UNEDITED

Gaitune-67, Safe House

“So there we were, having got special permission for a ship with Gate technology. I can probably count on one hand the number of times the General has given me access to such tech… and never before without a special forces Federation escort.”

Arlene bobbed her head as Giles explained the situation. “Just goes to show how much he thinks this talisman might be a threat to the Federation,” she added in.

“Either that,” Sean added, “or an opportunity for us.”

Giles pulled his lips to one side. It wasn’t something he hadn’t considered before, but he liked to think more of Lance. “In any case,” he continued, “there we were, Arlene and I, on our way to the Zhyn Empire.”

Aboard the Scamp Princess, Koin Star System

“Adjusting course for Kurilia,” Scamp announced.

Arlene looked up at Giles from her console. “Kurilia?” she queried.

Giles’s attention was elsewhere. “Huh?” he grunted absently.

“We’re going to Kurilia?” Arlene clarified.

“Yeah,” Giles responded, pressing buttons on his console and cross-checking the reference coordinates he had been working on. “We’re going to ask someone for permission.”

“Permission? For what?” Arlene’s blue complexion glinted in the dim light of the cockpit, accentuating her expression of confusion.

Giles still didn’t look round. “For visiting the Moons of Orn on our quest,” he told her.

Arlene frowned, turning in her antigrav chair to face Giles, who had his back to her sitting at his console at the front of the ship’s cockpit.

“Bit old-fashioned,” she commented.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “But it’s all about honor and respect with these guys,” he explained, still engrossed in what he was doing.

“Hmm,” she grumped. “More like it’s all about covering your ass,” she muttered under her breath.

“That too,” he confessed. “ADAM, set up a meeting for us on the down low… we’re meeting with the Justicar himself.”

Arlene was intrigued. She got up out of her chair and ambled over to where Giles was working, perching on the console next to him to see his face as he spoke. “Why him specifically?” she asked.

Giles looked up at her, his hand mid-way to another button in the holo-display he was working on. “Well, the Emperor himself doesn’t handle these kind of trivial matters. It normally falls to some random official in his court, but given Molly’s diplomatic relations had gone so well in the past with him and the Justicar, ADAM reached out to them directly. Turns out the Emperor and Justicar had rather warmed to her… and by extension, humans in general.”

Arlene squinted one eye suspiciously. “And what about Estarians?”

Giles chortled quietly, his attention mostly back on his work.

“What?” Arlene pressed.

He smiled up at her briefly before turning back to the holo-console. “I don’t think they have any bad feelings towards you,” he said slowly.

“But?”

“But…” he continued, “I think they just have you down as a rather ugly version of themselves.”

Arlene looked horrified as she swiped at his nearest arm. Giles managed to lean back and dodge, still chuckling. “Don’t worry Arlene, I still think you’re cute!”

“Humpft,” she retorted, turning her attention back to her console and nursing her ego. “Ugly version… we’ll see about that!”

She stomped back to her console to continue her analysis of the constellations she had been working through.

It took a little time before they were finally within striking distance of Kurilia. Scamp piped up over the cockpit intercom. “Giles, Arlene, will you be wanting to land, or would you like to take the skylift down to the surface?”

Giles had just come back into the cockpit. “I’m not sure,” he said contemplating the two options. “Which is easiest?”

Scamp chuckled over the audio. “For who?” he asked cheekily.

Giles suddenly remembered why he had always had interesting relationship with AIs. “Let’s say for us,” he suggested.

Scamp’s chuckling subsided. “I’d say the skylift is the better option. You’d still need to meet with your official liaisons, but landing will take more time and lots more walking by my calculations.”

Giles smiled. “Ok. Skylift it is then,” he responded.

Scamp seemed to compute something else. “There is an additional variable to consider,” he added.

“What’s that then?” Giles asked.

“Well,” Scamp explained, “I understand from data shared by Emma that Molly and her crew would jump down onto the skylift platform as the ship passed by it in an off-kilter kind of geo-orbit.”

Arlene frowned. “Hang on, who is Emma?”

“The EI that runs Molly’s ship, the Empress,” Scamp explained.

“Ah,” Arlene murmured, allowing Scamp to continue.

Giles was considering the new information. “What do you mean, they would jump down” he asked.

“You know,” Scamp explained playfully, “tuck and roll style, down to the platform.”

“You’re kidding?” Giles asked, now contemplating if it were indeed possible for an EI to be running irony as some kind of uncontrolled sub-routine. “What speed was the ship passing at?” he tried to clarify.

Scamp’s tone was giving nothing away on the irony front. “Maybe a couple of meters per second,” he responded matter-of-factly.

Giles glanced over at Arlene. Arlene was shaking her head. “No frikkin way!” she exclaimed, clearly taking Scamp’s suggestion as a serious one.

“I’m afraid,” Giles informed Scamp with a degree of relief in his voice now, “we’re going to have to go with the parking-up option. Sorry,” he added, his tone clearly not remorseful about his decision.

Scamp chuffed back over the intercom. “As you wish, Mr. Kurns. I’ll make preparations for entry into orbit and coordinate with their orbital control unit to dock.”

“Thank you Scamp,” Giles responded politely, while exchanging disbelieving looks with Arlene.

Scamp’s intercom clicked off.

“Did you believe that?” Giles exclaimed, still wondering if he had imagined what Scamp was suggesting.

Arlene was still shaking her head. “You mean that they just jumped? I can’t. I mean, what if they missed the platform? That would just be it for them, right?”

Giles thought for a moment. “It’s either a long way down, or a hell of a way to go from atmospheric exposure.”

Arlene shook her head, her expression suddenly much more serious than it had been. “Well, you’d know about that,” she muttered quietly.

Giles grinned. “Yeah, and I know how painful it is, with or without nanocytes to heal you.”

Arlene shuddered. “Ok. Conversation over. I don’t want to even think about it. Do you think we need suits to head down?”

Giles shook his head. “Probably not. But after this conversation, I’m putting one on anyway.”

Arlene’s mood seemed to shift and she grinned at him cheekily. “Seems like old age is making you more sound in the head.”

Giles glanced over at her as he headed back into the main area of the ship. “Seems like,” he agreed dryly.

Planet Kurilia, Koin Star System, Zhyn Empire

Giles and Arlene stepped from the Scamp Princess onto the skylift dock. Despite the altitude and low atmosphere it felt bitingly blustery.

“Aren’t you glad you didn’t opt for the Molly-method of descent now?” Arlene asked Giles as he stepped out and almost recoiled against the wind.

Giles’s face was stoney as he wrapped his arms around his body against the conditions. “Yeah, yeah. You were right,” he admitted reluctantly.

Arlene headed over to the lift and was pressing the call button repeatedly. Giles glanced back to see that Scamp had activated the door closed mechanism on the ship parked precariously in orbit. He regarded the swaying structure and then glanced back at Arlene. “You sure this is safe?” he asked, looking around the same altitude at the many other ships docked on flimsy-looking platforms.

Arlene shrugged her shoulders. “Dunno. But all those guys seem to think so.”

They didn’t have long to wait before the skylift arrived at their dock to take them down to the surface. On the ride down they mused about the advertisements and the culture as only anthropologists could.

“I think they’re probably more militaristic than the Estarians,” Arlene commented just as the elevator came to a halt at ground level. “Though, I’d like to see the influence of their religions here.”

Giles pushed himself up off the handrail he had perched his butt against. “I think you’ll probably get a chance to see that if we head through a populated area,” Giles remarked as the doors slid open to reveal a sandy area surrounded by woodland.

Arlene shot him a look of irony, one eyebrow arched. He couldn’t help but chuckle silently to himself.

They stepped out in tandem as if joined by the hip, only to be greeted by half a dozen armed Zhyn. Their tough blue skins glistened in the sun light and the reflection of their armor and swords glinted, blinding them for a moment.

Giles’s heart beat out of his chest as he suddenly felt more like a wanted prisoner than a guest on the planet. “Greetings,” he declared, raising his hands in a gesture of peace and surrender. “I’m Giles Kurns and this is my associate, Arlene Bailey. We’re expected by your Justicar,” he added quickly.

One of the large blue-skinned guards clad in ceremonial dress stepped forward. “Greetings. My name is Gh’herk. The Justicar is indeed expecting you. I’ll be your personal liaison on this trip. Welcome to Kurilia.”

His English was good, considering their language had a much harsher, guttural sound.

Giles was impressed. “Thank you!” he smiled, visibly relieved. “And may I just say, your use of the human language is… well, excellent.”

Gh’herk looked pleased with himself. “Thank you. I’ve been learning ever since I joined the forces. Five years now.”

Giles and Arlene exchanged deliberately affected glances. Arlene added her sentiment. “Well, I think it would take us much longer than five years to speak your language even half as well.”

Gh’herk bowed politely in acknowledgment and then turned to lead the way, gesturing for them to follow. “I’ll take you to the Justicar, if I may. Would you like to follow me, please?”

The guards ambled behind them, more as an accompanying and curious contingent than the forced security detail Giles had initially assumed.

The group trudged for some minutes through the natural terrain before reaching a metallic-built station. Gh’herk led them inside where it was much cooler, partly because it was out of the direct sunlight. He welcomed them into a type of subway train car and once everyone was inside the doors closed and the train moved gently off.

The shuttle was relatively quiet and from what Giles could tell, seemed to be underground. There were no windows to see out, though, and from the sounds, Giles suspected it was operating on some form of antigrav rather than maglev. The motion made it easy for them to stand and retain their balance.

Not that they had the option of sitting. There was a distinct absence of chairs or even benches. Giles clung to a rail along one side of the carriage, and Arlene wedged herself against the opposite wall for comfort.

Giles noticed she was paying attention to the details of the carriage, no doubt using her Estarian gifts of perception to sense the types of fields around them. She’d likely give him an appraisal of her findings later, when they weren’t likely to be accused of espionage.

It wasn’t long before the train slowed and the sound around it shifted as if it had pulled into another station. The doors opened and Gh’herk smiled with an awkward Zhyn smile and then led them out.

The new station was more developed than the last one. It was also more attractive, with pattern tiled flooring, and though the doors were plated in metal it was more decorative and expensive than purely functional — clearly a sign that they’d entered a more populated if not affluent area on the planet’s surface.

“Looks like we’ve arrived,” Giles remarked dryly to Arlene as he stepped past her. Arlene characteristically raised an eyebrow in acknowledgment of his astute deduction and then followed him out.

One of the guards had wandered ahead with Gh’herk falling into a relaxed escort formation. Giles and then Arlene followed them out into the small station, followed by their remaining three escorts.

Gh’herk led them into the adjacent building. It had a sense of space and grandeur that Giles had seen on only a few occasions before. There was ornate tiling on the floors and walls all in warm ocher tones. This new building was several stories high and resembled some of the Estarian religious and senate structures that Arlene had visited over the years. She made a mental note to add that data point into the mix later.

Giles glanced back to see her widen her stride to catch him up again. He slowed his pace and leaned over to whisper to her. “Pretty impressive, huh?” he said, raising his eyes up at a levitating light source hovering about ten feet above them.

Arlene nodded, trying to conceal quite how impressed she was. She wondered what the strange source might be that was powering the light, if it was indeed levitating. She knew she would be able to sense an electromagnetic field around it but there was none. She’d mention it to Giles later. There was certainly much to learn from these people.

Gh’herk picked up his pace as they moved through the hall. They walked for several minutes from the side where they had entered through to the far end, which they could barely make out from their starting point. Eventually they slowed as they neared a set of beautifully carved double doors guarded by armed attendants in full traditional dress.

Gh’herk made some Zhyn noises to one of them, who leaned over and opened the door for them. Gh’herk indicated for the guests to follow him through, and led the way into a red-carpeted foyer area with a desk to the left.

He grunted again to an older, smaller Zhyn female sitting behind the desk. She merely looked up from her holo and nodded before returning to what she was doing.

Gh’herk turned to Giles and Arlene. “The Justicar will see you in the main chamber,” he explained, waving a hand at the door ahead of them.

Giles nodded congenially and followed behind Gh’herk, who opened the door, slipped through and then held it open for his charges to enter.

Arlene watched Giles on his best behavior. She’d seen him do this routine countless times before with each new culture they had met on their adventures. Always the same. At least to begin with. He was gathering data. Sizing them up. She’d seen him act all nicey-nice even with known enemies and rogues only to obliterate them once his suspicions had been confirmed and he had the details he needed.

That said, he had been saving lives on some of those occasions. Kidnap victims, people who were being extorted by bullies and the like. She smiled to herself as she followed him through into the chamber.

Maybe it wasn’t so bad to be back in the mix with him again. 

The unlikely pair wandered into the majestic chambers. At the front was a small stage with a throne on it. The throne was empty. In fact, there wasn’t a soul in the whole hall. There were chairs set up as if it were some kind of court, and towards the front there were benches with different-sized desks and a lectern, presumably where the subjects would stand to address their emperor on matters of State.

Giles glanced around taking it all in, making note of the arrangement of the seats and wondering what it might infer about the political structure.

Gh’herk turned back to them as he led them down towards the front of the room. “Make yourselves comfortable,” he told them. “The Justicar will be right through.” And with that he disappeared through the door at the front of the room.

Giles and Arlene sat down on one of the front benches. Arlene turned, noticing that their escorts didn’t sit. Instead they milled about almost casually, as if they didn’t expect any problems. Arlene’s shoulders dropped a little as she relaxed. 

At least they weren’t being treated as hostile prisoners, she thought to herself, noticing the relative size of the Zhyn versus her own Estarian race. They were a good head and shoulders taller on average.

She glanced at Giles, who was oblivious to her concerns. He was engrossed in an emblem he’d found on the back of one of the chairs. He felt the weight of her gaze and pointed at the carving that looked like a coat of arms. He raised his eyebrows enthusiastically, almost as if she should recognize it.

Arlene frowned, her eyes silently asking him to explain his interest, but just at that moment the door at the front of the room clattered open. A rather large-looking Zhyn appeared, dressed in expensive robes, followed by Gh’herk.

The new Zhyn spoke to them in English with a heavy Zhyn accent. “Greetings to you, friends of Molly!” he called jovially as he crossed the floor in front of the throne. He came to stand just in front of the bench they had seated themselves behind. Giles and then Arlene stood up to make the necessary bows.

The Zhyn returned the bow as the pair lowered their eyes respectfully. “I am the Justicar Beno’or,” he explained. “I believe our mutual friend ADAM set up our meeting.”

“That’s right,” Giles confirmed. “My name is Giles Kurns,” he offered, “and I’d like to thank you so much for meeting with us. Especially on such short notice. I understand that you’re a busy man, so we appreciate your efforts all the more.”

“Of course,” the Justicar chimed. “I understand that you’re a friend of Molly’s?”

Giles nodded. “We are indeed,” he confirmed. “She sends her best wishes,” he lied.

The Justicar smiled politely. “And how is she?” he asked.

Giles shrugged, then remembered the pretense. “Recovering from her last mission, but doing very well.”

The Justicar regarded him carefully. “She is a strong young lady – for a human,” he said, continuing the pleasantries. “And a great friend of the Zhyn Empire.”

Arlene resisted the urge to roll her eyes at Giles pretending that Molly had sent them. Despite her managing to maintain her poker face, Justicar Beno’or glanced over in her direction. He smiled at her. “And you must be Arlene Bailey,” he said gently bowing in her direction.

Arlene lowered her gaze, returned the bow. “Yes, Your Honor. Pleased to meet you.”

The Justicar waved his hand casually. “Please, call me Beno’or,” he told her. “Both of you,” he added, nodding back in Giles’s direction. “Any friend of Molly’s is a friend of mine. And besides, I can’t have a beautiful young lady like you calling me by my title all the time,” he said, smiling back at Arlene.

Arlene’s eyes widened and Giles noticed her visibly stumble back a fraction on the spot where she stood.

She glanced furtively over at him. So much for Zhyn thinking we’re ugly! her eyes said to him.

Giles was too amused to feel chastised by her glare.

The Justicar seemed to understand most of what was going on. He took a small step backwards and folded his arms, returning to the business at hand. “So tell me, friends of Molly, what can I do for you today?” he asked.

Giles did a better job at hiding his smirk and composed himself. “We’d like to beg your permission to quest in the Zhyn Empire,” he informed him.

Beno’or made a single nod of his head, slowly, taking a moment to process the information. “And what is your quest?” he asked.

Arlene spoke up, suspecting that the request might be better received from a female who he had just expressed some interest in. “We’re looking for a talisman that may well tell us more about our collective heritage,” she explained. “And by collective, we mean Estarian and Zhyn.”

Beno’or nodded again, his eyes bright and interest piqued. “And I assume that anything you find will be shared with us?” he queried.

Giles jumped back in. “Of course!” he added, his voice a little too enthusiastic. Arlene shot him a glance that Beno’or noticed. The Justicar smiled at the bizarre interplay between the two.

He kept to his line of questioning though. “And where will your quest take you first?” he asked.

Arlene and Giles exchanged another look as if deciding who would answer the next question. Giles seemed to win the silent nomination and proceeded to speak. “We suspect we may find more information at the Moons of Orn,” he revealed.

“The Moons of Orn, eh?” Beno’or repeated, rubbing his chin slowly and contemplating the implications. “That’s very interesting,” he mused quietly. “Come,” he said, “let’s sit more comfortably and you can tell me more about your quest and why it is so important.”

He beckoned to them to follow him and led them out of the main chamber into a red-carpeted corridor and then into a sitting room to the right of the corridor. En route he chatted to them, almost casually. “You know, I used to be something of a history buff myself,” he called back to them as he led the way. “In fact, had I not been pushed into politics – by my mother, may our ancestors protect her soul – I almost certainly would have ended up in the priesthood. Studying the history of our spirituality or some such,” he qualified.

He waved them to sit down on an array of sofas in one corner of the room. A young Zhyn female appeared carrying a tea tray.

“May I offer you some refreshments?” he said, more as a statement of what they were going to do than a question. Giles and Arlene nodded agreeably and made polite noises of thanks, but it was Arlene who then pressed him about his history.

“So you’re a spiritual man?” she asked.

Beno’or nodded “I like to think so. I find it’s so much easier to lead and make decisions for the Empire when you have a moral grounding and an understanding about how best one might live.”

Arlene smiled.

There was a clatter on the tea tray, pulling the attention of both Arlene and the Justicar. Giles righted the tea cup he had knocked on its side and, looking embarrassed, sat himself back on his sofa away from the crockery.

The assistant reappeared with milk of some kind, and a flame that seemed to be magically held in a saucer. She tipped the flame into the tea pot and then took over pouring of the tea.

Arlene noticed the strange occurrence too, but at this point was too engrossed in conversation with Beno’or to ask about a detail she could probably have Scamp look up in an online reference about Zhyn tea ceremonies.

The three talked for some time, exchanging stories and insights about similarities in their culture. Beno’or was beyond charming and on many occasions had both Arlene and Giles laughing so hard they had to wipe tears from their eyes.

“You know,” he said eventually, his mirth subsiding as he considered his next thought, “I seem to recall something to do with the Moons of Orn in our mythology. Though… can’t for the life of me recall the details.”

Giles explained the nursery rhyme he had heard while he was captured.

“Hmm… yes… that sounds familiar,” Beno’or contemplated, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “And don’t think I missed the part about you being held hostage voluntarily,” he said. “I’m sure that’s a story I’d like to hear.”

Arlene smiled, still flushed from the laughing. “You know, it’s a shame you’re not coming with us on this quest. Something tells me you’d be a fountain of knowledge and a huge help to us.”

Giles barely thought anything of the statement as he fiddled again with the teapot, examining it for any hidden technology or magic that he hadn’t noticed in the first instance.

The Justicar’s manner had changed though. “It is,” he responded to Arlene. “And you’re leaving straight to there?” he clarified.

“Yes sir. We are,” she answered.

The Justicar gathered his robes about him and stood up. “Give me a few moments if you would? I’ll have my assistant bring in some fresh tea and explain to Mr. Kurns just how the flame in the teapot works,” he said, eying the young-looking man humorously.

Giles realized that they were talking about him and looked up quizzically, wondering what he had missed.

The Justicar disappeared.

A short time later, after his assistant had replenished their tea and explained the details of the flame that was added into the tea, the Justicar re-emerged. This time he was no longer in robes but in an outdoors atmosuit, not too dissimilar from those worn by Arlene and Giles.

“I’d like to grant you freedom to quest,” he announced. Giles and Arlene’s faces lit up, even though with how things were going they had expected a positive response. “But I have a request in return,” the Justicar added.

“Yes, Sir,” Giles said politely. “What can we do for you?”

The Justicar stepped forward, his air of office faded and now seeming to be more of an equal talking with them. “Allow me to come with you,” he said simply. “I have always had an interest in this part of our mythology and I feel called to participate.”

Arlene and Giles exchanged confounded glances. It was Arlene who spoke. “But don’t you have duties here?” she asked, her tone conveying that she had been caught off guard, and not that she was averse to the idea.

“Believe it or not,” Beno’or smiled, “I’ve just been granted a sabbatical for the duration of the quest.” His smile widened to a grin. “By the Emperor himself!”

Giles couldn’t contain his surprise. “You’re kidding?” he exclaimed, forgetting himself, his mouth hanging open.

The Justicar’s eyes twinkled with renewed enthusiasm. “I’m not,” he assured him. “I have a deep respect for Molly and her team. They have done right by us time and again, beyond the call of duty. And now, with the interest you have demonstrated in a culture other than your own, I see you are cut from the same cloth. The curiosity of spirit and genuine compassion for other races — you may be puny and scaleless, but you humans… and Estarians,” he added, bowing politely to Arlene, “have your hearts metaphorically in the right place, even if that anatomically isn’t true.”

In that moment Giles had a torrent of questions he wanted to ask about the Zhyn anatomy but managed to restrain himself. “Sir,” he said instead, “it would be our honor to have you accompany us.”

“Well then,” Beno’or said, clamping his hands together in excitement, “if you give me a few more moments I shall tidy up my affairs, pack and then meet you back at your skylift station to embark on your vessel.”

Giles, bewildered by the strange turn of events, stood up and bowed deeply. Arlene followed suit, allowing the Justicar to take his leave of them.

“Well that was unexpected,” Arlene remarked, sitting down once the door to the sitting room had closed behind him.

Giles looked over at her, shaking his head in utter amusement. “You’re telling me.” he concurred.

FROM MICHAEL >>> Woohoo, arriving (sometime) Today!

Frank Kurns was one of those characters in the beginning that I didn't see much of, but he has always been in the background. I'd like to add more Frank Kurns stories in the future, but now it is rather cool to see his SON has his own series penned by the wonderful Ell Leigh Clarke.

We hope you enjoy this version of Indiana Jones Space Archeologist!