Chapter Two

"Ahhhk, what is this stuff?" one of the new Protectors grunted, her nose scrunching in disgust. She held the fizzy brown liquid in the bottle away from her in disgust.

"Pepsi. A brand of cola, which is what they call a 'soft drink' on Earth," Carrie replied.

"Burns my throat a little."

Carrie laughed ruefully. "Wait'll you try some of their hard drinks... What about the fruits? I've always been partial to grapes myself..."

"No, thanks."

Another Protector, a brunette (Carrie still couldn't get past the idea of a brown-haired Velorian), answered, "You really should try them. Especially this pink fruit with the seeds... what is it called?"


"Very juicy. And water is the... lukta?"


"I can see why they call it watermelon."

"Can we get on with this, please?" the Scribe sniped.

Another Protector, obviously an elder among their breed, looked at their new Scribe. "I've been to sixteen different in-processing meetings. How many have you been to?"

The Scribe looked right back. "Twenty-three."

"And none of them on Earth," Junior piped up.

"Junior!" Carrie scolded her.

"Oh, take as long as you want, I'm enjoying the watermelon," the brunette said with a little sarcasm.

"Well," the first Protector, the tall one, said, "we're still waiting on our fourth member to come out of the ocean. She's still out there."

"Still?" the Scribe shrieked. "I don't care how beautiful the coral reefs are."

"Not the coral reefs... the dolphins."

The Scribe stood up and went to the bathroom.

"Could I have a... napekin?" the brunette asked.

"Napkin, sure," Carrie answered. "Junior?"

"Coming up, Mom." Junior picked a white one up and floated a few feet above the floor, horizontally, to the Protector. No one was impressed. With no gold anywhere nearby, they didn't need to be. Low-speed flight was something a Protector learned in their first year at the Academy.

A low-pitched voice from the patio called out, "Yech. Never tasted saltier water in my life. Can someone get me some fresh water, please?" Carrie took care of that one herself. Junior was still goofing off. "Thank you," she said as she gripped the plastic container and drank it all down without taking a breath. She went on to the tap herself to get more (she finally figured out she had to raise the handle like a lever).

"Well," Carrie said, "I want to welcome all of you to Earth, also known as Terra. As you're all well aware of by now, this planet is the home base of our genetic code. More important than that, however, is this is a Class Ten planetary society, with some areas dipping all the way back to Class Three. There have been three world wars, the last one of them nuclear about forty years ago. In addition, thanks to our Arion friends, there have been a large number of recent incidents, more than one of them nuclear explosions, involving Velorians. The Velorian ministry is not happy about that. In addition, thanks to the T'set'lar, there are indications that we may be at war with the Arion Empire in the next few months. So be aware of that possibility as well." The thoughts sobered them all up.

"My name is Ca'ra Zo'rel, and my daughter you've all met is Ca'ra Zo'rel Junior, per local custom." Junior nodded in acknowledgement. "We've been on Earth here for quite some time. I'm not at liberty to say who Junior's father is; he likes to stay quite anonymous." That raised a few eyebrows, and the Scribe took some quick notes. Like most men of the Homo Supremis and Homo Sapiens species, Messengers loved to brag of their conquests -- and like most women of the Homo Supremis, Protectors loved to talk about their mates as well. For a humanoid male of any species to keep his mouth shut was highly unusual.

"Junior was born here on Earth, in the United States of America, but she has not been able to obtain U.S. citizenship. Don't ask me why; my lawyers are still fighting that issue as they have been for the last 16 years. As for my history, I invite you all to visit our former Scribe's website,, which documents a lot of my activities with a fair bit of accuracy. It will also be a lesson to all in how to use computers; I know that Shara'Lynn Besta made a tidy profit selling blueprints for Terran computers and networks on Velor, but the technology evolves so fast here that anything you know of back home is obsolete here."

"With that being said," Carrie went on, but then her daughter opened her mouth and, with typical teenage tact, insulted one of the Protectors on the spot.

"So what's up with the hair dye?" This was directed at the brunette. She glared right back, the foulest expression on her face in... days, Carrie realized, remembering Lynn after Tammy died. It was a close match, frighteningly close. That one has quite a temper, an edge, and Supremis powers... a problem?

Carrie lowered her voice and spoke softly, "Why don't you all introduce yourselves?"

"I'll tell you what's up with the hair dye," the woman answered harshly...

It was a stigma. I was born with it, lived with it, brushed it, occasionally braided it. I absolutely hated it. I even tried cutting it off with an electric razor once, Vendorian steel. That worked, for a while. Precisely four minutes. I couldn't fool my mother. The stubble was still brown.

Brown... on a planet that revered blondes. On a planet full of blondes. On a planet where everybody knew brunettes were the enemy. An enemy for hundreds of years. "Ae, ae, ae!" The kids taunted me for years. Bullies went after me. And those kids were vicious.

The teachers weren't much nicer. Oh, on the surface, they acted as if I was an equal. But I knew my grades. I knew my seating arrangements. I knew the suspicious, and later, fearful looks in their eyes. They didn't trust me. They didn't like me. They didn't accept me.

Oh, I knew. And they knew I knew. And I knew they knew that I knew. It didn't matter. It didn't make growing up any easier.

I remember watching my cousin, her beautiful blonde hair swishing, as she progressed towards being a Protector. I was so proud of her. She meant the Galaxy to me. She was the only one who saw me for who I was -- even more than Mom and Dad did. She always beat them at wrestling, no sweat.

And then she died, at the age of 14. I was twelve. A stupid, horrible training accident. She was our family's hope for having a Protector. Since Velor had been founded, we'd never had a Protector in our bloodline. Not once, all the way back to the Galen. She was so close. E'ohk'a. E'ohk'a Zor'el would have been her name. Instead, it was E'ohk'a Y'pa'zok. Until then, it had been E'oh'ka Y'pa. Zok meant dead, before she achieved her goal.

That's what made up my mind.

Two hours after her funeral, I walked into the Academy of the Protectors's local recruiting station.

Didn't get a very friendly reception. They threw me out. Physically. The hard way. In one point seven seconds. Roughly. I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and walked back in. They took two point three seconds that time. Roughly.

They definitely don't like brown hair.

It took me four more tries to get the receptionist to stop throwing me out. I never raised a finger in resistance. Surprisingly, that's what won her over. My first real victory.

Not my last, either. If anything, they deliberately made my life a living hell during those years. It hardened me, gave me more to resist against. I graduated near the top of my class, with the grudging admiration of my peers and instructors.

That was the last time I saw my father and mother. Good riddance too.

First planet they assigned me to, they didn't care if I had brown hair or not. The population was small -- just starting to make tools. But the planet had a hell of a lot of technetium. Can't make Vendorian steel without the stuff, so the Arions (bastards -- why the hell did I have to see one every time I looked in the mirror?) decided to do some strip mining.

I should've known Intelligence was pulling my hair. They're as bad as the Arion Empire. When I refused to cooperate, well, it set back our efforts to kick the Arions off that planet for a few years. Intelligence never stopped asking. And I never stopped telling them no.

That Messenger was sexy, though. Better than the Primes. Definitely better than the Betans.

Well, we got them off the planet two months ago. Mission accomplished. Then the orders came in. Intelligence, again. To Terra this time. That was a nice change of pace. Of course, Intel can't keep their greedy hands off of me. I look like an Arion. I'm a Protector. Perfect spy.

They can go to hell. I'm Miri'am Zor'El. I'm not some traitor of the Arion Empire, and I'm sure as hell not an Arion. All my life, I've been called "Ae, ae, ae"... Arion. That's not what I am. That's not who I am. I'm a Protector, Miri'am Zor'el, the first in my family of over sixty generations. And I'll thank even you, Ca'ra Zor'El Junior, to remember that.

Look, I don't give a damn what the T'set'lar did to you. I've never met one, and I am eternally grateful for that. But if you ever say anything, think anything, like that again, I'll do to you what I do these days to every other Velorian who treat me like I am the enemy.

I'll throw you out of my way. Physically. The hard way. In one point seven seconds. Roughly.

I've gotten a lot faster, a lot more practiced at it since those days. And they can thank Skietra herself that I will never go home again. Because I'd be throwing a lot of people out of my way. I'd do anything for Velor. Once they -- and you -- stop treating me like an Arion (untranslatable to English).

Junior blinked. This is in-processing?

Carrie, for one, smiled internally. That explained a lot. And she shut Junior's attitude down. She's still very much a junior member of the Team, though, a bit too quick to fight. As a Protector, she should not have that attitude at all. But you can't blame her for feeling that way. Plus, if her scores were as high as she claims -- and we don't lie to our own -- she might be quite a tactical asset indeed.

Miri'am picked up another piece of watermelon. It dripped over her mouth and fingers as she chewed in the shocked silence.

"Well," another of them said, with just the faintest crinkle of age in her cheeks, "I remember what it was like going through the Academy a little over a century ago. They turn out people a little too eager to fight, if you ask me." Miri'am ignored that jibe from the eldest of their group. "But then, I remember myself in those days, and I was the type to kick down mountains without worrying about quakes or geology. I ended up the valedictorian of that class." That brought smiles from everyone, particularly Miri'am. There was something familiar to Carrie about her, though...

"My name is Ez'hah'bel'ar Po'ra'do Zo'rel. I'm myself a bit surprised to be here, but also rather honored. Of course, honor doesn't always have much to do with the detailer, who sends you where you're most needed. But, I gather they needed some experience down here, so here I am."

"I'd love to talk about how important Earth is to me, but I can't guarantee I'll be staying long: I'm currently number four on the list for the Virago War College."

The tall one whistled in amazement. Carrie's eyes went very wide, her smile beaming. Junior actually put her feet on the floor.

A Virago-Select. Oh, that's fantastic! Far better than Carrie had hoped. The War College accepted only the best of the best, those who had the experience to show they could lead in both diplomacy and war. Some of the benefits included an extended physical training program, unconventional warfare techniques, and of course, languages and cultural instruction on a vast scale. Although seniority wasn't a requirement, it certainly helped. Even so, most Virago-Selects that I've known were at least twenty years older than her. I wonder if the T'set'lar are the reason why...

I'm only a few years away from the minimum age for applicants... maybe...

"Yes, I've earned myself a slot on their list. Never thought I'd make it this far. Sixteen assignments, sixteen successful missions. A couple years ago, I helped a Class-Fourteen society patch up their ozone layer. That was fun. Especially when you discover how those thin blades of grass hair they have can really bend and tickle you in a few places..." The woman blushed from the thought. Carrie caught a faint whiff of honey in the air, a smell all too familiar to her. It didn't take a genius to realize she'd been physically attracted to those beings in a major way.

Ah, well, we all have our fantasies. Good thing they almost always come true.

"I'm really quite interested in the technology this planet has. I understand you've contributed a lot to cancer research," Ez'hah'bel'ar said to Carrie, "some of it being Velorian technology. While the purists may complain, I'm all for it. After the carnage I saw on Urba Minor VI, I'd really rather avoid it happening here. What's the political situation?"

Carrie answered that one. "Volatile, to say the least. I've been to Urba Minor VI. Too bad humans can't go there; they'd learn a lot about what disease and death are really like. The last world war here claimed two and a half billion lives... and they still haven't learned."

The Virago-Select shook her head in disgust. Urba Minor VI was the biggest morgue in the Arion Empire. The Empire executed the Prime responsible for letting that happen -- and the previous two administrators for the planet. It was one of the earliest lessons taught to both Velorians and Arions: Do not let a planet die.


The sad part was it wasn't even the Empire's fault. The Ur simply did it to themselves.

And then something clicked for Carrie. "Urba Minor? Were you in the city of..."

Ez'hah'bel'ar smiled. "I was wondering when you'd catch on."

Carrie smashed into her with affection (from ten meters away). Only Carrie's ability to decelerate like she accelerated prevented both of them from crashing through the wall and probably bringing down the house she no longer owned. "Oh, it's been a long time!"

"Yes, it has, hasn't it? Your first planetary field trip away from home." Ez'hah'bel'ar felt a ringing in her ears from that tackle. "I'm glad to see you took those lessons to heart."

The Scribe interjected. "You two know each other?"

Carrie nodded. "Ez'hah'bel'ar Zor'el stayed at Urba Minor VI for at least six years after that incident, as a special advisor to Velor. I'd wandered off to pick up some trinket, and she stopped me. That was the hardest one-sided conversation I ever had to endure. You couldn't take anything off that planet. Especially since our next stop was Urba Minor VII, a Class One society that wouldn't have survived anything on VI coming to them."

"If she had ignored me in the slightest, I would have had her expelled from the Academy," Ez'hah'bel'ar added. "I placed a hefty reprimand on her record anyway, to make sure she knew I wasn't kidding And it was ten years."

"I'll say it was hefty! I nearly didn't graduate because of that one incident!" Carrie exploded in mock indignation.

"Well, it got your attention!" Carrie rolled her eyes and hugged her one-time mentor once again. "Oof, when did you get so strong?"

Carrie's eyes twinkled. "I'll tell you later. How's your sister?"

Ez'hah'bel'ar's face dropped. She said nothing.


Ez'hah'bel'ar nodded.

"I'm sorry."

"It was a long time ago," Ez'hah'bel'ar said somberly.

Junior opened the window; although none of them needed it, the fresh sea air cooled the room in moments, bringing the taste of salt back into the room. Carrie patted her mentor's shoulders and went back to her side of the room.

"Well, I guess it's my turn," another Protector said, the one who had been swimming (or flying underwater, depending on your point of view). "My name is Gel'tri Zo'rel, and my career as a Protector hasn't taken the usual path at all. I was assigned to the Whar'ana for the last fifteen years."

"The Whar'ana?" Junior asked.

"A spacefaring race of beings, society Class Seventeen -- comparable to the Arion Empire, but very friendly. They visited Velor and Dax'xan a few centuries ago, and were most cordial -- if private. We still haven't figured out how they get from system to system, and they won't let us into their engineering spaces. Not after our first ambassador to them died going into one such space. The autopsy was useless to us; we don't know how she died."

"After that, the post was reduced to a Protector level. Viragoes are still too prized to risk death by accidents, and we're warned well ahead of time on what to expect. I met seventeen different species while traveling with them as an ambassador. I even managed to sign a treaty with one of them and the Whar'ana. The Skohr'zeny, they were called -- and let me tell you, if you ever see some of their furniture, you'll think it's divine. Puts anything we have back home to shame. They seem to like our Vendorian steel as well. The Whar'ana get some steel and some Skohr'zeny furniture as their commission for transporting the goods. They've never cheated us yet."

Miri'am spoke up. "Yes, our senior class was starting to get some new chairs and desks. How in the Galaxy did they get those constantly-changing patterns in the furniture?"

Gel'tri smiled. "The surface responds to heat and conveys it to the liquid inside. Natural convection stirs it up and creates the colors you see."

Miri'am laughed. "That would explain a lot. It was pretty easy to tell when our navigation teacher, Co'rbel'a Oa'ho, entered the classroom -- every chair and desk would suddenly explode into a wide rainbow of colors, even ultraviolet. He was soooo hot..." To illustrate the point, Miri'am held her hands up, palm to palm, and then slowly moved her left hand upward about 33 centimeters (13 inches)...

The entire group laughed. Junior salivated. Carrie started smelling honey again.

"I'm glad you liked my brother," the Scribe commented with a wide grin on her face. That set everyone to laughing even more.

"Yeah," Gel'tri responded, "every other male teacher in the school envied him. He had a smell to him that..."

"... he bought in a bottle," the Scribe interrupted ruefully.


"One of the perfumes your friendly Whar'ana brought back from Earth, the last time they were here. He arranged for them to pick up a few dozen cases."

"So that's who bought them," Carrie said thoughtfully. "That was a long time ago, like fifty years..."

By this point Junior was in tears over her laughter. She smacked her hand on the marble table -- hard enough to blast right through it. It went all the way through and crushed the marble against her thigh. She stopped laughing as she realized what she'd done.

"Junior!" Carrie cried. "That piece cost me ten thousand dollars!"

"Oh, sorry, Mom."

Carrie sighed. Kids were so hard to raise here on Earth. "It's okay. I can always buy another one in Japan. Running a major corporation does have its advantages, especially when you take the home office with you."

They still chuckled at that. Junior turned a little red anyway.

Finally, it was the tall one's turn. She'd already attracted a fair bit of attention among her peers in Carrie's living room simply by the overlarge bosom she possessed. Clearly, she'd be a formidable weapon in the Earth's defense against the T'set'lar and the Primes.

Unfortunately, her own accent was significantly thicker, more guttural, than Miri'am, Gel'tri, and Ez'hah'bel'ar. Although she was biologically the same age as the others, give or take a few years (you'd never be able to tell), she had outlived everyone in her immediate family and her home city. As a matter of fact, she had outlived the entire population of Velor.

And not by choice.

"My friends, you may never know how happy I am to have solid ground beneath my feet. My name is Elan'nah Zo'rel, and I graduated the Directorate of Protectors only thirteen years ago, by my calendar. It's still a pretty strange feeling to know that everyone you've ever met is dead. Most of them by old age, thank Skiatra." The other Protectors, and even their mysteriously silent Scribe, blinked at that. Skiatra? Did she mean Skietra? And there was no Directorate of Protectors, hadn't been one for centuries. The Academy had long since replaced it. Still, the strange, ancient woman continued.

"Terra is only my second appointment as a Protector to any planet. There wasn't anything wrong with the first -- I loved Icroka. Beautiful planet. The natives are a bit... talkative, and they have this funny blue hair that helps keep them alive. I wish I could return there," Elan'nah sighed wistfully.

"I'm sorry, what did you say?" Carrie asked.

"I said I wish I could return there."

Carrie nodded, thinking she understood. "Ah." The Protectors in the room (excluding Junior -- as an Earthborn Supremis, she hadn't had the advantage of a total Velor education) all knew the reason Protectors no longer visited Icroka. The Protector of that planet had been called away on an emergency mission. In her absence (which turned out to be a lot longer than anyone anticipated -- on the order of decades), the Arion Empire had forcefully annexed Icrokan space into their Empire and slowly but peacefully integrated the Icrokan cultures. Velor struggled back briefly, but lost interest in the planet. Their missing Protector was of far greater concern (a rare occurance; Protectors were considered expendable for planets, but this one had simply disappeared) than starting another war with the Empire.

By now, all of them, even Junior, had realized Elan'nah was herself that missing Protector.

Elan'nah smiled, seeing the looks of comprehension dawn on their faces. "Yes, that was me. And as for where I went... technically I didn't go anywhere, except in circles. Thousands, perhaps millions of them."

"I'd been called to the Annara system; Annara VI had requested emergency intervention through their Ambassador from Velor. Because of the political ties Annara VI had with Velor -- and the lack of any political activity on Icroka -- I was given a temporary reassignment. So I headed to Annara. And I missed my jump."

At that, everyone's eyes went wide. Gel'tri dropped her teacup in shock. It shattered on the tiled floor.

None of them had ever met anyone who had "missed a jump" and survived. Because the jumps Protectors thought of involved black holes and other singularities...

A jump via a singularity is always a very dangerous affair. The space around the singularity is warped by the tremendous gravities of the singularity so greatly that one could find shortcuts through the fabric of space simply by following a particular course almost into the heart of the singularity. Scribes, Messengers and Protectors spent a whole two years of their higher educations learning about safe vectors to make such jumps -- by themselves, wearing not a shred of clothing. (Singularities created such huge differentials in gravity that even Vendorian steel was seriously deformed by a single pass. Under such conditions, clothing is a waste of good fabric. Velorians are made of tougher stuff, but even they are very careful to make their jumps last a fraction of a second, not letting any dive into a black hole last longer than a few seconds at best. Arions, even T'set'lar, require ships to help them navigate singularities, although some T'set'lar are attempting to resurrect the lost art.)

If your course and speed are correct, you make the jump and come out the other end, somewhere near your destination.

If your course and speed are not correct, you make a fine mist of particles and Cherenkov radiation.

"Yea, I missed my jump. Somewhere outward and above my orbital plane, a planetoid passed by at a very high speed -- near light-speed. It was moving so close to the speed of light that I couldn't possibly have seen it in time. It fell into orbit of the black hole -- and its gravitational forces moved the target course off. Not by much. A few centimeters, maybe a meter. But enough."

"I was fortunate. The approach I had chosen carried me right past the black hole's center a couple kilometers away, and placed me in a much higher position moments later. Imagine my surprise at feeling my head being weightless and my toes weighing a few hundred tons suddenly, instead of the other way around as I expected." They all knew Elan'nah's head wasn't weightless -- but compared to her toes it was.

"That gave me enough time to realize I had to establish a new plan. To establish a new plan, I'd need time. To get time, I'd have to orbit the singularity. And to orbit the singularity, I needed speed. So, I let it all loose."

"I accelerated like I had never done before. Believe me, I hadn't. Only my already outward course gave me a chance at it..."

"After a few hours of acceleration, I realized I couldn't speed my way out of this orbit. To do so would take me literally decades. And an energy drain from the ether that I couldn't possibly reach a tenth of."

Elan'nah smiled then. "The planetoid that threw my course off was the key."

"It had enough gravity to counteract, a little, the gravity of the black hole. Between them, I could feel a lighter gravity, just enough to let me drift to a higher orbit of the black hole, where the gravity was less and the escape velocity was less. It wasn't much, but it helped. When the black hole was between me and the planetoid, I fought to resist the planetoid's tide."

"Unfortunately, the planetoid's orbit was nearly a full radian off of mine -- it didn't pass over me very often. I still accelerated, adjusted my course as best I could, but the planetoid, orbiting the black hole at its own high speed, was my only way out."

"It took me months to get out of there. Well over half the speed of light." Elan'nah sipped at her tea. "And then, I set a course, a more successful one, for Velor. I was exhausted, but free -- and exceptionally energetic. Over the months, I had been so used to drawing a month's ethereal charge in a second, that the flow just wouldn't stop."

"That proved to be a problem. When I reached the Dax'xan Protectors Reception area, I found that I had inadvertently built up such a drain rate that they were having an energy shortage -- a massive one. I was pulling it in far faster than the ether could replace it. Other Velorians found their own energies drained just by having me around."

"Of course, that wasn't the only problem. A little thing they taught us all in our formative years: the faster you go, the faster the Galaxy goes. I'd moved so fast that time caught up with me. I still don't know, exactly, how far forward I was thrown; I didn't know what time it really was when I left Icroka."

Junior piped up. "We're studying that right now in physics class. It's called relativity. Some guy on Earth named Einstein came up with it."

Carrie chuckled. "Junior, dear, Einstein didn't have a clue about how the universe really works. But he was right about that..."

"That was seventeen weeks ago, " Elan'nah continued. "Vel'yena figures I'd have a limitless supply of power to throw against the T'set'lar, so that's why I'm here." Another Velorian could tell, just by looking at her, that she was now nothing short of formidable -- and she'd be a nasty surprise for any Arion that dared cross her and tried to wear her out. If the energy drain she had accelerating over a black hole represented the weight of a city which she had once carried on her shoulders, a T'set'lar would probably drain no more energy than a feather from her in comparison.

Of course, she also had the proportions of a porn star mother and an exceptionally successful bodybuilder father. She'd also seemed a bit taller than the average Protector -- courtesy of gravitational tides of the black hole. That made her 186 cm (6 ft 1 in) in height. In short, there wasn't anything about her that wasn't simply massive.

Carrie thought briefly of the two or three Primes that had raped her in her lifetime. They'd never have tried that on Elan'nah, not as she was now. Even Luthor might be scared of her; Carrie knew Luthor better than anyone else alive did, and had a fair idea of his capabilities. Elan'nah might outmatch even him. Not in strength, but in endurance.

You're not taking my Luthor away from me, Elan'nah. We've had plenty of pain already in our lives between the two of us, but he's mine.

Elan'nah had no idea of the decision Carrie had just made. Likely if she had known, she wouldn't have cared. It wasn't the Velorian way. Besides, right about then she could really use that kind of energetic workout. The reception center on Dax'xan had utterly failed her as over a hundred Messengers and many more people tried to handle her, tried to help her burn off that energy she called in without even trying to. Even in the gold field, the ecstasies she'd experenced leveled buildings with her strength enhanced by an incredible energy flow.

"Well," the Scribe said haughtily, "that's quite a story. My name is Co'ra'na Ky'zel. I'm sorry I'm not able to share my story with you; Scribes themselves generally reserve information about themselves. Shara'Lynn Besta took liberties with that policy, using discretion she legally had rights to use. I don't feel a need to use that much discretion."

Carrie bristled a little at that. Lynn had been a good friend. This new Scribe was cutting her off at the knees. Lynn deserved better than that, than to be consigned to memory as a corrupt being. Lynn deserved to be a living being in their lives, a trusted friend and ally.

Carrie also had another thought running through the back of her mind. Approximately six hundred years ago (give or take half a century), her family had had a Protector disappear entirely. No evidence of her had ever been found. Could Elan'nah be a distant relative of mine?

Junior thought, I do not like this Au'zar'yena. She's even more arrogant than I am.

"However," Co'ra'na continued, "this may be of interest. Somebody at a California university appears to have a new power source." Co'ra'na handed each of them a photocopied newsletter article. "I've read over the article myself; it doesn't tell much of how the process works, but I do know it's like nothing on Velor or Dax'xan."

"You don't suppose they've discovered cold fusion in a test tube again, have they?" Junior replied sarcastically. Decades before Geoff, a pair of scientists announced fusion in a test tube. It was instead a chemical reaction -- that had been reported on before. The pair were the laughingstock of the scientific community at the time. Junior's response was to remind all of them that the Velorians mustn't be fooled by a fraud or an idiot.

"No, it's not cold fusion, but it's definitely fusion-related. Beyond that, I haven't a clue what's going on here."

"Neither do I," Miri'am said after skimming the article. "I loved science as a kid, but I've never seen anything like this before."

"Do you think it's disinformation from the local military or governments?" Elan'nah asked.

Co'ra'na hesitated. "Possibly." A dozen responses, such as It wouldn't make sense for them to lie, or What reason would they have to do such a thing?, passed through her mind unspoken. Governments -- and especially military -- didn't always need a good reason to do what they thought was right. "In fact, I'd have to say probably. I look at this, and there's no way they can be serious. The physics I remember from Velor and later Dax'xan don't cover anything like this. The numbers are all wrong; they don't add up."

Carrie spoke up then. "In that case, we're going to need to find out what's going on. Are there any reasons the government might do this? Something they need to hide or distract from?"

They all shook their heads. Then Junior piped up, "Well, there is that business with the NSA in Nevada going on."

"NSA?" Co'ra'na asked.

"Don't ask," Carrie quickly interjected.

Co'ra'na didn't ask again.

Carrie added grudgingly, "Well, there might be something there, but I doubt it. I've had a couple dealings with NSA that I never told Lynn about -- and I'm not about to tell you either. They're good guys, but extremely quiet and almost certainly very dangerous. Leave them alone if you possibly can. Whatever you do, try not to mention them."

They all nodded assent. Things like this were part of in-processing. "Anything else this might be?" Co'ra'na asked.

Who the hell does she think she is, Miri'am thought, acting like she's in charge here?

No one answered Co'ra'na's spoken question, or Miri'am's unspoken one. "All right then. Carrie, how about those new identities, and places for us to live at?"

Carrie groaned. "I didn't know Miri'am over there was a brunette. I'll have to work on that a little..."