Scene One

Seven months later. . .
Perhaps for the first time since the war with the Chigs began, an Earth shuttle was landing on an alien planet with peaceable intentions.

Commodore Glen Van Ross stared out of a portal at an alien sky, marveling at itís likeness to Earth. Remarkably clear blue skies, rich green forage, rolling blue waters. But it wasnít Earth. It was an alien world called Rathorn, a world where, hopefully, a mutual defense alliance would be at last reached with an alien race. Not the Chigs, no. A new alien race. Or rather, several alien races, a league that Earth officials were calling the Conclave.

Ross didnít know the complete story of these new aliens but rumors flourished and he was pretty good at sorting what could be from what wasnít. The Conclave had made contact with Earth about seven months after the Operation Roundhammer fiasco, about, Ross realized with a pang of grief, one month after McQueen had been killed. The aliens became general knowledge just a month ago, revealed by a cleverly persistent news reporter. The aliens, Ross had heard, had been wildly amused by the general populationís reaction.

Since the revelation of the Conclave and the impending alliance had become public knowledge, Earth rushed to get the alliance finalized. The Conclave had been remarkably willing, working out the details of the alliance and bulking only at the finalizing of the treaty. The treaty would have to be signed by the Komeesee, they said, and he was on one of their border worlds. The delegation would have to go there to finish the wording of the treaty and the final signing. Only fair, as most of the negotiations had taken place in Earth space.

And Earth had agreed.

Not too surprisingly. Despite the reports given to the general population, Earth was barely holding its own, especially after the total failure of Operation Roundhammer. The alliance with the Conclave could turn the tide. The Saratoga had been dispatched with orders to smooth the way for the Earth delegation. At least, that was the official reason. Ross was positive that some of the group currently on the shuttle had other secret orders.

He was on the shuttle representing the Saratoga. It wasnít often he got a chance to set foot on an alien world and, frankly, he was looking forward to it. He turned away from the portal to look over the others included in the group.

Also on the shuttle was an Australian Admiral, Admiral P.C. Fletcher. A handsome woman in her mid-60s, she was slender with short auburn hair and green eyes. She looked like, and probably was, someoneís grandmother but that sweet exterior hid a steel interior that commanded battleships and a quick mind that designed strategies that rarely lost. She had come over from the Australian battle cruiser, the New Minyaka, before the Saratoga left the armada.

The next two passenger had meet Saratoga in-route. One was from Aerotech, Colonel Hank Alcott. He was average height with a sturdy built, dark brown hair, almost-black eyes and a scientist to boot. Though Ross had never meet him, he did know of him. Alcott was married to the ex-wife of his best friend, T.C. McQueen. In fact, Kathleen was currently on the Saratoga, having arrived with her husband. Ross had no doubts that neither of them would have ever stepped foot on the Saratoga if McQueen had still been alive and assigned to it. Alcott was not a very big fan of InVitros. Ross couldnít help but wonder how Alcott felt about his current wife having been married to one.

And then there was Major Maria Jenkins. A member of the Alien Linguistic Unit, she was a broad-shouldered woman with gray-speckled black hair and hazel eyes. Ross couldnít help but think that the Major had a hidden agenda. He had made a point of checking everyoneís records before leaving the Saratoga and there was just too many gaps in Jenkinsí. And, for that matter, in Alcottís.

Last, but not least, there were the aliens.

Shortly after leaving the armada and the arrival of the last two passengers, three Conclave vessels had meet the Saratoga, giving them an escort through a wormhole and to Rathorn. An alien shuttle had come over to pick them up, giving Ross his first glimpse of an alien race other then the Chigs. He and, he suspected, the others had been surprised, in some cases pleasantly. These aliens, known as the Timnor, were nothing like the Chigs.

Ross would best describe them as humanoid wolves. Maybe seven feet tall and slender, they were covered with a fine layer of fur that thickened on the head and around the neck, forearms and lower legs. Their large eyes were canted, their ears pointed, their teeth sharp, each finger and toe tipped with a claw. They were dressed only in loincloths and the occasional piece jewelry. Both spoke remarkably good English with an odd accent.

The one in charge was named Skrathe and had pitch-black fur with golden eyes. He was seated in the cabin with them, sitting in a tall backed chair with long legs stretched out before him. The other Timnor, Hern, was in the cockpit, piloting the alien shuttle. Ross had caught only a glimpse of the younger alien but if he remembered correctly, Hern had fur in varying shades of gray with light gray eyes.

"I havenít told you much about Rathorn, have I?" Skrathe said suddenly, apparently finished with his low-voiced conversation with Admiral Fletcher. "And Iíll bet you didnít get much information from Earth, either."

More then one person looked sheepish, none could hide their intense interest. Skrathe grinned. Or, at least, Ross hoped he was grinning. All those sharp teeth were making him nervous.

"Rathorn is a very unique planet. It is home to a sentient race incapable of technology. We. . ."

"If theyíre sentient, how can they not have technology?" Alcott interrupted, her eyes thoughtful.

Skrathe frowned, rather at the question or the interruption, Ross couldnít tell. "The Rathorns have no hands or any type of manipulating limbs. But they are intelligent." He steepled his fingers. "Perhaps twenty Rathorn years ago...maybe fourteen months longer then twenty Earth years. . .the Conclave made an agreement with the rathorns for a mixed-species colony on their planet. The rathorns. . ." And Skrathe smiled grimly. ". . .have their own for wishing the colony on Rathorn. You see, rathorns are carnivores and over the past several centuries, they have acquired a taste for the flesh of various species."

Most of the group gaped at him horrified surprise.

"And you let them. . !" Col. Alcott burst out.

"It is their planet." Skrathe sounded amused. "And there are rules surrounding the colonyís status on the planet. As long as the colonists remain within the colony borders, they are fine. The Rathorns will not attack anyone in the colony itself. However, anyone traveling outside the borders without the permission of the rathorns or the Komeesee will never be found."

"And what is the Komeesee?" Col. Alcott demanded. "Another alien species.?"

"Oh, no." Skrathe paused, an odd smile on his face. "The Komeesee is rather hard to explain. He. . .or she or it, though this time around itís a he. . .is war chief, colony administrator, liaison with the rathorns, etc, etc. The job description tends to change with every re-instatement of the position. In fact, part of the problem with the earlier negotiations with Earth was that the Komeesee had not yet been chosen. Once he was chosen, well, everything sort of fell into place, shall we say."

"When was the last time there was a Komeesee?" Ross asked.

"Oh, the last time there was a major war. Say, 900 years ago." He smiled at the looks on their faces then glanced at a panel that had suddenly lit up. "Ahhhh. . .we appear to be landing. Everyone secure?"

Automatically the passengers checked their restraints.

"Anyway, Rathorn is a planet much like Earth. The water is safe for humans as is most of the food. In fact, the most dangerous thing on the planet are the Rathorns. Watch out for them and youíll be okay."

"I thought you said that as long as we were in the colony boundaries, weíd be okay?" Jenkins asked.

"Ahhhhh, but we arenít going to Haven. We are going to whatís known as the Borderlands, at the foot of the Anarchies. That is where Rathorn Hall is. Where the Komeesee lives. Slightly different rules there."

"I canít help but notice. . ." Admiral Fletcher spoke up. ". . .that most of the places on Rathorn seem to have Earth names. Is that just the translations. . ?"

"Oh, no. Rathorn has Earth names because it was Earth humans that named them. That surprises you? Apparently your superiors did not see fit to tell you. There are several thousand humans scattered about the Conclave, perhaps three thousand here on Rathorn. Ahhhh, here we are."

The shuttle had touched done so smoothly that they hadnít even felt it. Skrathe was on his feet before they could even remove the restraints.

"You may leave your things if you wish. They will be brought to the Hall."

"Yes, thank you." Admiral Fletcher stood, reaching for her briefcase. The others also rose, each picking up a briefcase or small carrying case.

"How is it there are humans in the Conclave?" Major Jenkins asked.

"Various reasons. Rescues mostly. For the past eighteen years, weíve been snatching In Vitros from mines and transports. Yah! What? Did you honestly believe Earth officials didnít know there were other alien races? They knew about the Shakitu. . .the Chigs. . .for a good sixteen years."

"How?" Ross demanded and Skrathe looked at him in obvious surprise.

"Why, we told them, of course." And he stepped from the shuttle. The others stared after him in shock before scurrying to follow.

Ross was the first out behind Skrathe. Pausing at the bottom of the ramp, he turned to offer Admiral Fletcher a hand walking down, a gesture she accepted with her usual good graces. The weather was remarkably nice, a cool spring day from all appearances.

"You told them?" Admiral Fletcher asked, though Ross couldnít help but notice she didnít seem as surprised as everyone else.

"Oh, yes. We told many of the people who remained behind that Earth was edging into Shakitu territory but, apparently, no one listened to them."

"Maybe they did and didnít care." Ross said, looking around. "Interesting decorations."

"Do you like them? Yes, theyíve turned into quite a tradition."

"What. . ?" Jenkins started then she gasped as she spotted what Ross had.

They had landed in the center of a clearing, a landing pad of hard-packed dirt surrounded by white and red posts with chains strung between them. Each post was perhaps five foot high and each post was topped by a skull. Some of the skulls were unfamiliar to them but some were human.

Ross, followed by most of the delegation, stepped over to a nearby post. Up close, he could see that the skulls werenít real but skillfully made imitations. He looked at Skrathe. "Warnings?"

"Yes. The no-go line. Past those chains is rathorn country. In fact, I would recommend staying away from the chains entirely. Rathorns tend to have a different definition of. . .errrrr. . .shall we say, legal take? . .then most species do." Skrathe walked across the clearing, unhooking a chain from one of the posts and waving them through. On the other side was the start of a cobblestone path. Once everyone was through, Skrathe rehooked the chain and once again took the lead.

Lining the path were, once again, chains and posts, each topped with a rakishly tilted skull.

Skrathe patted one on his way by. "The skulls around Haven are real. The Rathorns bring them in and the colonists put them up."

"Horses? They have horses here, too?" Alcott said suddenly and the others followed his gaze to see an animal on the other side of the chain. It couldnít be seen clearly but it did have the general shape of a horse. Alcott stepped closer to the chain.

"Thatís not a horse." Admiral Fletcher said.

"Youíre right. Itís not." Skrathe snatched Alcottís collar and yanked her back just as the "horseís" head came over the chain. Kathleen screamed as sharp teeth that would do a tiger proud clacked shut a bare inch from the manís face then the Timnorís open hand slapped the beastís muzzle. "Knock it off, Hellspawn. You may not eat him." Skrathe looked back at the man he still held by the collar. "You donít listen very well, do you?" He let him go and turned back to the animal. "You will behave?"

The animal snorted then nodded its ivory-armored head.

"Fine. Everyone, let me introduce you to a rathorn." He stepped closer to the chain and unhooked it enough for the beast to enter. Ivory hooves clacked pleasantly on the ground as it pranced onto the cobblestones, giving everyone their first glimpse of the planetís native sentient species. "This is Hellspawn."

It...no, now that the beast was out from the forest shadows they could see that it was female...was a great deal like a horse but with ivory armoring her body and a nasal horn with the upper edge and point sharpened. The coat was pitch black, the mane and tail ivory white. The rathorn eyed them with gray eyes and snorted, tossing her head.

"My God." Fletcher said, a look on her face that was a combination of bemusement and shock. "Somebody reads P.C. Hodgell."

Skrathe snapped his head around to look at her in surprise. "Well, well. Iím surprised you do. She wasnít very well-known even in her day."

"My grandmother was an avid reader. Or maybe I should say rabid. Her books were a treasured heirloom. So these rathorns were named after hers?"

"One of the first humans on Rathorn saw the resemblance and dubbed them that. Quite appropriately, it turned out."

"Yes." Admiral Fletcher nodded. "Man-eaters. So thatís where some of those names come from then? The Anarchies? Please donít tell me there are Cataracts here also?"

"Yes, in fact there is. Iíll show them to you some time. Along. . ." And he grinned widely. ". . .with the Higher and Lower Hurdles."

Admiral Fletcher smiled back. "Iíd like that."

The path curved around a cluster of trees and into a clearing. Once in the clearing, the cobblestones continued for several feet before widening into a large half-circle Lying in the center of the half-circle was a massive statue, a gryphon forged of metal, wings folded tightly against the body, beak opened slightly.

Skrathe weaved himself around the statue and continued toward a large, rocky knoll. No, not just a knoll, Ross realized. It was some kind of dwelling, a house built directly into the knoll. Set in the hillside were panes of glass, tinted against the early afternoon sun. Skrathe made his way to one of these panes and opened it, leading them into the coolness of a large, high-ceiled room, a combination library/sitting room from the look of it. The Timnor glanced around with a frown.

"The Komeesee must be somewhere else in the house. Please make yourselves comfortable and Iíll find him." Skrathe walked to double doors in the wall across from them and opened one, slipping through and closing it behind him.

The Earth delegation looked at each other then scattered to explore. Here they were, thinking they were visiting an alien world, expecting to meet aliens and discovering humans among the aliens. And this was no alien dwelling. This house could have been lifted right off of Earth.

It was, actually, a very homey room. Very large with glass covering almost the entire wall behind them. Set into the ceiling were panels of some kind of remarkably clear stone which seemed to radiate with a luminous glow. In the very center was a circular sunken area, complete with couches and a low table with the metal statue of a large bird in the center of it. Bookshelves covered most of the walls, save for the double doors and a fireplace to the left. A polished wooden desk was tucked in a corner, positioned to look out the glass wall. Several items were scattered about the desktop and both Alcott and Jenkins headed for them purposely. Ross drifted along behind them.

General Fletcher moved to the bookcases, walking along studying titles and musing out loud. "Well, well. Quite a collection. All of these books are from here. . ." She waved a hand at the wall before her. ". . .are from Earth. Mostly science fiction and fantasy. And here. . ." She tapped on the door of a locked cabinet set in the middle of the bookshelves. ". . .are the Hodgell books."

Ross half-listened as he looked over the books in another bookshelf while keeping one eye on the pair at the desks. They were alien books, written in languages he could not understand. He continued along until she reached the massive fireplace. It was piled with wood, obviously ready to be lit should the weather turn cold. One the mantle were a number of small knickknacks and above them. . .above them was a painting. A painting whose subject matter hit him so hard he couldnít breathe for a long moment.

It was a painting of a human and a rathorn, perhaps even the rathorn they had already met who even now was wandering near the statue but it really wasnít the subject of the painting that caught his attention. It was the man astride the rathorn. He and the rathorn were a matched pair. . .silver hair, white mane, two pairs of gray-blue eyes, fair skin and ivory armor, ice surrounding hidden flame. It was. . .

"May I introduce the Komeesee." Skratheís deep voice came from the now-opened double doors and everyone turned. Ross turned more slowly, an odd hope flaring in him.

The Komeesee stood in the doorway, a faint smile on his face. His silvery hair was longer then Ross had ever seen, his eyes more relaxed and a smile seemed to come easily to him. He was dressed totally in black; open-necked shirt with the sleeves rolled up, jeans, calf-high leather boots, set off with an occasional flash of white and silver. A necklace, bracers that encircled wrists and hands, metallic feathers decorating the boots. And, Ross realized in shock, a silver and ivory earring.

Ross had known McQueen for years, from the AI wars through the conflicts that covered Earth and into space. He had seen his friend fight years of hate and prejudice to become the highest ranked In Vitro in any branch of the military and he had known that, despite the "advances" in In Vitro rights, that his friend would never get any higher. Now he looked at a man. . .a human. . .an In Vitro. . .who had somehow managed to attain what was obviously a very important position amidst an alien people and he knew without a doubt that, despite what Barker had claimed seven months ago, this was the T.C. McQueen he had known for so long.

He just wasn't sure if he should shake the man's hand or slug him into next week.

McQueen had always good at reading his commanding officer's moods and the Komeesee had apparently not lost that knack. He grinned at Ross and spread his open hands, shrugging.

"Free shot, Glen." There was no hesitation in using Ross' given name, this was an equal greeting an equal. "And I wouldn't blame you a bit."

Ross glowered at him then shook his head. "Dammit, Ty!!! How did you survive. . ?" He let the sentence drift off, having a nasty suspicion as to what had happened already floating in his head.

"Survive what? The planet? The Chigs? Or Barker?" McQueen grimaced. "Well, luckily, Barker makes a clumsy murderer. And as for the others, I had help."

"I had wondered." Ross muttered. "About Barker, I mean. The way he told it didn't ring true."

"McQueen. . ." Col. Alcott muttered, obviously thinking of his wife.

McQueen stared at him for a long moment before turning to the Admiral.

"Admiral Fletcher. Itís nice to finally meet you."

"Komeesee. May I say the same? And may I introduce Col. Hank Alcott?"

Recognition of the name flared in McQueenís eyes and he nodded in stiff politeness. Alcott did the same.

"And this is Major Maria Jenkins."


"Why didnít you contact Earth to let them know you were alive?" Major Jenkins asked abruptly and the Komeesee smiled.

"Who says I didnít?" The Komeesee shook his head at the baffled look on the Majorís face.

end scene one

Send Email Home  
This site developed and maintained by Rayhne, copyright 1996-2005.