Excerpt for Bloodrite: The Intersect by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



BLOODRITE

THE INTERSECT


Attica wildsky





Copyright © 2018 Attica Wildsky

All rights reserved.




Dedication


To a Good Friend

Contents

Acknowledgements

Preface

Introduction

Daylight

Eli and the Cron

Lineages

Mother and Son

The Waythinker

Enemy

Closer Observations

Force of Will

Stick in the Mud

Survive

Derelict

Who Looks the Other Way

Lordion and Apprentice

Make like Smoke and Disappear

Blast

Sundown

So Long as the Wind

Allowance

Fire and Reign

Homeland

Soul

Rebellion

Slay the Master, Free the Beast

The Isle

Accord

Reckoning

Alliance

Infinite

Index

ABOUT THE AUTHOR



Acknowledgements


Thanks, and many blessings for all those who put in their two cents worth along this journey


Preface


This story is an introduction to the Bloodrite Series. I don’t really think of it as any sort of complex storytelling, as it was mainly a personal experiment in building character relationships and their imaginary worlds. The story began with a small scattering of characters—just Solomin and Mich, soon came Ava, Kye, and Roy (although the names of the first three changed quite a few times). As the story evolved, I wanted to know more about these characters, others connected to them, and the world(s) they inhabited presently as well as their pasts.

Going forward, I tried my best to follow the guidelines of story development:

1. A character with a problem

2. Complication

3. Crises that reach climax

4. Resolution of the problem

5. Character learns something about self or life

This led to an entirely different story than the one I had started out with and just when I thought that I was getting somewhere, life happened. I would quit, go back again, quit again. Despite several attempts at putting this work away and never coming back, I felt empty when not writing it. So, I returned a little over two years ago (after jotting down the initial thoughts and sketches somewhere around 2003 and almost tossing it away around 2015). During this time, I was doing my best to get through school, deal with some family issues/tragedies, an ongoing and worsening problem with my eyes (don’t know how I’ll continue doing this without them) and more personal experiments in life that didn’t go so well.

Finally, I took a chance at self-publishing on, and that too, has been an awfully bumpy road. If anything, I share this work as an offering of study for other struggling writers.


Still, there’s plenty to learn about these worlds and their inhabitants. I’ve left some of the details in the index marked “Naming Convention.” Feel free to browse it for more information.

At one point, I even considered simplifying the story into a game (if only I knew how). I’ve added it in at the back as well.


Introduction


(4.910.101)

Not far from the territory of Janar was a small sector of Saecoh, one of the oldest villages to remain intact after the Great War.

Fen akoa Vox looked ahead to the place where this journey would soon be complete. “They live in the past…” he said to himself.

Nonetheless, in this tiny backwards village was a jewel, a gorgeous place, like a castle glowing in the moonlight; it looked ready and willing to take in a knight in shining armor.

Fen drove his statecar around to the front and prepared for a somber, yet grand entrance, knowing that an unannounced visit was uncommon in Saecoh, he took a deep breath, climbed a few steps and rang the bell. It was a soft, melodic chime. When it opened, a woman wearing a long tunic and headcloth appeared and said, “Nuanta.” It was the common greeting among people in the territory. He had returned the same before stating his reason for appearing unannounced at her doorstep.

“Please accept my apology for disturbing you, Madam, but you see, I’ve come quite a way to give you this message. I don’t know if you remember me, Fen akoa Vox, the Cosoc arbiter from Horev…”

“Yes, I know who you are,” she said with not much of a break between words. “A dungeoner who sends hunters to collect prisoners. Why have you come here?”

“Please, if you could allow me in. It’s a very serious matter and I’d rather not be careless in this…”

The woman allowed entrance, leading him into a quaint traditional abode. Dark scrubwood floors soaked in the glow of light tubes above, and the room drew a feeling of warmth and comfort with low, soft furnishings along the main Slipscreen paneled walls. Muted orange and decorative pillows were tossed around the seating and the floor. A few green and yellow floral printed boxes brightened the space near curtains that had been drawn at different levels on tall windows to the left. But what drew Fen’s eye was a painting hanging above a side table just before the hallway. There were three girls—daughters of the Perniden affiliation leader Omog Ammand and his bloodrite Hanni—his wife—the woman who stood across from Fen at this moment.

“A picture to let memories last forever…” he said, admiring the beauty and detail in the work.

“If you could make this brief. I’m preparing for the Ceremony… A lot of work to do,” said Hanni.

Fen remembered the Ceremony of Eves coming up very soon. Prominent Mythicon men and women would be expected to attend and were encouraged to pledge bloodrite—the Mythicon law of a union in holy matrimony.

“Yes,” he turned back to see her. “I’m here to inform you of a development… one of your daughters… Melian, has joined the rebellion.”

He watched Hanni Ammand walk slowly to the place where she sat down. “I see…” she said. “But she is alive?”

“Yes.”

For the moment, all went quiet. Hanni closed her eyes. Wrung her hands. Sniffled without tears. At least not as of yet.

“When did you learn of this, and how?” She asked softly.

“Last night. The sentries on the Teineme satellite spotted her in one of the camps not far from Nion.”

The satellite was a training ground as well as the main throughway for powerhauls in and out from the magnetic line. The line provided a stable source of energy to all seven habitations in the system called Meidian and their portals. Control of Teineme, for now, was in the hands of alliance forces—mainly Azorons. Indeed, Mythicons and Azorons had been slowly building upon a long span of stable relations, yet the rebellion was steadily eroding any chance of peace between the two.

Trying to keep this discussion as gentle and free of conflict as possible, Fen sat down beside her and hesitated to say anything more, allowing her time to respond.

In the brief lapse of conversation, Hanni glared and then scooted away a little. “Unlike you, Fen akoa, we are not enemies of alliance. They've helped us, and I, for one, have seen no reason to hate them in the way that you do.”

More than enough people had said similar things to him for most of his life. He allowed her to have an opinion but wouldn’t let it sink in.

“I’ve had no influence on her,” he said. “The rebellion… I would rather catch them… lock them away for our own good. They are only thorns in the side.”

Hanni shook her head, looked away. “…and here we’ll drown…”

“What did you say?” Fen asked.

“Lines drawn. Blood against blood. Some of us have no place here anymore. Remember what the old taletellers say… But they’re not tales anymore. This is how one line ends and another takes over.”

Fen sat forward, spoke carefully. “I don’t believe in those tales, Hanni. I am of Cosoc affiliation but also Perniden. My ancestry goes back to Terival and Una the same as you.”

She just looked at him with a deep, almost sympathetic gaze. That was a normal reaction, he thought. Most of his people—Mythicons—did the same whenever he dared to claim the rich heritage of Old Shior. They claimed he had no rightful connection to their history for he was not full Mythicon but bilithe… a mix of Mythicon and Azoron.

“I don’t know what more you need to say about this,” said Hanni. “I need to be alone…”

Suddenly a blue light on the console below the scanwall indicated a new message. He noticed how still she was, that she must have already received the location and identity of the sender on the starguide on her wrist.

That will be Omog. At the same time, the front door opened and then a younger woman entered from the vestibule into the living room. She came in a rush and dropped what appeared to be a supply grate onto the floor by the wall. She wore a strange uniform-like jumpsuit, muted gray with blue stripes across the left shoulder; narrow-legged trousers were tucked into short, black boots.

“Ava!” Hanni called out. “Where have you been…?”

“I have to get ready, Mother…” the girl hurried through. “No time to talk…”

“Ava Silendre!” The mother’s tone got stronger as the girl had almost disappeared as fast as she had come in. “Come back here! Right now!”

The girl reappeared as ordered and walked back into room. Fen recognized her from the painting but also in recollection of her presence during the Observance of Som at the sanctuary not so long ago. She had been somewhat more beautiful to him then, wearing a pale-yellow dress and her hair up with wisps of dark natural waves framing the face. It was obvious that she had taken the time then to enhance her natural assets—such dark, romantic eyes and lips just lovely au naturel, now perhaps nicer if they had been given a dash of color. In Fen’s opinion, this uniformed-soldier look was too harsh for such a captivating young lady.

“Yes?” she responded to her mother in a way that a rebellious young adult would do, dragging herself back in and tightening her lips with the arms crossed and shoulders swinging a little. She then cut her eyes quickly at Fen, just enough to acknowledge him there.

“You need to change plans,” said Hanni. “I am going with you to Surich.”

“What?”

“You hear me, I’m going with you.”

The girl stepped forward and her expression changed to stunned and confused.

“Our family…” Hanni started again. “We must stay close.”

All went quiet for a moment and then the girl decided to turn and leave the room again without another word spoken. Fen held his composure in the awkward silence.

“I think it might help if I go talk with her,” he said. “With your permission, of course.”

“She isn’t a child,” Hanni replied. “If she wants to talk to you, she will.”


Fen thought of himself as someone with a gentle disposition. When he found the girl in another room toward the back of the house, he figured on going in quietly and calmly to the place where he discovered her silhouette, slender and svelte, against the windows.

“Did my mother tell you to come in here?” she asked without turning around.

“No,” said Fen. “I decided on it and she didn’t mind. …Feeling a bit guilty, I suppose.”

“And why would that be?”

“…Perhaps I could have done something… …She didn’t tell you what’s happened. Melian has joined the rebels in Teineme. You do realize the main goal of the rebellion will be killing Azorons and anyone linked to the alliance… You will be linked to the alliance.”

The girl shrugged, still had not yet bothered to look his way.

“If I were worried, I would not be going to Surich to train. Besides. that doesn’t surprise me. I always knew… no one could save her.”

Fen went further into the room, closer to the eldest daughter of Omog and Hanni.

“Ava, do you know who I am?”

Still focused out toward something in the distance, maybe a lighthouse on the hill, she said, “Fen Vox, the dungeoner. The one who maims and tortures enemies.”

“You’re very candid.”

“Is there some reason you came in here, Mesre Vox?”

“To ask why such a beautiful young lady has dressed herself up to look like a warrior from the Vericept IV installments…”

“Hmmph,” she turned away from the windows, finally looked him in the eyes. “The crude dungeoner doesn’t recognize the standard AeC-X issue when he sees it. Makes me wonder how you managed catching all those crons…”

“My, you do seem older than just twenty-three,”

“And you act much less experienced than forty-one.” She snapped right back.

His mouth formed a small “o” as it dropped open. “Now I see why your mother doesn’t want you going to Sylibus alone. You’ll surely get yourself into some trouble there.”

“I can handle plenty of trouble. I’ve trained with Nimithian weapons in Prates and learned to fly scathers, studied cron anatomy… I’ll be going to work with a team extracting metals from the machines on Kauldron…”

Nimithians… they despise us yet better them than Azorons…

“You’re going there? Why would you elect to do that? It’s white hot,”

“No, Surich. I’ll start with dismantling the exploration machines that were returned for termination,”

“That type of work is very intensive. You’d have no time for a family… children…”

“I’m not having any children,” she said. “They would feel abandoned, having the healers and grantresses raising them while I’m away. It would be a terrible life for them.”

He didn’t want to show how he felt about this—that it was certainly a very well thought out assessment and one that he would admire in a bloodrite, if one had been chosen. She was indeed no simple young lady, he knew. Ava was a huntress and shielding, and a Lady Chamberess of Korchestthe latter seemingly not all that glorious of a title but she was one of the few servants of the affiliation licensed to pilot almost any commissioned ship and trained to handle non-standard weapons. For an appointed chamberess—a young female slated for unpaid servitude—she had done well.

“Surich is one of the most dangerous places in the world for us,” He stopped for a moment when noticing how she seemed suddenly taken by surprise. “…The alliance doesn't admit to how much hatred they have in our presence there.”

“You were once in the rebellion, true?”

“Is that what you think I am now?”

“Yes.”

“Well then you should sharpen your instincts. A thing like that doesn’t interest me. As a matter of fact I have very close friends training with the alliance right now. Hunters and huntresses...flying the Azoron ships as well.”

“How? I don't know of any Mythicons piloting Azoron ships,” she said.

Fen took a pause and started over.

“You spent time in Prates serving with one of Yiro’s guard units. That was a very dangerous venture. Your mother is just being cautious… …She doesn’t want anything to happen to you.”

“I am not like Melian. She despises good, embraces evil.”

Fen found a chair and leaned against the back of it, thought on what she had said.

“Maybe the wrong friends?”

She cut her eyes on him. “I’m going to Surich as my father has requested.”

“And in a few days, you’ll return for the Ceremony of Eves?”

And that one had obviously taken her by surprise.

“Are you requesting it, Mesre Vox?”

That kind of confidence was in the blood of huntresses. No children. Just what he wanted to hear. Now the pursuit of a prospective mate grew more appealing. Her face was refreshing youthful and not anything less than pure Mythicon, the native people of Meta Seson. The eyes were piercing gray/brown, the hair pinned and twisted neatly into a bun just above the nape of her neck.

“Yes.” He answered pleasantly.

A brief pause of silence followed, and alas, she nodded.

“Then I will be there.”


A few days later and before the departure of the Granit Centaur to Surich, Omog, the father of Ava, received an important transmission from Athir in Meta Seson. The message contained an announcement that his daughter would attend the Ceremony of Eves and had accepted a pledge of bloodrite from the dungeoner Fen akoa Vox.

Chapter 1—Daylight

One early evening upon Meidian’s habitation of Surich, a gathering of vultures circled above a waterway known as the Palaeden Sea. On the ground, a small plug in one young hunter's right ear jolted him with a surge of low voltage—had to keep his mind from wandering too long or he'd get punished by the timing device. Such work required full attention; a slipping focus could be deadly. Knowing this, he worked hard at not thinking of anything else, yet for some reason, his head just couldn't stay clear for any length of time. He needed a drink.

The hunter removed his glarelenses and knelt to cup some water in his palms, quenching his thirst for the tasteless liquid. Water was there, rolling down his throat, saturating him. Dipping his hands back into a stream and slapped the water on his face, he gazed for a moment at the backs of his hands where droplets formed on his deeply sun-drenched Silic skin. However, quenching his thirst just for a moment could not dilute the stench of death surrounding him.

Black ooze swished under the soles of his black toxin-resistant boots. He despised what he saw, had not wanted any part of this assignment, thought it would have been better for someone else...anyone else...who didn't mind wallowing around in day-old scum over corpses and the crackling sludge where all their lives had come to an unfortunate end.

On this day, landshift 4.910.780, the cron-Azoron Solomin Apollo Zivic, better known to his people as simply “Sol,” had come to accept his fate while working hard at keeping his cool.

In normal circumstances, he would have been wearing the AeC-X-issued clasp-collar skinsuit complimented by gleaming coral/amber eyes and a full head of hair dark as charcoal that had grown out passed his shoulders, long and wild. Many knew him as a soldier, thought to be one possessing an unabated will to survive, indeed, burning strong as a distant sun. Good breeding was obvious—tall and strong, barely the age of twenty shifts, and graced with what many in Meidian called a skysurfer's face, Sol was youthful and yet ruggedly marked by a few hard lines and scars from the many battles already fought and survived.

Today, for this mission, he had donned full retrieval gear including a S.O.P. helmet and glarelenses to spot any sort of movement within the massive burnt out hull of wreckage.

Earlier, Sol had been in the lower chamber just above the docks Sylibus looking out on the shadowy Palaeden Sea. This day had been planned to become one of the most memorable occasions in history—all political winds blowing warm and smelling sweet, the suns and moons in perfect alignment, the terrain well-preserved and velvety as though just recently soaked with a spring rain. In a quiet moment, he had observed the mighty sky cruiser named Centaur coming into port. But then something had been odd. The ship appeared to drift away but did not turn, swung side to side and then lifted violently before it rolled, tumbled and plunged into the ground, followed by a massive explosion on impact.

Duty called.

“Commander Zivic! Cron Zivic ...Sir!”

A small outworlder named Lylin in a colorful cloak and long black hair came bolting toward him and stopped with a screech on his heels.

“What was that? Did you hear it?”

Sol had kept going, didn't bother making eye contact.

Ship's down,” he said in a low voice. “You get back to the hold until I let you know something—”

“But no! I need to see what's happened!” the little fellow yelled. “You can't keep me here!”

Two guards, one male, and one female posted on the watch nodded and greeted Sol as he passed them with the standard greeting “Arde, Sir,” an expression derived from Our Day in the old Silic doctrine.

“Escort him back for me.” Sol gave the order and watched as they quickly took hold of the little visitor and tugged him off screaming to be released.

That was no worse than being a broken down cron on his way to the termination kiln, at least in Sol's mind. Better off than a pariah in the mud like a slug skimming for algae. But these were people and Sol was an Azoron rebuilt and thrust into service for an alliance that had succeeded well up to this point.

Presently, smoke swirled in the wind. He had not intended to be on the ground but knew his presence here would be critical. He thought of his personal responsibility—a pledge ensuring the safety of those passengers who had traveled from their native land in Meta Seson on a luxury ship to the Azoron territories of Surich. As the sky’s natural light reflected beams of blues, greens, and reds, he shut down one of his handheld scopes and flipped back on the lenses, started walking again until coming up on another part of what had been a life.

Fighting a depleted rush of energy, Sol shoved aside another corpse, stabbed the identifier into the back and charged up the voltage, shot full power into the spine. Nothing to do then but frown at the hovering soot and then look down at his grit covered boots. Some sort of cloth had wrapped around his foot and he squatted to brush it away. As he reached for it, the sludge came alive and gripped him around the waist. Just about stunned the metals out of him. Next, the weakened cron could not free himself from whatever jumped out, latched its slimy lips onto his, and sucked the wind right out of his lungs, causing a loss of balance and coordination as well as a slight loss of precious air. Not even could he grab for a weapon or form enough of a fist to swing. Now flat on his back and eyes wide open, he saw the muddy face above his and felt the weight of another body as it went limp. Angry over being caught by surprise, he pushed up and flipped the thing off, rolled over and pinned it to the ground.

And there it was... a slight figure in the darkness that had gone still.

Plain enough then to see the shape and features of a woman.

Suddenly the eyes opened, and she spat chunks of sludge into his face. It was a blinding attack, motivating the fighting senses, engaging the active first-strike response that had been programmed into him from the day of transition. But this creature proved tough against a metal-bred man-machine, slipping out of his hold and twisting her body to avoid the trap and then shoving a knee to his head. He yelled out as his sight went black for a second, felt a trickle running down from the left brow. The mud-covered thing came for him again, the fingers bent like claws, and then she got up onto her knees just as he reached for his rysegun, and he shot a low-level blast dead center into her chest. Finally, she stiffened and fell back soundlessly into the sludge.

Chapter 2—Eli and the Cron


Solomin Apollo Zivic

Nickname: “The Captain”

Born: 4.890.319

birthplace: Alog, Surich

race: Azoron

Parents: Beren Luec Zivic (father), Pamella Helv Zivic(mother)

Siblings: Jhany Reann (sister), Drue Jeriah (brother)

Occupation: Aviat Specialist/Structural Engineer/Exploration, Mobile Division, AeC-X

(internal records) Capital grade cron; grate & wired. Hydrocylic fluid induced .3

Second Class AeC-X

Highest Rank: Aviat 2

Cron-AeC-X trainer, Aviat, Line Specialist, Marksman, Regions Communications systems, Ship builder

Interests: Chronology, treasure hunting, game-hunting, sky racing, Homeworld sports

The system known as Meidian, home to billions of inhabitants from worlds both within the realm and outside of it, was not all that bad for a meagerly soul who had been discovered and brought in from a world that many claimed to be one of the greatest performances of life in the universe.

performances…? Thought Eli Smith when he had first heard it mentioned.

This, the mod sapien’s new home, did not seem to be staged. He had been sitting inside a small research module for most of the morning gathering as much information as he could about this new, strange world surrounding him.

Meidian: Seven habitations. Surich, Meta Seson, Cerasis, Daywest, Teris, Kauldron, and Prates. At the present, his location was Surich—Sylibus 9 specifically, an institution of higher learning and military training center for a service branch called AeC-X, (most pronounced it simply as “ACX”) also known as AAVM-X, which stood for Airwave and Aeration VM Control, the central provider of all network systems and flow shields operated by a multi-stellar operation. This branch had been jointly configured long ago by the leaders of three groups—Azorons, Centurians, and Mythicons.

This was a real world, albeit covered with silvery-green grass, trees filled with lavender coated leaves, clumpy gray soil, and neighboring planets that appeared almost close enough to reach out and touch. These people had laughed at him when he said grass was supposed to be green as well as the leaves on trees. But one did listen and believe. That one was the AeC-X soldier Solomin Apollo Zivic, a cron—or so-called man-machine.

Smith thought of how awkward and small he had felt when first meeting the big, metal-built Azoron. But then, the metal was not at all apparent. In Smith’s eyes, the cron was indeed a man of flesh, blood, and bone. Spotting traces of red blood over the left eye where the cron had received a good hard blow during his scuffle in the rescue assured Smith that he was dealing with people of another world, not alien creatures.

So far, Smith had found several instances of Zivic ancestry and saved them for later reading. For the moment, what impressed him was an item about Mythicons:

Hydris in the veins of Mythicons lends itself to abilities of amazing healing powers. Concentrated by double, a carrier can perform elaborate magic such as altering objects with the mind. Blood stronger than eight units hydris increases clarity of vision and hearing and can enable its carrier to dispense deadly charges through the flesh. In its rare purest saturation of 97.945 units, a carrier can draw power from the most complex external elements. In recent times, Mythicon hydris has been developed into a synthetic compound through a process called genome synthesis and used extensively in the Nimithian design of cron soldiers with assistance by an Azoron cron development specialist, Alec Sival. Progressive studies were completed recently on a limited number of subjects. Unfortunately, a reoccurring side effect in these subjects has been known to cause extensive pain, unpredictable behavior, and abnormal visual rousing caused by over-stimulation of the neurological receptors. — Nebulus, famed Cerasian Scientist

the shielding’s blood… thought Smith. …healing powers…

“You've done what I asked, right?” The cron Solomin Zivic came blazing in with the wild hair, rock boots and all.

Smith rose and stiffened as though he had been called to attention. “Everything? Well, no. I thought to wait for the final permissions.”

Cron Zivic still looked like he had been roughed up a bit. The small gash was more visible over his left brow as well as scratches just above the temple. “I gave the final permissions. Full exam, as ordered,” he fussed.

“I've examined her. A Mythicon female, she is. Is that good enough?”

A stern frown creased between the cron's eyes. “You're the medical man, Smith. If I'd wanted a smart ass today I'd have sent for one.”

Smith seemed rattled and withered before the cron started up again.

“Now finish up and don't take your time. I'm due for a meeting and don't like being late.”

The cron walked off and tension relaxed just a bit, just not enough to ease Smith’s nerves.

Chapter 3—Lineages

On the corridor, Pix, a female observer computant floated along at a speed slightly faster than Sol's pace, soon passing him and rising through a circular vent overhead. Guides on the underside folded and retracted into the base, and then she hovered and vanished into the tube. Sol continued moving along his path of the lower level lined with images of war and weapons of the past. Now he focused on position and timing more than the scattering of conversations in his wake. When he arrived at the doors at the offices of the assembly, two guards posted on the watch came to attention and stepped aside. At the entrance stood a female agent with the fierce cron-Azoron shine in her eyes. She saluted Sol with a fist closed over the chest and then allowed him to enter.

Now lights within the cage flickered down to subtle bluish tint, and Sol soon found himself eye-to-eye with a man standing tall with well-conditioned dark-forest skin, a staff uniform in dark green, his face a mask of hard and worn wisdom, and the eyes bright amber-orange as the flames kindling within.

“We have quite the disaster on our hands,” he said. “The worst thing that could have happened here... right now.”

The man, Beren Luec Zivic, Sol's father, was not quite as tall but not really all that short either. His head was bald, skin very deep Silic—umber and oiled. He had survived numerous surgeries and restorations after soldering more than thirty landshifts for the Talegan guard and now served as a mediator of world missions for AeC-X.

Quietly, Sol reflected on all that he had been through on this day so far.

“One survivor.” He said aloud.

“What?

“The crash, sir. We rescued one.”

The elder paced while tightening and releasing his fists. “I know that and I know that makes this even more complicated. Just one. Should have been many more.”

“The wreckage was spread all over the place. Barely anything left.”

“The highmaster Taun and his daughter Hanni are dead! You put a stun on that survivor with a ryse! She was already injured… You inflicted more damage! Could’ve killed her!”

The elder's temper had flared just as the room cooled, bringing some relief to the core of a cron's ailing health.

“She was strong. She sure didn’t seem injured to me. Anyhow, we also lost a dozen recruits.”

Beren looked steadily at him and then sighed. “We have some already here at least. And it appears that your survivor has pulled through. I've spoken with one of the Mythicon leaders.... A Kanta. It's miraculous that he still wants to go forward with the agreement.”

“The arbiters will remain here?”

“Not entirely. They're interested in Tansor... the old valley. They want to settle there.”

“For what?”

Beren clasped his hands behind his back and looked upward. “For peace, they say. All in the name of peace.”

“Or to destroy it.”

“And now you're letting that metal skull get the best of you,” Beren shook a finger and the routing pins at his temples throbbed and the lips turned in, the jaw tightened. “There is a lot at stake. We have no AeC-X without the absolute confidence in our allies. These people build our transport systems, for god's sake...”

“And we provide them breathemix, pure and clean.”

“What did I ever do to cause you to become so belligerent?”

In silence, Sol smoldered.

“I don’t think you fully understand how lucky you are to be standing here in front of me,” Beren continued. “Perhaps you don’t want to understand… you would much rather be set to flames before dying a cold lonely death. You despise loneliness the same as I do.”

...Uncharacteristically revealing of the general.... ...True nevertheless....

“You owe them more than they owe you.” said Beren.

“Sir... What?”

“Reports have been received from Garineth. Your fieldsmen did quite a lot of damage that must be repaired. And then is the matter of the recklessness... One of your men got himself drunk and took up with a Mythicon coen. She reported it to the lifemasters. Apparently, this happened more than once... Frequently, as I understand it. ...You allowed some down time to get out of hand. The people trusted in you. You've let them down.”

The surname Zivic alluded to the old Silic phrase, “Civil one of strength.” Contrarily, the elder had come from a long line of beast slayers on land, treasure hunters undersea, and mercenaries in wild open space, but he had changed the course of his own heritage as an arbiter and representative under the command of current preside Geral Nytan. Sol took this into consideration as he watched the elder take a sip of a drink on the desk beside him and then hand it off to robowaiter.

“I've done everything I possibly could to ensure that it never happens again,” he said. “We went in, cleaned up, reconnected as many link stations as we could... Got out without any further incidents.”

Beren breathed deeply, taking in as much air as possible and then releasing a strong exhale. “And so that's it? End of the line? And you have no other desires... ...No dreams to fulfill?”

“I don't dream.”

The elder bowed his head and pinched at the bridge of his nose, seemed to curse in the stretch of silence. “Do you hear that subtle noise? Incoming and outgoing communications. ...Erratic. Lots of noise on the lines. Must be a good evening for conversation.”

Sol shrugged. “People have a lot to talk about.”

“About what, do you think? Peace? War?”

“No. Their families. Who won the tourney last week... Planning trips to some star island on the far side of Meidian.”

“...things we never have time for.”

“We make the best of the time we have. That’s what you’ve always said.”

Beren gazed at his son for just a moment. “Yes… We do. And so you’ve made your decision and planned carefully for the remainder of your service.”

“To be honest, I haven't really thought much on it. Most of my unit is already gone. I'm one of them. I think of myself as lucky to be going back to Locatur, work on old abandoned ships 'til shutdown and then whatever gets left behind goes off to a small garden somewhere in Talega where they bury the bots.”

Beren's eyes glimmered, the forest flesh darkened, blood surged through the temples. “You're not a bot... ..not a full cron. Your unit.. They were not the same as you. What you've elected to do for them is honorable, I admit, but I think you don't fully understand... We have many more transports and communications links to be built. There's more stability in it.”

“Not really interested.”

How about right here in Surich? The installations won't be anywhere near you. You'll claim land, choose who you want working for you, decide whether to go it alone or canne vreni...”

“No,” Sol shook his head and then tapped his chest with a fist. “All metal right here, remember? No need for a steady companion.”

A moment of silence passed.

“I'm sorry for what was done to you,” said Beren. “Your mother...” He stopped to cough. “Lehdes Pamella Helv will want to see you before your return to Locatur. It is her right... Her wish.”

“She's here?”

“In Alog. She's got Jhany and Drue with her on what she calls another one of her history lessons. It's good for them, I guess. Sometimes I wish though...”

He stopped suddenly, appearing frustrated.

“You wish what?” asked Sol.

“Oh, that she'd be more careful, at least consult me before taking on a decision like this. It's a dangerous place. Lots of unrest... ...Especially now. So many Mythicon lives lost. The rebellion has always wanted revenge. This gives them another reason for it. Nimithians are across the divide building their weapons. Every day more reports of it are coming in.”

I don't see what good it'll do for me going into Alog. The minute I show up all hell breaks loose—”

“I didn't ask that of you. I'd prefer that you met with her here. You can talk her into it.”

“She won't. Says it reminds her of death.”

“Mm hmm,” went Beren. “No different than where she is now. But I'll make no matter of it. You just finish up with the dregg training and file your final logs with Maran Conn.... And don't forget to include a brief explanation of the incident in Garineth... Those shieldings…”

“No one knew anything about them. I've been told they were strays... Just another few in the pack.”

Beren gazed hard. “You'd better have more of a solid explanation than that in your log. That sort of excuse would never be permitted.”

“Okay, I got it,” Sol nodded. “I'll make sure to clean things up.”

“Very well. This is all the time we have. For the remainder of your service you'll adhere to the manners of compliance and stick to them.”

“Yes, sir. I will.”

The time allotment lapsed, and the lights rose again to their original brightness, erasing Beren Zivic's image in stately surroundings, returning Sol to the small hallowed out module and a short list of directives.

Chapter 4—Mother and Son

Azorons have always disputed the term 'genetic donor'. They despise it. I have not once been a witness to any such instance of an Azoron man claiming absolute paternity to any sons or daughters, and yet they become enraged by references to the well-known common practice of selective reproduction. As a matter of fact, I know of no such thing as Azoron bloodrite, as they breed by artificial and natural conception for purposes of genetic sorting and occupational assignments. Yes, Beren Zivic is the man who calls himself the father of Sol and the two other children, but as far as I know, the mother has been the greatest influence on his life. That woman, the one Sol knows as his mother—the one who guided him throughout the process of learning about Meta Seson and Mythicons, did give birth to him, yet is only recognized as a proxy called a feodela, or the woman best equipped to act as a legal guardian to him.

Ways of Living—Fen akoa Vox, The Mythicon Dragon

The good cron-soldier Sol Zivic traveled to the Entrast in Tikeild to see his mother, brother, and sister. They were all guests of the Azoron preside Geral Nytan and had been given well-protected shield modules along with access to all gates and escapes if necessary.

Sol stepped off the lift into a static shield that engaged across the gap between two opposite poles. A scanner identified him by rank and transmitted the information through to the online computants on the corridor. He went left and halted at the second entrance, opened a voice autolink to the guest module. The auto announced his arrival.

“Lehdes Pamella, Cron X-One requesting entrance.”

A response came quickly. “Hello, X-One. Please come in.”

He entered the visitor’s module and soon arrived at the destination where Lehdes Pamella, his mother, came to greet him with open arms.

“So glad to see you here, son,” she said and embraced him as any mother would react to her offspring returning from a long span of absence throughout the days peace and war.

Until now, he had not thought at all about their last communication. It would have been a good while since his being deployed to the rocks and ditches of Saecoh in Meta Seson on a mission to keep rebels from flitching the lands.

As she pulled away to get a good look at him, he took notice of the brightness in her eyes and her glowing skin despite the many past and present events of her life that should have aged her significantly. She wore a deep gray slacksuit with a sheer white scarf flowing over her shoulders. Small diamonds and pearls woven into the fabric shimmered down her back as she led him to join her guests and proceeded with the formal introductions, beginning with an elder Azoron female standing to her right and going on around the small circle of friends. One of those friends was a woman named Myla and her daughter, Liav.

He felt an odd pattering of the heart.

For the second time, Sol found himself in an uncomfortable predicament. First, the Mythicon lifemaster Omog Ammand had relayed an urgent message asking for an immediate response to a transport request. Now this—the girl, Liav, doe-eyed and recently shaven hair, standing within a short distance, looking into his eyes and smiling, and he, feeling suddenly warm within while unable to speak in terms of intimate familiarity here—unless wishing to give themselves away to these guests, including their own mothers.

He could not break away now. The women were asking questions. “How long have you been out of Garineth?” “…What are your plans now?” “They're allowing hair that long at AeC-X...?” No problem fielding these. “Three shifts.” “Going back home to Locatur.” “Yes—”

“Please, excuse us,” Pamella intervened abruptly, latching onto his arm and gently leading him away from the group. “I must speak with you,” she spoke quietly. “And then I'll have you escort the daughter of Myla down to the vi-room to receive a transmission from AeC-X...”

She led him into a smaller interior module and sealed them in with a touch of her wrist to the shield panel. Their arrival took an unexpected turn just as Sol was about to go at ease.

“You dare to do a thing so downright horrible, Solomin. I've been defending you. Everything you are is what I am, and right now I am very ashamed of you... Ashamed of myself.”

He straightened himself up and focused every bit of attention directly into his mother's scorching glare. “Why? What have I done?” he asked.

“You unclothed that Mythicon girl and let an outworlder perform an examination without consent of the elders....”

“There wasn't time,”

“Time? For what? You removed her from the site of the crash and sequestered her in one of the lower vaults. And so I've also been told, you left her without securing the chamber. There could be much more trouble for you if anything else happens to her there.”

Now, Sol would be damned. He felt the grit in his gut going soft.

Lehdes Pamella continued. “When we decided on your entering Sylibus and watched as you excelled as a student and grew up to become one of the most respected guards of the alliance, I always knew you would make me proud. I believed in you, Solomin. Just recently, I shared a visual excerpt of your time spent in Garineth helping the children who had been taken from their families after the sieges. What happened there was awful. I was certain that you had nothing to do with horrific assaults on those people. By now I question my own instincts. You have forced this upon me.”

“I didn't leave her. I rescued the girl.”

“Rescuing someone does not grant you permission to disregard their dignity, Solomin.”

Frowning, she turned away, crossing her arms and looking off somewhere into the bare walls.

“I've spoken with your father. He tells me that you are planning on returning to Locatur soon. Please understand, I would want you go on with your wishes but your actions have created some complications. There has been a longstanding debt between your father and the Perniden lifemaster Omog Ammand...”

Sol retrieved what he knew of this from his memory. “I know what happened. He helped you escape Alog. That’s why you both feel that you owe something to him.”

“It is much more complex. Not in how we feel but in what had been already been done before the lifemaster helped us. I want you to promise never to speak to anyone of what I am about to tell you…

“At the start of the Great War, your father was a senior arbiter of League Ten. It was his decision during that tenure to capture as many members of the Mythicon order as possible after suspicions of coalition with rebel forces out of Ganril. The lifemaster was captured and imprisoned by the old guard. His first child was born during that imprisonment. Your father was eventually dismissed from the league… It was my fault. I challenged the league to grant females entrance into their membership. They denied the request. Blamed your father.”

“I don't understand,”

“My reason was to persuade the release of the lifemaster for the sake of seeing the birth of his first child… something they deem as a blessing from their Jata and cursed if the father is absent without due cause. The lifemaster was later found innocent of secret transmissions with the rebellion and released along with all of those captured with him.”

“The lifemaster... He’s already contacted me,”

“Yes, I’m aware of that. His request is to meet with him at the mountain at Teineme. His son is here. He wants you to arrange a transport for him to the mountain. I'm certain he will interrogate you on what took place after rescuing his daughter. Then I suspect he will put forth a request for you to return her there once the boy is safe.”

I couldn't imagine doing that—”

“That is correct. You’ll make plans to go on to Locatur as soon as you can without any further correspondence with him. Your father and I will take care of the rest. I also want to apologize…” She turned back around to see him and started back across the room to the where they had entered. “Had I understood at the time what all this would become… Come now. We'll return to our guests, and there's two others anxious to see you.”

He smiled, knowing to expect that he would soon be reunited with his younger brother and sister. They were together in the vi-room when he arrived, Jhany sprawled out on a chaise admiring whatever she was watching on a floatscreen. Drue sat at a workstation across the room appearing to be deeply involved in some sort of interstellar gaming with arms stretched out full, head lunged forward position, earset on.

“I don't believe they even notice we're here,” said his guest, Liav, who he had escorted along with him for this visit.

At that moment, both brother and sister, immediately aware of world around them, got up and came alive for an enthusiast greeting and celebration of their eldest brother’s arrival.

“Sol!” Drue was first. “I thought you weren’t coming! Mom said you were going back to Locatur!”

The girl Jhany quickly nudged him out of the way to get center position and began flicking her fingers with expressive movements, telling Sol in her signals that she had been waiting for him to show up and wanting him to stay around longer than their last brief visit together. She had been deaf since the age of three after coming in direct contact with a malfunctioning current protector in an aerations system.

“I’ll be here for another day at least,” he signaled back. “Might make it to the ceremony tomorrow. You’ll be there, right?”

She smiled wide and nodded with a big dash of zeal.

“But right now I need to take Liav down the corridor to the transmit. Promise, I’ll be right back.”

Jhany looked at the girl and acknowledge with a polite gesture although the disappointment showed her face, and Drue, understanding the signals, rolled his shoulders and slouched a bit.

“Then you’ll play some Rotters with me?”

Sol didn’t dare turn down the opportunity to get in a few good hits at ground scum and building tunnels which was currently one of the most popular games in the multiverse. Yet, he had to turn his attention back to Liav, make certain to be a gentleman as he made the move leading her out, and hopefully not sour things between them any more than it had already been.

They soon entered the vi-room together.

Liav immediately found her way to a transmission monitor where she logged on and waited for her message as Sol stood by quietly.

“Why does this feel so awkward?” she asked suddenly.

“What?”

“We’re not speaking,” she said. “That’s what. I’ve been wanting to get the chance to see you again, Sol.”

She had turned around to see him then, the eyes sparkling and bright. He tried not to appear timid but for some reason could not manage seeing her now and recalling the warmth of her skin, the beauty of her soul. In contrast, his soul was a cold, metal block without the flexibility, neither the ability to expand beyond the case of directives and duty processes for which had been reassembled. When she spoke of love, he could see in her eyes the true substance of a living, thriving emotion although she was about the same amount of cron as was he. Still, his time spent with her had been honest and real… …as real in the past as it felt now.

“Less than a quarter strand…” he said quietly. “Longer than it should be.”

“We’ve both been busy. I’ve heard you found the only survivor on the Centaur crash. If anyone could have, I knew it would be you. I also heard it was one of the Mythicon nobles from Korchest.”

He had leaned back, partially sitting on the edge of a desk thinking more about the calming sound of her voice than what she was saying. “I know what we could do,” he said. “Once you finish up here, we can head out to one of the old docks... Get as far away from everything we can...”

“I can't,” she said. “And I think your brother and sister would like to spend time with you. Maybe after I return from Kalans...”

“What are you going back there for?”

“You do remember I have a family, too. I'm going back with my mother to help her sort out some things. It's just something I need to do.”

Sol felt uneasiness again. He couldn't help but wonder what this was leading up to.

“So, we're going to be even further apart.” He said.

“I would have to get used to it either way. You'll be returning to Locatur... and then Talega.”

“I won't be there for good while,”

“Two shifts? Maybe three? You are going through with termination. You're leaving me.”

He moved a bit, crossed his arms and stared down at the floor. “This was decided long before you... us. It doesn't mean we—”

“Can't have a few last few days together?”

“That's how it'll be no matter what.”

“No. No it isn't, Solomin. You're choosing to do this because you are dedicated to the institution that built you. Nothing else. It's all about the service of a machine and to be a good one, you have to die like a machine, not a man. I don't want to die like a machine because I realize that I am not one. I have as much living, breathing life inside of me as I do metal. So do you. I can bring life into this world. So can you.”

Sol had not expected the warmth to overcome him the way it did. This was not the flex-node circuitry sparking a little too much nor a surge passing through his chest. It was a reaction to the sight of water welling up in Liav's eyes.

Service of a machine. Duty and directives. ...these have been much easier to control...

A light flashed on the on the board and she turned back to it without any response to his suggestion. He watched in silence as she pulled up the message from the terminal and read it to herself. A moment later, she turned back around to see him.

“I'm being sent to Kauldron in the morning....”

You don’t have to—”

“Yes,” Liav said quickly and pushed out of the chair. “I’m going. We both have a duty, don’t we?”

Sol hated times like this, when he stood there not knowing what to say or how to react. Nothing was going well for him lately. He couldn’t figure out what to do… how to please the closest people in his life. Now anything soft on the inside was steadily turning to solid cold steel.

“I can take you to meet up with your unit at Teineme. I’ve got a flight test… One stop beforehand won’t get in the way of that.”

She just gazed at him for a moment then looked down at floor, shook her head.

“Hey, come on, Sol!” Drue appeared in the doorway clutching a rolled up SLipscreen in one hand. “Rotters! Rotters!” He drove the other fist into the air.

Sol looked back to Liav.

She said nothing, just sighed heavily and then brushed past him on her way to leave without saying goodbye.

I didn’t mean it…” Drue, wide-eyed and sorrowful, shrugged. “You were taking a long time and—”

With the warmest smile that he could muster up, Sol went to put a hand on his brother’s shoulder before leading the way out to the other room, “Come on…” he said. “No more than two levels of this stuff though. I’ve got to get back to Sylibus.”

Drue gave a nod and moved ahead swiftly to the next room where he attached his gamescreen on the wall and set it up for gameplay then tossed a handheld screen device called a shifter over to Sol. He then slid into a chair to prepare for a good round of serious gaming.

As Sol found a seat in a space nearest to the hanging console, he caught a quick glimpse of their sister Jhany across the room at a desk doing some homework. He gave her a little wink when she smiled at him.

The game began.

“…Come on, Sol… catch up… catch up. We’re goin’ in…” Drue pressed Sol to claim his weapons.

“I’m giving you fifteen of my shells,” said the younger Zivic suddenly. “You know mom says share. We’re supposed to share, right?”

“Yeah… right?”

“Because you gotta protect me on the outside.”

“I know that.”

Drue’s metalclad fighter crossed the first checkpoint after clearing some rot-covered enemies and clearing a path to an interior zone marked Red Dungeon.

In the meantime, Sol put his fighter on the perimeter, buried a few mines.

“Does she have any sisters?” asked Drue after the last one went down.

“What?”

“Liav,” he said. “Does she have any?”

Drue’s fighter scaled a rock wall. Sol followed along with his.

“No,” Sol answered.

“Brothers?

“Nope…”

Not even time for a solid breath before the flesheaten scabbed over skinbots appeared from out of the shadows. Sol fired off the first shots as Drue climbed some bins and ladders to get to the top of the building.

Something hit Sol’s fighter with sludge. He lost some health but gained access to repair bank when he snapped a hanging branch and found a golden beetle inside. Finally, Drue carried on with the conversation.

“Mom says people are better off with companions they share things in common with.”

“Yeah, she says that,” said Sol. “Don’t think that’s what she’s talking about though.”

“But maybe she’s not the right girl…”

“Drue. You’re fifteen. Mind your own business,”

But you’re supposed to leave the field open... Dad said that—”

“Mom says… Dad says… Look, you’ve got a guard over there shooting at you. Pay attention…”

The kid fired off a few shots from his long gun, killing the guard, earning more arsenal. He leapt off the side of the building, landing on a pile of old mattresses and rushed to the nearby hovercraft that Sol’s fighter had already engaged in a liftoff sequence.

“Gosh! Now they’re coming from all over the place!” Drue shouted and started a roll-shift combination attack on his screen. “Come on, cron man! Use your skills!” He said to Sol. “Take ‘em out with some of that magic you learned in Meta Seson!”

Sol cut eyes and shook his head, launched forward explosives and set off the mines below as Drue’s fighter hopped into the next hovercraft and pulled ahead to reach the next zone and escape to the next level…

Strangely enough, the effort seemed to become physically draining. The cron man already began feeling a bit of exhaustion while thinking of how much more use he would get out of the core metals before heading off into the death spire on the horizon. His young brother—just five shifts between them—was a full blood and bone sapien and hopefully would never be slated for transition. He sure did enjoy moving around the fighter in a full metal skinsuit though. He could even feel the heat and smell the burning flex nodes through the adaptive skin sensors patched behind his ears.

On the next patch of territory, they clobbered an alien sky fleet with a steady stream of laser fire. Blasted them to bits. Some alien excrement hit the windshields and rolled off.

Just like the real thing…

“Hey, we gotta reloader up ahead!” Drue said loud and clear.

Sol spotted the reloader and then not far off to side he noticed two small jets parked at the edge of an old abandoned airport.

“What we need is to ditch these and go after those turbos. They won’t be expecting that.”

They soon got down to the surface, left the hovers behind, moved their fighters fast to the jets and started them up.

“You ever flown one of these in this game before?” asked Drue.

“In real life,” said Sol with a smirk as he set flaps and speed and then pushed the throttle.

Drue made some sort of noise with his tongue, “Yeah, right.”

He was too busy with confidence for his own good.

“You’re at V1, kid. Take it up… Rotate…”

Hey, cron man,” Drue chided again. “I got it, okay—”

“Drue Jeriah!”

Their mother’s voice broke the concentration, halted the mission.

“Stop with that,” Pamella snapped as she entered the smaller area of the room. “Call him by his name. And you Solomin… …Solomin…?”

He felt strange suddenly. Sat up. Leaned forward. Gazed downward, focusing on a small speck of something in the woven rug underfoot.

“Solomin!” Pamella shook him.

As quickly as the rush of fog seeped in, it subsided.

When he looked up again, Drue was standing beside their mother, his eyes large with worry, and Jhany knelt at the side of the chair, grasping Sol’s hand.

“I can’t let you leave here like this, son,” said Pamella. “You’ll talk to Alec. Tell him to consider someone else to finish training those recruits…”

“No,” Sol stood, tried releasing Jhany’s hand but she wouldn’t let go. “I’m fine. I’ll check in with one of the medics when I get back…”

Pamella glared.

“I promise,” he said.

Strange, it was.

When leaving the Entrast, he caught the sweet scent of rasbrush in the air and the flavor on his tongue a hypnotizing fragrance

He recalled his mother advising him to return to home to Locatur.


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