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“We’re approaching the Alessi system now, Captain,” the young ensign stationed at the con called out.
“Very well, Ensign,” Cael answered, his ears pricked forward. He stood up from his command chair and stepped down from the dais to the con station. “Reduce speed to one-quarter sub-light. Take us in nice and slow.”
“Aye, Captain,” the ensign replied, her fingers expertly working the console in front of her. The steady thrum of the Cetani’s powerful engines began to diminish as the ship shifted to sub-light drive with an almost imperceptible shudder.
“Tactical, give me a passive sensor sweep of the planet,” Cael ordered. “I want to know the instant there’s any reaction to our presence down there.”
“Don’t worry, Captain,” his tactical officer said from his station beside the con, “if so much as a joule is used down there, we’ll know about it.”
Cael acknowledged his tactical officer with a flick of his ears as he stared at the star-filled view-screen in front of him. He watched as the planet, an insignificant-looking blue-white disc in the center of the view-screen, slowly grew larger as the massive ship crept steadily toward it.
“Captain, I’m receiving IFF codes from the Taigana and the Ikuta,” reported his com officer. “They’ve assumed a geosynchronous orbit on the far side of the planet’s moon.”
“Plot a course to rendezvous with the Taigana, Ensign,” Cael ordered to the con.
“Aye, Captain,” the ensign answered. “Course plotted and laid in. ETA to intercept is fifteen minutes, sir.”
“Thank you, Ensign.” Cael then turned to his com officer. “Hail the Taigana, Lieutenant,” he ordered.
“Sir, the Taigana is hailing us,” his com officer said.
“Very well. On screen, Lieutenant.”
Seconds later the star field and planet were replaced with the image of the Caitaran Fleet Commander, dressed sharply in her duty uniform and standing on the bridge of the Taigana.
“Admiral,” Cael said, with an acknowledging flick of his ears.
“I see you didn’t waste any time in getting here, Captain,” Chuul said, with the faintest hint of a smile.
“Kel is a friend,” Cael answered succinctly, as though no further explanation was required.
“Of course,” Chuul said. The smile then vanished from her face. “We’ve studied Captain Kel’s report.”
“I’m guessing from the Ikuta’s presence you’ve already decided on a course of action against these T’kri he speaks of?”
“Indeed we have, Captain,” Chuul confirmed. “As soon as you rendezvous with the Taigana and the Suroki, I want you to join me for a tactical briefing. You’ll be given your new orders then. Inform your CAG officer that upon your arrival, his assault craft and crew are to transfer temporarily to the Taigana. They’ll be joining the task force which I’ve put together to eliminate these T’kri.”
“Understood, Admiral,” Cael said. “We should make the rendezvous in fifteen minutes.”
“I’ll wait for you then, Captain. Chuul out.”
Aiden Mills stared up at Jev in wonder as he sat on his lap, his little hands touching Jev’s face. He giggled when Jev’s nose and long whiskers twitched. The wounds he had suffered were almost completely healed thanks to the combined efforts of Tiela and Sam, and he was adjusting amazingly well to the presence of the other Caitarans. It was the humans’ presence that Aiden shied away from, much to Jev’s sorrow, hiding behind Jev or Kiyel whenever either Mikkel, Sam or Emily came near. Tiela had told him Aiden’s uneasiness around humans was due to the trauma he suffered but assured Jev that he was young and would grow out of it eventually with their help. It was just going to take some time and patience on their part.
Of all the Caitarans, Jev thought Jaffay would have been the least likely to have anything to do with Aiden. To his utter astonishment though, Jaffay took to the boy almost immediately, and though hesitant at first, he soon was running about the cave on all fours with Aiden riding on his back, laughing with glee. Tiela had to remind Jaffay a number of times to be mindful of Aiden’s still healing wounds, though she, too, couldn’t resist a smile upon seeing how happy Aiden was. While Jev was also nervous, he could see that Jaffay took special care to be as gentle with him as he could. He seemed to know exactly when Aiden had had enough.
They were now two days in the caves since finding the probe and sending a message to the Cetani, and still they waited for its arrival. As the hours passed, Jev was keenly aware of the growing tensions within the cave. He was especially aware of Kel’s growing concern that they would suddenly be discovered by the T’kri should they stay in the caves for much longer. To mitigate the possibility of them being caught unawares, then, Kel had ordered Jaffay to ensure that there were at least two people standing watch by the mouth of the cave at all times; partly to ensure they had ample warning should the T’kri eventually find them, but also to keep an eye out for the Cetani’s arrival.
Jev brought himself back to the present and looked down at Aiden, only to discover that the boy had fallen asleep in his arms.
“He’s finally asleep, is he?” Kiyel said as he approached and sat down beside them by the fire and handing Jev a steaming mug of Kiarri, which he accepted gratefully.
“Yes. It’s been a long day for him,” Jev said, turning his attention once more to Aiden.
Kiyel gently brushed Aiden’s cheek with a finger, which elicited a low, tired groan from the boy and he shifted slightly in Jev’s arms. “Tiela says it’ll probably be a few more days before his injuries are completely healed.”
“That’s good,” Jev said. He looked back up at Kiyel with a hopeful smile. “Still no sign of the Cetani I take it?”
“Not yet,” Kiyel said with a long sigh. “Jaffay just relieved me from watch a few minutes ago.”
“It’s a wonder he still has any energy left after playing with Aiden all morning.”
“He enjoys being with him, much more than he lets on.”
Jev smiled at him. “Been reading him have you?”
“I didn’t have to,” Kiyel said with a small smile of his own, “not with how strongly he’s been projecting his feelings.”
Jev nodded his head. “I wonder if Aiden can feel it.”
“It’s possible,” Kiyel answered. His tone became serious. “His talent was awakened prematurely, so he may not even be consciously aware of it. He needs to be taught to develop and control his talent. For that we’ll need to take him to the Telepath Guild on Caitar.”
“I’m not so sure the colony council will be thrilled with that idea,” Jev said.
“Probably not,” Kiyel conceded. “However, once the Cetani arrives and our diplomats establish contact with the Alessians, our telepaths should be able to impress upon them the need for Aiden to receive formal training on Caitar.”
“I sure hope so.”
Movement by the mouth of the cave suddenly caught their attention. They looked over and saw Jaffay skid to a stop just a few yards inside the cave, his eyes wide with excitement and his tail flicking wildly behind him.
Something’s up, Kiyel sent.
Holding onto Aiden, Jev quickly rose to his feet with Kiyel.
“I think you all need to come out and take a look at this,” Jaffay announced, getting the attention of the others in the cave.
Kel and Tiela, who had been engrossed in a lengthy, but quiet, conversation with Sam at the back of the cave, hurried towards him. “Report, Jaffay,” he ordered.
But Jaffay just shook his head. “It’s easier if you come see for yourself, sir,” he said, then turned and hurried back out of the cave.
“What’s going on?” Sam asked, joining Jev and Kiyel.
“I don’t know,” Jev answered, watching as Kel, Tiela and the rest of the crew quickly filled out of the cave, “but we’d better find out. Come on.”
Hurrying outside they found the others standing out in the open, staring up into the sky in silence, not moving, as though each of them had been frozen in time and space. From above there was an almost deafening sound of airborne craft. Jev looked up, and gasped audibly, for it was then that he saw a massive formation of ship flying high above them. There were so many of them they filled the sky, almost blotting out the sun.
The noise of the ships had wakened Aiden, who put his hands to his ears in an effort to block the sudden sound. But instead of being frightened, like Jev thought he would be, Aiden was staring up at the ships flying overhead with a curiosity that only a child could have.
Kel, seeing Jev and Kiyel emerge from the cave, turned to meet them. “Kiyel, can you confirm—"
But Kiyel was already way ahead of him, preemptively scanning the ships that flew overhead. “They’re Caitaran, sir,” he said, interrupting Kel in mid-sentence. His tail began flicking behind him with excitement as a huge grin stretched across his face.
“My god, there must be hundreds of them,” Mikkel said in awe, finding his voice.
“At least,” Kel said, “and more than the Cetani is capable of carrying alone.”
“She’s not alone then,” Jaffay said.
“No, there’s definitely a carrier up there,” Kel said.
“I’ll bet my tail it’s the Taigana,” Jaffay said with a scowl, his tone contemptuous. “Chuul always was an ambitious female. She probably wants credit for eliminating the T’kri.”
Kel regarded his tactical officer wryly. “Maybe so,” he said, “but you have to admit, she knows how to make an entrance.”
Jaffay just snorted derisively and watched as a group of ships broke away from the rest and fly off towards the T’kri’s base.
“Damn,” Janice swore when she realized where the ships were headed, “they’re headed straight for Ru’kayesh!” She then turned to face Kel. “What the heck did you put in that message you sent, Captain?”
“Only the location of every T’kri installation on Alessi as provided by your former commanding officer,” Kel answered, with a smug grin.
“Well it seems they got the message alright,” Mikkel said. “It looks like the other group is headed for Clearhaven.”
Moments later they heard the unmistakable sound of weapons fire and distant explosions. The fight for Alessi had begun.
“Look!” Taaj said suddenly, pointing. “There’s one breaking away from the others.”
As one, they all looked to where Taaj was pointing and saw that there was indeed a ship breaking formation. What’s more, it seemed to be headed in their direction.
“That’s not an assault craft,” Kel observed as the ship drew closer, his ears flicking in recognition, “that’s one of our shuttles.”
“Well, no matter what it is, there’s no place for it to land around here. There’s too much brush. It has to be headed for a clearing nearby,” Mikkel said.
“Then that’s where we’re headed as well,” Kel decided.
“We’ll have to cut our way through the forest,” Mikkel said. “It’ll take us too long to go around.”
“Cut through the forest? With what?” Jev asked.
He watched curiously as Mikkel walked over to his bag, which was resting against a nearby rock. From his bag he pulled out a small machete. Jev instantly recognized it as being one of the tools the colonist regularly used to clear away brush on their farms.
“With this,” Mikkel said, brandishing the blade in front of him.
“Let’s get going then,” Kel ordered, nodding his head and indicating for Mikkel to take point.
With Mikkel expertly using his machete to clear away the brush blocking their path, it didn’t take them long to reach the clearing. Already they could hear the shuttle’s thrusters slowing its descent, and by the time they breached the treeline, the shuttle had landed.
Jev had never before seen a ship quite like the Caitaran shuttle. Its sleek design was in complete contrast to the T’kri shuttles, which were quite bulky. Compared to the T’kri shuttles, the Caitaran shuttle was also much larger, and it looked capable of carrying at least twenty people inside its hull.
Kel led them toward the shuttle just as the shuttle’s ramp began to lower. From inside the shuttle emerges a tall, dark-furred Caitaran male, dressed sharply in a military uniform. Right away Jev could tell that this was a high-ranked officer. His suspicions were confirmed when he saw Kiyel and the other Caitarans come instantly to attention. At Kiyel’s gentle urging, he did the same.
Joining the officer were two others; a Caitaran male, dressed in an elegant, flowing robe that made Jev think the wearer belonged to some religious order, and a short, bird-like alien, covered in brown and white feathers, with two, large, yellowish eyes, and dressed in loose, drab-coloured clothing.
She’s a Brekari, Kiyel sent in a bemused tone, feeling Jev’s interest in the new arrivals.
Really? Jev sent, surprised. From what you’ve told me of them, somehow I imagined they’d be taller.
So did I, before I finally met one in person, Kiyel sent with a wry grin.
What about the other two? Jev asked.
The one in front I think is Captain Cael, Kiyel sent, indicating the Caitaran in uniform. He’s the Cetani’s commanding officer.
And the one in the robes?
That’s Guild Elder Veir Onawi, the Telepath Guild’s liaison with the Cetani, Kiyel told him.
You’ve met him? Jev asked, his eyes narrowing as he regarded the Caitaran.
Only briefly, Kiyel sent, feeling Jev’s sudden uneasiness, when I first reported for duty.
Does he know you joined the military under an assumed name? Jev asked.
He knows my family, Kiyel admitted, his ears flattening backward slightly. Don’t worry though, he quickly added, reassuringly, he’s sympathetic to my situation and he’s agreed to keep the knowledge of who I am hidden.
As the three new arrivals stepped off the ramp and began making their way towards them, their strides sharp and deliberate, Kel stepped forward to greet them.
“Hello, Kel,” Cael said, warmly shaking Kel’s outstretched hand.
“It’s damn good to see you, Cael,” Kel said with a relieved smile.
“I’m sure,” Cael replied with a bemused grin. “Why is it every time you manage to get yourself into trouble, I’m the one who has to save your tail?” Cael asked with feigned annoyance.
“Just lucky I guess,” Kel replied wryly. “What are you doing here, though? I thought you’d be up there coordinating the strikes against the T’kri.”
“Admiral Chuul decided she wanted to reserve that honor for herself. Instead, I was put in charge of the diplomatic mission.”
“That certainly sounds like Chuul,” Kel said with a soft chuckle.
“Excuse me, Captain, but time is of the essence here,” the Brekari behind him said in her high-pitched, almost sing-song voice that somehow perfectly articulated the guttural hisses and growls of the Caitaran language, surprising Jev yet again.
“You’re quite right, Ambassador,” Cael acknowledged with a flick of his ears. “Kel, this is Ambassador D’lin. She’s here to help with the negotiations with the colonists for the Alliance.”
“Ambassador,” Kel said, greeting her with a nod of his head.
“It’s good to meet you, Kel,” D’lin said. Her gaze suddenly fell upon Mikkel, Janice and Sam, who were standing together. “Are those the humans you spoke of in your report?” she asked.
“They are,” Kel confirmed.
“Fascinating,” D’lin said, clearly intrigued. “I would very much like to speak with them.”
“I would be happy to introduce you to them, Ambassador, but you should know they don’t speak Caitaran,” Kel told her.
“They don’t speak Caitaran?” D’lin echoed, looking surprised.. “Then how do you communicate with them?” she asked, her head cocked to one side slightly.
“We were able to learn their language, thanks to our two telepaths, Kiyel and Jev,” Kel said, looking over at them.
“Hello, Kiyel,” Veir said, moving to stand before him.
“Elder Veir,” Kiyel said, acknowledging the other with a flick of his ears. “It’s good to see you again.” He placed the palm of his hand lightly on Veir’s chest, greeting the other in the customary manner for telepaths.
“I am glad to see that you are well,” Veir replied, returning Kiyel’s greeting. “I’d feared the worst when I read the reports of the Lekur’s disappearance. You can imagine how relieved I was when I heard that you were well. I was surprised, however, to learn that you’d formed an Enassi link,” he said, and looked at Jev quizzically.
“No more so than I was, Elder,” Kiyel said. “This is Jev, my Enassi.”
As soon as Kiyel introduced him, Jev felt Veir’s mind gently probing the edges of his. He watched with some amusement as Veir’s eyes suddenly opened wide with shock when he felt Jev’s and Kiyel’s link.
“I don’t understand,” Veir said, looking at Kiyel with a perplexed expression on his face, his tail flicking behind him. “The report said that your Enassi was human.”
“And when Jev and I first met, he was,” Kiyel said.
Veir’s and Cael’s ears pricked forward in surprise at this, and both of them stared at Jev in disbelief.
“This wasn’t in your report,” Cael said quietly to Kel, his tail flicking slightly.
“There wasn’t time,” Kel replied apologetically. “The T’kri could have shown up at any moment and we had to get that report out fast,” he explained.
“Please take my hand and open your mind to me,” Veir said, stretching his hand out to Jev. “I need to see for myself.”
Kiyel? Jev sent nervously.
It’s alright, Jev, Kiyel sent, reassuringly.
As soon as their hands joined, Jev cautiously began to lower his barriers, believing that Veir would try to force his way in. But Jev was surprised when instead he patiently waited for Jev to lower each barrier before gently proceeding deeper into his mind. And then, after only a few seconds, Jev felt Veir carefully withdraw from his mind..
Bewildered with astonishment, Veir slowly turned to Cael. “It’s true,” he said, in an almost whispered voice. “I don’t know how it’s possible, Captain, but somehow it’s true. He’s a hybrid of two species; human and Caitaran.”
“I could have told you that,” Tiela said, rolling her eyes at the Elder.
“There’s something else you should know,” Kiyel said, getting their attention once more. He then looked down at Aiden. “We’ve discovered that this child is a sensitive. His name is Aiden.”
“Another human telepath?” Cael asked, his eyes narrowing slightly.
“We don’t know yet,” Kiyel said, his tail flicking. “His talent was awakened prematurely. He needs to be tested by the Telepath Guild.”
“Can the humans not see to his testing?” Veir asked.
“No, Elder. To the humans, telepathy is a fringe phenomena. They’re highly skeptical of its existence,” Kiyel explained.
“If, as you say, the humans deny the existence of telepathy, they’ll insist that the child remain with them,” D’lin said.
“He can’t stay here, though,” Jev said. “He’s terrified of humans because of what happened to him.”
“It also seems that he’s grown quite attached to us,” Kiyel added.
“So I see,” Veir, looking with amusement at Aiden who had the entire time been shyly peering out from behind Jev’s leg which he was hugging tightly.
“We can deal with the child’s disposition later. For now though, it’s imperative that we contact the leaders of the colony right away,” D’lin said.
“In that case, we’ll need to get in touch with First Councilor Janette Pelletier. She’s the leader of the colony council,” Jev said.
“You know this First Councilor Janette Pelletier?” D’lin asked.
“Somewhat. The council would sometimes meet secretly at my father’s inn, so I would see her then,” Jev explained.
“Excellent,” D’lin said. “Would you be willing to contact her for us, then?”
“Excuse me, Ambassador,” Kiyel interjected, “but when she last saw Jev, he was human, like her. There’s no way she’d recognize him now, and she certainly wouldn’t trust him.”
“Mikkel could probably do it, though,” Jev said thoughtfully. “He’s had just as much contact with the First Councilor as I have.”
“You’ve already asked him if he has?” Cael asked.
“I didn’t have to, sir. He’s my brother,” Jev explained.
“I see,” Cael said, his ears flicking with surprise.
Upon hearing his name, Mikkel quickly made his way to his brother’s side. “What was that, Jev?” he asked.
“They need someone to contact the council for them. They asked me to do it, but...” Jev said, stopping in mid-sentence as he pointedly looked down at himself.
“I get it,” Mikkel said, giving Jev an understanding grin.
“I thought maybe you could do it instead.”
“Of course,” Mikkel said.
Jev smiled at him in thanks and then turned back to Cael.
“He said he’ll do it,” Jev told him.
Cael acknowledged this with a flick of his ears. “Do you know if the colonists are capable of receiving communications through a video terminal?” he asked.
“Yes they are, sir,” Jev answered with a nod of his head. “Every home in the colony is equipped with a video phone. But the system isn’t set up to connect to a terminal outside the network. The T’kri made sure of that.”
A wry grin then formed on Cael’s face. “Since it appears that the T’kri are somewhat busy at the moment, I’m sure we won’t have much trouble hacking into the system without them noticing.” he said.
“No, I suppose not,” Jev said. Right then and there he decided he liked this new captain.
When the first ships appeared in the sky over Clearhaven, Janette knew there was going to be trouble. From her office winder, she watched with guarded anticipation as the column of ships flew over the town and head straight for the T’kri garrison on the coast. In the streets below, the people of Clearhaven began gathering outside, looking up with cautious curiosity, and murmuring nervously amongst themselves.
Then, without warning, an explosion suddenly erupted within the garrison. Its deafening sound shook the building, and caused her to instinctively shield her eyes from the blast. Within seconds of the first explosion, Janette watched in shock as a number of T’kri shuttles lifted off in a frantic effort to escape the attacking ships. The swift and merciless manner in which they struck, however, rendered any hope of escape by the T’kri impossible. Within seconds, every T’kri shuttle was destroyed.
With the T’kri shuttles destroyed, the attacking ships quickly turned their their energy weapons on the garrison itself.
A gleeful grin began to form on Janette’s face as she realized she was witnessing the destruction of the T’kri. Even as she silently cheered the attackers on, however, a nagging thought at the back of her mind began to form. What was going to happen once the attackers were finished with the T’kri? Was the colony next?
“Janette, there’s a call coming in for you,” Tanis said urgently as he raced into her office, the door slamming open, causing her to jump with a start.
She spun around, giving him an incredulous look. “You’ve got to be kidding me, Tanis!” she exclaimed with disbelief. “Do you see those ships out there? Do you hear the explosions?” she asked, emphatically waving her hands towards the window.
“Yes, but I definitely think you need to take this call, Ma’am,” Tanis insisted forcefully.
“Very well, Tanis,” she said reluctantly. “But in the mean time, I need you to round up as many security personnel as you can and get those people outside off the streets and back into their homes.”
“Right away, Janette,” Tanis said, and hurried out of her office.
With a long sigh, she made her way back to her desk and sat down, then activated her com terminal. Immediately she recognized the face that appeared on her screen.
“This really isn’t a good time for a chat, Mikkel,” Janette said, flinching as the sound of another explosion outside shook the building.
“This isn’t a social call, First Councilor,” Mikkel’s image said, “I’m sorry for contacting you like this, but I thought you’d like to know who it is that’s attacking the T’kri.”
“You know who they are?” she asked, incredulous, her eyes opening wide.
“Of course,” Mikkel said, with a wry grin. “I’m with their leaders right now,” he informed her.
“Well then, tell them to break off their attack. We’re getting hammered over here!”
“I’m afraid that’s impossible, First Councilor,” Mikkel said with a shake of his head. “The ships that are attacking the T’kri belong to an alien race called the Caitarans.”
“So there is another race on Alessi,” Janette interjected, leaning back in her chair. "Yes,” Mikkel confirmed. “A couple of months ago, the T’kri shot down one of the Caitaran’s scout ships. The crew has been in hiding here on the planet ever since. By shooting down their ship, though, the Caitarans now consider themselves to be at war with the T’kri.”
“Are the rebels—"
“The rebels have their own agenda, First Councilor,” Mikkel said with just a hint of anger in his voice, cutting her off in mid-sentence. “I left them so that I could help the Caitarans.”
“Given everything we’ve been through with the T’kri though, do you really trust these Caitarans?” she asked.
“Yes, First Councilor, I do. And what’s more, so does my brother,” Mikkel said.
“Your brother!” Janette echoed in disbelief. “He’s alive?”
“Yeah, he’s alive. Thankfully he wasn’t at the inn when the fire started,” Mikkel said, with a wide grin.
“Thank heavens for that,” Janette said, sighing in relief.
“First Councilor, the Caitarans have asked me to convey to you their request to meet with the council.”
“I see,” she said, her brow furrowing slightly as she leaned forward in her chair again. “And where exactly do they want to meet?”
“If you are agreeable, I’d like to suggest the public square in Clearhaven, outside the Council Hall.”
“That’s right in the middle of town, Mikkel. Are you sure that’s wise?” she asked with some trepidation.
“I can understand your hesitation, First Councilor,” Mikkel said. “When I was first introduced to the Caitarans, I had my reservations about them as well. However, they’ve proven themselves to be honorable people. They truly wish to help us.”
“Very well, Mikkel,” she said with a reluctant sigh. “I’ll defer to your judgment in this. Tell the Caitarans I look forward to meeting them.”
“Thank you, First Councilor. They’ll be happy to hear that. Mikkel out,” he said, reaching forward to close the channel.
As the screen went blank Janette got up from her chair and made her way back to the window. There she watched as the attacking ships continued their devastating bombardment of the T’kri garrison, setting it ablaze which sent thick, black, billowy smoke up into the sky.
I hope to God you’re right, Mikkel, Janette thought to herself.