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Chapter 5

It’s not long before they arrive at the Souri homestead. The sight of the massive building is a surprise seeing as most Souri generally live in destitute neighborhoods on more civilized planets.

“How did you build this?” he asks. They park at the base of the building where a large metallic door slowly parts to allow access to the dark depths of the facility.

“We didn’t,” Shyara replies candidly. “We had a small village a ways from here, I was very young at the time, but from what I remember it was a fairly rough life.”

Beirn snorts indignantly. “That’s only because you never experienced life on our home world.” The sarcastic tone of Beirn’s words conflicts with the musical inclination of her voice.

Shyara ignores the woman’s harsh critique as she continues her story. “One day a man arrived, claiming he needed help running his facility and in return he’d offer us shelter from the dangers of this planet. Our elders agreed, and we’ve lived there ever since.”

“People aren’t normally so generous,” Anna’s voice catches him off guard as she’d been silent the entire ride.

“Nonetheless, my people have been grateful for the shelter from the dangers of this world, and as a result we owe whoever is behind it a debt of gratitude,” Shyara answers.

As they continue their trip into the dim depths of the facility, they pass a few older model speeder bikes, as well as other vehicles of similar design to the one in which they currently found themselves. Upon parking, they exit their vehicle and make their way towards a pair of sliding glass doors that open up to a clean white hallway. Through a secondary set of doors they can see a great tree standing in the center of a courtyard. Children continue to play obliviously in the snow beneath its massive branches. Shyara and Beirn proceed to lead them towards the cafeteria where the two operatives are served a warm bowl of soup.

“I didn’t know Souri ate the same food as humans,” Tal comments between spoonfuls.

This time Beirn answers instead of Shyara. A first in their short journey together, the elder Souri didn’t even utter a thank you concerning Tal’s assistance with the ice creatures. “We don’t normally, our bodies can’t digest certain things the same way. Food like what you’re eating now is for the doctor and his handful of assistants.”

“Any chance we’ll get to meet this doctor?” Tal inquires.

“Not sure,” Shyara replies. “He’s a bit busy operating and overseeing the recovery of those attacked by the Sabear.”

“How many were injured?”

“Two sustained minor injuries, another lost an arm, and two others are recovering from the poison.”

Moments upon finishing their meal, the two Souri leave the two operatives alone.

“Any word from Jaya?” Anna asks.

“The repair team arrived a few minutes ago.”


Anna glances at her wrist device again.

“Why do you keep looking at that thing like it’s going to dispense candy or something?”

“What?” she responds, having clearly not been paying attention.

“I asked why you keep looking at your Bracer like that.”

“I’m not.”

“Yes, you are.”

“I’m just anxious to leave.”

“So am I, but I don’t have to check mine every minute.”

She stares silently back at him for a moment, before a switch goes off that returns life to her features. “Sorry,” she adds apologetically. “I’m just hoping to hear from a friend.”

“Maya? Didn’t know you two were so close.”

She grins half-heartedly. “No, it’s nobody you’d know.”

“Anna?” he presses warily.

“Don’t worry, I’m not trying to be secretive, it’s just personal.”

Sensing that’s as much information as he’s going to get out of her, he decides to change topics. “I’m going to look around. Care to join me?” Tal asks.

She glances down at her wrist unit once more. Then, with a forced smile, she agrees. They both stand up from the table and drop their bowls off at the automated wash station. Robotic arms grasp the bowls and pass them down the line in a series of disinfecting routines.

“So tell me,” Anna says as they walk down another bleached white corridor intent on aimlessly exploring this oasis that the Souri have come to call home. “How did Jaya become an operative? I thought she was studying medicine.”

Tal laughs as the memory comes to him of the day Jaya had surprised him with the news. He’d responded at first with surprise, spilling the cup of coffee he’d been drinking. That had quickly been replaced by a mild frustration that she’d throw away a chance at a normal life so frivolously. “I’d like to say it was because she wanted to be just like her dear old brother. Truth is, I have you to blame for her change of occupation.”


“Yeah, she idolizes you. The moment the news headlines titled you The Avenger of Azariah, she knew she wanted to join up.”

“The way you talked about her, I never figured she’d be the type to be sucked in by propaganda.”

“It wasn’t so much who you were, as it was what you did. She began looking into all your missions she could find and saw all the good you did; the people you’d saved.”

Anna looked down guiltily. “How does she feel about the other things I did?” She inquires in reference to her assassination of the infamous terrorist.

He shrugs. “I’m not sure. I never really pressed for her opinion.”

“But she likes being an operative?”

“As far as I can tell she’s adjusted to it pretty well. Rahn’s really cracked down on keeping us separate from The Council’s interest, and focused on helping protect humanity as a whole.”

“What about you? How are you holding up?”

He pauses, takes a moment to think about his words very carefully. “I’m okay. There was a while, after you left, when I was in a dark place. I was angry, spent a few nights fighting again, both in and out of the ring. That was one of the good things about Jaya becoming a member of Orothros, it gave me a reason to get myself together. I didn’t trust anyone else to watch out for her.”

He waits for a response, but nothing comes. Her mind seems to have wandered off again. Most likely it pertains to this unknown individual who she anxiously hopes will contact her. A small sliver of jealousy edges its way into his thoughts as he considers the prospect of her having found a new paramour over their extended time apart. It wasn’t unreasonable, didn’t even blame her if it was the case since it had been five years ago. Except, I saw how she looked when Allie ambiguously mentioned Jaya to her, someone that’s moved on doesn’t react like that, do they? Tal starts to ask about her mystery friend when they notice a man dressed in scrubs, with a five o’clock shadow and unkempt hair coming their way.

As they get closer they notice the man’s tired expression and weary eyes. He on the other hand barely notices them as he briskly walks by, but then he stops, turns, and looks upon them with a mixture of confusion. He gazes at them, his eyes blinking furiously as he cautiously walks back towards them.

“Tell me you’re real, and that the lack of sleep and increased stress haven’t made me go mad.”

“Wouldn’t a hallucination tell you what you want to hear?” Tal responds to the frazzled man.

The mocking question fails to connect with the man, his only reply is to continue staring at the two operatives. After a moment of awkward silence Tal realizes his attempt at humor has sailed straight over the man’s head. “Sorry, bad joke. I’m Tal, this is Anna. We’re from Orothros.”

“Oro…? Oh right, right, Shyara mentioned she’d brought you two to our humble abode. Are you finding your way around alright?”

“As well as can be expected,” Tal confirms.

“Good, good. Well, if you excuse me I’m a bit busy so I must get back to it,” the doctor apologizes.

“Actually, doctor…” Anna begins.

“Reed. Martin Reed.”

“Doctor Reed, I was hoping I could ask you something.”

“We can talk on the way if you’d like.”

“That’s fine.”

Tal moves to follow them when Allie alerts him that Jaya is attempting to contact him.

“You two go on ahead I’ll catch up later,” he announces when Anna looks back curiously. She nods and picks up her pace to match the doctor’s.

“Hey, how’s everything going?” Jaya’s voice asks over the speaker of his Bracer.

“We’re doing okay. Is everything alright?” he inquires.

“Yeah. Repair crew says they’re just about done, another hour or so.”

“Great, we’ll start heading back soon.”

“Good, it’s getting surprisingly lonely with just me and Lanie.” Lanie was the name she’d given the tactical A.I. program assigned to her. Like Allie, she ran all her equipment, and most importantly controlled the nanites in her bloodstream. Without the A.I. Orothros operatives wouldn’t be able to heal as quickly, nor be as capable of the superhuman feats for which they were known. While a “retired” operative like Anna could still outperform other humans with ease, she’d struggle against more physiologically advanced races.

“Talk to you later.” He begins to sign off when a thought occurs to him. “Hey, J, while I was resting, did you notice Anna acting strangely?”

“Not really, but I’d think you’d know her better than I would?”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” he mumbles.


“Nothing, see you soon,” he assures her before setting off to find Anna.

After a quick message to Anna informing her he’s heading towards the garage, he continues to explore the facility alone. Lengthy Souri occasionally roam the sterile halls, their long hair flows behind them like angelic wings. They walk with a grace he’s unaccustomed to seeing in the species. Souri in inhabited worlds seem broken, shorter almost. Normally dressed in dusty rags, and begging for scraps, their presence is barely acknowledged by the majority of the intergalactic populace. Here they have power and majesty, they wear bright colors, and freshly cleaned clothes.

On his way there he stops at the courtyard with the large, snow-covered tree. It’s really very pretty the way the snow sits on its icy branches like white leaves. The whole thing is so serene he almost can’t believe he’s still on the same planet. Up until that point, seeing the beauty that could be found on this world, he’d felt like everything had been trying to kill him. Souri children, their hair barely pokes out from beneath the caps covering their heads, play unperturbed beneath the lone tree. Thick coats insulate their thin frames, though they seem unconcerned as they sling white powder at each other. Bright red leaves contrast against the white surroundings. One child begins to climb the tree, the vibrant petals lazily float to the floor with each branch they pull themselves onto. Then, with arms splayed outwards, he drops down into the thick snow beneath.

When he gets to the garage he finds Shyara placing a new windshield into the vehicle that was damaged on the supply run. She’s a bit more dressed down than their previous encounter. Her long heavy coat and gloves are set lazily atop stacked spare parts. She’s dressed in a grey tank top that ends an inch above her waist and black sweats. Her clothes are covered in blue and black vehicular fluids. She squeezes an adhesive into the empty grooves, then carefully sets the new windshield into place. Upon seeing her lift the heavy glass paneling as if it was made of cardboard, Tal realizes how glad he is that the Souri don’t have a military presence. For all their beauty and elegance, they’re deceptively strong. That’s probably why so many Souri refugees find jobs doing manual labor.

“You do this all by yourself?” he asks once she climbs off the hood of the vehicle.

“Sometimes. My partner was part of the group that got wounded by the Sabear. So for the moment it’s just me.”

“Sounds rough. I thought Beirn was your partner?”

She shakes her head. “I was actually just helping her out. She’s more of a hunter than a mechanic.”

Anna will be here shortly, Allie notifies him.

The echo of footsteps rapidly approaching signals Tal to Anna’s arrival. She looks flushed, her breaths come quickly as if she’d run the entire way here.

“Anxious to leave?” he teases.

“Hell yes,” she answers with a relieved smile between breaths.

“It okay if we leave now?” he asks the Souri mechanic.

“No problem, I’ll let the repair team know we’re heading back, just give me a moment to get one of the other vehicles and we’ll head out.”

A minute later an engine roars to life, and they’re back out amongst the ice and the wind.