So I have finally caught up on this. That was an intense batch of chapters there o.O I love your characters-- Arkani and Caseel in particular both had me grinning. This is, as always, still riveting to read. I'm very much looking forward to the next chapter ^_^
<...are out of control! You disobeyed direct orders from your superior. You engaged in a firefight without approval. You left the designated combat zone without permission. You endangered your entire squad, and you mutinied against your squadron commander.>
Kirian's tone wasn't overly harsh, no. He was relishing every word as if it were the most delicious strain of arkadia grass straight from the heart of the Homeworld, Ossanlin could tell. Both were standing in Prince Kuro's office within the Tree's docking bay. The Flight Commander himself was not present as he oversaw the cooldown and repair of the Dome's fighters. He'd graciously allowed Kirian to use the office for his own purposes.
<You're a loose cannon, aristh. Saying aristh, frankly, is generous, because that will be your rank if you are fortunate. The demotion will be the least of your worries. It's possible they could bring you before the courts...you could be decommissioned in dishonor, your entire family shamed.> Kirian turned his cold, mirthful eyes on Ossanlin. For his own part, Ossanlin remained silent and stoic. He wouldn't give the blow-hard the reaction he obviously wanted.
<What do you think of that aristh? The prodigy, the best out of the Academy in a decade, brought low after less than a year of service. How will your teachers feel? Or your parents? Mmm...it's really quite a shame after all.> Nothing in Kirian's eyes or tone of thought belied the pity he was ironically espousing as an insult. <But if you are fortunate, and let's face it, you have been more fortunate than most, you will be demoted and I'm afraid you'll likely be one of the longest-running arisths in the history of the military. You know how these things go. I sincerely hope you didn't have aspirations of becoming a Prince...that will no longer be possible as I'm sure you already know. And of course you'll never fly again. But I'm sure you'll make a perfectly reasonable sanitation technician.>
Ossanlin could cut the smugness with his tail-blade if he wanted to. Truthfully the most irritating thing that Kirian had demonstrated thus far was his disdain for sanitary technicians. Ships couldn't run without them, and domes would be impossible. They did important, meaningful work, though of course the only thing that mattered to Kirian was flying.
Kirian jumped slightly as the office door slid open. He immediately stopped what he was about to say, but grinned again as soon as he saw Prince Caseel. <Ah, Prince. I'm glad you could join us. I would like it officially documented that I have filed multiple reprimands upon Ossanlin-Rethin-Sephirel.>
Caseel raised his brow, seeming curious. <Oh? Well I suppose you'll have to declare them then. I know as an efficient officer, you'll want to declare them now. Very well, I have a few moments to spare.>
Kirian looked slightly surprised, but his smile deepened. Ossanlin's own hearts fluttered for the first time. Kirian wouldn't be wrong if Caseel were actually willing to declare Kirian's reprimands. For the first time, Ossanlin's anger mixed with fear, though none of it translated to his face.
<Ah, yes...firstly, insubbordination and disobediance to his commading officer. Secondly, engaging in unsanctioned hostilities involving government-issued property. Thirdly, dereliction of duty in a time of crisis. And finally, mutiny against command.> Kirian looked more smug than ever.
<I see. And will you be reprimanding the rest of your squadron for participating in mutiny?>
Kirian was taken aback for a moment before answering. <Of course, it will have to be noted on their permanent records.>
<Mutiny is a serious charge, Kirian. If sustained, your entire squadron, save yourself, will be permanently grounded and possibly discharged.> Caseel's tone was matter-of-fact.
For the first time, Kirian's smugness slipped, before he turned a vengeful gaze back to Ossanlin. <He's responsible, they are not.>
<Oh, I see. I wasn't aware our young Warrior could control minds.> Caseel turned an appraising gaze on Ossanlin. Meanwhile Ossanlin merely chuckled on the inside. He could begin to see where this was going, though not the full depth of it.
Kirian spluttered a bit before recovering. <He's dangerous, Prince. He's the one who must be decommissioned! He almost got Arkani killed on that freighter! The fact that he boarded a freighter and forced poor Arkani along is more than enough!>
<The way I see it, Kirian, your Arkani would be dead had Ossanlin not taken the actions he had. Or did you forget how you and the rest of your active squadron abandoned her with two bugs on her tail?> Caseel turned his penetrating gaze back to Kirian.
Ossanlin could see Kirian's skin darkening beneath his fur. That had been a failure on the Prince-Lieutenant's part. Especially since he'd kept a ship in reserve for no apparent reason.
<But don't fret, Prince-Lieutenant. Swiftblade will not be grounded nor will they be decommissioned. In fact, they will be commended for their action regarding the Ghostwall Offensive. After all, they played a crucial role in stopping the Yeerk attack.> Caseel smiled genuinely.
<Of course, thank you Prince.> Kirian looked mollified, his skin-tone returning to a normal coloration. His smug, disdainful look returned as he looked back at Ossanlin. <Well, you have heard the reprimands. I've no doubt he will be demoted if not decommissioned for his reckless behavior. If you'll excuse me Prince, I'd like to oversee the dress-down of my fighter.>
As Kirian turned to leave, Caseel spoke up. <You have not been dismissed, Prince-Lieutenant. As it happens, I'm ready to rule upon the reprimands you've issued forth.>
Kirian's eyes narrowed, but he turned to regard Prince Caseel again, sparing only a stalk-eye for Ossanlin, who had continued to remain silent and stoic for the entire time.
<Firstly, Prince-Lieutenant, your charge of insubbordination and disobedience is not substantiated.> Kirian's eyes flashed and he looked about to speak up when Caseel raised a hand. <Yes, you issued an order for the Warrior to remain at the Tree. He followed that order. But you must remember, Kirian, after quoting me all of these regulations, sub-rider declaration 3935? Ossanlin was the last remaining deployed fighter at the Tree. You know full well that this comes with an automatic, temporary promotion to Prince Lieutenant in order to facilitate home-ship defense. So you see, he did not disobey a direct order from a superior, but from an equivalent officer. Conflicting orders from officers of the same level issues a written warning to both officers, nothing more.>
Kirian's eyes were wide open, incredulous. It was almost humorous to watch, but Ossanlin forced himself to remain calm and collected. Declaration 3935 was an archaic rule, one that was barely ever enforced.
<Secondly, in battle and in times of war, all assets are expected to engage with full potential. Every single warrior under my command was expected, at the time of Ossanlin's engagement, to fully engage. He was merely following my standing directive.>
Kirian's face grew more and more angry with each passing moment. He wasn't fit to be in command of anything. One shouldn't show emotion so openly, especially to other members of the military, particularly those in your command, or those in command of yourself.
<Thirdly, Ossanlin did not hold his duty in dereliction. He flowed to the secondary combat zone, which turned out in point of fact to be the far more important of the two. Moving between combat zones is done at personal or commander's discretion. Since he was acting home-ship defense commander, he was no longer under your command, and he shared your rank. The discretion was his.> Caseel returned Kirian's incredulous gaze with his own perfectly calm one.
<And fourthly, Prince-Lieutenant, since he shared your rank and was not under your command, he did not mutiny. In fact, you gave no orders during this time whatsoever. In the absense of direct command, squadrons are allowed to move and engage at personal discretion. They flowed to help Ossanlin with his objective. So, Prince-Lieutenant, there will be no courts and no reprimands. Ossanlin will receive full honors for his pivotal and heroic role in this battle.>
All signs of smugness were gone. Kirian was now only a ball of pure, unadulterated rage. With obvious great difficulty and bare personal restraint, Kirian spoke. <You are...> He turned to look at Ossanlin. <He is a threat to the stability of my squadron. You have my word that as long he's a member of my Swiftblade, he will NEVER fly.>
Caseel merely regarded Kirian with a calm gaze. Just as the Prince-Lieutenant turned to leave, Caseel spoke up again, freezing the other in his tracks. <Oh I have some good news for you as well, Kirian. As acting commander of the heroic Swiftblade squadron during the Ghostwall defensive, you are being promoted. Congratulations Prince-Commander. It's been a long time in coming.>
Kirian turned once again, this time the color draining from his face. <I did not request a promotion!>
<And yet you're receiving one. Now obviously being a mere squad-commander is much too small a task for someone of your honored rank. The Tessalis has been without a Flight Commander for well over a month. I've already recommended you for the position. No doubt you will be receiving it, given your expertise and long, long history with Tail Fighters.> Caseel smiled proudly.
Kirian, on the other hand, looked sick to his hooves. His face had become gaunt and pallid. <Prince...I do not wish to transfer. I'm...perfectly fine with remaining at the rank of Prince Lieutenant.> His speech was nearly private it was so quiet in Ossanlin's mind. <I signed on for another term with the express guarantee that my flight status would not be revoked...>
<Flight Commanders remain in active flight status, Prince-Commander. Yours has not been revoked. You've merely been...promoted.> Caseel's grin was no longer as warm as it had been and Ossanlin suddenly understood what it meant.
Nothing was more important to Kirian than flying Tail Fighters. That was all he'd ever wanted to do. While it was true that Flight Commanders retained an active flight status, they rarely, if ever, actually flew. They would be deployed as a last resort in battle, but that was it. What Caseel was really doing was stripping Kirian of what he wanted most. It was almost diabolic, though Kirian deserved nothing less. He needed to be removed from direct squadron command after this most recent battle. Even Ossanlin could see that.
<But...Swiftblade...Prince they will be without a squad commander!>
<Oh, don't you worry about Swiftblade, Kirian. Their new commander has already proven his worth quite soundly. Downing multiple bugs, a capital ship, and boarding and destroying a freighter. Piecing together the Imperial plan without guidance before anyone else...well...and already commanding the rest of the squadron during the offensive when their own commander failed. I can think of no one better to assume your position. Congratulations, Prince-Commander.> Caseel's smile deepened, and Ossanlin's hearts jumped purely in surprise. He himself would be assuming the role of Squadron Commander of Swiftblade?
Meanwhile, Kirian stiffened visibly. His face contorted through many emotions from anger, to fear, to sadness and pain. He slowly turned, not sparing a single eye for Ossanlin, and walked slowly toward the office door. Stiffly, almost wooden. It was obvious he was in shock.
Ossanlin turned toward Kirian and gave him a full tail-salute, speaking up for the first time since the other's tirade had begun. <It was an honor serving under you, Prince-Commander. I wish you well on your new assignment.> The words were not cutting, or antagonizing. They weren't condescending nor were they venomed. In truth, Ossanlin felt bad for his previous ICO. If anything, he actually meant what he said. Kirian stopped, shivered a bit and then continued on out the door of the office.
Ossanlin turned his attention to Caseel. <May I speak freely, Prince?>
<I welcome it, Ossanlin. What's on your mind?> Caseel's demeanor had changed back to warm and friendly.
<I am uncomfortable with the situation.>
<In what way, Command-Warrior?>
Ossanlin stopped short. Had he...had he said "Command-Warrior?" Really? Had Ossanlin really only spent less than one standard day as a Warrior before being promoted to Command Warrior?
<I...well...> Ossanlin paused to gather his thoughts again. <I...am uncomfortable being the reason behind Kirian's removal from his current position.>
<You're not the reason, Ossanlin, nor will you be blamed. It is improper for a Prince-Commander to remain as a Squad-Commander. I have faith that Kirian will be a successful Flight Commander, even if it isn't exactly what he wants.> Caseel smiled a bit.
Ossanlin gave his Prince a no-nosense look in return. <You wanted him removed from the position, Prince.>
Caseel smiled a bit brighter. <I can see why Raigar likes you, Command-Warrior. Most senior staff thought it inappropriate that Kirian was still actively flying in a Tail-Fighter squadron. You fly a fighter, and if you prove yourself a capable commander, you move on to something with more responsibility. If not, you retire.> Caseel paused, looking over Prince Kuro's desk before returning his stalk eyes to Ossanlin.
<You have to understand, Ossanlin...there are a lot of Tail Fighter pilots who don't want to move on. They get...addicted...to it. It's all they ever want to do. That in and of itself is not the problem. The problem comes when these people become so comfortable, that they stop really trying. When Tail Fighter pilots get comfortable, they start becoming too self-assured. After a time, they get to feeling invincible. This feeling of invincibility leads to dangerous lapses in judgement which can result in their deaths, or in the deaths of their squad mates or of others. Kirian truly displayed how unfit he had become for this line of work today. He nearly killed one of his squad-mates, and broke down into ineffectual antagonization late in the defensive. He cannot command a squadron anymore, nor can he fly. He would never obey the orders of another Squad Commander. It's far past time for him to have moved on. Finally he pushed me into forcing him to move on with his actions today. You're not responsible for any of that.> Caseel's tone was nothing but reassuring.
<He will see me as the reason, my Prince.> Ossanlin moved a stalk-eye to regard the door through which Kirian had exited a few minutes ago.
<I'm afraid he will, but nothing will change that, Ossanlin. You must understand, Command-Warrior, you cannot please everyone. You cannot befriend everyone. You need only have the respect of those who follow your orders. And you must not be afraid to issue those orders for any reason. In all things, Ossanlin, you must exude confidence. Note that I did not say that you must have full confidence in everything you do, but you must exude it to your Warriors to hearten them.> Caseel paused, looking Ossanlin over from stalks to hooves. <You impress me, Command-Warrior. You already have the bearing of a senior officer. To withstand Kirian without losing your composure...I foresee you'll make a very good officer some day. To be honest, I would've promoted you to Prince-Lieutenant if it wouldn't have flown in the face of every protocol we have in place. Command-Warrior will do for now, but you are well on your way.>
Ossanlin repressed a blush at the compliments. <Do you really think it wise for me to take command of Swift Blade, my Prince? Won't the others see it as an insult?>
<After today, Ossanlin? You took control naturally, and they followed your orders. Orders which led to the successful foiling of a potential null-bomb of a Yeerk offensive. I don't think you'll have any problems with them whole-heartedly accepting your command. One of your first duties will be to name a second.>
<Arkani, my Prince. She did as much as I did, and she deserves a promotion as well.>
<Not to worry, Ossanlin. Arkani has also been promoted to Command-Warrior. We'll be looking to replace Kirian's slot with a different flier, obviously. I'm assuming Kirtik will be paired with the new-comer, whomever that might be?>
<Yes, my Prince. Deknil and Irania already have a good wing-mate relationship. I hope that Kirtik will not perceive the action as a slight to his abilities. All of them were instrumental in the success of the operation.>
<Of course, Command-Warrior.> Caseel smiled to himself. Ossanlin couldn't tell why, but he thought it might have something to do with the way he'd accepted command so easily. He surprised himself, in fact. It felt very natural. <Now, you need to go dress-down your fighter. I would recommend you also call a squad meeting as soon as possible to let them know of the changes in Swift Blade.>
<Sir, would it not be better for them to hear the news from you?> Ossanlin felt a tad sheepish.
<They're your squadron, Command-Warrior. You're responsible for that.> With that, Caseel left the Flight Commander's office to attend to other duties, leaving Ossanlin all but reeling.
The door slid open again and an andalite, slightly older than Ossanlin himself, snapped a sharp tail-salute. Ossanlin returned it woodenly. <Command-Warrior, I was told to bring these to you.> The aristh proffered up two padded boxes. Ossanlin instantly recognized them as belt insignia containers.
<Thank you, aristh.> Ossanlin took both and gently opened the first one, the double-crescented bar gleaming in the lights of the office. After a moment, Ossanlin realized the aristh was still standing there. He looked back up and something clicked in his brain. <Oh..uh, dismissed.>
The aristh saluted again and left the office, leaving Ossanlin bemused once again. He slowly removed his Warrior belt badge, he'd just donned it for the first time this morning, and placed the Command-Warrior badge in its place on his belt almost reverently. He placed the Warrior badge inside the empty box and tucked it into a pouch on his utility belt. He peeked into the other box to see another Command-Warrior badge, doubtlessly for Arkani.
Ossanlin composed himself mentally, thinking about what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it, before trotting out to the walkways toward Swift Blade's series of docking bays. He could see Deknil and Irania by their ships. Kirtik was down on the docking-bay floor speaking with one of the technicians. Finally Arkani popped out of her ship's bay. He subconsciously rotated his shoulder...treatment for both himself and Arkani had involved morphing out and morphing back. The damage was gone, but he could swear he still felt a phantom pain where the gash had been.
He pulled out his comm and noticed that it had been updated remotely by his ARC to include control of Swiftblade's command priority channel. He selected it and opened a channel with all four of his squad mates simultaneously. <Swiftblade, meet by the ship-bays. We have some matters to discuss.> The others all looked at their comms and then around the bay, noticing Ossanlin walking toward Swiftblade's ships. None of them responded...the order didn't need a response, but they would all be able to tell it had been Ossanlin's voice giving the order and not Kirian's.
By the time Ossanlin reached the bays, all four were standing there waiting. Ossanlin saw all of them glance at his belt badge. Arkani's eyes shot up. Irania chuckled and Deknil merely nodded. Kirtik was hard to read. <Thank you all for gathering so efficiently.> He paused, nodding to each of them. <As of today, Kirian has been promoted to the rank of Prince-Commander. He has been vetted for the position of Flight Commander aboard another vessel.> Arkani put a hand to her breathing slits in shock, but Deknil only nodded again. Kirtik's eyes seemed to be filled with grudging understanding. <I think we can all agree that he has put in more than enough time in a Tail Fighter to qualify for both of these promotions.>
<As such, I have been advanced to the rank of Command-Warrior and I have been placed in command of Swift Blade. I have humbly accepted the position, and I hope to earn trust from each of you over the next few cycles.>
<You already have it, sir.> Arkani eye-smiled. Irania smirked and Deknil nodded again. Kirtik looked a bit wary.
<I appreciate that, Arkani. I also have something here for you.> Ossanlin held up the box to Arkani. She gasped a bit and took it from him, opening the lid. She smiled brightly at the badge inside. <You've been advanced to the rank of Command-Warrior as well. I am also naming you as my Second.>
Arkani's eyes widened before she smiled again and then tail-saluted. <Thank you, sir! I accept. And I promise never to leave your six.>
<Now that all of that is out of the way, I want you all to know that I respect each and every one of you. Today's battle was hard-fought, and it wouldn't have been successful without each and every one of us. You three destroyed more bugs than I could count from the wreckage. The boarding couldn't have been successful without you all. And Arkani, your support onboard was irreplacable. We did something great today. We saved Honornet. With it, we may have saved the Alpha Line and thousands of lives. That's why Swiftblade is still the military's best fighter squadron! And we're only going to keep getting better! Swiftblades, strike!> Ossanlin and the rest of his comrades did the squadron's unique slashing salute with their tails, smiling. Even Kirtik.
<Now, let's make sure the techs don't blow out our actuators.> Irania laughed loudly and Deknil smirked. Kirtik chuckled for his part.
<<Ossanlin. I mean, sir....thank you for all of this. You...well you made me believe in myself and I did things today that I thought I could never do. So, thank you.>>
Ossanlin smiled over at Arkani. She'd already donned her Command-Warrior badge. <<Of course, Arkani. The only thing that limits you is your own mind. You've been too hard on yourself. You're capable of doing anything you put your mind upon.>> He paused and eyesmiled at her again. <<And thank you for showing me kindness and respect when no one else would.>>
Arkani blushed a bit, but nodded, still smiling, before moving back to her own fighter bay to finish the dress-down. Ossanlin did likewise. A dark thought suddenly hit him...what if Arkani was Sector Seven? He shook his head...no she was only a Warrior when they met. He was a Command-Warrior now and they still hadn't contacted him as Raigar said they would. Of course he'd only been a Warrior for a day...less even. He tried to dismiss the nagging thought, but no matter how hard he tried, it simply wouldn't go away. He finally managed to push the thought out of his head and sunk into the process of down-dressing his fighter. Arkani couldn't be Sector Seven. She just couldn't be...
"<Ossanlin? Ossanlin, report!> Caseel’s voice echoed over Ossanlin’s personal communicator.
<Two squadrons of bug fighters…and a Blade Ship, my Prince.>"
Ossanlin furrowed his brow and assessed the situation. No way two Tail Fighters could take on two full Bug squadrons. Well, not unless the bug pilots were absolute trash at their profession...unlikely. For the first time, Ossanlin felt helpless. Who knew how far that transponder had gotten already with the hacking process? They couldn't waste time, yet attacking was suicide. His eyes darkened as he readied the engines for a full burn. <Arkani...we have to try.>
Suddenly two more signatures, and then a third popped around the planetoid from behind them! Could they have been flanked so easily? <If we try, we try as a squad.> That was Deknil! <Try? Hah...I think you meant 'fry.'> Irania of course. <This is bigger than any of us.> Kirtik! Ossanlin smiled to himself...now it was five Tail Fighters against eight Bugs. Not even odds by any means, but doable. Easily doable by one of the best Squadrons in the the Andalite military. Ossanlin flowed to the side, but all four formed up with him in the lead spot...Merkel formation. Kirian was nowhere to be found. He took a deep breath and punched up a max burn. <Okay, let's teach these yaolin-spawn not to mess with Swiftblade!>
A chorus of cheers erupted over squad-comm as his team-mates followed, staying tightly packed in formation. <Watch the Blade Ship...we need to stay away from its point-defense, those big dracons will vaporize us, but they're hard to aim and we can see them coming from ten clicks off. Remember there's only five of us here...no one leaves ANYONE open! If we break formation, Kirtik, Deknil, Irania...stick together. Arkani stick with me.>
Multiple assents echoed over squad-comm. Somehow they'd all fallen under his command, despite out-ranking him. He didn't have time to wonder about it before they merged with the Bugs protecting the freighter. Flashes of Red and Blue arced around Ossanlin's ****pit. They kept formation for a moment, but the sheer number of bugs forced them to break into two groups. Ossanlin registered a huge energy build-up in the vicinity of the Blade Ship. <Blade volley, BREAK!>
The two fighter groups broke into quick evasive actions as the canopy polarized with the bright red light of the Blade Ship's primary Dracon blast. The bugs were pesky...of course they would've entrusted their best fighter pilots to this most-important defensive action.
Ossanlin's comm burst with Caseel's voice. <Swift Blade, you have at least two more squads of bugs breaking for you. The Tree will not be within combat range for sixteen minutes thirty-nine seconds. Prioritize that freighter!> Time seemed to dilate as Ossanlin ran through possible strategies. The frieghter was heavily-armored...fighter weapons would splash harmlessly against the surface. Ossanlin wracked his brain for details about this particular model of ship. Used mainly to haul surplus cargo. Lightly crewed. Standard turbine-induced engine nacelles, one old-model fusion reactor power plant. Z-Drive. Model four cargo doors...carbide chassis. Wait...model four cargo doors. Those doors had been retired due to a weakness in the locking clamps. It wasn't much...but it was something, and Ossanlin intended to use it.
<Deknil, Irania, Kirtik...keep these bugs occupied. Arkani, follow me.> Ossanlin led Arkani behind a small asteroid at max burn. The bugs chasing them disengaged. Good, the Yeerks thought they were bugging out. Ossanlin could all but feel Arkani's curiosity. <Arkani...we're boarding that freighter.>
<What? Are you mad?> Arkani sounded a bit frightened again.
<We have to stop them Arkani, no matter the cost. Look, this freighter is armored, we can't punch it with fighter weapons. The cargo doors have a weakness in the locking clamps.> If only he could use his ARC to paint Arkani's display, but alas he wasn't technically Swiftblade's squad commander. <You'll know them when you see them. If we blow both the primary locks at the same time, the auxiliary locks won't have time to engage and pressure will blow the hatch. It's big enough for us to fly inside and land. We'll take it out from the inside.>
<Ossanlin, I'm a fighter pilot, not a trooper!> Arkani's tone sounded a bit panicky.
<You'll do fine, Arkani. We fight for the People, remember. I need you...I can't do this without you. The Empire could take Honornet without you. Now let's do this!> Ossanlin punched up a burn that would carry him around the asteroid. Hopefully the others had pulled the bugs away from the frieghter far enough that he and Arkani would be inside before they could react. He was relieved to see that Arkani followed his lead.
The freighter loomed into view, all hulking angles and protrusions. Ossanlin navigated quickly to the primary cargo hatch and locked on to one of the primary clamps. Arkani did the same. <On my mark, Arkani...three...two...one...MARK!>
Twin beams lanced forward, one from each fighter, and melted into the hatch's locking clamps. Suddenly the door blew out, locks still aglow. Ossanlin dodged his fighter to the right and then punched forward, pushing through the emergency atmosphere shield onto the Yeerkish freighter and Arkani followed.
A quick check told Ossanlin that the dimly-lit cargo bay was mostly empty...except for the giant, hulking, well-armored transponder array smack in the middle. He wasted no time, opening the cabin of his fighter and jumping out, drawing his handheld Shredder in a defensive position. Arkani did the same. There was no one here now that Ossanlin could see, but they would have company soon. He engaged the HUD mode of his ARC and his right eye was suddenly afforded with a much more complete picture of the bay. No life-signs in the room as of yet. The Yeerks obviously hadn't been expecting to repel boarders.
<<Arkani, stay here and keep our exit route safe. They're going to pressure you, but you can use the fighter shields and sensor array to help you. Stay safe. I've got to get to the fusion reactor.>>
<<Ossanlin, I'm coming with you.>>
Ossanlin looked back in surprise.
<<I'm your wingmate, and I'm not leaving your six open. Anywhere.>>
Ossanlin quickly nodded and set his fighter to self-defense mode. The ship cloaked. A moment later, Arkani's did the same. The Yeerks would surely detect them, but the chances they'd be able to do any damage to them in the short amount of time the two Andalites would be aboard the freighter is minimal. <<Okay, but keep your eyes on the swivel.>>
He tried to keep his hoof-falls as quiet as possible as he made his way toward the service corridor. The ship was mostly cargo-bay, so the chance of them going undetected was almost nil, but they certainly had no reason to draw attention to themselves. Suddenly he heard foot-falls echoing through the corridor. With any luck, the controllers would head for their ships and fail to notice them altogether.
Ossanlin ducked into a small alcove near the front of the cargo-bay, gesturing for Arkani to do the same. He watched as two Hork-Bajir and one other...it was called a human if Ossanlin remembered correctly, ran toward the primary cargo-bay door, their backs to the two Andalites. He gestured to Arkani, moving silently into the corridor. Shouts echoed from behind them...first in a language his translator chip did non understand, and then the harsh tones of Gallard. "Where are they?"
The two made their way down the dimly-lit bare-metal and component hallway. Ossanlin took the first right turn and went down the ramp. The hallways were completely empty, but those in the cargo bay would come looking soon enough. He slid to a stop outside a sealed door. <<Watch my back, Arkani...this should be engineering. Once I overload the fusion reactor, we'll have approximately sixty seconds to escape.>>
<<Sixty seconds, Ossanlin? That's not enough time!>> Arkani started watching down both of the hallways, nonetheless.
<<It will have to be.>> Ossanlin quickly interfaced his ARC with the aging computer system. Hacking the door open was a short matter of course...in just seconds the doors slid open and two Taxxons turned to regard him with their jelly-like eyes. He quickly drew a bead on the first and discharged. The thing exploded like an over-ripe kida. Ossanlin repressed his grimace and flinched as the second exploded to Arkani's blast.
The shouts in the hallway echoed loudly this time. "agien' via wweapons fire!" Ossanlin's translator managed to piece together a few words of the human's speech. <<They're coming, Arkani. Hold the hallway while I get this done!>>
He rushed into the fusion core room and started interfacing with the primary computer. Suddenly a Hork-Bajir dropped from the scaffold above and swung at Ossanlin. He dodged, but a bladed wrist caught his Shredder, knocking it from his hand. He quickly danced back in the small space, drawing both of his swords. "I've always wanted to gut an Andalite...never thought I'd get the chance."
<You never will, Imperial scum!> Ossanlin danced forward, a flurry of tail and sword as the Hork-Bajir met his challenge with its own whirlwind of sharpened death. Vaguely Ossanlin registers dracon and shredder discharges near the doorway, but his whole mind is caught up in this battle for his life.
"So you like to play with swords...careful, you might get cut..." With that the controller lashed out, his wrist catching Ossanlin's shoulder. He hissed through his breathing slits, but used the controller's strike against him, bringing one sword down to hamstring the Hork-Bajir. The alien crumpled under its own weight before Ossanlin dispatched it with a quick decapitation from his tail. The whole exchange had only lasted seconds, but it'd felt like hours. Ossanlin suddenly shook his head and sheathed his swords. The hull-plating alloy shed detritous immediately, so there was no need to clean the blades...as if he had the luxury of doing that now anyway....
Ossanlin checked on Arkani with his stalk-eyes as he restarted his computer interface. She had a dracon burn to the top of her front right leg and she was limping. <<You're hurt.>>
<<So are you. This is just a singe...cauterized, you're bleeding badly.>>
<<It's fine...we'll get treatment back aboard the Tree.>> Ossanlin ignored the dull ache and the cascade of blue-green pouring from the deep shoulder wound. He interfaced his ARC and shut down the coolant pumps in the fusion reactor. He bent down quickly to retrieve his Shredder and fired at the actuator mechanism, fusing the release valves closed. Then he fused the pumps shut. With the pumps fused and the release valve locked, the coolant would no longer be able to keep the core from melting itself apart.
<<It's done...run.>> Ossanlin made good on his own order and dashed toward the engineering bay exit. Alarmed shouts echoed through the ship's corridors as Ossanlin passed the three controllers from the cargo bay. Well, their bodies anyway. Not a trooper indeed...Arkani had felled thrice the number of controllers as he had himself.
As they ran up the ramp, two Hork-Bajir ran down from one of the upper decks. Ossanlin cursed and fired at them. One was shot clean-through, crumpling in place, while the other ducked back into the hallway. He began making for the opposite ramp up the other hallway...they would both lead to the cargo bay either way. Dracon shots sizzled past himself and Arkani as she followed him up the ramp. He made a skidding turn to the right, sprinting for the cargo bay, Arkani hot on his hooves.
As they reached the bay, Ossanlin commanded his ship out of defense-mode, Arkani's appearing next to his own. The Hork-Bajir guard standing there was distracted by the sudden appearance of the ships. Ossanlin burned a hole straight through the controller's head. He waited for Arkani to hop in her own fighter before he did the same and they lifted off together. A resounding boom echoed from inside the ship and they both shot out through the open cargo-bay door, punching up a maximum burn immediately. He opened squad-comm and sent as he exited the ship. <<Swiftblade flow to safe zone, freighter core nova! I repeat, freighter core nova!>>
Ossanlin's sensors were off the charts as they showed the impending energy release from the fusion-core nova. Suddenly a light so bright that even the canopy's polarization effect couldn't dim it emitted behind their fighters. His sensors showed the shockwave approaching and he pushed all of his shielding power to the rear. <<Arkani, watch the shockwave!>>
<<Yes, sir!>> Ossanlin barely registered the honorific, still focusing his mind upon the situation at hand. He braced as the shockwave reached him and his fighter lurched forward, tumbling erratically within the huge energy wave. After what seemed like an eternity, his fighter stabilized and he looked around anxiously for Arkani. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw her fighter several feet from his own, righting itself. Finally he did a sensor scan and found a lot of wreckage. Yeerk wreckage. Finally he heard the cheering over squad-comm. His other three squad-mates had survived, and there was more than eight bugs worth of wreckage in the debris field. The Blade Ship was...nowhere to be seen.
<Deknil, the Blade Ship?> Ossanlin glanced at his displays again.
<Ran off, sir...like a youngling with tail between legs!>
<We would have blown it to bits if it hadn't.> Irania.
<Glad to see you guys made it out of there.> Kirtik.
He quickly re-opened the comminication line with the Tree. <Threat neutralized, my Prince. The freighter is destroyed and the Blade Ship is no-factor.>
The communication hung for a few moments before Caseel spoke up. <Good work, Swiftblade. We destroyed the majority of the armada assaulting Ghostwall. Those that could leave, did. The others are being picked apart as we speak. Ghostwall reports that the assault upon Honornet ceased shortly before it would've broken through. Looks like the entire Homeworld owes us a debt of gratitude.>
Been awhile since I posted a chapter, but my attention has been demanded by other things of late. However, the creative juices have been flowing once again, so here it is. This chapter is going to be a decently-long one, so I've split it up into two parts. Beware of CLIFFHANGARS!
<..I, Ossanlin-Rethin-Sephirel, Andalite Warrior, offer my life.> Ossanlin held his tail-blade to his own throat. He didn’t consider himself an overly-religious andalite, not anymore, but the morning ritual still held some meaning after all. He would give his life for the People if necessary, that much was certainly true. He slowly relaxed his posture.
Ossanlin donned his uniform belt and swords as he’d done every morning for the last several years. He couldn’t help but admire the wide crescent crossing the aristh bar on his belt badge. Two months…two months an aristh and then the promotion to Warrior. This would be his first day fulfilling the new rank. His new quarters seemed like a mansion compared to the aristh dormitories. He could actually walk around a few steps in his Warrior’s cabin. And he’d been able to keep the door closed during the morning ritual, instead of performing it with his back end sticking out into the hallway.
He took a deep breath and headed out into the hallway. A few other Warriors were exiting their quarters, and a few who’d been on-duty during the night-cycle were returning. Ossanlin’s on-duty shift actually didn’t start for another hour and a half, but he wanted time to perform his exercises and feed in the dome. He marveled that he might actually be able to complete a few of the exercises within his quarters if he wanted to…but the fresh air would feel much better, even though it wasn’t technically any fresher than that which filled the rest of the ship.
He walked briskly to the dome and navigated the spiral curve of the dome ingress. The technological engineering was nothing short of impressive to incrementally change the artificial gravity as such, but it still felt odd to Ossanlin. All artificial gravity did. The dome was smaller than that of a Mark II Dome Ship, but it was still a sanctuary of trees, grass, and open space. The white blankness of z-space showed beyond the poly-mesh tran-steel fiber of the dome. The Mark II’s had holographic systems built into the dome to simulate both day and night cycles of the homeworld sky, but the Tree had been built before that particular innovation. At least the grass and air were good.
Ossanlin began with stretching exercises as he always did, loosening up the muscles in his legs, arms, tail, and neck. He began with a basic Tail-Fighter kata in the style Harket, the moves very basic, but very solid. After several minutes, he flowed into the advanced Iskilion kata, the moves flowing freely and intricately. Iskilion was by far the most-popular form of Tail Fighting at present…difficult to overcome, even more difficult to master. Ossanlin’s hearts beat time to his moves as he felt himself loosen. Finally he drew his blades and began his Ken’kara kata. His body flowed smoothly and effortlessly, as if dancing to an unheard serenade. His body and mind were in lock-step, a perfect synchronization that Ossanlin had never felt with any other form of Tail Fighting. His tail and swords arced gracefully through the air in a deadly whirlwind, his mind focused but relaxed. This was the purest form of Tail Fighting…Ossanlin had come to that realization. Even if one were to remove the swords, the moves would be the epitome of deadly grace. The most-beautiful swan-song an enemy could hope for.
By the time Ossanlin finished, he was breathing hard, but felt good. Yes, Ken’kara always left his mind sharper and at the same time, more-relaxed…it was almost meditative. He’d also drawn a few spectators as was usually the case. Most andalites aboard the Tree found Ossanlin’s Tail Fighting style to be odd at best, but most too agreed that it was also beautiful and deadly. A few nodded, a couple others bowed, but what shocked Ossanlin was the tail-salute. No one had ever initiated a tail-salute to him before…but of course…he was a Warrior now, and the salute had come from one of the arisths he’d graduated with. Ossanlin quickly returned the salute and eye-smiled. At least a few of his peers didn’t hate him…
The on-lookers broke up afterward and Ossanlin began the more-utilitarian portion of his exercises, using his blades as hand-weights to perform repetitive strength-training moves. He kept at it for a good half-hour before finally sheathing his blades again. He trotted to the water well for a quick drink before starting his feeding gallop around the dome. Fifteen minutes elapsed quickly and Ossanlin returned again to the watering well to drink deeply. He felt refreshed, full, and charged with energy. Perhaps the new rank would finally be enough to break through the impenetrable wall that Kirian had erected between Ossanlin and the rest of Swiftblade.
Ossanlin made his way through the central dome ingress and back into the ship proper. A few arisths saluted him along the way, something he still found disconcerting, until he reached the hangar bays toward the aft section of the ship. He arrived a few minutes early in front of his fighter’s bay, awaiting Kirian. The rest of the squadron was already there. Cool, logic-minded Deknil. Firy, impulsive Irania. The ever-friendly Arkani…the only member of Swiftblade to actually treat Ossanlin like a part of the team. And cavalier, ****y Kirtik, Kirian’s Second.
<I thought you might not show up, Warrior…that tiny sleeping cube is still a lot more comfortable than the aristh cubes.> Kirtik smiled smugly. Irania chuckled a little at his joke.
<<Don’t let him get to you, Warrior. You and I are the same rank now, so we can stand up to him.>> Arkani’s voice filled Ossanlin’s head with a private thought. She didn’t betray what she’d said with a smile, but Ossanlin did catch the hint of a wink in one of her stalk eyes. Arkani was the only other member of Swiftblade to hold Warrior rank. Deknil, Irania, and Kirtik were all Command Warriors, and Kirian himself was, of course, a Prince Lieutenant.
Females were becoming a more-common sight in the military, though few were seen outside the tail-fighter hangars. No one could deny the results achieved by one Enorryma-Almoress-Ingrell, not even the Electorate. Female tail-fighter pilots were becoming much more common, though two in the same squadron was still quite rare.
Ossanlin assumed that the only reason Arkani hadn’t been recommended for a promotion was that she didn’t worship the ground Kirian walked on, like the others did. Just as on-duty hit, Kirian strolled out of the access-way to stand in front of Ossanlin and the others, all lined up in front of their ships. Each member rolled off his or her ready-call before it finally fell to Ossanlin. <Warrior Ossanlin-Rethin-Sephirel reporting for duty, Commander.>
<Ah…so odd to hear your name without the rank of aristh attached to it…Warrior.> Kirian smiled before running through the morning training routine. Ossanlin kept himself from bristling…his ICO hurled verbal barbs at him like Tail Blade strikes against which he was allowed neither to defend nor retaliate. He had hoped the resentment would end once he left the Academy…that no matter what, the person who stood next to you was your brother or sister out here in the black and the white. But Ossanlin had felt nothing but jabs and belittlements from his ICO.
<We’ll be practicing the five-ship Markel formation today. Get your fighters prepped and ready. We launch in thirty standard minutes.> Kirian eye-smiled at Ossanlin before turning toward his own fighter bay.
Ossanlin took deep, calming breaths. Five-ship exercises…those designed for when a squadron had lost a ship, or wanted to hold one in reserve. Five-ship exercises that Swiftblade had not practiced more than a few times before Ossanlin’s arrival two months ago. Five-ship exercises that currently constituted the entirety of Swiftblade’s practice regimen since Ossanlin’s arrival. And there was no doubt about who the “reserve” ship would be.
<Prince-Lieutenant, I volunteer to hold the reserve position today.> All four of Ossanlin’s eyes widened as Arkani spoke up unexpectedly.
Kirian halted for a moment, losing his swagger, almost sputtering mentally before speaking up again. <Nonsense, Warrior…I need you on the left flank. No one performs better there than you.>
<Perhaps so, Prince-Lieutenant, but that only means that I do not require the practice, sir.> Arkani eye-smiled openly.
<Warrior, you will hold the left flank.> Kirian’s tone sounded annoyed. <The aristh…Ossanlin…will hold the reserve position. He’s the prodigy after all…who better to swoop in and save us all?> Kirian chuckled to himself and resumed his trot toward his own fighter bay. Arkani frowned at his back and glanced at Ossanlin apologetically. Ossanlin smiled sadly at her in silent thanks.
The yaolin-spawn didn’t even correct himself and use the proper rank to identify him. Ossanlin once again took deep, calming breaths. This was merely another trial to push through. And he would not allow his resolve to be broken, that was obviously Kirian’s most-fervent desire. Instead he retreated to his own fighter bay, tending to his ship. That was one thing Kirian couldn’t take from him. Ossanlin’s fighter was always pristine and ready to go, even though it barely saw use beyond launch and landing. Ossanlin meticulously combed through the pre-flight checklist, testing each component of his fighter inside and out. Five minutes prior to launch, he entered the ****pit and started the engine warm-up sequence, activating the fighter’s restraint field.
The Tree had exited Z-Space some time ago, when Ossanlin had been walking from the dome to the hangars. The bay doors opened on the starboard side of the hangar, showing white-flecked black outside the blue-tinted shield in front of Ossanlin’s fighter. The space outside would be the Omega line…the imaginary boundary between Yeerk and Andalite space. The Omega line was never constant, and was better-defined as a territory or zone rather than a single line. Yeerk and Andalite craft both patrolled the area, and most fighting occurred within this hotspot. The Tree, however, was holding close to the Andalite-side of the zone within visual range of the nearby Ghostwall station…no Yeerks should be so close without at least some warning from the Andalite sensor relay network cast throughout the Omega line.
Ossanlin’s squad-comm crackled to life. <Swiftblade, deployment in one minute standard. Prep your shields for magnetic catapult.> Ossanlin did as instructed, his fighter ready for hot-launch. Just as the launch window approached, a klaxon rang out in the hangar bay, Ossanlin’s ARC popping up a prompt in front of his right eye. A moment later, a full-ship communication rang through his head. <All personnel, battle-ready. I repeat, all personnel, battle-ready.>
Ossanlin glanced at his readouts, but they were unnecessary as multiple flashes of light near Ghostwall announced the arrival of several ships…Yeerk ships.
<Swiftblade, deploy, deploy, deploy!> Kirian shouted over squad-comm. Ossanlin punched the magnetic catapult and his fighter’s engines lit up as the Tree propelled him hard out into space. Ossanlin began to dial up a burn on his engines when he heard Kirian over squad-comm.
<Hold at the Tree, Ossanlin. This is real and we can’t afford to young-watch today. Swiftblade, Keskirn formation maximum burn.> Ossanlin dialed his engines back and watched impotently as the engines of his squad-mates’ fighters burned a bright blue and shot off toward Ghostwall and the incoming Yeerk ships. Ossanlin too was forced to watch other squadrons of Tail Fighters launch out of their bays, falling into six-ship formations before rocketing toward battle. Very soon, Ossanlin felt alone…the lone fighter holding at the Tree. That was silly of course, there was still a squad of Tail Fighters being held in reserve for home-ship defense, but that did nothing to help the worthless feeling welling up inside Ossanlin.
Ossanlin’s ARC and fighter issued a brief warning before the locking-clamps on the Tree began to disengage. Soon, the dome jetted free of the Tree and the whole ship began to turn and move toward Ghostwall Station. Ossanlin moved in lockstep with the Tree…the fighters had nearly reached engagement distance with the Yeerk ships. Ossanlin furrowed his brow. There were a lot of Yeerk ships here…enough to destroy Ghostwall without worry. How had so many slipped past the Omega Line early warning system? Any unauthorized ships would’ve lit up the entire grid. One or two ships might be able to get this far with a good dose of luck, but certainly not this many. Any at all was already stretching the limits of probability.
<I don’t like this…something doesn’t make sense.> Ossanlin speaks to himself without activating his comm. What were the possible explanations? Had the Yeerks found a technology to thwart Andalite detection? But if that were the case, why ruin their element of surprise with Ghostwall? There were so many other more-profitable targets the Yeerks could hit in such a situation. Was some of the Ghostwall network dark? That was unlikely…after all, Ghostwall had not reported any issues. The graviton generators spread throughout the Andalite sector of the Omega Line effectively prevented ships from bypassing the line via Z-Space. So what then? Those ships had come out of Z-Space. That shouldn’t be possible here unless…unless the Yeerks had obtained the secure graviton beacon codes! There was a different set of codes for the beacons around each defended system…one set would not help with any other location. If the Yeerks had obtained the Omega Line codes, this was the highest-priority target they could strike using that advantage.
Ossanlin’s fighter canopy polarized itself as the Tree discharged its massive primary weapon. The hyper-energized beam punched through the shields and hull of one destroyer-class vessel and carried enough energy to punch through neighboring frigate’s shields as well before dissipating. Then things went crazy. The Tree launched her personal defense fighter squadron as several of the Yeerk vessels turned to make their way toward her. There were so many ships…so many fighters.
<Deknil stay on me!> <That would be easier if you weren’t so erratic, Irania.> <Kirtik, on my six!> <I’m here, Prince.> Ossanlin’s squad-comm echoed with battle commands. Swiftblade’s formation had been broken…Deknil and Irania were working together, and Kirtik and Kirian. But Arkani…
<I…I can’t…shake them! I can’t shake them!> Ossanlin sent a command to his ARC to highlight Arkani’s fighter. It glowed bright yellow in the maelstrom. She was all alone with two bugs on her! Ossanlin furrowed is brow before shaking his head once and punching up a maximum burn.
Ossanlin’s fighter rocketed forward from the Tree’s position. Three swarms of bugs were between him and Arkani, but their goal was the Tree. Still…
Ossanlin dodged and performed a swift barrel-roll as two bugs fired at him head-on. He discharged his own Shredders and blasted one of them square in the central viewer, the bug exploding in a reddish haze. Ossanlin punched his fighter straight through the middle of the debris cloud, still set for maximum burn.
<Arkani, we can’t get to you.> That had been Deknil’s voice. <Yaolin, Kirtik, don’t leave my tail open!> Kirian…so, Kirtik had wanted to break away to try and help Arkani…what little respect Ossanlin had for “Prince” Kirian evaporated like a dingy mud-hole on the Ortak plains during the drought season. The squad-commander of Swiftblade cared more for his own back-end than he did for the life of one of his squad-members.
Ossanlin’s push through the debris cloud of the decimated bug fighter bought him the distraction he needed and his maximum burn carried him beyond range of the rest of the bug fighters before they knew he was gone. As he’d suspected, none of the bugs pursued him...he wasn’t their objective. It barely even crossed his mind that he was blooded now…he’d actually killed a Yeerk and downed a fighter. Usually this was hailed as a rite of passage for young pilots, but Ossanlin had no time for celebrations.
Arkani was dodging and weaving for all she was worth. It was an impressive display of skill, but she wouldn’t be able to outmaneuver two bug fighters so intent upon a lone Tail Fighter. It would be over soon unless Ossanlin could get there. He willed his fighter to go faster, to push everything into thrust capacity. Whether the fighter sped up or not, he couldn’t say…maximum burn was called “maximum” for a reason, but his desperation was growing.
<Yaolin!> One of the bugs landed a glancing blow on Arkani’s fighter. She’d be done soon. Suddenly Ossanlin’s computer indicated effective distance with a green light on the cannon controls. He discharged his primary Shredder, the intense blue beam lancing forward to impact the port nacelle of the bug fighter nearest to him. The fighter sputtered a couple of times and then exploded, ripping apart in space.
<What?!> Arkani’s tone was both surprised and relieved. Ossanlin rocketed past her, the other bug veering off-target with the unexpected explosion of its wingman.
<Got your tail Arkani.> Ossanlin finally spoke over squad-comm.
Kirian’s voice exploded over squad-comm. <What in yaolin are you doing aristh?! Get back to the Tree immediately!>
Ossanlin rolled around and got the second bug in his sites. He discharged again, the blue beams punching into the ****pit of the Yeerk fighter. It didn’t explode, but its occupant was surely deceased from either burns or ****pit evacuation.
<I’m swooping in and saving you, Prince. And I’d appreciate it if you used my appropriate rank when addressing me.> Ossanlin just barely managed to keep the sneer out of his tone. Calmness…coolness. These were most-effective in nearly all situations. This one was no different.
<Thank you, Ossanlin. I owe you my life.> Arkani spoke firmly over squad-comm.
<We’re a team. That means we look out for each other.> Ossanlin said in general.
<Well-said.> That had been Deknil.
<I guess I underestimated you, Warrior.> That had been Kirtik of all people.
<I respect someone who can fry Yeerks like that. Welcome to the team, Ossanlin.> That had been Irania.
The silence from Kirian was almost palpable. Ossanlin could only imagine the Prince seething in his ****pit. Just like that, Ossanlin felt the kinship with the rest of the squad that he’d been missing this whole time. Well, the rest of the squad except his commander of course.
Ossanlin smiled to himself as he tried to form up as Arkani’s wingman, but his fellow Warrior dropped back a bit, forming up on his wing. <You already saved my tail, now it’s my turn to watch yours. Let’s go fry those yaolin-spawn.>
Ossanlin raised his eyebrows, but didn’t protest. He made for one of the destroyers and began to knock down its energy shielding, Arkani following suit. Deknil and Irania joined them. But something still bothered Ossanlin about the situation. Something just felt wrong to him, as if he was missing something important. Then he realized…none of the Yeerk ships had fired on Ghostwall. If their objective was to destroy the station, why were they holding back? Unless…
Honornet! The Yeerks weren’t trying to destroy Ghostwall, they were trying to capture it! If they’d gotten their slimy palps on Honornet codes, they could hack the encrypted Andalite communication network if they took the station. Armada placements, battle-plans, the entire Andalite military campaign! They’d be able to get it all…including real-time communications and defense codes for the Alpha line.
But just as quickly as Ossanlin had developed his hypothesis, it was shattered as the remaining Yeerk Armada that hadn’t broken off after the Tree opened fire on Ghostwall. But why had they waited so long? Ghostwall’s defense systems automatically responded as Shredder-fire lanced out from the station.
Ossanlin’s, Arkani’s, Deknil’s, and Irania’s joint efforts withered the destroyer’s shields and Ossanlin began to pick the ship apart, destroying its Dracon cannon and engines before the ship began to explode from the inside out. Its core hadn’t nova’d but nonetheless the ship was blowing itself apart. Ossanlin furrowed his brow. That shouldn’t have happened. He still had the nagging sensation that he was missing something at the back of his mind.
Ossanlin’s fighter beeped a warning as it picked up Selyron radiation emanating from the destroyer’s wreckage. That was abnormal…Selyron radiation could permeate energy shielding, but it wasn’t dangerous to biological life. Its only useful property was its transponder-enhancing qualities…Ossanlin’s eyes shot wide open. He trained his fighter’s sensors at Ghostwall, scanning for Selyron radiation. The station’s shields were all but inundated by a haze of the stuff! Ossanlin watched closely as a dracon impacted the station’s shields…a small burst of Selyron radiation splashed outward from the point of contact! The dracon blasts were concealing small Selyron-bearing projectiles! They were after Honornet! But they weren’t going to board the station…they were going to hack it remotely!
Ossanlin’s mind raced at light-speed. How could they pull it off? How far had they gotten? Was it too late? What could Ossanin do to stop it? What would the Yeerks need? The Selyron wouldn’t be enough…they would need some sort of transponder array. It was the only way they’d be able to project a signal of sufficient strength. Such an array wouldn’t be small…it would have to be the size of a ship by itself. Ossanlin scanned the Yeerk fleet, but saw no sign of an unidentified craft. But then, the array wouldn’t have to be as close as the ships. In fact…
Ossanlin turned his ship toward the very nearby Orrin field…the unique planetoid field that filled most of the Omega line.
<Ossanlin…> Arkani spoke over squad-comm.
<Running away, Warrior? I knew you were never cut out to be a Swiftblade.> Kirian injected his tone with as much derision and disdain as he could. It had been quite some time since the Princ-Lieutenant had spoken up over squad-comm.
<Trust me, Arkani…scan for any abnormal ships or craft as well as rich-band transponder signals…the Yeerks are trying to hack Ghostwall and access Honornet.> Ossanlin punched up a maximum burn and began an extensive sensor sweep of the planetoid field. He also hailed the Tree on priority frequency.
His personal transponder crackled to life. <Warrior, this had better be an emergency…we’re in the middle of a battle...> Prince Caseel’s voice echoed through Ossanlin’s head.
<Sir, the Dracon blasts directed toward Ghostwall are concealing projectiles which are inundating the station’s shields with Selyron radiation. I believe that the Yeerks are in possession of current Honornet codes and they mean to hack into Ghostwall station remotely in order to gain access. Arkani and I are scanning the Orrin field for the transponder array.>
There was silence from Caseel for a few moments before a muted ejection of surprise. <Our scans do show the Selyron buildup. Ossanlin…how did you…?>
<While the others were fighting, I had some time to ponder, my Prince. It was the only explanation I could come up with that seemed to make sense.> Ossanlin rounded one of the planetoids but still nothing showed on his sensors.
<Warrior, the Tree is picking up a rich-band transponder signal of respectable strength. Its projected origin is 323.8 by 287.5 by 56.1. I’m dispatching two squadrons, but everyone else is much further away than you, not to mention currently engaged. If you’re right, Warrior…there’s no telling how far they’ve gotten, or how long it will be. If they gain access to Honornet…> Caseel let the implications hang in open air.
<I know, my Prince. You can count on us.> Ossanlin kept the communication with the Tree open. Caseel would want confirmation. He turned his fighter on a heading that would take him to the coordinates that the Prince had specified.
As Ossanlin rounded the next planetoid, his transponder scans went off the charts…and there it was. A large Yeerkish freighter. Not only that, there were two squadrons of bug fighters patrolling. No doubt, they already knew that Ossanlin and Arkani were there. <Prince…confirmed target at coordinates 323.9 by 287.5 by 55.9. Yeerkish freighter and two squads of bug fi…> Ossanlin fell silent as a Blade Ship disengaged its camouflage device, and he felt his hearts drop into his hooves.
<Ossanlin? Ossanlin, report!> Caseel’s voice echoed over Ossanlin’s personal communicator.
<Two squadrons of bug fighters…and a Blade Ship, my Prince.>
Could have sworn I replied to this. Anyway, I've got kind of an ambiguous age difference going between the two at the moment (originally, Aetheas was supposed to be an only child playing both roles, but eventually I realized that there was absolutely no way to make that work time-wise, so Emelen was born). Ten-fourteen years sounds entirely reasonable, I think, since the "Sector Nine" scene already in Salem's story would have taken place around the time of Ossanlin's graduation, or within a few years after, and I figure Emelen is probably at least a few years out of the Academy by then if he's got that kind of autonomy within Sector Seven.
Ah...well, I guess I'll have to get a bit farther in my stories then. :p Just to clear this up, though...how much age difference is between Aetheas and his brother? The way I made the reference to Sector 9, it would have to be more than ten years between the brothers, because Ossanlin is about ten years older than Aetheas, and Aetheas's brother would've had to have graduated before Ossanlin for that reference to work. Let me know if I need to change it...I assumed that his brother was just slightly older than Ossanlin...like a year or two. Let me know!
Ohh, dueling stories sounds fun. Figuring out how events line up will be interesting, since the portion of Salem's story that takes place at the academy is set several years after Ossanlin's graduation.
And yes, I'm working on being less absent from RAF. I've been bad about that lately.
Alright, Oss's career's takin' off ^_^ And I dunno about OBLIGATED... but I have been writing again. Getting to the point here where there'll be some overlap between Salem's story and Ossanlin's, at least as far as characters and settings are concerned. Ought to be fun.
No worries, Scott. Thanks for taking the time to read it. ^^ Honestly your post highlighted something I wasn't aware of...I thought I'd posted the next chapter, but I hadn't. So I went ahead and put a few finishing touches/edits on it, and here it is. XD Now you need to continue Salem's story. You are OBLIGATED. :p Also, please post in Rogue Element when you have the chance...there's a post up from Shen, and Ossanlin will likely be speaking with Aetheas soon about that...thing. ^^
The reddish glow of the Homeworld’s atmosphere faded as the shuttle gained more and more altitude. The warm, comforting hue slowly shifted to black specked by the clearly visible stars. Ossanlin felt the unnatural shift from true gravity to artificial gravity. For most, artificial gravity was indiscernible from the true gravity generated by a large quantity of mass in space, but for a few, artificial gravity felt…unsettling. Even the most-gifted physical theorists and biologists on the Homeworld couldn’t unravel the mystery of how anyone could perceive a difference. The artificial gravity produced the same perceived physical forces on the body as natural gravity, yet it felt to Ossanlin like something was just…off. He couldn’t explain it himself, but he’d learned to deal with it during ship and fighter training, and he’d learn to do so again.
The Sky Garden hung in front of the shuttle, suspended in its geosynchronous orbit, massive and growing larger as the fighter approached. The giant space-station and ship-yard facility looked a bit like a three-dimensional model of an atom with the electrons frozen in their orbits around the nucleus. There were four massive shipyard/assembly “petals” around the central axis, all on the same lateral plane. There were three smaller “petals” extending at angles from both the top and the bottom of the central sphere. The primary shipyard petals all existed on the same plane for a reason…they were built to rotate around the central axis. All the Dome Ships that emerged from the Sky Garden shipyards went through different stages of construction that required different parts, tools, and supplies. Instead of moving each incomplete ship to the next station, it was easier to move the next station to each incomplete ship for the next stage of construction.
The other six, smaller petals were for docking, maintenance, and refits of existing ships. Ossanlin strained to catch a glimpse of the Dome Ship he’d be joining at one of the auxiliary petals, but the yard he could see into from the shuttle’s approach angle was empty.
Ossanlin watched as the shuttle passed by one of the branches leading to the Auxiliary petal and made its way toward a set of smaller hangars built directly onto the central sphere. He felt the craft decelerate as it approached the wide, shielded portal. The hangar looked small in comparison to the rest of the massive space station, but inside, one could see that it was nearly as large as the Academy hangar in Cendorus, and there were three others just like this one located around the nucleus.
Ossanlin subconsciously braced himself as the shuttle touched down on its designated landing pad. The shock was actually less than he’d expected from this old workhorse of a transport. <Welcome to the Sky Garden, arisths. Please disembark in an orderly fashion.> The older male pilot opened the main doors, and Ossanlin felt the restraint field lift from his body. He procured his bag and was the first to exit, having been the last to arrive.
Thought-speech voices flooded around him. Other shuttles were still touching down, while a few were actually taking off. Voices echoed over the thought-speech relays, various announcements that applied to other groups. <All arriving arisths, please proceed to orientation at speech annex 1, follow the light-green lines. All arriving arisths, please proceed to orientation at speech annex 1, follow the light-green lines, thank you.>
Other announcements continued, but Ossanlin ignored them as he proceeded down the walkways, following the light green glowing lines on the floor. The mobile walkways helped, but the Sky Garden was a very large place. It took Ossanlin better than fifteen minutes to reach his destination.
The speech annex was a large, three-dimensional bowl with a slightly-domed ceiling. It was bright with lines of light-blue and silver lights tracing around the entirety of the space. Some arisths had already arrived and were chatting amongst themselves, but others were still filing in. Ossanlin found a place near the inner third of the room and stood by himself, allowing some of his filed-away thoughts to percolate through his brain, his attention wandering somewhat.
<Hey, you’re that prodigy youngling aren’t you? Ossanlin, wasn’t it?> Ossanlin’s eyes widened as he turned to see his father standing near him. <You know I could’ve taken your head off if I’d wanted.> Aran smirked.
<Father!> Ossanlin embraced his father’s arms firmly, bowing his tail in respect. <What on the Homeworld are you doing up here?!>
<Oh, I just thought I’d take a vacation…you know.> Aran smirked again. <<I’m up here for the Labs of course. Working on artificial and non-gravitational experiments for a new collider series.>> He winked.
<Ah, well the Sky Garden seems a strange place to take your leisure, but who am I to judge?> Ossanlin winked back and grinned. <I’m rather pleased to see you, father.>
Aran raised his eyebrows and chuckled. <Lyrian told me you’d matured…I must say I wasn’t quite sure what she meant until just now. Your age says you’re still a youngling, but your eyes say otherwise.> He nodded approvingly. <I’m pleased to see you as well, son. An aristh…honor-bound and ready to serve the People. You do make that belt-bar look good, son.>
Ossanlin grinned again. <Thank you, father. I’ll try to put it to good use.>
Aran nodded. <I’m sure you will, son. As long as you don’t forget who you are, and as long as you fight for what you believe in, and not some vaunted, standardized ideal…you will.>
Ossanlin smiled and nodded back. <I’ll never forget who I am or where I came from, father.> He paused for a moment before speaking up again. <Perhaps we could have a quick sparring session before I leave.> He smirked.
Aran chuckled. <I’d love to, son, even knowing how badly I’d lose, but I must admit…I more or less snuck away to come see you. We’re actually in a critical phase of…vacation…and I doubt I’ll have the opportunity to get away again. Besides, they’re going to be keeping you even busier than me.> He nodded and smiled.
<Arisths, your attention. The sooner you’re quiet, the sooner we can move on.> A loud, male thought-speech voice permeated the room. Ossanlin hadn’t noticed how much the room had filled since he’d arrived. There wasn’t much room left in the annex as thousands of young andalites flooded the space.
<That’s my cue. Good luck, Ossanlin. Know that your mother and I will always love you…just never forget who you are.>
<I promise, father. You and mother will always have my love as well.>
Aran nodded and turned toward the nearest exit, half-walking, half-jogging. Ossanlin couldn’t help but chuckle to himself. His father had always been remarkably…relaxed…for an Andalite.
Ossanlin turned to regard the male speaking from the raised platform. <Thank you. Welcome to the Sky Garden and your first day as an initiate of the honor-bound Andalite military. You have all demonstrated your worth by completing your studies at the Academy, but as of today, that means precisely nothing. The Academy was a nursery school compared to what’s waiting for you amongst the stars. Your learning begins now, and it’ll never be done…>
Ossanlin listened as the male spoke. He went on about honor and respect. About safety and following the chain of command. About giving everything to the People and your fellow soldier. It wasn’t flowery, but then it wasn’t meant to be. The speech was supposed to be realist, Ossanlin could tell. It was designed to evoke a certain response from those listening. For the most part, it seemed to fulfill its purpose. Finally the arisths were dismissed to receive their official placement orders. All of the arisths had already known for weeks if not months where they were to be stationed, but the official orders couldn’t be given to cadets.
Ossanlin waited for the majority of the arisths to file out before making his own way out of the annex. Across the hall from the annex was an administrative office where the official orders were being doled out. There were several desk-stalls built into the walls with lines of arisths awaiting their official assignments trailing from each.
Despite the large number of Andalites in line, those manning the desks were highly efficient and Ossanlin’s wait wasn’t all that long. He was soon standing in front of one of the desk-stalls, a young male on the other side tapping the panels of a small computer. <Aristh Ossanlin-Rethin-Sephirel reporting for duty.>
<Ossanlin-Rethin-Sephirel…duty assignment as follows.> The young male read from his small computer display. <Dome-Ship Galaxy Tree. Tail-Fighter pilot, call-sign ‘Slaedreth.’ UCO War-Prince Caseel-Ekran-Kelir, Captain.> The young male pulled a small data-card off of the stack sitting next to him and passed it over the computer. He handed the data-card to Ossanlin. <There was a note in your file. Prince Caseel wishes to speak with you immediately after equipment issuance. You’ve been given Quartermaster priority status. Proceed immediately to the armory along the orange guide-light and present this.> Ossanlin took the red slip of poly-film that the young male proffered. <Once you’re equipped, proceed to Auxiliary pad four to meet with the War-Prince. Thank-you.>
Slightly bemused, Ossanlin passed through the throng of waiting arisths and proceeded out into the hallway, following the bright orange line along the corridor. When a Prince requested an aristh’s attendance, said aristh did not keep his Prince waiting.
Ossanlin boarded one of the moving walkways, but it still took him almost ten minutes to reach the armory. Of course the lines here were just as long as they had been in the administrative room, but one flash of the poly-film pass and the guards directed him to a very short line along the left side of the room.
The primary armory aboard the Sky Garden was nothing short of impressive. A virtual army of andalites worked behind a 50-meter-long tran-steel counter that spanned the entire width of the room. Behind the counter, tall tran-steel stacks rose fifteen feet high stocking an organized plethora of field-gear from ARC units to Shredders. From transponders to assault weapons. Everything needed to outfit newly-deployed andalites. Several andalites were packing bundles and placing them in bins. Those actually manning the counter were continually removing bundles from the bins next to them and handing them to the andalites being outfitted. Still others were moving bins around…taking empty bins from the andalites manning the counter and replacing them with full bins…it was a choreographed dance of chaos.
Ossanlin barely had enough time to take it all in before he was at the counter himself. He handed the poly-film pass over to the female manning his counter. She smiled at him before speaking up. <Aristh Ossanlin-Rethin-Sephirel?>
<Yes.> He smiled back.
<Just a moment.> She reached into a small stacker sitting beside her and selected a particular bundle, drawing it out and placing it on the counter in front of Ossanlin. <One standard issue field-survival kit with a few additions. You’ve been issued one hand-held Shredder, one independent transponder, one field medical kit, one two-day emergency ration pack, one Apix Realtime Computing unit, one ARC holo-emitter, and one flight-patch pin.>
Ossanlin raised his eyebrows. <I’ve been issued an ARC?>
The female nodded and smiled again. <You must be special.>
Ossanlin blushed a bit under his fur and chuckled nervously. <I don’t know about that…thank you.>
<You’re very welcome.> The female winked.
Ossanlin blushed a bit harder and moved out of the armory somewhat hastily. His Prince was waiting for him after all.
Aboard one of the moving walkways again, Ossanlin set about removing each of the items from his bundle and clipping them into place on his uniform belt. The holstered Shredder, the ARC in its protective carry-case, the transponder, his med-kit, and his emergency ration pack…managing to fit it all onto his belt without disturbing his swords or crowding his rank insignia. He attached the flight-patch pin to his belt next to the aristh insignia. The embossed, metallic pin read “Slaedreth” in raised, silver letters around an angled silver tail-fighter with artistic engine contrails behind it. Most aristh Tail Fighter pilots had to wait weeks if not months for their flight-patch pins.
Finally he hooked the ARC holo-emitter over his right ear and commanded the unit to activate. ARCs were fairly new additions to the Andalite arsenal, and were generally only issued to officers due to their semi-rarity. They were supremely handy tools though, and Ossanlin was grateful to get one, even knowing the likely source of his preferential treatment.
By the time the ARC had finished its calibration sequence, Ossanlin had boarded the moving walkway inside the branch that headed out to Auxiliary petal four. He felt fluttering in his mid-section in spite of himself. He was about to meet the Captain of the ship that he’d be stationed on for (arguably) the next few years. He hadn’t felt these kinds of nerves in a very long time.
As the walkway conveyed him into the petal structure, Ossanlin took in a deep breath. Before him, the Galaxy Tree revealed itself in all of its glory. The massive Dome ship’s contours reflected the light artistically, despite the ship’s age. The Tree was a first-generation Mark I Dome Ship. It had undergone retrofitting of course, but it still showed its age, in its size if nothing else. Mark I’s were much smaller than their newer, more powerful Mark II brothers
As Ossanlin looked around inside the bay, a pair of Andalites standing near the edge of the gravitational field caught his eyes. He noted the older male’s belt rank insignia…a War-Prince…and next to the badge, the Captain crescent. So that was Prince Caseel. The younger male engaged in conversation with him wore a Prince Lieutenant insignia, and he was gesturing somewhat angrily with one hand.
<My Prince…I must protest. Swiftblade will suffer!> The younger male continued to gesture with his hands, his tail held somewhat arched.
<It has already been decided, Prince Lieutenant. He will be taking the spot left vacant by Coirus.>
<Please, Prince…give me one of Sylvan’s pilots…he can fill in there.>
<I would never break up a complete squadron, Kirion. That is the end of this discussion…he will be under your command.> Caseel directed a sharp look at the younger male.
Kirion looked frustrated, as though he wished to say more, but remained silent. His stalk eyes caught Ossanlin and he directed his main eyes at him, scowling before turning and stalking off in an apparently foul mood.
Caseel sighed to himself before turning his main eyes on Ossanlin. <Ah, you must be the reputed Ossanlin-Rethin-Sephirel.>
Ossanlin tail-saluted smartly. <Yes, my Prince.>
<Be at ease, aristh…you aren’t in the Academy anymore. I merely wanted to meet you. I have been told that you are a highly-gifted fighter pilot amongst other things.>
Ossanlin relaxed a bit. <Some people say that, my Prince. In my own eyes, I am passable.>
Caseel arched his eyes. <A modest Tail Fighter pilot? I’m getting too old for unexpected surprises.> He chuckled a bit. <The way everyone talks about you, I assumed you’d be ready to conquer the Empire by yourself overnight with your Shredder-hand tied behind your back.>
Ossanlin surprised himself as he spoke. <Well…not overnight. I thought perhaps four days...five at most.> He fell silent, slightly aghast. One did not make off-hand jokes with his Prince, especially if that one is an aristh.
Instead of reprimand, Caseel laughed deeply. <I think it might take you a week…maybe more.> He smiled and Ossanlin’s anxiety dropped another notch. <Prince Raigar told me to expect…great…things from you.>
Ossanlin stopped dead in his tracks, Caseel coming to a stop next to him as if nothing abrupt or impromptu had happened. He looked up at his new Prince, whose eyes had turned quite serious.
<<Indeed, Ossanlin. Your stationing aboard the Tree was no mistake. Raigar has informed me that you have been apprised of the…situation. No doubt you have ascertained the truth regarding your recent preferential status. I am your ally, aristh.>>
Ossanlin nodded before moving forward again. <<Very well, my Prince.>>
<You have been assigned to Swiftblade squadron as a replacement for Coirus who accepted a promotion to another ship. They’re a close-knit group, so it might take some time for them to warm up to you, but they’re one of the best current squadrons in the fleet.>
Ossanlin chuckled ruefully. So…that little conversation had been about him.
Caseel glanced at Ossanlin, but didn’t comment upon his reaction. <Your ICO will be Prince-Lieutenant Kirian-Mevilir-Harak. He’s got years under his belt in a Tail Fighter. He would’ve been promoted long ago if it wasn’t for his desire to stay in the ****pit. He’s Swiftblade’s Squadron Commander.>
<Yes, my Prince.>
Caseel stopped again, Ossanlin following suit. <It was good to meet you, aristh. Now, I have some matters to attend to. I suggest you board the Tree and get settled in. Kirian will likely be in the primary docking bay. It might do some good for you to seek him out. He’s not in the most sanguine of moods at the moment, but a little outreach on your part might help mitigate his first impressions of you.>
Ossanlin tail-saluted sharply. <Yes, my Prince. Thank you.>
Caseel returned the tail-salute in a much more relaxed manner before turning toward the administrative portion of the auxiliary bay. Ossanlin, in turn, made his way toward one of the ship-ways. This ship and crew would be his home and family now, and likely for years to come.
The next day, Ossanlin woke up earlier than usual, donning his formal silver dress belt and formal white neck-collar. It would be a few hours before the graduation ceremony, but Ossanlin wanted time to think.
Dressed in his formals, he trotted out of the barracks and galloped to the observation spire, riding the lift up. The sun hadn’t crested the horizon yet when he reached the Reflection Room at the top. He stepped right up to the windows, ignoring the room’s height as he watched the colors shift on the eastern horizon.
One of the nice things about the Reflection Room was its relative seclusion. Despite being near the heart of the Academy, few Andalites had any desire to brave the Reflection Room’s heights. As such, it was usually fairly private, especially at this time of day. In the relative silence, the soft trickle of the fountain behind him seemed ridiculously loud to his ears.
The room sparked thoughts and memories of multiple conversations with Prince Raigar. Indeed, Ossanlin often became “reflective” in this room. The irony seemed somewhat absurd. Silver vehicles flashed through his vision, flitting over the airspace of Cendorus. Everyone was trying to beat the lockdown. Cyrenk was launching several large parts today, and airspace over the settlement would be heavily restricted. Ossanlin had glimpsed some of the parts scheduled for launch. They didn’t seem correct for a normal Mark II Dome Ship, nor were they parts for Interceptor or Destroyer-class ships. There was all sorts of conjecture about what sort of ship the parts were meant for. Everything from a new class of starship to a new Mark of Dome Ship of all things. Whatever the parts were for, the Electorate was keeping the information close.
<Like minds, eh?> Ossanlin wasn’t particularly startled when he heard a deep thought-speech voice resonate behind him. He’d heard the lift in that absolute quiet, though he’d deliberately kept his stalk eyes scanning the view before him.
<Prince, I suppose it’s only appropriate that you should come here.> Ossanlin kept his eyes toward the brightly-hued horizon. <It’s hardly a moment I’ve spent in this room without your company.>
<Ossanlin…you’ve grown. Matured. I can sense deep thoughts in you now. Would you care to share them?> Raigar walked up next to Ossanlin, directing all four of his eyes at the soon-to-be-rising sun as well.
<I do not know that it would be wise, Prince.>
<Ossanlin, you can share anything with me, I hope you know that. It is why I am here. You need not fear reprimand or reproval from me.> Raigar smiled a bit, Ossanlin could see the angle of his eyes with his own peripheral vision.
Suddenly, the first beams of sunlight lanced over the horizon, streaming across the silvery, crystalline structures of Cendorus. The light hit the Reflection Room first, being the highest point in the settlement. It was bright…almost blinding, but Ossanlin didn’t wince or squint. He stared at the first sun as if it would provide him with answers.
<Prince, I cannot give my life for Yeerks. I have thought it over time and again. I know they are not inherently evil, I know it, but the Empire is composed entirely of Yeerks. They have killed so many of ours…I do not think I can find it in my hearts to forgive even one of them.> Ossanlin finally looked away from the blinding light of the sunrise, deflecting his gaze downward at the floor. Raigar never got angry or upset, but Ossanlin found that the Prince’s disappointment was far more painful than any reprimand he’d ever received.
<Ah, that. Ossanlin, there is a certain amount of give and take in anything. Your thoughts are already far more progressive than those of your brethren. Of course there will be anger, I did not say you should suppress it. The Empire has taken thousands of lives, and destroyed the freedom of hundreds of thousands more. You have always been a passionate Andalite, Ossanlin. Headstrong and willful, but also compassionate. Anger is an expression of passion.>
<As long as you can control it, keep it from affecting your decisions and behavior, then I believe that emotion is good. It helps you to keep perspective. I did not say that you should not feel, Ossanlin…I said that you needed to keep your feelings from controlling you.> Raigar continued to smile, looking over at Ossanlin. <I can feel it somewhere, Ossanlin, deep inside…there will come a time when a Yeerk shows you compassion. And I know that once that happens, you’ll see that there are Yeerks whom are worth dying for as well.>
Ossanlin looked up and met Raigar’s gaze, the warmth of the first sun bathing him. The whole thing felt surreal, and Ossanlin found himself doubting reality a moment…but only a moment. He looked away again. A Yeerk show compassion? About as likely as a kafit growing as large as a moon and stomping Cendorus flat, but Ossanlin trusted Raigar in most everything. <Alright, Prince…if a Yeerk shows me compassion, he will be my friend for life.>
Raigar smiled and chuckled, muttering <I know.> He paused, glancing downward before looking back up to meet Ossanlin’s gaze once again. <<Ossanlin…I have something I’ve wanted to speak with you about for awhile. I don’t know if you’re ready to hear this, but you need to…we’re out of time. Ossanlin, there is a group within the Andalite government known as Sector Seven.>>
Ossanlin furrowed his brow questioningly, noting Raigar’s shift to private thought-speech. <<The intelligence-gathering and analysis branch?>>
Raigar chuckled ruefully. <<That is what they’d have you and everyone else believe. Ossanlin, Sector Seven is much more than a simple intelligence entity. Sector Seven has ties to every facet of Andalite government. There are members of Sector Seven in the Electorate, in the Executive Military, on Dome Ships, in outposts, in Cyrenk, in Marin Lab, in the Academy…everywhere. Ossanlin, they can influence events however they see fit.>>
Ossanlin furrowed his brow further. <<What are you telling me, Prince?>>
<<Ossanlin, Sector Seven is the real power behind the Andalite people. The anti-Yeerk propaganda campaign was their idea. They exist above the government, Ossanlin…they do things that no one should do, all for their own vaunted ideals of what is “good and right” for the People. They have technologies unknown to the rest of the Andalite populous, they have weapons more-advanced than the Moonstrike Brigade…there’s no check on their power, Ossanlin. They control the People, and with them, they control the government, the military…everything.>>
Ossanlin turned his gaze back out the windows to look over Cendorus. He was actually quite proud of himself for not displaying even a hint of the aghast surprise or growing dread that filled him. Government had checks and balances for a reason…if this shadow agency actually influenced all the goings-on of the Electorate and Andalite life… <<Prince, I’ve not heard any of this from anyone before. It couldn’t possibly be common knowledge. If what you say is true, how could you possibly know all of this?>>
Raigar was silent for a long time before nodding to himself. <<Because, Ossanlin…I am a member of Sector Seven.>>
Ossanlin felt as if he’d been knocked on the head by a flat-side tailblade. He kept his composure, but just barely, allowing the information to sink in.
<<Before you say anything, Ossanlin…there are those of us within Sector Seven who are members in name only. We work from the inside to try and influence Sector Seven beneficially…we keep the façade of loyal members, but secretly work to counter the more nefarious goals of Sector Seven. I am one of those members.>>
<<A…double agent?>> Ossanlin shook his head, perplexed by the shock and convolution of everything involved in the discussion.
<<I suppose you could say that. Ossanlin, Sector Seven seeks out bright, high-achieving members for its ranks, and I must warn you that they are very interested in you. It is all but certain that they will make contact with you. When they do, Ossanlin, I would ask that you accept their offer. I would tell you to refuse, but Sector Seven will do everything they can to destroy your career if you do. They are very effective, and a young Warrior fresh off of his aristh bar is not difficult to crush under-hoof…especially with the resources that Sector Seven have at their disposal.>> Raigar placed a hand on Ossanlin’s shoulder, holding his eye-contact. <<I have faith in you, Ossanlin. If you do join, and prove yourself to them, they will do everything they can to help your career. If you endure long enough, you’ll reach a position from which you can act with some autonomy. If you make it that far, Ossanlin…you will make a tremendous difference for all of the People. You could become one of us.>> Raigar smiled a bit sadly, and Ossanlin could sense remorse and a touch of sadness in Raigar’s tone. <<Would that you could escape their grasp entirely, but as things stand now, that’s not possible.>>
<<I…would become one of you. A double-agent…there are others?>> Ossanlin controlled his features and tone of thought masterfully for one so young.
<<Yes, Ossanlin. There are several of us. I know a few myself, but of necessity, there are several of which I do not know. I am acquainted with one Andalite in particular…he’s not so different from yourself. I will not reveal to you when he graduated, again of necessity, but you remind me somewhat of him. He once told me jokingly that he’d create his own branch of Sector Seven called Sector Nine.>> Raigar smiled and chuckled. <<Quite the wry sense of humor in that one. He made good on his promise, too. Perhaps I should ask him if I could join.>> Raigar chuckled again.
Ossanlin merely nodded, forcing a small smile for the Prince’s benefit. Ossanlin had come to the Reflection Room for a clear mind…instead his thoughts had been scattered even further by Raigar’s revelations. The information was almost too much, and it was certainly too much to filter through now. Ossanlin used a trick he’d learned in command training…in order to prioritize, one had to take non-time-sensitive information and file it away in one’s memory if necessary. It could be withdrawn later much like a computer file for a full perusal.
Ossanlin took a deep breath before clasping his hands and bowing in front of Prince Raigar. <Thank you Prince, for all of the assistance you have rendered to me over the entirety of my time here. There is no way I can repay you.>
<Nonsense, Ossanlin. You were an excellent student, and I expect I’ll be calling you “Prince” in a few years instead of “cadet.” Now you’d best make your way to the graduation ceremony. They’ll want you there before the proceedings begin.> Raigar smiled genuinely this time and nodded.
Ossanlin nodded in return and headed to the lift, taking it down to the Academy proper. The place was beginning to fill up as Andalites woke and tended to their morning ablutions and duties. Ossanlin could feel an almost palpable sense of excitement in the air. Graduation days always had that sort of effect. Ossanlin found himself regarding every Andalite he passed in the halls and out on the grounds with suspicion and doubt. Instead of the safe haven of freedom and enlightenment that Ossanlin had always seen before, the Homeworld now felt like a foreign place full of unknown dangers and precipitous pitfalls. If Sector Seven’s grasp was really so tight as Raigar believed, at least some of these Andalites would belong to the organization.
Of course, nothing but what Ossanlin already knew of Raigar said that he was right. Perhaps the Prince had exaggerated Sector Seven’s influence, or wasn’t completely familiar with the organization’s true power. But Raigar had never been prone to misrepresentation before, and this was certainly no time for him to break his mode of operation. It would be safest to assume that Raigar had told the unadulterated truth until Ossanlin had enough information to formulate his own opinion of the situation.
For now, Ossanlin merely filed the information away. He was able to cultivate a middle-ground in his mind’s eye. Not everyone belonged to Sector Seven after all. And the Homeworld was still a haven, if not quite so safe as Ossanlin had once thought. The smiles and nods, the congratulations and well-wishes…all became friendly again. But Ossanlin knew he’d never see the Homeworld the same way as he had before.
The Grand Green was really little more than a large, round field bordered by evenly-spaced fluted, cloudy-crystal columns twenty feet high. There was a raised plinth at one end with a wide podium facing the open portion of the Green. Ossanlin joined the semi-organized group of graduating students gathered to the side of the Green, and raised his chin as one of the graduation attendants pinned the honors double-crescent on the front-left of his formal dress-collar. Normally the honors recipient would give a speech at the ceremony, but this was a special circumstance. There were two honors recipients with this graduating class. Since Ossanlin was graduating early, a second honors recipient was named from the actual class that was graduating today. He would be the one giving the speech, and Ossanlin was perfectly fine with that.
Things went fairly quickly after the ceremony finally started. Of course there was an address by the Academy’s Patriarch, Metran, and then by Prince Raigar. Prince Alar, Second-Commander of the Andalite military also gave an address, followed by the honors recipient from the graduating class. Ossanlin listened and watched as each person spoke. Which ones belonged to Sector Seven? Which ones did not? Did it matter at this point? Ossanlin put on an expression of restrained pride as he walked up to the Academy Patriarch. He lifted his chin and smiled as the Metran pinned the aristh bar to the front right of his formal collar. Raigar beamed as he handed Ossanlin the padded box that contained his insignia belt-clasp…his badge of office. He returned Prince Alar’s tail-salute and returned to his spot for the conclusion of the ceremony.
He endured the congratulations and well-wishes of his former instructors, and the other Andalites present before finally managing to extricate himself. Ossanlin returned to his barracks for the last time, most of his personal effects had already been moved out. He’d prepared a small bag the day before to carry with him on the shuttle. He took the time only to change from his formal belt to his utilities belt. He donned the silver aristh belt badge and the new swords that Siruvan had given him. He also removed his formal collar with the pins still attached, and carefully packed it away with his dress belt.
He made his way across the Academy grounds for what could possibly be the final time, mentally bidding everything and everyone farewell. The absence of air-traffic overhead was actually somewhat off-putting. With the multiple Cyrenk launches and the shuttle departures today, it made perfect sense, but the lack of blue and silver flashes overhead was still odd. The Sky Garden was hidden by the daylight, of course, but Ossanlin looked in its direction anyway. His final night on the Homeworld would actually be spent above it, aboard the massive space-station.
The planet-side Academy hangar was a bustle of activity when Ossanlin arrived. No surprises there…there were multiple shuttles being readied for orbital transport. With the war-effort in full swing and a shortage of able bodies, fresh-minted arisths weren’t given even a moment’s rest. Academy graduates shipped to the Sky Garden the very same day they were awarded their bar.
Ossanlin followed the appropriate glowing blue lines on the floor to lead him to his assigned shuttle. Not surprisingly, Siruvan was waiting near its entrance. Ossanlin smiled a bit to himself and approached his shorm. The two grasped forearms and struck their tailblades together in friendly greeting before pulling back. <I thought I should come see you off. I guess I wasn’t the only one with that idea.> Siruvan smiled again and glanced over further with his stalk-eyes.
For the first time, Ossanlin noticed his mother standing near the shuttle as well. <Mother!> Ossanlin moved toward her and gave her a firm embrace. <I thought you would be too busy!>
<Too busy to see my only son off into the Galaxy? Ossanlin, I thought you knew me better than that.> His mother smiled gently and placed her right hand on Ossanlin’s left cheek. He returned the gesture. <Look at you, so strong already. The military suits you, firi.>
Ossanlin felt a blush rising beneath his fur...his mother hadn’t used that endearment on him in years. <Mother…> He paused, changing what he was going to say. <Thank you, mother. For your love and for everything else.> He smiled and embraced her again. Such public displays of affection were not common, and he’d likely catch some flak for it later, he knew, but he’d decided it was a small price to pay.
<Of course. You’re an adult in your own right, but you’ll always be my firi. Mothers have special priveleges.> She smiled again before continuing. <Your father…>
<I know, mother. He has a busy schedule, I understand.> Ossanlin smiled and nodded. <It’s alright, I’m glad I got to see you once more at least.>
His mother fell silent, smiling secretively. <Indeed, he is a busy Andalite. But I’m sure you’ll see him again. And you’d better make sure to see me again too. I’m not about to lose my only son to an Imperial lackey.>
<Of course, mother.> Ossanlin smiled.
<Good. I’m glad that’s settled. Just remember who you are out there. Never lose who you are.> Ossanlin’s mother smiled back and gave him one last embrace before stepping back.
Siruvan had been standing back to give Ossanlin the moment with his mother, but he stepped forward now. <Ossanlin, your friendship has meant the world to me. I’ll carry on Ken’Kara, but I’ll make sure that everyone who learns it knows who the form’s true master is. You’d better come back and visit me too.>
<Of course, Siruvan. I’ll carry your blades with me every waking moment, my shorm. And you will be the first person I visit when I come back, aside from my parents of course.> Ossanlin smiled and embraced his friend.
<Good. Life will be difficult without you here, but I’ll find you in Ken’Kara. Now go make the People proud.> Siruvan smiled and pushed Ossanlin gently toward his shuttle.
Ossanlin nodded, and with a final glance at Siruvan and his mother, he boarded the craft. The ship seemed cramped after the wide open hangar, but Ossanlin tried not to think about it. Aboard the Dome Ship, his quarters would be abysmally tiny. Best to imagine the wide-open spaces.
Ossanlin entered one of the restraint stalls. These shuttles were built for capacity, not comfort. He felt the gentle pressure of the inertial field settle over him, and glanced out the window. Of course the ship’s computer checked the identities of every individual who boarded. Ossanlin noted that he appeared to be the last arrival. The lights around the shuttle’s landing pad turned red before it lifted off and started to glide smoothly toward the hangar’s exit. Thankfully the shuttles were fully-equipped with inertial dampers despite being built for economy, but Ossanlin could still feel the motion of the ship somewhat. Only a portion of the inertia was actually cancelled out.
After the shuttle left the hangar, he felt the EV thrusters kick in and the ship began to rocket into the sky. Ossanlin hadn’t been in orbit for a few months, and he’d only been to the Sky Garden once before, but he could feel both excitement and trepidation creeping into his mind. He did his best to keep them under control, but there was good cause for both.
Cendorus looked so much smaller from ten kilometers up, and it only continued to dwindle. Suddenly space seemed a massive, endless ocean too large even to comprehend. Ossanlin found himself wondering if he’d ever return from this black abyss to his beautiful home. Of course…he’d come back, and he’d do all the things he’d said he’d do. Of course he would.
<To understand quantum variations, one must first understand the nature of Z-Space.> Instructor Kerian-Mendel-Sufur did her best to sound enthusiastic about teaching as she performed a demonstration lecture for a group of Andalite younglings whom were deciding whether or not they would be attending the Academy.
Ossanlin listened to the lecture avidly, absorbing every word. Of course it was basic fundamentals, but this was merely to give the youngsters a taste of what it would be like to attend lecture at the Academy. He kept his main eyes on the instructor, but his stalk eyes gazed up longingly at the blue streaks dancing around far overhead. The Tail-Fighter demonstration. If only Ossanlin had been asked to take part in that. But it was being performed by the instructors…no real surprises there.
<We may think of Z-Space as we would an ocean. It possesses waves and energy. When we travel through Z-Space, our ships are forced to ride those waves no matter how “high” they reach, or how “low” they dip. These waves in flux are the basis of quantum variation. They are also the reason for the differences in transit time between the same two spots at different points in time.> Instructor Kerian activated the holo-display in the middle of the large, uncovered lecture-scoop. It showed a visible representation of Z-Space with n-dimensional distortions. <The larger the distortions, or “waves,” the longer the trip.>
<Point of entry determines Z-Space’s “surface” for the ship in question. Our ships use their energy shields to generate what we call a Varad field. Without the Varad field, Z-Space would tear our ships apart. Even with the Varad field, a ship can be destroyed in what we call an Active Shift. Z-Space is little more than volatile entropy, and an Active Shift occurs when something in one of the n-dimensions forces a ship onto a different plane or “surface” of Z-Space from within. The stresses on the ship’s physical reality are monumental in these situations. It takes a deft TO to successfully navigate an Active Shift…only 15% of ships experiencing an Active Shift survive, but thankfully, Active Shifts are markedly rare.>
Instructor Kerian caused the visual representation to display a hologram of the Z-Time theory. <Travel through Z-Space requires both physical and temporal travel, as do all other known forms of travel. Time and distance. Because of the nature of Z-Space travel, “velocity” is constant. In our traditional dimensional existence, constant velocity would demonstrate a direct and constant relationship between distance and time. This is not the case in Z-Space. Traveling the same distance at a constant velocity at different points in time often results in radically different overall transit times. N-dimensional variations in Z-Space are to blame. And though we do not completely understand the inter-dimensional relationships involved with Z-Space, this variation brings to light some very interesting possibilities, not the least of which is travel through time.>
Kerian paused for dramatic effect. Many of these younglings would’ve heard of Z-Time theory already, but teaching was, at its heart, a form of performance art. Besides which, Ossanlin noticed some rather awestruck faces in the crowd.
<If there is not a constant relationship between distance and time at constant speed, it stands to reason that one can travel anywhere in the Universe with no time elapsing. It also stands to reason that one can travel from one spot, to the exact same spot, over time. Travel is occurring, yet the ship is remaining in the exact same physical location. This means that despite traversing distance, the ship’s three-dimensional coordinates are remaining identical. Most physicists agree that in this hypothetical scenario, the only coordinate that may be changing for the ship is its fourth-dimensional coordinate…in other words, its place in time. Thus, time-travel.>
Kerian smiled before shutting down the scoop’s holo-projector. <Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the mathematics demonstrate that the amount of energy required to produce this effect would be astronomical, so we won’t be treading the fourth dimension any time soon.>
<Thank you all for listening so attentively. This concludes today’s Z-Theory lecture. Please remain orderly as you exit the scoop, and your guides will bring you to your next activity.> Kerian nodded and the younglings clasped their hands in front of themselves and bowed their upper torsos in respect. Ossanlin followed suit, before trotting up to the aging female instructor.
The instructor was engaged in conversation with a few of the younglings. Most if not all of those who took the time to converse with Kerian would end up joining the Academy. Out of the entire demonstration class, better than seventy percent would likely end up enrolled by the end of the cycle.
<Ah, cadet. Thank you for assisting with the class.> Kerian smiled somewhat warmly at Ossanlin. She was one to appreciate curious and agile minds, and Ossanlin had fit her bill right from the start.
<The pleasure was mine, Instructor. Well-done. You always manage to engage your students in your lectures.> Ossanlin bowed his eye-stalks in respect. Not all of his instructors would allow him to get away with such an equal gesture of respect, but Kerian allowed him many things.
<It is important to keep the younglings interested in thought and knowledge. So many enroll with thoughts only for glory and battle, they do not realize that a keen mind is one of the best weapons they may possess.> Kerian eye-smiled at Ossanlin for a moment before speaking again. <I’m so glad you understand that much, Ossanlin. I see the greatness in your future. You should go feed and rest. You’ll need your energy for tomorrow.>
Ossanlin bowed his eye-stalks again and turned to leave.
<Please remember, Ossanlin…use your head before your tail.>
<Yes, Instructor. I shall.> Ossanlin glanced back at Kerian and nodded before turning back to leave.
As Ossanlin trotted toward the feeding grounds, he was caught up by Siruvan. Ossanlin favored his friend with a glance of his main eyes before continuing on.
<Ossanlin…is it true? Are you being deployed immediately?> Siruvan’s tone was measured and even.
<Yes, Siruvan. I depart the day after tomorrow. I am to be an aristh aboard the Galaxy Tree.> Ossanlin suppressed his excitement at the thought. Graduating at 16 years UGTS was a feat that very few academy initiates had ever accomplished. True, he was mere standard weeks away from his seventeenth birthday, but still!
<I…see.> Siruvan cast his main eyes down at the ground. Ossanlin noticed the elongated bag hanging from Siruvan’s right shoulder for the first time, but gave it little thought. <I’d hoped that that information had been exaggerated.>
<I can sense disappointment, Siruvan. Why?> Ossanlin turned his main eyes on his friend again, concern painting his features.
<Because, Ossanlin…you are my only friend. I…don’t know what I will do without you here. You’ve made my time at the Academy tolerable. I can’t even begin to thank you for the tail-fighting lessons. I just don’t want to see you go. I suppose that’s selfish of me, I should be happy for you.>
Ossanlin stopped and smiled, placing a hand on Siruvan’s cheek. Siruvan widened his eyes at the intimate gesture, but didn’t pull away. <Siruvan, did it ever occur to you that you have been just as precious if not moreso to me? You are my only friend, and if there were a way to bring you with me, I would do it in a hearts-beat. But I have my duty, and I must follow it though it be painful.> Ossanlin nodded to Siruvan and placed his other hand on Siruvan’s other cheek. A gesture that was reserved for lovers or, in very special circumstances, the closest of friends. <I would call you shorm, my friend.>
Siruvan widened his eyes even further, before placing his own hands on Ossanlin’s cheeks, bringing his tail-blade forward and holding it to Ossanlin’s neck. Ossanlin did the same with his tail. <Siruvan-Mefir-Lorinian, my life is yours to take.> Ossanlin continued to smile.
<And my life is yours to take, Ossanlin-Rethin-Sephirel.> Siruvan gave a trepidatious smile in return. The two held their blades poised at each-others’ necks for ten seconds, before withdrawing hands and tails.
<I want to give you something, Siruvan. Since I will be leaving, I must entrust its care to another. Where I’m going, my opportunities to teach tail-fighting will be limited, and the form must not die if something happens to me.> Ossanlin reached into the utilities belt at his waist and withdrew a small, armored case. He handed it to Siruvan.
Siruvan furrowed his eyebrows and accepted the case, opening it. He took in a sharp breath and closed it again, shoving it back at Ossanlin. <I cannot accept this, Ossanlin! It is much too precious to be placed in my hands!>
<Nonsense, Siruvan. You are now the most-skilled student of tail-fighting at the Academy. You have mastered the arts taught here, and now it’s time for a new challenge.> Ossanlin laid a hand atop the case still clutched in Siruvan’s hands and pushed it back toward his friend. <I am the only Andalite who has studied Ken’Kara in a thousand years or more. This is the only remnant left of it, Siruvan. The Art of Three Blades cannot die. It is time for you to study it and learn the ways of the ancient Triblades. Then pass it on. More-so than a gift, it is responsibility that I am bestowing upon you. I entrust this knowledge to you. Please learn it and keep it alive.>
Siruvan clutched the case possessively, nodding and looking up at Ossanlin. <I can’t thank you enough, my shorm. I’m afraid my gift now pales in comparison, but I thought it might be useful to you out in the field.> Siruvan smiled tentatively as he took the bag from his shoulder and handed it to Ossanlin.
Ossanlin took note of the bag once again and accepted it from the other Andalite. He reached a hand into the bag and drew out one of the two items contained within. His eyebrows raised at the item now grasped in his hand. It was a sheathed blade, one of two that had been contained in the bag. Ossanlin slung the bag over his shoulder and used both hands to examine Siruvan’s gift.
The black-laquered sheath had restrained silver tooling worked all along its length. The hand-guard was a silver-tooled crescent moon, the grip fine synthite leather. It would never grow less supple, nor would it need oiling. He drew the sword from its sheath and nearly gasped as the almost-iridescent silver of the blade caught his eye. If he wasn’t mistaken, that was…
<Tri-bonded neutrite composite. Semi-porous to decrease weight.> Siruvan smiled a bit. <The edges have been precision-formed to a thickness of precisely one neutrite molecule.>
The same material as hull-plating. The stuff was enormously difficult to come by, and not cheap. How Siruvan had managed to come across enough of it to make two swords, Ossanlin could not fathom. The swords were incredibly light, they would add unthinkable speed to his strikes. That wasn’t to mention their energy-syncing capabilities. The properties of these blades would allow them to absorb energy-weapons fire and disperse it harmlessly as background heat, given that it wasn’t so intense as to break the tri-bonds of the neutrite itself. And a thickness of one neutrite molecule would allow the swords to cut through almost anything, and neutrite would hold that edge indefinitely.
<Siruvan…how…these are incredible!> Ossanlin smiled up at his friend before returning to his admiration of the blade.
<How isn’t important, and they don’t come close to repaying you for everything that you’ve done for me, Ossanlin. I just hope that they’ll provide a modicum of safety for you out there.> Siruvan smiled again before tucking the case containing the ancientKen’Kara data disc into his own utilities belt.
Ossanlin nodded, sheathing the sword and placing it back into the bag with its twin. <Thank you, my shorm. There is little more I can say…only that you’ve done as much for me. It will be comforting to know that I have your blades at my side, Siruvan, even though you won’t be with me in body.>
<And I will think of you every time I practice the Art of Three Blades, my shorm. It will be your training which guides me.>
Ossanlin nodded, still smiling as they ran toward the feeding ground for one last run together. It would be their first as shorm, but perhaps their last for years. Ossanlin felt bittersweet about that. Losing his friendship with Siruvan…one that had endured for years, would be painful. But Ossanlin was moving on to a new chapter of his life. Regardless, Ossanlin knew in his hearts that his deep bond with Siruvan would remain for the rest of his life. Perhaps after his tour in the military, he and Siruvan could pick up where they left off now. Reminisce about days of old and spar in the form of Ken’Kara. Perhaps.
~I decided after the fact to post this portion as its own chapter...I have a bunch more written, but I felt it was getting too long and this had a good stopping point written in already. Thus, new chapter is posted. The next will likely be fairly quick in coming, though I make no promises. (It's mostly-written already, but you never know with me).