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Legionnaires

Issue #11

"Allies and Enemies"

by David Marshall


Legion Headquarters, Metropolis Earth

Imra Ardeen pressed the comm button outside Lyle Norg's quarters and waited impatiently.

<...Breep! Living quarters of Lyle Norg. Breep! Please state the nature of your business...>

Imra made a mental note to have Dox personalize the experimental computer system upgrade he installed. "Lyle, this is Imra. We need to talk."

Imra waited in the hallway a full minute before the cylindrical door flowered open.

"Sorry it took so long. I was in the shower," said Lyle as he toweled his wet hair. "You've got to love these old-fashioned water showers. Much more refreshing than a sani-spray."

Imra didn't wait for an invitation. She pushed her way inside.

"Sure, Imra. Come on in!" Lyle answered with as little sarcasm as he could muster. "Door, close."

Imra hoped Lyle knew the reason behind her visit. Hopefully the rumor she heard wasn't true.

Lyle shrugged his shoulders. "What?"

"Are you running for team leader?" Imra asked.

Lyle picked out a shirt from his closet and slid it over his head. "I'm considering it, but haven't reached a decision. The team could use someone with field experience since we're so green."

Imra nodded. "I agree, but I respectfully ask that you remove yourself from consideration."

Lyle's head popped out the hole at the top of the shirt. "What? Why?"

"Filling the position with an Earthgov agent would make us look like a puppet organization in the eyes of the United Planets and we need their trust and support. Half the member worlds already harbor suspicion that our new government will be too Earth-centric. If it even appears that Earthgov is running the Legion..." Imra answered. "Let's just say perception is reality at this point."

"Former Earthgov agent," Lyle replied.

"Really? Since when?" Imra aksed. The news was a pleasant surprise.

"Brande secured my release today. After some soul-searching, I realized I'd done more for the cause of freedom in the last few weeks than during my whole career with Earthgov."

"I'm pleased with your decision," Imra answered. "We need your experience. You understand my request then?"

Lyle sat on the edge of his bed and sighed. "Do Garth and Rokk feel the same?"

"I haven't discussed it with them. They're too caught up in their rivalry to worry about a fourth opponent."

"Four?" Lyle asked.

"I'm running also."

Lyle eyed Imra suspiciously She didn't have to be a telepath to know what he was thinking. "It would be easy for one to consider your request selfish."

"It's not," Imra replied. "You know what I'm saying is true."

"Why are you so worried?" Lyle asked.

Imra shook her head. "I'm looking out for the future of the team."

Lyle smiled wryly. "I didn't know Titanians were precog too."

"You know exactly what I mean. If you ran and beat us we would honor the results of course. And there is a good chance you would win, but for the team's sake please withdraw your name from consideration until both the Legion and the United Planets finds their footing."

"Are you asking for my support also?"

Imra nodded. "I am. There is also a matter of deputy leader that will be open for appointment by the team leader."

"Deputy, huh? I'll sit this one out on three conditions," said Lyle.

"And they are?"

"One, I'm eligible for the next election."

"Done."

"Two... This conversation never happened."

"Agreed. The last thing we need is for the others to accuse us of dirty politics."

"It may be too late for that," Lyle replied.

" And the third condition?" Imra asked.

"We consider two of my allies in Earthgov for membership."

Imra winced. "I'm not so sure about that. Three Earthgov agents running around could make the others nervous, not to mention the potential backlash within the UP."

"I only ask they be considered. I've served with both and they're good, but underutilized in their current positions as Science Police liaisons to Earthgov. They need this team as much as the team needs them," Lyle answered.

"Ok, done. We'll consider them if they meet the age requirement."

"Of course they do," said Lyle. "Care for something to drink?"

Imra shook her head. "I should be going. This isn't a social call."

Office of RJ Brande, Legion Headquarters, Metropolis, Earth.

Garth Ranzz sat in a plush chair in RJ Brande's office. He couldn't imagine why the Legion's benefactor wanted to speak with him personally. Had he done something that would be grounds for dismissal? Brande promised to stay out of the team's internal affairs.

Garth picked up the holocube that rested on Brande's desk and watched the various three-dimensional images programmed into its memory. Instead of the usual businessman's holocube full of family images, Brande's was filled with shots of a vast wasteland, particularly a single dark cave that rested high upon a craggy outcropping overlooking a bubbling, primordial muck. Did the old man visit a toxic waste dump and bring home a souvenir?

"Anything interesting, boy?" Brande bellowed.

Garth nearly dropped the cube, but caught it before it rolled out of his lap and hit the floor. "I was just checking out your holos."

"Not much to look at on that program other than some great shots of Lu when she first came to Earth," Brande replied. "A few of Marla Latham too, although I'm not sure which is worse, Marla's mugshot or that infernal hell-hole an investor wants me to drop a fortune on."

"Looks like a dangerous place," Garth replied.

Brande suddenly looked more menacing than Garth had ever seen. "A very dangerous place indeed."

"You wanted to see me?" Garth asked.

Brande's face lit up. "Yes, I did!"

"Look if it's about the Khunds on Trom, I didn't know I was using so much power..."

"Balderdash, boy! It's about your sister!"

Garth leaped from his seat. "Ayla? Where is she? Is she ok?"

"One thing at a time, son," Brande answered. "She's alive, but I didn't say the news was all good. Your brother hurt her badly. She's not out of the woods yet."

"I've want to see her."

"I"ve arranged for a private shuttle to Medicus One. Dr. Gym'll is working to stabilize her condition," said Brande.

"Mekt will pay. I swear," said Garth through angry, gritted teeth.

"We'll bring him to justice," Brande replied. "But right now your sister needs you more. You leave first thing in the morning."

"Thank you, Mr. Brande."

"Think nothing of it. It's the least I can...."

The general alarm blared to life.

"I need to go," said Garth.

"She'll make it," said Brande. "I promise."

Deep Space Aboard the Legion's Blackhawk Cruiser

"The call was high priority from President Desai," said Salu Digby. She was on monitor duty when the distress call came in. A Khundian Stalag had crossed the border into UP space. Patrol vessels warned the Stalag but were fired upon and left for dead. Thanks to Brande's SpaceWay technology, the Legion was parasecs away from Earth in a matter of seconds.

"Wow! Earthgov calling us!" said Garth.

"Not Earthgov," Rokk corrected. "The UP! Remember Desai was elected as UP President. The Legion just may fly after all."

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," warned Lyle. "There's still a Stalag out there waiting for us."

Garth shrugged off the warning. "Big deal! We took out a sprockin' Battlewagon! Why worry about a Stalag?"

"Khundian Stalags are equipped with a number of power dampening systems that have proven effective against detaining native populations," Dox interjected. "I'd also postulate that Khundia has fortified its armada since our recent victory."

"Point well-taken," said Imra. "Tinya, how long until intercept?"

"Twenty-seven minutes, standard Earth time," Tinya answered.

"Visual?" Garth asked.

Tinya shook her head. "Negative, but I do have a schematic echo rendering."

A three-dimensional holographic display of the Stalag appeared above everyone's work station, showing a typical Khundian Stalag in various views. It looked very much like a standard freighter vessel, but with extensive modifications to its armor and imposing weapons arrays adorning its length.

"The side guns are KH IOS-4150's," said Lyle.

"Interlac please?" Rokk asked.

"These babies can take out a galaxy-class warship," Lyle answered.

"Highly effective in long-range," Dox added. "However, their bulk renders them nearly useless in close combat. Their range is roughly half a parasec."

"Hardly peashooters," Lyle added.

"Why are they in our space? To test the UP?" Rokk asked.

Garth slammed his right fist into the arm of the navigation console. "If it's a fight they want, I'm itching to rip something apart."

"We're not here to fight," said Imra. "Only to gather information. Nothing more unless fired upon first."

"They'll fire upon us alright," Garth replied. "They're Khunds. That's what they do!"

"Tinya, can we open communications?" Imra asked.

"Yes, even from this range," Tinya answered. "Dox's modifications to the Blackhawk's systems are amazing!"

Dox smirked. "Of course they are."

Salu Digby watched her teammates banter back and forth. They seemed so sure of themselves. She wanted more than anything to be like them, but was gripped with fear. All she could do was shrink. What good was that beside her teammate's powers? But her heart felt right with the Legion. The only question was where she fit in.

"Khundian vessel! I am Imra Ardeen of the Legion. Explain your actions! Why have you violated United Planets borders?"

For long minutes there was no response, but finally the Khundian commander's image appeared on the holoscreen. "The Empire recognizes no such entities or borders. We have come for the Trommite you're holding."

"Jan Arrah is not held against his will," Imra answered.

"I refuse to discuss this matter with a female pup!" the commander replied. "Your men are heat-dogs to allow a woman to speak for them."

"I can speak for myself," said Jan Arrah. He stepped toward the holoscreen.

Jan remained quiet for most of the trip. Salu noted that it wasn't an anxious quiet like hers, but more of an at-peace quiet. His faith was deep-rooted and he carried it with soft-spoken courage. He would make a fine leader of his people one day.

"Ah, the Trommite pup! Surrender or your vessel will be destroyed!" the Khundian barked.

"My people are no longer your pawns, Khund. We are free!" Jan shot back.

The Khund roared in laughter. "Your people? The Demon-Mother has smiled on me this day, insolent dog!"

"Don't speak to me in riddles, Khund. I am Jan, Eminence-elect of Trom."

Salu hadn't seen this side of Jan before. There were fires burning beneath his gentle, blue eyes.

An image of a small planet appeared on the holoscreen.

"This is Trom one and a half hours ago," said the Commander.

Two Battlewagons dropped into orbit around Trom and opened fire. Again and again, deadly blasts ripped into the tiny planet.

"Population: Two-hundred forty thousand souls," the Khund continued. "Let's see what happens when our weapons breach the unstable planetary core. That's why your people evolved the power of transmutation. Isn't it Jan? To control the planetary core!"

With a blinding flash of light Trom exploded. Two-hundred forty thousand souls made the journey together.

"No!" Jan cried. "Father! Mother! My people!"

The Khund's roaring laughter echoed across the bridge. "Your people are indeed free now! But the Luck Lords have smiled on you, pup. The Empire needs you. Surrender!"

"He will do no such thing!" Garth Ranzz yelled. "Jan's one of us now!"

"Tell it to the Butcher," the Khund laughed.

"Who?" Garth demanded.

"Roxass," the Khund answered. "You have ten seconds to release the Trommite into our custody or we will open fire on your vessel."

"Now, Salu!" Rokk commanded.

Salu fired the twin trigger controls at her fingertips, unleashing a barrage of blaster fire at the Stalag.

"What the nihl was that?" Imra asked. "We weren't supposed to fire first!"

Salu felt herself shrink as Imra's icy stare cut through her. "I'm sorry. I was doing what I was told."

"I wasn't talking to you, Salu," Imra answered. "Rokk!"

"I'm not giving the Stalag first shot on our hull," Rokk replied.

"The hull would hold," Dox answered. "The new modulation frequency is ever-changing. The parameters are based on the design of my force shield belt."

"Let's get out into space where we're more maneuverable," Imra ordered. "Transuits everyone."

"And telepathic plugs," Garth added. "We'd all like to be in on the conversation this time." He eyed Imra with a cold stare. The Legionnaires moved to the cargo bay and donned their transuits.

An alarm blared to life. "Hull has been breached. Point of origin - internal." announced the calm voice of the Blackhawk's cruiser.

The puzzled Legionnaires searched the cargo bay with their eyes. A grim, stone-faced Jan Arrah transmuted a section of the hull into inert gas and lifted himself into space. Thanks to Dox's force shield, gravity and life support were maintained inside the matrix. Jan passed easily through the force shield and into open space.

Salu wasn't aware Jan could fly. Sure there was no gravity in space, but a propulsion system of some kind was necessary to maneuver. She wasn't sure how his remarkable power worked, but grabbed an extra jet-pack for him just in case.

Her teammates followed Jan into space. "I can't believe I'm doing this," she whispered as she leaped into the void behind them.

Salu was at first awestruck by the majestic beauty of space. She'd seen it many times from a starship, but she'd never free-floated as it was known on her homeworld, Imsk.

Piercing energy blasts erupted from the Stalag's guns and slammed into the Legion cruiser. They dissipated against the Blackhawk's Coluan-modified force shield matrix.

Surprisingly, the Stalag was traveling without an escort. While all Khundian vessels were well-armed, Stalags usually flew with an escort squadron of Demon Fighters to make up for their lack of mobility.

A bolt of lightning erupted from Garth's hands and slammed into the Stalag. Its shields flickered for a moment, but were up to the task. A follow-up bolt proved less successful.

"Automatic calibration," Dox said over the telepathic plugs. "I based my own force shield on the same mechanics. My own calibrations are much more effective of course, but the same principal."

"Never mind that," Lu interrupted. "What's Jan doing?"

The lone survivor of Trom wasn't about to let a paltry energy shield stop him. Even an energy construct was composed of positive and negatively-charged particles. Which meant matter was present, however trace the amounts happened to be. At the command of his will the shield did more than flicker. The Stalag sat in the open void unprotected.

"Jan, stop!" Lyle pleaded.

"He can't hear you Lyle," said Imra. "He's not wearing a telepathic plug, but I can still contact him. Jan, please stop before you hurt yourself or someone else."

Salu heard the first few words of Imra's telepathic summons, but the telepath quickly closed the channel.

Jan stopped for a moment and faced his Legion friends, but then turned again to the Stalag. He breached the ship's hull.

"I can seal the breach with my force shield," said Dox. "We can still pass through it."

The Legionnaires entered the breach behind Jan.

The Stalag was much different than Salu imagined. She imagined row after row of old-fashioned jails like those used in ancient adventure stories. Instead, anti-matter cells held prisoners tight. Many Imskians died in similar cells during the invasion. It was said that not even a Durlan or a teleporter could escape. Even light failed to cross the threshold of anti-matter energy. The cells were arranged in a semi-circle with a control station at the center of the room.

"You there, Squaj! Stop! AAIIIEEEE!"

A Khund's blood-curling scream was joined by those of others. The Legionnaires tracked Jan by the screams of fallen Khunds. They found him in the cell control room. He held one Khund by the throat. "... the iron in your blood to mercury! You like that, Khund?"

The Khund in Jan's grip was gripped by wild spasms, but said nothing in reply.

"Stop before you kill him, Jan!" Rokk yelled over the bedlam.

"And why shouldn't I?" Jan answered. Tears of rage and grief fell from his blue eyes and rolled down his flushed cheeks.

"They destroyed my world! My entire world! You expect me to be some kind of hero after they destroyed my world?"

"You wouldn't be the first hero who lost his world. Have you heard of Superman?" Rokk asked.

"No, I haven't," Jan answered through gritted teeth. He grabbed another Khund.

"I won't beg, Trommiiiiiiite!!!! Demon-Mother take me now!"

"No, you won't beg, Khund. Not after I change the oxygen in your lungs into the same gas my people manufactured for you for what you swore was riot control!"

"Grunt Gas," Lyle explained telepathically. "Highly toxic to Khunds, but no other known race. The Khunds terrorize their own people with it to quell uprisings and enforce their castes."

Jan slammed the Khundian guard to the floor.

A door hissed open behind the Legionnaires. Suddenly there was more to worry about than Jan's rampage. Khundian soldiers rushed through the door with blasters blaring.

As one the Legionnaires met their advance.

Dox enclosed himself and Imra within his force shield. From its safety she could concentrate on strategy while lashing out with her psychic barrage. Khund after Khund dropped before her.

For his own part, Dox lent more to the Legion's cause than serving as the team's shield. He could also employ his force shield as a potent weapon. A quick calibration and he was able to attack with its impenetrable force.

Salu was scared but used her power to shrink out of sight and then to grow quickly and attack. Her strategy kept the Khunds off-guard. Two Khunds even shot one another when she shrunk out of their line of fire.

A Khund stepped forward with a shoulder blaster and aimed it toward the midst of the fray. The deadly weapon would kill without prejudice to Legionnaire or Khund.

Salu leaped toward the weapon's long, cylindrical barrel and shrunk even smaller than before. She disappeared from sight completely, confusing the Khund. She reappeared again, standing near the sighting scope. "I wouldn't fire if I were you."

"After I kill your friends, I will have my way with you, Imskian she-dog."

Salu leaped from the blaster and returned to her normal stature.

The Khund fired. His shoulder blaster exploded.

"It's simple to booby-trap your weapon from the inside, Khund." Salu had never felt like this before. She was fighting Khunds! And winning! She enjoyed the rush before a Khund grabbed her by her dark hair and yanked so hard she thought her scalp would come off in his hand.

"You will pay for that, wench!"

Again, Salu used her shrinking ability to not only break free of his grip, but thanks to her specially-designed jet pack that shrunk with her, was able to fly into the Khund's ear. He quickly fell.

While the Legion fought valiantly, they were soon overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Khunds poured through the door as fast as the Legion took them out. Soon there were more than the Legion could handle.

The Khunds forced the Legion line to regroup behind Dox's shield

All but Jan. He continued his one man vengeance squad. He was equally adept on the offensive or the defensive. Blaster fire was wasted on inertron shields he transmuted from the air around him.

"Jan! We need you!" Rokk cried. "Please listen!"

For a moment Jan looked torn, but a lifetime of learning to put the welfare of others above his own personal feelings won out. He dropped the Khund in his hands and joined the others within Dox's refuge.

"We're badly outnumbered, Rokk," Garth yelled.

"Tell me something I don't know," Rokk answered.

"May I make a suggestion?" Lyle asked.

"Sure," said Rokk. "We're open to just about anything right about now."

"The prisoners," Lyle answered.

"What?" Rokk asked.

"Let's provide cover for Dox and have him release the prisoners. I'm sure we'll find some who'll stand with us," Lyle replied.

"Or we may find broken beings we'd have to protect," Rokk shot back.

Lyle shook his head. "These prisoners are in anti-matter cells for a reason."

"He's got a point, Rokk," said Garth. "Do it."

The team charged forward and attacked the Khunds while Dox slid into place behind the control tower. The reputation of Khundian science was that is was the most complex outside of Colu. Even the written language marking the controls was nearly impossible to decipher unless one was an expert. Good thing for the Legionnaires they had Dox. He assimilated the information in all of twenty seconds.

The anti-matter fields dissipated from the front of the cells leaving the prisoners momentarily stunned by the prospect of their freedom. Once the shock passed, they escaped with a mission. They quickly joined the Legionnaires in battling the Khunds.

Lyle was right. These were very powerful allies the Khunds held. The combined might of their attack and the Legion's quickly turned the tide.

The Khundian commander appeared on the deck and barked orders to his troops. Chained to his side was a very attractive young woman with light magenta-colored skin. She was dressed like a harem girl and sat on the floor by the Khund with her gaze fixed upon the floor. Meanwhile, the battle raged on.

Though the Legionnaires gave a good account of themselves, it was their new allies that caught Salu's attention. A young Durlan gave the Khunds fits with his shape-shifting ability. He mimicked form after form that were both familiar and frighteningly unfamiliar. Another young man who appeared mostly human fought like a possessed beast. His strength and agility were amazing, his hands and feet a ballet of destruction. No matter how many Khunds he faced, he growled and snarled until he found a way to beat them. She wasn't sure what the girl with the ghostly white skin and antennae on her head was doing to the Khunds, but they fell to the ground and vomited as she walked by them. Whatever she was doing to them, they didn't look well. Another girl ran like the wind, literally. She moved so fast she was a blur on the field of battle. When her fists landed a blow, the force sent Khunds flying. The girl with the beautiful, white wings kept the Khund's blasters busy. Despite their trained expertise she avoided their fire, weaving between blasts as easily as a child skipping rope. Their errant fire was causing them to cripple their own ship. Then there was the young man with the dark energy blasts. Whenever they hit a Khund, his victims fell to the floor and couldn't lift themselves.

But there were others who, while equally formidable, were ruthless and vicious. A man wielding a large axe delighted in decapitating his opponents. A green-haired woman possessed a floating eye with emerald beams as deadly as she was beautiful. Another man touched the Khunds with his right hand and vaporized them. The final prisoner was a cybernetic man whose half-human appearance gave Salu the chills. Built into the cyborg side of his body were many weapons and his efficiency with them was terrifying.

Soon the battle was over and the only Khund left standing was the commander.

"You!" Jan screamed. "You killed my people and for that you will pay!"

"The Demon Mother didn't bless me with that honor pup, but she has blessed me to finish off your accursed race," the Khund answered. With an evil grin on his face, he unveiled an anti-matter grenade and tossed it into the midst of the Legionnaires and his former prisoners.

The Khund turned to the woman chained at his side. "Veilmist, get us out of here!"

The woman he called Veilmist didn't look up.

Her Khundian master yanked on the chain that stretched from his waist to the choker around her neck. "Insolent wench! Will you have us die with this scum?"

"I will not remain your lone prisoner," she answered and then disappeared, leaving an acrid puff of smoke in her wake. She appeared once more and retrieved the grenade before disappearing again.

Salu admired the determination on the young woman's face but was confused. "Where did she go?".

The winged woman turned to her. "I sense her presence outside the ship."

"With no transuit?" the Durlan asked.

"Stupid woman!" the Khund laughed.

An explosion rocked the Stalag.

"And you will pay for that brave woman's life as well," said Jan as he approached the Khund.

"Forget it, kid," said the man with the axe. "This one's mine! I'll have his head for my trophy!"

Jan hardly blinked. Reaching his hand toward the axe, he enclosed it in inertron.

"What the sprock?" cried the axe man. The others with him moved against the boy but he held up his hand. He was curious as how events would play out.

"Keep him away!" the Khund begged. "Please! They're the most dangerous race in the galaxy!"

"That's right," Jan answered. "And when I'm done there won't be a Khund alive in this universe!"

The Khund collapsed to the floor writhing.

"What's the matter, Khund? Have trouble breathing with the tissue in your lungs changed to iron?" Jan asked.

"Jan, please," said Rokk. "If you kill him..."

"He's what?" the cyborg laughed. "No better than the Khunds?"

"That's right," Rokk answered.

"Finish him, boy," the cyborg gloated. "Take that final step."

Whatever Jan was doing to the Khund, it was obvious he was in sheer agony. He pawed frantically at his throat for air.

"Think of your father, Jan," said Rokk. "You are the prince of your people. Is this the brand of justice and mercy he taught you?"

The woman with the floating, emerald eye flashed Jan a wicked smile. "A prince? Royalty answers to no one! You are above such antiquated concepts. Finish him."

"Is this the Way?" Salu shouted over the din.

With that, Jan turned toward his teammate. "No, Salu. It's... it's not."

The Khund finally gasped.

"The Way doesn't take life," Jan added. "It gives it."

"Emerald Eye slay this arrogant fool who imprisoned us!" commanded the green-haired woman. An intense beam of emerald energy bathed the Khund in an eerie glow. When it stopped its assault, only the Khund's bones remained.

"You butchers!" said Rokk.

"Address the Empress with respect, boy. Because you freed us we will let you live, but continue to speak to us that way and we can easily overlook that fact," the cyborg warned. "Join us in our fight against Khundia. With your power added to our own we can easily overthrow them."

"You fight them for sport?" Rokk asked.

The cyborg laughed. "Sport? No child, power! With their vast armies at our command the Fatal Five will not be stopped."

"Five?" Garth sneered. "Looks like you're missing one."

The cyborg smiled. "Don't you bet on it."

A giant purple and white gloved fist smashed through the Stalag's hull and opened its hand. The four former prisoners climbed aboard the massive hand. The woman they called the Empress bathed them in the same weird energy she used on the Khund, and the fist withdrew them from the ship.

"We'll cross paths again," the cyborg promised. "You haven't seen the last of the Fatal Five."

The vacuum of space clawed at the insides of the Stalag, sending machinery and sentient alike into free float. The Legionnaires were protected by their transuits. The prisoners weren't.

"Legionnaires, grab anyone not wearing a transuit and get them to our ship!" Imra commanded over the telelink. "Your transuit will cover them and provide atmosphere."

Jan was already a step ahead of her orders though. He enclosed everyone within an atmosphere rich in oxygen and life-giving elements.

The Legionnaires used their jet packs to rocket back to their ship.

"Who were they?" Lu asked when everyone was safe aboard the Blackhawk.

"We'll check them out when we get back to headquarters," said Rokk. "But first a moment of silence to remember the brave young woman who gave her life for us today."

Everyone but the Durlan bowed their heads in reverence. He seemed slightly embarrassed and quickly followed suit with the custom. Despite the somber circumstances, Salu couldn't help but smile. In such a large galaxy it was comforting to know that the simplest of customs were so universally observed.

"I'm not dead!"

The Legionnaires and their allies raised their heads. "Your bravery inspired me. When I teleported the bomb away I saw this ship floating here. The markings matched those on the sleeves of your uniforms. I hope you don't mind that I teleported aboard before the bomb exploded."

Everyone rushed toward Veilmist. Lu hugged her hard.

"I don't understand that gesture. Do you wish to mate?" Veilmist asked.

"I don't think that's possible, sweetie!" Lu laughed. "It means we're happy you're safe."

"I'm happy too," Veilmist answered.

"Then why not join us?" Garth asked. "All of you."

"Let's talk more about it when we return to Earth," Imra added.

Salu heard Imra's voice in her head. "I know everyone is overjoyed, but we don't know these people. We should check them out first."

"I won't be joining you," said the woman with the white wings. "I must find my soul mate."

"Can we give you a lift then?" Garth asked.

"The offer is appreciated but unnecessary," the young woman answered. "I can fly much faster on my own."

"Faster than Warp 10?" Garth asked incredulously.

"I've outrun this ship many times," the girl answered. "Brande Industries tested it on my homeworld, Starhaven."

"Okaaay. Maybe we can help you find this soul mate of yours," Garth added. "Brande located my sister for me."

"He did? That's great, Garth," said Rokk.

Garth nodded. "Something else for me to do when we get back."

"Brande has employed me on a number of occasions I am a bounty hunter, a mutant who can track even the tiniest trace of someone's atoms across the galaxy. I was captured while returning to Starhaven after looking for my mate."

"Then why so much trouble finding him?" Garth asked.

"There was an explosion. He... It does not matter. I still feel his presence and I will find him."

"What is your name?" Rokk asked.

"I am Dawnstar of Starhaven."

"You are welcome among us anytime, Dawnstar of Starhaven. If you ever need us..."

"Thank you," Dawnstar answered. "But I must go."

The young woman walked to the cargo doors and looked over her shoulder. She nodded and Lyle activated the cargo bay's artificial atmosphere. Dawnstar spread her wings and flew into the void.

"Home, everyone?" Rokk asked.

Garth smiled. "For once, we agree on something."


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