? I can't imagine it's easier for them and yet it doesn't seem to impede them in any way. Why us? What an unlikely way to end a career by being blown to bits by an asteroid!

Like a rocket shot through a tunnel, they burst through to the other side of the belt. The planet Yerba, fifth planet in the solar system, sits before them in the distance. Hitting his communicator, "Karst, hold the thrusters. Intensify our hail and wait for a response. Dolace, stand down the weapons; we don't want to appear threatening."

Time passes. All is quiet. "Sir," offers Mathes, "do they have the capability of picking up our hail?"

"They know we're here because I detected their sensors scanning our ship. Aside from that, I'm sure of nothing. We'll continue to wait." The commander reclines in his chair and closes his eyes. Finally, apprehension turns to impatience. Switching to the engine room, "Karst, proceed toward the planet slowly."

"I'm picking up a signal," Dolace blurts out. "I can't understand it, sir."

"Stop the thrusters, Karst." Zenfeor turns to Mathes, "Bring the Garendos passenger to the bridge. He'll translate for us."

"Aye, Aye, Commander."

A soft rapping on his cover wakes Sen from his repose. The latch, which can be released from either side, is released. "You are wanted on the bridge, sir. Please follow me."

Obediently, Sen walks through the maze of corridors toward the bridge. As they enter, Zenfeor greets him. "Thank you for coming," he offers.

Sen scoffs to himself. Like I had a choice?

"We need you to decipher this message. Play the message back, Mathes."

In an instant, Sen recognizes the instructions. "It's instructions on how to proceed to the planet surface. If you wish, I'll instruct the navigation officer."

"Proceed," Zenfeor responds.

Sen instructs Dolace, "We have been instructed to land in Seiran but if we make a threatening move, they'll fire on us."

"Understood," Dolace responds.

At least we have safe passage this far, Zenfeor thinks. However, he's apprehensive because the Garendos were the ones who broke the last treaty by inflicting havoc on the members of The Alliance, wiping out cities and attacking starships. The Alliance retaliated in kind, striking the Garendos strongholds outside their solar system. If not for the protection of the asteroid belt which was put in place because of previous attacks on their planet generations ago, Yerba would have been ravaged.

As the starship breaks through the cloud cover above a jagged mountain range, Zenfeor is impressed with the exotic beauty of the planet. Descending in the direction of the foothills, they enter a vast stark-white arid salt flat with few irregularities. At some time in the planet's history, this area could have been a lake or ocean. Zenfeor peers across the salt flats that seem to extend beyond the horizon. The ship slows and then hovers. Creeping forward, an incredibly large starship terminal appears along with a small city some distance behind the structure. The terminal appears empty.

"I'm taking the ship in, sir, but we're being monitored closely," Mathes announces.

Another message blares across the receiver. Sen translates, "The Sausi Guard will meet us at the terminal and take us to Yandee where we'll meet the Anasusi."

"What's an Anasusi?" Zenfeor asks.

"The big guy," Sen answers almost jokingly.

Soon, the ship is docked at the terminal and the Sausi Guard boards. Releasing the latch of her cone, Evana finds Ulriam, Rem and Mando already out and stretching but Sen's missing. Instinctively, she expects that somewhere along the line he was called upon to translate. The Garendos language is difficult even for an Enkidu, but it's impossible for a Nardanian.

"Sen must be helping the commander with the initial meeting," Evana suggests.

"That's why he's here, Evana. Let's have a look at Yerba," Ulriam states.

"Will they allow us off the ship?" she asks.

"Let's find out."

Mando and the others follow the corridor toward the ship's lobby. As they proceed, they're met by the Sesro's security. "We were coming to get you. The Garendos and the commander are in the terminal lobby with the Sausi Guard. You may want to take a few personal items with you because you'll be staying here for some time," the guard states.

"Thank you," as Evana and Rem hurry back to pick up toiletries and a few changes of clothes. When they return, they proceed through the lobby and into the terminal entrance. She's startled by the appearance of the Sausi Guard as the very essence of the men's size is intimidating and the dark tight fitting uniform with black polished boots that reach mid-calf depict their authority. Several more Sausi Guards march up, click their boots, and stand at attention waiting for instructions. Sen speaks quickly, carefully and deliberately as he enunciates every word Zenfeor says to the Zapotec who seems to be in charge of the meeting. Evana detects the seriousness of the situation by the tone of Sen's voice.

Sen takes Zenfeor aside to discuss a matter in private. Returning, Sen instructs his group, "We'll go with Poe to Yandee where we'll meet with the Prema Council. Several of the Sausi Guard will remain aboard the Sesro to oversee the ship and assure our safe return. Zenfeor will accompany us as the Nardanian representative. Ulriam, Mando and I will represent The Alliance and Evana will come with us as my consort. I have assured the Anasusi through Poe that this is a peace-seeking mission. Under the circumstances, I'm sure you'll understand their caution. Rem, I'm sorry but it serves no useful purpose to include you on this mission. You'll wait here."

Rem nods in agreement.

Leading the way through the lobby of the terminal, Poe guides them in the direction of a shuttle bay. Respectfully, Evana follows the stately man in awe of his appearance. Never has she seen eyes like his as they send shivers down her spine and causing the hair at the nap of her neck to bristle. His eyes are completely devoid of color except for a faint hint of gray. The pigment of his skin is much lighter than that of the Garendos and his polished scalp is completely devoid of hair. Even though the man's appearance isn't threatening, she senses an unexplainable power. He steps lightly, yet briskly, across the exit ramp and into the shuttle bay causing her to pick up her pace in order not to be left behind.

They proceed through the shuttle bay where several armed Sausi Guards wait. Although scared, she knows it's too late to turn back. Without uttering a word, they boarded the shuttle. Obeying the hand gestures of the ominous guard, she straps herself into her seat. As she examines the unusual walls of the shuttle, she finds it's made of an unfamiliar material. Thrown back by the thrust of the launch, the shuttle moves quickly but silently forward. To her surprise, as though a shade has been pulled away, the floor of the craft becomes transparent. The experience, which is less than pleasurable, gives her the sense that she could fall through the floor to the desert below.

They travel across the desert in the direction of the foothills. Reducing their speed, they encounter the charred remains of what can only have been a vast city. Remaining silent, she's in awe of the devastation. They careen across a large deep black pit … ground zero. Rubble lies beyond the point of impact and is scattered about the surrounding area. The charred remains of toppled buildings stand like monuments to unimaginable destruction. Pressing beyond the charred remains, the land turns green. They cross a mountain range and start down the far side. Soon, the tops of spiraling buildings appear. As they continue into the city, the buildings grow to enormous proportions. Larger than anything she's seen before, she wonders at the engineering involved in keeping such tall buildings from collapsing in on themselves.

From high above, she spots a tall structure with a large landing pod. It's dizzying as the shuttle hovers above the pod while another shuttle is being pulled out of the way. Once clear, the hovering craft descends and they set down softly on top of a large red circle. As the guard opens the door, he motions for them to exit. Gathered together on the roof of the building, Sen speaks to the guard briefly and then they're escorted inside.

CHAPTER 3

It's not until the following day that they stand at the entrance of the reception hall in order to appear before the Prema Council. Evana is mesmerized by the pomp and ceremony that's undertaken in order to make the occasion spectacular. The ritual is unlike anything she's seen before, what with flags and horn blowing. Their entrance into the chambers is led by costumed dancers who execute a short but elaborate performance that leads them before a long Diaz at the front of the huge hall. The process is so intimidating and loud that secretly she feels the need to run and hide. Although Sen is a strong able man, how can he protect her in a situation like this with the crowd behind them pushing and shoving recklessly in order to hear the proceedings? He stands proud-a fortress of courage and confidence. Viewed as a traitor because of his association with the enemy, his very life is on the line. Ulriam stands behind him slightly to the left, Mando stands to the right, and both remain silent. Standing directly behind Sen, Evana senses the occasional glance of the council members but doesn't understand why. The wooden doors thunder as they close.

The chairman roars at Sen, his voice filled with rage. Sen counters, calmly yet distinctly but not wavering for a moment. The chairman hesitates; his voice takes a different tone as he turns the pages of a large book that appears to refer to the laws and statutes of Yerba. The dispute continues as Ulriam speaks using Sen as his interpreter. The chairman stands and shakes his finger at Sen as he screams accusations. He then confers with the other six members of the council. As they speak, the wooden doors at the rear of the hall suddenly burst open and a large barrel-chested man with a long gray braid hanging down his back enters. The man's very countenance is intimidating as he marches with passion across the floor but stops short as he notices Sen poised before the council. Making an instant recovery, he bows and approaches the Diaz. The chairman speaks forcefully to the stranger.

It is in earnest that the stranger responds. The shouting match that ensues is frightening but the chairman doesn't waiver. He points directly at Sen, screaming at the large stranger with rage in his voice.

His jaw taunt, the stranger answers in two distinct words, "Nina Courdon". The chairman's eyes widen. Standing stoic for a moment, he ponders the dilemma before him. Turning to the others, first to the left, he utters one word, and then to the right, he repeats the same word. They converse for a moment and then each nods in agreement.

Through Sen, Mando proceeds to tell the council what The Alliance offers them in order to receive the Garendos allegiance. It seems like forever as Evana stands waiting and waiting. It has been a very long day and she has not eaten. A tingling sensation begins in her feet and makes its way up to her knees. The room begins to spin …

"Evana … Evana …" It's like a dream as she recognizes Sen's voice, "Evana … are you alright?"

Her vision slowly clears. The ceiling is obscure as her eyes gaze past him to discover where she is. Of course, I'm in the Prema Council Chambers. "What happened?" she asks.

"You fainted."

The chairman that spoke so angrily kneels at her side softly speaking several words.

"He asked for your forgiveness," Sen offers.

Evana gives him a nod, indicating her acceptance. Picking her up, Sen carries her out of the chambers, down the long hall and into their quarters. As she lays her head on his shoulder, "How did it go?"

"It went well. That is, once we convinced the chairman of our honesty. He's not the trusting sort."

"Small wonder!"

"So what's with the fainting?"

"Good grief, Sen, after standing most of the day listening to a bunch of screaming men quarreling about something that I had no idea what it was about. I was hungry and thirsty. Isn't that enough to make anyone faint?"

Placing her on their bed, he draws her near and whispers in her ear, "You know it was a long boring trip to Yerba. Do you think our many adventures could have left one of us in a delicate condition? Think about that night when I woke you, the night we made spectacular love under extremely cramped conditions?"

"I don't think so Sen. It's just that I haven't been feeling well for the past few days."

He pulls his shirt over his head, "The very scent of you makes me crazy." Untying her dress, "I'm only trying to make you comfortable."

"Yah … right," she responds.

Several days later, their party receives clearance to tour Yandee. It's a new city, born of the destruction of Mercer. They left Zenfeor in bed in order to catch up on his sleep and Mando is touring their building with the Anasusi. Sen, Evana, and Ulriam wander along the narrow streets looking for a restaurant where Sen can introduce her to Yerba's cuisine. When they peer in the shop windows, they find the window inset to be extremely thick. Looking up, the engineering feat suddenly makes sense to him. He never really thought about how the buildings, which reach a colossal height, can stand without caving in on themselves. The structure is laid out in tiers of six floors with a slightly smaller tier standing on top of the one below. He detects a massive inner core reaching up to the top tier is the core's counter support for the lower floors that are actually individual cubicles topped with a terrace. Each terrace interlocks with the center core and allows the building to withstand the fierce wind and occasional movement of the tectonic plates. At various levels, the buildings are connected by large transparent arched tunnels enabling a person to maneuver throughout the city without having to return to ground level. Even Sen is impressed by the ingenious design and well calculated engineering of the city. The tall government buildings, however, are built using mockups in order to create the illusion that the buildings tower above the others in case of an invasion which would draw the enemy to the tallest buildings and spare the vulnerable population.

The streets are laid out in an organized manner and clearly marked on the side of the corner building. A transportation system, called the spine, is futuristic compared to the rest of the galaxy. The population gains access to the spine through various stairways leading underground where passengers step into small enclosed compartments, pulled to a launch site, and lined up orderly. From there, the compartments are methodically launched along a swift moving track. The entire system is paid for by ration cards issued by a division of the council. The landing party received their ration cards when they received their room assignment. As they tour the city they expected the large shops to be filled with masses of merchandise but instead, the shops are half empty. Even so, Evana manages to buy several very expensive garments in the Garendos fashion from one of the shops. Thankfully Sen, Zenfeor, Mando, and Ulriam were spared that expense because they received military uniforms minus the distinctive insignias.

After an extensive tour of the city, they return to their quarters, but before they reach their rooms Poe intercepts them. "Were you waiting for us, Poe?" Sen asks.

"Yes," his voice carrying concern.

"Why didn't you just wait in our room?"

"They're waiting there to arrest you. I'm here to take you into hiding until they sort out a matter regarding Zenfeor. I trust your sincerity but I found Zenfeor difficult to read. The man's mind is filled with scattered thoughts and cravings and he seems to be a little stupid.

Trusting Poe completely, they follow the small man through a series of corridors to a launch site where a small hovercraft waits. Evana, however, is unfamiliar with the Zapotec and she's apprehensive that they may be falling into a trap.

The vehicle proceeds quickly along the city street to the edge of town. Once free of the buildings, he powers up the vehicle and they soar into the heavens, across the mountains, over a large lake, and then they veer north into the polar region. As they streak above the polar cap they bank and then angle southeast. In the distance, snow-capped mountains appear. The hovercraft passes so close to the summit they can feel the chill of the frozen wasteland. Suddenly, the hovercraft drops sharply below the horizon amid an intense powerful blast. Evana holds her breath and closes her eyes as they follow the course of a tight ravine along a whitewater river.

"What the hell was that?" Sen demands.

"If they think we died in an accident, they won't be looking for us so intently."

"Why the deception?" he asks.

"The Sausi Guard is thorough. When they're done with Zenfeor they'll know the truth."

"What will they do to him?"

"They use drugs. Nothing remains hidden but it takes time."

"So what are we to do in the meantime?"

"Hide."

With nothing further to discuss, everyone remains silence as they snake through the mountains. Suddenly, they burst onto an open beach as a vast choppy ocean lies before them. They hug the water so closely that the transparent bottom of the craft is sprayed by the wind.

"We're going to hit the water," shouts Evana.

"I know what I'm doing, woman. Stop screaming."

Thoroughly embarrassed, she settles back into her seat knowing that she's not particularly held in high regard by the scary-looking little man and he senses her mistrust.

The sky is darkening by the time the mountains appear in the distance. With every passing moment the frozen snowcaps become more vivid and the mountains stand lush and green against the crimson sky. Betelgeuse sinks and darkness falls. With blackness surrounding them, she hopes Poe is flying by instruments and not instincts because visibility is zero. Flickering lights appear in the distance as the hovercraft slows and hovers. She feels the descent and then the impact of the wheels touching down. The craft rolls slowly in the direction of a row of lights.

"You'll stay on Carmona until it's safe to return to Yandee," Poe instructs.

"I don't understand," Evana challenges.

Poe approaches, his pale eyes burning into hers as he explains, "You won't like the way the Garendos interrogate suspected spies. They use drugs that force you to lay bare your innermost thoughts and completely excavate your being. They will know all. Even the things you deny to yourself, your sins, your lusts, your guilt, and your hypocrisy. It takes days, even months to recover. Some never recover completely from the internal conflict when interrogators reach deep into your inner-self and bring out what and who you truly are. It is my desire to spare you that."

"Why?" doubting his sincerity.

"Because I know," he snaps rudely.

"Know what?"

"Know what and who you are."

"How can you be so sure that you really know me?"

"I have Kai. I know and understand Enkidu vanity," he answers defiantly.

Evana thinks to herself … So what!

Poe gives her that look again. A look that tells her he knows exactly what she's thinking. He motions for them to follow him into the lights, which are so intense everything else is shadowy. As they pass through the intense light, their vision cleans and buildings appear. Poe opens a door and they ascend an inner staircase. They follow a long narrow hall and enter a large open terraced courtyard where a group of young Zapotec have gathered. Although darker skinned, most of them are within the range of Poe's structure with the same shaven heads. A few have preserved enough hair to allow for a long braid that reaches to their waist. All are male.

"These are novices, brothers of Kai. When they pass the fourth level they go to Roa."

"What level have you passed?" Evana asks.

"The seventh level, a very long time ago," he pauses as he clears his throat. "I have attained full Kai. Having full Kai offers me the opportunity to serve the Garendos in their efforts to save our planet."

"How many candidates reach full Kai?"

"You ask far too many questions. Remain silent." Turning to Sen, "You must teach your woman humility. It would honor you much."

Sen gives her a grimacing smile as he shrugs his shoulders.

Insulted, Evana walks behind as they follow the stern but stately man through a maze of terraced buildings. Scattered among the buildings are shops and public services where personal everyday necessities are sold.

They exit the area and follow the dark street consisting of small cubical homes to a large compound where vehicles are stored. They walk through the open compound and enter a building where a specially equipped land rover sits running. "Wait here."

"Where are you going?" Evana blurts out.

Poe gives her that dark look again. His silence tells all.

"Evana," Sen pleads, "would you please SHUT UP."

Cringing at his angry voice, she squats on the floor and rests her head in her hands. She jumps at the sudden opening of a door as the metallic sound echoes through the empty building. Poe has returned in the company of a much younger man who appears much like Poe with the exception of a long braid. "This is Mah, a trusted member of The Brotherhood. He'll take you to Roa. I'm sorry, but it's the only place where you'll be completely safe." Turning to Mah, "You must leave immediately. I faked an accident but by morning they'll know. The fake accident will only buy you time. Gopala is the first place they'll look." His eyes turning to Evana, "The woman babbles. Ignore her."

"Come this way," as Mah leads them in the direction of the running land rover fitted with enormous tires. Once inside the vehicle, they proceed along a paved road into the black void.

CHAPTER 4

It's the sharp bumps that wake her. The morning light coming through the side window exposes a sharply defined terrain, which is moss-covered and speckled with large fern-like foliage. Leaving the paved road, they forge on into the rolling hills where large trees with thick trunks send broad stiff branches skyward. Here and there, huge jet-black rocks sit like abandoned children as they approach an area where the hills appear taller than the others. Cutting through the hills is a narrow gorge where a group of large black stone stand at the entrance. They scrape between the barriers and lumber along the narrow gorge until they exit onto a delta where a wide lazy river snakes its way south. In the distance, tall stands of trees create a completely different environment and behind that, mountains cut across the horizon. Mah leaves the vehicle to search for something while the others get out and stretch their legs. Curious, Evana bends down to test the soil.

Mah blurts out, "The gorge we just went through was the course of this powerful river but it was diverted in order to reclaim the land to the southwest. The diversion was necessary in order to turn the marshy estuary into plains. After the marsh dried, the Garendos used the area for military purposes and a landing strip allowing them access to Carmona. They permitted us to use their facilities and to cultivate the land when they left. The academy for novices is also in Gopola."

"So any Zapotec can join The Brotherhood?" Evana asks.

"The Brotherhood is passed through the patriarchal line. Only those that qualify can become members. Come," he commands as he returns to the land rover.

Later, Mah pulls the vehicle close to the riverbank and tells them to get out. As they stand waiting, Mah hides the vehicle in the brush. "We leave the vehicle here and travel up the river to the village called Entrygate." Clearing his throat nervously, "Don't look at me as though I'm crazy. There is such a village."

Stumbling after the men through the tangled swamp grass, her thoughts turn to what Poe said; They reach into your mind and search out your innermost secrets. Well, they can completely empty my brain if they want because this misery isn't worth it. Besides, what will they find? Certainly not what they expect to discover unless they're a little twisted.

As they walk along the riverbank they come upon an animal trail and follow the trail until they encounter a boathouse. Mah opens the door of the building.

Seriously, that bloody boat is huge and we are only four. If we are to row up that fast-flowing river I'll be an old woman by the time we get where we're going, but she knows better than to open her mouth.

They slide the rusty relic out of the boathouse and push it across the damp grass. Surprisingly light, the boat moves much easier than she thought possible. Upon reaching the riverbank, Mah places the oars appropriately and all is ready. Evana and Mah are the first to get in as Sen and Ulriam push the relic into the water and then climb in themselves. They drift downstream until they get organized. Mah instructs, "Follow my lead. Stiffen your arms and let your body do the work. Everyone pulls at the same time."

Moving in synchronized rhythm, to her surprise, the metal rust-bucket fairly glides across the water. As Betelguise rises to midday, the smoke of a distant village appears on the horizon. Who will look for us here?

It appears that the headwater of the river is a large inland lake. With renewed energy they lean into the oars as the boat skims across the water taking them to a distant shore and the village located in front of a high oddly shaped hill covered with large trees and moss. A gentle rain begins to fall as they approach but soon becomes a heavy torrent.

Upon reaching the wharf, she turns to look back at the course they have followed only to find it lost in a hazy mist. She's trembling with cold and soaked to the skin, her hair hangs in stringy clumps as rain runs down her nose and neck. Upon reaching the wharf, a hooded man greets them and speaks to Mah in a strange dialect and then offers his hand to help her out of the swaying boat. Accepting his hand, she steps to solid footing. They follow the man up the well-traveled path in the direction of the village barely able to see where they're going in the downpour. Upon reaching the secluded village Mah indicates his desire for them to enter a large hut. Feeling more like drowned rats than people; they enter the building to the welcoming sight of a fire burning in a worn fireplace.

"You may disrobe," Mah commands. He opens a wardrobe closet and offers them each a long warm robe with a drawstring waist which appears to be one size fits all. Mah motions for her to take off her wet clothes. "The Brotherhood frowns on modesty. It is the works of the flesh," Mah responds to her reluctance.

"Is that why Poe disliked me?"

"Enkidu are vain. Modesty is a false sense of superior worth."

Not wanting to oppose The Brotherhood, everyone disrobes quickly including Evana. As Ulriam drops his wet clothes to the floor, she tries not to giggle. Interesting… as she looks at his skinny legs and large narrow feet. Not wanting to offend, she hides the nervous smile that creeps across her face and throws the robe over her head.

"Sit at the table," Mah instructs.

As they're seated, the door opens and several robed men enter carrying covered plates. Taking several dinner plates from a cupboard, "Woman, help me," Mah instructs. Instantly, she takes the plates from him and sets them on the table. Mah continues, "You'll sleep here. Tomorrow, we'll begin the trek to Roa. Eat well, sleep well, it is not far but it is a difficult climb. There are hot spots and steam pools, so stay on the trail because the island's unstable. Most who visit do not linger." Gathering their clothing, "Hang your clothing by the fire so it dries because you'll have to wear them in the morning under the outer robes of our people and blend in. Do not speak."

Mah lifts the covers from the serving plates to reveal well-oiled dishes of vegetables and fish. When Evana places the food in her mouth, never has she tasted anything so delicious.

"The food is wonderful, Mah."

"Eat hearty. In the future, food will be less plentiful."

She wakes early to find the fire has gone out and the windowless hut is completely engulfed in darkness. Suddenly, the door opens and she recognizes the silhouetted figure of Mah. "Make ready to leave. Conceal yourselves because not every person in the village is of The Brotherhood. Some were subverted by the Garendos and may betray us."

* * *

Soon they find themselves following a trail into the heavily tree-covered mountains through thick fern-like underbrush. Billows of steam rise through the strange vegetation as the evocative call of songbirds' filters through the trees and the occasional bee buzzes past. They walk carefully along the black rock-covered trail past strange volcanic formations. Mah explains, "The Island was formed over the millenniums by magma. As the years passed, vegetation started from the seed-filled droppings of migrating birds. With the gradual breakdown of algae, vegetation and volcanic rock, the island became a paradise. With years of wind and torrential rain, the magma continued to break down and thus the sculptured formations. Ahead of us is a stream but don't touch the water because it's scalding. And don't be fooled by the colorful algae lying at the bottom. Some algae exist only under these extreme conditions."

As Evana follows the men into the mist, she asks, "What causes the mist?"

Mah responds, "The cool morning air contacting the steaming pools. The mist burns off when the air warms."

As they reach the edge of the forest, the path widens and a large steaming lake appears. The lake burps, gurgles, and churns and occasionally shoots a fountain of water several feet into the air. Multi-colored coral-like plants wave slowly back and forth with the circulating currents and although breathtakingly beautiful, she understands its perils.

They move in the direction of a snowcapped mountain and follow an undefined trail where they cross a huge smooth rock. Silently, they press on as a rumbling in the distance breaks the silence. Above the horizon and on the other side of a downgrade, a jet of water spurts into the air. "What is that?" she asks.

"Water spout," Mah answers. "There are many of them on the island. They shoot up through vents in the volcanic rocks from underground rivers." Indicating his displeasure at her unending questions, "We are moving in the direction of Roa and The Circle of Light."

Surprised at his comment, it slips out, "What's The Circle of Light?"

Mah gives Sen a shaded glance, "I told you to control your woman."

Shrugging, "She's hard to control." He asks, "So what is the Circle of Light?"

Incensed at Sen's lack of concern about his woman's behavior, "It's the gathering place of the patriarchs. Centuries ago, The Brotherhood was formed to guide our people spiritually. They took the lead in protecting us from the Garendos. In time, we gathered the members in Roa to hide them from our enemy, the Sausi Guard. Although the Garendos are a technically advanced civilization, they did not understand us and Kai initially. They came to take our island and subjugate us. Although we suffered several casualties, eventually the island itself scared them off."

"You beat them?" Sen questions.

"You could say that. Actually, they defeated themselves by not understanding the island's hidden dangers. Finally, they understood us and Kai and realized we posed no danger to them. But that knowledge came the hard way."

The group continues in silence. Now high enough to see the scope of the island she wonders, Is Carmona really an island, or is it actually a continent?

Far below, she notices a herd of long-legged horned animals with billows of hair at the neck and rump, grazing in a high meadow. Only on Centra has Evana seen such an animal as this. With the exception of the horn, the animals are similar. Frozen in her tracks, she watches the stately creatures move about as their manes flow gently in the wind.

Narrowing her eyes to focus, she observes movement in the underbrush at the edge of the meadow. Some distance from the herd, a white stallion stands watching for sign. Sniffing the wind, he sounds the alarm. A yearling runs to his mother as the feline, slinking quickly through the underbrush in the direction of the yearling in intercepted by the stallion as he brings his head up at just the right moment and catches the feline between the front legs and flips him backward. The startled animal lets out a fierce roar. When he hears the roar, Mah stops. "Keep up, woman!

"But … But …

"Keep up," he roars again. "We have a long way to go."

CHAPTER 5 - CARMONA

It's late in the afternoon by the time they reach the village. The unimpressive small round huts are built of large reeds with thatched roofs, standing in a semi-circle around a communal well at the base of a barren mountain built behind a ridge on one side and sheltered from the winds by several huge boulders on the other. Evana wonders at the reason for traveling so far to reach this primitive excuse of a camp. Why didn't they just hide in the woods somewhere near Gopala? Her eyes scan the rugged black cliffs above the encampment where a large opening emits light.

Mah instructs, "Wait here." He opens the door to one of the small hut, and then motions for them to enter. As they enter, an old woman squats on the floor by an open fire. Looking suspiciously at the travelers, she speaks to Mah as her dark eyes trace their faces. Obviously she not only doesn't appreciate the intrusion nor is she impressed by their appearance.

"This lady will see to your needs. I must ask you to remain in the hut. Venture nowhere," as he gets direct eye contact with Evana conveying his lack of trust. Mah disappears.

The woman motions for them to sit on the sleeping platform covered in straw. She disappears and returns carrying a tray of tea and flat bread, cooked vegetables and sliced fruit.

With Mah gone longer than expected, Evana becomes bored and yet curious, she opens the door slightly and peeks out. All she can see is a small boy playing outside in the rain like any other child with the exception of his pale skin. Responding to the creaking door, he's startled by the strange looking woman, knowing she's an outsider.

"Get back in here, Evana!" Sen shouts.

How could these people scare off the Sausi Guard when they're unimposing and have no weapons or technology?

With dusk descending, the group beds down on the platform to rest. Unable to find sleep, Evana's mind drifts to Tali and her children again. The sudden nudge at her foot startles her.

"Follow me, gather your possessions," as Mah leads them single-file up the path behind the village. Carrying little to slow them down, they walk single-file behind him.

Nervous about the steep narrow trail, she clings to Sen's arm. When the trail turns to stairs, they only go a short distance until they encounter a large group sitting under cover in front of an open fire. They walk past the group, enter a cave and proceed along a tunnel lit by strange illuminators secured to the walls. As they venture deeper into the cave, the passageway broadens immensely until it becomes more like a cavern than tunnel. A streaming underground river parallels the cavern but disappears beneath the bedrock. The cavern probably was a huge aquifer during the island's early development. In the distance ... light and sound breaks the weird silence. Upon entering the light, they encounter a circle of people, some chanting and some in a deep trance. The chamber appears to be a ceremonial area but the unearthly sounds are disturbing.


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