She swung her legs out one more time and hopped down from the fence. There was a soft crunch as her boots impacted the snow. The figure drew closer, and she began to make out the details of his face through the thick flakes that steadily fell. The reptilian skinned man was alien to her at first. Her eyes narrowed as he came into focus. Then, in an instant, “FELRA-aheherrm!” It was all she could do to stop from launching herself forward, “I mean, Captain Vordenna, sir.” She caught herself, straightened up and tried hard to contain her grin. Felrak’s pointed teeth gleamed in response. While yellowed somewhat in contrast to the surrounding snow, the Argosian’s well practiced smile conveyed just as much delight as that of the young Efrosian woman stood before him.
“At ease, Lieutenant Theb.” He came to a stop a few paces in front of her, but she soon closed the gap, leaping forward and hugging Felrak tightly.
“They said it’d be someone from the Ahwhanee… I had no idea it’d be you. I had no idea you were even a Captain now!” She released him and looked down at Felrak who, typically of an Argosian, stood a little shorter.
“So, Captain Ra-Havreii has neglected to pass on the news.” Felrak stepped back and his smile grew wry.
Sreyler rolled her eyes, “If Uncle Xin moved back to Efrosia tomorrow I doubt we’d find out about it til next year.”
Felrak shrugged, “His loss. Now, let’s go inside. I’m freezing.”
The horns sounded that hollow, mournful note once more. Again, Freyyn’s tongue darted in and out of his mouth as if tasting the apprehension in the air, “Salatryx, Etrexia, it is time.” As he spoke, an armoured guard descended the stairs from the room above the Magistrate’s chamber. Over a pair of burly arms was draped a padded gambeson, deep purple in colour and lined with a luxuriant white fur. The guard held out the heavily quilted jacket and wordlessly eased it over Freyyn’s shoulders as the diminutive leader continued to speak, “Take Frestwyxx home, arm yourselves and join your nearest column.”
“Aye, m’lord.” The two spoke in unison. Before they turned to leave, both met Felrak’s eyes with a lingering, almost apologetic glance. Their eyes then turned to the floor as they hurried away, Etrexia’s hand firmly clasped around her son’s. The guard, the magistrate and the alien were now all who remained in the wide chamber.
“You seem able bodied, Wide-eyes,” Freyyn scanned Felrak from head to toe, “and your scales tell the story of someone wise.”
“Oh?” Felrak raised an eyebrow at the Magistrate’s apparent insight.
“Ha! Yes,” Freyyn laughed, “The furrows on your brow. A thinking lizard, you are!” He tapped a finger against his temple.
“You seem most intuitive yourself… M’lord.”
“We need thinking lizards, Wide-eyes. Yes! Come. You can help us drive them back, the dirty stinking beasts. Did you know they give birth to live young? Live, Wide-eyes. Kicking and screaming. Quite simply malevolent, all of them.”
“I’m not sure what you’ve described could be called ‘malevolent’ m’lord,” Felrak trod as carefully as his ethics would allow him, “as opposed to a reproductive function derived from a different to ours.” He paused, sensing the Magistrate’s confusion, before quickly adding, “I’d also question my own usefulness to you in any combat operation you have planned.”
“Then I suppose you’d say their atrocities are the result of a different evolutionary path, too? Hmm?”
Felrak remained silent.
Freyyn pressed, “For someone from the southern lands, why is it that you harbour so little resentment towards the mammals?”
“They’ve done nothing to me.”
“They slaughter your people without mercy or reason, and you call it nothing?”
Felrak scrambled, “I have been away from my home for some time, m’lord. I myself have no reason to hate the mammals.”
“Because you’ve never been to the southern lands.” Freyyn’s tone shed its whimsical notes and cut through Felrak like a knife, “And you take me for a fool.”
“M-lord, let me explain-”
“Explain these.” Freyyn cut him off, reaching into a deep pocket of his robe and producing Felrak’s tricorder in one hand and his combadge in the other. He was met with nothing but a stunned silence from the increasingly desperate Argosian.
A frustrated frown flashed across the Magistrate’s face. Freyyn held the tricorder up, studying the blinking patterns of each status light. He pulled it open, turning the device over in his hands. His attention refocused on Felrak as, once again, his examination of the otherworldly technology failed to yield anything of note. With the device now open, he noticed that the wide-eyed lizard in front of him had begun to focus intently on the bleeping, flashing displays. Felrak could barely force himself to tear his eyes away from the data, catching only glimpses of surrounding atmospheric conditions, life signs, and their current proximity to the omega molecule.
Freyyn flipped the tricorder around, giving Felrak a clear view of the display, “This has meaning to you, yet it is like nothing I have seen before. This is of some sophistication, some enchantment of which I have never seen in all the lands of Gürm. Now tell me, Wide-eyes, because I don’t have much time. What is this contraption? What is it for? And what are you?”
Felrak looked to the floor, then back up to meet Freyyn’s inquisitive gaze, “Please accept my apologies, Magistrate Freyyn. I’m-”
All geniality that had been present in Freyyn’s voice had now gone, replaced with a cold intensity, “Dispense with the pleasantries.”
Felrak took a deep breath, “I’m a traveler… An explorer. From the stars. I came here on a starship. There’s something on this planet. Something very dangerous, with the potential to harm all life here and beyond. I need to find it before I can leave this place.”
Freyyn’s eyes stared intently, unblinking as he processed what Felrak conveyed. “From the stars…” he muttered to himself. He hefted the tricorder and combadge in his hand, weighing the ramifications in his mind, “The Nurnalest…”
“I beg your pardon, Magistrate?”
“Oh…” The smile returned to Freyyn’s face, “Unimportant.” He reached out, offering the items back to Felrak, “You’re telling the truth, I can see this much Wide-eyes. I don’t claim knowledge of the stars, but I have always known there must be those out there like you. It’s what our own wise ones would call, a mathematical certainty.”
Relief was evident in Felrak’s eyes as he received the items from Freyyn. He was taken aback by the Magistrate’s acceptance, “You’ve considered the existence of extraterrestrial life?”
“Yes, quite extensively, I might add.” Freyyn mused, “Alas, you’ve come at quite the inopportune moment. I should imagine some of the information you could divulge to us would be of intense interest. But now is not the time. Come, Wide-eyes, a stout fellow such as yourself perhaps could be of some assistance!” He clapped Felrak on the back and gestured to the guard, “With a star traveller amongst us, we’ll surely show these wretched fiends a thing or two.” The guard re-entered the room with another quilted tunic, much like the one worn by Freyyn but of a deep green weave. “You’ll be glad of this when the arrows start flying,” Freyyn assured, “Now let’s get going, Wide-eyes. We must prepare!”
As the sun continued its rising path through a cloudless sky, Sandastrom erupted into furious activity. Citizens milled this way and that in what would have appeared a chaotic milieu to the unknowing eye. Upon closer inspection, it would have been apparent that each citizen followed a well drilled procedure, reporting to designated positions as the town hunkered down before the onslaught. Stone towers, washed a sandy colour by the noonday light, were manned along with perimeter defences and signal points along the great north battlements. Teams assembled at balistraria, spaced at regular intervals throughout ramparts and thick curtain walls that surrounded the inner streets. Long tapers put light to fires beneath cauldrons of noxious fluid, steam from which dissipated through the dry winter’s air.
By the riverbank, Gürm pulled on ropes around which they could barely fit their clawed hands. Nine great hangars, the shadows of their brickwork structures reaching across the water, began to grind open. Metallic scraping rang out all around as pulleys bifurcated the steel rooftops, dragging each gigantic plate apart to reveal the machines within. They floated up, buoyant, held back from the air only by the heavy chains fastening them to the concrete floor. One by one, the metal holding pins were hammered away. The sound of rhythmic clanking deafened those who looked on until, at last, the vast gas-filled canvas obelisks lifted themselves up and away from their earthen beds.
Felrak stood next to Freyyn on the observation platform of Airship Three. The goggles adorning the Magistrates’ face were tinted black, causing him to appear faintly maniacal as he strained to make himself heard over the whirring hum of the propeller blades, “We’d have given you a pair too, Wide-eyes, but…” He trailed off, simply waving a hand towards Felrak’s face. The Argosan ignored him, looking down towards the tricorder. Freyyn took a bearing from a compass mounted on the railing in front, then yelled into the speaking tube, “TWO DEGREES MERIDIAL”.
Airship Three was the first to pull away. It continued to rise, the giant cigar shaped structure pivoting its nose towards the hills of the Yonder Weiyld. Slowly, eight more of the lumbering aerial giants followed. Their grey silhouettes blotted out the sun as slowly but surely they drove themselves forward on the back of a westerly wind.
“A spectacular sight, M’lord,” Felrak allowed himself a satisfied smile. The view was indeed impressive from his vantage point. The river flowed away from the hangar buildings, meandering through foothills and over the horizon. Clumps of trees huddled amongst grazing pastures which gave way to dense forested slopes, the foliage coloured in a honeyed crisp of autumnal oranges. Felrak’s eyes were fixed on something else, however. On his tricorder screen, the proximity meter chirped. An illuminated LCARS panel blinked, indicating their distance from the omega molecule. It began to tick down.
He pressed the combadge in his pocket, “Vordenna to Ahwahnee, commencing first report.”