Click to Enlarge

Between World and Space
Click one of the above links to purchase an eBook.

ISBN-10: 1-55404-413-8
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/SF
eBook Length: 273 Pages
Published: January 2007



From inside the flap

Sannaro, an orphaned Saili teenager turned ASTRISI warrior has his loyalties challenged when humans from his past now aligned with space pirates, launch an invasion on the Kumani, the ASTRISI home ship, a nomadic space faring people who raised him.

Between World and Space (Excerpt)


PROLOGUE

CALM BEFORE THE STORM

Giovano studied his yellowish metallic hand as he ate breakfast alone, then immediately went to work. He didn’t want to face his wife or his children for fear he’d lose his temper with them again. It was happening more frequently, and it dismayed him.

When he arrived at the plant, the mine foreman, Aldinon met him. Aldinon kept his men working with sheer stubbornness. Giovano was amazed that it didn’t seem to matter to his fellow workers; they even called the foreman Aldy.

"It’s happened again, Gio. Come, I’ll show you."

Giovano followed Aldinon to a clearing several yards from the seranium processing plant located on the hill just above the town.

Aldinon pointed to depressions in the ground.

Giovano bent down to study them. "Independents!"

"They did it clever using pads like our own. They stole more seranium last night. It’s no good going to the Interstellar Police, either. I’ve complained twice about these thefts, and we still don’t get help."

"We’re processing a load for that Independent ship Kumani. Tell the captain to inform his bunch to stop, or we’ll start fighting back."

"I know what you mean, Gio. The company is already griping about the money loss."

"So tell him." This job was getting him so frustrated. He had meant to leave this terrible planet many years ago. He wanted to see the worlds of the Alliance, not be stuck on Regalis and smell the same nauseating fumes of seranimite for the remainder of his one-hundred-fifty-year life. He was still young.

"The Kumani will be arriving midday tomorrow. In the meantime, you’ve got to control those panic-attacks of yours when you go into the mine. I can’t keep making excuses why you’re working in the office. You get yourself under control, or I’ll have to fire you, Gio. And I like you too much to have to do that."

"But the company doesn’t give transportation off-world. I can’t afford the fees. Damira would be devastated." Giovano shuddered. His mind went dark, and his eyes blurred with tunnel vision. The smell of seranium vapors inundated his senses, and his usual panic swept over him. He bolted down the hill away from the seranium processing plant.

Aldinon raced after him.

Giovano burst into the office, dropped into the chair, and held his pounding head.

Aldinon entered the office a little winded. "Your usual headache?"

"Yes," Giovano said through his hands. He sat bent over his desk holding his head with his lavender mid-back-length hair obscuring the Human standing above him.

"I’ll get you Catowsh."

Giovano only nodded.

Aldinon came back with two blue pills and a glass of water.

Giovano promptly downed them.

"What causes it, Gio?"

"I don’t know." He wiped the sweat from his brow. "It’s even happening at home now, I just get so angry. I lash out at my family, I shut Damira out of my mind, and I hit my kids without reason. Just a few days ago my son, Sannaro came to the table to see what I was snacking on. I got mad and smacked him."

"Well, he doesn’t have to eat every time you eat."

"He doesn’t, yet…I don’t know what’s happening to me. Can we call the Saili Embassy on Arcturus and ask for a doctor to come out here to see me?"

"Ah, Gio, I’m sure it’s not that extreme. Besides, the company may not like the added expense."

"At any rate, I want one."

"You sure?"

"I’m sure."

"All right, I’ll call Arcturus."

"Thanks, Aldy." As Giovano turned back to his work, the ground shook.

"Not another one!" Aldinon rushed out of the office.

Giovano gripped the desk as the horrible odor of seranimite assailed his nose, and rock dust erupted into the air. His vision dimmed. He felt his body hit the floor before he fainted.

Sannaro sat on the bottom step outside his house with his head bowed. He took comfort in his dark hair covering his face as he studied his hand. Why did his skin have to be yellow-gold? It stood out terribly in this town of pink- and brown-skinned Humans. It marked him nonhuman.

A soft furry touch tickled his leg.

’Hi, Nightwalker,’ Sannaro sent telepathically to the stray cat as he petted the black furry head.

Nightwalker thought an image of a small boy with shoulder-length black hair, high-slanted dark eyes and yellow-gold skin with a prominent frown on his face.

’Yeah, I’m sad. Mom is going to be mad at me. I lost my ball she bought me yesterday.’ Tears swelled from Sannaro’s eyes. He swiped them off his face.

Nightwalker thought of a big, brown-haired Human boy with a grimace on his face.

’Yeah, it was Jake Arlington again.’

Nightwalker thought about a yellow-skinned woman with silver hair flowing down her back.

’I can’t go to Mom. She’s getting tired of me complaining about what Jake did. She’s mad that Devakio broke the second stair. She doesn’t know how she’s going to buy a replacement slat of wood.’ Sannaro pulled a splinter from the hole in the stair above where he sat. ’And she’s really worried about Dad. She says Dad didn’t use to be so angry. I thought he was always that way.’ Sannaro shrugged.

Nightwalker thought an image of him spitting and slapping Jake with his claws.

’I wish. But, no matter what I do, I just can’t keep Jake from teasing me, Nightwalker. Maybe he’s right, I’m just a weak loser.’

Nightwalker stretched up to put his paws on Sannaro’s knee and nudged Sannaro’s chin. His thoughts were of Sannaro turning into his brawny, short father with lavender hair down to his shoulder blades.

’I wish I had Dad’s strength. Mom says I won’t get bulkier until I’m around ten. That’s four years from now. What am I going to do about Jake until then?’

The raised antennae-like nerve along the points of Sannaro’s ears began to itch. He received angry thoughts that whipped through his mind like a hot, dry wind. He jerked his head up.

His father approached the house from his walk home from work and bellowed in his head, ’Sannaro, what have I told you about that cat? We can’t feed ourselves, much less a stupid animal.’ He kicked at Nightwalker.

The cat twisted his supple body to avoid the foot before bounding through a hole in the porch skirting.

Sannaro cringed. ’He doesn’t want food. He’s just my friend. He finds enough food on his own.’

’He’s the one knocking down the trashcan. Next time I see that cat, I’ll wring his little neck.’ Giovano stomped up the stairs and slammed the screen door after him.

He sensed his mother’s anxiety as she met his father at the door. ’Giovano,’ she called cheerfully. ’You’re home.’

’Paycheck’s been suspended again. Mine 7 collapsed and the company isn’t going to pay until that shaft is recovered. How am I going to feed my family, much less get off this stinking planet?’

’You didn’t mean for us to get stuck here,’ his mother soothed as she always did.

’If it wasn’t for those damned kids, we would’ve been gone long ago.’

Sannaro heard the double bang of his father’s boots as they were thrown angrily to the floor.

’Don’t say that, Giovano. You can’t help it that the mining company barely pays you enough for us to live. Even without the children, it would be hard to make enough money to live on, much less save any.’

’I can’t even make children right. Look at them, all with black hair, they don’t even have proper hair color, and Sannaro’s black eyes, they’re creepy. I’m a hopeless loser. Even you think so.’

A chair clattered to the floor.

Sannaro bowed his head as a sob tore from his lips.

’No, it’s the company.’

’I know it is! Maybe I should just leave you and the kids and go off-world alone.’ He stomped across the floor.

’No,’ her mind cried even as she said the word out loud.

His father’s mind shut tight as the bedroom door slammed and the locking bolt clattered home.

"One day you’ll find a seranium pocket that’ll get you enough of a bonus for us to leave," his mother called out.

Giovano’s answer thundered through the wooden house. "That’s the day this place supernovas!"

"Giovano, don’t shut me out like this."

Sannaro heard the chair righted again and its familiar creak as his mother sat down.

He climbed the stairs and went inside.

His mother was leaning on the table, her head cradled in her hands.

Sannaro’s older sister Varanani and his brother Devakio came out of their bedrooms, where they had been doing their homework. They laid their hands on their mother’s shoulder.

She placed Sannaro on her lap and drew her older two into her arms. ’Oh, children, I don’t know what to do. Sailia is so far away.’

She sent images to them of that distant planet. A deep longing swept through Sannaro.

The scene was of gray-green skies and trees with pink bark topped with lavender leaves that grew out of dark mineral-rich soil. A lazy river wended through the forest, sparkling with gold nuggets and other raw metals that washed from the purple mountains in the distance.

The scene shifted to a small village where gold-skinned people with high-slanted eyes went about their business. Their ears pointed twice upward and once more at the lobe showing through long flowing hair of a rainbow of metallic colors.

’Damira,’ a young woman with silver hair mind-sent. ’Is it true you and Giovano are leaving Sailia?’

’We are, Salinaya. Giovano wants to see the worlds of the Alliance.’

Her eyes widened. ’But you’ll be so far from your family. You can’t feel their presence from so far away, Damira. I couldn’t bear that. Stay and be a teacher; you’re a good one.’

Damira shook her head sadly. ’I can’t. Giovano is my mate and it would hurt me worse to be separated from him. I couldn’t live without him. He wants to go, so I’ll be by him.’

Salinaya hugged her. ’Take care of yourself. You are braver than I am. Come and visit when you can.’

’I will.’ Tears rolled down Damira’s face. ’I’m not braver, I’m just doing what I think is right.’

The image shattered and a deep sadness flooded Sannaro’s telepathic sense.

’I never did get to visit her again.’

His mother’s tears fell like rain onto Sannaro’s head. The raw ache of her loss made his chest hurt. Sannaro sensed her desperately reach out to his father though his mental shields remained firm as a brick wall.

Sannaro wished he lived on that world of wonderful, strange colors instead of their world of dark-brown, broken wood.

A crash of thunder startled him out of his dream, bringing the reality of the all-pervading cold back to him.

’Varanani, help me make a fire?’ Mother asked.

’I’ll help!’ Sannaro squirmed in his mother’s lap. He slipped down and ran to the woodpile and tried with all his might to move a log.

’You couldn’t lift a nugget of gold!’

Sannaro huffed at his brother’s insult, but still allowed Devakio to help him heft the log into the fireplace.

He looked up at his mother and was pleased to see her smile.

She went to join Devakio and him. She kissed Sannaro on the crown, and then he looked up and sent loving feelings to her mind just as Devakio did.

Varanani joined them and merged her mind with theirs.

Sannaro heard the bolt unfasten, the door open. His father stepped up behind Mother and hugged her. His thoughts were of sadness for his outburst.

The thunder sounded like muffled drums later that night as Sannaro lay in bed and wiped tears from his eyes. It was bad enough that his father had come home angry and threatened to kill his only friend, and his parents had fought again, but he also recalled the frustrating day he had at school.

He’d found a remote corner of the playground he’d thought was safe. He pulled out his new ball because he couldn’t wait until after school to play with it. He threw the red ball a few feet to the ground and delighted in it jumping right back to his hand.

Suddenly, a boy bounded up to him. "What’re you playing with, Sanna?"

Sannaro eyed him carefully. "A skivit."

"Ooh, who got it for you?"

Sannaro telepathically sensed envy from the Human. It made him feel smug that he finally had something better than Jake.

Sannaro swelled with pride. "Mom bought it from the market."

Jake snarled and radiated envy. "I want one, give me it."

Sannaro jerked it out of his reach. "No, mine! Teacher, Jake’s trying to take my ball!"

Jake pushed Sannaro against the wall and tried to take the ball.

Sannaro threw the ball away.

When it came back, Jake snatched it out of the air before Sannaro could catch it again.

"Thanks. Someone as weak as you shouldn’t have something as neat as this." Jake ran away laughing.

Sannaro had run to tell his teacher what had happened, but she’d shooed him off. She was too busy to listen to him now.

He knew when his mother found out, she’d be very upset that she’d spent money on a ball just for him to lose it the next day.

Why does she have to know?

He sat up, and then sprang out of his bed to the window. It had stopped raining. He could sneak to the Arlington’s house and take his ball back from Jake. He would have his ball, and his mother wouldn’t know it had been taken.

Sannaro made sure his brother was asleep before he crawled out the window.

He ran down the gravel road to the corner and went left past the storage warehouse that sat at the top of a small hill above the roadbed.

Two houses later, Sannaro slipped around to the back of the third house.

The night was still a bit muggy from the storm. Sannaro smiled when he saw that Jake had conveniently left his window open.

Quietly, he climbed in.

He noticed the lump on the bed under a light blanket.

Sleep on, Jake Arlington. As he searched the room, he smirked.

He was glad for his eyes that could see better in the dark than a Human’s.

Still, when he saw his ball had been placed at the edge of the pillow next to the bully’s head, he groaned.

Sannaro concentrated as hard as he could and commanded telepathically for Jake to roll to his opposite side. He almost snickered aloud when the bully rolled over, but he controlled it and cautiously pulled the ball out. He returned to the window and left the house.

On Sannaro’s way home, his telepathy warned him that two people were close by, only a few meters above him on the small rise. He saw a company shuttle outside of the warehouse. Mr. Arlington, Jake’s dad, was sitting at the controls of a transport crane maneuvering it to lower seranium canisters into the shuttle. Mr. Aldinon, the foreman for the mine, was standing beside him on the crane’s stairs holding onto the safety bar.

Just as Sannaro began to wonder why they’d be working this late, as if drawn like magnets, his gaze locked with Mr. Aldinon’s.

Aldinon grabbed Arlington’s arm and told him to stop. He sprang off the step and ran down the hill with Arlington close behind.

’Damn, he saw everything,’ blistered through Sannaro’s mind.

Sannaro panicked and ran toward the nearest house and scrambled under the porch.

Aldinon’s hand scraped Sannaro’s arm as he pressed himself against the house.

What did he see that he shouldn’t have? Why did they want to hurt him? He’d only taken his ball back from Jake, and that was all.

Sannaro was tempted to look into their minds to learn some answers. Then, he remembered his mother’s warning that he should never pry into someone else’s mind without asking; it was rude. He was supposed to use his voice with people outside of his family.

The smell of decay assailed his nose.

A black spider tickled the second point of his left ear, the vibrations from its web drawing it out in hopes of a meal.

Sannaro jumped when a mouse scampered over his right ankle. His sudden movement startled the spider. It bit Sannaro’s ear. His ear hurt, and he broke out in a sweat. His vision blurred around the edges.

Finally, the large arm of the foreman withdrew.

"Sannaro, come out," Aldinon said in a soothing voice. "I was just coming to find out why you were out so late. Your dad would be worried if he knew you were wandering around town after dark."

"No." Sannaro shook his head.

"I’ll walk you home. It must be dark and scary in there." Aldinon’s voice was soft and reassuring, but his thoughts were panicked and menacing.

"Go ’way!" Sannaro’s head was pounding.

"Oh, now, don’t say that. Come out and everything will be okay."

Sannaro shook. "No, it won’t, you want to hurt me for seeing you."

"Aldy, let me try," Arlington’s gruff voice instructed. "If you won’t tell anybody about what you saw tonight, I’ll let you go without hurting you. Now, come out." But his thoughts were threatening.

Sannaro whimpered and pressed his hands over his ears. He didn’t want to sense what they were thinking. Their thoughts were about hurting him.

Sannaro felt multiple legs crawling across his left hand. He startled and hit his head on the floorboards of the porch. He swatted frantically at his hand, squishing the spider against his skin, leaving a sticky residue.

After a few minutes of silence, Aldinon spoke up again. "Sannaro, I know your dad’s sick."

"No, he’s not sick, he’s just mad!"

"He’s getting mad more often, isn’t he, Sannaro? He’s gotten green around his eyes. Does anyone else in your family have green around their eyes?"

Sannaro sobbed and pressed his head between his knees.

Arlington took over. "He needs a doctor, but if you don’t promise that you won’t tell anybody what you saw, we won’t have a doctor come to help your dad."

Sannaro shook his head until his neck ached.

Arlington continued. "Your dad will die if a doctor doesn’t come, Sannaro. Do you want to see your dad die knowing you could’ve helped him?"

Through the blur of tears, Sannaro crawled over to the side of the porch. As he scrambled out, the elder Arlington grabbed him by his hair.

"Got him."

Sannaro panicked. He gathered a small amount of mental energy and willed it into Arlington’s mind through the fingers that were entangled in his hair.

Arlington howled and clutched his head.

Once Sannaro felt his hair freed, he ran between the houses toward home.

Sannaro climbed back into his room and collapsed into a corner. He stayed there shaking for the rest of the night.

As soon as his mother telepathically sent that it was time to get up, Sannaro sprang up and changed his clothes before Devakio could rise and see him cowering in the corner.

As Sannaro ate breakfast, he stared at Varanani and Devakio to see whether they had green eyelids.

’Quit staring at me, Sanna, you’re freaking me out.’ Devakio stormed away from the table, leaving it to wobble furiously.

’Devakio, watch your tone of voice,’ Mother snapped.

’I’m going to school, though I don’t know why. I never learn anything.’ He flew out the door.

Mother turned to Sannaro. ’What’s wrong?’

Sannaro shrugged. ’Jake said Devakio looked like a walking dead. I just wanted to see if it was true.’

’Can’t you just ignore Jake? All you talk about is what Jake did. Devakio wants to quit school.’ Tears rolled down her cheeks. ’We won’t get any money for food next week. The house is falling down.’

Sannaro bowed his head and followed Devakio out the door. Varanani rushed to catch up with him. ’You’re acting oddly, Sanna, and it’s not just about Dev.’

’I hate it here! I hate my yellow skin! I hate my pointed ears!’ Sannaro sprinted down the dirt road. He was glad when he sensed she reluctantly accepted his outburst as an explanation of his behavior. He didn’t want Aldinon and Arlington to come after the rest of his family because he blabbed about what he saw.

Later that day, Sannaro was sitting in a corner on the playground thinking quietly about what Aldinon had said last night.

Jake Arlington pulled Sannaro off the ground by his shirt and slammed him against the wall of the school.

"You think you’re so clever getting that ball back, midget. My dad said he saw you take it. He’s gonna have you arrested for breaking into our house last night."

"He wouldn’t dare. I know something that’ll get him in lots of trouble."

Jake’s knuckles jabbed uncomfortably into Sannaro’s chest through the thin fabric of his shirt.

Sannaro drew in mental energy like he’d done the night before. But before he could release it, Jake propelled him sideways into the other wall. His vision burst into a kaleidoscope of colors and his stomach lurched violently.

"I’ll smear you on the wall for that," Jake growled, but his voice seemed far away.

Sannaro slid down the wall. His mouth watered, and his stomach heaved. His vision was so blurred it looked as if his teacher approached him through a long tunnel. He turned away from her just in time to save her clothes from the remains of his breakfast.

"What happened, Sannaro?"

"My ear, Jake Arlington threw me into the wall. I hurt my ear." Sannaro swallowed the bitter aftertaste of bile. He swept his hair to the side to expose his ear.

"I see a bruise forming on your second point. We need to get you to the nurse’s office and call your mother."

"No, don’t! I’m fine, see?" He forced himself to stand, but he wobbled against the wall.

Mrs. M’Buda frowned. "Sannaro, you shouldn’t play down an ear injury. I’ll have Varanani released so she can bring your mother to school to take you home, okay?"

"Okay." Sannaro took the teacher’s hand.

She guided him to the school nurse’s office.

Just as Sannaro lay down on the small cot, his mother rushed into the room. "How is Sannaro, Mrs. M’Buda?"

"He vomited once on the playground, but he hasn’t since. How did you know Sannaro was hurt? I didn’t send Varanani home to tell you yet."

"I felt his pain and nausea and came right away."

"I knew your telepathy was strong, but I didn’t know it was so sensitive that you felt Sannaro’s pain."

"Saili ears are very sensitive because they send and receive telepathy as well as hear." Mother sat on the corner of the cot and swept his hair aside to look at the ear. "Sanna, can you see all right?"

"I have a headache."

"What’s this red blot on your ear?" Mother said.

"Oh, it’s a spider bite. I was playing in the crawl space below the porch, and a spider bit me."

"How many times do I have to tell you to stay out from under the house?"

"Sorry, Mom."

"I think one tablet of Catowsh, some ice on his ear, and a nap will take care of it." She stood and turned to Mrs. M’Buda.

Mrs. M’Buda frowned. "We’re contacting Mr. and Mrs. Arlington on the matter, Auruma Damira. It seems Jake Arlington pushed Sannaro into the wall on the playground."

"Thank you. I need to get him home now."

The lunch bell rang.

Sannaro sensed his mother telepathically call to Varanani and Devakio to come to her in the nurse’s office. They would walk home for lunch together. Then his mother helped Sannaro up from the cot.

Sannaro took her hand and walked with her toward the door.

"See you tomorrow, Sanna," Mrs. M’Buda said.

"See you, Mrs. M’Buda." Sannaro waved as they left.

Varanani and Devakio joined them for the short walk down the gravel road to their wood slat home.

The processing plant whirred loudly and the stench of seranimite hung in the air.

Sannaro hated the smell; it gave him a headache. He felt the ground below him vibrate. The miners must be using a big digging machine in one of the mines.

He was glad when they turned the corner and moved away from the processing plant.

As they walked inside their home, Varanani called, ’I’ll get some ice.’

’Devakio, get Sannaro one tablet of Catowsh, please.’ Mother settled Sannaro in an armchair.

Sannaro swallowed the pain reliever with a few sips of water. He took the towel-wrapped ice and pressed it against the side of his head.

His mother crouched in front of him and frowned. ’Now, Sannaro, what happened?’

’Jake Arlington pushed me into a wall ’cause he’s jealous of my ball.’

’Why did you have your ball at school?’

’I couldn’t wait to play with it, Mom; it’s so fun. But Jake wanted it and tried to take it away from me.’

Devakio winced. ’That Jake is a pain.’

Varanani put her hand on her hips. ’Maybe we should talk to him.’

’No!’

They gasped, and their eyes widened.

’If you talk to him, he’ll want to hurt me more.’

’Come on, Sanna,’ Devakio said.

’Please?’ He fought to control his panic at the thought that maybe Jake’s father would want to hurt them too if they confronted Jake.

His mother eyed him suspiciously. ’Why are you afraid Jake’s father will hurt Varanani and Devakio?’

Sannaro groaned. He hadn’t wanted her to sense that. ’He got mad at me for sneaking into their house.’

Mother glared. ’Sannaro, you cannot tell me half-truths. Now, tell me the whole truth, or I’ll have to punish you.’

Sannaro shuddered. He didn’t want his mother to send the stinging energy of a mindslap into his mind. He climbed to his knees and looked deep into her ice blue eyes. ’I did sneak to their house to take my ball back. Mr. Aldinon and Mr. Arlington saw me walking home. Mr. Aldinon said Dad’s sick. Is Dad sick?’

His mother’s eyes filled with tears. ’Why did Mr. Aldinon say that?’

Sannaro’s own eyes blurred with tears. ’I saw them. Mr. Aldinon and Mr. Arlington were taking stuff from the warehouse last night. They chased me under Mr. Werner’s porch. They told me that if I told anyone, they would hurt me. Now they’re going to come after me.’ Sannaro’s chest ached as a deep sob tore from his lips. He dropped down into the chair and bowed his head to allow his hair to cover his face.

His mother hugged him. ’Shhh, no one will come after you, Sanna.’

Varanani pressed her hands to her cheeks. ’What do we do? Isn’t that illegal?’

Sannaro sensed hot anger overwhelm his mother. She surged to her feet. ’It is illegal, and I want some answers. We’re going to see Mr. Aldinon.’

Belso sat in his command chair and watched the main monitor on the bridge of the Astrisi starship Kumani. He was relieved to see that little mud ball of a planet so his ship could refuel. He shouldn’t have let the tanks get so low this time, but that pressing cargo he’d taken on at Arcturus for Vega had taken precedence over diverting for fuel. He’d decided to wait until after they dropped off the cargo.

"What time is it on Regalis?"

"Twelve hundred," the communications specialist called over his shoulder.

"Tell the grounding team to stand by. Nasu," he called to his second-in-command. "Take over."

"Yes." A thin man with brown hair nodded.

"Setting orbit," the pilot said.

"Right." Belso climbed the stairs out of the control well to go to the flight deck.

As he walked down the hall, a terrible sense of dread overcame him. He hated when he felt this way because something bad always seemed to happen. His fuel was too low for him to have a feeling like this.

He entered the elevator and called to the vocal sensor to take him to the upper flight bay.

Shortly after the elevator started, it stopped at another floor and a petite young woman with orange-red curls entered. She had a modest cluster of freckles on the bridge of her nose and cheeks. She also called for the upper flight bay and the elevator resumed its course.

He liked the little potter and knew that the last year had been hard on her since she’d lost her mate, Fordo. It was a shame she was barely into her twenties and already a widow, but such was the way the Astrisi lived. Each day was a struggle for survival.

She frowned at him. "You look worried, Belso."

"I’ve a bad feeling about this landing, Adara. Are you sure you want to be in the grounding team this time?"

She nodded. "I’ve already informed the pottery store at Saratoga to order bags of clay. Have you seen the rich burnt umber that appears swirled in the throwing once it’s fired? It is so beautiful. I’m almost out of the slip. I’d regret not having more on hand."

"All right. Just get it quickly. I can’t deny this trip worries me."

The elevator doors parted to a view of a vast open deck with rows of sleek red and white fighter ships.

They stepped out of the elevator, turned right and walked past the refueling pumps that separated the fighter ship storage with the storage for the larger red and white shuttles.

One shuttle nearest to the lift that raised and lowered ships to the launch deck above was milling with engineers preparing it for flight.

Belso and Adara approached the ramp to that shuttle and entered it.

Soon, he and the grounding team were on their way to Regalis.

As they flew from the upper launch deck, Belso glimpsed the lower launch deck attached to the belly of the silver arrowhead-shaped ship with wings that swept out from its nose, then came to a point just fore of the massive main engines. His home had always looked beautiful to him even though it was dented and windowless because of the artificial gravity drums that ran continuously right under her hull.

From the corner of his eye, he saw a rocket booster falter and go dark. The Kumani swayed in the direction of the failed booster.

"I must get fuel or we’ll die."

Kuan, the fuel specialist shrugged his shoulders. "We always get it."

Belso respected Kuan for his meticulous handling of the seranium fuel, but, personally, he found Kuan to be ponderous about wanting everything in his life to be predictable.

Filp turned his head from the pilots’ console and frowned. "You don’t trust we’ll get it?"

"I’m not sure. There’s talk that fuel has been missing here, but the sensors show pirates aren’t near."

Filp shook his head. "I don’t like that."

"I don’t either."

"Let’s hope we get the fuel."

Filp expertly set the shuttle down on the ground.

Belso nodded to Adara as the ramp lowered. "This is your stop. Don’t forget, I want you to get your cargo quickly and join us at the Bristol Mining Camp."

Filp smirked. "I wouldn’t rush, Adara. It’ll take an hour for us to load up. You know how slow Kuan is."

"I’m not slow," Kuan said. "Seranium is very volatile and must be handled with care. If I mishandle even one canister, the whole mountain could explode. You should be relieved that I’m on this grounding team."

"As relieved as I’d feel if a customs official called an inspection," Filp grumbled.

Adara grinned at him as she stepped down the ramp.

Belso snorted and rolled his eyes.

Filp closed the shuttle and raised it off the ground. He flew into the mountains and landed the shuttle within the small mining camp, the little village could still be seen in the valley below.

"Fine landing, Filp." Belso slapped him on the shoulder as he passed by.

"Thanks."

"I’ll be back soon." Belso opened the hatch and left the group.

He walked over to the mining office and entered. At the desk was a short husky man with gold skin and lavender hair that grew down to his mid-back. Slicing through his hair were ears that pointed twice upward with another point at the lobe. A Saili. There were orange and green smudges under his high slanted silver-blue eyes that gave the impression he was less than well. That bothered Belso.

"I would like to speak with Aldinon," Belso asked in the Human Basic language.

"Aldinon’s out inspecting thefts by you Independents." The man snapped his head toward the door.

Belso raised his eyebrows. "Thefts we did? Aurum, such accusations should not be given lightly. Pirates do exist, but I am not a pirate; I am Astrisi. Although you worlders carelessly seem to class us as one."

The Saili man snorted. "What’s the difference?"

"Astrisi do not attack until threatened." Belso stepped back. It wasn’t that he feared the Saili, but this man was acting too aggressively for the passive mannered race. "We run a business of buying and selling."

At that moment, Aldinon entered.

"Your assistant has a sharp tongue." Belso put his hands on his hips. He controlled the urge to lay his hand on the laser strapped to his side. Instead, he took comfort in its proximity to his hand.

Aldinon gave the Saili a warning look. "Gio’s just upset by a little theft we had last night."

"We did not do it. I will even volunteer our course log." Belso took a data pad out of a pouch on his pistol belt and held it toward the Human.

The foreman pushed the device away. "No need."

Belso slapped the data pad against his other palm. "Then I will take my seranium and go. You have already been paid."

"That’s what they took."

"How long until more is processed?"

Aldinon slapped his clipboard down onto the desk. "About two to three weeks."

"My ship won’t stay in orbit that long. Our retro jets are already giving out!"

"I don’t know what to say, Commander, other than, that’s the best offer we can give you."

Belso felt his face heat up as he thought of his ship erupting into flames and plunging through the atmosphere of this ugly little planet. "You did not understand me."

"Oh, I understood you, but I’m in a bad way here."

Belso relaxed his right arm. "You have more seranium in storage."

"Okay, I’ll give you what I have, but it’s not going to be your whole order."

"I will be refunded for what fuel I do not get."

"Of course."

The Saili named Gio jumped out of his chair, pointing his finger at Belso, as a yellow aura enveloped him. "No! You’ve got your fuel. You took it last night. You just didn’t put it in to make us think you’re low and give you more."

"No, Gio, don’t!" Aldinon cried.

Belso recognized the buildup of psionic energy. A Saili could throw that energy and injure a person’s mind. He whipped out his pistol and shot the Saili.

The stunning bolt should’ve dispersed the psionic energy, but instead it flashed, and a crackling sound came from the Saili. His gold body crashed to the floor hard as a statue.

Belso crumpled his brow as he held up his laser to check its setting. He thought he’d set it to stun. It was on stun. How could it have killed the Saili?

Aldinon’s eyes widened, and his face turned red. "He’s d... you killed him."

Cold anger rose in Belso. "My people will not die, as much as you wish us to. Give us seranium or we will take it."

Aldinon went over to the computer on his desk. "Now wait a minute, Commander, you just killed one of my men. I’ll have to call the authorities."

Belso hated Human police; they had justice only for their own. He now knew he wasn’t getting his fuel peacefully so he increased the power to his gun and shot the computer.

Aldinon leapt out the door as the sparks from the computer set the curtains in the window behind the desk on fire. The foreman yelped and ran down the hill.

Belso rushed through the increasing flames that now consumed the door to the office.

Filp leveled his own laser at the fleeing foreman.

"Filp, never mind shooting that dirty worlder. Call for air cover. Kuan, get that fuel into the shuttle and be as quick as safety will allow."

"Yes!" Kuan pushed the warehouse doors open and leapt onto the transport crane.

"Scramble Vizhai," Filp yelled through the headset in front of his lips. "These filthy worlders refused us the seranium. Cover the seranium transport." Filp reported to Belso, "Scrambling Vizhai."

"Tell them to be careful. Remember what Kuan said about seranium volatility."

Filp nodded, then spoke again into his communicator.

Sannaro was pulled by his mother’s hand as she stomped through the hard dirt street with Varanani and Devakio rushing behind. He was so intent on keeping up with his mother, he almost fell into the dark hole that tore through his mind. He telepathically watched in horror as his father’s mental essence was swallowed by that black maw, then was gone.

His mother dropped his hand and ran. "No, Giovano!"

Sannaro followed, running as fast as his little legs could go through the streets toward the mining camp. All the while screaming, "Daddy, Daddy, don’t go away!"

Varanani grabbed him by his shoulders, but Devakio continued after their mother. Sannaro wiggled out of her grasp and chased after his brother.

"Giovano, don’t leave me," his mother shrieked, but Sannaro knew she knew his father was gone.

She finally reached the edge of town as the alien shuttle was opening its cargo hold. It was white and red, shaped like a bullet with fin-shaped engines that ran down the sides. Painted on the top was a dazzling red firebird. On its breast was a blue four-pointed star with a yellow star within the larger. Inside that star was four green diamonds capped with red chevrons.

The air held the acrid smell of fire. Red and orange flames poured from the windows of the mining office and a black column of thick smoke billowed into the air.

Aldinon ran down the hill and met up with Sannaro’s mother. "Damira! No, lady, you must leave. Go to your children. Giovano’s dead, and the Independents are angry."

Fighter ships screamed as they sliced through the puffy, white clouds. They hovered like birds of prey, while a fleet of shuttles landed beside the other shuttle at the storage area.

Gritty wind stung Sannaro’s face from the landing thrusters.

The wind gust nearly knocked Devakio to the ground as he raced to catch up with his mother.

Rough-looking men and women jumped out and manned the crane, stacking the seranium cases into the shuttle.

Varanani yelped from behind Sannaro.

He heard the gravel scritch in a quick rhythm. He saw the glint of yellow and black as he sister stepped into his peripheral vision.

His mother ran toward them. "My habi!"

Aldinon looked into the sky. "A fighter’s coming! Go, woman!" The foreman ran toward his mother. Just as he reached her, the fighter fired.

Time eerily slowed as Sannaro sprinted behind Devakio toward their mother.

She became bathed in the lance of energy that went through her chest, jumped across to Devakio’s middle, and then hit the ground before Sannaro’s feet.

A wall of flame erupted ahead of him.

His stomach lurched at the acrid stench of his own burned flesh as he was propelled several feet through the air. Intense pain caused his body to shake uncontrollably. He slammed into the ground. Rocks from the road tore his skin off his face and chest. The fire within his lungs robbed him of his breath before everything became black.

Belso watched in horror as the energy beam went through the innocent woman and the boy. He felt tears sting his eyes when he saw the next tiny boy fly through the air and plow into the ground. He ran to Filp. "Who just fired?"

"That idiot missed."

"Missed who?"

"That cheating foreman!"

"Are you crazy, man? This mountain is made of seranimite! The mines could explode!"

The ground erupted farther up the slope and rained flaming rocks over the town. Flames rose from the poorly built slat wood houses.

"Hurry up before more mines explode. Filp, that shot came from your White Team. I want the name of the junior pilot who fired."

A dark man with sharp features glared furiously down at Belso before he whirled around and joined the mine fire crews who were preparing to prevent more shafts from exploding.

Belso sighed as he watched the crews load the seranium onto the shuttles.

After Adara had browsed through the variety store for a while, she headed toward her pickup point. She figured Filp had been right about Kuan. Her best friend Baia often said much the same, and she should know; she was Kuan’s mate.

Quartered in the next cubicle from hers in the large industrial sector, Baia would often complain to her about Kuan’s pickiness. He insisted things always be done the same way.

Adara shook her head at the thought.

The acrid scent of fire assailed her nose.

She looked toward the range of mountains just beyond Saratoga and froze.

A large cloud of dark smoke rose from the peak where the Bristol Mining Camp was located.

She caught the arm of a man running toward a hover car.

She allowed the panic she honestly felt to bleed through to her voice. "Sir, are you going to Bristol? My family is up there."

"Get in."

Adara raced around the vehicle and climbed into the passenger seat.

The man turned over the engine, and they rose toward the mountains.

As they went higher into the mountains, the man whispered, "Oh, my God."

She did not believe in his deity, but she had to agree with his shock. The closer they came to Bristol, the higher the flames leapt into the air.

On the ruined outskirts of town, Adara thanked the shocked man. She held her arms up to shield her face from the raging flames from the burning houses. Her stomach turned as she heard screams echo from the conflagration. Flaming people were running from the town and dropping onto the rocky ground to douse the flames. Another explosion rocked the ground as she approached the storage warehouse.

Belso had sensed trouble coming. Apparently, they’d been denied their fuel. What a shame. How could things have escalated this bad?

Suddenly, Adara was drawn from her thoughts by groaning.

It was a little boy lying several meters away from two other corpses.

She went to him and gently lifted him up.

He was burnt badly, but he was still alive.

In her mind’s eye, she saw a similar scene of her sitting on the deck of the ship as she cradled the cracked skull of her mate Fordo over a year ago.

The bridge had just issued a battle alert for a pirate attack.

She and Fordo had been in the large industrial sector working, he weaving cloth and she at her pottery wheel.

As they had secured their work, a massive explosion rocked the ship.

He had lost his footing and hit his head on the corner of his loom.

She remembered running over to his stall, falling to the floor and cradling his bleeding head. As she watched the light fade from his eyes, she thought about the children she’d never have with him. Her soul ached for a live child to call her own.

To her surprise, she was filled with a strong desire to take the wounded child. She held him tight to her breast and slipped up to the shuttle that was already packed. She tenderly set the boy down on the deck. "I’ll be back for you." She stepped down to the ground again, and then rushed around the shuttle.

"There you are, Adara, get in and get into a safety harness." Belso gave her a light shove up the ramp toward the cockpit.

Not long after, Adara and her shipmates were on their way to the Kumani.

All the while, Adara thought of the precious cargo she had stowed away. She shivered with anticipation.

A short time later, Filp was landing the shuttle in the upper flight deck on the top of the Kumani. As soon as it was lowered into the maintenance bay, people ran to meet the shuttle.

"Unload her fast," Belso said. "As soon as you finish, those of you noncombatants, get yourselves to your quarters. And I want the name of the fighter pilot who fired on the town. I told you to warn them about the volatility of seranium. We didn’t have to burn the whole mining camp." He entered the elevator and was gone.

Filp glared at the closed elevator door. "That dung-steeped worlder foreman needed to be taught a lesson. I made sure he got it."

Adara slipped up into the shuttle’s cargo bay and picked up her prize.

As she tried to leave the flight deck, she heard an astonished cry from Kuan.

"What do you have, Adara?"

She forced herself to keep a casual tone. "My clay, of course."

"Trying to get out of work?" He grabbed her arm and swung her around. "Haiko! It’s a child, a worlder boy!"

She held the boy tighter. "He’s hurt. I have to take him to Keba."

"You could’ve left him for the worlder medics or the carrion-the last is preferred."

Adara shook her head and tried to pull away. "No, Kuan!"

Filp pushed through to see the world child and grabbed her arm painfully. "How did you get him on my shuttle? How dare you compromise my shuttle’s security."

An engineer called Mete pulled Filp away from Adara, then said into his communicator, "Call Belso. Adara brought a stowaway onboard."

Belso was back in minutes, fuming. He glared at Adara. "Of all the vacuum-brained ideas, a worlder? I knew you were lonely since Fordo died, but I never thought you were stupid."

"Do we jettison him?" Kuan said.

Belso’s face was pale as he looked at the pitiful black heap clutched in Adara’s arms. "No, we’ve done enough killing today. He’s just a little kid."

"Let’s sneak him back on-world," Filp growled.

Belso shook his head. "We’ve already pulled out, and the Space Police are pulling in. Adara, take him to Keba. He’s your responsibility."

"Thank you, Belso."

"Let it not be a mistake, Adara." He whirled to reenter the elevator.

Adara followed with her new ward. She walked with Belso until they arrived at the medical center. He told Keba to treat the boy, and then left.

"Set the child there, Adara," Keba said, pointing toward a gurney. "You’ll have to return home for now. Severe burns have to be treated in an enclosed environment."

Adara nodded and laid the black bundle on the bed, then left.

"Tila, prepare a burn scrub."

"Houk, Keba."

Keba led the gurney into a small room, and then pushed it into a larger, adjoining room.

He stepped into the other room to wash up and clothe himself in a full white body suit with a full head mask. He walked back into the larger room. He looked down at the blackened body and frowned. He picked up a pair of scissors and rolled the child over. Only a strip of clothing was left intact on the back. He carefully removed the cloth. He rolled the child over again and cut away the crotch of his pants and pulled them from the child’s buttocks. Thankfully, it looked as though the boy had been bent forward and the fire missed his genitalia. It was blackened, but only with soot.

Tila walked in with the supplies and looked over Keba’s shoulder.

She cringed. "Oh, poor boy."

"Let’s get him cleaned."

They gently washed the blackened skin.

The boy moaned.

"There’s dirt and rocks imbedded in the skin on the torso and neck." Keba picked up a pair of tweezers and pulled at a sizable rock, but it held fast.

"What’s this?" Keba said.

He picked up the sponge and washed the boy’s legs. The sponge came up with a glossy yellow film on it.

"Wait, yellow?"

"Keba, I don’t think this boy’s a Human," Tila said.

"Scalpel," Keba said.

Tila went over to a box and pulled out the surgical knife and handed it to him.

He lowered it to the edge of the burn on the boy’s torso and sliced. He was met with a slick tough surface. He stepped back and shook his head. "Let’s clean the second-degree areas and see what we get."

They washed the rest of the boy’s body and Keba’s fears were realized. The lesser burns showed a metallic yellow skin, and odd ears pointed twice upwards and again at the lobe.

Keba stepped back and took his mask off. "He’s Saili. I don’t know how to treat a Saili. He has a hard shell covering the third-degree burns. I can’t take it off, and I can’t clean it."

"But he’s in agony, Keba. What do we do? Can’t we just put him in a healing tent and turn it on?"

"No, not without cleaning the burns first. All that rock and dirt will just fuse with his body. That would be ghastly. There’s nothing I can do." Keba shook his head, then turned around and left the room.

Tila rushed behind him. "You’re just going to leave him laying there?"

"Cover him in gauze bandages and keep him as comfortable as possible."

Tila looked back with tears in her eyes.

Keba shook his head, took the burn suit off and walked out of the room.

Arlington stood in the ashes of his home near the dinner table where the rigid black corpses of his wife Andrea and his son Jacob had been eating their lunch. The fire had spread quickly through the house.

He felt a tightening in his chest and pinched his nose to keep the tears back. This was no time for tears. He sneered. "You shouldn’t have died, Jacob. I swear I’ll make the Astrisi pay for destroying everything."

He was supposed to be wealthy, not devastated. If that Saili had done his part right, everything wouldn’t be in ruin now.

Pain blossomed in his head. He massaged his temples to try to ease the headache, but it did no good. Since the little wimpy Saili boy zapped him to get away, he’d had headaches whenever he got upset.

He felt someone watching him. He looked up and saw the sorrowful yellow-brown eyes of the Saili girl. She gripped a little red ball in her hands.

He barely recalled that Jacob had bragged the day before that he stole that very same toy from the wimpy little Saili. How did she get it back?

"Stop staring at me, girl!" He headache worsened. He turned away from her creepy eyes.

He kicked the ashes of his home, and then stomped up the hill toward the mines.

He climbed a steep trail through the mountains until the trail sloped down again. A small valley appeared once the rock parted.

He moved along the ledge above the valley and slipped into a dark cave. He went to a small crevice and fired up the electrical generator.

A string of light bulbs blinked to life.

He moved farther into the cave until he came to wood pallets with seranium canisters set on them. He moved around them to go to a computer on an old rickety table against the wall. He turned the computer on and immediately opened a communications channel to his most frequented client. "Fenyang, I have the fuel you requested."

"Are you an idiot? I’ve heard about the destruction of your mining camp. You’re crawling with cops," said the severe featured man with his brown hair pulled back into a ponytail.

"I need the money, Fenyang!"

"You need the money? You’ll get nothing from me until the cops leave."

Arlington snarled. "Okay, I’ll call you again when things get quieter." He cut the line.

Days later, Arlington glared at the cops that swamped the town.

Worse yet, the useless idiots had called the Saili in and they were crawling through the wreckage. He saw two of them over at the remains of Bob Werner’s porch and had stopped right where the wimpy little Saili had hidden from them.

He’d thought everything over that night with Aldinon.

The plan had been beautifully simple.

Aldinon was to act the innocent foreman, frustrated about the thefts and he was to convince the crazy Saili miner to accuse the Astrisi of stealing the fuel.

Aldinon would call in the cops, the cops would arrest the Astrisi, and then Arlington would’ve been clear to open the bidding to anyone who wanted the load of seranium.

Instead, the Saili had overreacted and the Astrisi shot him, and then raided their fuel stores.

A man walked up to him. "Are you Roger Arlington?"

"Yes, what do you want?"

"You’re wanted for questioning at the school."

"This is ridiculous." He strode to the slightly blackened, but mostly intact, school.

When he entered the principle’s office, Aldinon met him with his arms wrapped with gauze from elbow to fingertips. He looked tired and sorry for himself. How disgusting.

The captain of the Interstellar Police sat in the principle’s chair with two yellow-skinned Saili standing on either side of him, one was middle-aged and the other was young. "My name is Captain Duward. I have questions for the two of you."

"What do you want to know?" Arlington asked in a carefully controlled neutral voice.

"Do you know about thefts of fuel from the processing plant?"

"I heard about them. I noticed our inventory looked a bit short. I contacted Aldinon when I saw the discrepancy."

"I immediately checked the loading zone near the plant and saw some shuttle marks on the ground," Aldinon said.

"Well, since that’s a routine landing area, the prints were confused by the landing of the Astrisi shuttles."

Arlington held up his hands. "The Astrisi stole the fuel. Open and shut case, right, gentlemen?"

The elder Saili frowned. "I’m afraid not, Mr. Arlington. My tracker has sensed quite a lot of anxiety here, well before the Astrisi appeared."

Arlington rolled his eyes. "Excuse me for not believing your mystical all-knowing power. It doesn’t mean crap to Human courts."

Duward cocked his head. "You don’t like Saili, do you, Mr. Arlington?"

Arlington shrugged. "I merely said that Humans aren’t telepathic so Saili psychic ’observations’ aren’t valid to Humans." He needed to control his temper, or he’d give the cops a clue they could sniff out.

"Do you know about the Saili boy that is missing?" the old Saili asked.

"The kid’s a scamp. He goes wherever he wants to go. Who knows where he went?"

"I saw him burned," Aldinon said in a shaky voice. "The same laser fire that burned my arms went through the Saili woman Damira, the boy Devakio and hit the ground right in front of little Sannaro. He flew about a hundred meters through the air before he plowed into the ground."

"Do you know what happened next?" Duward asked.

Aldinon bowed his head. "No, I was so afraid that more mines would blow, I went back up to the mining camp to direct fire crews to contain the explosions in the mines. If the explosions in those mines weren’t contained, it could’ve blown the whole mountain apart. Maybe you could ask Varanani. She might have seen more since she was unhurt."

"You mean, physically unhurt," the Saili elder said. "We have spoken to her. She’s in terrible shock. She told me she doesn’t remember what happened after her family was killed."

"One of my officers found her wandering the ashes of the town in a daze and brought her to the hospital," Duward explained.

Arlington raised his eyebrows. "So, what’s the purpose of this interrogation?" It seemed they were grasping at straws and had no proof against him or Aldinon.

Duward sighed. "You’re free to go."

"Thank you, Captain." Arlington stood up and left the office.

Aldinon was right behind him. Once they were out of the school, Aldinon rushed in front of Arlington. "Is the fuel still safe in the cave?"

"I checked on it a few days ago. The canisters are at safe temperatures. I called Fenyang to buy the fuel, but he won’t get near with the cops crawling around."

"You shouldn’t have called Fenyang this soon."

"Don’t flatter the cops. They’re a bunch of idiots who have no clue about the thefts."

"Enough, here comes Yothers."

"What I hate more than arrogant Saili is a brown nosed corporate rat."

Aldinon shushed him just before Yothers stopped in front of them.

"Do you see the mess this place is in?"

Arlington dug the toe of his boot through the ash on the ground. "Can’t miss it."

"Do you have any idea how angry your superiors are at the Pallas Mining Company?"

Arlington clenched his teeth. "Do you have any idea how much I care about those suits in their environmentally controlled glass offices?"

"Easy, Arlington," Aldinon said. "Mr. Yothers, I was prepared to give the Astrisi the seranium I had left. I knew that Giovano Masanateyak was acting strangely. He wasn’t working in the mines because he was having trouble dealing with it. I took pity on the man and let him work in the office. I was about to send for a Saili doctor for him. I had no idea he’d do something as crazy as to try to hurt our client."

"How long have these thefts been going on?"

"I think there were two more before this one," Aldinon said slowly as he thought.

Yothers’ face turned beet red. "The profitability of this mining camp was dangerously low before the thefts. We tried to improve our outcome by offering incentives to the miners for finding seranimite pockets. Now look, we are completely in the red with so many mines collapsed and equipment damaged. Both of you have failed miserably in your roles as supervisors. You’re both fired. Cash in your loans and get out of this camp!"

Arlington snarled. "If you’d treated us better than digging dogs, this camp would’ve been managed better. You just better watch your back, Yothers."

"Is that a threat?" Yothers drawled.

"You’ll be sorry some day." Arlington stomped off.

"And you, Mr. Aldinon?"

"I did my best for this company. It shouldn’t end this way." Aldinon walked slowly away.

Once Arlington was out of Yothers’ sight, he intercepted Aldinon. "I think it’s a good idea to disappear."

"Disappear?"

"If Yothers suspects we had something to do with all this, the cops won’t be far behind. Let’s disappear before they figure something to take us for."

Aldinon looked back at the ruined camp and his eyes glistened. He always did have a disgusting soft spot for this place, but it meant nothing to Arlington now. There were things to be done. A minute later, Aldinon turned away and they hiked into the mountains.

During the weeks after they left, Arlington couldn’t stop thinking about his son, as his body lay blackened in the ruins of their home. He fueled the fire of his rage toward the mining company and that Astrisi who caused the destruction of his job, his family, and his life. Someday he was going to make them all pay for his loss.

When Fenyang finally came to take the fuel, Arlington convinced Fenyang to allow Aldinon and him to join his band of pirates. They’d help him take down the Astrisi commander of the Kumani someday. Then, he’d have his revenge.