The Volarae: The Key of Arel

by

Elijah Schultz


Prologue

This story is a compilement of the main events that took place in the year 2099. But for you to fully understand these events, I should first give you a brief history and some information on the Alien races and worlds involved.

Elijah_Schultz_MAP

In 2033 a man named Jack Williams began his conquest to take over Earth. He succeeded in 2036, uniting Earth as one country. Earth made first contact with an alien race (the Te`chni) in 2040 and was an established power in space by 2050.

In 2089 Vaq the Conqueror became Hajna (supreme dictator) of the Mattan. This bit of history requires more explanation than the rest because it is more directly associated with the story. When Vaq became Hajna he decided the Mattani Empire needed to encompass all the Eta Quadrant. To do this, he decided it would be easier to cripple each race first. He did this by stealing the Volarae. The Volarae are orbs of unknown origin and unknown composition that float in from deep space. They are an essential part of a hyper-light engine. So Vaq created an elite force to steal all the Volarae. This task was completed in the early- to mid-nineties, but before he could continue, he was poisoned.

Mada. Mada is the Mattan homeworld and the homeworld of Vaq the conqueror. It is thickly forested and mountainous, with very few bodies of water. It is home to many savage creatures, but has mild weather. Mada's equatorial diameter is 8,056 km, but its density is greater so it has slightly greater gravity than earth. It has an oxygen- based atmosphere (50% oxygen, 42% carbon dioxide 8% other). The Mattan are heavy-set and strong, standing an average of 5'5" and weighing 200lbs. They look much like humans except they have a row of bony spines running from the middle of their forehead to the back of their neck and light green webbed patterns on their skin. They are violent and survival oriented, not seeing the point of either recreation or riches.

Te`chn. Te`chn is the Te`chni homeworld, the race that humans first encountered. It is about covered in water, with varying habitats, though there are no barren places (e.g. deserts, tundras). The weather varies from season to season and from place to place. Te`chn's equatorial diameter is 11,196km. It has a diverse atmosphere containing many gases, several of which the Te`chn are able to breath. The Te`chn look very similar to humans, but with internal anatomical differences, and some other external differences including longer fingers, skinnier bodies; they have mental awareness, and they have better senses than us. They are typically peaceful, but are excellent warriors and will fight if provoked.

Zhwane. Zhwane is the Zhwaent homeworld. The Zhwaent language, while hard to speak, is simple and used as a universal language for inter-species communication. Zhwane is about 2/3 water, but has no continents, only rocky islands. It is very muggy and humid, and also warm. Its atmosphere is almost entirely oxygen, but the water vapor in the air reduces flammability. Zhwane's equatorial diameter is 7,600km. The Zhwaent are an insect-like species with an exoskeleton, mandibles, bulbous eyes, et cetera. They are friendly, although suspicious. They have wings and swim very well. They can survive in space and in water.

Eln. Eln is the homeworld to the Eln. Eln is a crystal-rich planet with no vegetation, only strange semi-organic creatures. We know little about this planet because the Eln are very secretive. Eln's equatorial diameter is 13,789km. Eln's atmosphere is 90% fluorine. Fluorine is a highly reactive element that burns, explodes, or corrodes almost every thing it contacts. Also, if that isn't inhospitable enough, the average temperature is -260 degrees Fahrenheit. The Eln are nickel-based life forms. As I said before they are very secretive and we know almost nothing about them.

*****

"My lord" started the Mattan, who had just walked into the room where Vaq the Conqueror lay dying, "the doctors say you have but six hours to live."

"Yes," replied the weak Hajna, "so they do."

"My lord, who shall your Empire fall to?" asked the Mattan.

On this Vaq smiled weakly. "No one, my loyal servant. No one. Not one of my silly subjects is good enough to continue what I have started." Vaq looked at the Mattan. "I have one last task for you, Arel. The Volarae. They must be hidden. If I cannot have them, no one will. You are the slyest and most devious of all my servants. I trust you will hide them well."

Arel smiled evilly. "Do not fear, my lord. I will."

Part I: The Beginning

Our story begins with a boy, standing in defensive position behind a doorway. Gripped in his hand is a homemade neuro-shock weapon. He looks to be 14-16 years of age and is not very tall, but very thin and dirty. He is dressed in a ragged tunic that extends a few inches below his waist, loose canvas pants, crude sandals, and has a sack slung over his back with a leather strap. The boy's name is Xeath Hant.

Xeath had come here, the Wocyrn settlement (an Earth settlement), with his father when he was very young. While they where here, Vaq the Conqueror began his conquest and stole all the Volarae. This means they were stranded here, because the alternative to hyper-light speed was quantum jump-gates, which Xeath and his father could not afford.

Xeath cautiously looked around doorway and quickly ducked back, for standing on patrol about twenty feet away was an Enforcer. Xeath then took his neuro-shock weapon and shot the Enforcer with it. The Enforcer let out a momentary grunt as energy surged through his nervous system and knocked him out. Xeath moved quietly to the entrance of the launch bay where the Enforcer had been patrolling. He went inside and glanced around. He panicked at first because he couldn't find the ship he was looking for, but it was just behind a different ship. Xeath went up to the ship, an Allen class cruiser, and took out a small device and placed it on the lock of the ship's hatch. His brief adrenaline rush at not being able to find the ship was making him think scary thoughts, like how major a crime he was committing. This was not like anything he had done before, like smuggling a bit of extra food to his bunkhouse. If he was caught this time, he would end up as a person talked about in rumors: one who was dragged off in chains, never to be seen again. A beep from the device made him jump as he was thinking these things. Xeath looked at the device. It indicated that the door was already unlocked. He guessed a lazy Enforcer had just forgotten to lock it, but his nervous mind made him think of other reasons too. He opened the hatch and went inside.

The interior was a single, dimly lit room with a few partition walls. At the front of the ship was a large control board and a window. In the back were some cargo bins, storage compartments, a fold out bunk and a bathroom. Xeath entered without looking a round. He had studied the schematics for this ship inside and out. He went straight to the control board and took out the same device he tried to use to open the door and placed it on a panel on the control board. It started beeping as it hacked into the computer systems and broke through the command code locks. Once it had completed its job it shut down, and the computer powered up.

... shkupt...

... mletga ndpt okknf f...

the computer said in Zhwaent. [...activating... ...computer is online and...] Xeath interrupted it and said, "Computer, switch to English." He could speak Zhwaent, but he could speak English better.

... makmapt qweqgra... [...processing command...]

...Acknowledged...

...Standing by and ready for lift-off...

Xeath's hands flew across the controls. Engage engine. Start liftoff jets. Artificial gravity on. This was the most dangerous part of his mission. If he forgot one control, he would die. And he had been in here for long enough that another Enforcer would probably be coming. Finally, the door to the bay opened and the ship flew out. The sight of the landscape of the Wocyrn settlement moving quickly under him made his stomach lurch. But he also had a feeling of exhilaration as he finally was escaping the oppressive life he hated so much.

As the ship ascended, Xeath kept his eyes on the controls. This was the part where he would die if he messed up. A sudden alarm noise made dread grip his heart. All this for nothing. He would die in the sky and let his friends down. Xeath looked over at the flashing control that was beeping. It indicated that they where leaving the atmosphere and entering deep space. He let out a sigh of relief. That was good. It meant he had almost got away. Thinking of that, he checked the sensor screen and it showed no ships in pursuit. While the ship pulled into space, Xeath looked out the window to admire the view. The stars where so much more beautiful from here in space than they were from the ground. They looked like sparkling, living gemstones, if Xeath had known what gemstones where. Then as the ship came to the quantum jump-gate he concentrated again at the task at hand. He sent the activation code sequence to open the jump-gate and as it was opening he checked the sensor screen again, but there was no pursuit. The ship flew through the quantum warp into Dimension 2 and he smiled. He had escaped from the Department of Safety.

While he was sailing through Dimension 2, staring out the window at the beautiful blue particle strings, he thought over how he had gotten to where he was now.

Once the Volarae had been stolen, the Wocyrnnians set up a provisional government according to the protocol of Earth settlements and colonies, because contact with Earth had been severed, for deep space communication relays could not be maintained and quantum jump-gates and ships with quantum-warp drive were not readily available. In addition, both jump-gates and quantum-warp engines needed large amounts of rare and exotic materials to be built, so Earth and the other worlds were recovering slowly from the Volarae's absence. They could collect new Volarae of course, but Volarae are somewhat rare, and that would take time. In any case, Wocyrn was on its own. All went well for a year or two, a time in which Xeath's father died. Then one branch of the provisional government, the Department of Safety, began to grow in power, through certain laws it put in place and other insidious ways, mainly orchestrated by a man named Feth Wane, the director of the Department. Eventually, the only part of the government left was the Department of Safety, and it exercised full use of this power. Everyone, except members of the Department of Safety and their rich friends, on the Wocyrn settlement was enslaved or "taken into the care of" as the Department says. So Xeath grew up as a slave, working in the hyptinium mines. Among the other slaves, his closest friends were Lukos, a boy his age, and Telloes, a middle-aged man who mentored Xeath and Lukos.

Then one day at a meeting of a group of slaves (they had no real name for themselves) an older slave came forward

"I have found something in an artifact I had been given by a friend as a gift several years ago, I am not quite sure what it is, but I believe it is a clue of Arel, of which we all know the legends of."

The clues of Arel were part of legend about when Vaq the Conqueror died his last orders to Arel, one of his most trusted advisors and servants, where to hide the Volarae, which he did by putting them in a secret, nearly indestructible building that could only be unlocked with the Key of Arel which he also hid but put clues leading to it, probably he could go back and get it if he wanted to, throughout the Eta Quadrant.

Telloes took the supposed clue in hand and examined it. It was a stone-like disc about three inches in diameter and about a quarter-inch thick. Around the rim was the imperial symbol of Vaq and in the center of one side was the name Arel written in Zhwaent script. On the other side was a rectangle with the Zhwaent words "place your digit here".

"This does appear to be a clue of Arel" said Telloes. All the other slaves agreed with him partly because it seemed like it was, and partly because Telloes was considered the expert on everything.

"And," continued Telloes, "this could be our key to escape. If we restore the Volarae then Earth could come back here and get rid of that accursed Department." Hope and enthusiasm where clearly written on his face.

Through the next few weeks the group of slaves collected food and bits and pieces of technology to put together a crude neuro-shock weapon and a hacking device. At the end of those few weeks, they realized they would not be able to collect enough food to send multiple people to find the Key of Arel and they had elected Xeath to go because of his loyalty, adventurous spirit and ingenuity. Also if he was not able to find the Volarae, he was young enough to start a good life. Xeath opposed this stubbornly and said someone else should go, not because he was afraid but because he hated gaining his freedom while everyone else would remain enslaved, but in the end he consented. Then they waited for an opportunity for escape. This came when one of the slaves overheard some Enforcers talking about an electron storm that was coming. It would make wireless signals be disrupted so communications and the automated security system would not work.

Then Xeath was brought back from his thoughts to the present by a loud banging noise from the back of the space ship.

Xeath got up from the control board and took out his neuro-shock weapon and looked at it. It had very little energy left, maybe not enough for one shot. He decided to go see what was back there anyway, because if he let it stay there, it would not just go away. The noise had come from behind a storage bin on the left side of the ship. As he was approaching the bin he decided that whatever it was was probably behind the containers on the right side of the ship. He didn't know why he thought that, because the noise had come from the other bin, but he did. Xeath looked behind the bin on the right, but nothing was there. Then he was grabbed from behind!

"BOO," said the person behind him. Xeath jumped and then turned around with dread in his heart. He knew it must be an Enforcer that had hidden aboard or something. Instead he found a girl laughing uncontrollably. She had blonde hair and green-gray eyes. She was considerably cleaner than Xeath and was dressed in the same style with a short tunic, a jacket, a knee length skirt, boots and a belt with several tools and a dagger. All of her garb was in much better condition and much better quality than his. After Xeath had recovered from his shock, he raised his weapon to her throat.

"What are you doing here?" he demanded.

She raised her hand as a gesture for him to let her catch her breath from laughing. When she had done so she said, "Your expression was so funny!"

Xeath didn't think that it was funny. "What are you doing here?" he repeated.

"I'm Daia Caurod. I'm escaping from the Department, just like you." she said.

"I've never seen you before, and your not dressed like a slave. And how do you know I'm escaping?" Xeath said.

A fleeting look of worry crossed Daia's face very briefly, but Xeath was very good at reading people and saw it.

"Well, you've never met me because I'm a city slave, which is also why I'm not dressed like you and its pretty obvious you're a slave," she said, just slightly suggestively referring to his dirty, unkempt appearance, "and the only thing that I can think of that a slave would be doing piloting a ship away from Wocyrn alone would be escaping."

Xeath was somewhat taken aback by the length and rapidity of her response, so it took him a minute to register what she said.

"Alright then, to phrase it more appropriately: how do I know you're not just a spy working for the Department of Safety?" Xeath questioned.

Daia looked nervous again, but tried a smile anyway, "you could just trust me?"

The girl had a strange look on her face, almost as if she were looking into his head. She is a nice, and probably not a spy, Xeath thought to him himself. Or at least it seemed like his thoughts. Xeath started and shook off those thoughts. They weren't his, or didn't seem to be.

He shook his head, "I'll need proof"

"Weeeell... you could check the Department's files on your ship's computer." She said looking pleased with herself.

"Fine," Xeath said, "Computer, display files concerning Daia... what did you say your last name was?"

"Caurod"

"Computer, display files concerning Daia Caurod"

...Processing...

Dept. of Safety
Main Archives
Subject: Daia Caurod
Gender: Female
Age: est. 13-15 years
Hair: blonde
Eyes: green-gray
Height: 5'6"
ID number: 59641/MU
I.Q.: relatively high
Family History: parents in the care of the Department of Safety
Criminal Record: none of significance
Status: city worker

"Okay," said Xeath, "I guess I believe you"

"Finally," said Daia, "but how should I believe you, after all if you where suspicious of me, why couldn't I be suspicious of you?"

He shrugged " Computer, display files on Xeath Hant"

"Xeath Hant? That's your name?" She giggled, "that's a funny name"

"It's not nearly as funny as yours" He retorted.

Daia said nothing, but smirked.

...Processing...

Department of Safety
Main Archives
Subject: Xeath Hant
Gender: Male
Age: est. 14-16 years
Hair: black
Eyes: brown
Height: 5'9"
ID number: 56032/DELTA
I.Q.: high
Family History: He and his father came here in the year 2090. When all the Volarae where lost, they were stranded, not having the funds to leave. His father died in 2093.
Criminal Record: 9 acts of disturbing the peace; 5 unauthorized entries into state facilities; 23 unauthorized acts;
Status: mine worker

"Well, now that we trust each other, where are we going?" she asked.

Xeath really didn't trust her still, and didn't want the Department to know about his search for the Key of Arel, but she would find out eventually anyway.

"Specifically, I don't know because I Haven't opened the clue of Arel that I have yet."

Daia's eyes widened, "A clue of Arel? I thought that was a myth."

"Nope" said Xeath as he retrieved the clue from his sack "I hadn't read it yet because I wanted to get as far from the Department as possible first. But I guess now is a good time to do so."

He took the disk and did as the instructions said and placed his finger in the rectangle. Instantly, the entire surface went blank, and then changed to these Zhwaent words:

Lcnf zhryntoa ndpt aacrnf( aayznf( aayznf( lumlumnf gomthnca) Mallalatagoma lurnf Laay) Te`chn)

[The next clue is on Te`chn, in the Temple of the Sky Peace, in the deep chamber]

"Well, that certainly was not much of a riddle," said Daia, looking over Xeath's shoulder.

"At least makes it easier for us," he replied "Although I'm sure getting into the "Temple of the Sky Peace" isn't going to be easy.Computer."

......

"display map of the Eta Quadrant and set course for Te`chn, maximum speed."

...Processing...

...Complying...

...Task complete......Course set...

And with that the cruiser flew through Dimension 2, headed towards Te`chn.


=======================================================

Xeath still didn't trust Daia. Too many things about her were suspicious, even though when he had needed to sleep she didn't kill him or turn him into the Department of Safety or something. Suspicious things like how did she escape the city? Why did she seem to trust him right from the start, despite the fact she tried to cover it up by asking to see his Department records? If she was really an escaped slave she should've been more suspicious and wary and not jump out and say "boo". And if she really had parents on Wocyrn like her records said, why would she just leave them behind? He would have to watch his back.

*****

It had been thirteen hours since they had left Wocyrn. Even in Dimension 2, it still took time to reach places. Those thirteen hours had almost been worse than his thirteen-plus years on Wocyrn. He had slept for about six of those hours, but for the rest of the time he had nothing to do and Daia talked almost constantly. So much for this being an exciting adventure so far. Currently, Xeath was enjoying the quiet as she slept in the bunk. Then the controls beeped. He sat up and looked at them. They had reached the quantum jump-gate above Te`chn. He regretfully went to the back of the ship to wake Daia. He shook the bunk not very gently and she woke a lot quicker than he thought she should've if she had really been sleeping, which did nothing to ease his suspicions. She sat up slightly bleary-eyed and stretched.

"Are we there?" she asked.

"Yes, we're right outside the jump-gate," Xeath replied.

He went back to the control board, joined by Daia who was brushing her hair, which had become a bit crazy as she slept. He sent the initiation sequence to the jump gate in real space. The endless blue expanse of Dimension 2 in front of them was instantly interrupted by the bright white flash of the quantum warp opening in front of them. Xeath piloted the ship through it, his skin tingling as he came back into the universe. Both of them jumped with a gasp as soon as they were through the gate-- right in front of them were three large Te`chni warships!

The two refugees stared out the window of their cruiser in fascinated horror at the massive, green, sleek spaceships. Neither of them had ever seen a ship that large, much less three of them with enough combined firepower to eradicate the largest cities. A voice came of the comm. system of their ship.

"This is the Te`chni warship Starpike. Please state your request for entry into Te`chni space." Xeath and Daia looked at each other nervously. They couldn't out run and they certainly couldn't out fight the Starpike and her companions. Xeath cleared his throat and pressed down the response button, hoping his voice wouldn't crack with nervousness.

"We're travelers here from Earth to, uh, see the sights."

There was a pause as their message was received.

"Our scanners show your ship is only lightly armed and the only potentially dangerous things on board are small weapons of self defense. You are clear to pass." Both of them gave a sigh of relief.

"I guess the Te`chni are trusting people," said Daia, "our story wasn't very convincing."

"Unless it was a common story. Both Earth and Te`chn have jump-gates right near them and Te`chn is a pretty nice place, from what I've heard, so it wouldn't be unlikely that humans come here," replied Xeath as he piloted the ship into orbit. The vast expanse of Te`chn stretched out below them, in sparkling greens and blues. Many other ships orbited, flew around and came up and down from the planet, including some more patrolling warships and satellites and orbital stations.

"Why are we just orbiting the planet?" asked Daia. "Shouldn't we be going down to the surface?"

"Do you know where the 'Temple of the Sky Peace' is?" he responded.

"No" she admitted.

"Neither do I, so we'll have to look it up. Computer, display location of the 'Temple of the Sky Peace'"

...Processing...

...The Temple of the Sky Peace is on Te`chn...

"Computer, where on Te`chn is the Temple of the Sky Peace?" Xeath said exasperatedly.

...Processing...

...The Temple of the Sky Peace is located on Te`chn, in the city Ma^an...

"Alright, now that we know where the temple is..." he started.

"No, wait," Daia interrupted, "we know where it is, but we know nothing about it. We should learn more about it first. Computer, display information on the Temple of the Sky Peace"

...Processing...

The Temple of the Sky Peace is a large stone structure located in the city Ma^an. It is run by the Sky Priests. It was erected in the year six hundred B.C. It has three entrances guarded by Sky Priests. Two of the entrances lead to chambers which non-Sky Priests are allowed. The third leads to an area restricted to only those who are Sky Priests, or a different Te`chni order of priests. Included in this area is a room called the Deep Chamber at the heart of the Temple. No one except the higher- ranking Sky Priests can enter this chamber, used for meditation. The Sky Priests are an order of priests that allows both male and female Te`chni...

(I have not included the entire search result, which was extremely long and would make for a boring story.)

Xeath and Daia continued to scan the search results. As they were reading Xeath stopped and pointed.

"There," he said, "this is how we can get in. It says that trainees to the Sky Priests wear normal Te`chni clothes with a scarf wrapped around their head like the priests."

"So?" asked Daia.

"We can disguise ourselves as trainees," he said, warming up to his plan. "We could procure Te`chni clothes at a market or something. From what we've read, the 'Temple of the Sky Peace' is large and has a good-sized population so no one would know who all the trainees are; the clothes and scarves would disguise that we're not Te`chni; and since the guards are rotated frequently they wouldn't need to remember us leaving."

Daia was skeptical "That's not a very good plan." And then aloud, but more to herself she murmured "but I think I could make it work."

Xeath frowned "What do you mean by that?"

"Oh! Uh, I really meant that I think it could work" she said hastily.

That did not help at all with his suspicion. He considered confronting her now but dismissed it. He would need proof, not suspicions, before he did anything. Xeath was not naturally suspicious, but the responsibility of freeing his friends on Wocyrn was making him both nervous about failing in his quest and also making him very cautious. After looking at a map of Te`chn in order to locate Ma^an, Xeath steered the ship to the planet's surface. Unlike our current and primitive space technology, the space ships of 2099 have equipment to protect the passengers aboard from g-forces and whatnot, so other than a somewhat bumpy ride, nothing bad happened on the way down. As they came down through the clouds, Ma^an stretched beneath them. It was a city with a population of approximately nine hundred thousand and it stretched seemingly endlessly to two who had never seen anything bigger than Wocyrn, with its population of twenty-five hundred, over and through the mountains on which it was built. The city was built mainly from colored stones and bright metals, which was a sight to see in the early morning sun. Towards the end of the city were public landing sections and as they came to them, Xeath steered the cruiser down onto one.

"Well," he said, once they had landed, "first order of business is provisioning. How much food did you bring?"

"Enough condensed rations for one month," Daia responded.

"Good. I have about the same, so we won't need any food for some time. All we need is money for transportation and our disguises."

"And we need to buy you better clothes. Your rags certainly are going to arouse suspicion no matter where we go, and unless you want to dress as a Te`chni, we should find a merchant who sells human clothes." Said Daia.

"Mmmm, I guess," said Xeath. "I don't actually remember the last time I had different clothes."

"That's disgusting, and precisely why you need new ones," she replied. "How much money do you have?"

"About three ICU's, in small coins." (Interplanetary Currency Units, one ICU is about equivalent to fifteen present- day Earth dollars.)

"I have about ten ICU's so we should have enough."

Xeath and Daia began getting ready to leave their ship. Xeath grabbed his pack and the Clue, and went to the ship's weapons locker to get a new weapon since his neuro-shock weapon was almost out of charge. Xeath was feeling more and more suspicious of Daia. Ten ICU's is lot of money. Sure, as a city slave she would have access to more money than him and his group, but he wondered what job she had as a city slave that gave her access to so much money. If she was telling the truth. If she was from the Department of Safety, they could give her as much as she wanted.

Daia walked out of the cruiser, into the bright green-white morning sun, followed by Xeath. The landing sections were almost blinding as their glassy metal surfaces reflected the light.

"I wonder where we can find transportation?" asked Daia as they made their way through the landing sections, a fair number of which were occupied.

"Over there," said Xeath pointing. For at the edge of the landing area was a small shop with racks of strange surf-board looking things that they had seen most of the Te`chni who went by riding. As they reached the shop, they could make out more details of the vehicles. They were about six feet long and made out of a wood that was smooth and very strong, but still very light weight. Towards the front of them, they had a small swiveling wheel made of metal and it also had an identical one in the back. The middle was curved down so that the very center of it touched the ground. It was propelled with a pole that tapered at the end into a wide flat piece. (The pole was also used to help with balance and to push oneself away from obstacles, including other people.)

"How far is it to the Temple of the Sky Peace?" Daia asked the bored-looking Te`chni vendor. He surveyed the two teens. Two Human children alone, one of them (Xeath) relatively shady looking, and his mental awareness told him they were both hiding something or didn't want to be discovered. The vendor shrugged mentally. If he questioned all the suspicious looking people who came around he never would have any business.

He replied in Zhwaent "Aza ndpt lukcgnf nwawmnf qya-qya-qya."

Daia repeated the words in her head trying to translate them but Xeath spoke first. "He said it's fifteen kilometers away."

They then inquired about the cost of renting boards (called we`'en by the Te`chni) and the location of a market area. Xeath translated most of it, because he was more fluent in Zhwaent. After receiving the information, Daia gave him a plat (worth one ICU) to rent two we`'en and received two ags in change and they went on their way. After about five feet Xeath fell off his we`'en, much to the amusement of Daia. And so it continued. While Daia was able to use the we`'en almost instantly, Xeath mastered it after about five hours. Thus, after about five hours they had finally reached the market although it was only about six kilometers away. They spent a few more hours finding what they needed at the market, eating a lunch of condensed rations, and finding public bathrooms so they could change into their disguises.

Xeath walked out of the public bathroom, where he had changed into the new clothes they had purchased at the market as well as the Te`chni clothes overtop. He had been amazed at how clean the bathrooms had been. They were cleaner than his bunkhouse on Wocyrn. He looked around for Daia. He found her shortly, dressed in Te`chni garb with the thin scarf wrapped around her head with only her eyes showing.

"You look like a ninja." He said.

"What's a ninja?"

"It's an ancient warrior on Earth from the eastern parts of the Oriental Ultraterri" he replied. (An Ultraterri is a division of land smaller than a Continent but bigger than a Territory)

They started to walk to the nearby temple. "How do you know all this stuff?" asked Daia?

Xeath replied, "I had a friend on Wocyrn who was a great traveler. He raised me and taught me a lot."

For once Daia said nothing, and he couldn't read her expression because of the scarf covering her face. Nor did he have time to ask her about it, because they had reached the Temple of the Sky Peace.

Xeath took a deep breath. He wasn't nearly as nervous as when he was escaping Wocyrn, because the consequences were not as dire now. He spoke to one of the guards in Zhwaent. "May we enter? We are coming back from our yearly visit with our families." (Trainees were allowed one visit per year with there families.)

The guard stepped forward, her staff in hand. Her eyes narrowed. Xeath glanced at his companion. She was looking at the guard in the same way she had looked at him when they first met, as if she were looking into the person's mind. "Of course, go right in," the guard said abruptly, slightly startling him. So they went in. They entered a long passage lit by the evening light, filtering through transparent rocks in the roof and small braziers holding piles of powdered rocks that glowed with a blue light. The walls were etched with ancient pictures and runes. As they continued they found these adornments throughout the whole temple. They continued down different passages for about ten more minutes. They occasionally encountered priests and trainees, but no one paid them any heed. Whenever they were alone, Xeath took out a small schematic of the temple to make sure they were going the right way. In a couple more minutes they had made it to the Deep Chamber.

The Deep Chamber was a plain, four-sided room with a 10ft, domed ceiling. There were no lights in this room except for a hole at the top of the ceiling that had blue light pouring out of it. Directly underneath the hole was a pedestal roughly four and a half feet tall and three feet square. The walls were bare except for a raised stone band etched with identical circles that ran along the bottom of the walls, up the corners, continuing up the dome and circling the hole in the ceiling. Another thing Xeath and Daia noticed as they entered was that, except for a slight breeze, the room was absolutely silent. Not even that ringing noise that you sometimes hear when things are silent existed. Having looked over the room they began looking for the clue of Arel quickly but quietly.

About ten minutes passed and they still had not found anything. Xeath sat down against the pedestal in frustration. He pulled out the clue they already had and the schematic of the temple and looked at it. The clue said the deep chamber in the Temple of the Sky Peace. The schematic showed that they where in the deep chamber. Then where was the clue? He leaned his head back against the pedestal and looked at the ceiling. He looked at the light in the ceiling. Then he noticed something. The stone band that encircled the hole and the circles etched in it had worn edges and was a dull color. But one of the circles was a lighter color and not worn.

"Hey, I think I found it!" he said quietly to Daia, standing up.

Daia came over from her task of banging the walls softly to see if they were hollow and had secret passages.

"Where?" she asked softly

"Right there. The etched circle that is a lighter shade."

"You can hardly say that's it just 'cause it's colored slightly different"

"Only one way to find out." He heaved himself up onto the pedestal so he could reach. Xeath tried to pry it out with his fingers and it gave. As soon as it came loose the surface ceased to be blank and was covered in a like manner to the other one.

"All right!" said Daia "let's get out of here!"

Xeath jumped off the pedestal and the headed to the exit of the chamber. As they approached the exit a Te`chni priest came in. He paused to register them for a second and then said accusingly, "What are you doing here!? Trainees are not allowed... Wait! I sense you are not even Te`chni! What Are You Doing Here?!"

Xeath instantly went for the exit, intending to push past the priest and make a run for, but Daia grabbed his arm.

"We are so sorry, sir! You see we..." And she kept talking about being sad, and "missing our parents" as if they were really trainees. This is totally not going to work thought Xeath. He's a Te`chni and has mental awareness, and it's as obvious as broad daylight that we're human. However, after several minutes the suspicion and fire seemed to leave the old Te`chni's eyes and, whereas Daia had started out holding Xeath's arm, by the end, she was leaning on him for support, as if talking was exhausting her. (As if it could, thought Xeath)

" Very well," said the priest, " but do not let it happen again."

"We won't, sir," she said " and you should probably go to bed."

"Yes, I should probably go to bed." Said the priest trance-like, and he walked off. That's almost too good to be true thought Xeath. That is too good to be true.

"Come on." She said. She started to walk but stumbled and would have fallen on her face if Xeath hadn't caught her.

" Thanks" she said. She was out of breath and her voice sounded tired and strained.

"How did you do that?" he asked.

Daia waved it aside " I'll tell you later." They then, with considerable restraint, walked to the exit of the temple. They convinced the guards they were on an urgent errand, found their we`'en, and headed into the night, towards their ship.

The we`'en vendor had had another uneventful day. He was leaving his shop open later today to wait and see if the two human children would return their vehicles today. Then he realized that if he closed his shop before they came, they would have to pay another day's rent. So he started to close up. As he was doing so, two priestal novices came up to him practically shoved two we`'en in his hands and jogged off towards the landing sections. He frowned and looked at the boards. They were the same rented by the humans. He shrugged. Maybe the novices were friends of theirs. Then he saw the novices fly off in the humans' ship, so he figured probably not. He shrugged again as he started home. He had seen stranger things.

*****

Xeath and Daia were in Dimension 2. Neither of them had spoken since they left Te`chn except to address the Starpike on the way back. Xeath looked at Daia. She was still pale and tired-looking. Finally he spoke:

"All right, how did you convince the Te`chni priest? And don't tell me you're just natural charismatic."

She smiled faintly and then took a deep breath. She looked him in the eyes. "I can trust you?"

"You can trust me."

She took another deep breath. "I'm a telepath."

Xeath quickly realized the impact of what she was saying and why it was important. Telepaths were somewhat rare (Humans, one in two million; Te`chni, one in a million; etc) and a " valuable resource," so anyone who could get his hands on a telepath would do so, and with the loss of the Volarae the governments didn't have much power outside of the homeworlds and surrounding areas. Additionally, if the Department of Safety had known Daia was a telepath, they would of guarded her, so she couldn't have gotten away, and they would have forced her to use her telepathic powers for their own benefit. Xeath also realized this explained a lot of things that he had been suspicious of.

"Wow!" he said. "What's your rating?"

"Five Graham"

"I don't know Graham scale. What is it in metric system?"

Daia sighed. "0.0163 Kilosciens. I figured out my rating by reading about telepathic powers in a book I, um, borrowed. It told me what ratings could do what."(Hers was about an average rating, human telepaths varying from 0 to around 0.0489 Kilosciens.)

"So, do you trust me now?" she asked.

"What?"

"Don't pretend you haven't trusted me, even after you read the Department's record on me. I could read your mind, and it was pretty obvious you still didn't trust me. Oh, and if you're worried about me reading everything inside you're head, don't worry. I'm not powerful enough to automatically know what your what you're thinking, and if I do read your mind I only can see exactly what I'm looking for, not all the extra stuff. And I promise not to unnecessarily read your mind. Unless you make me angry," she added with a smile, and then continued, "so, as I asked before, do you trust me?"

Xeath smiled. "I guess so."

"All right," Daia said, also smiling, "now what does the clue say?"

Xeath took the clue and placed his finger on the square.

==============================================

Here I must confess a sad truth: I have told you about several worlds that were going to be in this story; however I did not have the time to compile the accounts of many of those worlds, so I shall have to give you the information in brief.

Between the time that I have just discontinued the story and when I shall continue it was somewhere around a month. They went to an uninhabitable planet called Styx IV and an orbital colony. I shall continue the story as they are reading the clue, heading away from the orbital colony.

===================================================

Part II: The Black Monitor

Lcnf zhryntoa ndpt aacrnf (zhnf (lustfanfa Mkyyrnf K'landanaay) Zhwane)

[the next clue is on Zhwane, at the bottom of the Green Ocean]

said the clue. Daia sat back against her seat and sighed exasperatedly. These were getting harder and harder.

"So, do you have any idea where a green ocean is on Zhwane?"

"It's not a green ocean, it's the Green Ocean. I'm sure the ship's computer can tell us" said Xeath.

Daia groaned. "Like that makes it any easier. Remind me again why we're doing this instead of just going back to Earth?"

"Because we aren't going to leave those poor people on Wocyrn and Lucriica (the orbital colony) in the clutches of the Department of Safety, and the only way to free them is to make it so Terrae (Earth Force) can get there and over throw the Department."

She sighed again, "You're right."

A couple days later, they arrived at Zhwane. This time they had researched before they arrived so they were prepared. As they exited Dimension 2 they weren't confronted by any ships, as they had been at Te`chn, although there were several in orbit of the planet. Xeath piloted the small cruiser down onto the planet. There were no designated landing areas by the Green Ocean, which had turned out to be more of a large lake than an Ocean, so they had to scan the planet's surface from the air before choosing a small clearing by a village. They had chosen to go near a village so they could replenish their food supply and because the locals might have a way to get to the bottom of the Green Ocean. Xeath smiled confidently. He and Daia had already obtained four clues, all of which had been difficult to get. So what if the clue was at the bottom of an ocean? What could go wrong?

Xeath and Daia climbed out of the ship and went to the Zhwaent village. It was a collection of about a hundred buildings made out of some kind of hardened foam. As they approached it they could see several Zhwaent walking around. Daia made a face.

" Uchh, they're so creepy looking. I really hope I don't throw up."

They were indeed somewhat creepy looking. They had large bulbous eyes sticking out on each side of their head that glowed slightly with an inner light. Their skin was somewhere between bony plates and scales and they had claws instead of hands and for a mouth, a collection of mouthparts: thick, bony lips; razor-sharp mandibles; and small finger- like things (called palps on earth insects). One Zwaent saw them coming and walked hurriedly away. As soon as they reached the village, a couple of Zwaent came to meet them.

"Come with us instantly." One of them said in Zhwaent, although it was extremely hard to understand with the heavy accent that resulted from the insect mouth. Having said that they walked off towards the biggest building in the village. Daia was already slightly frightened of them and this abrupt demanding manner did not help. Xeath nudged her as they followed the Zhwaent.

"Don't worry about they're direct manner of talking. It's how all Zhwaent talk"

"Did Telloes tell you this?"

Xeath nodded.

As they continued on, Xeath looked around. Zhwane lived up to Telloes' descriptions. It was extremely humid and the pure oxygen atmosphere made it slightly hard to breath. The ground was a combination of soft mud and rocks. It seemed like there was more water than ground with how many puddles and ponds there were. Daia interrupted his observations.

"What is that?" she said, pointing to a creature that was smaller than the Zhwaent and looked slightly different: it was hunched instead of erect, it lacked the wings, and it's mouth was much larger.

"It's probably a pet or maybe a child," replied Xeath.

Daia made a noise that sounded like a cross between a groan and a whimper.

"How are you not afraid of these creatures?"

Xeath shrugged "I grew up around more aliens than you did, since there were a few as mine slaves, and Telloes told me bedtime stories with aliens in them when I was little."

"But still aren't you afraid they'll, like, eat us or something?"

He stared at her. "They are not going to eat us."

They had now reached the large building. The Zhwaent who brought them there escorted them inside. Inside there was only one room. At the back of the room was a large Zhwaent who was a dark black color, opposed to the brown-gray of the others. He sat on a large thing that might have been some kind of chair. On either side of him a line of Zhwaent extended out forming a semi-circle. Xeath reasoned these were the leaders of the village. One of the Zwaent who had been escorting (guarding, thought Daia) them went to the Zhwaent leaders and said something unintelligible. Xeath frowned and turned to the guard and asked in Zhwaent

"What are they speaking? It doesn't sound like Zhwaent."

The guard made a guttural noise.

" Of course not! Why would we speak Zhwaent? All races know how to speak it and can listen in on what ever we say, while you all have your own languages that are known to no one but you, our language is known throughout the Eta Quadrant, and probably beyond! What we speak now is an ancient form of Zhwaent, which you could not speak even if you wanted to, for you do not have the right mouths."

So they waited in silence as the council discussed. Daia decided to take the opportunity to read the guard's mind. Although she was getting over the Zhwaents' hideous appearance, something wasn't right. Why was the council discussing about them before they even knew what they wanted? How come they're being treated as prisoners? She looked at the Zhwaent guarding them and reached out with her mind. She instantly gasped and recoiled. Xeath looked at her.

"You okay?" he asked. She nodded and lowered her voice although she didn't really need to since the Zhwaent could not understand English.

" I tried to read that one's mind," she said gesturing at the guard.

"What did you find?"

She shuddered. " Not much. I have read very few alien minds, and the ones I have were much like humans. But these are much, much different. They're so foreign and... cold. I wasn't able to see much, but... they're hiding something."

" Are you sure it's not just the fact you don't like them?"

Daia flushed. She would never have allowed prejudice to cloud her judgment like that.

"Yes, I'm sure." She said slightly angrily.

" All right," Xeath said, although Daia could see he was still skeptical, "but there's not much we can do anyway. We can't just leave; they'll think we did something bad and hunt us down."

After a few more minutes, the leading Zhwaent had come to a conclusion and stopped talking. They called to the guard and he brought Xeath and Daia over. The leading Zhwaent addressed Xeath.

"We have concluded to extend hospitality to you. K'latkra will allow you to stay in her shelter. You will leave now."

"But wait sir, we don't..." Started Xeath

"We can talk off that later. You will leave now."

The guard grabbed them both by the arm and led them out, followed by a female Zhwaent that must have been K'latkra.

"So do you believe me now, that they're not to be trusted? 'Cause in case you don't realize it, we're essentially prisoners right now," said Daia. They were in the shelter of K'latkra, who was currently rummaging through some things at the back of the hut.

Xeath sighed, "You're right."

"Thank you," said Daia.

K'latkra now came to were they were sitting with some things she'd gathered.

"Take this and leave. You cannot be here anymore." She handed Xeath the things.

"Wait," said Xeath, "why?"

"Because you are in danger."

"How are we in danger?" asked Daia fearfully. It was one thing to suspect danger yourself, but having someone else tell you makes it more real and scary.

K'latkra sighed. She had forgotten how humans needed everything explained. It had been many years since she had been with humans.

"A person came a few weeks ago. He was not human or Zhwaent. He promised food and resources if we would do him a favor and detain or kill two human larvae..." Xeath and Daia gave her a strange look.

"Oh, yes your word for that is children. So he came and promised this and said they would be a male and female, alone with no ties, no one who would come after them asking questions. We could stop you however we wanted. He even provided descriptions of you."

Xeath and Daia looked at each other confusedly.

"What was his name?" asked Xeath "Feth Wane? No, wait, he's human."

"His name," said the elderly Zhwaent, "is the Black Monitor."

"What's a monitor?" asked Daia " I assume it's not referring to a view-screen."

"A monitor is a type of large, intelligent lizard that lives on Earth," answered Xeath.

"So was this guy a reptile alien?" Daia asked K'latkra.

"No, he was one of the Metar, the bounty hunters. But now you must leave. We have wasted much time talking. The Black Monitor promised extra goods if you were turned in alive, but the Zhwaent of this village will only wait so long before they do away with you.

"You mean they plan to kill us?" asked Xeath

"No," said K'latkra gravely, "They plan to eat you."

Daia very nearly lost consciousness at this news. This was becoming a literal nightmare. They were on an alien planet, being hunted by a professional hunter, surrounded by insect aliens who wanted to eat them, searching for a four-inch disc that was at the bottom of the ocean. Thinking on this, she very nearly lost consciousness again. Instead she managed to say

"You want to eat us?"

"Not me, silly human, the others in this village. Sentient life forms are delicious, although most Zhwaent, including myself, believe this is immoral. But you really, really must leave now. And do not worry about me," she said, taking Xeath's next question out of his mouth, "I have strong relatives in a city. I was planning to go live there even before you came." And with that she flew off.

Xeath and Daia had almost made it to the ship before they ran into a Zhwaent. They had been able to avoid detection as they left the village, whether it was because they left at the Zhwaents' sleeping time or because the Zhwaent were preparing for a feast they didn't know. But as they were nearing the ship they stumbled upon a Zhwaent who must have been returning from hunting, as he had a small dead animal slung over his back. As soon as they saw each other the Zhwaent dropped the carcass and raised his left arm as if to ward off a blow. Three stingers jutted out from his arm and were pointed at Xeath. He immediately jumped to the side hoping to avoid the stingers and pulled out his photon gun. He jumped a millisecond too late and when the hunter threw the stingers, one of them imbedded itself in his shoulder. Xeath momentarily ignored the pain and shot the Zhwaent in the chest. The photon hit him and made a faint hissing noise, but the gun was a small, low-powered firearm and the most of the photon was simply absorbed by his bony armor. He flew off towards the village making a loud clicking noise.

" Oh my gosh! Are you okay!?" Daia said panicking.

"For now," said Xeath through gritted teeth.

The ship was nearby and they got to it quickly. Daia locked the door behind them and got a first aid kit while Xeath sat down in one of the chairs.

"What's the first thing I do?" asked Daia. She didn't have to deal with things like this on Wocyrn like Xeath did, and she didn't have anyone to teach her it.

"Pull out the stinger."

She did as he said and pulled it out. It went far more slowly than you'd expect, and though it hurt a lot Xeath didn't cry out.

"Alright, now look in the first aid kit. There should be a tool labeled 'sanguine congester'. Take that and press the third button while moving it back and forth slowly over the wound."

Daia pulled back the sleeve of his tunic to get to the wound and did that. The large amount of blood that had been pouring from the wound slowed and eventually almost stopped. She examined the wound. It was a couple inches deep, but the bad part was that the area around the wound was purple and it was spreading. Then under Xeath's direction, she cleaned and dressed the wound and used a device that helped remove poison, although it didn't help too much. She needed to get the ship out of there, for she had started hearing the calls of the Zhwaent hunting them. Xeath had lost consciousness so she had to consult the computer on how to pilot the ship

"Computer, how do I pilot this ship?"

...Processing...

...According to Earth Regulation 5482.21 only a certified pilot is allowed to fly an Allen class cruiser...

"How does a certified pilot fly this ship?"

...Processing...

The computer then provided the information she needed and the ship lifted off.

As the ship glided along, Daia contemplated about what to do. This had already turned out to be a disaster and Xeath needed help so she really wanted to just abandon the quest, but even so, where would she get help? And if she continued the quest, she planned to fly the ship to the bottom of the ocean and she wasn't sure that would work. But the people under the Department's control really needed their help and that's what Xeath wanted. Her mind was made up when the scanners picked up Zhwaent nearby. She needed a place to hide from them immediately or the Zhwaent would catch them and eat them, so she flew the ship into the ocean. She went deeper and deeper.

When asked, the computer only could say that the ship 'was not designed for the purpose of underwater travel.' At one point an alarm went off, but it was just warning her that the ship's weapons would suffer long-term damage if she stayed submerged, but she wasn't too worried about that since the ship's weapons were so weak they wouldn't pose the least threat to any ship of war.

At last they reached the bottom of the ocean. Daia was wondering where the clue would be since she doubted that Arel just threw the clue into the ocean; that would make it almost impossible for him to find. She saw a cave ahead and steered into it. After a few minutes the ship broke to the surface of the water. Daia maneuvered the ship along the shore of the dry part of the cave until the cruiser's hatch was above water. She opened the door and stepped onto shore and looked around in awe. Stacked along the walls of the cave were shelves piled full with equipment, weapons and provisions. Pointing towards the entrance of the cave was an artillery turret.

Daia guessed that Arel put this bunker here in case he needed somewhere to hide or provisions while he was gathering the clues. She ran to the medical storage area and prayed that there was an antidote to Zhwaent poison. And there was.

====================================================

I again regret not having the time to translate and compile the next batch of records, however, I will tell you what I do know. Daia administered the antivenom to Xeath, who recovered quickly. They stayed at the bunker for a few weeks to rest and reprovision, and during that time they found the clue in the bunker. Afterward they followed the clue to Eln, where they continued to evade the Black Monitor, but unfortunately the clue on Eln was destroyed in an encounter with him. Next, they went to Mada, and stumbled upon one of the clues by accident. We shall continue there.

=====================================================

Part III: Enemies and Allies

Xeath and Daia let out deep breaths. They had managed to slip away from Mada with out any faction warships noticing them. Xeath took the clue they had found on Mada and activated it. It read:

[The next clue can be found on Prime, in front of the Mattoni Paal]

Xeath set course for Prime. Prime was the capital of the Xzaeyc Alliance, a league of six races: the Zhwaent, Eln, Bithna, Metar, Tacatikilzian, and Leth. That being so, this planet would have much tighter security precautions, so on the way there, Xeath and Daia discussed the best way to get in, since if they were questioned they would not have a plausible reason to be there, and if they were searched the clues would most likely be found. Their mission relied on secrecy because if someone found the clues, the word would get out and that would make completing the mission nearly impossible. They thought about trickery, maneuvers, etc, but in the end they settled on relying on Daia's telepathic abilities to get them through, even though it would exhaust her. After that, they researched Prime. They found that Paal is the name of the large embassies found on there. When they arrived Daia convinced the patrols to let them through and they landed without mishap.

Xeath stepped out of the cruiser, followed by Daia. It was not ideal weather on Prime. It was dark and windy, and raining. But after waiting a day for Daia to recover her energy from getting them through security, they could wait no longer. The Black Monitor was on their tale and since the Metar were authorities on this planet that meant he might be able to have their help; additionally, rumors had been spreading throughout the Quadrant that there were people looking for the Key of Arel. They made their way through the streets of Prime, the capital of the planet Prime, following road signs. Not suprisingly, almost no one was out on the street. Daia looked at the nearest map sign.

"Xeath!" she called out, having to yell over the storm, despite the fact he was only a few feet away, "I think we're going the wrong way!"

"What? I can't hear you!"

She signaled for him to come over.

"Look here," she yelled, pointing to the map. Xeath studied it for a minute or so. It was very hard to navigate. The streets curved and twisted all over the place, splitting and merging and had very similar names, on top this they could hardly see their faded map because of the storm.

"I think we go that way," he yelled, pointing down a narrow alley. It led to a network of small out-of-the-way streets and alleys, a place he would normally avoid, but it was the shortest way to the Mattoni Paal, and they needed to get the clue and get out of the storm as quick as possible. Daia looked at the map sign and nodded.

"I think you're right."

So they headed down the dark alley. They had traveled about a half-hour on foot because they had not been able to afford transportation as they were in a large city where things were expensive and they didn't have much money left, when Daia stopped and looked behind them. She thought she had heard something behind them. She heard it again. Loud noises that sounded a bit like footsteps splashing through puddles. Fear gripped her in its clutches. Ever since the Black Monitor had started hunting them, she (and Xeath had she known it) had had nightmares and conjured up very scary imaginations of him without trying.

"Xeath!" she yelled over the storm, "I think something's following us!" She turned back to face him, but he was gone.

"Xeath!" Daia yelled at the top of her lungs. She ran forward down the alley, searching for him. After several minutes of running she came to the end of the alley where it split into different alleys.

"Xeath!" she shouted again, hoping she would get a reply to lead her down one or the other streets. She heard Xeath yell, but could not tell from which way it came. She shuddered as it occurred to her that he might be yelling from pain or fear, not in reply. Then, more footsteps from behind her sent her running down the right-hand alley.

Xeath heard someone shout. His brow furrowed. That could be really bad, or have nothing to do with them. He turned to Daia behind him. But she wasn't there. He heard someone yell again and realized it was it was Daia calling him.

"Daia, over here!" he shouted, but he knew most of his voice would be lost in the dying storm. He began retracing his steps quickly, hoping the Black Monitor was nowhere near to hear their shouting. Every time he saw a large shadow or piece of debris or heard a loud noise, he jumped thinking it was him. He began running more hurriedly, for his instincts told him danger was nearby and he thought he heard footsteps, although it could've been rain splashing in puddles. Xeath stopped as he came to a large intersection of alleys that he didn't remember. Up to that point, he had thought he had kept almost exactly to his original path. Just then someone ran into the intersection. He was going to draw his photon gun when he realized it was Daia. When she saw him she jumped and gasped, but then seeing it was him, relaxed.

"I'm so glad to see you! I..."

The color drained from her face, for standing in the corner, illuminated by a plasma-lightning was a metal clad figure.

The Black Monitor, (for that's who it was) stepped out of the shadows. He was completely covered in dull metallic armor. The facemask's front half was a black visor. The armor was plain and smooth, decorated only with a simple black monitor design. Xeath was the first to overcome his shock and his hand went down to his weapon. As soon as he did, the Black Monitor brought up a large heavy rifle. His eerie voice crackled through the universal translator in his suit

"Do not move, or the female dies."

The rifle made a powering-up noise, its red aiming dot centered in the middle of Daia's forehead.

"Daia, can you knock him out with your telepathic powers?"

asked Xeath. She didn't respond, but was giving the Black Monitor 'the look' as Xeath had come to call it.

"I can understand your speakings in English," the Black Monitor said. "I was not informed that the female was a telepath before hunting you, but it does not matter, this suit is shielded from telepathic powers up to 0.052 Kilosciens and it is very rare in most races to have one more powerful than that."

Xeath and Daia both looked grim. They knew now what awaited them, however Daia asked any way.

"What's going to happen to us now?" she asked, the despair apparent in her voice.

"You will both drop your weapons. Now."

They both complied (although Daia kept her dagger as he had not yet seen it) and he continued.

"You will both be bound in energy cuffs and taken in my Artemis (a standard Metar hunting ship) to Wocyrn, where you will be given to the Department of Safety, who will most likely execute you, for Director Wane hates to have his will crossed."

Xeath stepped forward, not exactly sure what he was doing, maybe just complaining about the way things turned out.

"But we've come so far! We think only a few more clues and we would've found the Key of Arel and freed the Volarae. Wouldn't helping the whole Quadrant be worth letting us go?"

"Yes, or I could take the clues from you and find the Volarae for the Metar."

"But the Metar don't want control over everyone! And besides you would have a harder time finding the Key since most places wouldn't welcome a Metar bounty hunter. Please let us go."

Daia had said nothing. She understood that Xeath was venting his despair. After Xeath had said this, the Black Monitor was silent, just staring at him. He realized he might just be making the Black Monitor angry and that would be bad. He also wondered what type of horrifying alien was under that suit as he was staring at the black visor. The Metar closely guarded the secret of what they looked like. Then to the immense surprise of Daia and Xeath the Black Monitor sighed and said, "Very well, I will let you go."

"Really?" Xeath asked, confused.

"Yes," replied the Metar. "Is that not what you wanted? However, it is not because of your arguments, although I find them true and logical. The Metar have no desire for control, since that would conflict with our being individual mercenaries. But I do not care at all about the welfare of the Quadrant. The real reason I am letting you go is because I respect you too much. You both have been slaves from childhood. You are completely uneducated. But despite this, you evaded and escaped me for several months and I have been training to be a hunter as long as you have been slaves, even if you are my first targets. Instead of abandoning your quest and hiding when you learned I was hunting you, you continued on. You have gone to eight worlds and faced all kinds of difficulty and why? For the good of the Eta Quadrant. Truly, I respect you too much to hand you over to those fat Department of Safety leaders to have you destroyed."

"But isn't it some sort of disgrace to fail? And if we're so hard to catch, wouldn't that make us a bigger prize" asked Daia.

"You really are not helping yourself. You speak as if you want me to capture you. However, I appreciate your concern. This is my first mission, and most fail on their first few missions and some even die. And as for you being a valuable prize, the records will only show that you are young humans who have been slaves all their life. Now I will leave to seek employment elsewhere." and with that, he left.

"Oh. My. Gosh." said Xeath. He simply was still completely taken by surprise. He had thought he and Daia might escape, or maybe the Department would forgive them, but he didn't expect this at all. He and Daia were sitting against a wall, recovering from the shock. Well actually, Daia was laughing at the whole situation.

"Wow." she said calming herself down, "that was totally... different."

The storm had stopped during the conversation and the sun was shining warmly against them; Xeath really didn't want to have to get up and find the next clue, but he didn't hate the quest like as he had before this. He had been thinking about abandoning the quest and Daia hadn't discouraged him. But the Black Monitor letting them go and listing their achievements in awe had completely boosted their spirits. So they got up and headed towards the Mattoni Paal.

***************

The man had been watching them for some time. Daia and Xeath were now walking down a crowded main street. One man had been watching them and slowly and inconspicously following them. He was wearing ragged dirty clothes and several weapons, and had an eye patch over his left eye. Xeath nudged Daia.

"That guy's been following us for sometime now. Can you scan him?"

Daia nodded and concentrated for a couple minutes and then sighed.

"I can't get much. Too many people are here and that's interfering."

"Seems like there's always something interfering. On Styx IV it was the ghosts. On Zhwaent, it was them being aliens. Now it's too many people." Xeath said teasingly.

She threw him a dirty look.

"I can't help it. And any way, I was still able to read him a bit. He's a shady character though I don't think he means us any harm."

"I could've told you he was a shady character myself. Let's go ask him why he's following us."

"Did you see how many weapons he's got?"

But Xeath had already started off towards the man.

Surprisingly, the man didn't run off when he saw them coming, as Xeath expected he would. Instead, he waited for them patiently leaning against a wall. Xeath said to him

" Why are y..."

" Come with me" the man interrupted. And the man walked off into an alley, obviously expecting them to follow. Daia started to follow him, but Xeath grabbed her.

"What are you doing?"

"He said to follow him." she replied.

"Are you crazy? What happened last time we went down a dark alley?"

"Pfff. I told you he doesn't mean any harm."

"Alright, but I'm never believing you again if your wrong."

They both drew their weapons and headed after him. As they were walking several shady men came up behind them. They walked for several minutes until they came to a square of intersection of alleys. The man leading them halted at the far end. The men behind them blocked the entrance. Around the edge of the square was a ring of equally shabby people.

They were trapped.

"All right. We're here. Now what do you want?" Xeath asked the man. He appeared unconcerned.

"I would be talking a bit nicer if I were you. And to answer your question, you will sit here and wait for Capt'n to arrive." He said, drawing a battered photon pistol. There was a growl of assent from the rest of the crew as they all drew weapons. Xeath and Daia went back-to-back readying their guns. All across the square the sound of firearms powering rang out. Just then someone came up behind the man who had brought them here.

"What in'a name a' all things shiny's go'in on here?" the newcomer bellowed. "Pilj! I thawt I told you t'avoid hostilities?"

"Sorry, Capt'n." said the man who had brought them here, "But they were being difficult."

"Okay, well now y'kin take a'rest a'da crew back'ta ship, 'cept fer Lute an' Steel, y'kin leave 'um wi' me."

Pilj started giving orders to the others and herding them away, except for the two the Captain had specified. The Captain then came over to the duo.

"I'm real sorry 'bout Pilj. He's a good firs' mate, but 'ees a bit agress'iv. I tell'im to go ask ya'll ta come'n meet me, an' he thinks 'at means he shuh'a treat ya like hos'i'ges."

Xeath already liked this man, but he didn't drop his guard or his gun.

"And who are you?"

"Oh, sorry! I be Capt'n Rob, capt'n a' the mott'ly pir'ate band a' the Springdance."

Daia frowned. "A pirate ship named the Springdance? "

"Well I kin har'ly name 'er a' Queen Ann's Revenge if I wan'ta catch ships unsuspekin' kin I?"

"Well, guess not."

"Now down t'binniss. Y'see..." he lowered his voice and looked around as if someone was watching, but no one was, except Capt'n Rob's two crew members who stood at a distance. "I be wan'nta help ya in yer quest."

"How do you know about that?" Xeath demanded.

"Now, no nee' ta get yer self 'erked up. Almost e'ry 'un knows bowd it, least'a'ays, it'sa mighty com'n rumor."

"But why would you want to help us, unless you're asking to be paid that is?" asked Daia.

"No, no, I be want'n no payments, 'cept fer 'un Volara fer me ship. "Why I rilly be helpin' ya's b'cause, with all da Volarae lost, der's less ships trav'lin' than thar ar fleas on a fish. An' those who ar, ar well pr'tected. an' seein' how ya'll done a good job on 'ih' aw'ready, i'd be be'er ta help ya than ta tak'a clues an' do'ih' meself. So I track't ya down ta here," Capt'n Rob said.

"You just expect us to trust you? 'Cause you are a pirate." said Xeath. Daia nodded in agreement.

"Well, a' rumors say som'mn 'bout young miss here ha'in some mine-rea'in pow'rs."

Daia smiled at her abilities being called "mine-rea'in pow'rs".

"Yes, I could see if you're telling the truth with my telepathic abilities. But I'd have to do a deep scan to see."

She placed her thumb, middle, and pointer fingers against the pirate's temple. Then she locked eyes with him. She seemed to go into a trance. She didn't move. She didn't blink. Xeath wasn't even sure she was breathing. After several minutes she inhaled sharply and stepped back.

Her face was flushed and sweaty.

"He's telling the truth." she said.

That having been said, the pirates guided them to the Mattoni Paal, where they quickly found the clue. It was in one of the pillars that are found in front of each of the Paals. The pillars are engraved with symbols of that race, so a small circular disk with Vaq the Conqueror's Insignia on it didn't stand out on the Matton's pillar. The only problem was that it was twenty feet in the air, in the middle of a public square. However, Capt'n Rob had a plan.

"Do ya know if ees clues can be shot wih'out bein' dam'ged?" He asked.

"Um, yes, as far as we know, a photon doesn't damage them. Why do you ask?" replied Xeath (On Lucriica, they tried to destroy a clue to prevent the Department from getting it, but it didn't work.)

Instead of answering, Rob pulled out a powerful photon gun and fired several shots at the clue, blowing the surrounding stone apart, causing the clue to fall. He grabbed the clue and ran, closely followed by Xeath and Daia and his two crew members.

After a long run from Prime law enforcement, they made it to the Springdance, which was closer than the cruiser and Xeath and Daia had all their things in their packs.

"Next time you have a plan like that, please warn me." said Daia, exhausted.

"And you know, there probably was an safer way to do that," added Xeath who was holding his shoulder where he had been hit with the Zhwaent stinger, for the physical exertion had made it hurt badly.

"Well ih' worked." was the captain's only reply.

They had no problems leaving Prime for when the Metar warship who was the stationed guard questioned them, Capt'n Rob's reply was this: "Destroy' a mon'ment? Now I be an hones' merch'nt who ain't ha' no bin'nis destroyin' rocks."

"Sure, an honest merchant! You are a pirate if I ever saw one, Captian Rob. But Metar occupations are no less violent, so I will let you pass as you are not the type to vandalize," said the Metar captain, who was a friend of Robs.

Later, Xeath opened the clue which read:

Locxa Arelaay ndpt aacrnf (Mayxxzhatthnnf Rahn)

[the Key of Arel is on the planet Rahn]

and had a map showing the exact location.

As he was falling asleep that night, he felt less stressed than he had in a long time. The Black Monitor was no longer hunting them, they had a bunch of pirates on their side, and they had almost found the Key of Arel.


====================================================

Xeath awoke. Yellow sunlight streamed through the rough canvas. Something had woken him, he was sure. Then he heard the 'Landers' alarm horn blow, and the fire of weapons and he got up fast. Bandits or Dustboenlings must be attacking again. He put on his belt with his gun and went over to where Daia was sleeping in the tent and shook her gently.

"Daia, wake up! We're under attack again."

Daia groaned and sat up slowly. She looked around lethargically.

"Where are we? And what's happening?"

"We're in a tent on Rahn with the 'Landers' caravan." Xeath replied

The alarm horn blew again, with more gunfire. The mists of sleep immediatly left Daia's eyes.

"Oh right!" She sighed sleepily and grabbed her weapon and pulled on her cloak and went outside. Xeath was slightly worried as he followed her out. As a telepath, she usually woke up instantly. But this journey was exhausting her. Not just her, he thought to himself tiredly. They had started on this journey about a month ago, with Capt'n Rob. They had had to dock the pirates' ship in a large city on Rahn, since the area around where the Key of Arel was a desert and the sand and rock would have been an unsuitable landing surface. They had joined with a caravan of a group of people and aliens who lived on Rahn and were known as 'Landers (although he was never able to find out why they where called that). It had been a hard journey so far, with rugged terrain, dangerous wild animals, bandits and Dustboenlings, a violent race native to the deserts of Rahn.

Xeath sprinted behind Daia, squinting at the bright morning sun. They came up to the command vehicle of the caravan, when a bandit mounted on a manticore jumped in front of them.

Elijah_Schultz_Manticore

The bandit drew back his energy bow and prepared to fire, the arrow glowing. Just as he was about to shoot, a shower of sparks erupted from his side as a photon from one of the 'Lander's guns struck him and knocked him off his saddle. Xeath and Daia brought their guns level at the manticore, but it swung its long leathery tale and knocked them down. The manticores were wild beasts that lived in deserts of Rahn. They have large lion-like bodies with heads that look like a cat's head, but rounder and with ears on the side of their heads. The manticores also have a long flexible tale with a stinger at the end. The bandits were only able to train them to a certain extent, and the manticore confronting the two ex-slaves was out of control without a rider controlling it. A 'Lander ran up to help, and the manticore zeroed in on the moving object. It pounced at the 'Lander, who tried to dodge it but one of its paws struck the 'Lander flinging him down onto a large rock, where he hit his head and blacked out. By now Xeath, who had had gotten up, ran at the manticore, who was about to finish the 'Lander off. Daia was tying a strip of cloth around a wound on her arm she'd received from a sharp stone on the ground. Once he had neared the manticore, Xeath shot it several times in the back leg. It turned to face him, limping from its wound, and swung its tail at him. He evaded the tail and vaulted up onto the creature's head. The manticore struck at him with its tail again and Xeath flung himself to the ground just as the stinger was about to strike him, causing it to impale its own head. It shrieked in pain. fell down and died.

The caravan defeated the rest of the bandits and then that evening, after traveling, Xeath, Daia and Capt'n Rob met inside their tent.

"Okay, let's look at the map again." said Daia.

Xeath brought out the clue of Arel that they found on Prime and activated the map. The disc glowed and projected a holographic map into the air.

"According to the 'Landers, we're here." he said pointing, " and the 'Landers' route goes this way."

" 'En it be lookin' like we be leavin'a 'Landers tamarrow," said Rob.

"Yep. We should see if we can get a paper map from the 'Landers, so we don't have to continually check the clue and risk someone seeing it," said Xeath.

"All right, any thing else?" asked Daia.

"No," replied Xeath. "We leave at dawn."

"Are you sure you want out go out in the desert on your own?" asked Dsahkgu, the Terenwese leader of the caravan. "Without knowledge of the water caches, you will not survive longer than a month."

"Don't 'erry 'bout us, Ser. We' made a nes'sary 'rangements." said Capt'n Rob. Dsahkgu shrugged.

"Okay, well good luck," he said sincerely.

The party of three set out, carrying large packs full of food, water, and gear. They walked over the rocks and sand for almost a week. They had depleted almost all of their supplies by that time, but they had reached the Key of Arel.

Xeath checked the clue just to be sure, but they had reached the place where the Key should be according to the clue. None of them expected what they saw. The area was a mound of rocks, surrounded by sand, nothing different than anywhere else they had seen for the past month or so.

"Well, guess we start lookin'." said the Capt'n.

They split up and started searching the rocks. After several minutes Daia spoke up.

"I think I found it!" she said excitedly.

The two others came over to see. What she had found was a small compartment made of metal, shaped and painted like rock, so that only a close and careful inspection revealed it was not.

ElijahSchultz-Key_of_Arel

"D'ya rilly think the Key 'ull be in 'nar?" asked Capt'n Rob.

"Well, let's find out," said Xeath. And he opened it. Inside was the Key of Arel! It was a small sphere, with a rough stony surface. It was about three and a half inches and diameter, and though it looked iridescent black, it was really yellow, purple and blue, swirling together. Xeath reached out to pick it up off its pedestal in the compartment. But when he touched it, it crumbled to dust!

Daia gasped and even Capt'n Rob looked surprised. Xeath did not look horrified though.

"Wait!" he said. "Don't panic yet."

He put his hand in the compartment and felt the walls of the compartment. They were smooth. He kept feeling around until he found a small bump on the ceiling. A button. He pressed it and the back of the compartment slid open, revealing the real Key of Arel and a map.

"I knew it!" said Xeath exuberantly. Smiles of relief and joy were on the faces of both Daia and Rob.

Xeath continued, "The compartment was not trapped or extremely well hidden, because Arel had another way to discourage people: if someone had found it and saw it crumble and he'd think that that was the end of it."

He took the map and looked at it.

"Let's go free the Volarae!"

*********

There it was. They had gone on another long journey through the desert to an out-of-the-way oasis, arriving just as they were running out of water. Then they had to hike through the very thick jungle surrounding the oasis along a secret path showed to them by the map. Now, it front of the trio was the entrance to the hiding place of the Volarae. It was made of black metal and covered with vegetation, leading under ground. After pausing a second to look at it and to realize how close they were to completing their quest, they went inside. It was dark, lit now only by the lamps carried by Xeath, Daia and Capt'n Rob. It was completely devoid of decoration, with the starkness of a battleship. After a several yards, the passage unceremoniously ended in a chamber. On the far wall, there was the key hole for the Key of Arel, illuminated by a spotlight. Daia brought out the Key, the small object they had suffered and worked so hard for, and put it into the lock. And it fit.

Many whirring and clicking noises came from the keyhole as it measured the weight and size of the Key, exact down to the last atom, since the Key was so hard, nothing could ever wear away at it. There was one last click and then nothing happened for several seconds.

"Well, I w..." Daia began, when the floor dropped out from under them!

Capt'n Rob, Daia, and Xeath fell a couple feet before they hit the floor again. Xeath looked around. Apparently, the floor had converted into a staircase, causing them to fall, and then they had landed on the wide steps. Their lamps had been dropped and broken, but the stairs were now illuminated by lights along the walls.

"Well, I guess we go fo'ard." Capt'n Rob said, and they descended down the stairs. As they came to the bottom, they beheld a wonder.


The room was brightly lit and very large, extending possibly four hundred yards to the left and right, and about forty yards ahead. The floors and walls were made of sleek black metal. But, most spectacular of all was a semicircle arrangement of pedestals, each holding a Volara. Each Volara was an orb about the size of a soccer ball, and looked as if it had been woven out of liquid fire. As soon as he stepped into the room, Xeath felt a change. The air, which had been cool, instantly became warm, although not unpleasantly so. He could feel the invigorating power of the Volarae, kept all together in one place for so long, saturating the air. They all looked around in awe at the massive room for a few seconds.

"We did it!" Daia exclaimed joyfully and hugged Xeath. He smiled. He hadn't let his friends on Wocyrn down and had brought the loss of the Volarae to an end, with a lot of help and luck. Xeath looked at Rob, but he did not look quite as happy as one would expect. Daia and Xeath both looked at him expectantly, waiting for what he had to say. An icy fear gripped Daia as she realized that, although he had been telling the truth when they first met, he might have had to betray them since then.

"Well, ya be seein'" Capt'n Rob started, "we ha'n quite done it yet. The way I sees it be, that e'un though we found 'em, we still got 'o distribute 'em to all a' a aliyun races. An' since we can't be bring'n me ship down 'ere, we'll ha' ta fin' a way ta smuggle 'em ot 'is plan't. E'en then we wou'd ha' trouble gettin' 'em ta the aliyuns wi'out any 'un find'n out." But before he could say more or Xeath and Daia could react, the room started shaking violently.

The trio fell to the floor as the building continued to rumble.

"There must've been a trap!" Xeath shouted over the noise. Just then, the center aisle of the room, the part of the floor that Capt'n Rob, Daia and Xeath were laying on, started rising rapidly. Xeath saw the ceiling quickly nearing them. This must be the trap, he thought, we're going to smash into the ceiling and die! Metal clanged as the platform reached the ceiling. And everything was black.

"Are we dead?" Xeath heard Daia ask. He couldn't see anything, but he could still feel and hear the building shaking.

"I don't think so," he replied, "at least not yet." Xeath sat up. The shaking wasn't as violent here. He wondered what the shaking was. Probably something bad.

"D'ya think we shou'd er stay 'ere?" The Capt'n's voice questioned through the darkness.

"Stay here. We don't know where we are or what could be around us," Xeath reasoned.

Daia sighed. "I wish we at least had some lights."

As if magic, bright lights immediately flashed on, momentarily stunning the three adventurers whose eyes had become accustomed to the darkness. Once he had recovered, Xeath looked around. They appeared to be in a control center. To his left and right were control boards. Behind them was a doorway which led to a corridor. And in front of them was a large view-window (windshield). He walked up to it and looked out.

"Guys," He called to Daia and Rob, "you should come see this."

The telepath and pirate came over and looked out.

Sprawled out in front of them was a massive warship, which had once been the hiding place of the Volarae. A ship whose control room Daia, Xeath, and Capt'n Rob were now in. It was still slowly rising out of the ground.

"Wow." said Daia, "Arel must've had this ship built. What happened to Arel anyway?"

"Well, 'en Vaq kicked 'a buck't an' left or'ers ta hide 'a Volarae, Arel 'ad no choice but ta be doin' so, 'cause Vaq's special task force who 'ere very loyal ta Vaq 'uz watchin' 'im real close, ta make sure 'e didn't take 'a Volarae fer hisself." Capt'n Rob began explaining "But 'e hid 'a clues so 'e could 'aturn an find um again. 'en 'e 'ent ta ga'er 'is allies so they could 'aturn, find 'a Volarae, an' take o'er 'a q'andrant, but 'e ne'er returned"

Xeath looked at holo-table near them. It had a holographic image of the ship and other information.

Elijah_Schultz_the_Great_Fury

"This ship's name is the Great Fury. Its max speed is 10 light-years per hour, it's armed with thirty-two neutralizer turrets, and is clad in dodeckan carbon-thorium armor, rated to five hundred Wairs," said Xeath. He glanced up at the battle-seasoned pirate.

"Is that good?" he asked.

"More an' good. Ar'or rated ta 'ive-hundred Wairs 'uld be almost inpen'trable."

"So we've finally almost completed our quest then?" asked Daia.

"Yep," said Xeath, "We can deliver Volarae to each race, since no one could take them from us while we have this ship, unless you want to use the Volarae to take over the Eta Quadrant."

"Nope." said Daia "restoring the Volarae and then seeing Earth Force destroy the Department of Safety is good enough for me."

"What about you, Capt'n Rob?" Xeath asked.

"I only be wantin' un Volara fer me ship so I can be goin' back to me days o' lootin' an' pillagin'," said Rob.

And with that, they sat down at the control board and piloted the ship into the vast expanse of space.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~THE END~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Epilogue

Xeath sighed contentedly. It was Primonth third, 2100, three hundred and forty-nine days after he escaped the Wocyrn settlement. He was currently on the deck of his family home, in the Incan Territory on Earth. He, Daia, and Capt'n Rob had finished distributing the Volarae early last Decimonth, after which Rob and his pirates took a Volara for their ship, said farewell, and discreetly left. Xeath and Daia weren't so lucky. After donating the Great Fury, renamed the Liberator, for interplanetary purposes, they were brought back to Earth by an Earth Force battlestar and were continually harassed by the media and reporters. Xeath shuddered. Growing up on Wocyrn he had no concept of the media and found it an unpleasant surprise when he came to his homeworld. Only in the past week or so had the reporters stopped pestering them. Daia and he had talked to an operative of Earth Intelligence Agency and informed him of the situation with the Department of Safety first thing when they arrived. The operative promised them that the matter would be looked into. Xeath was then reunited with his family: his mother and his older siblings, Xanna, Mareath, Xornan, and Maiin, who along with the families of his married siblings, all lived in the family ancestral house.

He and Daia saw each other once a week when they went to play Arrkanball. Xeath frowned. He realized he didn't know were she lived or how she got along. Her parents were still on Wocyrn. He would have to ask her next time he saw her. All in all, he realized that, having freed the Volarae, having found his family, and every thing else, he didn't know what he was going to do with his life. He smirked. He would probably start school, get a job, maybe get married and live a generally peaceful life. But then he thought of his adventures, all the things he had seen, the things he had done, the people he met, and good deeds he had witnessed. He might live a peaceful life.

But probably not.


LPH Writing Class stories 2013-2014