What follows is a work of complete fiction.

This series will include detailed descriptions of sexual encounters between a human male and other males from various alien races in a science fiction setting.

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About the story:

This series tells the story of an ordinary man who's life is near its natural end, but who suddenly finds himself, at the moment of the unexpected destruction of his world, the victim of an alien abduction with a bizarre motive, that ultimately opens the entire universe to him and propels him into a life of adventure that he'd never imagined was even possible.  He eventually finds himself thrust front and center into events that could, both figuratively and quite literally, change the shape of the entire known universe.

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Favors of the First Ones - Chapter 18

Jake rushed into the briefing room where Captain Sintas, Rhokki, Voph, and three other zeths and their rhuxus companions were all waiting for him.

It had been a month and a half since they'd begun their trip from the miquanowan sacred planet and the Shadow's Claw was fast approaching Ausku's home world and preparing to launch the satellite warhead that would cut off the favors on the planet to protect it from the imminent attack by the First Ones.

Things were not looking good.  The unrest on the planet had escalated and the captain had learned that word had begun to spread of the truth of the First Ones and it was too late to try to contain it.  Jake wasn't sure why he'd been asked to come to the meeting in such a hurry, but he suspected he was about to receive even more bad news.

"Thank you for joining us, Jake," Sintas said, "We are here to make a quick decision regarding the launch of the satellite warhead and the activation of the zeth device on the ark ship of Ausku's people, in order to cut off the favors.  We've just received a disturbing piece of news that may require us to act even more quickly than we would like.  A small mercenary force has infiltrated our secret satellite manufacturing facility on the planet.  We have no doubt they were part of an investigation being carried out by the First Ones following the resurrection of the other Chetichwal which would have occurred just days ago.  He no doubt informed them of his sighting of zeths on the planet and it triggered them to initiate a more intensive investigation of the world for any activity mirroring what they had discovered on the rhuxus world.

"The infiltrators were caught in the act by our security system and it triggered the activation of one of our zeth devices to cut off their favors so that their QECH gear would be destroyed and they would not be able to transmit word of their findings back to the First Ones.  A firefight ensued but they managed to escape.  It is just a matter of time before they reach usable communication equipment and send word to the First Ones that zeth technology is being manufactured on the planet.  The signal commanding the favors to dissolve the world may be sent within hours.

"We are not quite in range to launch the warhead.  We will be in range in less than an hour but we will still be far enough out that if we launch it, there will be plenty of time for someone to see it coming and react to it by warning the First Ones.  By launching the warhead we may be initiating the destruction of the world, but by not launching it and waiting until we are close enough to do it with a lower chance of detection we may also be guaranteeing that we will not make it in time.  It is our feeling that our best course of action is to launch now.  I value your opinion on all things and I would like to hear your thoughts, Jake."

"Well, I think I would agree with your assessment.  If the First Ones have found out about the zeth manufacturing facility, the world is doomed.  The First Ones won't tolerate another race hooking up with the zeths.  The mercenary force may only need to get back to whatever vehicles brought them there to use radio equipment to send a message that can be relayed by QECH to the First Ones.  We may already be too late as it is.  We can't wait until we're right next to the planet to launch.  The warhead will get there a lot quicker on its own if we launch it ahead of us.  I would suggest you launch as soon as we're in range, wait a short time longer, and then signal the ark ship to cut off the favors when the warhead is about half way.  It will take some time for anyone to spot it and for that information to get to the First Ones.  We don't want to have the ark ship cut off the favors too soon as that will be an immediate signal to the First Ones that something's up so we need to stretch that time out as long as we can.  It's important that we don't wait too long though.  If the ark ship doesn't survive, their race is gone forever.  We can't risk losing it."

Sintas nodded, "Agreed.  We have no other choice.  May I see a show of hands from all who are in favor of this approach?"

All present at the table raised a hand.

"Very well, we'll launch as soon as we're in range.  Jake, I would like you to join me on the bridge.  The rest of you are dismissed.  Thank you."

The others dispersed and Jake followed Sintas out into the hallway as she headed towards the bridge.

"Rhokki tells me you've undertaken the fighter training program," she said.

"Yes.  Since our plans to integrate Mogwo were put on hold, I found myself with time on my hands and I decided to fill it that way.  Chet and I have been challenging each other and we've been having a blast doing it.  Mak has been putting us through our paces thoroughly and he seems to think we have an aptitude for it."

"I'm glad to hear it, though I may have a different need for you than having you fly a fighter.  Given the effort you put into most things you attempt, I suspect you will achieve your certification by the time we return to the miquanowan world in a couple of months.  It will take you some time to bring Mogwo fully up to speed once we get back there, but once he is, you will once again find yourself with time to fill.  I would like to discuss your future on this ship."

"That sounds ominous somehow," Jake said.

Sintas chuckled and said, "It may be, I suppose, depending on your aspirations.  Ever since I met you I've been nothing but impressed with you.  You have shown time and again your ability to see all angles of every situation.  It is a rare and exceedingly valuable talent.  When presented with problems you often quickly find solutions that no one else could see, and they are more often than not the best ones by a wide margin.  You've shown your natural ability to lead others and your willingness to step up and put yourself on the line.  You have a strength of character that cannot be denied and you have no problem seeing what is just and what is not.  You've demonstrated a knack for getting along with anyone and everyone and you often put the needs or desires of everyone else above your own.  You give your time to anyone who asks for it and offer it to those who haven't asked whenever you see that you can help them in some way.  You are well liked and respected by everyone on this ship though you've been aboard for only two and a half months.  In short, you have shown yourself to be quite possibly the single most valuable member of my crew."

"I'm flattered that you think of me that way, Captain Sintas, truly.  I'm a bit nervous about what this might be leading too though," Jake said.

"You have a right to be.  I have been given the news this morning that I will be losing my second in command to maternity in six months.  I knew it was only a matter of time before I lost her when she married that dashing husband of hers.  Before she discharges herself, I would like you to seriously consider taking the position of executive officer of the Shadow's Claw.  I would like you to be my second in command."

Jake was absolutely floored.  He hadn't seen this coming.  He wasn't sure if he was ready to take on that sort of responsibility.  Being second in command would essentially mean locking himself into a career that he could not easily escape.  It would limit his ability to explore life.  Now that he wasn't immortal that might not be such a bad thing.  He could do a lot worse than living aboard the most advanced ship in the collective along with his two great loves.  Chet would eventually be a full member of the flight crew too and Jake had grown very attached to the bear and thought of him as a dear friend.  Everyone who mattered would be here with him, except Srythryn.  The other Jake would be with Srythryn though.  As much as he wanted to have his sweet croc back with him, there wasn't really a future for this Jake there.

This may in fact be the best thing for him, yet he needed a bit of time to think it over.

"I don't want to appear ungrateful, Captain, but could I have some time to think about this?  I'm not one to shy away from responsibility, and once I commit to something I'm in it until the end.  I'd like to discuss it with Rhokki and Mak as it would affect all of us."

Sintas smiled and said, "I would be surprised to hear any other answer from you.  I suspect that even if it was the best possible thing for you, but either Rhokki or Mak would be adversely affected even in the slightest, you would turn me down.  You always put others' needs above yours.  That is precisely why you should be in the highest position of authority over others.  You may have the full six months to think about it if you wish.  I would appreciate your answer sooner if possible.  If you agree then I would like you to work closely with the XO to learn her job directly from her."

"Thank you.  I'm honored that you think I'm the best person for the job.  I'll talk to the guys and give it some thought.  I'll get back to you as soon as I've made up my mind."

Sintas smiled and nodded.

"Could I ask you a personal question?" Jake asked.

"You're my brother, Jake.  You can ask me anything in private."

"What happens when you find a mate and start a family of your own?  You're beautiful, Sintas.  I'm surprised you haven't done it already."

Sintas chuckled and said, "I'm flattered that you find me beautiful.  I already have a mate, and she finds me beautiful as well.  She hasn't the means to impregnate me though, so there is no danger."

Jake smiled and said, "I had no idea.  I guess we've never talked about that.  Is she here aboard the ship?"

Sintas got a sad look on her face and said, "No.  She is aboard one of our ark ships.  She is on the medical staff there.  I have not seen her in over six months."

"I'm so sorry.  It must be hard," Jake said.

"It is.  We speak occasionally, though only briefly.  We use the zeths' version of a QECH system.  We cannot risk anyone listening in.  The First Ones will want any and all rhuxus to be eliminated and they will go to any lengths to do it.  We must even consider the possibility that one or the other of us may be captured and tortured for information.  She does not divulge the location of the ark ship to me and I do not divulge the current location of the Shadow's Claw.  Neither of us knows the location of the other ark ship either.  There is too much at stake to risk anyone finding out.  I would have her transferred to this ship but we've both agreed that her services are more valuable aboard the ark ship.  They are the hope for our race and I prefer to have her there caring for our future.  Someday, when this all comes to a conclusion, I will return to her.  It would be much more difficult to take if I did not have Rhokki, and now you, to keep me company.  We've been so busy that we haven't really taken the time to be a family yet.  We should strive to spend more time together.  I would love to get to know you better."

Jake smiled and said, "Me too."

"Let's start making a habit of having a family gathering at least once per week from now on.  I could think of nothing I'd rather do than spend time with you, Rhokki and Mak doing nothing but relaxing and enjoying each other's company," Sintas suggested.

"Yes.  Let's do it."

They reached the bridge and entered.  There were several cats at stations around the room.  The XO was in the captain's chair and she stood as Sintas entered.

"Time to range?" Sintas asked.

"Ten minutes.  We've been scanning ahead and located an ark ship in orbit around the planet.  Their shields are up as normal, so they will not be affected by the satellites."

"Do we know what race they belong to?" the captain asked.

"They are Jinvhon."

"They must be the resurrection site for Ausku, Chetichwal, or both.  I'd never thought to ask them which ships they were assigned to," Sintas said.

"Is the ark ship in any danger do you think?" Jake asked, "Should we try to warn them?  They'll be witnesses to whatever happens here and the First Ones might not appreciate that."

"They may well be in danger, but we cannot risk informing them until we've put everything in motion.  We'll have to deal with it once the satellites are in orbit and activated.  XO, does the ark ship have any offensive capabilities?"

"No.  They are armed for defense only.  They will be no threat to us."

"Good.  There may be another ark ship in the system as Ausku and Chet would likely have been served by different ones.  We'll need to ascertain the level of threat.  Computer...patch me through to Chetichwal."

There was a soft 'bong' and the captain said, "Chetichwal, this is the captain.  We are approaching Ausku's home world and will be in range to launch the satellite warhead in minutes.  There is an ark ship in orbit around the planet.  It belongs to the Jinvhon people.  Is that your resurrection site?"

Chet's voice came over the intercom and said, "No, Captain.  It would be Ausku's.  The Jinvhon handle the contracts for all of their security forces.  I was assigned to the Slirkstrith."

Jake's heart nearly leapt from his throat.  He and Chet had never talked about their resurrection sites.  He had no idea the bear was assigned to Srythryn's ship too.  That would mean the Slirkstrith might be in the system right now and on its way inward to deliver the other Chet back to his match!

"Captain, can we scan the rest of the system?" Jake asked, "The Slirkstrith might be heading in to deliver the other Chet.  If the First Ones send out the word to attack and destroy us once we cut off the favors of the planet, we could be in serious trouble."

Sintas looked concerned and said, "Agreed."

She turned to the crewman in charge of sensors and ordered a full scan of the system.

"We would not last long against the Slirkstrith," the captain said, "We should be able to outrun her if we have a sufficient head start, but she has the most capacious antimatter buffer in existence and the largest drive system.  If they decide the animal life on their ship is expendable and the First Ones order them to use full emergency acceleration, they might be able to get in range with their main cannon and they could take us out with one shot.  If they stick to acceleration levels that would preserve the life aboard we can outrun them easily."

"We've spotted her, Captain," the sensor operator said, "She is coming in at a right angle to us so our stealth measures will keep us invisible to them.  They are still a long way out and they are at standard acceleration.  They will not be a danger to us."

"Good!" Sintas exclaimed.

"I can't believe the fluke," Jake said, "What are the odds Chet and I would both be assigned to the same resurrection site?"

"It's not so unusual.  The First Ones often use just a few mobile sites to service all of the worlds within several jumps of each other.  It is more efficient.  The Slirkstrith served several matches from our world too if I recall.  What's interesting is to think that you are out there right now, Jake.  You said that it took a bit more than three months for you to come through the process.  You have likely already emerged aboard the Slirkstrith and you've viewed the message you prepared and have spoken to Srythryn about it," Sintas said.

She was right.  There were two Jakes now.  The other Jake would have come out a day or two ago.  He would be back with his loving captain again and happy as a clam.  Jake felt a stab of envy when he thought of Srythryn showering his love on that other guy.

"I wish we could have got so lucky as to find ourselves in the same system as the Slirkstrith later on, after the other Jake had time to become a member of the crew.  For now we'll just have to avoid them at all costs," Jake said.

"It should not be an issue.  We're far enough away that we will have no problem escaping once we've launched the warhead.  They will not be able to track us with sensors.  Our stealth technology renders us invisible to normal scans, and even their telescopes will likely not be able to locate us if we keep our keep our heading at a right angle to theirs in order to prevent them seeing our thrust cones inside the shroud."

Jake nodded.  He still wished the other Jake would be in a position to gain access to the lackeys' section of the ship so they could proceed with that plan.  It was just too dangerous to try to protect worlds one at a time with the satellites.  He didn't see how they could possibly protect Ausku's world even once the favors were cut off.  It would just be a matter of time before war ships were called in by the First Ones to destroy the planet the old-fashioned way.

"One minute to range, Captain," the XO said.

"Launch the warhead the moment we are in range, then change heading immediately, but keep our heading at a right angle to the Slirkstrith," Sintas said.

They all waited anxiously while the last minute ticked away, then the weapons officer announced, "The warhead is away, Captain."

"Changing course," the helmsman said.

"Time to deployment of the satellites?" Sintas asked.

"Twenty six minutes," the weapons officer said.

"XO, contact the ark ship.  When there are ten minutes remaining, have them activate the zeth device to cut off their favors.  We can't risk waiting any longer than that in case that warhead is spotted."

"Aye, Captain."

Again they waited anxiously.  Nobody said a word.

Suddenly, when there was still nearly fifteen minutes before the warhead would eject the satellites and they would go into orbit, the communications officer said, "Captain, we have a problem.  We're picking up chatter on radio bands on the planet.  The ark ship has spotted the satellite warhead and notified the security forces on the planet.  They are looking for us."

"Damn!  XO, give the order to the ark ship to cut off the favors immediately!  It may be just a matter of minutes before the First Ones catch wind and act!"

The XO did as she was ordered.

There was a pause and then she said, "It's done.  Their favors are cut off."

All they could do now was to wait and pray that the satellites would be activated in time to save the planet.

The wait was agonizing.

Ten more minutes passed then suddenly the sensor officer smacked his hand down on his panel and shouted, "No!  It's begun!  They've sent the signal!  The favors are consuming everything on the surface!"

"Shit!" Jake shouted.

The bridge broke out into shouts of outrage.  The First Ones had struck again.  Another entire world destroyed to try to protect their secret.

Captain Sintas had a look of defeat, but she shouted, "Quiet, everyone!  XO, contact the ark ship and make sure they're still alright."

The XO did as ordered and said, "They're safe, Captain.  They're going to jump to a new location and go dark."

Sintas nodded.

The sensor officer then said, "Captain, the ark ship in orbit is dissolving."

"Damn!" Sintas exclaimed, "The First Ones must be getting rid of the witnesses.  They will have the Jinvhon race to answer to for that.  I pray they haven't already begun to dissolve their home world too."

Jake suddenly remembered Srythryn's ship.  It would be a witness to these events too!

"The Slirkstrith!" Jake shouted, "Is she dissolving too?"

"One moment," the sensor officer said.

He tapped controls and studied his displays and he seemed to relax a bit and said, "No.  She is still in one piece."

Jake breathed a sigh of relief.  At least Srythryn was safe for the time being.

"It makes sense," Sintas said, "They'll want to use the Slirkstrith to take us out as she is the closest to us and has more than enough firepower for the job.  They'll give them some story about us being the cause of all of this.  There's nothing we can do about that.  We can't try to tell them the truth or the Slirkstrith will be destroyed too."

Jake felt angry and completely impotent to do anything about it.  Another world destroyed and now he was going to be hunted by his first true love.

This had to stop.  The satellites were just not a good approach.  The First Ones now knew they were directly connected to all of this.  It was unlikely they would even be able to secretly deploy them as communications satellites around other worlds now.  The First Ones would be watching too closely from now on.  There had to be another way.

"The satellites have deployed captain, should we signal them to self-destruct?" the weapons officer asked.

"Yes, send the signal.  Helmsman, signal the engine room to give us maximum thrust.  Keep our heading at ninety degrees to the Slirkstrith.  We need to get out of the system but we can't let them see us.  We may have already been spotted by the Jinvhon ark ship's telescopes before it dissolved and they may have got word out.  Sensors, keep a close eye on the Slirkstrith for any sign of a change in her heading or acceleration."

"How long will it take us to exit the system?" Jake asked.

"No more than a few days at maximum thrust.  We've built a tremendous speed already on the way in and we won't be slowing down," the navigator said.

"How long do you think it would take the Slirkstrith to reach us if she knew we were in the system?  Could she catch us in those few days?"

"Not a chance.  They have been in the system and accelerating for quite a while so they've built a trememdous speed too, but even if she changed course immediately to intercept, they would likely not be able to accelerate hard enough to catch us without killing all of the animal life aboard.  If they went to combat acceleration, which is only about ten times faster than normal, it would take them at least five or six days to reach the point at the heliopause that we'd be passing through on our way out.  We'd be long gone before then.  Their only chance would be to send out faster strike ships after us, which I suppose they may well do, but they don't know about our disrupters.  No matter how many fighters they send out after us, we can take them all out in seconds.  The ship is safe, Jake," Sintas said, then she sighed and added, "There's nothing more we can do.  I will contact Ausku personally and let her know of our failure.  We have let her down.  Her people are orphans now, just like ours."

Jake nodded.  He felt numb.  Things were so different than when he'd first been introduced to the universe by Srythryn.  It had seemed like such a utopia then.  All of the races were living in harmony and watched over and protected by the benevolent First Ones.  What a joke.  They had pulverized the Earth with a rock and liquefied two other worlds with their nanos in just a few months.  They'd wiped out thousands of races over their history according to evidence the zeths had.  With the exception of the members of the resistance and the zeths, no one in the universe was the wiser.  The First Ones had pulled the wool over everyone's eyes and could do whatever the hell they wanted.  It made him seethe with rage to know there was nothing he could do about it.

"Let's go to the briefing room.  We need to talk strategy," Sintas said, "Computer...patch me through to Rhokki."

She waited for the computer to indicate the link then she said, "Rhokki, please contact Voph.  I need you and the all of the zeths and their translators in the main briefing room immediately."

Rhokki's voice came over the intercom and said, "Aye, Captain.  We'll be there shortly."

They all assembled in the briefing room and had a long discussion about the status of the resistance.

The loss of Ausku's world was another devastating blow.  They were now without the ability to manufacture any more satellites and they were down to just one warhead left on the Shadow's Claw.  They could protect only one more world, and it seemed only logical that they should keep the warhead in case it was needed to protect the miquanowan home world.

After much discussion, it was decided that the only option left to them now was to head back to the miquanowan system and wait for things to settle down.  The First Ones had no reason to suspect anything was going on on the sacred planet and once their investigation of Jake's death turned up nothing, they could quietly ramp up the resistance with the miquanowan people through Mogwo as originally planned.  They would have to take it very slowly until the new satellite factory was in full production.  It could be many years before things could really start to move forward again.

They were all very tired and frustrated by the time the captain dismissed them.

Just as they were about to leave the room the XO came over the intercom and said, "Captain, we need you on the bridge.  The Slirkstrith is changing course to intercept us.  They must have spotted us with their telescopes or been notified of our position."

"I'm heading there now," Sintas said, "Jake, come with me please."

Rhokki and the zeths dispersed while Jake and the captain rushed back to the bridge.

As they entered the room, the XO said, "They've increased their acceleration to combat rate.  They'll intersect the edge of the heliosphere at the same point we would in about five days.  We should have no problem beating them."

Sintas nodded, "Any sign of fighters yet?"

"No, Captain," the sensor officer said.

"Captain, I've just received a message from our contacts on the miquanowan world," the communications officer said, "It seems the First Ones have sent out a broadcast to the entire collective naming this ship as the perpetrators of the destruction of two worlds, the rhuxus world, and this one."

The captain sighed and said, "That comes as no great surprise.  They would want to direct the blame away from themselves.  They can't have the collective thinking they're capable of such heinous acts.  Making this ship the scapegoat sets the entire collective against us.  They'll all think this ship is capable of destroying entire planets.  We will be hunted from now on.  What else did the broadcast say?"

"It indicated that we are to be destroyed on sight.  It also says the rhuxus and Ausku's people are the enemies of the collective and have sided with the zeths.  It said that we used satellites of zeth design to take control of the favors and destroy the planets.  It appears the orbiting Jinvhon ark ship spotted the satellite warhead and tracked it backwards and they were able to find us with their telescopes before it was destroyed.  The First Ones have said that any rhuxus ship of any type is to be destroyed on sight, and that any race found to be working with us will be considered an enemy of the collective as well."

"Wonderful, was there any other good news?" Sintas asked sarcastically.

"Yes, Captain.  The Jinvhon have officially declared war on us.  They are outraged at the wanton destruction of their ark ship in orbit around the planet.  They have put a bounty on the heads of all rhuxus that might remain in the universe."

"Well, at least their home world is safe.  The First Ones have no need to dissolve it if the Jinvhon have bought their lies completely.  They likely intentionally dissolved the ark ship for that reason alone, to give the Jinvhon reason to come gunning for us.  The Jinvhon will pose a great threat.  If anyone can ultimately hunt us down successfully it would be them."

"What are they like?" Jake asked.

"They are a very honorable race of people but they come from a long history of war and they are very effective at it.  They are tenacious and resourceful.  They are the single worst enemy we could have asked for.  It seems we have become the hunted," Sintas said.

"Captain," the sensor officer interrupted, "The Slirkstrith has begun to launch fighters."

"Are we in range for effective lensing without excessive drain on our antimatter buffer?" the captain asked.

"Yes, Captain.  I'll initiate it now."

"What's lensing?" Jake asked.

"Gravitational lensing," Sintas explained, "We aren't really using gravity, but the effect is precisely the same.  We have powerful telescopes on the Shadow's Claw, but like any other telescopes they can only see photons that are already heading directly into their mirrors.  From this distance, that would be so few photons that we would get a weak optical picture of what's happening back at the Slirkstrith and we would not be able to zoom in very closely, but we can do much better.  Another technology we've secretly developed allows us to use our warp generator to create a localized, spherical bend in space that is very similar to the gravity well of a large black hole, though of course it produces no gravity and thus is no danger to anything near it.  Just like a black hole, any light that intersects the space warp is diverted around the curve in space and focused on the other side of it.  It is as though we had placed a giant lens the size of a super massive star between us and the Slirkstrith.  The resolution we are capable of achieving is several hundred orders of magnitude greater than we could otherwise do.  The arc ship becomes like a small bug under a very large microscope.  The effect is optical magnification so great that from this distance we could watch a fly clean its wings while it perched on the surface of the Slirkstrith and even count the individual hairs on its legs."

"That's impressive!" Jake exclaimed, "I've heard of gravitational lensing being used to see distant faint galaxies but never thought of it being used to look at something close, but in much greater detail."

"It is only this effective at a relatively short range.  At longer ranges we still get improved magnification, but the effect is much less because the arc of photons that the warped region of space intersects is much smaller.  We can increase the size of the arc, but doing so requires us to generate a much larger warp that drains our buffer quickly."

"We're ready, Captain," the sensor office said.

"Put it up on the main screen."

A large blank screen at the front and center of the bridge suddenly switched to display a razor sharp image of the back end of the Slirkstrith and Jake could clearly see several fighter craft shooting out from the cylinder to join others that were already gathering in formation and heading straight towards them.

By the time the fighters were all launched Jake counted thirty six of them.  They arranged themselves into three squadrons of twelve ships each.  One of the squadrons took the lead and the other two flanked it and stayed slightly behind.

"Zoom in on the lead squadron please.  I want to see what's under their wings," Sintas ordered.

The image began to zoom smoothly.  The image zeroed right in on the front ship of the front squadron.  The ship grew to fill the large screen with such detail that they could clearly see the weapons that were hanging under its wings.

"That is a Juggernaut strike craft, Captain," the XO said, "They are capable of extremely long range missions.  The four fat warheads under its wings are plasma torpedoes.  They'll be equipped with optical targeting systems so they'll have no trouble locking onto our thrust cones once they get behind us."

Jake was amazed at the detail that popped out from the image.  It was like the ship itself was hanging just a few feet in front of him and he could see absolutely everything in sharp clarity.  Jake could even see right into the cockpit, through the clear visor of the helmet of the pilot and he could make out every detail of his face.

His heart jumped as he recognized who it was.

"What the hell?  Can you zoom in on the pilot?" he asked.

The image zoomed more while centering on the face until it nearly filled the screen in startling clarity.

It was Srythryn.  There was no doubt in Jake's mind.

"That's the captain of the Slirkstrith!  That's Srythryn!" Jake exclaimed.

"Are you sure?" Sintas asked.

"I'm completely sure.  I love that face.  I'd know it anywhere."

Sintas studied the image for a moment and then said, "Sensors, have the computer read the vibrations of his visor.  He's speaking.  Convert it to audio when it's done."

The sensor officer began working some controls.

"You can do that?" Jake asked.

"Yes.  At this close distance we have that much resolution.  The effect is the same as shooting a laser beam at a window to eavesdrop on a conversation on the other side of it by measuring the vibrations of the glass.  In this case, the microscopic vibration of the glass bends the light that passes through it and the computer can measure the effect and create an analog waveform that matches the vibrations," Sintas said.

Srythryn's lips moved for a brief time and then finally stopped.

"Play it back," Sintas ordered.

"...to optical targeting.  Keep all power diverted to maximum thrust.  It will be a long flight, but we will prevail."

It was extremely muffled, but clear enough that it was as though Jake were hearing it through the helmet with the croc right here in the room.  It was definitely Srythryn's voice.  Once again Jake was amazed at the First Ones' translator technology.  Clearly what it was hearing was muffled hissing of the siskreth language but it recognized the voice as Srythryn's and translated it to a muffled version of his voice for Jake to hear.

"I ran the voice through the collective ID database and have a confirmation.  It is Captain Srythryn of the Slirkstrith," the communications officer said.

"Interesting," Sintas said, "Your captain must be one of those who likes to get his hands dirty.  He would be frustrated sitting back on the Slirkstrith knowing the big arc ship has no chance of catching us unless they increased to acceleration levels that would kill the animal life aboard, so he chose to take our destruction into his own hands and jump into the faster fighters himself."

"That seems like a risky thing for the captain of the ship to do," Jake said.

"Not really, or at least, not normally.  They have sufficient numbers, 144 warheads in total, that they can launch a steady stream of torpedoes at us.  Normal defenses would likely not stand a chance.  They have no way of knowing about our zeth disrupters or the fact that our antimatter converter is so efficient that we can fire the weapon repeatedly and indefinitely.  They will likely have estimated by the size of the Shadow's Claw that we have only a few fighters as well.  Normally, a ship as small as this one would have a very small crew and it would have just a single main weapon up front with a few fighters and turrets for defense.  Srythryn is likely quite certain they will be victorious if they can catch us.  They also don't know just how fast we are able to go.  Even at top speed those fighters will take at least three days to reach the edge of the heliosphere.  We could reach it in two if we push even harder."

"I'm glad we'll be able to outrun them.  I don't think I could stand the thought of blowing him up," Jake said.

"It wouldn't be so bad, Jake," Sintas said, "They all have contracts so they would live again.  If they maintain those formations so tightly grouped we can wipe them all out with just two shots.  One volley from our disrupters would strip away their shields and even likely destroy the generators.  The pilots will not be harmed with the first shot, but they'll have no shields to protect them from the next one.  They will be forced to sit and watch and wait for their end to come.  The second volley would separate their molecules instantly.  They wouldn't feel a thing at all, really.  The next thing they'd know, they would be waking up on the resurrection table."

Something about what she'd said, 'the next thing they'd know', tweaked something in Jake's head.  It put him in mind of their plan to use the accidental duplication of the other Jake to gain access to the First Ones' computer network by sending him a message that he'd get the moment he woke from resurrection.  It triggered a chain of thought that sparked the beginnings of an idea that could bring this all to an end more quickly, but he wasn't sure if it was possible.  A lot of things would have to fall into place perfectly.  As he thought more about it he began to realize it might just work.  One after another, barriers to the idea fell like dominoes as he thought of possible solutions.

Their shields dropping from the first disrupter volley, that was the key to it all.

"Is it pretty much guaranteed that the first volley would only take out their shields without killing them?" he asked.

"Generally, yes.  The disrupter field is absorbed by the shield and directed into the generator in such a way that even if the shield doesn't fully absorb the shock, it is already focused into the shield generator and will destroy it.  The ship and the pilot will not be harmed unless they're so close to the focused blast that the shield generator actually explodes.  Even in that case, given the location of the generator, it would likely only damage the ship's engines or thrust controls and still not harm the pilot.  The ship might be disabled, but the pilot will be intact."

"Would we be able to communicate with them once their shields are down?"

"Yes.  A simple focused-beam radio transmission could be used," Sintas replied.

"Would we be able to slow down so that those fighters could catch up to us without them knowing what we're up to?" Jake asked.

"Yes.  We wouldn't actually need to 'slow down' but simply reduce our acceleration level enough to allow them to intercept us.  What are you thinking, Jake?" the captain asked.

"I have an idea, but it might be a bit crazy.  I'm not sure if we could pull it off, and we'd have to be lucky to do it."

"What is it?"

"Well, we've made all the necessary arrangements to get the other Jake to become a member of Srythryn's crew, but it's anybody's guess as to just how long that would take.  We don't even know for sure that he would get to a high enough rank."

"He would, trust me," Captain Sintas said, and smiled.

Jake said, "Still, we wouldn't know when it had happened, then there would still be the issue of finding the Slirkstrith, somehow getting her to the siskreth system, and somehow getting me aboard her to replace that Jake.  I would be relying on the ship's computer to guide me into the lackeys' section and to the shielded network room.  It would be a risky venture with a limited chance of success.  Even something as simple as a password added to all of their biometric security measures would stop us because I wouldn't know what the other Jake knows."

"Yes, we know that.  It won't be easy and it may not even succeed, but it's our only option to end this quickly," Sintas said.

"Maybe it's not our only option.  What if there were a way to get someone more familiar with the ship to do it for us, someone with all of the access required even to the point of being able to change everyone else's access and lock them out, and someone with intimate knowledge of the layout and even any procedures and passwords that might be required?"

"Who would that be?"


"Srythryn?  How would we accomplish that, exactly?" Sintas asked.

"Well, the other Jake became an option for us because of the accidental duplication.  What if we forced an intentional duplication?  What if we created another Srythryn?  You said your zeth device that cuts off favors can't pass through shields.  If we could drop the shields of those fighters, and then hit them with the zeth device's radio waves, it would cut off their favors and trigger their resurrections even though they're still alive, right?"

Sintas' eyes went wide, "Yes.  It would."

"Your yanking device needs to scan in order to work and the scanning can't pass through shields, but again, if we drop their shields first, we could yank Srythryn on board, couldn't we?"

Sintas nodded, but said nothing.  She did not want to interrupt Jake's train of thought.

"What if we let them get into range of the disrupters, then launch the first volley to strip their shields, then hit them with the zeth signal to kill their favors' communication, then yank Srythryn aboard while we launch a second volley?  The ships would all be vaporized by the second disrupter blast so there would be no evidence of what we'd done.  No one would know that Srythryn's ship was empty when they were all vaporized.  All of the pilots, including Srythryn, would begin the process of resurrection, but we'd have our own copy of him here with us.  His favors would be cut off, and we could explain everything about the First Ones to him.  I know him.  He would be enraged and he would do whatever he could to help us.  Nobody knows the Slirkstrith better than him.  He even had a hand in its construction.  He could stroll right into the lackeys' section of the ship without raising any eyebrows and inject the zeth programs into the First Ones' network."

Sintas stared at Jake for a moment, looking almost stunned, then slowly a smile spread across her face that grew into a wide grin.

"You never cease to amaze me.  That is a brilliant idea!  It will work!  I'm sure of it!  Our only problem then would be to somehow get the Slirkstrith to head to the siskreth home world.  We would need to trigger a device to cut off the favors inside the Slirkstrith in order to protect it while we launch the attack on the First Ones' network.  That would put their entire race at risk so we'd need to be in range to launch our last warhead at their world to cut off the favors once we start in order to protect them against retaliation."

Jake nodded, "I have an idea how we could do that too.  We can get Srythryn to do it."

"I don't follow.  Our Srythryn would have his favors cut off.  We can't have him giving orders to the Slirkstrith while their Srythryn is still going through the resurrection process.  It would make it obvious that there are two of him."

"No.  I mean we get their Srythryn to do it.  What you said earlier about 'the next thing they'd know' when they resurrect is what made me think of it.  All we need to do is put the idea into his head, sort of like what we did with their Jake, but in this case we'd give him the idea before he 'dies' instead of after he resurrects.  We could send him a message after we drop his shields, but just before we cut off his favors.  Whatever we tell him then would still be transmitted to his mind map by his favors, and it would be his freshest memory when he wakes up from the resurrection.  All we need to do is craft that message to give him a reason to go to his home world, and then wait for him to wake from the resurrection and act on it.  If we know exactly how long it takes to resurrect a siskreth, we'll know exactly when the Slirkstrith will suddenly head straight over to their home world."

"Brilliant!  That is truly impressive thinking.  I'm not sure what sort of message we could send though.  We can't tell him anything about the truth of the First Ones and our plans.  When he awakes he would remember it and he might act on it and he'd be putting his ship and his race at risk.  I suppose you've already thought of what we would say?" Sintas asked.

Jake nodded, "He's seen Ausku's world destroyed right before his eyes and the First Ones have sent out a broadcast blaming this ship for that, and the destruction of the rhuxus world.  He will think of this ship as a destroyer of planets.  What if we taunt him, and tell him that we'll be targeting his world next and that we'll be heading there immediately?  When he wakes up and remembers that, he would give the order for the Slirkstrith to head there at maximum speed, wouldn't he?"

Sintas grinned again and said, "I would if I were him.  That may work, Jake.  It's a solid plan.  We just need to make the message as convincing as possible.  We'd have no reason to target his planet even if we were going around destroying worlds.  We'd have to come up with something believable that wouldn't make the First Ones suspicious of anything."

Jake thought about it for a while and said, "We got Komakwa to deliver the message last time, let's use him again.  I've been thinking about what it would have been like for that Jake over on the Slirkstrith when he woke up from his resurrection and got the message we sent him.  He'll be confused as hell about what was going on with all of this 'movement' stuff Mak was talking about.  I'm sure he'd talk to Srythryn about it and that would get the captain wondering about it too.  It's fresh in their minds right now because that Jake just woke up a day or two ago.  We could make it appear that Mak is part of some sort of resistance group that is going around destroying any race that is loyal to the First Ones.  We could make it seem like he's insane, like Troska was, and he's jealous that Srythryn has Jake to himself.  Maybe it would unsettle Srythryn enough to make him believe it.  I don't think it would take much, really.  As far as he knows, this ship can fly up to a world and melt it.  If he was told that it was going to fly up to the siskreth world and do the same, he couldn't risk not believing it.  He would have to act fast."

"Yes, you're right," Sintas agreed, "The First Ones have given us what we needed by sending out that broadcast naming this ship as the one responsible for the destruction of the planets.  They've planted the idea in everyone's mind that we have this power to destroy worlds.  He will believe it.  I cannot think of anything that might impede us from succeeding in the first part of the process at least.  We should have no problem getting Srythryn aboard this ship and triggering a duplicate of him to be made.  We should have no trouble giving him a convincing enough message to send him racing back to his own home world.  The only trick then will be to figure out how to get our Srythryn back aboard their ship, but we'll have plenty of time while we wait for him to be resurrected to think about it."

Jake nodded.

Sintas smiled and turned to the navigator and said, "Decrease our acceleration as needed.  Calculate our speed so that those fighters will catch us just before we reach the heliopause.  We'll want to be able to execute a short jump to shake the Slirkstrith off our tail immediately after we destroy the Juggernauts, so we need to cross over into interstellar space just after our abduction of Srythryn."

"Aye, Captain," the navigator said, and then he set to work.

Sintas then said, "Computer...patch me through to Rhokki."

She waited for acknowledgment and then said, "Rhokki, I hate to do this to you dear brother, but once again I need you to act as wrangler of zeths.  I want you and Voph and all the other zeths in the main briefing room.  We have an urgent matter to discuss.  Please round them up and head them out.  Thank you."

Sintas and Jake left the bridge and started to make their way back to the briefing room.

"I sincerely hope you will accept my offer to be my second in command, Jake.  I was speaking too soon earlier when I said I could not be more impressed with you.  That was an amazing bit of thinking.  The more I run it through my mind the more certain I am it will work.  It is simply a matter of timing things correctly.  If this works out we may reach our ultimate goal in a matter of weeks.  Faster than anyone could have possibly imagined."

Jake said, "Let's not get too excited until we make it happen.  It still feels like a long shot.  I'm not actually comfortable putting Srythryn's home world and his ark ship at risk either.  The ultimate decision on whether or not we proceed will be up to him if we can get him here in one piece."

"Agreed," Sintas said.

They arrived at the briefing room and the others joined them there.  Sintas explained Jake's plan to the zeths and then waited while their rhuxus companions absorbed their response.  It was overwhelmingly positive.  They were certain they could have everything ready by the time the other Srythryn was resurrected and began to make his way to the siskreth world.

The tight-beam radio broadcast equipment on the Shadow's Claw would need to be modified so that they could use it to send the signal from one of the zeth devices to cut off Srythryn's favors as he approached, but that would be a simple matter and would take them only hours.

The navigator had been contacted and he'd said that with their speed set so that the fighters would be on them just before reaching the heliopause, it would be three days before the encounter, which gave them plenty of time to prepare.

The technicians who operated the yanking device were contacted to ensure that what they were asking was possible.  They assured them that it would be a simple matter.  Srythryn's fighter ship would be pressurized and they would be more than close enough to get a solid lock and yank him over once the shields were down.

The only other thing was the communication from Mak.  They decided it would be best to simply beam a recorded message back to Srythryn.  The window would be so small they did not want to risk any mistakes and they wanted to know the precise timing of the message in advance so they could immediately cut off his favors and yank him just before the second disrupter volley reached them.

Everyone dispersed from the room again to go off and do their parts.

Once again, Jake, Rhokki, and Mak found themselves in the holographic recording room with Mak standing at the center of three cameras.

"What do I say this time?" Mak asked.

Jake smiled and said, "This one should be fun.  You want to act a little insane.  Pretend you're Troska and try to talk just like he would.  Be xenophobic and sociopathic just like he was.  Lay it on thick.  Make Srythryn think you've gone off the deep end and you're jealous of him having me and you're gonna destroy us both.  Make him think you're evil and full of hate and you want to punish him.  Remember, they think this ship tore those worlds apart, so use that to really scare him.  Talk fast to keep him off balance and not give him time to think, and keep it short.  We'll have the same benefit as last time in that he'll have to rely on his memory.  He'll only see it once so he won't be able to study the message too closely and think too hard about it.  We want him so worked up that he'll come running out of the resurrection room and go straight to the bridge to steer the ship back to his home world."

Mak grinned and said, "It'll be hard not to laugh while I'm doing it, but I think I'm ready."

"Count to three and proceed," Rhokki said.

Mak thought about Troska and the things he'd said that day that he'd tried to kill Jake.  The young bull tried to imagine feeling that kind of twisted hatred, and then he directed it out into his speech while he did his best imitation of Troska.

He sneered slightly, lowered his voice, and stared intently at the camera in front of him and said, "So, you're Srythryn.  I wish I could say it's a pleasure to meet you but it's definitely not.  I'm Komakwa.  Jake told me all about you.  He was supposed to be mine, not yours.  I hope the two of you enjoy what's left of your life together, lizard.  I'll do everything I can to ensure that your lives are as short as possible.  I'm going to end you forever, but first I think I'm going to make you suffer a bit.  In case you're wondering which world we'll be paying a visit to next, it's yours.  While you rest and relax in the resurrectors' putrid vat of vile chemicals we will be sneaking our way into the siskreth system and preparing to lay waste to your world.  By the time you wake up and remember this little message, the people of your world will be starting to feel the excruciating pain of being slowly ripped apart at the molecular level."

Jake made a chopping motion toward Rhokki and the lion cut off the recording and smiled and said, "That will do perfectly.  I believed every word."

Jake chuckled and said, "No kidding.  You sounded so much like Troska I could almost sense the crowbar coming at my head."

Mak laughed.

They returned to their normal routine after that.  They had three days to kill before the strike fighters would catch up to them.  There was nothing left to do but wait.

Jake and Chet returned to the simulators and Mak continued to run them through their paces.  Rhokki acted as translator between Voph and the engineering team to modify the tight-beam radio transmitter on the Shadow's Claw to be able to send the zeth signal to cut off the favors.  They also began the work on building a self-contained burst device that would cut off all of the favors in the Slirkstrith and everyone aboard her.  It needed to be small enough for Srythryn to carry it aboard with him.  They also needed to modify the zeth tech used to inject their programs into the First Ones' networks so that Srythryn could operate it himself once he was inside the shielded network room.

The days passed quickly, and finally Jake was contacted by the captain and told that the fighters were closing and would be in range within the hour.

They'd gone over the timing again and again to be sure it would go like clockwork.  It was actually a fairly simple operation so they anticipated no problems, but they would get only the one chance to get a copy of Srythryn and they did not want to fail.

Jake headed to the yanking room to stand ready in front of the chamber.  He wanted to be sure his was the first face Srythryn saw.  The croc would be yanked right out of his pilot's seat so his landing here would be rough.  The way the yanking worked, they could only pull over anything that wasn't bonded to anything else.  They could pull Srythryn out of his seat even though he was held by restraints because they weren't actually fused to him.  The seat was firmly attached to the fighter though, so they couldn't bring that with him.  Even if they generated a wormhole the correct shape to match the seat as well as the pilot, the seat would stay attached to the ship and stay behind while Srythryn came through.  He would pop into the chamber and fall on his ass.  They'd placed soft padding on the floor and around the side so that he would be less likely to injure himself and he would be wearing his space suit so the helmet would protect his head.

Jake paced back and forth in front of the chamber as he waited for the moment to arrive.  He was extremely anxious for many reasons.

He hated the yanking technology, and had that nagging fear that only parts of Srythryn would come across.  He'd been told repeatedly that that was 'highly unlikely' and that drove him nuts.  They weren't even confident enough in their own technology to say 'that's impossible!'.

There was also the fact that he was operating on the assumption that Srythryn would in fact feel just as Jake thought he would, and he'd hate the First Ones for what they'd been doing to countless races throughout history including Jake's own people.  What if he didn't agree with that view or didn't feel strongly enough about it to put his ship and his race at risk?  Jake would have created a copy of Srythryn and complicated his life for nothing.

What if he took the idea of having a copy of him the same way Ausku had done?  This Srythryn would never have a life over on the Slirkstrith because the other Srythryn would already be there.  It would be like the whole life that Srythryn built for himself would be usurped by someone else and he would have to start all over from scratch.  He might be angry at Jake for making it happen.

Even if he did agree and decided to help, it was all Jake's idea, so if anything went wrong he would be to blame.  Srythryn would be risking his life, his ship and all of the souls aboard, and his entire race and their home world, just to try to bring all of this to a swifter conclusion.  If anything happened to the Slirkstrith or the siskreth home world, or Srythryn himself, it would ultimately be Jake's fault.  He wasn't sure if he could live with that.

He also wondered if deep down inside he'd been driven to this idea by the jealously he felt that the other Jake would get to have Srythryn.  This way they would each get one.  Did he do it for the selfish motivation of having Srythryn back in his life?

Above all he was simply anxious to see his beloved croc again.  It had been so long and he couldn't wait to be back in Srythryn's arms.

Suddenly the captain's voice came over the intercom and she said, "Jake, the fighters are in range of our disrupters.  They will be in range to launch their torpedoes at us soon.  I will keep the comm channel open so that you can hear what's happening.  Ready the chamber."

Jake nodded at the technicians and they began to tap at the controls.  Jake heard the vacuum forming in the chamber behind him.  The technicians continued to tap at the controls to get the system ready.  They had their scanner trained on Srythryn's ship so that they could acquire a lock on him the moment his shields went down.  They double-checked everything and then nodded to Jake.

"We're ready down here, Captain," he said.

Jake felt a knot forming in the pit of his stomach as his heart rate increased.  This was it.  He hoped Srythryn wouldn't be too upset with him.

"They've fired torpedoes," he heard the weapons officer say.

"Shut the engines down and fire retros to spin us.  Bring the forward tubes to bear," Sintas ordered.

There was a brief pause and the helmsman said, "Ready, Captain."

"Fire the first disrupter charge," Sintas ordered.

"Disrupter away.  Time to target is six seconds," said the weapons officer.

"Communications, don't wait for my order.  The moment the disrupter sweeps the shields off those ships, send the message to Srythryn on the tight beam radio.  The moment the message is complete, switch to the zeth signal and cut off his favors."

"Aye, Captain," the communications officer said.

There was a brief pause, then one of the yanking technicians said, "His shield is down, we have a solid lock on him."

There was a longer pause and then the communications officer said, "Message successfully sent, cutting off his favors now...done."

"Fire the second disrupter charge," the captain ordered, "Jake, yank him over, now."

Jake signaled the technicians and turned to face the chamber.

"Disrupter away," the weapons officer said.

There was a loud rushing noise and the chamber filled with fog as it suddenly and rapidly re-pressurized with the warmer and more humid air from inside the fighter.

The fog quickly cleared as the pressure and temperature equalized and Jake saw Srythryn already getting to his feet in the chamber.

He had a shocked look on his face and then he saw Jake and his eyes opened wide.

Jake smiled in at him and waved.

Srythryn's face took on a weak smile but he looked completely flummoxed.  He looked past Jake and saw the two black lions at the controls.  He looked around at the chamber he suddenly found himself in and then looked back out at Jake.

"We have him, Captain," Jake said, "He's alive and well and looking very confused.  I'll bring him to the briefing room shortly."

Jake went over by the door and it released and slid up.

The two of them just stood there looking at each other.  Jake's heart began to swell at the sight of his beloved croc and he grinned and opened his arms.

Srythryn tentatively stepped forward, then cleared the door and came into Jake's arms and hugged him.

The big croc was still wearing his space suit so he pulled away from the hug and reached up and started working at the seals to remove his helmet.  He took it off and looked Jake up and down as though he wasn't completely convinced that he could believe what he was seeing.

"I was about to die.  Where am I?  Why are you hear, Jake?  Why are there rhuxus behind you?" Srythryn asked.

"There are rhuxus behind me because this is their ship.  You've been yanked aboard the Shadow's Claw," Jake said.

"The Shadow's Claw, is that the name of their stealth ship?  The one I was about to destroy?"

Jake nodded.

"These people are the enemy of the collective!  Why are you here?  How did you get here before me?  I left you back on the Slirkstrith three days ago!"

"This may be a bit hard to believe at first, but there are two of me now," Jake said, "The other one is still back at the Slirkstrith where you left him."

"Two of you?  How can that be?  The First Ones wouldn't allow that."

"The First Ones don't even know about it.  When I was resurrected five days ago, did I explain what happened to me?"

"Yes.  You said you were walking through a forest trying to make your way back to your match, and then you woke in Xelzix's chair.  You must have been vaporized."

Jake shook his head and said, "No.  The transmissions of my favors were permanently cut off right at that moment so my resurrection was triggered, but I was still alive and walking in the forest.  I did eventually make it to where my match was and joined him."

Srythryn thought for a while and said, "If it were possible to cut off the communication of all of your favors at once then it would create a second copy of you, but it's not possible.  There's no way to do it."

"There is a way.  It was developed by the zeths as a tool to protect us from attack via our favors by the Lawkeepers and doubles as a means of keeping them from spying on us, but has the side-effect of triggering a resurrection when it's used on someone who has a contract.  The First Ones have no knowledge that the technology exists.  It has been used on everyone aboard this ship.  There are no favors anywhere on this ship that can communicate with the First Ones, or receive commands from them.  Even the favors in your head are no longer communicating," Jake said.

Srythryn's eyes went wide as the implication of what he was being told dawned on him and he said, "If what you say is true, then that means I am currently entering the process of resurrection as well.  There will be another version of me waking aboard the Slirkstrith in five weeks!"

Jake nodded and said, "I'm sorry.  It was the reason we did this.  We need one of you over there, and one here with us.  I know it's a lot to process, but you have five weeks to think about it before the other you wakes up.  For now, you're the one and only Srythryn.  I found it a bit easier to take when I thought about it that way.  It gave me time to get used to the idea before it became reality.  The fact that there's another one of me on your ship doesn't really bother me anymore.  The only thing that ever really bugged me about it was that he would have you instead of me, but now that point is moot."

"You mean to tell me that you've been alive these three months, on this ship, while another you was going through the resurrection process and I was waiting anxiously for him to emerge?"

"Yes.  I spent a couple more weeks back at Komakwa's system and then I was yanked up to this ship into that chamber like you were.  I've been here ever since."

"Yanked?" Srythryn asked.

Jake explained the technology.

"That's incredible!  I would not have thought such a thing possible!" Srythryn exclaimed.

"A lot of things become possible once the First Ones are out of the picture.  There are quite a few technologies on this ship that I think you'll find impressive."

"Why am I here?  Why do you need two of me?"

"Let's go to a briefing room and discuss it.  There are a few people I'd like you to meet."

Jake moved to lead him out into the hallway.

"Wait one moment," Srythryn said, "Just before I was taken from my Juggernaut, I received a message from your match that was most disturbing.  Do you know anything about it?"

"Yes.  I'm sorry.  It was my idea.  All of this was, so if you feel angry about it, I'm to blame, not anyone else.  Mak is aboard this ship too.  He's not crazy and he means no one any harm.  I love him very much and he loves me.  He's anxious to meet you and thank you for pushing me to go down to him that day way back when I told you I would rather cancel the contract and stay with you.  Don't worry about the message.  It wasn't really intended for you.  We can't destroy your world.  We just don't have that power.  We intend to protect it, and all of the other worlds in the universe if possible, but we need your help to do that."

"But, then who destroyed the world in this system if not this ship?"

"The First Ones did it.  Please, let's go and meet the others.  There's a lot we need to explain to you."

They moved to leave but Jake suddenly stopped and said, "Oh, I should warn you, you're about to meet our allies.  Trust me when I say they are kind and caring people.  They mean no harm to any of us.  They are the ones who will save us all."

"Who are they?" Srythryn asked.

"They're zeths."

Srythryn became angry and shouted, "What!?  What has happened to you?  Why are you in league with these people?  What is going on?"

"I'm still the same person, Srythryn.  I'm sorry that I had to do all of this but I think you'll understand.  I love you so much!  It's been over three months since I last saw you.  I thought for sure I would never get to see you again!"

Srythryn's face softened immediately and he grabbed Jake in a hug and said, "I'm sorry, my love.  I did not mean to snap at you.  This is all very frustrating.  I don't understand what is happening and I have never liked that feeling."

"You have every right to be angry with me.  I did this to you.  I think you'll understand why I did it once you've had time to process all of it."

Jake pulled back from the hug and said, "Follow me.  Every single question you have will be answered.  You have a big decision to make and you'll need all the information to make it.  The zeths have a great deal of video evidence they would like to present to you.  It's going to be a long meeting."

Jake led the way to the conference room where the others were now waiting for them and Srythryn followed.

The first phase was complete and Jake's beloved croc was back with him again.  Now it was time to plan the rest.

They had five weeks to come up with a way to get this Srythryn back on board the Slirkstrith so he could disarm the Lawkeepers and render the First Ones completely harmless, while trying to keep the siskreth home world safe from retaliation.


If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more from the author please look in the Gay/Adult-Youth section at Nifty.org for...

The Patriarch -  The ongoing adventures of a man, possibly the only one remaining in the world, and the young boy he takes under his wing as they travel through a world where the majority of the human race has been wiped out by a plague.  The disease's lethality was linked to sexual maturity killing the adults and leaving the earth's children to fend for themselves.

The Sock Thief - The heart warming story of how a humorous encounter brought about by a fetish not only leads to unexpectedly wild sex between a man and a teenage boy, but also changes their lives in a way neither could have foreseen.

Bang the Drummer - The story of a submissive man who uses his video game skills to win the right to be properly used by some neighbors.

Predators - The story of a man who enjoys a hobby of luring teenage boys in for a bit of innocent exploration in the woods.

or check the Gay/SF-Fantasy section for...

Love and Lycanthropy -  What if after a long life of loneliness you finally found the one person who you could truly love?  What if you found out that there might be moments when he wanted to tear you to bits and eat those bits?  Find out how a man who brings home a homeless teenager finds love he never knew he was capable of and learns to cope with the one minor quirk the boy is afflicted with.

The Hawthorne Accord -  The adventures of a teenage boy who is rescued from a cruel fate in his home village by a friend, but ultimately finds himself on his own and hunted in a world that is being ravaged by brutal race wars between the humans and three races of monsters: kobolds, orcs and ogres.  He discovers in his travels that the world is not quite entirely the way he'd thought it was and that even a single teenage boy can make a difference in the fate of entire races, including his own.

James and the Giant Perv -  A humorous modern fairy tale involving three teenage boys, some "beans", a very tall pervert who dwells in his own kingdom in the clouds, and the various interesting ways they find to enjoy each other sexually.

Feedback is the fuel for the author's engine.  All comments are much appreciated even if they say nothing more than "Liked it, thanks." or "Hated it, don't go there again."

Thank you,


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