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High Earth Orbit

The Lighthouse

Friday February 7, 2020

8:50 PM Greenwich Mean Time (3:50 PM Freedom City)


In the aftermath of Eria's first meeting with her fellow members of Orange Team, the Swedish teen had made arrangements for her team to spend the weekend on CoVic Station as guests of the Praetorians. So when classes had finished today, the members of Orange Team were taken in a school van to Freedom Hall, where they teleported up to the Lighthouse, the most convenient place for the Praetorians to meet them.


The Claremont students had been aboard the Freedom League's space headquarters for about half an hour, getting a tour from Freedom League member Velocity, who for the most part had managed to keep herself moving at a more normal speed. When the yellow clad speedster got word that the Praetorians' spacecraft had exited the wormhole at the edge of the solar system, she led the teens down to a large viewing lounge located near the airlock where the spacecraft would be docking.


Outside the large windows of the lounge, the teens could see the Earth moving past below, with the northern half of Africa having moved into view.


"Well, it should only be a few more minutes before they arrive." Velocity said as she moved over near some of the windows before turning back to regard the group of teens.

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Eira Katastroff was dressed for space. Her outfit was black and utilitarian, a long-sleeved shirt with magnetically-fastened pockets, a belt stuffed with small tools, and cargo pants. Her blue hair was cut short in a pixie bob, the better to avoid any problems in Zero-G, and she'd put a jagged white line through it like a bolt of lightning. Her eyes were invisible behind her dark glasses, now in frames like goggles that wouldn't come off in zero-G, and she hadn't quite stopped smiling since they'd gotten there. She'd spent every free moment in the engineering section of the station, talking system maintence with the attitude of someone who was right at home. As she stood there waiting for the arrival of the Praetorians, she stood with her hands folded behind her back and a smile of anticipation on her face, her head bobbing slightly as if in time with inaudible music. 

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Mia Mustafic-Markov just discovered she did not like space. The teleporting up there felt wrong and different compared to her own kind. She had gotten so used to her own brand that any other kind felt wrong. More than that, though, was the idea that there was only a thin barrier between her and infinite lethality of space. So many things out there that could kill her. Depressurization. Radiation. Tiny little space rocks moving faster than bullets. Carnivorous space monsters. 


And the artificial air wasn't doing much for her asthma, either. She took another puff on her inhaler, trying to keep herself from freaking out. Why had she agreed to this? Stupid Eira. Stupid space. Stupid social expectations. She wondered if Eira had mentioned their fight to the Praetorians. Was she going to get singled out?


Mia squeezed her eyes shut, and forced herself to simply breathe. In and out. Exist in the moment. She was fine. She was fine. Her eyes opened again. She looked to the other students, and then to her surroundings. Be in the moment, Mia.


She was dressed as she often was, wearing a hoodie and some torn jeans. Her long black hair was in a thick bun to keep it from going every which way. Her lip had a split in it from being too chapped, even though now it was glossy with lip balm. The black nail polish she had been wearing was chipping off now, because she'd woken up too late to reapply it. She looked a bit of a mess.


"Guh," she said. She was certain she intended something more elegant, but for the life of her, she couldn't remember what.

Edited by Shofet
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"You're not lovin' space, ah take it?" Mia's friend Lulu suddenly appeared at her side, wearing the sort of pricey riding gear she could now afford thanks to the Harrows. With her tweed jacket, grey tights and black riding boots, and her bright red hair twisted into a smart French braid, she looked like a model out of Town & Country, at least right up until she talked. She looked her friend over and then shook her head.  "Ah swear ah wasn't snoopin', but-" She spread her hands out and wiggled her fingers. "The anxiety's comin' off you in waves. And ah'm guessin' it's because any direction you teleport in means instant death; you've got nowhere to run, son."

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Eira stopped her head-bobbing and turned to her team to say "The Lighthouse has been in place for nearly three decades and has survived multiple incursions, industrial accidents, and a dozen dimensional rifts.She'd pronounced "three" as "tree", but showed no sign of being bothered by that. "It is one of the most secure places in the Solar System - even without the presence of the Freedom League." She peered out the nearest window, and commented, "It's beautiful from the outside." She turned back to her fellow Orange Squad members, eyes still hidden behind her vaguely steampunk glasses. "You will love CoVic," she promised, "it is a center of galactic civilization like no other." She reached back and rubbed her left shoulder blades, a thoughtful smile on her face. 

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"It had better be." Leroy stepped back from a maintenance cover, flicking his teal and lilac robes clear as he shut it with evident disappointment.,"Otherwise this is a truly cramped and dismal universe". The Dragon Prince of Earth-2 had been enormously underwhelmed with the size and facilities of the Lighthouse, unable to stop himself from blurting out a disbelieving "This is it?" at the end of their tour. Since then he had been doing his best to find whatever it was the Lighthouse was hiding, scanning decks with what he vaguely described as "gravity senses" and poking at anything that looked like it could hide a passage. With a jump that took him to the observation bay window, he glared down at Earth-Prime.


"Such ruthless devastation," he muttered, "encroaching deserts, shriveling forests, dying seas...now I understand why the dragons barred us from the surface." 


A queasy rumble replied "It's a little easier if you can wish food into existence, prince." Dio, for his part, was already curled up on the floor with eyes shut tight. The teleportation, for some reason, had done a number on the giant reptile, and until the next leg of their journey began he had elected to sit very still and do as little as possible.


"That reminds me," Leroy said, giving his groaning companion a gentle rub on the back, "what sort of agreement do you have with the unhumans? Will we have to pay them with something?" 

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Eira peered over her glasses at Leroy, her smile wavering for a moment before it faded away entirely. "It makes you sound ungrateful to talk like that. You could have stayed on Earth." She frowned and removed her glasses, taking a rag from her pocket to polish them. "They want to show the station because we are the 'future defenders of Terra'." She mimed a quote in the air for the last words, and then smiled as she put her glasses back on. "They are smart. And they know my brother punched the Communion in the face."  

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"Your brother?," Davyd asked, turning away from staring out at the lounge's large window.  He wore an outfit similar to Eira's, simple and form-fitting, though with no visible pockets, white with blue highlights, looking something like an iPod.  "Anyone we know?"


This was Davyd's second time off Earth, but he was just as awestruck as the first time.  The view of Earth from above was so serene, peaceful, one unified planet with no artificial borders, no signs of conflict.  And the thought of meeting more aliens had him a bit giddy.  He was especially looking forward to checking out some of the areas of CoVic Station with environments set for various alien species, where humans wouldn't be able to go without survival gear.


"Also: the Praetorians call Earth 'Terra'?  How'd that get decided?"  He walked towards the group, stopping by Mia and placing a hand gently on her shoulder.  "I mean, someone from Earth told them that was the name, yes?  And that's the Latin name for it, which sci fi writers love.  But how did that get decided as our planet's official name?  Why not Gaia, or... Sol-3?"

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If the Freedom League member leading the group of Claremont students around was bothered by Leroy’s dismissive comments on the Lighthouse, she did not show any sign of it. Instead she answered any questions from the other students and otherwise let them talk amongst themselves.


When Davyd brought up his question about the use of the phrase "Terra," the yellow clad speedster gave a small smile as she responded. "Actually, the use of the term 'Terra' and referring to use as 'Terrans' came about before the Praetorians returned to the scene. It came into common usage in the Lor Republic a few decades ago, when Deadalus was traveling in space and spent time with the Lor. It sort of spread from there, so was in prevalent use when the Praetorians where awoken at the start of the Communion’s incursion."


The speedster had turned away from the viewing windows as she responded to Davyd's question, but then turned back towards them. "Speaking of Praetorians, looks like your ride has arrived."


A few moments later a moving object could be seen closing with the Lighthouse, as it drew closer the gathered teens could see that it was a large spacecraft. The main hull of the craft was a central, disc shaped section. On either side were two long and narrow hull sections that went forward more than twice the length of the disc section, vaguely resembling the hulls of a catamaran.


As it continued to draw closer, the vessel was clearly starting to decelerate, as it continued to draw closer to the station and began docking procedures.

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Mia shot Lulu a tired look. Why yes, the inability to teleport anywhere survivable was a big source of anxiety, though why Lulu had to remind her of that was beyond her. But there was another element, too. This was Eira's domain. Who knew what evil the cyber-Swede could get up to when the Praetorians were there? They'd naturally take Eira's side too if they got into it.


The small gesture from Davyd was appreciated, at least. It was good to know that both he and Lulu had her back. Leroy, on the other hand, was being more of a priss than she had expected. He normally seemed so laid back that the behaviour surprised her. She supposed she didn't know him as well as she thought she did.


"Thanks, Ms. Velocity," Mia said weakly. Then she looked to Eira. "Guess we get to meet your friends'r family'r whatever."

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Eira smiled. "My brother is Citizen." She blinked as she looked at her classmates, blue eyebrows furrowing. "Sharl Tulink? The machine intelligence who defeated the Curator and fought against the Communion? Surely you have heard of him, he even went to-" She made a face like a key was being wound tight somewhere inside her; but then there was a spaceship arriving and she seemed to forget about the others.


Eira's pierced nose wasn't quite pressed against the transparasteel window but it was close, her hands flat against it as she watched the arrival of the Praetorian vessel with wide blue eyes. "Someday we will have ships like those," she said with surety in her voice, so softly it was barely audible. 

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"Okaaay," Davyd replied to Velocity, scratching his head with his free hand, "but Daedalus models himself after the Greek inventor, right?  So why go with the Latin name?"


He swiveled his head back to Eira, "Citizen?  Yeah, I've heard of-" and then his eyes went wide as teacup saucers, "wait, he's your brother?!"  He shook his head, which flopped about much more than it should have, and his eyes went back to normal, "gosh, Eira, are you related to anyone else that's a world-famous superhero?," he added, half-chuckling (and a bit concerned of what her answer might be).


He saw the ship, but gave little reaction to it.  It was an impressive bit of engineering, certainly, and far beyond what most Earthlings Terrans could make, but it looked so... plain.  Maybe I have watched too much sci fi...

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"So stark," Leroy said, watching the ship approach as he scritched at Dio's neck, "so...pure. They are simple enough," he added to Eira, "my sister the Colony has a plethora of such obsolete craft in storage for practice and leisure flights. Producing and assembling such a vessel would be a splendid team-building exercise."


"Could I be the guy who sleeps on the floor and never has to get up?" Dio looked pitiously at his charge, "I feel like I'm dying here, prince. Go on without me. And carry me with you."


Leroy patted the dragon's massive head "Dio, after the trouble you went to for legs and wings, I shall be pleased to show them off to our offworld friends." 


Stooping down, the boy picked up his dragon in one great bundle, the serpentine head and neck draping over the human's and the pointed tail dragging on the floor. Nearly invisible under his load, the prince of Earth-2 carefully lifted a few inches off the ground.


"It may be a quirk of the translation, my friend Davyd," Leroy suggested, cheery, lightly-accented voice badly muffled by the giant dragon on top of his head, "similar to how the Praetorian Guard and these Praetorians have nothing in common save associations with protection and elitism. An archaic term in their tongue becomes one from a dead language in yours. Greek, however, is not a dead language, merely uncommon, and the effect would not be the same." 

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"Some think that about Daedalus," Abigail told Davyd, "But it is only a partial truth."


The young mage was dressed with the assumption that at some point they might become weightless, so she eschewed the long skirt she preferred to a snug pair of jeans and a tighter fitting shirt.  She still carried her satchel with her, and her silver medallion glimmered in the artificial light.


She opened her mouth to add more but fell silent, looking out the window and into the vastness of space, suppressing a small shudder.

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Velocity gave Mia a smile and a nod as the teen thanked her. "Your very welcome Mia." She replied before focusing back on Davyd and his follow up question. But before she could reply Leroy spoke up and the Freedom League speedster gave a small nod. "Leroy likely has some of it right. Although, Deadalus has often commented on how there are similarities in Lor society and culture with the Roman Republic."

She then focused on Leroy as she added, "and you may find there is a bit more in common between the Praetorians and the Praetorian Guard, at least in terms of the original members and the organization’s history. But I’ll leave that for you to learn more about on your own if you choose."


With that Velocity led the group of teens the short distance to where the airlock the Praetorian starship had docked with. Checking the readout to ensure the docking had been successfully completed, the speedster then began cycling the doors. A few moments later, the inner most door slide open and standing inside the airlock was a towering reptilian humanoid that stood over eight feet tall with a massive, stocky build. While it had a utilitarian body suit on that covered its torso and upper legs, its arms and rest of its legs were bare, covered in thick green and brown scales. Wrapped around to one side was a ten foot long tail that ended in a spiked ball.


"Hello Seresk." Velocity said in greeting when she saw the towering figure.


"Greetings Velocity, it is good to see you again." The reptilian Praetorian stated in heavily accented English before focusing on Eira. "And you as well little one." He added with what appeared to be a smile before he turned his gaze to the other teens. "And these must be your fellow Claremont students?"

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Eira blushed down to her roots, and for a moment or two she looked considerably younger than the eighteen she was going to be in a few months. "I am not so...little," she muttered. After a moment's silence, she spoke loudly enough for everyone to hear. "Y-yes, these are the members of Orange Squad," she added, going around and introducing all of her friends and squadmates by either supername or personal name depending on their preferences. "<Greetings on behalf of the people of Terra,>" she added in the Lor she'd learned on her recent trip to space; speaking with the faint 'lack of accent' that marked a non-native speaker.  


"This is Seresk of the Praetorians. I worked with him when I was here with Citizen a year and a half ago, but that was when I had my younger body." She folded her hands behind her back and said, "Shall we proceed, or would you care to tour the facilities here?" she asked, seemingly all business. 

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Davyd felt a twinge of pity for Dio.  Who would've thought a dragon would have such difficulty up here?!  Is it the artificial gravity?  The recycled atmosphere?  Or being too far from Earth?  He's said something about being an 'acolyte of the earth dragon' -- is being away from Earth weakening him?  Is it Earth specifically, or will he get better once back on any rocky planet?


"That's a-," he began, did a double take at Abby, then resumed, "that's a good point, Leroy, Ms. Velocity."  He grinned and shrugged, "I'm sure there are all kinda of weird similarities and coincidences like that."  He wasn't actually sure, but he sensed this conversation could quickly reach levels of navel-gazing that would be counterproductive and inappropriate for this place and time, so it was best to end it there.


And then he saw Seresk.  It was far from the first alien he'd seen, not even the first he'd seen that spoke English.  But it was still a fascinating sight.  After Eira's introduction, he smiled and extended a hand to Seresk, "please, call me Dayv."

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Mia raised an eyebrow at Eira's response to being called "little one". That was something she would remember for later if Eira kept hassling her. For now, though, it would be best to be on her best behaviour. She didn't want to cause any problems for the rest of the class. Or herself.


"Good to meetcha, Seresk," Mia said with a pleasant smile and also extended her hand once Davyd was done. "Mia Mustafic-Markov."


Mia didn't intend to talk much to anyone during this trip, just be as polite as possible. Instead, she remained content to leave her opinions to herself for now. Things seemed shakier than they were before Eira showed up. Didn't help she was on the verge of tears back in the library. God, she was a dork, getting worked up like that.

Edited by Shofet
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"I appreciate the offer Eira, but I have previously had a tour of the Lighthouse." Seresk replied kindly, looking down at Eira with what appeared to be a smile. "Besides, I am sure your fellow students are looking forward to getting to CoVic Station."

The hulking Praetorian greeted each of the Claremont students in turn as Eira introduced them, shaking the hands of those how moved forward to offer them. The reptoid had massive three fingered hands, but was able to be surprisingly gentle while shaking hands.


Once all the greetings where completed, Velocity said her goodbyes to the students. "They are all yours now Seresk." She said with a smile.


"Thank you Velocity." Seresk replied. "Please give my greetings to your son."


"I will, he wanted me to say hello as well." The Freedom League speedster said as the Praetorian led the Claremont teens back into the airlock, the doors closing behind them and sealing, before the exterior doors opened once more, reveling a large open room beyond with doorways to both the right and the left and a pair of stair leading upward on the opposite end of the room.


Seresk led the teenagers into the large chamber which appeared to be some sort of storeroom, although it was empty at this time. After the doors closed behind them, the Praetorian turned back to the students.


"Welcome aboard the Devotion, an Aquilla class starship built for the Delaztri Navy over two thousand years ago. Designed to fulfill dual functions as both a combat and science vessel, the Devotion and several of her sister ships served as transports for teams of Praetorians when we served the Delaztri Empire."

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"Good Seresk, I have many questions!" Leroy waved one hand he'd managed to free from under Dio's gratefully-slumped bulk, the dragon having elected to sleep through the rest of the trip. As he asked each question, Leroy curled a finger back against his palm.


"First: were the Delaztri good or evil? I understand that your concepts of such things may be vastly different from ours, but did they treat those under them with cruelty or kindness in your eyes?"


"Second: are the Delaztri a particular species, an ideology, or something in-between? Are you a Delaztri, for example?"


"Third: where did the Praetorians come from? Were you created, or were you born? Were some one way and some another? Were there struggles between them, titanic conflicts that scorched the stars of centuries gone?"


"Fourth: who is your leader? Will we meet her on CoVic Station? Is she very powerful? What is CoVic Station?"


"Fifth: are you the dragon of the Praetorian leader?"

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There was a short sigh. "The Delaztri Empire dominated this area of space in the previous several kiloyears," said Eira. She reached up and pulled her hair back into a short ponytail, the blue fibers lengthening slightly in her grip, and tied it off behind her head with a black band.


She shot a look at Seserek that was hard to read, then continued. "Their civilization was a henocracy in which the Delaztri assumed a leadership position of a multi-species empire. They largely retreated from Galactic space during the early days of the First Lor Empire. The leader of the Praetorians is the paragon Paradigm; one of the most powerful organic beings currently active in Lor space. As for the station, its story is as follows - following the defeat of the Communion, the massive Communion mothership lay derelict near the wormhole now present in the Kesteven system.  The Coalition of worlds that had fought together against the Communion declared the station a neutral ground, renaming it Coalition Victory Station as a symbol of the cooperation that had stopped the Communion.  With so many sentients displaced by the Incursion, many of their worlds destroyed or cyberformed by the Communion, millions made their way to CoVic Station.  Engineers from the Lor Republic and hundreds of other worlds worked to convert sections of the station into habitable zones, along with industrial factories, shipyards and other facilities. Embassies began to sprung up, as the station became the ideal location for the former members of the Coalition to attempt to continue to build on the cooperative spirit that had allowed them to achieve victory.  While the Lor Star Navy had a presence at the station, a corps of independent peacekeepers from all the Coalition worlds was established to maintain order on the station. In addition, the Praetorians, who had returned to the galaxy in the early days of the Incursion to help fight the Communion once again, chose to establish their headquarters on the station. Currently several large areas of the station have been converted into city sized habitable zones, with several large archologies dedicated to food production established as well.  But the bulk of the former Communion mothership is still uninhabited and deserted." 


She frowned at Leroy and added, "And you should not assume that all reptilian species are subservient to humanoids. That is rude." 

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Lulu sent an encouraging thought Mia's way.


- Hey, you're a thousand times cooler than Eira is; you can make things out of thin air with your mind! And don't ever forget it! -


As the rest of the class spoke to Velocity, Lulu sent her senses outside of the Lighthouse, as those she was floating in the vastness of space. But that only lasted for a few scant seconds, because the feeling was quite agoraphobic and chilling. Instead, she sent her eyes and ears scuttling back to the safety of the various sections of the Freedom League base, gazing in wonder at the many hangers, storerooms, labs and galleries.


Adam would love it here; it's almost wasted on me.


But then she was pulled back to her body by the arrival of their Pretorian escort, and she was all Southern charm. "It's very nice to meet you, Seresk; we all appreciate you takin' the time to show us around."


Once they were aboard the Devotion, Leroy and Eira began annoying each other with yet another verbal exchange, and the young telepath just shook her head. "It's times like this that ah'm glad ah'm dumb as a post," she murmured to Mia.

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Davyd had remained close to Mia, flashing her a reassuring smile whenever she looked in his general direction.  "So, uh," he asked softly, trying to think of some way to distract her from her nervousness, "just how big of a thing can you make?  Do you think you could recreate this spaceship?"


"Wait, what?," he blurted out after catching the tail end of Seresk's words.  "This ship is over two thousand years old?!  You- wait, no, the Delaztri... who came before the Lor," he nodded to Eira, "have had spaceflight for over two millennia?!  That... that's...," he looked to Eira, to Seresk, Eira again, then back to the group, "Miss Grue told me there were older, more advanced races out there, but... what?!"

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Seresk remained quiet for a moment as Eira first responded to Leroy’s questions, or at least some of them. When Eira finished her responses and Davyd asked his follow up questions, the reptilian Praetorian spoke again.

"Eira has answered some of your questions Leroy." Seresk replied. "But as to some of the others, as you note, the concept of good or evil can often be one of perspective. From my perspective, at the time I served the Delaztri Empire I viewed it as a good and just society. The empire was an ordered and prosperous society, with opportunity for all citizens, not just for those of the Delaztri species. While it had a powerful military, it preferred to exist in peace with its neighbors and any expansion was by way of worlds or systems joining voluntarily. But I also knew that in the past it had expanded its territory by force and I am sure there are those that would view that as evil."


"While I am not of the Delaztri species, I was a citizen of the empire, as where countless other species from hundreds of worlds that were part of the empire. As for the Praetorians, during the time of the empire we hailed from numerous worlds within the empire, and even in some cases from beyond. Our origins were varied, some of us having abilities that where common among our species, others acquiring theirs in accidents or other unusual means."


"And as for Paradigm, she is on the bridge, so you will have the opportunity to meet her shortly." The Praetorian stated as he started to lead them towards one of the set of stairs leading up toward the center of the spacecraft. As he went Seresk turned his attention to Davyd. "Yes, the Delaztri Empire existed for several centuries before I was born on one of the worlds within its boarders. There is considerable evidence that there have been other civilizations that possessed spaceflight capabilities long before the Delaztri first began forming their empire."

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"Such subservience," Leroy grumbled, adjusting Dio's now-drooling head to keep a black liquid from dripping off the dragon's pointed tongue onto his feet.


"But there is a wisdom in your words, Iron Eira." Turning to the reptilian Praetorian, he bowed gravely, "Good Seresk, I ask your pardon if was hurtful. I assumed...that is not important. You protect the innocent across known space, I do not." 


Following on with the rest of the school group, looking curiously about the antique interior of the ship, Leroy listened with visible care to their host's exposition. The description of a multi-species union had sparked a glint in his eyes, and the image Seresk painted had the boy smiling into the middle distance. 


"Is it not wonderful, my friend Davyd?" he said to the other boy, "Such variety and splendor of life, hailing from the furthest mists of time! Centuries ago, entertaining the notion of other forms of intelligent existence would have you condemned as mad. Today, warriors from distant stars are hosting us!"


"Good Seresk," he added, "worlds could join the Delaztri at will. But could they depart as easily?

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