Aretherra Volume One Triplett Assassins Deployed

Triplett Assassins

Helioq surveyed the black expanse of space from the comfort of his command pod in Zonoz. He squinted and searched beyond the outermost edges of the colony, where a billion stars felt like his neighbors and distant relatives at once. This strange dichotomy has fascinated him since he was young. Back then, his evenings were spent climbing his way closer to the heavens.

On downtown rooftops, Helioq could only dream of a life among the stars. Perched on the edge of his favorite building, the stillness and peace of the night were his and his alone. But his dreams of flying away from his home and launching his way to the stars, were only that, a distant and unattainable dream.

Until one night, when from the sky came a brilliant white light. That night Helioq’s life was forever changed when Xyvaen appeared in his boyhood sky. Ever since Helioq has served and lived with Xyvaen, his dreams fully realized. For over one hundred years Helioq has lived among the stars.

He was a small boy when Apophydon first visited his family, who lived as outcast Phyrros crammed into a two-room hut by the shore of a fishing village on the southern coast of Ahcuos. Helioq’s father, constantly struggling to provide for his wife and five children happily agreed to Apophydon’s offer to take young Helioq as his apprentice. When faced with not seeing Helioq ever again, his parents were joyful at the prospect of one of their children escaping the hardship of their existence. On that day Helioq left everything behind to follow and learn at Apophydon’s side. He did not come home again until he was a grown man, having learned that his father had passed away. When he returned Helioq bought his mother and siblings a great house and land and left his family with enough wealth to last them the rest of their natural lives.

Before leaving his family for the last time, Helioq asked for only one thing in return, a family heirloom that was given to his father from his grandfather. It had been in their family for many generations, it was the only object of value that the family owned, and had greater monetary value than the hut that it hung in for all of those years. Helioq’s mother initially hung it over the fireplace in the living room of their new home, as it had a similar place in the old hut, but she did not object when he asked her for it before he departed. Before he left his family for the last time, Helioq looked up at the mirror over the fireplace before taking it down to pack for his journey. He saw his reflection staring back at him and imagined the many generations who had also seen themselves in the same glass. To this day Helioq is thankful that his mother let him have the mirror, it hangs on the wall of his quarters, one of the many pods that makes up the space colony.

On this day Helioq turns from the viewport window to look into his family mirror and sees the exact same reflection looking back at him as he saw from his mother’s living room over a thousand years ago. A reflection of a face untouched by time, unaffected by the passing of years, unfazed by his deeds, unaltered by his many voyages through space and undaunted by what he must do next.

Three short beeps sounded out from behind Helioq on the opposite end of the room from where he stood in front of the antique mirror. The beeping was quickly followed by a rapid knocking on the other side of his door. Helioq smile because he knew that it could only be one person, the only person he knew that insisted on knocking after pressing the entry request button, it was Kuenioq. Helioq turned,

“You may enter Kuenioq.” Helioq announced. The door slid open revealing Kuenioq standing at attention. “Get in here,” Helioq insisted with a smile, “I told you that when he’s not on station, you do not have to greet me like that, I’m your father, you can relax.”

Kuenioq entered the room, the door automatically closing behind him. Kuenioq walked to the center of the room and stood at attention again. “All is ready for the mission, they are waiting for your orders.” Kuenioq reported rigidly with an air of playfulness and a smile. Helioq raised an eyebrow and responded with a short laugh.

“Seriously?” Helioq asked.

“No, Sir, Father, I’m just messing around” Replied Kuenioq, looking past his father to the mirror hung on the wall behind him. Helioq took notice, his head cocked to the side, questioning what his son with a look.

“What is it, are you looking at me, or?” Helioq wondered.

“No, it’s the mirror. I still can’t believe he let you have that here. I mean here, on the station, when it’s only supposed to be everything essential to the mission. You know?” Kuenioq and Helioq both sat down in a chair opposite each other, Kuenioq facing his father and the mirror and continued, “You’ve told me all about the mirror, why it is important to you, but you never told me how you got him to approve having the mirror up here in space, in the colony.”

“That is a long story, one that I will tell you after you get back from your mission on Aretherra.” Helioq informed his son in a serious tone.

“Mission? What mission? The mission with the trip-?

“-Yes, Kuen, I need you, we need you to go with them. It is vital that we get this right, make things right. As it stands, after the incident with the medical bay, the loss from that event alone, plus something of very great value to him has been lost and we believe it is on the planet. We need you to be part of this mission and acquire out lost asset.” Helioq leaned forward and locked eyes with his son, speaking slowly and clearly, placing great emphasis on each word he said next. “I am counting on you. He is counting on you. Do not fail us. Should you fail, I will not be able to protect you from his wrath, should this mission result in failure.” Helioq softened his demeanour, attempting to convey the compassion he felt for Kuenioq, underneath the facade of leadership. “Do you understand?”

“Yes father. I will not fail you.” Kuenioq replied keeping his eyes fixed upon his father’s. He wanted nothing more than to make his father proud and to come back victorious from his dangerous mission. He then walked to the opening door, about to leave his father’ chambers. From behind, Helioq addressed him as he was leaving.

“Kuen, I’ll see you in the hanger shortly. Go make sure your team is assembled and ready for departure.” Helioq called to his son.

“Yes sir.” Kuenioq marched down the corridor as the hatch closed behind him.

A short while later, as Helioq was alone and taking a lift down to the lowest level of the colony, where the hanger pods were located, power went out to the entire area. Helioq was trapped and motionless in a dark pill-shaped box, suspended between two levels and unable to get the lift operational again. Before attempting to connect with someone for help, Helioq was no longer alone, a tall hooded man appeared from nowhere, standing with his back to the doors, facing him, wrapped in the darkness that surrounded them both. As if the lack of light and darkness itself gave birth to this figure, this would be enough to frighten most to the point of collapse. But not Helioq, he was unafraid and accustomed to this man, to his strange ways and unusual customs. This was his leader, his commander, his king and even if he found cause and case to question this man, he would never dare to do such a thing.

“Lord, what brings you here? How may I serve you?” Helioq humbly spoke with a bow. His commander stood in silence, a towering presence whose hood brushed against the ceiling of the lift. With his eyes adjusting to the lack of light Helioq could see finally see more than the darkness that surrounded them. The king’s menacing silhouette was outlined by a cast of soft blue illumination that surrounded the sliding doors. In addition, a coin-sized singular beam of yellow light pierced through a circular hole from above their heads. Slicing through the darkness the amber beam quadrupled in size before focusing it’s spot light upon the king’s left hand. Helioq’s eyes remained fixed upon his leader’s head, as he attempted to maintain eye contact with eyes he was unable to see. In spite his obligation to keep his focus upon his master’s face Helioq could not help noticing his king’s left hand, where his thumb rotated a gold ring, set with a large dark blue sapphire, around his middle finger.

With his question still unanswered, Helioq became nervous and anxious considering what merited this peculiar and unforeseen encounter. Unable to resist the incursion of queries racing to the forefront of his panicked mind, Helioq asked himself if he had done something wrong? Was he in trouble? Why did his king leave Aretherra and return to Zonoz earlier than expected? Did the king notice that he was looking at his ring? Was that wrong? Helioq could still remember the day when the king ordered him to immediately space six of the king’s personal guard. Although he would never dare question such a command from his king, Helioq was troubled for days after he was forced to personally enter the override sequence on the computer terminal that opened the nearest airlock. Helplessly he watched as six of his friends were sucked out into the silent cold vacuum of space. He could see their frozen bodies drift away from the colony, like a toy boat drift away down a rushing stream, as if an invisible current swept them away from their leader who cast them out because one of them asked about the ring. It was merely an innocent and spontaneous observation, when the guard noticed that it looked like a ring he once saw his grandmother were in an old picture.

Helioq broke free from his wistful reveries realizing that he was being far too paranoid and tried to calm himself, choosing instead to wait for a response. “Lord, the mission is ready. Our assets are gathering as we speak. We await your command for deployment.” Helioq blurted out, unable to wait after all.

The king remained still, with his head held high he finally answered. “Tell me Helioq, is your son ready for this mission?” He didn’t wait for an answer and continued, “This mission is of the utmost importance, nothing else matters if this is not successful. This is why I tasked my triplet operatives for this occasion. Do you understand what must be accomplished, the full mission parameters?”

“Yes my lord, you commanded that the triplets will be deployed to the surface to find Tryn and bring her back to you. If she resists, if Tryn has no intention of completing her mission, their secondary orders are to capture and perform a complete cognitive reset. Tryn will then be able to complete her mission.” Helioq quickly responded, reciting the king’s commandments to the word.

“And if she will not complete her mission after a full reset? If she resists being escorted back to Zonoz?” The king asked.

“The third and final objective, if all else fails, the triplets have full authority to execute Tryn at their discretion.” Helioq said, reciting the king’s wishes, although behind his carefully constructed facade, inside he was filled with conflict. He knew how important Tryn was to the king, how extremely difficult it was to give the order to have her killed. Helioq too felt saddened by the very thought of losing Tryn. He was with the king when she was created, she was very special to them both. He hoped that she would be amicable when approached by the triplets and his son, Kuenioq.

“Helioq, it is vital that she completes her mission. Only Tryn can do this and all of our fates are bound to hers because of this.” The king gravely responded.

“Yes my lord, I know.” The lift jerked into motion, Helioq looked down at his feet as he steadied himself and when he looked up the king was gone. The lights came on and the lift continued down the shaft again toward the hangar pod on the lowest level of the colony.

As Helioq stepped into the hangar he couldn’t help thinking about everything he just experienced and what had brought them to the precipice of this unprecedented situation. Never before had one of their creations acted that way, exhibiting an innate drive to rebel against the structured order of their program, showing an advanced intelligence guided by self preservation and a fire-forged will of an individual. Tryn’s actions that day, leading to death and destruction, the likes the colony has not seen in a long time, were the product of her own design. Helioq was the only person besides his king who knew that Tryn was the most advanced, the most important and the most special life form ever created in Zonoz. Although Helioq knew of Tryn’s special status and that she was different, unique, and more advanced that others before her, he did not know why. Only the king knew what she was made of or rather, who she was made from.

Helioq stood a ways back from where the triplets were making final preparations for their journey. Two of them were sharpening various blades and sharp weapons, as the third was practicing her maneuvers adjacent to the others. Kuenioq sat on a large case holding a sniper rifle, his weapon of choice, and was carefully observing the three dangerous women that he would be joining for this hazardous mission. None of them noticed Helioq standing behind them, lost in his own thoughts, he wasn’t really watching them either. Helioq was very curious why Tryn was so special, whose genetic code was sequenced into a special hybrid construct that made her so advanced. He wondered if she was merely the newest version of the soldier code they had nearly perfected with the creation of the three assassine triplets he was looking at. But there were signs, whispers and hidden documentation that Helioq saw parts of, that Tryn was something else, made from someone, possibly more than one other persons. His best guess was that Tryn was made from the king’s own DNA and someone else that was kept so secret, no documentation ever existed. Helioq resigned himself to the fact that he may never know from what, or rather from whom, Tryn was made.

The three operatives were physically identical in every way, even their core personalities, dispositions and skillsets were the same. However in the eye of their creator, small differentiations could be detected. One such difference Helioq knew too well, Sahlux was always practicing and perfecting her forms, continually preparing for her next fight. Somehow she either lacked the confidence of the other two, or was a perfectionist who believed she could never achieve her best, but kept trying. Silix and Sylox were more relaxed, often they exhibited signs of overconfidence, an evolved arrogance exceeding their advanced abilities and skillsets. The original intention was to create three identical women who would carry out tactical missions for the king, better known as the triplet assassines. Helioq marveled at how he could help create life, but often the end result evolved into something beyond anything he could have imagined. Instead of the triplets being the same and fighting as one equal unit, they all became something more than their original design. In only a week’s time after they awoke for the first time, Silix assumed the role of leader among the triplets and both Sylox and Sahlux followed her without question.

Helioq knew that he should have learned from the triplet experiment when they were making Tryn. The secrecy surrounding her creation alone should have gave him pause or provided him with the evidence to question the king’s genetic design choices. But Helioq was like every other citizen on Zonoz with regard to his unmitigated fear of questioning, much less challenging the king’s actions and choices. The king’s power was absolute and anyone who dared to challenge his authority most often met a fate of death. Even as the king’s second in command, Helioq would not speak his mind when Tryn was being designed and created. In light of the catastrophe surrounding her escape from Zonoz, he wished that he had said something at the time, at least ask that they delay her full awakening until she was properly vetted.

Moments later the triplets and Kuenioq were standing in front of the shuttle, which was packed and ready for departure. Helioq stood before them finishing his usual inspirational speech about making Zonoz proud and not failing the king. Tryn was on everyone’s minds this day, especially in this moment as this mission was not only vital, it may be the most important and dangerous one ever attempted. She was a complete unknown and while they all knew what Tryn did before before she left the colony through one of the doors in the portal room, they did not know how she did these things. Most of the people of Zonoz, Helioq included, believed that Tryn was a victim of a series of strange and unfortunate accidents, not the result of using her latent powers and abilities. Only the king thought otherwise, warning Helioq that Tryn was to be feared at all times and should be approached with extreme caution.

Helioq watched as the egg-shaped ship left the hangar bay, out past the defense perimeter, dipping out of sight, headed to the planet below. It would be a few hours before Kuenioq and the triplets touched down on Aretherra, more than double the normal time for a ship to travel from orbit to the surface of the planet. The additional time was allotted in order to run a full battery of planetwide scans. Like the piloting and navigation, the scanning was fully automated. In fact, all systems onboard the shuttle were completely automated, pre-programmed and monitored from a team of scientists working from the colony. The shuttle would circle the planet once, after they were in atmosphere and then run scans and surveys of all possible locations where Tryn might be hiding. Helioq was very quiet as he made his way back to his quarters within a pod on the highest level of the colony. He feared for the success of the mission, that Tryn would be brought back alive and especially for the safety of his son, Kuenioq.

On board the shuttle was a different matter, the triplets laughed and sang loudly for the first half of the journey. Kuenioq sat in a seat near the front, keeping himself as far as possible from the rowdy three women taking up the back two rows of seats. The shuttle was a small craft that could accommodate twenty passengers and two pilots who sat in a small cabin above. In the lower cabin there were ten rows of seats, two on each side of a middle aisle. After a couple hours the triplets calmed down, Silix and Sylox nodded off and Sahlux made her way to the front row to sit directly in front of Kuenioq. She turned and propped her arms and head over the seat in front of him and smiled.

“Hi, I’m Sahlux” Sahlux asked, still smiling, making Kuenioq suspicious of her intentions. He continued to look out the window at a strange view, instead of the starry black of space, he could see only blue in every direction.

“Yes. Why do you ask?” Kuenioq answered, darting his eyes to her for a brief moment and then back to the window.

“We were curious, that’s all. Isn’t it funny to think about all of us living in the same colony, but we never really see you, except in passing or at formal occasions like funerals and such? Now you are coming with us on our mission, we just thought it funny. That’s all.” Sahlux continued to be pleasant and kind, almost too pleasant for his liking. He did not trust her, or any of the triplets.

Kuenioq turned and addressed Sahlux directly. “Are you implying something about my place on this team, the reason I’m coming on this mission?”

“No, not me. Sylux believes that your father is the only reason that you’re here, but as for Silix and myself, we know that’s not true. I mean, who are we to judge family influence, we don’t care. As long as you do your job when we need you, that’s all that matters.” Sahlux smiled, believing she had just smothered his accusation. Kuenioq shook his head and looked out the window again.

“What have you heard about this Tryn character? We’ve heard all sorts of rumors and we don’t know what is true and what is fiction?” Sahlux asked in a more serious tone. Kuenioq rolled his eyes at her questions. He knew she was pining for insider information, thinking that his father may have shared some secret or salacious detail about Tryn of which no one else is privy.

“Honestly I don’t know any more than you do about Tryn. I know she’s like you, well, mostly. I know that she woke for the first time, things exploded, people died and somehow she escaped through the old portal room, which was thought to be impossible. That is about the total of what I know.” Kuenioq answered truthfully.

“Seriously. Wow, we thought your father may have shared something about Tryn with you, the incident, something. Hmm.” Sahlux looked down at her hands and was clearly disappointed. Kuenioq sat watching her, wondering why this was so important to her and the other two.

Sahlux’s hand disappeared behind the seat back to return a second later with a large, frightening knife. Her other hand then dipped down to retrieve a small, smooth stone from her pocket. Kuenioq couldn’t look away as she expertly pushed the stone up one side and back down the other, sharpening her blade with care and precision. He looked upon her actions with wonder. It wasn’t the simple act of sharpening her knife that made him curious, but the reason behind the act itself. As his father’s assistant for many years, Kuenioq had learned much about the people that were created on Zonoz. Each one was physically, mentally and emotionally built with care and expertise to perform a needed role in the colony.

Through proprietary cutting edge bioengineering and genetic design, pioneered by their lead scientist and king; every facet of these created beings was designed, tailored, constructed and perfected so they could flawlessly function and assimilate into any situation, in any society, in any environment. Each one was created to serve a specific role, to perform a unique function, consisting a primary core set of attributes, skills, even beliefs. These were easy to program before creation and were easy to understand. But the secondary sets, each one unique and special to every created being, were much more difficult to comprehend. The secondary sets of values consisting of anything else that was not engineered, designed through genetic manipulation and programmed into each being, evolved naturally. Because of this these secondary mental and emotional traits were unpredictable and remained a mystery. Helioq told Kuenioq once that the king liked this unknown factor, saying that it made each of his creations unique and special.

Kuenioq thought of this while he watched Sahlux sharpen her knife, the same knife that he saw her sharpening during their pre-flight and more recently while the triplets were singing in the back of the shuttle. Her constant need to prepare for the next battle, train for the next fight, was clearly part of this unknown factor, traits that evolved from her design. The triplets were created for a sole purpose, they were made to fight for Zonoz, to kill for the king. They were genetically designed and built from the traits, attributes and skillsets sourced from a variety of the most accomplished and ruthless soldiers, warriors and killers throughout history. Due to their design, all of the triplet’s abilities were essentially pre-programmed, granting them instant access to everything they needed the moment they were awaken for the first time. Kuenioq knew that they needed no training, no practice, no constant vigilance and preparation for their next mission, for their next fight. Like a system designed for one purpose, with special code written to accomplish a function that worked every time a button was pressed or a lever pulled, the triplets were ready from day one and remained ready in every moment since. However, at every spare and quiet moment, the triplets readied for their next mission, always training, always preparing.

Sahlux smiled at her perfectly sharpened knife and put it and her stone away. Kuenioq smiled too, thinking that if this gave her a sense of satisfaction and a little happiness, what harm could come from her secondary traits?

“I know you thought that my father may have spoken to me about Tryn, that he may have shared some information or secret about her, but he didn’t. Tell me, why do you want to know about Tryn? Why are you so curious?” Kuenioq asked. Sahlux paused, her smile fading away and she looked deep into his dark eyes. She squinted and then raised her eyebrows as if she considered something, but wasn’t going to share.

“Did you ever see Tryn? See a picture of her?” Sahlux asked in a light tone. Her face, devoid of emotion, was too dark for her words and tone of voice. Kuenioq’s face became serious too.

“Surprisingly no. All information about Tryn was classified at the highest level. Only the king, my father, and a couple lab technicians were privy to data surrounding her and her creation. Likewise, she was hidden in a separate, secret lab, on the other side of Zonoz, away from the other labs. I was heading there once, but my father sent his guards and stopped me. He said that if I continued to ask about Tryn or tried to see her, that my life would be in danger.” Kuenioq replied.

“The king?” Sahlux asked.

“Yes, of course. For some reason she is very special to him. More special than anyone ever created on Zonoz. That is the extent of what I know of her.” Kuenioq stated and then looked up at the ceiling.

Sahlux looked out the window and noticed that they were surrounded by blinding white. It was a harsh light, but soft at the same time. They were descending through a massive cloud, having just entered the lower atmosphere of Aretherra. Kuenioq took note as well and turned from the window flashing a big smile He had never been to Aretherra and as far as he knew, he had never been away from Zonoz. Like so many others from the orbiting colony, he was born and lived his entire life so far in the zero-g of space.

A slamming loud thud radiated from below the shuttle, followed by a whooshing sound and sharp crack from the port side of the ship. The shuttle had lost all forward momentum and began to corkscrew downward toward the planet.

Sahlux was helplessly tossed against the ceiling of the fuselage, while Kuenioq remained buckled in his seat, unable to help her, unable to move or gain any purchase against the massive effects of the g-forces weighing him down. It was all he could do to look up at Sahlux pinned above him and sliding against the ceiling towards the back.

“Help…me!” Sahlux screamed out, hoping that Kuenioq might somehow help her. But there was no help coming for either of them. Kuenioq wondered why he didn’t hear from the other two triplets in the back. No sooner had they crossed his mind a fierce unGodly noise exploded into Sahlux and Kuenioq’s ears. And suddenly the blinding light from outside was everywhere, only to be outdone by the rushing of air, the skin-pulling suction pulling behind them. Sahlux had a firm grip on a ceiling fixture and was able to begin pulling herself toward the front of the ship again, still pinned against the ceiling, still helpless as ever. The ship continued to drop like a castaway stone into the calm waters of a shallow pond.

Kuenioq frantically fumbled with the buckles that secured his safety belts, it was the only thing keeping him fastened to the sinking ship which was pummeling exponentially faster with every passing second toward their inevitable demise. Black smoke billowed from the port exterior of the shuttle, clinging to the fringes of a plume of flames jetting out from the wing. The black cloud looked as if it were chasing the brilliant blood orange inferno. As the ship barreled its way down, the dark grey spiral of smoke traced the perilous path that the craft took, all set against the infinity of pastel blue. Inside the shuttle, chaos reigned throughout the cabin, as debris and shards of glass and metal, an entire host of random other objects soared dangerously in every direction. Anything that wasn’t anchored down pre-flight was weaponized by gravity and could at any moment impale Kuenioq or Sahlux.

Sahlux was still pinned against the ceiling, but had slid toward the aft of the fucilage, away from Kuenioq’s immediate line of sight. Feeling the extreme windsheer below her feet, she knew she must do something soon, or she would be sucked out into the sky like her sisters were. She moved enough to look down the length of her body and gasped to see what she had already assumed to be true. The entire aft section of the shuttle was gone!

Sahlux could hear the faint sound of Kuenioq yelling for her from his seat near the front of the cabin. However the noise from the rushing of air, the howling of wind, the metallic creaking of the ship nearly at it’s breaking point blocked out her ability to decifer his words. Neither Sahlux or Kuenioq knew how much time they had left. Any second could be their last, as they both would reach the point of impact. It didn’t matter if they crashed on land or in the sea, having reached terminal velocity and fallen thousands of feet, either place would result in total annihilation of everything.

Sahlux knew this was the moment to make a move. If she could quickly reach the storage bins above the seats below her, she might be able to grab a parachute in time. She was still pinned against the ceiling, but the gravimetric force keeping her in place was much less than before. As she reached for the bin on the starboard side of the cabin, she noticed movement up toward the front. Kuenioq was out of his buckled seat and now pressed against the ceiling several feet away. As she raised her hand to wave at him, hoping to signal for him to attempt the same as her, she was sucked out the back of the shuttle up into the sky.

Sahlux tumbled violently into the empty sky, end over end, foot over head, swept away in the violent vortex of wind. She toppled through the sky, out of control, she flew further and further away from the falling shuttle with every dizzying rotation of her body. Far below, amid the whoosh and muted crackle of the sinking ship, Sahlux swore she could hear Kuenioq desperately crying her name, pleading for her help, begging for a miracle. With her body caught in the slipstream of the shuttle, black smoke swirled and choked her senses, shrouding her in a cloud of darkness amid the bright blue wash of the middle day sky. Sahlux was helpless and disoriented, fatalistic and fearful.

Falling to her death, the spirit crushing desperation and paralyzing fear seeped out from the darkest places of her soul. Her immediate and instinctive emotions consumed her at the core, the agonizing tip of a spear that boring its way through her heart, killing all hope and seizing the worst of her impulses. The windsheer burned her exposed skin, the rushing wind was deafening and the vortex of smoke blinded her. She was now falling through the spiral of smoke left behind by the sinking front half of the shuttle. With all hope now lost, with imminent death now her only expectation, the unexpected happened.

With far more force than the wind chafing her skin and screaming in her ears, a sense of calm swept over her. It warmed her body and dulled her senses, all pain faded into the background and to the foreground a replacement took control of her body, mind and soul. Still she knew that her path was certain and her destiny would be the same as the nose section of the shuttle, the same as Kuenioq. Sahlux would soon leave this reality and pass into the next phase of existence.

Peace, like a lazy summer river, took control of her mind, body and soul. Letting go of the fear, pushing aside all doubt, Sahlux opened her eyes and surveyed the infinite expanse of beauty surrounding her and she looked upon the ground, sky, and out to the spaces beyond imagination, far beyond the edge of the atmosphere. Involuntarily her senses expanded, stretching, scanning the depths of her feelings, opening the hidden doors that were locked by her creator. She peered into unknown rooms of her mind, gazed upon cloaked vistas of her soul. Searching throughout the endless construct of her own soul, for the first time in her existence, Sahlux discovered a new realm within her own consciousness. Sahlux felt space and time pause around her and as she took a deep breath, she inhaled the possibility of the moment. A radical nexus between what she knew as absolute and the a space between known spaces, Sahlux now knew that her death was no longer imminent. For the first time since she awoke, she was in control of her own fate.

In her state of blissful revelation, Sahlux noticed that she was no longer flipping through the air and somehow her rate of descent had slowed as well. In fact she had effectively slowed her fall to the point of remaining in a fixed position in the sky. Unfortunately the shuttle continued its nosedive toward the ground. Somehow she had taken flight and could control her body’s susceptibility to the effects of gravity. Sahlux was flying! There wasn’t a moment to spare, no respite to ponder her newfound ability. She had only one thought, a single and clear drive, he had to save Kuenioq before the shuttle crashed into the ground!

Sahlux dove headfirst toward the crashing shuttle, knowing full well that closing the gap between herself and an object as large and as heavy as the front half of the shuttle was an inconceivable feat. No matter how daunting the task was before her, no matter that it was mathematically and scientifically impossible, she was convinced otherwise. Faster and faster she few, gaining on the plummeting shuttle through sheer willpower alone. The more she wanted to reach her goal, the faster she flew. Sahlux’s speed rendered the shards of glass raining up from the crumbling ship completely invisible. Nevertheless, they sliced into her exposed skin, pelting against her face and outstretched hands. Sahlux held her left hand out before her eyes, trying to shield as much as she could from blinding her. Although she felt every strike and slice against her body, as blood trickled away, carried by the wind sweaping over her speeding body, she felt no pain. No longer was the wind blinding enough, but eyes watered and gasped for relief. Sahlux reached the jagged back edge of the craft, where the aft section had broken off, and soared straight and true, down into the cabin toward the front, toward Kuenioq, now wedged between the baggage bulkhead and the windows.

Sahlux could see the ground, or rather, an endless expanse of trees, coming up fast through the windows in the bow of the ship. The approaching planet was growing impatient, ever larger by the moment, as details of the surface clarified with every fraction of a second. She reached Kuenioq, and to her surprise found him passed out and wedged between a seat top and the shuttle wall, with his face pressed against the cabin window. Seeing as he was unresponsive and limp, unable to aid in their shared escape, Sahlux grabbed Kuenioq around his waist with one arm and held his arm with her other. She looked down and saw that the moment had arrived, the ship was about to hit the ground.

Without thinking she planted both feet against the tops of the seats and lunged forward toward the open back of the broken shuttle. A split second later they were surrounded by brilliant daylight, flying up into the air away from the crash. Their feet barely cleared the wreckage when the shuttle hit the top of the forest. With a deafening smash, hundreds of branches, followed by tree trunks cracked and splintered into a million shards of wood. The following two seconds were a complete blur to Sahlux as she fought to lift them high enough to avoid the heat and flames from the explosion. The inferno licked at their heels as they flew up and away from the catastrophe below. Sahlux could feel her head throbbing and her muscles aching, as she was consumed with pain from the weight of carrying Kuenioq. She almost fainted from the physical toll pressed upon her body, Sahlux looked straight up into the sky and focused on only one thing: her fight to put enough space between themselves and the devastation.

The mushrooming cloud of smoke and fire chased them into the sky. No matter how fast she flew, how much she willed their rapid ascent, Sahlux felt like every inch she and Kuenioq gained in their escape was easily eclipsed by and eaten up by the angry fireball emanating from the crash. In that desperate moment, Sahlux felt that her rescue of Kuenioq may have been in vane. If she wasn’t able to out fly the gaining heat and fire, the red hot shrapnel zooming past them could strike a fatal blow at any moment. No sooner had she visualized this possibility, a soaring scrap of searing metal plunged into the back of Kuenioq’s leg. An alarm called out from a monitor and control interface mounted on the arm of his flight suit. Sahlux looked down and saw flashing the green and red lights blinking back and forth on Kuenioq’s forearm. An automated voice then called from both of their earpieces.

“Warning! Warning! Your suit has been damaged. Loss of pressure is imminent! Contamination is imminent! Suit occupant has sustained an injury in the posterior thigh section. Please seek medical attention. Please report to tactical field support for suit repair.”

Kuenioq woke with a start, gasping and coughing, utterly shocked to find himself several hundred feet and climbing over the massive explosion. He looked up at Sahlux with a look of doubt and confusion, his arms immediately grabbing hold of Sahlux’s waist with an iron strong grasp. In the hysteria of the moment, Kuenioq hadn’t noticed the pain or blood loss from his injury, instead he was focused on the overwhelming strangeness of their impossible situation. As the spiral of black smoke which followed their shuttle to the ground was dissipating and being carried off by the wind, a new thick gray column of smoke was rising from the fires below. Kuenioq attempted to open his eyes enough to make contact with Sahlux and ask her a question.

“Did I miss something?” Kuenioq yelled out to Sahlux. She looked down to him for a brief moment and then back again to the sky above.

“I wouldn’t believe it myself, if it wasn’t happening to me!” Sahlux called down to Kuenioq. “I’ll tell you more after we’re safely on the ground. I need to concentrate. First time and all, you know.”

Having cleared the immediate danger from the crash and subsequent explosion, Sahlux had leveled off and was now doing her best to attempt a graceful descent and landing. As she looked down and surveyed the ground below, she noticed that Keueioq looked pale and his eyes were half shut. Sahlux worried that he might be losing a lot of blood, that his injury was much worse than she assumed.

“Kuen, Kuenioq, you with me? You present?” Sahlux called out as she began to navigate her way through the canopy of the dense green forest below.

“Present and ready sir! When do we attack?” Kuenioq responded halfheartedly. His reply greatly concerned Sahlux and she wondered if Kuenioq was mentally fit for this mission at this time. One fact was certain, he had been badly injured, though the extent of his condition was unknown at that time, it was growing more and more obvious that he might be unfit for duty based on his physical condition alone. Sahlux became greatly distressed and worried about the integrity of their mission. The shuttle was gone, her sisters were gone, their ride home was gone, and now, the only person on whom she could rely was gravely injured. That all too common feeling of dread swept over her, devouring any hope she had, depriving her of the will to live.

After managing to point their feet in the general direction of the ground, she did her best to avoid the crown of sharp branches sitting on top of the treetops. It seemed as if the forest below, the unseen world they needed to enter, had formed a defensive barrier, like the moat and high walls of a great castle. The top of the canopy was dangerous and formidable and would tear them apart, if they were not able to circumvent the branches to the best of their ability. Sahlux gave her very best effort during the descent through the crown of sharp and piercing branches. Kuenioq was still barely able to move or prove to be much of a help, so he simply held on tight and they both just hoped for the best. Sahlux and Kuenioq were both were scraped, jabbed, stuck by a myriad of branches as they slowly passed through the crown of the trees’ canopy. Sahlux felt as if a vicious company of trees were bent keeping them out of the forest below. It almost seemed like there was more going on then a thick nest of intertwined limbs and branches.

“If I didn’t know better, I would think that these trees were acting of their own accord, trying to keep us out. It’s as if they are sentient, acting with a sense of purpose, invoking their own will against us.” Kuenioq said quietly in a weak voice. He tried to shake off the pain, to think of anything else, but as the branches bombarded them and only added to the injuries he obtained from the wreckage of the shuttle.

“I was thinking the same thing. No matter what we try and any whole in the canopy we find, the trees seem to be blocking us at every turn.” She called back, almost yelling, given the extremely close proximity to her in the moment.

Together, they fought their way through into the ancient forest. Having survived the treacherous battle through the twenty feet of treetop canopy, something entirely different awaited them just below the forest ceiling. United by purpose they survived and together they looked in awe, with their hearts racing as they floated down to the moss-covered forest floor. Sahlux and Kuenioq were surrounded by a whole new world spreading out in the lush green land that stood before their eyes.

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