Posted on August 28, 2010


This story is Part 18 in the Fire and Water series. It follows A Waylaid Message. To read from the beginning, please visit the Index Page.

* * *

The ship sat on the cusp of Vael, just out of alignment with the world, invisible to its inhabitants. Inside, Iru and his companions sat at the ship’s controls in outraged silence, attempting to make repairs.

Zaghran and his followers had managed to disrupt the ship’s main operating system, the irn, which also worked as a weapon to blot out the natural vibrational pattern of Vael and to impose that belonging to Nur. Without the irn, Iru could not overpower or control the Vaelans, or even track them now. The ship was adrift in the emptiness between worlds.

Iru wondered how they were able to do it. Even worse, he had noticed before the blast that Griel had escaped the last failsafe put upon him. He had returned to Vael as strong as he had ever been. Now that Zaghran and Griel were together again… Iru had no desire to consider the ramifications of that.

But there was another thing, too. One of their followers, one of the two young men, had been able to tap into the rich energy of Vael, to let it course through his body, and then turn it upon the ship. This unknown creature was as powerful as Zaghran or Griel had ever been, despite his obvious youth. And if primary creators could still be born in Vael… Iru put that speculation aside, too.

Udir, one of Iru’s two companions aboard, approached him, interrupting his thoughts.

“We have not not restored full capacity to the irn, but we have communication up again. We can notify Nur of the Vaelan attack.”

That did not improve Iru’s mood.

“It would be pointless to advise them of our situation at this juncture,” he said. “We must repair the irn as fully as possible first. It is not my desire to tell Command that our livestock have resisted us and, indeed, caused us damage.”

Udir turned away and went to work on other repairs, leaving Iru to brood.

Ro, their other companion, tried to piece together a sheer membrane through which they had been able to view the Vaelans. The sound with which they had attacked the ship had shattered it, and it lay in shards on the cabin floor.

“Perhaps we should contact Command so that they can send reinforcements,” he said. “It will take time to put the ship right. The longer we wait, the more time the Vaelans have to gather strength and rally their numbers. Our instructions were to gather information so that Command could make final arrangements for the invasion. If we delay in reporting what we have learned, we only weaken ourselves.”

“I know what our instructions were,” Iru said. “Do you think Command will come to retrieve us? We have failed to contain Zaghran. They will not look mercifully on that. They will leave us here between the worlds to die. Therefore I tell you again that we must get the ship operational first so that we may save ourselves. Then we can report to Command.”

Ro left the shattered membrane and faced Iru. Udir lay down his tools.

“It is not ‘we’ who have failed,” Ro said. “You are the one who mated with a Vaelan when it was forbidden and produced offspring. It was never necessary to mingle our blood with that of our food source. You are the one who failed to enlist the allegiance of that offspring. You engaged the shapeshifter and his allies before we had fully determined their strength or even the correct settings for the irn to incapacitate them all. Therefore it is you, Iru, who has failed to stop Zaghran and has recklessly endangered the lives of your crew and incurred nearly irreparable damage to your ship.”

Iru looked from Ro to Udir and back again.

“So you are taking the ship from me.” It was a statement, a challenge.

“This mission was your final opportunity to prove your usefulness to Command,” Udir said. “You made some advances in our knowledge base on Nur from your ill-advised breeding experiment, but it has weakened the Vaelan resource. If you had been able to contain Zaghran or even your half-breed son, you would have regained some of your position on Nur. But your failure has made that impossible now.”

“No, we are not taking the ship from you,” Ro went on. “We are removing our greatest weakness in this mission so that we may proceed with the invasion and secure this resource once and for all.”

Iru tried to back away, but there was nowhere to go. Udir lunged and grabbed him. He overpowered Iru and pinned his arms behind him. Iru struggled, but Udir was younger and more powerful. Ro picked up a shard of the shattered membrane and began to stab Iru with it. Iru begged for mercy until Ro slit his throat. Udir let him fall to the floor. Then they stood over him, quivering with the elation of destruction, and watched him die.

Udir went to the communications console and contacted Command.

“We have eliminated our internal weakness,” he told them. “We have failed to attain our target and the ship has also sustained damages due to his erroneous judgment. I repeat: the target has not been acquired. We request additional resources immediately to avert an imminent rebellion by the Vaelans.”

The flat response from Command filled the cabin.

“Well done. We are dispatching a ship to retrieve you now, and the First Fleet will be deployed at once. Have all the information you have gathered ready for their arrival.”


Udir and Ro collected all the information they could salvage. When the ship came to rescue them, they abandoned the crippled sphere in the empty space between the worlds.

They left Iru’s torn body where it lay.

Posted in: Fantasy