“Eva, this is suicide, you must realize that.”
Evangeline nodded stoically to her companion, although the fear in her eyes was impossible to hide. The pair, similarly dressed in traditional crimson sparring clothes, knelt on a drab gray rug in an otherwise empty room adjacent to the arena. When the younger girl, named Reiko, finished tying back Evangeline’s hair into a tight bun, she tightened the saya of her weapon into her obi. The wide black canvas belt would hold the scabbard into place well enough for the next five minutes. Securing it further would be unnecessary.
Evangeline was as prepared as possible for what lay ahead. She stood up, and bowed to Reiko.
“Whatever happens to me,” she said quietly, “make sure my journal is kept safe.”
“I’ll guard it with my life,” Reiko replied sincerely.
Turning, Evangeline led Reiko out of the room and into the much larger arena. A large clear dome covered the cavernous area, and the motionless dots of thousands of stars could be seen despite the bright lighting. Well over one hundred citizens had shown up for the contest, filling barely half of the available seats. In another context, this would be an insult, but Evangeline didn’t care. She was more interested in the dour man across the arena, the only other person besides Reiko and his own second who were standing. His helper, a man named Kaji, was someone who Evangeline counted as a friend. That relationship was irrelevant to his duties as assistant to Evangeline’s feckless fiancee, whom she now faced.
Daimyo Yurishi stood up from his front row seat and spoke in a booming voice.
“Merciel Evangeline has chosen not to wed Takeda Hirojin,” he began. “As is his right, Takeda has challenged her in the arena. This is the last moment. If either party would like to submit rather than fight, now is the time. Takeda, you will lose all future right to claim a mate. Merciel, you will unequivocally surrender to Takeda and become his wife. Will either of you submit?”
Takeda responded by drawing his sword and spitting on the ground. The crowd gasped, and a few spectators withdrew communication devices. Evangeline overheard one of them excitedly exhorting someone to get down to the arena quick as things just got more interesting. Evangeline was a little unclear on the exact meaning of Takeda’s gesture, but she had to guess that it was yet another unforgivable insult for her to counter. She drew her own blade, a wickedly sharp instrument loaned to her by Yurishi specifically for this encounter, and threw away the saya.
Yurishi gestured to the side, and Evangeline was surprised to see several Taiko drummers enter and take up their sticks.
“How long do they think this is going to last?” she whispered to Reiko.
“Long enough for some drama, anyway,” Reiko softly replied.
The wiry musicians took their places in front of several large drums. Yurishi shook his head slightly in disgust at what was about to happen, and raised his hand. Evangeline found herself hoping that he would stop this madness, but she had lived just long enough among the People of the Eagle to accept and understand his devotion to their traditions, no matter how brutal. The Daimyo’s hand fell sharply, and the drummers took up a slow cadence. Evangeline moved to the center of the arena, her sword held down by her right leg. If she was to die, it would be without showing fear.
Takeda moved confidently to meet her, a sick grin on his face. Cruelty was his most obvious feature, which was only one of many reasons why Evangeline would rather die than become his wife. When they’d closed to only a meter, Takeda leaped forward and brought his sword down, shrieking like a fool. Evangeline barely moved. His blade stopped a few millimeters from her neck, and he sneered at her.
“Are you so terrified of my skill that you cannot even budge?” he asked.
Evangeline smiled. “Not really.”
Takeda looked down and realized that the tip of her blade was resting neatly on his abdomen, directly below his navel. Evangeline pushed forward with barely enough force to knock over a wine bottle, and her sword slipped past cloth, flesh, and intestines. Takeda gasped in shock as he sank to his knees, all the strength in his body immediately robbed by agony. His sword fell across her body, tracing a thin line of crimson on her exposed skin and slightly fraying the fabric of her gi.
The drummers sensed that the fight was over, and ceased their rhythm. No one dared make a sound as Takeda’s severed inguinal artery quickly spilled a fatal amount of blood onto the floor. He never managed another word before he stopped moving. Evangeline flicked her blade to one side, retrieved her scabbard, and rejoined an astonished Reiko at the edge of the silent arena.
“How did you know he would hesitate?” she asked, barely able speak.
“If this is my hell,” Evangeline replied, her voice wavering, “then I supposed I couldn’t be killed twice.”
Reveki Kitsune jumped off the public transport and raced jubilantly towards her father’s house. The fact that it was the last day of school would normally justify her excitement, that or the first day of the fall harvest tomorrow; either were cause for celebration. This year would be different, however. For the first time in sixteen years, Reveki wouldn’t be laboring at the beginning of the harvest. She would be in space.
The fructose-laden sweet-node stalks were two and a half meters tall, a promise of a banner year, and the blue-green plants created a narrow, fragrant canyon from the main road to her family’s simple ranch compound. Reveki’s mind went over her plans for the next two hours over and over again. She’d have to get cleaned up, put on more practical (and adventurous) clothing, and make sure her digital camera was fully charged.
Her father, a roundish but hardy man by the name of Aoba, was waiting for her on the front porch. He was wearing a gray jumpsuit that Reveki had only seen once before, and only hanging in her father’s closet. It looked too small to be comfortable, but Aoba was also wearing a broad smile.
“Vecky,” he said in his distinctive tenor, “are you ready for a space flight?”
“Daddy,” she said, hugging him. “It’s not every day we get a spaceship out here, you know.”
“Especially not one owned by your uncle.”
Vecky stepped back, and the two went inside. “I still can’t believe that you’re willing to miss the first day of harvest for this trip.”
“It’s just a date on a calender,” Aoba said, sitting at the kitchen table. “The sweet-node will keep. Besides, Uncle Miya told me he’s only going to be in orbit for a few hours until his business is concluded.”
Vecky grabbed a bottle of milk from the refrigerator. “And he can’t stay any longer after that?”
“He’s accountable to his crew, Vecky. I’m sure he would stay if his schedule allowed it.”
“I hope he’s as punctual as you say,” she replied after taking a swig. “I can’t wait to get up there.”
“Less than two hours. Go easy on the milk there, honey.”
“I know, I know. I don’t want to vomit on Uncle Miya’s shiny spaceship deck.”
“I’m sure by the time your system adapts, he’ll have a grand dinner waiting for us.”
“I hope you’re right, I’ll be starving by then.”
Aoba leaned back in his chair. “I hope you’re not planning on wearing your school uniform, Vecky.”
Vecky laughed, and headed for the stairs. “Some of the crew might appreciate it, but no.”
The next two hours went by far too slowly for Vecky’s liking. She spent more than an hour just trying to decide what to wear. Her formal outfits were impractical, to say the least, and her casual clothing and her farming clothing were one and the same. She found herself quite jealous of her father’s jumpsuit, which, of course, was designed for space travel (at least on the inside of the ship). She settled on her least favorite set of pants and jacket, if for no other reason than they smelled a little bit less like dirt and synthetic fertilizer than the rest of her work clothes. In no case would she be confused for a professional spacer, anyway.
The hard part done, Vecky packed an overnight bag and waited impatiently on the front porch. Her father spent the last few minutes relaying instructions to a few of his workers, a redundant task since they were perfectly well familiar with running the farm in his absence. She chalked it up to jitters over missing the traditional harvest day, a qualm she did not share despite her participation for the last decade and a half.
Her heart leaped in her chest as she heard what could only be the shuttle approaching. It roared into view over the roof of the ranch, heading for the only open space available: the rear yard between the barn and the silo. Vecky sprinted around the house and skidded to a stop as the shuttle began to touch down. The sleek, gray and black craft was shaped like a supine milking drum, with rake-like outboard devices that were most likely some part of the engines. The noise was hardly overwhelming, but she didn’t notice when Aoba joined her. She jumped slightly when he spoke.
“If you think this is beautiful…” he started to say.
A ramp opened from the near side of the shuttle, and a bespectacled Rakhar with gray-streaked blonde fur emerged. He was wearing a jumpsuit of his own, though more elaborate that Aoba’s, and also wore a long black coat belted out of the way behind his back. He had a sidearm in a shoulder holster, an item that Vecky had no hope of identifying. It was the last thing on her mind at the moment, however, since she’d never seen one of the large-framed felines in the flesh before.
“Lieutenant Colonel Kitsune,” the Rakhar began, “I am Commander Rukari of the independent vessel Fox. Captain Kitsune sends his regards.”
Aoba strode up and shook Rukari’s hand. “No need for such formality, Commander. Please, call me Aoba. This is my daughter, Reveki.”
Rukari bowed toward her. “Miss. Any relative of the Captain is due my honor.”
“Thanks,” she replied. “He must have quite the reputation.”
“He is beyond reproach.”
“You should have grown up with him, too,” said Aoba, laughing. “We caused no end of trouble when we were still in our teen years.”
“Are you ready to depart?”
“Hell yes,” said Vecky.
Rukari stepped aside and gestured toward the ramp. Vecky sprinted inside without further hesitation. The interior of the shuttle was one long room, with two control stations and eight jumpseats. Six bright monitors displayed telemetry and data, and provided the only illumination. The main viewports were shaded against the low afternoon sun, and it took a few seconds for Vecky’s eyes to adapt.
“You may sit in the co-pilot’s chair,” said Rukari as he entered, “but please don’t touch anything.”
“Of course, thank you. Dad, are you sure you don’t want to sit up here?”
Aoba laughed. “It has been a long time, Vecky, but it’s nothing I haven’t seen before.”
Rukari stowed the luggage, and took his seat. “Strap in.”
Vecky found her harness, and struggled to find all three attachment points. Rukari leaned over to help her. He smelled like lavender and cloves. She blushed a little as he tightened the shoulder belts.
“That should do it,” he said. “We shouldn’t be bouncing around too much, naturally.”
Aoba had no trouble with his harness. He pulled a console in front of him called up an overview of the shuttle’s systems. “Mark Twelve, eh? This thing is almost as old as me.”
“It looks brand new to me,” replied Vecky.
“The Captain takes pride in good maintenance,” said Rukari. “Hold on, we’re taking off.”
The shuttle vibrated slightly as Rukari brought the engines out of standby mode. Aoba tapped on Vecky’s shoulder and handed her an airsickness bag.
“I’m not going to get sick,” she said, more as an admonishment to herself than to rebuff her father.
“I’ve got one, too,” replied Aoba, laughing. “I may have lost my sea-legs after all that time planetside!”
Vecky was completely enraptured for the next few minutes. She watched her lifelong home diminish through the side window, then focused on the darkening sky and stunningly beautiful stars that followed. Her stomach turned when Rukari activated the anti-grav, but she didn’t vomit.
It didn’t take long to spot the Fox, and Vecky grinned as Rukari began docking procedures. The ship was small for its class, and was most notable for the design of its engines. The fuselage was two decks, oblong, and slightly wider toward the bow than at the stern. The engines jutted out from the rear quarters and were as wide as the ship was long, which was about seventy meters. The engines were of a figure-eight design, as viewed from straight-on, and gave the ship a clean and graceful appearance. There were four airlocks, one on each side, to accommodate shuttles of various configurations, and Rukari headed for the one on the port side of the ship. Vecky felt dizzy as he matched trajectories with the larger vessel and brought the shuttle in with thrusters.
“Welcome back, Commander,” said a female voice over the radio.
“Thanks, Shy,” replied Rukari. “I’m green on my end.”
“You’ve got a good seal. You can put her into standby.”
“Roger. Miss Reveki, you can undo your harness now.”
Rukari opened the outer door, and the trio moved through the airlock. A woman was waiting for them on the other side of the corridor. She was the coolest woman Vecky had ever seen, and she was simultaneously impressed and intimidated by her. Her long black hair was tied back, and framed an attractive face highlighted with dark eyeliner. Her short black leather jacket hung loosely from her thin frame, and barely covered the sidearm belted to her waist. Her black cloth pants were tucked into calf-high boots with chrome accents.
“Commander,” she said.
“Yo,” replied Rukari. “Mister Kitsune, Miss Vecky, this is Lieutenant Shylone Dex, third in command on the Fox.”
“Lieutenant,” said Aoba, bowing slightly.
“I like your uniform,” Vecky said quietly.
Shy laughed. “We don’t do uniforms on this ship, but I appreciate the compliment. Commander, the Captain needs you to deal with that situation while he meets with his family.”
Rukari grunted. “That’s still going on? Fine, I’ll be in the conference room, then.”
“Will you come with me, please?”
Rukari headed in the opposite direction as Shy led Aoba and Vecky toward the front of the ship. The corridors were just as impressive as the exterior; wide, bright, and exceptionally clean, they were not nearly as claustrophobic as Vecky had feared. Most of the exposed conduits were small, and what few junction boxes and computer consoles she could identify were blended well with the superstructure. There were only a few other crewmembers to be seen on the way to the bridge, and they were dressed only in drab gray jumpsuits and didn’t appear to be armed.
The architecture of the bridge echoed the rest of the ship. It comprised a single level, and included five stations around the periphery. The main window at the center of the bridge appeared to be an actual aperture to the exterior, although the transparent material itself was augmented with several heads-up displays. Primus loomed overhead majestically through the display, reminding Vecky that up and down were relative out here.
Captain Kitsune stood at the center of the bridge, and turned to greet them. He wore a dark blue military-style jacket with pleated pants and shiny black boots, and certainly looked the part of captain. A handsome man, he kept his hair short and his mustache long. On anyone else it would have looked ridiculous, but Vecky thought he pulled it off.
“Aoba!” he boomed. “Vecky! Welcome to the Fox!”
“I can see you really enjoy your job,” said Aoba, slapping him on the shoulder.
“I’ve been blessed, brother. Vecky, you look old enough to pilot the ship yourself! How are you?”
Vecky blushed. “A little nauseous, but I’ll live. Thank you for inviting us aboard, Uncle Miya.”
Commander Rukari’s voice came in over the intercom. “Captain, sorry for interrupting, but I need you in on this conversation.”
“Understood,” replied Miya. “You’ll have to excuse me, duty calls. Lieutenant, please show our guests around for me. I should be done with this distraction soon enough.”
“Yes, sir,” said Shy.
The captain exited the bridge. Shy shrugged apologetically.
“Is everything all right?” Aoba asked her.
“It’s just the business that brought us here in the first place,” Shy said. “It’s nothing to worry about. So, this is the bridge, obviously. The command staff spends most of our time here. The Fox is a light cruiser, so most of our routine operations can be accomplished here. The ship itself is at its full capacity of twenty crewmembers, although we could double that number if the mission required it.”
Vecky’s nausea suddenly overcame her, and before she could take a step she threw up on her boots.
“Sorry,” she managed to choke out, and blushed bright red.
A crewmember produced a towel from a cabinet and handed it to Vecky. She began to clean herself up, feeling increasingly angry at her own weaknesses in comparison to her hosts.
“It happens to the best of us, Miss Kitsune,” said Shy sincerely.
“Still having trouble adjusting, honey?” asked Aoba.
“I’ll be all right,” replied Vecky, and swooned. Aoba caught her before she hit the deck.
“It could be VGS,” began Shy, grabbing Vecky’s other arm. “Better get her to the infirmary.”
Vecky’s dizziness got bad enough for her to lose track of the conversation, and she only vaguely sensed that she was being carried by her father and Shy to the infirmary. Once there, a nurse put her in a bed, cleaned her up a little bit more, and gave her something via an intravenous line. Vecky felt better for a few moments, and noticed Shy had left. The nurse and her father were talking so she listened in.
“… can’t be sure it is VGS, since that’s a chronic illness,” the nurse was saying.
“I don’t want to risk it,” replied Aoba. “I agree that we should put her in medical stasis until the shuttle is ready to leave again.”
“What’s VGS?” asked Vecky in a creaky voice.
Aoba sat by the bed. “Feeling better, Veck?”
“Good. VGS is Variable Gravity Sickness. It’s a rare but serious condition that can effect space travelers. If not treated properly in a timely manner, the symptoms can become permanent while in an artificial gravity environment. It’s rare enough that the Fox is short on the medicine needed to treat you, so just to be safe we’re going to put you in stasis until someone is available to pilot the shuttle back to the surface. Then we’ll take you to Cathedral Hospital. Hopefully it’s just a bad case of nausea but you can’t be too careful. I don’t want your career in space to be over before it starts.”
Vecky smiled wanly. “You seem sure I’m meant to work in space, Dad.”
“Anyone who really knows you can see that. I may have had you grow up on the farm, but I knew I was raising a spacer. It is in our blood.”
An indeterminable time later, the cover slid open on Vecky’s stasis tube, shocking her out of a dreamless unconsciousness. Instantly her adrenaline got her blood moving; something was very wrong. The bright, secure interior of the medical bay had been cast into semi-darkness, illuminated only by a pair of flashing red lights on either side of the room. An emergency klaxon, not overpowering but loud enough to ensure it would not be ignored, droned without emotion from unseen speakers. Most terrifying to Vecky, however, was an unintelligible voice that was also blaring out over the intercom, repeating an unknown message and garbled by a damaged circuit. Sitting up, Vecky could see that she was alone, and her simple plea for help went ignored.
Vecky clambered out of the tube, almost in a panic. Her bare feet hit the cold deck and she was reminded that she was only wearing a t-shirt and underwear. She glanced around for the rest of her clothing, barely registering that she no longer felt nauseous, and settled on a blue medical coat after a few fruitless seconds. A pair of cheap disposable sandals gave her something to guard against the floor, and donning these Vecky felt prepared to go look for help. She quickly found the button for the door and stumbled into the corridor.
The scene outside of the medical bay was the same, except here the intercom message was coming through clearly. A female voice, almost perfect but still identifiable as a computerized construct, warned any who cared to listen that the ship’s main power was offline.
“Hello?” Vecky called out. “Is anyone there?”
Again, her cry went unanswered. She headed for the bridge, an easy enough route to remember even as sick as she was. One right turn, one left turn, and a lift ride up two decks, and from there it was a straight shot to the command center. She continued to call out for help until she reached the elevator, and mashed the button to call the car.
Vecky stumbled back as the doors slid open. Inside the lift lay the motionless form of Lieutenant Dex, crumpled against the side of the car. She knelt beside the older woman and tried to find a pulse. Blood poured from the lieutenant’s nose, ears, and mouth. Vecky felt no pulse, and was at a loss for anything else to do for her. She retrieved Dex’s pistol and examined it in the sanguine light. It was a projectile weapon, something called a ResZor-Con Legionnaire, the caliber designated in a unit of measurement unfamiliar to her. She knew enough about such weapons to check the chamber, but if there was a manual safety on this pistol Vecky couldn’t find it. Even with the reassuring weight of the weapon in her hands, she was almost too scared to keep going. Whatever killed Dex had done it so fast that she never got a chance to draw. It also occurred to her that another member of the crew might see her as a threat, since she’d been introduced to only a small percentage of the Fox’s people. Vecky put the pistol in the front pocket of her borrowed coat, and kept her thumb and forefinger pinched around the grip. She hit the button for the appropriate deck, and pressed herself against the rear wall. She eyed Dex’s boots with jealousy but couldn’t stand the thought of removing them. The doors opened, and she cautiously stepped out. With a clear view to the bridge hatch, Vecky could see two jumpsuited crewmembers lying on the deck. She stopped briefly at both of them and confirmed that they’d suffered the same fate as Lieutenant Dex.
Entering the bridge, Vecky immediately noticed an unknown vessel stationed some distance off the bow of the Fox. Bodies littered the floor, and several consoles winked with important information. She cried out in horror at the limp form of her father, and rushed to his side. In the same state as the others, there was nothing she could do for him Vecky embraced him by the shoulders, and pleaded with him to wake up. A few second later, a pitiful groan from somewhere else on the bridge got her attention. It was Captain Kitsune, barely moving but awake. Vecky moved over to him, brushing the tears from her face.
“What happened?” she whimpered.
“Sons of bitches attacked us,” he choked, and coughed up blood. “Never seen anything like it.”
“You have to help my dad, I think he’s…”
The captain grabbed Vecky’s coat and pulled her down. “Listen to me, Vecky. I can’t stand up. Before we can help anyone we’ve got to save ourselves. On the second station from the right, there’s a red key. All you have to do is press it.”
“What? I don’t…”
“Do it or we’re all dead!”
Captain Kitsune let go and collapsed on the deck. Vecky made her way to the correct station, stepping over a prone crewmember to reach the keypad. The display indicated a weapons lock on the other ship. Vecky gasped at the implications of what she was doing at the same time that she pressed the red key. Twin streaks of light crossed the distance between ships almost instantly, with no apparent effect. A moment later the ship began to move away. Anger suddenly replaced fear, and she jammed repeatedly on the key until a barrage of silent death had transformed the other ship into a tumbling cloud of dust and debris.
The screen seemed to indicate no other attackers, at least to Vecky’s untrained eye, and she stared with chilling blood at the wreckage an unknown distance away. Momentarily the thought of her father returned, and she again rushed to her uncle’s side.
“Where can I find a medical kit?” she asked, almost whispering.
Captain Kitsune struggled to speak. “Third cabinet from the left. One more thing. Put your thumbprint here.”
The captain weakly offered a personal data pad to his niece. Vecky did as she was told without question, then hurried over to find the medkit.
The next few minutes were a blur for her. She wrestled with unfamiliar devices and instructions inside the kit, each minor victory of comprehension quickly giving way to failure as the aids proved useless. Holding out one last hope that her uncle might have more success with them, Vecky moved to try to help him next and found him equally as dead.
Vecky sat on the deck in defeat, her act of attrition met only with silence. She was too drained to cry, and felt like her heart had been torn out. Almost absentmindedly, she picked up the PDA still held by her uncle and read the emotionless title of the open document thereon:
TRANSFER OF OWNERSHIP
Evangeline paced impatiently in front of the Daimyo’s office. Two stoic guards watched her without sympathy. For the first fifteen minutes of her wait, she had been content to lean against the railing of the balcony that overlooked the City of the Eagle, at an angle and height that she had never seen before. Few civilians were allowed to access this upper area, and although most would consider it an honor, Evangeline just wanted to go back to her quarters and get some sleep.
It didn’t surprise her that Daimyo Yurishi wanted to see her after her remarkable victory in the arena, but she was beginning to resent the present delay. Even though he’d taken personal responsibility for her for the first two days after her arrival, he couldn’t be too casual with her. Still, after being scared out of her mind for so long, her exhaustion had almost overcome her sense of decorum.
“Are you sure this isn’t something that can wait until the morning?” she asked one of the guards.
“One does not question the actions of the Daimyo,” came the predictable reply.
Evangeline nodded grimly and went back to the railing. The city was kept in perpetual twilight, though Reiko told her that the impressive clear dome that covered most of it was capable of displaying a simulation of full sunlight. For whatever reason, the practice of simulating a day/night cycle had been abandoned. Instead, a beautiful panorama of stars filled the dome. Evangeline knew she was still somewhere in the Milky Way galaxy, despite her fairly rudimentary knowledge of astronomy. There were no immediately recognizable constellations visible through the dome, which was disheartening, but use of the Eagle’s observatory telescope had gained her a very good look at the unmistakable Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. They looked the same as the view from Earth, as did the ecliptic plane of the galaxy. However, there were no other familiar points of reference, and her time with the telescope had been limited. Right before she was discovered and brought to the Master at Arms, she thought she’d found the Pleiades and the Orion Nebula, and she was eager to get another crack at the telescope.
The other guard must have received a transmission through his cochlear implant, as he waved Evangeline over. He opened one of the double doors to the Daimyo’s office. Evangeline walked inside. The large, ovoid room was highly decorated in traditional Japanese fashion, and looked entirely unlike any other chamber on the asteroid that she’d encountered so far. A single skylight graced the ceiling. If the intention was to make the room look like it was on Earth, the Daimyo had succeeded.
Yurishi was kneeling behind a squat desk, working on a piece of parchment with what looked like a genuine eagle quill pen. He gestured for Evangeline to approach, and she knelt across the desk from him. He signed the parchment with a flourish, and returned the pen to an inkwell. He glanced at the guards; they went back into the hallway and closed the door.
“Merciel Evangeline,” he said, looking at her. “You have earned something that few arrivals can in such a short period: full citizenship. This entitles you to several privileges. This document is an official proclamation of that fact.”
Yurishi passed the parchment to Evangeline. It was written in a combination of kanji and hiragana. The only part of it that she was able to translate was her own name, which was spelled out phonetically.
“Have I earned the right to some answers?” she asked.
“Of course. I apologize for making you wait for so long, but I am the only one authorized to answer the sort of questions you’ve been asking. Poor Reiko must have been terrified at the very notion.”
“Yeah, she didn’t respond too well. She practically ran out of the room when I asked about the Kira’To.”
“That is not a name that should be used lightly. It is by its very nature invocatory. We prefer to refer to them as our Progenitors.”
“Fine, the Progenitors. First of all, where are we?”
“That you already know. This is the City of the Eagle.”
“I mean where are we in the galaxy?”
“We are where we are, and everything else is where it should be as well. I know you mean relative to Earth, and that I cannot answer. We have not known the location of Earth for four hundred years. Evangeline, let me start from the beginning.” Yurishi stood up and walked to a tapestry depicting two women by a pond. “One thousand years ago, our Progenitors commissioned three asteroid cities. These Stymphalian Raptors, as they were known, were given different mission statements and sent out into the galaxy to seek their fortune. We have not had contact with the Vulture, the Conqueror, or the Swan, the Diplomat, for hundreds of years, and their fate remains unknown. The Eagle’s mission statement was one of peaceful exploration, and from this we have never swayed.”
“Why was I brought here?”
“Periodically, our Progenitors have brought humans here to infuse fresh DNA into our genetic makeup. You are the first in sixty years, which is why I took a particular interest in you. You were intended to provide children for us, and I hope that you will decide to do so.”
Evangeline frowned. “No wonder Takeda was so confident in himself.”
“I would have kept him away from you if I had the power, but I must follow our society’s rules.”
“Yeah, about that. How did you end up with this society?”
“Four hundred years ago, a very powerful warrior named Shimabukuro Yoshiyuki was brought here by our Progenitors. He immediately challenged the existing social structure, and defeated all who opposed him, sometimes at great odds. He set himself up as the first Daimyo of the Eagle, and reforged our society in the image of his own. He was a scholar as well, so even extensive aspects of his society like language and music were integrated. Our society has been stable since, so few can argue that his arrival was a bad thing.”
“Were you having problems before that?”
“There was talk about abandoning our mission statement and putting the asteroid in orbit around a suitable star. Daimyo Shimabukuro agreed with the original intent of our Progenitors. We have since had some insight from our Progenitors that altering the mission statement would have been disastrous, though such direct intervention is rare.”
“And what of the Progenitors? What are they? Are there any here?”
“They are immortal beings, that is all you need to know right now. If they choose to communicate with you, they will likely do so in the form of vivid, interactive dreams. I believe I have said enough for now, and I have questions for you as well.”
Evangeline stood up, unused to kneeling for long. “I’ll do my best, but I’m still having memory problems.”
“Yes. As I said when we first met, the transportation process often causes short-term memory loss. I am confident that all of your memories will return soon. My questions may aid in that. I read your journal during your initial isolation, Evangeline, not an inconsequential task I might add, since English is not my first language. You have been searching for evidence of involvement by the Progenitors on Earth for one year, correct?”
“That much I remember. There had been an increase in abductions connected to the Kira… Progenitors, for several years prior to myself being taken. My father was a government agent assigned to investigate these disappearances. He never went into much detail about what the government knew about it, only that there were reasons to believe in alien involvement rather than more conventional explanations. According to my journal, I got involved after one of those dreams you mentioned. Considering the hyperbole I used in the journal entry, it must have been a life-changing event for me. It’s frustrating that I can’t remember it at the moment.”
“Your last entry indicated that you had traveled to Russia to follow a lead. Do you remember that?”
“I recall reading about someone who could supposedly communicate with the Progenitors at will, in the city of Sochi. I don’t remember anything else after that, so I don’t know how much time passed since that entry. You may have noticed that I made at least one journal entry every week, so unless I changed my mind about that practice for some reason, one might assume less than a week passed before I was abducted.”
“Very well, then. Perhaps this will help your memory.”
Yurishi pointed out a large chest on one side of the room. It was lacquered in red and had a striking painting of a dragon on the lid.
“What’s in the box?” asked Evangeline cautiously.
“Everything you had on you when you were brought here, Merciel.”
Evangeline was wearing borrowed clothing when she woke up in the isolation ward, so this was news to her. She walked over and opened the box. A sharp pang of adrenaline hit her when she saw the contents. There was a pair of khaki cargo pants, socks, tan combat boots, a black t-shirt, an olive-drab field jacket, and a black baseball-style cap. Without looking she remembered the contents of her clothing: A United States passport, CIA credentials, US and Russian currency, a cell phone, keys to a 2021 Ford Endurance that was parked in the long-term lot at John F. Kennedy International Airport, a folding combat knife, and two energy bars. The other items were not hers, but she knew she’d been carrying them. There was a camouflage-pattern rucksack in the box. It contained everything a soldier would need for three days in the field, with the exception of a sleeping bag. All of this information flashed through her mind in an instant, and she focused on the more dramatic items present: a rifle, a pistol, and two fragmentation grenades.
The rifle was a Swiss made Sig 550 select-fire rifle, chambered in 5.56x45mm, with ten full magazines in the load-bearing vest that was resting next to it. The pistol was a H&K USP in .40, with four 13-round magazines. It belonged to her, that much she remembered. The frags were Russian-made, and Evangeline couldn’t remember anything about them other than that Mister Grenade is not your friend once you pull the pin, a generally universal rule.
Evangeline knew all of these details, and knew that she had indeed been in possession of all this stuff, but still couldn’t remember why. The juxtaposition was shocking, and she stood gaping at the box.
“Remember anything?” asked the Daimyo.
“This is definitely the stuff I had on me, but I can’t imagine what the hell I was doing with it. I’m not a soldier.”
“The markings on the rifle are Russian, are they not? Could this have something to do with the city of Sochi?”
That sounded right to Evangeline. “I must have gone there. Now that you mention it, there was some sort of conflict going on when I got there. May I?”
Evangeline gestured at the rifle and Yurishi nodded. She picked it up and ejected the magazine. She pushed her finger into it and judged it to be about half full. She pulled the charging handle on the weapon and a round flew into the box. Shadows of memories entered her mind.
“Were you in the middle of something when you were taken?”
“The Republic of Georgia…” Evangeline began to say. “I remember watching news reports. Georgia was unofficially at war with Russia. They had been pushing north along the Black Sea.” She put the rifle down and snapped her fingers. “The man I wanted to talk to, the one who claimed to have contact with the Kira’To, he was in Sochi. I went there to find him.”
“The war reached the city, did it not?”
Evangeline remembered. She gasped, and clamped her hands over her mouth. She stepped back, trying to make sense of the flood of memories. Several days worth of details hit her at once. The thing that stood out the most was a horrible, agonizing pain in her abdomen. To Yurishi’s surprise and embarrassment, she undid her belt and flung open her tunic. On her waist, just below her floating ribs, was a faint scar. Evangeline checked her lower back and found a very slight bump on the other side.
“I was shot! Was I injured when I arrived here?”
“No. Please, it is improper for you to be half-dressed in my offices.”
Evangeline fixed her tunic and sat on the floor. “Son of a bitch. The Kira’To saved my life.”
“Our Progenitors have been known to take subjects on the verge of death. Merciel, I can see that you need some time to gather your thoughts. You may consider yourself excused if you wish to return to this discussion later.”
Since being shot was the last thing that happened to her, she was able to work backward from that point and make sense of her lost memories. Once the timeline became clear in her mind, her confusion melted away. Snapping herself back to the present, Evangeline stood up. A change in her bearing was immediately obvious to Yurishi.
“What are my privileges?”
“You said I have certain privileges now that I’m a full citizen. What are they?”
“The majority of the Eagle is now available for you to visit. You may go about your business armed, if you choose. You may designate another handler if you are unhappy with Reiko. In the event that our scout ship makes planetfall, you may bypass the lottery and secure your place as a passenger. Ultimately, and I urge you to consider this next privilege carefully, you may leave the Eagle and return at your discretion, time and distance allowing.”
Evangeline picked up the pistol. “When you say armed, what exactly do you mean?”
“Anything you want. Any challenge in the arena must be met with the sword, however. Which brings me to my last order of business for today.”
Yurishi walked back over to his desk. There was a large sword stand behind it, with ten gorgeous specimens on display. He removed one, the same sword he’d lent to Evangeline for her duel, and held it out to her, bowing. Evangeline put the pistol back in the box and walked over to him.
“Daimyo Yurishi,” she said, clearly impressed. “I can’t possibly accept this.”
“You earned it. As you can see, I have enough in my collection as it is.”
Evangeline bowed likewise, and accepted the sword. She tucked it into her belt.
“I’ll be happy to tell you all about my last days on Earth, and how I ended up with all this stuff. Can I meet you for breakfast tomorrow?”
“As you wish. Get some rest.”
Ten minutes later, Evangeline arrived back at her quarters. Reiko met her at the door, and regarded her with a look of relief and confusion. She was prepared to hug her, but couldn’t until Evangeline dropped all the gear and weapons she was carrying.
“What…” was all Reiko could manage.
Evangeline dropped her stuff and hugged the younger woman. She then held her at arm’s length and smiled.
“I got my memory back,” she said.
“And you were granted full citizenship status,” Reiko replied, returning a broader smile. “So, you were a soldier after all. I knew it.”
Evangeline walked over to her bedroll. “No, I’m not a soldier. Most of these things weren’t mine when I picked them up. But I was in the middle of a war. I’ll tell you all about it, my dear… first thing in the morning.”