PROLOGUE

Question: how do you tame a rogue space archaeologist?

Answer: You don’t.

 

When Professor Giles Kurns discovered a crucial piece of intel while being held prisoner by the exiled former Zyhn High Marshall, he returned to the ArchAngel command ship with a compelling argument for him to be allowed to reopen an old research project.

But this time, it was more than intellectual curiosity.

This time, the continued existence of the Federation, and perhaps all species in the Loop and Pan Galaxies were at stake.

Having convinced General Lance Reynolds of the imminent significance of his findings, Giles and his partner in crime, Arlene Bailey, set out to the Orn System for a spot of tomb raiding.

Together with the Empress’s old covert ops warship, fully equipped with Gate technology and a rather spunky AI, they embark on a swashbuckling adventure of danger and intrigue to uncover the truth about the Ascension Myth.

 

Gaitune-67, Safe House

The safe house was a buzz of activity.

Joel could barely contain his enthusiasm for the return of their old friends. “I can’t believe it!” he exclaimed, clamping hands with Giles in a manly handshake.

He called over to Molly, the boss of their operation, but couldn’t take his eyes off Giles. “You go to the university to do a recruitment talk, and you come back with the Giles-ter…and Arlene!” he exclaimed, seeing Arlene following Molly out of the basement door from the hangar deck and into the safe house. The pair disappeared off on a hush-hush mission months ago, without so much as a goodbye, leaving the crew of the Sanguine Squadron intrigued as to what they were up to.

And missing their friends.

They’d been through some intense and interesting times, fighting side by side for survival, and to keep war from breaking out between the Federation and the Zyhn Empire.

And now, they seemed to be back. But for how long remained to be seen.

Joel shook his head in amazement as Paige, the budding business person, integral team member and self-elected hostess, breezed past quickly and began fussing around the common area to give their guests somewhere to sit.

Crash and Pieter were quickly persuaded to pause their holo games. They weren’t that concerned, on account of Oz (the AI) thrashing them mercilessly. Paige started picking up their beer bottles, her heels clipping busily as Giles and Arlene hugged the ever-growing spontaneous welcome party as news of their arrival back on the asteroid, Gaitune-67, spread through the base.

Paige strode out to the kitchen, carrying empty bottles and trash. “If you want to keep playing,” she called back to Crash and Pieter, “just take it down to the workshop.”

Pieter stood up stiffly. The first time in about four hours. “Are you kidding? And miss this?” he called back as she disappeared. Giles caught his eye and headed over, giving him a man-hug.

“How you doing, kid?” he asked, patting Pieter on the back firmly in a hug a little too tightly for Pieter’s liking.

“Ugh. I’m ok,” he said awkwardly as Giles released him. “So where’ve you been? You just disappeared from the ArchAngel.”

Giles looked caught off-guard. “Well yes. We er… had pressing business to attend to.” Pieter nearly rolled his eyes at the standard company line.

Paige had resurfaced from the kitchen carrying beers and a new trash bag to grab the rest of the trash that had been left strewn around by the boys having a game night. “Let him get in and sit down before you start grilling him,” she fussed at Pieter, shuffling him out of the way so she could continue with mission-hospitality.

Giles pushed his glasses up his nose as Paige thrust an obligatory beer into his hand. “Thanks!” he said, trying to smile amongst the kerfuffle.

Pieter didn’t budge. He stood awkwardly still looking at Giles. He ruffled his hair trying to think of what else to say.

“Let him sit down,” Paige’s voice instructed him again as she scooped up an empty pizza box along with some more empty bottles and disappeared into the kitchen for the second time.

Pieter moved out of the way to let Giles into the lounge area. But Giles was also distracted, scanning the faces that had shown up and were lining up to embrace Arlene.

Arlene was clearly more popular, he noticed.

Jack and Maya had just been released from hello hugs and were heading his way. But Giles was looking for someone else.

Before he knew it Maya had snuck up on him and was squeezing him tight. Giles tried not to spill his beer. “Hi!” she greeted him. “Long time, stranger. How have the adventures been?”

Giles grunted and bobbed his head agreeably. “Yes, all going-” His response was interrupted by Jack stepping in to hug him. She was a little more polite in her distance and quickly released him. “Yes, it was good,” he continued. “Some success. But we hit a dead end, which is why we’re back… for now…” he answered to the expectant faces looking back at him.

Maya’s eyes lit up as she glanced briefly back at Arlene, now talking with Molly and Brock, who had just emerged from the basement with screen-face. He’d obviously been taking the time to continue on with whatever pet project he had permission for. It was a stark contrast from his normal, bubbly self.

Maya peeled her attention back to Giles. “So you’ll be staying?” she inquired enthusiastically. Her eyes darted back to her as yet oblivious, but would-be mentor, Arlene.

Giles put one hand in his pocket and tried to feign politeness. “Yes. For a little while, at least. Tell me, is Sean about?”

Maya took a second to process the question, her distraction now evident even to Giles. “Er… yeah he should be,” she said.

Jack interjected. “I think he was down in the gym. The base gym,” she relayed helpfully.

Maya snapped out of her distraction and back into her usual ‘helping’ mode. “Lemme go find him for you. You relax,” she told him, indicating to Jack and Giles to sit. “I’ll be right back,” she added as she scurried off between her teammates chattering away with Arlene.

***

Within about twenty minutes Crash and Joel had brought Giles’s and Arelene’s overnight bags up to the safe house, leaving the Scamp Princess powered down on the hangar deck.

The team sat around in the common area, which Paige had managed to return to some semblance of order only to have a new set of empty beer bottles materializing on the mocha table.

“So come on,” Pieter insisted. “Tell us about what happened,” he pressed now that everyone was settled down and had a drink in hand.

Arlene looked at Giles. “I think you’re the better story teller,” she winked, pleased with herself with how she deftly moved the responsibility of recounting of the last couple of months over to him.

Giles narrowed his eyes, completely aware of her tactic. He leaned forward, taking a deep breath and placing his beer bottle on the table. “Well,” he started, “I have no doubt that Arlene will interrupt at appropriate points, but I’ll at least start the story.” His eyes had a glimmer of humor in it as he glanced around the assembled team. His gaze landed on Molly, who looked equally intrigued as the others to know what they had missed while he had been out of communication. He felt a flutter in his chest knowing that she was paying attention.

“So, as you know,” he continued,”after we all got back from the Zyhn mission Arlene and I continued doing some digging into the mysteries of the talisman that Sean and I had retrieved from Teshov.”

Brock interjected. “Ah, yes, we never did get to hear about what happened there.”

Pieter chuckled, his beer bottle almost to his lips. “Yeah, Royale is nearly as tight lipped as Crash,” he interjected.

Crash glanced at him, narrowing his eyes and then pointing two fingers at his eyes and then at a slightly tipsy Pieter.

Just then Sean arrived, his hair still wet from the shower and wearing a track suit with a towel around his neck. He wandered into the lounge area, poking his ear with one end of the towel.

Giles looked up at him. “Speak of the devil!” he grinned, springing to his feet and stepping over Pieter and Crash’s legs to greet Sean. This was clearly the person he’d been waiting for.

“I knew my ears were burning for a reason!” Sean chuckled, clamping his hand in Giles’s and then pulling him closer for one of his famous bear hugs. The two men slapped each other on the back in a show of mutual appreciation.

“How the devil are you?” Giles grinned back.

Sean bobbed his head excitedly and repeatedly. “You know, can’t complain,” he told him. “No one would listen even if I did,” he said dryly. “Besides, this lot keep me busy,” he said, nodding affectionately in Molly and Joel’s direction.

Paige handed Sean a beer and moved over to give him some space to share the couch she and Brock were occupying.

Molly squinted at the pair. “Since when did you two become so chummy?” she asked.

Joel added his commentary. “Yeah, and how come we’re just noticing it now?”

Sean did a little wink as he sat down and took a swig of beer.

Giles answered the question. “It was probably since he saved my life on our Teshov mission,” he mused. “I’ve heard stories about the great Sean Royale, but until that moment I just assumed he was a jerk.”

Sean stopped with his beer bottle at his lips and lowered it, his mouth open in mock amazement. Then he pretended to look hurt, his eyes drooping at the sides. He clutched his hand to his chest. “You kill me with your words, Kurns!”

Giles chuckled. “Come on, you’ve got to admit it, even the AIs don’t like you!”

Sean chuckled. “You know that’s just coz they’re jealous about how much everyone else likes me, right?”

Giles grinned, picking up his beer bottle, pointing at him. “Yeah, whatever helps you sleep at night,” he told him, jokingly.

Sean finally took another sip of his beer and then set it down, lounging back on the sofa. “Yeah, whatever, mate. Weren’t you about to explain your mysterious disappearance without saying goodbye?”

Giles composed himself. “Yes. Yes I was…”

Brock pointed at him. “Hey, and then you have to tell us about Teshov. Sean Royale has a habit of keeping secrets, so we still don’t know what happened there while we were all busting our asses on Shaa mission.”

Giles nodded. “Ok. I’ll come back to that shortly, because actually, it’s kind of relevant to our mission after the ArchAngel.”

He settled down and continued his story. “So I as I was saying, the reason we left the ArchAngel so quickly was because the General gave us the ‘OK’ for a mission that was prompted by something I discovered while I was being held captive by that Shaa ass-hole.” He shuddered at the thought of the escapade where he had narrowly escaped with his life.

Sean chuckled playfully. “Ah yes, the one we had to rescue your retro-bate ass from…”

Giles nodded. “The one and the same.”

Molly had been quiet, taking it all in and exhausted by the evening’s events. Only now did her curiosity prompt her to interject. “So what did you discover?” she asked. This was the first she was hearing about the lead and it was likely that if it had anything to do with the talisman stuff Giles had shared with her, it might also hold some answers to her realm jumping abilities she was still learning to control.

Giles waved his hands. “More of what I shared with you in that first meeting when Uncle Lance brought you to the lecture theater,” he told her. “But perhaps I should start at the very beginning, to catch everyone else up?”

Molly nodded her agreement, and everyone settled in for the story.

“So there’s something that I didn’t explain to you,” Giles continued, looking over at Molly with a serious expression on his face.

Molly indicated that he should continue.

“You see,” he explained, “I was… economical with the full story because it wasn’t relevant at the time.” His eyes dropped to his beer bottle and he fiddled with the label as spoke now. “It’s not like it was a big secret. Uncle Lance knew the crux of it… but not the details I shared with you when we were first talking about it.”

Molly regarded him with a narrowed eye, trying to read between the lines of what he was saying. “You’re referring to the talisman I take it?”

“Yes, exactly,” he confirmed, still studying the bottle in his hands.

Sean cut in. “The one we went to retrieve?”

“Exactly,” Giles nodded, only now looking up to meet Sean’s eyes, and not Molly’s. “Except at the time I had led you to believe that the story started where I was asked to look after it by the Estarians. But that wasn’t the whole story.”

Molly frowned, glancing briefly at Joel for his reaction. “So what is the whole story?” she pressed.

Joel’s expression was blank as he awaited the details.

“Well it all began many many years ago,” Giles explained. “Long before even Arlene and I crossed paths. I was included on a mission to Earth: the place the other side of the Gate where our ancestors came from.”

Paige’s eyes lit up. “You’re talking about the origin of the humans?”

Giles nodded, smiling at her perception of his race. “Yes. Humans,” he confirmed.

Paige was half human and half Estarian, but because of her blue skin most folks just assumed she was a bizarre looking Estarian rather than anything. Apart from anything it was meant it was nearly impossible for humans and Estarians to mate because of their DNA structure. Nevertheless, Paige was a miracle. And an anomaly.

Giles now held everyone in rapt attention – as he so often did when he lectures.

“The mission was to swing back to Earth to build up its defenses against another Kurtherian assault. And to rescue a certain vampire. This vampire will remain nameless, but he had been stranded there since the war against the Kurtherians broke out.”

“Why nameless?” Brock asked, leaning forward and shuffling his butt back into the sofa a bit more to get comfortable.

“Because this particular vampire wouldn’t like the idea of being rescued by anyone. And, besides,” Giles added, “he’d probably tell the story quite differently… like he wasn’t being rescued.”

Brock grinned. “Ah, but we know it is a he then!”

Giles pointed with his beer bottle in hand. “Or,” he added, “maybe I’m just throwing you off track?” He winked before trying to return to his story.

“Hang on,” Brock interrupted again. “I thought earth was destroyed?”

Giles nodded. “It was,” he replied simply. “Pretty much, at least.”

Pieter frowned, confused. “Well hang on, was this before or after it was destroyed then?”

“After,” Giles confirmed. “The vampire survived being blown up by a nuke – apparently. I never did get the full story from him. He’s not the most talky-talky of people.”

Brock and Pieter looked at each other, processing this new intel and trying to slot it into what they’d each learned in the limited time allocated to human history back on Estaria. Brock immediately jumped to the question they were both thinking. “Well hang on then… how old are you?”

Giles grinned and glanced over in Sean’s direction. “That’s classified. Right Sean?”

Sean grunted from behind his beer bottle. “Right.”

Brock shook his head, knowing full-well the game that Sean had been playing with them, not telling him how old he really was.

Pieter was still enthralled by the discourse. “So then what happened on Earth?”

“Well… let’s just say that during a swash-buckling adventure,” Giles revealed glibly. “I ended up helping the team who was responsible for finding and assembling a Sacred Clans ship left over from when the Empress kicked their asses the first time before she left Earth.”

There was a hush amongst the team. All movement stopped. What Giles was talking about was legendary — so legendary that not one of them really knew the details of what had happened.

Giles waved his hand ironically, now looking uncomfortable at all the attention he was suddenly receiving, despite this being his main driver normally. “Only… well, you don’t need the details. But let’s just say there was an artifact on board that everyone else thought was just junk.”

Molly regarded him carefully. “But you didn’t?” she emphasized, pressing him for as much information as she could glean.

“Exactly,” Giles agreed, smiling at the recognition that Molly had bestowed upon him. “Though I was still a young buck by Federation standards, I had already done my share of book-worming and adventuring, and I knew that it must have some significance. Although what the sacred clan was doing with it we’ll probably never know,” he mused as his thoughts drifted momentarily.

He pulled his attention back to the task in hand. “Anyway, it turned out it was some kind of talisman, likely originating on the planet itself from the crude scans we could do with the onboard material analysis at the time. And this was the talisman Sean and I retrieved on Teshov.”

Molly nodded. “So the Estarian Elders didn’t entrust you with it?” she asked rather skeptical of him once again.

Giles’s eyes looked concerned. “No no,” he protested. “It’s not like that. Yes, they entrusted it to me, but several decades after I’d given it to them for safe keeping. You see, it turns out that this talisman had certain… magical properties.”

Brock raised his eyebrows, looking skeptical and a little anxious at the same time. Paige and Maya were wide-eyed, hanging on Giles’s every word.

Molly looked blankly. “What do you mean… ‘magical properties’?”

Giles nodded at Arlene. “That’s not my area. Arlene? Want to take this one?” he suggested.

Arlene nodded, stretching her legs out in front of her for a moment, and then putting her palms together between her knees as she leaned forward and pulled her legs back in and stretching her back. “I guess the easiest way to describe it is that all things have a power to them. A property, like entropy. Or temperature,” she explained. “Some objects, or places, or people, have more of this power than others. Like Neechie…” she added, the sphinx having just at that moment come into the middle of the group and was sitting directly in front of her between the mocha table and her feet.

Paige and Maya seemed to be getting more and more excited at what they were hearing.

Arlene continued. “Some places have a ground energy, too, meaning that it is easier to manifest certain things in that place than others. Estaria has a slightly higher power than most planets, and that’s why they have such a high incidence of their ancestors having been able to ascend and realm-walk.”

Brock’s eyes were also wide now, and he was looking around anxiously as if afraid of ghosts appearing behind him.

Arlene brought the conversation back to the talisman. “And sometimes objects have so much power that someone who is attuned can pull energy from it, and use it to move things around in this realm.”

Molly frowned. “Move things around? Like psychic kinesis?”

Arlene tilted her head from side to side. “Yes and no. I was talking more about making things happen, or transmuting matter or energy into one form of another.”

Molly frowned. “Give me the science,” she asked without any real energy on the request.

“Well,” Arlene explained, “It’s kind of like this. Your brain emits certain frequencies, depending on the thoughts you think. But for those who have total control and awareness of the frequencies they have, they can use this to resonate with, and affect, matter in the physical world.” She smiled. “I just prefer to call it magic because not every can do it!” She winked playfully.

Molly bobbed her head, contemplating what Arlene had just told her. It fitted perfectly with what she had been teaching her all those months ago out in the deserted landscape of the asteroid.

Arlene chuckled to herself. “Anyway,” she added, “It comes in handy now and again. Especially on missions with this one,” she added, nodding her head in Giles’s direction.

Giles took that as a cue to continue with the story. “Quite,” he agreed dutifully. “So this talisman had power, and I had learned enough to be able to feel it. Not straight away, but after a while of having it in my possession. So when I met the Estarian elders sometime later I explained this to them, and they suggested they look after it. I for one was happy to not have it with me when I was doing my gallivanting. Way too easy to get into all kinds of trouble I didn’t know how to get myself out of.”

Arlene nodded in agreement. “Yeah, it is a little like walking around with a target on your back,” she confirmed.

Giles chuckled. “Yeah, all was safe until I got involved with a woman who was ruthless and cruel and would stop at noth-”

“Alright. Alright!” Arlene interrupted him. “You don’t need to lay it on so thick!”

“Hang on,” Molly interjected looking at Arlene with her eyes wide and horrified. “YOU were the woman?” she asked.

Arlene rolled her eyes at herself. “We were young and reckless. He makes it sound like I was an evil sorcerer or something.”

Giles leaned over in a low voice and whispered in the direction of Joel and Pieter. “Oh, she totally was.”

Arlene gave him a stern look.

Giles straightened up again. “Yeah, okay, we’ll skip that bit about how you tried to kill me to get your hands on it,” he said.

The rest of the team could barely believe what they were hearing.

Joel chirped up, looking at Arlene. “Is that true?”.

Arlene nodded. “Yep.”

Giles waved his hand dismissively. “All water under the bridge now. Anyway, the rest,” he said now looking at Molly, “of what I told you about the elders, and how they were killed and having to find another hiding place for the talisman, is all accurate.”

Molly nodded, pushing her bottom lip out contemplating the information.

Giles pulled his lips to one side. “Are we good?”

Molly shrugged. “Sure,” she said simply. “You’re right. It wasn’t relevant to anything we needed to know at the time and it doesn’t change anything.”

Giles’s face relaxed and his shoulders dropped about two inches. “Good,” he said, smiling now. “So,” he continued, turning back to his story,” when we started putting all this data together I started wondering if there were other talismans, like the one I’d found on the ship. And the six sections on it looked awfully like constellations as seen from areas like Earth, Estaria and the original planet of the Zyhn Empire – Zhyn.”

He made eye contact with each member of his enraptured audience as he spoke. “That, together with the uncanny DNA similarities between the Estarians and the Zyhn made me wonder if there weren’t some other association between them. So, while I was in prison that other captive we rescued shared with me a nursery rhyme about the Moons of Orn. It got me wondering if that was where the Zhyn talisman might be hiding, and when Arlene checked the constellations on the talisman – taking into account the 100,000-year lag time – it looked like that could very well have been the constellations looking from the Moons of Orn, back into the space as seen from Earth, in the Pan Galaxy, pointing back in the direction of this spot.” He paused for breath, his excitement at his string of discoveries getting the better of him.

Brock screwed his face up. “You mean these two sets of regressed constellations both point to the same area of space, as viewed from these points?”

Giles nodded. “Seems more than just a coincidence.”

Oz piped up over the base intercomm. “I can run the probability of that being a coincidence if you like.”

Giles chuckled. “No need, thanks Oz. Though very kind of you to offer. We understand it is astronomically low… and then if you factor in the rest of my theory, I think we can safely say we’re onto something.”

Oz laughed too, clearly enjoying the whole team being together and being a part of things. “As you wish,” he conceded, the audio channel going quiet again.

“So, after you guys kindly saved my life from that infernal hole,” Giles continued, “Arlene and I were pretty sure that our next stop should be the Moons of Orn. And when the General gave us the go ahead it was deemed to be of utmost importance to the Federation and we just had to scarper.”

Molly nodded. “Seems reasonable,” she agreed.

Joel looked at her, amazed. “How can you not be even a little bit hurt that he didn’t say goodbye?”

Molly shrugged. “He had a job to do,” she said blankly.

Joel eyed her carefully as the conversation moved on. He could sense that there was a chance her cool exterior and analytical assessment was still just her protection mechanism for keeping people at a distance. He just hoped that she hadn’t reverted. He didn’t know what might have gone on between her and Giles, but he sensed there was a commonality that the pair shared… both being outsiders, and both being too smart for their own good.

Brock was enthralled. “So what happened next?”


FROM MICHAEL >>> What happens next?  They tell a story that takes place out there somewhere… With snarky Zhyns, snarky responses and a female that keeps both men on their toes.

A female who is blue, cause that is normal for Sarkian Space.

The fact that Arlene had tried to kill Giles was just water under the bridge. The fact that she would consider killing him again was just frustration with a strong-willed, hard-headed pain in the ass human male.

Giles was, to those who knew his father, a chip off the ol' block.