Trolling The Galaxy, Part 3

Never before had sailing her small boat on the Pacific ocean made Reya feel so tense. She simply sat at the bow and stared sadly at the stern, where Natalie stood, watching the wind toss the waves below. The mood between them was far from happy. They were both terrified.

This time, their trip out onto the ocean wasn’t for pleasure. The two were hiding – and at Sharon’s urgent suggestion, they left land quickly for their own safety…for Natalie’s safety…while their friend did some reconnaissance.

Between the two of them, Sharon was the weaker – which worried Reya – but she also knew that Sharon was very adept at gathering information while keeping a low profile…or in short, spying. It was how she safely kept tabs on nearly every being living on Earth who wasn’t native to the planet, and chronicled each.

“I feel like we’ve been out here forever,” Natalie said, almost in a humorous manner. Reya had to smile in spite of her own mood. Natalie was like that – always the one to use humor to break a melancholy mood. It was one of her Terran-like traits.

“It’s only for a couple of hours. Sharon will call when she thinks it’s safe–”

As if to punctuate Reya’s words, the phone rang, causing her to jump suddenly. She almost dropped her cell phone into the water as she answered it. “Yes?”

Natalie watched her mom’s face change quickly from hopeful to sadness. She nodded slowly as she talked on the phone, each time bowing her head further so her long hair would hide her reaction from Natalie.

“What?” Natalie asked, as soon as her mom put the phone down.

Reya sighed. “Sharon found a Messenger. It turns out that the Arions do know about you, and they want to–”

“They want to capture me, right? Or kill me?” Natalie stood up and walked across the length of the boat, kneeling beside her mom. Reya was shaking with fear…terrified that she would lose Natalie. “Mom, I won’t let that happen. I promise.”

“How?” Reya placed her face in her hands and rubbed her eyes slowly. “How will you stop them? Natalie, you’re only barely stronger than a Terran, and just as Earth-bound–”

“Not anymore.”

Reya watched in amazement as Natalie slowly rose from the deck of the boat, until her feet were a yard above the deck. She even did a quick mid-air somersault, and laughed about it as well. “How…when…?”

“I don’t know. It happened after I left school.” Natalie dropped back to the deck gently, trying her best not to jar the boat too much. “I was running…faster than cars on the street. I leapt to avoid something and…”

“…And you went airborne.” Reya nodded. “It was the stress. It forced you to use abilities you’ve never had to before.”

“That’s nothing, mom. Watch this!”

Natalie rose from the deck of the small boat once again, this time more slowly, and to a much higher level. The wind whipped through her dark hair as she twisted around and headed out over the waves of the ocean. The wind seemed to follow her as she went, tossing her hair and clothing as she passed a few yards above the water.

Reya gasped as she watched Natalie’s flight go from simple beauty to utter amazement. A wake formed in the water below her, as if she was dragging an invisible boat along the water with her. Reya could feel a breeze moving away from Natalie as she made a small circle, the wake below her tossing the boat mercilessly atop waves generated by forces usually only available in nature.

That’s when it occurred to her – her daughter was able to project energy outward much more efficiently now. Natalie not only could will herself fly…but she herself could become a force of nature if she so desired. All of a sudden, Natalie’s limited power reserve seemed like a trivial effect of nature.

Once Natalie returned gently to the boat, she smiled as she watched her mom breathing quickly, looking up at her daughter with surprise. “I know, I know. It’s a little weird, isn’t it?”

“No, absolutely not.” Reya shook her head as she stood quickly to hug her daughter. “It’s wonderful. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

Natalie smiled. “I learned something cool. I can control all of it with my mind. The size of the wake, the air around me…”

“Oh my God.” Reya sat down again quickly and ran her hands through her hair. “That’s what they meant.”

“That’s what who meant?” Natalie sat down next to Reya, looking a little worried.

“The creators of the Velorian race. Our bodies were given to us as gifts…but our minds are ours to develop. But all through school, we’re taught that there is a tradeoff. I never understood what that meant…until now.”

“So…What I’m missing physically is more than made up for?”

Reya nodded. “You’re the next step, Natalie. You use the energy you tap much more efficiently than I can, which is why you don’t need as much.”

“So…” Natalie sat down on a bench along the port side of the boat. “…Maybe I could visit where you grew up one day? Meet my grandpa for the first time, ever?”

“I really don’t know, now.” Reya sighed and looked behind her at the setting sun. She glanced at her cell phone again, wishing Sharon would call already. “Anything’s possible, I guess. I just woudn’t want to risk it until we’re sure.”

“Mom, I’m just a teenager.” Natalie smiled and leaned back against the edge of the boat. “I have plenty of time.”

Reya smiled. “I sure hope so, Natalie.”

Natalie’s smile disappeared as she saw fear cross her mom’s eyes. She slid over next to Reya, and hugged her as best as she could. “Everything will be okay, mom. I promise.”

“I can’t promise anything, Reya.” Sharon’s voice sounded a little panicked as she spoke to her friend over the phone.

She had just given Reya some very bad news – that the Arion she was shadowing had managed to attract the attention of the Los Angeles Police and FBI, and were currently holding an evacuated hotel downtown hostage.

But that’s not what frightened Sharon. Normally, an Arion would simply plow its way through the police barricade and continue on its way. This one was cunning, and very methodical. She had a plan – she wasn’t killing just for sport.

“Reya, if the cops go in, they’ll be killed. You have to help.”

At the other end of the phone line, Reya held her cell phone with two shaking hands, looking up at Natalie. She spoke half into the phone, and half to Natalie. “But…what about Natalie? What if I don’t make it through this alive? You know I’m out of practice.”

Natalie frowned and walked away from Reya, toward the other end of the boat. She sat down and folded her arms, staring across at her mother, making no secret of the anger she was trying to express.

Reya eyed her daughter feeling worried as she clung to the small cell phone with both hands, only half-listening to Sharon. The last words she remembered Sharon say were, ‘You wanted your daughter to grow up in a place like this…now you have to fight for it.’


“Mom–” Natalie’s first word sounded like an accusation as she stood and gave Reya a frustrated sigh. “Sharon’s right. You have to protect Earth before you protect me. It’s your destiny.”

“No.” Reya shook her head. “You mean everything to me, Natalie. If you were hurt–”

“Then why am I here?” Natalie picked up a soft drink can she had left nearby, hurtling it out over the ocean, watching it sail through the air until it disappeared from view. “Why did you bring me into this world, only to watch everything you’ve ever wanted be destroyed?”

“If I’m the cause of this world’s destruction–” Natalie sat back down, curling into a ball as she turned away from her mom to do her best to hide the tears she was trying hard to hold back. “–I don’t want to live anymore.”

Reya stood, her mouth hanging open, as she watched her daughter rocking gently at the opposite end of the boat. As Natalie’s words echoed in her mind, she began to feel numb all over. Where could she have gone wrong? But then it was clear to her…she hadn’t gone wrong. She taught Natalie to stand up for herself and fight for her beliefs. The thought of her mom violating those beliefs, considering running and hiding, seemed wrong to Natalie.

And she was right.

Reya hovered high above the Five Star Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, as of yet unnoticed by the police and SWAT team surrounding the building on the streets below. She took a deep breath – and immediately felt a little constricted.

For the first time in years, she wore a form-fitting silvery outfit made of metallic fabric – it was the same one she had arrived on Earth wearing over sixteen years ago…and she was surprised that it still fit. Having lived a mostly civilian life on Earth, it never occurred to her to wear the outfit…until now.

She watched the hotel from above as the wind blew through her hair. It seemed so…normal. From the outside, it was hard to tell that a creature capable of reducing the building to rubble in mere seconds was within. For all it seemed, it could have simply been a single human being with a gun keeping police at bay.

But when she spotted Sharon standing on the curb across the street, she realized that it was no false alarm. Inside that hotel was destruction incarnate…and Reya was the only one who could stop her.

She descended to the roof slowly, trying as best as she could to land without a sound, racing to the stairway door quickly as she heard a police helicopter approach. It was best, at this point, to remain undetected to prevent the officers from deciding unwisely to race into the building to rescue her.

It was a stroke of luck, however, that the helicopter happened to fly overhead. It appeared to be circling a suite at one corner of the hotel – which saved Reya the trouble of having to search for the room where the Arion hid.

Her hands began shaking now as she tiptoed down the carpeted hallway, trying her best not to alert the woman she was stalking of her presence. She had to move silently, her soulless silvery boots making soft impressions in the plush red carpet with each step. She considered flying, but she realized that it would cause wind to rush down the narrow hall, alerting the Arion for sure.

She stopped suddenly and stared at a blue painted door, noting light oozing from beneath it, shivering from head to toe as she reached back her fist to punch through the gold chrome door lock. She stared at the white wall next to the door for a moment, noting the small torch lamp hanging alongside the door. Reya’s memory rushed back to her police training – never, ever rush through a door. A perpetrator would always be expecting that.

Reya smiled as she pondered that thought, and stared at the wall. Luckily, she had one trick up her sleeve that wasn’t in any police handbook.

A quick leap sent her to the room next door, a slight bit of pressure against its door admitting her to the room with little more than a muffled ‘crunch’. She raced in, and looked around – empty, lucky for her. She walked backwards between the twin beds, aiming herself directly at the television set on the opposite wall.

Confidence finally began to dominate her thoughts, and adrenaline gave her the strength she needed, emotionally, and physically, to break through her fears and do what needed to be done. She raised her arms in front of her, and launched herself at the television…and in an instant, she crashed through into the next room.

Reya only caught a glimpse of a dark-haired blue-eyed woman in blue jeans and a white sweater before the room became entirely filled with a cloud of plaster dust. She tried to reach for the last place she saw the woman…but no one was there any longer.

It didn’t take Reya long to find her, though…in a manner of seconds, she found herself in a headlock, her face forced down to the surface of the bed. She heard a female voice speak a language she didn’t understand, and felt paralyzed…it was some kind of immobilizing hold used by a seasoned warrior. At that moment, Reya knew she was in serious trouble.

“Where is she? Where’s mom?”

Sharon didn’t even bother to turn around as she heard Natalie behind her. She simply pointed up at the top floor of the hotel, toward a room on one corner…and almost on cue, glass from one of the windows rained down to the street below, causing police to run for cover.

But that was when Sharon realized something was amiss. “Natalie, what are you doing here? You’re supposed to stay out of sight!”

Natalie scoffed. “I’m supposed to stay home while mom’s being killed by some alien? I don’t think so.”

“I don’t think it’s that bad. Maybe Reya’s winning.” Sharon frowned and looked up at the hotel room, and shivered at the sudden silence. A real fight should be doing a lot more damage. She looked at Natalie, unwittingly revealing the fear she felt in her eyes. “Or…maybe not.”

“I’m going up there.” Natalie stepped toward the street, but found herself stopped quickly by Sharon. “I have to help her, Sharon.”

Sharon shook her head slowly. “You have no idea what you’re up against, Natalie. Your mom is a lot stronger than you are…a LOT. If she’s losing to this alien, you don’t have a chance.”

“But maybe the two of us together–”

“No!” Sharon gripped Natalie’s shoulder even tighter. Her eyes seemed desperate to try and convince Natalie. “You’ll die…she’ll kill you almost instantly, Natalie. I promised Reya I’d look after you…I can’t let you go into certain death.”

Natalie took a deep breath, her eyes never wavering as she stared at Sharon. She grabbed Sharon’s hand, seeming almost like she was going to peel it off of her shoulder…but instead, she held it in her own smaller hands tightly. “Sharon…we both know what we have to do.”

Sharon closed her eyes and turned away. Natalie was right…and she knew it. She was simply trying to deny what seemed to be destiny. When her eyes reopened, Natalie was still staring at her, waiting…demanding an answer as if she already knew what it would be. Sharon sighed…she knew as well. Her hand tightened around Natalie’s as she looked up at the hotel room above.

“Let’s go.”

“Are you sure this is the place?”

A blonde woman dressed in head to toe in a silvery form-fitting costume, complete with a cape and boots, turned to face a man who was suspended from one of her arms, as she held him airborne by his belt. They hovered in the clouds several hundred stories above the Five Star Hotel…but the blonde woman was unaware of the reason why there were so many police around the building – it was merely convenient that she could snatch one of the officers and raise him high above.

He nodded quickly…and that was all she needed to drop quickly – faster than the fastest elevator on Earth – and deposit him on the roof of the hotel, before rebounding quickly back to the clouds.

She had only arrived on Earth a few minutes ago, her mission simple. She had been pulled from duty as Protector of a quiet nearby planet, sent by the Velorian Council to retrieve the Protector assigned to Earth, Reya’ann, and her rumored daughter.

The only information she had was that Reya’ann lived in Los Angeles, and she was a police officer. It was simply luck that police officers happened to gather at the one place where she had managed to track an Arion using local news reports as a guide. It was simple enough to guess, given the level of destruction and death noted by the reports.

And her luck didn’t run out there. She watched from above as a tall blonde woman and a dark haired teen entered through the front door of the hotel. A minute or two later, chunks of the hotel flew from the upper corner room – a battle was in progress, most likely between the planet’s protector and the Arion.

She turned upside down quickly, and aimed herself at the roof above the corner room like a missile, accelerating purposely to try and enter and hit the Arion before she had a chance to even make a move to protect herself.

As plaster, concrete and steel rained down around the seasoned Protector, she inverted her flight quickly and aimed herself directly at a pair of blue eyes shining at her from behind black hair and clouds of dust. She slammed into the Arion, embedding her into a concrete dividing wall.

She turned her attention to a blonde woman in the room, who was lying motionless on the floor, surrounded by shattered glass and wood. The woman was unconscious – and the Protector had arrived just in time to prevent her death.

But then came her first unlucky moment. Just as the Arion freed herself, the blonde and the teen from downstairs entered the room. She recognized the blonde as Shara’lynn, a Scribe – no match for an Arion warrior. Reya’ann was still unconscious – which meant that the Scribe and the teen were extremely vulnerable. There was only one Protector now between them and death.

And almost as if she were able to sense the Protector’s thoughts, the Arion immediately homed in on the weakest of the four people in the room – the dark haired teen. The Protector moved quickly to try and intercept…but not quick enough.

Then came a surprise. She watched as the Arion charged the teen…but seemed to freeze in mid-stride before she managed to reach her. The teen stared at her intently, one hand in front of her as if she were conducting some kind of force. The Arion seemed angry as she tried to fight something, and cursed in her native language…yet she couldn’t budge.

That’s when the Protector realized…the teen was Reya’ann’s daughter. And just as the Velorian Council’s genetic computers predicted, her power was indeed focused by her mind more than her body. She was very efficient in focusing energy from across the Rift.

“Scribe Shara’lynn, I am Protector Kara’shar, sent by Council. I demand to know what is going on.”

Sharon shook her head as she circled around Natalie and the Arion, still trapped in suspended animation. Natalie didn’t acknowledge either Sharon or Kara’shar, she seemed to be in deep concentration. “I’m as confused as you are.”

The Protector stared for a few seconds, watching the Arion struggle. She did her best not to laugh – she most likely never had to deal with anything like this during Arion warrior training. “Who is she?”

“Her name is Natalie. And I’m sorry, but I won’t tell you anything else about her. I’m bound by a promise.”

Kara’shar stared at Natalie for a few seconds before finally barking an order. “Release the Arion, Natalie.”

“No.” Natalie barely acknowledged the Protector as she remained completely motionless, her eyes remaining fixed on the Arion she held in mid-air a few feet in front of her.

“She can’t,” Sharon volunteered, “If she releases the Arion she’ll die…unless someone’s holding the Arion back.”

“No–” Natalie tried to shake her head slowly without breaking her concentration. “Mom…Get mom out of here.”

Without another word, Sharon nodded and raced over to where Reya was still lying on the floor, unconscious. She had very little energy stored within her – she felt heavy as Sharon lifted her and carried her into the hallway, over her shoulder like a firefighter.

She ran straight down the hall, and kicked in the door of a room as far from ground zero as possible, almost throwing Reya onto the bed. There wasn’t time to be gentle – she had to return to the Arion’s room quickly, and snatch Natalie out of there before whatever power she was using to hold the Arion gave out.

But when Sharon returned, she found something else instead – the Arion had already been released…but she wasn’t attacking Natalie or the Kara’shar. She was calmly sitting on the floor, looking from the Protector to Natalie, and then to Sharon.

The Arion seemed rather childlike and lost sitting there. It was as if she were a runaway just trying to find her way home, rather than one of the most violent and destructive killing machines in the universe.

“Natalie, what’s going on…?” Sharon looked at Kara’shar, hoping for an explanation.

“The power of irony,” Natalie replied, as she turned to face Sharon. “She’s my age. And get this…her name is Terra.”

Sharon looked down at the Arion, who stared back up with determined eyes. “Why did you release her?”

“Because she asked nicely.” Natalie smiled, and almost laughed, as she grabbed Sharon’s arm and pulled her closer. “Come here…Don’t worry, she promised to stop fighting.”

“And you trust her…?” Sharon’s voice trailed off as she leaned closer to the Arion, looking up at Sharon with a hint of fear and contempt in her eyes. “Terra…why are you here?”

“I was…sent to…” The young Arion stopped in mid-sentence, finally giving up trying to make her point in broken English. Instead, she pointed at Natalie. “Her. My people want–”

“–To kill her?” Sharon attempted to finish the sentence for Terra, noting that the Arion seemed to bow her head as she nodded. She looked at the rather fancy, yet torn suit that Terra wore. It was most likely stolen from the first store which the Arion encountered immediately after arriving on Earth.

Natalie smiled and folded her arms. “Fat chance of that happening. She’s one of their elite warriors, and even she couldn’t come near me.”

“I failed.” Terra kept her head bowed as she spoke softly and stared at the floor. “My people will…kill–”

Sharon and Natalie looked at each other almost simultaneously. It would be just like the Arions to kill one of their best-bred warriors because she failed to complete one objective. Sharon watched as Natalie stepped closer to the Arion, and sat on the floor in front of her. She tried to stop Natalie – but was immediately waved away by the teen.

“You didn’t fail.” Natalie spoke softly as she sat only a foot from Terra. “You learned. And you don’t have to die, Terra. You can stay here.”

“Natalie!” Sharon shared a frightened look with Kara’shar. The idea of an Arion warrior living on Earth was terrifying. Natalie obviously had no idea what she was getting into. “We can’t, Natalie. We simply can’t–”

“Yes, we can!” Natalie’s voice was forceful, angry, as she turned her head to look at Sharon with her determined blue eyes. “She has as much right to be here as you do, Sharon. We don’t belong here, either. If there’s one thing mom has always taught me about this place…it’s a haven.”

“This, Sharon–” Natalie pointed at Terra and rose to her feet quickly, facing Sharon. “–Is your huddled mass yearning to be free. What’s she going to do…go home and face death? Or maybe you’re prepared to go against everything you believe in and kill her?”

With those last two words, Natalie briefly cast a threatening glance in Kara’shar’s direction, almost daring her to move a muscle and take that challenge. But not even the seasoned Protector could break her conditioning to do just what her title implied – protect, not murder.

“So–” Sharon looked at Kara’shar, and then at the Arion and Natalie. “What do we do?”

Reya awoke with a blinding headache, opening her eyes to a room spinning out of control. She sat up quickly, blinking a few times to try and stabilize herself before slowly rising and balancing herself on her feet. Once she began moving, slowly, she began to feel a little bit better – except for the pounding headache. Having such quick healing ability was a big bonus to being born Velorian.

She stepped out into the hallway, and began to home in on distant voices she heard echoing down the hallway. She recognized two of them – Sharon, and her own daughter Natalie. But there was another female voice, and another speaking in broken English. Either one of the other two could be the Arion.

A twinge of fear burned down her spine as that last thought crossed her mind. An Arion, in the same room with Natalie. That couldn’t be a good thing. Natalie could be–

She shook her head to dismiss that thought, and mustered all of her strength to race down the hallway toward the voices. She couldn’t move at her top speed yet – her muscles and bones were much too sore, and she felt her energy level waning quickly.

But as she rounded one last corner and headed into the corner hotel room blindly, she found exactly the opposite of what she expected.

A teen with black hair and blue eyes, wearing a torn, expensive dark blue suit, sat cross-legged on the floor in the center of the room – Reya recognized her as the Arion who had attacked her earlier. Natalie stood above her, looking angry…but not at the Arion. Sharon stood in front of Natalie, looking at Reya as she entered. And there was another tall, well-tanned blonde with blue eyes in the room – a Protector sent by Velor, no doubt.

Reya took a step back toward the hallway as the Protector moved toward her. She instinctively knew that the Velorian had been sent by Council to retrieve her and Natalie. It was something she knew would happen for a while…it was only a matter of time.

“Hold it right there, Kara’shar,” Natalie threatened the Protector. This time, however, Natalie wasn’t fast enough to stop her before she snatched Reya by the throat, lifting her several inches off of the ground.

Natalie wrapped her arm around the Protector’s neck from behind, and tried, in vain, to force her to release her mom. She tried biting into Kara’shar’s shoulder…but the Velorian’s skin was too tough even for her teeth. “Let her go, or I’ll kill you!”

Sharon almost laughed at Natalie’s threat as she tried to intervene – but the seasoned Protector was stronger than both Reya and Sharon put together. Sharon found herself easily shoved across the room into an opposite wall. Natalie was then tossed across the room like a stuffed toy, bouncing off of the far edge of the bed and knocking over the nightstand.

“You hurt my friend.”

Sharon froze as she watched Terra slowly rise to her feet and approach Kara’shar. The Arion gripped the Protector’s left arm and began twisting. Sharon could hear tendons and muscles stretching to their limit, some tearing…and then the Arion drew back a fist, aimed directly at Kara’shar’s face.

“No! Stop!”

Terra froze and turned to look at Natalie, who had just risen from the corner she had collapsed into seconds earlier. She was still unharmed.

“Enough. No more killing.”

“You must be reasonable. It is my job to bring Reya and Natalie back with me.” Kara’shar winced as Terra responded to her by twisting her arm even further.

“Look who’s talking about reasonable?” Natalie vaulted over the bed and stood in front of Kara’shar, who showed pain on her face. Her eyes met Terra’s, and she nodded, signalling Terra to loosen her grip on the Protector. “Did you think about how you’d get me to Velor? Fact is, I’d never survive the trip.”

Kara’shar looked lost for a moment as her eyes tried to verify the truth of Natalie’s words with Sharon, who responded by nodding slowly. Her confidence suddenly seemed lost as she sighed deeply frowned at Reya, who stood at the opposite end of the room. “What am I to do? I…I can’t just ignore–”

“Yes, you can,” Sharon volunteered. “I’m a Scribe, a first-hand witness to everything that goes on around me. Let me tell you…Velor’s information about Reya and Natalie is seriously outdated.”

For the first time since she arrived, Kara’shar laughed. Natalie smiled, too – she seemed amused that a seasoned protector, someone who she pictured as a walking destructive force, would even have a sense of humor. She looked at Terra, who still appeared sad as she still held onto the Protector’s arm, yet only barely. She seemed to be losing concentration, as if her mind was elsewhere.

“Sharon, do you think we can set Terra up someplace so she can get used to living here?”

Both Sharon and Kara’shar seemed upset by Natalie’s suggestion. They both simply froze for a moment before turning to look at each other. The mere thought of an Arion living on such a fragile planet went against everything they had ever been taught. Reya, on the other hand, simple smiled in a self-satisfied way. Her daughter had indeed learned from this planet’s peaceful nature.

Perhaps Natalie was right, Sharon thought. Unfortunately, in the Arion quest for better breeding of warriors, they let some intelligence slip through – enough so their young missionary, sent to destroy and maim, seemed more like a homesick and lonely kid than an angry and destructive cyborg.

And Sharon, for one, wondered just what Natalie did to cause the Arion to stop fighting. “Natalie, what did you say to Terra to get her to stop?”

Natalie smiled as she gently took Terra’s arm in her hand, and led her out toward the hallway. She shrugged as Sharon followed. “I just asked her if she wanted to go home.”

Getting an Arion warrior past a police line was never easier. Since none of the cops had gotten close enough to her to identify her, their description came out of legend more than reality. They were seeking a six-foot, 150-pound dark haired thirty-something woman in a blue suit.

So, of course, they did nothing when a police officer they all knew, Reya Prince, walked right through the police line in civilian clothing – supplied by Sharon – with her daughter, and a fairly small dark-haired teenager, now wearing blue jeans and a tee-shirt ‘borrowed’ from the hotel’s first-floor gift shop. Following them was a woman the officers also knew well enough as Reya’s best friend Sharon.

For effect, Reya grabbed a blanket from a nearby rescue unit and tossed it over Terra’s shoulders. To anyone watching, Reya seemed like a hero, as she emerged from a building under siege by some virtually unknown person, with a rescued teenager under her wing. It worked all too well – as she headed through the crowd of police officers, some began cheering, and offering her handshakes.

Natalie kept one hand tightly on Terra’s left arm. She was becoming a little concerned, as the Arion teen seemed frightened by all of the attention. Natalie’s tight grip would give the Arion both a little warning, and a little reassurance.

Once they cleared the crowd and disappeared around a corner, the four formed a chain and headed for the skies. And just as she promised, they spotted Kara’shar bolting from the roof of the hotel, providing a much needed distraction. The cops would be watching that for a while.

By the time they reached Reya’s home, it was almost midnight. The streets were completely silent, enough so the sounds of their various types of sneakers contacting the sidewalk upon their landing echoed off of the neighboring houses and cars parked on the street.

Reya headed inside first, and for some unknown reason, Terra followed quickly. Sharon started to wonder if she had a fear of open space – it was possible, since Arions often raised the level of paranoia of their warriors to make them more dangerous.

“Natalie–” Sharon grabbed her shoulder to stop her before she entered the house. Natalie turned around, her smile disappearing when she realized that Sharon was about to ask her a very serious question. “You do know that she killed Allen, don’t you?”

“I know.” Natalie sighed deeply, looking down for a moment as she paused in thought. “But…revenge has to stop somewhere, you know? Or pretty soon…everyone ends up dead.”

Sharon stood on the front lawn of Reya’s home, dazed, as she watched Natalie head inside and turn on a lamp next to the door. ‘Revenge has to stop somewhere’. She bit her lip as memory of all of the journal entries she sent back to Velor flooded back to her. Death, destruction, hate, dominated most of them.

She remembered lovers, friends, people she cared deeply about dying – and then her tears, which soaked the paper she wrote on as she struggled to clear her thoughts enough to make a record of what had happened. It was only then that she fully appreciated the true role of a Velorian Scribe – to immortalize those who had died before their prime, those who had fought for a greater cause…and lost.

After all she had lost, it seemed ironic that Natalie, a teen who lived her life on such a peaceful planet, knew so much truth. Revenge was indeed an endless, violent cycle, a constant of the universe which would never stop…until everyone ended up dead.

In a moment of inspiration stronger than any she had in a long time, she slipped a small paper pad and a pen out of her pocket, tapping the end of the pen against her chin as she decided what to write. She had so much swimming through her mind…but after some thought, it seemed to boil down to only a few words:

‘There is hope after all.’

Trolling The Galaxy, Part 2

He felt so lost, so small. His destiny was unknown, and all he knew was about to be left him behind forever. As he stared up at the setting twin suns of his desert wasteland home, he instinctively knew he would never return.

For some reason, that image of Luke Skywalker in ‘Star Wars’ haunted Renee since she saw the movie during her first week on Earth. She could relate to it so well, having left her beautiful home and all she cared about to take up residence on some strange planet where she too felt lost, and small. She remembered crying the first time she saw that one scene. It felt so real to her.

But as Renee slept, her eyes and mind closed to the world around her, she found one clear difference between herself and Luke…in the end, he proved himself to be strong, someone who was in control of his destiny. Renee, on the other hand…proved herself only to be a victim, someone who found herself hopelessly tossed by the currents of fate.

“Reya?” She heard a soft voice calling her name, from far, far away. She closed her eyes tighter and turned away from it. She didn’t want to see the world again. As far as she was concerned, it was gone…and she was happy to see it go.

She felt a soft touch on one arm, instantly bringing her senses to life. She silently cursed the one who brought her back. Renee wanted to drift away, to keep herself in a place where she wouldn’t have to relive her humiliation again…


Her eyes slowly opened, giving her a blurry view of someone very familiar to her, a pair of blue eyes and strands of blonde hair hovering over her. She unconsciously smiled – her only true friend had found her. Renee turned her head away as tears began to flow from her eyes…and she began sobbing as memory of her harsh reality flooded her senses again. “No…I don’t want to…”

“Reya, it’s me.” Sharon leaned closer, gripping Renee’s hand tightly. “I’m here for you. Everything’s going to be fine.”

“Not…fine.” Renee kept her eyes away from Sharon. But her hands could feel a warmth, a power…almost as if she were touching pure energy. It filled her with feelings of euphoria, like a drug…but she still resisted.

“I have to restore you, or you’ll die,” Sharon whispered softly as she held Renee’s hands tighter within her own. “Your energy is low–”

“No…I…I want to die–”

Sharon suddenly let go of Renee’s hands and took a step back, leaving Renee suddenly feeling cold and drained. Renee’s words echoed in her mind as she watched a pair of blue eyes turn to her from the hospital bed. Those eyes…the looked empty, cold…they were missing the energy which was usually behind them.

“My God, Reya…You’re…you’re willing yourself to death? What happened to you? Please, talk to me.”

Renee frowned and slowly began propping herself up in the bed. She could feel every muscle cry out to her with pain…not from injury, but rather from…disuse? She felt something burn in her arm…it was an needle inserted by the hospital, to feed her nutrients – and it was pierced through her skin. That man…he must have known what she was…and he stole her energy as well as her dignity.

“I–” Renee took a deep breath, trying to slow the dizziness she found herself which was her reward for speaking too quickly. “I was attacked. I…I–”

“The police told me about that. But…God, Reya–” Sharon walked over to the bed slowly and held Renee’s hand, careful not to try and flood her with energy this time. “You’ve been out for almost two weeks.”

“Huh? Two–” Renee nearly sat upright, but more dizziness prevented it. She began feeling…terrified. Two weeks? She began to understand why she felt so confused and weak – a Velorian could not survive on the simple sustenance provided by the needle in her arm for any length of time. Velorians needed pure energy as well. But she still didn’t understand how she could have used all of her remaining energy while dormant. “What happened to me?”

Sharon continued to hold Renee’s hand gently and sat down on the edge of the bed. She seemed a little concerned as she took a deep breath and began to explain. “You were attacked by an Arion, Reya. He was on a rampage and you…well, you just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“An…Arion?” Renee suddenly gasped and sat upright, her breathing speeding up suddenly to compensate for the sudden dizziness. “He raped me! Am I…?”

A few seconds of silence prevailed before Sharon closed her eyes and nodded slowly. “Yes, you’re pregnant. That’s why all of your energy has been drained. But you don’t have to suffer through this…I can take you back to Velor, and–”

“No…I want this to happen.” Renee suddenly tore the needle from her arm and slid out of bed, stumbling into Sharon’s arms as she struggled to steady herself. “I will not be a victim any longer.”

Sharon laughed as she caught Renee, her amazing strength propping her friend to her feet quickly. She felt better as she noticed Renee trying to stand under her own power. It was a sign…a good sign, that her friend Reya had not given up yet.

“Are you sure about this, Reya?”

The smile which formed on Renee’s face gave Sharon inner warmth. It felt like she had given life to the lifeless…or given her friend a second chance at life. “I’ve never been more sure of anything, Sharon. What happened to me is in the past…”

Renee placed both of her hands on her stomach, her eyes reflecting a little contentment…and a little hope…as she looked at Sharon. “This is the future. I want it to be a future where no one ever has to fear as I did.”

Sharon nodded and let go of Renee slowly, smiling as she noticed that her friend was now retaining her own energy, standing steadily on her own two feet. “That’s the Reya I know.”

‘That’s the Reya I know.’ Reya smiled at the words floating in her mind. For some reason, they stuck with her since that day in the hospital…that day when Renee permanently changed her name to the one she had been born with, and decided to embrace her lost heritage.

Humans were a fragile species. Yet they walk the Earth, totally oblivious to the fact that they had such sort life spans, and a frailty that most conquering species in the galaxy would love to prey upon if given the chance. They were fairly fragile beings, both physically, and in their tendencies to become so dependent on one another.

But it was those same traits which made them stronger, more powerful, and much more resilient than any other species. They tended to bond together, to find comfort in numbers…and then they would defend their numbers with a vengeance.

Earth…a backwards, primitive place torn by war, hunger, and battles between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. Or so it would seem to an outside force. But a closer look reveals a hidden power, potential beyond imagination. And admittedly…the all-powerful Velorian race was one always flirting with extinction, the Ancient Ones were gone forever…and even the Arions wouldn’t survive long with their tendencies toward self-destruction.

In the end, it would be the backwards species…like humans…which would ultimately inherit the universe. And with them, they would bring peace. It was almost humorous to consider – but when looked at closely…it made perfect sense.

As Reya lay back on her small sailboat off the coast of southern California, watching the sunset, her mind filled with philosophical thoughts. Earth was a majestic place, a world hidden away from the unthinkable terror and chaos which filled most of the universe. It was almost as if…some God intended it that way. Almost like some higher intelligence meant Earth for greater things.

She could tell those greater things were far off into the future…but not too far. The months she spent with a child growing inside her were evidence of that. Reya knew she would raise her daughter to be not a protector of Earth…but its guardian. Someone who would look after the sweet backwards little planet.

Since Reya was a child, she remembered reading about Earth, how its technology was feeble compared to that of the simplest Arion weapons. And how the Velorians must prevent Arions from destroying the place at all costs. She always wondered…if the Arions were so capable, so bent on destroying Earth…why didn’t they?

As she grew up, she learned that no one else knew that answer, either. Sure, the Arions have tried…but some little glitch always managed to cause them to fail. There was always something – as if an invisible, higher power were making it impossible for them to do so. Or perhaps it was simply…fate?

Reya laughed at her own thoughts as she stood and unfurled the small sail on her boat, preparing to head back to shore. Fate. That was such a human concept…and yet, the proof was there. In a matter of weeks, fate would become reality – a child would be born…and Earth would never be the same.

“Relax, mom, I know what I’m doing.”

Reya sighed as she watched the brunette, blue eyed teen tug at the rope which pulled a giant sail up along its mast, to unfurl it to its full potential…as both a large decorative symbol and the sole method of propulsion for the small boat as it bobbed along the waves of the Pacific Ocean, dyed orange by the setting sun over the horizon. The symbol on the sail meant nothing…but to Reya it meant everything.

She couldn’t believe it was sixteen years ago when she used to go out in a smaller boat for solitude, and to commune with natural forces which dwarf the power of even the heartiest of Velorian protectors – none would be a match for the relentlessness of the oceans.

“I know, Natalie,” Reya said as she watched her daughter quickly reel in the rope, hand over hand as she’d been taught, with the skill of a career fisherman, even though she had only been shown how to do it once. “Frankly, I’m more worried about the boat, and the sail.”

A splash of water hit Reya, just as she began laughing. The two discovered, something interesting during the last few years, something which Reya feared telling anyone, especially other Velorians, including Sharon.

Natalie had the ability to project small amounts of energy outside of her body. She had yet to master the ability, and could do little more than throw small objects or splash water without any physical contact. It was something which made Reya feel very proud – though Velor didn’t know, Natalie was the next evolution of Velorian.

But Natalie’s ‘advancement’ left her at a disadvantage. She was shorter than most of her kind, almost fully grown at only five foot six. Her own mother looked like an amazon next to her. Her reduced size meant she had a lower threshold for energy storage, meaning two things – she needed to eat more often, almost as often as humans, and she could never store enough power to visit Velor on her own. She may be the next stage of Velorian…but one who is doomed to exile from Velor.

Reya was not saddened by that fact, however. In fact, she was relieved – upon finding out about her pregnancy, the Velorian council had ordered her home several times. She refused, knowing full well that it meant she could never return home without facing a harsh judgement from the Velorian council.

But that was a moot point now. Earth was her home, because it was her daughter’s home. If before by choice, now it was from necessity…and no one could take her or her daughter away.

“Mom, why are you always so lonely?”

Thinking that Natalie was kidding, Reya looked up smiling – only to notice that Natalie wasn’t. She sighed deeply – she had pretty much dedicated the last sixteen years to raising and protecting Natalie…but hadn’t really thought much about herself. “I…I don’t know, Natalie. I guess I never really made the time for anything besides work and us.”

“You know, I can help you–” Natalie smiled and walked across the small sailboat, sitting down next to her mom. She knew that her mom saw her as a success – she was thoroughly entrenched in the ways of Earth. She went to school just as a normal teen did, had a boyfriend at one point…her blood was not of Earth, but her mind sure was. “I know, it sounds stupid…”

“No, no. It’s not stupid at all.” Reya smiled at her daughter, hugging her gently with one arm. “I’ve always tried to make you a better person than I was. I want you to experience everything I’ve missed, and never feel the pain I had to feel.”

“I remember. It’s so sad, your having to leave everyone behind to come here alone.” Natalie smiled again, her bright eyes easily giving away a sudden thought which burned behind them. “Hey…maybe you should write a book about it.”

Reya laughed…only there was a little seriousness in that laugh, as if she too wished she could. “It’s not something that’s safe to write about, Natalie. Velor has scribes like Sharon for that purpose…they are trained to know what they can safely write without arousing suspicion.”

“So? Maybe Sharon can help you.” Natalie turned around to look behind her, noticing that the shore was approaching slowly. They were almost home. “Your story is too good not to tell! You can’t just let it fade away into nothingness.”

“Natalie–” Reya paused and smiled in spite of herself. She knew that Natalie was pushing her relentlessly, but with good reason. Her daughter was a creative type, she hated watching good material go to waste – whether it be physical material, ideas, or history. “I’ll think about it…all right? In the mean time, give it a rest.”

Natalie laughed. “Okay, mom.”

Not another word was spoken between the two until the boat finally struck land. They didn’t need words at that point – both simply enjoyed the cool Pacific air, and the glow of the vanishing sun from the horizon. It was a rare moment, meant to be shared in silence.

“I saw, it.”

Reya swallowed hard as she looked across the living room at her friend, Sharon. Or so she thought, for the past eighteen years. Now Sharon stood before her, accusing Reya of hiding something from her. The worst part was that she was right. “I’m so sorry, Sharon. I couldn’t tell you–”

“Why? Why couldn’t you tell me?” Sharon folded her arms, her eyes firey with anger.

“Because–” Reya leaned forward and dropped her face into her hands, allowing her hair to hang down dangerously close to the floor. She wished she could hide herself between her own hair strands, slide down, and gradually vanish into the floorboards. “It’s your job to report everything you see and hear back to the Velorian council. I couldn’t ask you to keep this from them.”

“Don’t you think they deserve to know?” Sharon sighed, her anger dissolving as she watched her friend Reya hiding her eyes, most likely close to tears. She had such a difficult life, and most of the time she made the best of it. Yet she still remained as sensitive as the day she arrived from Velor.

Sharon glanced toward the kitchen as she sat down next to her friend, rubbing her back reassuringly. Natalie was in the kitchen, attempting to make chocolate chip cookies after briefly mentioning that she needed sugar. “Natalie is very special, Reya. She shouldn’t have to be hidden away, she may be the next evolution of us. She may be the future.”

Reya nodded slowly. “I thought about that. Maybe she is what the Ancient Ones had in mind. Maybe the reason they vanished was because the constant war between Velor and Aria meant their failure–”

“Maybe you should have become a philosopher instead of a protector.” Sharon smiled at Reya for a few seconds before Reya finally burst out laughing. “Don’t worry, Reya. If Velor is to find out about Natalie, it will be in an appropriate way.”

“It’s not that I don’t trust you, Sharon. I do.” Reya stood and swept her hair back nervously, looking at the floor rather than at Sharon. “I’m…just afraid you’ll underestimate them. You might think everything will be fine, when it’s–”

She paused and smiled as she watched Natalie enter the living room from the kitchen, carrying a plate full of hot chocolate chip cookies, straight from the oven. Natalie walked around the couch carefully, placing the plate onto the coffee table before sitting down.

“You guys are talking about me, aren’t you? Don’t forget, I can hear every word.” Natalie sat down, grabbing a cookie and taking a bite out of it as she smiled at Sharon and Reya. Both noticed that the cookies were fresh out of the oven, far from being cool enough for normal humans to eat without being scalded.

“Nothing you need to worry about, Natalie.” Reya glanced over at Sharon for a moment, giving her a half-smile, half warning.

“I think you should tell them about me.” Natalie shrugged, ignoring Reya’s horrified expression. “I don’t care. There’s not a lot they can do about it.”

Sharon laughed out loud as she reached forward to grab a cookie. Reya seemed less than amused. “She has a point, Reya. They can’t take her back to Velor, after all.”

Natalie nodded. “Besides, I can defend myself. I took Karate last year in high school.”

“What?” The question came in unison from both Sharon and Reya. The two looked at each other, before realizing that Natalie had neglected to tell either one.

“How did you get a signature for that, young lady?” Reya folded her arms, giving an almost mock gaze of anger to Natalie.

Natalie bit her lip, trying not to laugh as she answered. “I forged it. Same as when I took archery two years ago.”

Sharon began laughing out loud again as Reya covered her face and shook her head slowly. “I love this kid, Reya. I really do.”

Natalie cursed to herself as she parked her small electric motor scooter in front of her high school. She could hear the warning bell ringing as she entered the parking lot – meaning she had about five minutes to grab her books and get to class.

As soon as she removed the key, the wheels locked and raised off the ground, activating its built-in security system. Earth technology may not even be close to what her mom described on her home planet, but it was pretty impressive.

She pulled her backpack free from the cargo net, and raced for the front doors of the school. Most of the people who were loitering outside as she drove up had already gone inside to head to class, with the exception of a few who had no plans to do so.

“Runnin’ late again, Nat?”

Natalie smiled as she heard a familiar voice, pausing to turn and greet the source of it – her boyfriend. Actually, they were more like best friends – they spent most of their time together just hanging around each other and talking. “Hey, Allen. What’s new?”

“Nothing much.”

She gave him a quick hug, ignoring the sound of the second bell as it echoed through the halls, officially marking both her and Allen late – that meant they would be unable to go to class without a pink slip, which wasted further time. “Looks like I have to go to the office again. Want to come along?”

Allen smiled and held up his hands in an exaggerated shrug, his backpack nearly sliding off of his shoulder to add to the drama. “Do I have a choice? You made me late.”

Natalie laughed and shoved him gently before grabbing his forearm and leading him down the hall. She walked backwards as she talked loudly in a dramatic voice. “It’s off to the principal’s office for you, Allen! Let’s go!”

The two were laughing by the time they both entered the school administration office, earning them both a stern look from the older woman sitting behind a tall desk. “Shouldn’t you two be in class?”

“We were late.” Natalie leaned her elbows on the counter, smiling across the linoleum border at the woman, trying her best to raise her to the same mood she felt. “We need pink slips.”

The woman frowned further, resisting Natalie’s attempts to cheer her up, even adding a shake of the head. “Natalie, that’s six times this quarter alone. I can’t possibly excuse this absence.”

“So…make it unexcused?” Natalie shrugged. “I don’t care, I just need to get to class.”

“And you, young man,” The woman continued, “Have four unexcused absences of your own.”

Allen shrugged as well, but decided against commenting. The woman rewarded him by handing him a signed pink slip. He took it and patted Natalie’s shoulder as he left the office. “See you in class.”

Natalie sighed, her smile disappearing as she watched the woman behind the desk – quickly becoming her nemesis – motion for the vice principal to come over. The two began discussing something behind the desk – and Natalie started to concentrate, trying to tune her hearing into what they were saying. They spoke of giving her detention, or even suspending her–

“What? That’s not fair!”

She didn’t realize that she had been eavesdropping beyond the capability of humans until both the nemesis behind the desk and the vice principal looked at her in shock.

“Young lady,” The vice principal quickly admonished, “It’s extremely rude to eavesdrop. For your effort, you’ve earned yourself a three day suspension, effective immediately.”

Natalie restrained her enthusiasm as she left the office, purposely shuffling her feet as she headed out into the hallway. As soon as she was clear of the door, she raced for a classroom at the end of the hall, her feet barely touching the floor.

“Nat, wait up!”

She stopped quickly, her shows squealing against the polished floor as she realized that Allen had been waiting outside the office on a bench the entire time. She turned around and headed back, slowly.

“Geez, you can run fast!” Allen laughed as he spoke, seeming a little surprised that Natalie didn’t seem the least bit tired or winded. “You should try out for the olympics or something. Did you get a pink slip?”

“No.” Natalie shook her head quickly, the smile never leaving her face. “They gave me three days off.”

“They suspended you?” Allen shook his head slowly. “But you’re already so far behind…how are you supposed to catch up now?”

“I can always join the olympics.” Natalie bit her lip as she started laughing.

Allen joined in as he gave her a quick good bye hug. “I’ll see you later, Nat. Good luck…uh…lounging around at home. Don’t fall off the couch or anything.”

“See you when you get home from school…sucker.” Natalie shoved him a little and laughed again as she turned to head out of the exit doors at the end of the hall. Allen didn’t even realize that it was a fire exit, and would set off an alarm – but Natalie did. It was to be a last bit of revenge before she went home for her mini-vacation.

But as she headed for that door, something stood in her way. A tall woman with jet black hair and blue eyes stepped out of a doorway to stop her by grabbing her shoulder. She wore an expensive dark blue jacket and matching slacks, which sort offset between her eye and hair color. She looked too young to be a teacher…but why else would she even be wearing such an outfit?

“I’m not wandering the halls, I’ve been suspended,” Natalie said, a little contempt in her voice. “Ask the vice principal.”

The well-dressed tall woman said nothing – she simply grabbed Natalie by her throat and threw her, sending her sliding quickly down the polished hallway floor until she crashed into a set of lockers nestled in a corner of an intersection.

“Hey!” Natalie stood quickly, not even noticing that the lockers behind her looked like a small truck had plowed into them. The doors were bent in, and its frame was severely twisted. “You’re gonna pay for that!”

Before Natalie had time to react, she watched the woman in the blue suit approach Allen quickly. She stood in front of him for what seemed like an eternity, staring at him with interest. Allen froze, either paralyzed by fear or from assuming that the woman had to be on the school’s staff. Or maybe both.

But it was that pause which cost him dearly. The woman placed one hand on his chin, and one on his shoulder. He simply looked up at her, confused by what she was doing…and then, in the blink of an eye, she violently pushed down on his shoulder and up on his chin…

…and Natalie screamed as she watched Allen’s head detach from his body, and fall to the floor. A fountain of blood shot up from what was left of his neck, drenching the woman’s clothing and covering her face with a thick layer of red. She began shaking her head as the woman’s attention turned to her…it had to be a dream. It couldn’t be real.

Natalie screamed again as she turned and burst through the doors at the end of the hall, ignoring the sirens which went off inside the building as the bar marked ‘Emergency Exit Only’ went flying into the schoolyard. Her screams turned into sobs as she cleared the stairway with a single leap, not even pausing as her feet finally touched the sidewalk.

She kept running until she reached her small electric scooter, parked at the edge of the lot – she knew the woman was still chasing her, even though she couldn’t see it.

Natalie was crying hysterically by the time she stepped onto her scooter and raced its small motor beyond its tolerances – it screamed as she tore through the center lane of heavy traffic at nearly fifty miles per hour. A traffic light changed to red, but she wasn’t stopping. She spotted a truck, too late…

As her eyes closed, and she screamed once again, the small scooter slammed into the side of the truck hard enough to cause it to shake. The truck stopped almost immediately – the driver realized something was wrong.

She stood up and looked at what was left of her destroyed scooter, now trapped under the truck’s tires. The side of the truck’s fuel tank was crushed, and fuel spilled onto the pavement. The driver was outside, yelling something…but she didn’t pay attention. She had to get somewhere safe.

Now lacking her electric scooter, she began running alongside the street. At first, it seemed difficult, her lungs burned and her muscles protested…but after a while, she felt herself settling into a sort of rhythm. Her breathing began to slow, and she actually picked up speed as her muscles began to relax. She smiled as she watched the other pedestrians jump out of her way as she easily breezed past them, dodging a few who couldn’t move fast enough, even leaping over a baby in a stroller.

Natalie just happened to glance to her left as she ran, noticing that she was moving much faster than the surrounding car traffic. At first, she figured that maybe there was a traffic jam, and the old joke about walking to get there faster rang true once again…but after a quick comparison, she realized that the cars were moving along just fine – but she was moving faster!

Exhilarated, she purposely started taking longer strides, trying to push her legs and lungs past some imaginary limit which she had obviously shattered a while ago. She didn’t even blink as she approached an intersection where cars had begun driving over the crosswalk – she simply paused her running long enough to drive both of her feet against the sidewalk, launching her into the air, and hopefully across to the other side of the crossing.

She miscalculated her leap – only instead of crashing to the ground and causing a multi-car pileup, she launched herself with blinding speed high above the familiar sidewalk, into what was, to her, another world. Suddenly, she found herself looking down at rooftops – the ground below, the people walking, and the cars on the street all became smaller and smaller as she kept ascending.

Then she suddenly felt terrified – still ascending? Just when she wondered how she could stop, she held her arms out to her sides, and simply willed herself not to climb any higher. She could feel the air in her lungs shift rapidly as she came to a sudden stop, hovering high in the air.

Once she regained her senses, her memory reminded her with horrific graphic reality that she had to go home. Her new discovery would have to wait until another time…until she was safe.

But she wasn’t ready to return to the ground just yet. It only took her a little more effort to learn that she could control her travel – just as she willed herself to stop climbing, she found that she could will herself to travel forward or turn as well. It was like swimming, only without having to tread water.

By air, she made it home in mere minutes. Not having mastered landings yet, her feet slammed into the concrete sidewalk outside her house, causing it to spilt and part of it to sink – but she had more important worries at the moment. Natalie burst into the living room, slamming the door behind her as she headed into the study.

“Mom–” Before Natalie even got the rest of the sentence out, she was already sobbing. She ran over to the overstuffed chair where Reya sat and buried her head in her mother’s lap. “Mom…it was horrible. A strange woman showed up and killed Allen…she tried to kill me too–”

Reya wasn’t sure at first if Natalie was making up some creative excuse for why she returned from school so early…but the fact that her daughter couldn’t stop crying, and she was in shock – pale and shaking – quickly changed her mind. A wave of panic rushed through Reya as she grabbed the television remote and turned on the local news.

“No…Oh my God, no.”

Reya and Natalie sat silent as they watched the high school which Natalie had left less than an hour ago. Police, fire engines, and ambulances surrounded the building, and dozens of bodies were lying on the lawn, covered completely by dark sheets. Blood covered rescue workers as they struggled to save those that they could.

According to the latest report, scrolling across the bottom of the screen, there were forty five reported dead. No explosion was detected, no weapons were reported. Each of the teachers and students killed were simply butchered by what looked like extraordinarily strong human hands.

After an evacuation, A police search of the entire building turned up no one…whoever had committed these atrocities was long gone.

“If it weren’t for the quick thinking of someone who managed to set off the fire alarm,” The school principal was quoted as saying, “The other students may not have had a chance to escape.”

Reya and Natalie shared a look for a moment, one which required no words. Reya just knew it was her daughter who had set off the alarm during her escape – while she was raised as any other child on Earth, she was still a Protector at heart. She hugged her daughter tightly, as she began to shed tears of her own – tears of thankfulness that, above all, her daughter found the power to save herself.

“I love you so much, Natalie…”

After watching an hour of local news footage, it was Natalie’s turn to hold a sobbing Reya instead. She didn’t understand why her mom was crying – she knew very little of the history behind it. Her mom did tell her about a violent, conquering race of enormous power called the Arions, and that one had attacked and beaten her viciously. But Natalie always thought of these Arions as something distant, or rare. She never thought she would see one.

Reya wasn’t sure, either – and once she got over her moment of terror, she called Sharon. As soon as she told Sharon that Natalie had seen one close up, Sharon cut the conversation short.

“I’ll be right over”, she said. It wasn’t so much the words which scared Reya…it was the slight quiver in Sharon’s voice, as if every nightmare she had ever dreamed or written was coming true at that moment. Sharon wasn’t nearly as upset when she heard about the male Arion who attacked Reya – but the woman Natalie described seem to terrify her.

“Natalie, this is very important,” Sharon slowly spoke, her voice a little condescending. “What did she look like? What did she say?”

Natalie shrugged. “She was tall, jet black hair, blue eyes. And she didn’t say anything, she just threw me into some lockers and then attacked Allen.”

“I don’t get it.” Reya shook her head slowly and sat up slowly in her chair, trying to dry her tears. She was far from completely calm, but she didn’t want to be left out of the conversation. “Sharon, you told me that Arion scouts visit here all the time. Why is this one so much more destructive?”

Sharon frowned, her eyes telling the story before she even spoke a word. “Because she’s not a scout. She’s a warrior. They don’t bother to try to keep a low profile.”

“But–” Natalie sat up suddenly, looking between Sharon and the television. She already knew the answer to her next question…but she couldn’t believe it until she heard it from someone else. “Why here? Why my school?”

Reya looked at Sharon with fearful eyes, as she began to put together the mystery as well.

“I fear,” Sharon said, “That she’s come here for you.”

Trolling The Galaxy, Part 1

The late evening sun glinted off of the soft waves of the Pacific Ocean. Far off the coast of southern California, a small painted wooded fishing boat named Alexa bobbed back and forth gently, a stiff, cool wind blowing across its deck. It didn’t come any better, or more beautiful.

For most people, it simply wouldn’t be safe at that time of the evening to travel so far off the coast in such a small fishing boat. But Renee Prince was no ordinary person. In fact, the six foot tall tanned blonde hated resented having chosen that name for herself each time she heard it. The name itself, and the method she used to choose it, were a reminder of traditions of her birth place which she wanted to leave behind forever. She always liked the name Reya much better.

Unspoiled. Yes, that was the word to describe what she watched around her. She could be the master of all she surveyed if she chose – yet she found it so much more satisfying and intriguing simply to take part in it, to accept her small share of this place and enjoy it as much as she could.

And enjoy it she did. In fact, Alexa didn’t even have any kind of engine on board. It was strictly a sailing boat…and Renee planned to use the stiff winds which blew into the beaches of Los Angeles every evening with the tide to navigate back home.

It was time.

Renee stood quickly and gripped a three inch thick hemp rope with both hands. She pulled it quickly, effortlessly, hand over hand. A twenty foot high heavy canvas sail unfurled quickly, expanding to its full width as it touched the wind. Renee took a step backward as the small boat began to suddenly accelerate, picking up speed very quickly to match the velocity of the breeze itself.

The cool wind rushed through her hair, warm salt water splashed her skin as the small wooden boat crashed through the waves of the Pacific. She watched a few seagulls flying just above her, a smile creeping onto her face as she considered joining them for just a moment – but this trip on the boat, at least at the moment, was much more thrilling.

Her muscles ached a little as she held the rope tighter in her fingers. Rather then tie off the end of the rope, she held it in her hands…if only to feel the awesome power of the wind which pulled her small boat along the surface of the water. It was a struggle even for her, as powerful as she was, to hold back one of the planet’s most daunting and relentless forces with just the power of her own muscles.

Darkness began to descend over Renee as the sun finally sunk below the horizon – yet in her eyes, it was only a minor inconvenience. She could still clearly see the ocean, the coast, and all of the crisp colors around her. And the scents surrounding her…the tide was coming in, she was sure. The smell of the ocean was different during high tide. It smelled clearer, somehow more refreshing.

She could feel her senses enhancing in the encroaching darkness. The scent of sand reached her nose, along with a mixture of smells from the beach – various kinds of food and drink sold along the shore, suntan lotion, and…people?

Renee squinted toward the shore, wondering silently who would be out there after the private beach had been closed for at least an hour or two. Normally people on the beach wouldn’t affect her – but in this case, it hampered her carefully laid-out plans. She hadn’t bothered to park her car and boat trailer on the sand of the beach before she started her little cruise, planning to simply fold down the sail and drag her boat up to the parking lot above once the beach closed. But if people were there…she would have to either convince them to leave, or come up with a new plan.

She wrinkled her nose and frowned as a new smell flooded her senses – alcohol. These were kids on the beach, hoping to drink beer undetected in the darkness. Renee sighed deeply as she snatched her official-looking dark blue and yellow jacket, dark blue baseball cap emblazoned with the letters ‘MPD’. and . Sometimes she regretted taking a job with the Malibu Police Department. Even on her days off, she could never have a real vacation.

“I need a vacation, Sharon.”

Even as Renee Prince spoke to her best friend, Sharon, she leaned back in one of Sharon’s porch chairs, her ‘MPD’ baseball cap over her eyes. She was still wearing her dark blue uniform jacket – and the dark blue and yellow painted Mitsubishi Eclipse Limited issued to her by the Malibu police department was parked in front of Sharon’s home, it’s predominantly dark color hiding it in the darkness.

“A vacation?” Sharon smiled. “What would you do on a vacation?”

Renee, or Reya as Sharon was more fond of calling her, had just arrived in Los Angeles a few months ago from someplace distant, a place Sharon was all too familiar with.

The two women had one thing in common – though they both appeared human, they were much more then that. They were from a distant planet called Velor, bred as an advanced form of human for a single purpose…to protect the universe.

Starting at an early age, every young girl on Velor was trained in the art of war. They were trained how to use every part of their bodies as dangerous weapons – and a popular demonstration was when a long-haired instructor would carefully form her hair into a single braid, and literally use her own hair to shred solid metal, simply by whipping it around faster then the eye could see.

It was fun at the time, for young girls to learn how to destroy targets with their hair, or with beams of heat with their eyes. Little did they realize they were being trained for a war – a danger that was hard to imagine for a child growing up on Velor.

Little did they realize at such a young age…that years later, the war around their calm little planet would take the lives of many of their classmates. The population of Velor was dwindling, slowly dying out. Everyone knew it, yet the Velorian leadership would not sway in it’s mission to protect the universe from threats.

The biggest threat of all was from the people of Aria. While the Velorian people have always trained for war, they still had a culture of their own. Aria’s culture itself was war. Their planet was simply a factory, producing weapons, troops, and one generation after another of genetically altered warriors. While they didn’t necessarily see Velor as their only threat, they did recognize it as their greatest.

And so as another proud father watched his daughter of Velor, smartly clad in a form-fitting silvery metallic uniform, prepare for her first launch into cold, dark space, he felt the requisite pride…along with a healthy dose of fear. He had already lost his lifelong mate to the same fate. She left one cool morning, promising to return before her daughter’s birthday. He was notified of her death the next morning.

But his daughter made no such promise. She knew better…while her mom had vanished before she was even old enough to enter her training, she remembered. She gave her father a weak smile, knowing that a part of her would be with him always. As a heavy glass tube began to close around her, preparing for her first launch into space, her brave smile quickly crumbled as her feelings betrayed her. She watched her father crying, through the glass. He would be all alone.

Her hands clasped together tightly, her eyes closed as she could feel the tethers of gravity release her limbs. She began to cry silently, inwardly, praying…even begging to be sent back home. Suddenly, she couldn’t bear to leave her father by himself.

But as she opened her eyes again, a sudden calm washed over her. She was coasting through space, her metallic suit reflecting the orange-red glow of the Velorian Star. Her long blonde hair seemed glued to her skin as moisture permeated it, collected from the atmosphere of the planet, beads of water running all along her body as she travelled at unthinkable speeds through toward some unknown destination – some backwards, innocent planet known as Earth.

The stars seemed a blur around her as she stared straight ahead. The sadness at leaving her father, her home, behind tore at her heart as she blasted toward something bright in the distance – a star. A yellow star. It was only seconds before she could feel its power flowing through her veins, as if her own blood were lit aflame. It was exhilarating, even a little painful as wavelengths of pure energy not available from the Velorian Star began to penetrate her skin, and run through her body.

She looked down at her hands – they were glowing slightly from the sudden infusion of energy. The surplus simply leaked out through her skin, tracing an orange-red line through space behind her as she passed by the star. She remembered from her lessons – this star was known as Sol.

Seconds later – just as in the simulations – she flipped onto her back, and dove through the atmosphere of the third planet. On her back, she wore what appeared to be a metallic cape – it was a heat shield, designed to protect her clothing upon descent through a planetary atmosphere. It was designed to tolerate much more heat then her clothing, as well as provide resistance braking to slow her against the atmosphere itself.

She cringed as she felt a jolt, and the sudden shock of cold water touching her skin. Her descent hadn’t slowed as fast as she had hoped, and she had to aim toward a large body of water called the Pacific Ocean to break her fall. At the speed at which she was travelling, she would simply cause too much damage falling on land. The salt water quickly soothed her slightly burned skin as bubbles of steam surrounded her. She quickly regained her equilibrium and swam toward a bright light just above her.

“…And I saw the most beautiful thing in my life, Sharon. Lightning…I’d never seen it that close up before. I was so sure I was dead.”

Sharon laughed out loud. “You told me that whole story already, Reya. Just tell me what you’d do on a vacation.”

Renee gave Sharon a sly smile. Sharon was always the most impatient Velorian she had known. She guessed it was an Earth influence that she herself would learn in time. “Storm chasing, Sharon. Doesn’t that sound thrilling?”

“Eh.” Sharon waved one hand from side to side, silently offering Renee more tea. Renee declined. “I’ve had much more exciting things happen to me already. You just got here, Reya! Give it time, something scary will happen to you too.”

“Scary?” Renee shook her head. “The scariest thing that’s happened to me so far are those kids I kicked off the beach. They were drinking stuff I wouldn’t even touch. It’s practically jet fuel!”

Sharon choked on her tea at the mental image – kids sitting around a fuel truck from the airport, sipping the contents through a hose. “I’m sorry. It’s just funny, a mighty Protector fighting the dangers of alcohol abuse.”

“Hm.” Renee gave Sharon a mock frown. “I never liked that title. Not since I arrived here. I envy your job…at least you can legally go home once in a while. As far as Velor is concerned, this is my home until…until I’m reassigned.”

Sharon looked at Renee and froze as she took a sip of her homemade herbal tea. “You do know, Reya, one day you will be reassigned. Everyone is.”

“Hell, no!” Renee stood up and paced across Sharon’s covered porch, stopping to lean against one of it’s wooden support posts. “I love this place, Sharon. No…I’m in love with it. I don’t want to be sent to some war-torn cesspool just because this place is a little boring by Velorian standards.”

Sharon watched in silence as Renee retreated back to her chair and sat down quietly. She seemed to be saddened by discussion of the prospect of leaving Earth.

“I know that’s treason or something…but I can’t go. I’ve lost everything that was good in my life, Sharon. If I lose this place…I swear, I’ll go insane.”

Renee’s saddened eyes affected Sharon deeply. She remembered when she went through the same thing once…only she was weaker. She followed her duties and obligations – and regretted it ever since.

Sharon sighed deeply and slowly rose to her feet. Renee still sat in the chair, her eyes carried the fear and sadness that Sharon imagined she shared with her father on the day of her assignment. “Look, Reya…this is your destiny. You were brought up for this life–”

“Well…maybe I wasn’t ready”, Renee interrupted in a soft voice.

“You completed the rites, Reya. It’s a contract…you’ve accepted the task of serving Velor.” Sharon kneeled next to the chair Renee sat in and gently hugged her across the shoulders. She began to worry that maybe, just once, a Protector was released before she was ready. It was already unusual that she had been released from Velor at the age of 20 instead of 18, as was custom. “I understand how you feel. Do you know how many times I had to leave everything behind?”

Renee nodded softly as Sharon urged her to rise to her feet. “I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have you to help me.”

Sharon smiled. “Then you’d learn just as I did…the hard way. Now go home and get some sleep, Reya. You had a long day.”

The highly tuned four-cylinder engine of Renee’s police car roared a metallic growl as she took a hard corner to the right. The tires protested noisily, the scent of overheated rubber reaching her nostrils through the cooled air blowing in through the vents in the dashboard. A hard turn to the left corrected a slight drift of the car’s rear as she rounded the corner. Luckily, the car was built for speed and handling, or she may have eaten the concrete wall next to the freeway entrance for lunch.

She had turned off the audible sirens several minutes ago, as the high-pitched sound they made ate away at her nerves. She figured that in the sparse traffic around her, people would just notice the red, yellow, and blue flashing lights on the roof of her car, as well as the strobes hidden within all of the car’s lights.

It made her nervous to chase the red Dodge onto the freeway. The car was stolen, and had run from her when she attempted to stop it for simply driving through a stop sign. Bringing a high speed chase onto the freeway raised the stakes – speeds would be higher, and more lives would be in danger.

Renee breathed a sigh of relief as the Dodge zipped off of the next exit. It meant that he was hoping to lose her in the maze of streets in Los Angeles. But she knew that he would probably end up getting lost himself, first. A quick glance at the small flat-paneled terminal suspended from the dashboard between the driver and passenger seats told her that backup was still a couple of minutes away.

Another hard right turn, this one much too close. Renee worked hard to prevent her police car from skidding into a truck waiting to turn left onto the street she just exited. The Dodge had no such concerns – it left a red streak along the side of the truck’s trailer. Renee shook her head and tapped a couple of buttons on the small terminal, alerting the dispatcher of the crash.

Just as quickly as the chase started, it came to an abrupt end. Renee locked the brakes of her car as she watched the Dodge enter a narrow street too quickly. The driver of the Dodge didn’t realize that he was going too fast to drive between the cars parked on both sides safely – and promptly wedged his car painfully between two parked cars with a loud crash.

As soon as Renee stopped her car, the driver of the Dodge, a tall, skinny man with dark hair and light complexion, was off and running.

“Oh, no you don’t!” Renee jumped out of her car and took off after the man. She hardly ever had to run in the course of her patrols. In fact, this was the first time in months – most of her duties consisted of writing traffic tickets, and making the occasional domestic violence or passing bad checks arrest.

The man turned around suddenly and reached for something behind his belt. Renee ducked briefly as she heard several loud ‘snap’ sounds, and felt something hot tear through the air close to her face. He turned to run again, the weapon still in his hand. She felt a sense of urgency as she looked ahead of him – he was headed into a crowded restaurant district. She had to catch him, before someone got hurt.

Renee froze suddenly, drawing her police-issue nine millimeter automatic from her belt holster, aiming it steadily at the man. As she looked at the back of his head over the end of the gun, she paused just before squeezing the trigger. It felt wrong to gun him down as he ran away…as if there was no challenge in it. Shooting a man from behind, never giving him the chance to see his assailant, just seemed an uncivilized way to stop him…something worthy of the Arions she remembered from Sharon’s tales.

“Aww, dammit!” Renee holstered her gun quickly and took off again. She had to make up some ground, the man had put quite a bit of distance between himself and her when she paused to aim at him. But unlike him, Renee was not the least bit tired or winded…and she had plenty more where that came from.

She didn’t even realize, as she raced down the street, her toes barely touching the sidewalk as she ran, that she was passing cars moving down the street at nearly fourty miles per hour. The wind rushing through her hair, Renee was focused on the man she was trying to stop before he reached the restaurants at the end of the street. She was gaining on him very quickly.

The man turned suddenly as she stiffened both of her knees, using the friction from her rubber-soled boots to slow her quickly. He raised the gun, firing off two more shots in her direction as she slammed into him at over thirty miles an hour, knocking him off his feet to tumble into the street, the gun sliding clear across the concrete to the other side of the street.

Renee grabbed the man’s arm and flipped him over in an instant, snapping her handcuffs over one of his arms, and then the other. She didn’t even realize that he was unconcious until she tried to lift him to his feet.

As the sound of sirens filled the air, everything around Renee seemed to go silent. People on foot and in cars stopped to stare…at her. She glanced around slowly to see what the attraction was. That’s when she realized that her boots seemed to be smoldering, thin grey smoke trickling from the soles – and there were two twenty-foot black streaks on the sidewalk, leading up to the point where she collided with the man.

But it was one more measurement Renee took with her eyes which shocked her, and no doubt anyone else who had witnessed it. She herself, a seemingly normal blonde woman wearing a police uniform, would weigh a lot less then the tall, skinny man even in her most ideal condition – yet when she collided with him, he was thrown by the impact, the air driven from his lungs, and sent tumbling into the street as if it was a subcompact car he encountered rather then a blonde female police officer. He probably didn’t even bother to get out of the way, guessing that she would take more damage then he would.

Renee’s mouth dropped open in surprise once again as she hovered over the man, looking down at his unconcious form. Something didn’t look right. She kneeled next to him, and began examining him – his vital signs seemed fine, though his blood pressure was a little bit low. But what scared her was the fact that his limbs wouldn’t react naturally to touch. It was as if he was…

“Oh my God. Oh, no–” Renee fumbled with the radio on her belt and began to turn pale as she realized what had happened. Her collision with the man had much more in common with a car-human collision then she had anticipated. His spine had either been damaged or broken from the impact. Her hands began shaking as she found the call button on her radio. “Five Mary Seventeen to dispatch. I need a medic, code three.”

“Seventeen, is an officer down?”

“Negative, a suspect with possible life-threatening internal injuries.” Renee swallowed hard, her voice wavering a little as she completed the radio call. “I repeat, code three.”

Her facade of calm finally shattered as other officers began to arrive on the scene. She fell to her knees and began crying quietly, shaking violently as the other officers told her in vain that she did a great job, about all of the lives she had saved by keeping this criminal out of the restaurant district. But all she saw was a man’s broken body lying in the street. She had never killed before…and she promised herself she never would.

There would be no paperwork, no reports. Nor would there be an investigation against Renee Prince. At the end of the day, she simply walked into her supervisor’s office and place her badge and gun on the desk.

“You’re quitting?” Renee’s supervisor’s question sounded more like an accusation then a query. But Captain Lindsey Corren’s eyes told Renee that she was sorry to see a fellow female police officer give up so easily.

“I’ll be back”, Renee reassured, with a halfhearted smile. “I just need some time to get away from all of this for a while.”

“I understand.” Lindsey smiled. “I did the same thing when I shot my first suspect. Take all the time you need, Renee. But don’t forget that we need you.”


A quick handshake between the two officers made for a dignified farewell for Renee Prince, as she turned and walked out of the door. Her peers watched her in silence as she left – most of them had been in the same situation, and had taken the same walk out that door, unsure of when or if they would be strong enough to return.

Unlike them, Renee already knew she would be back. For even as she rejected her Velorian heritage to live on Earth in peace, justice was in her blood. She could feel it.

Most people who believed themselves to be logical didn’t see a human-sized object fall through the atmosphere of Earth, and crash-land just outside Los Angeles. Or maybe those who did see made themselves believe that they hadn’t. After all, objects falling from the sky always had a logical explanation behind them – a human being falling from the sky simply wasn’t possible.

It wasn’t the falling man which suddenly brought a flood of calls to the Los Angeles Police Department. It was the fact that the object that had fallen was indeed a man – a naked one – who then proceeded to walk through the backyards of several suburban homes.

The impact he made with the ground had already destroyed one home, bringing an immediate flood of calls to the Los Angeles County 911 dispatcher. Fire engines were rolling immediately from the closest fire station. It was several minutes later when frightened residents again flooded 911, reporting a naked man running from the vicinity of the explosion. Police were dispatched in a leisurely manner – a naked man was no danger to the public.

But then the call escalated as one small child called 911. “He’s in my house”, the little girl said in a whisper.

The dispatcher, Kelly, began trembling slightly with fear, her heart beating quickly as she wished she could leap through the phone and help the little girl. “Who’s in your house?”

“A naked man. He’s digging in daddy’s old clothes.”

Kelly flushed suddenly as she waved for her supervisor and placed a clammy hand over the microphone on her headset. The supervisor nodded and signaled the police dispatcher. The call had just been escalated to a Code Three emergency, lights and sirens.

“Unit Seventeen, on scene. ETA on backup?” Officer Tom Parker was no rookie. He knew it was dangerous to enter a residence alone during a robbery in progress. He sat in the dark in his car, no lights, waiting for at least one more officer to arrive.

“Two minutes”, another officer replied.

Tom heard a high-pitched scream from inside the house. He jumped out of the car and drew his gun quickly, racing up to the door and flattening himself against the outside wall. His heart was beating quickly, reverting to his police training was the only thing keeping him from becoming a trembling mess.

“Police! I’m coming in!” Immediately after his warning, Tom clicked on his flashlight and aimed it alongside his gun, kicking the old wooden entrance door, hard. The doorway shattered, giving way for the door to swing open violently.

“Police! Come on out!” His voice trembled this time as he began shining his flashlight through the entrance room of the home, hoping that whoever was in the house wasn’t armed.

He walked around the corner into the hallway…and immediately felt nauseous. The telephone handset was lying on the floor, soaked in a pool of blood – and the little girl who had called 911 was face-first on the floor next to the phone. “Oh my God…Oh my God, no–”

Tom suddenly heard a noice next to him. He pointed the gun in its direction. “Police! Come on out, now! Put your hands behind–”

Someone rushed past him, quickly, nearly knocking him off his feet. His flashlight slipped from his hand and bounced off of the floor. Just as backup arrived, he caught the siloutette of a man racing toward the front door in the glare from the headlights outside. Purely on instict, he fired five shots at the man, the sound of each loud snap from his gun causing him to cringe. He figured that he missed – the man headed straight out of the door.

As Tom Raced after him, he heard two more officers outside ordering the man to lie down on the ground. Looking outside, Tom felt a little relieved. Three officers in two cars were on-scene, pointing flashlights and guns at the suspect, as he stood on the stairs, seemingly bewildered by all of the attention.

“I am Sey-len”, the tall, imposing man said slowly. He was wearing clothing, only it didn’t fit him well. It was obvious he had stolen it from inside the house. “You will stand aside, or I will destroy you all.”

In the bright lights, Tom could now see that each of his five shots did indeed hit the man who called himself ‘Sey-len’. There were five holes in the side and back of his shirt – yet he still stood. “Oh, great. He’s on PCP.”

Tom picked up his radio, intent on informing the other officers that the man was on some sort of drugs. But he had no idea he would be changing the call he was attempting to make on a moment’s notice.

He watched Sey-len walk straight over to the police car, smiling at the two closest officers. The two mistakenly relaxed for a moment, thinking he would surrender peacefully. They were surprised for only a moment before their gruesome deaths, as the tall Sey-len simply gripped the front of their car and flipped it over on top of them as if it were a hamburger on a grill. The third officer outside simply caught fire and melted somehow, as if someone had turned a powerful heat source on him. He screamed in terror for several minutes before finally losing conciousness.

Hands now shaking, Tom clicked the ‘talk’ button on his radio, and struggled to find his voice through the paralyzing fear he felt coursing through him. “Officers need assistance. All my backup is…dead! They’re all–”

He paused as Sey-len turned to face him. As Sey-len approached him, he fell to his knees, his thumb still pressing the button on his radio as if it would somehow save his life.

“As I walk through the valley of death…I shall not fear.” The 911 dispatcher, Kelly, began crying softly as she heard Tom’s wavering voice uttering his last prayers. She could do nothing to help him. “I shall not fear…I shall not fear. Please God, no—”

The 911 dispatch center suddenly grew silent. Kelly looked at her supervisor, her eyes red with tears. He said nothing as he silently signalled the police dispatcher again.

He paused for a moment as he looked at the 911 dispatchers in the center. They all knew Tom. He was a gentle soul, someone they all loved. They never expected to listen to him die over the air. He swallowed hard. “All available units…Code 99. Officers down. Approach with extreme caution.”

“Can I help you?”

A clerk in a small clothing store in Malibu Square watched a large man enter and pause, looking around slowly as if he were taking in the atmosphere. He wore older clothing which fit him badly. The clerk became suspicious as the man began pulling clothing off of the racks without even answering.

“Excuse me, sir–”

He retreated back behind the counter as the behemoth of a man gave him a terrifyingly chilling stare. As he frantically tapped the panic alarm below the desk, he turned pale, hoping the large, silent man would simply take what he needs and leave quietly.

But such would not be his fate. He began to back away slowly as the monster approached the desk, slowly. With shaking hands, he tapped the release button on the cash register, and opened the drawer, quickly, throwing the cash at the approaching behemoth in the hopes of getting him to take the money and leave.

“I am Sey-len. You fear me…that is good.”

The clerk smiled weakly, as he watched Sey-len extend a hand in what seemed like a courteous greeting. He reached out to meet the man’s huge hand, in the hopes of preventing his own injury or death.

Once again, the clerk would not be so lucky. As soon as his hand reached Sey-len’s palm, he felt what seemed like a sudden tug against his shoulder…only as he watched, Sey-len stood in front of the clerk, waving his own detached arm in front of him. He wanted to cry out for help, but he suddenly felt both weak from blood loss, and frozen from panic and shock.

The last thing he remembered as being clubbed by his own elbow…and then, nothing.

Renee sighed to herself as she watched four Malibu police cars race down the street shortly after she parked her car in Malibu Square, the same retail area where she remembered knocking down that suspect. She even remembered the exact spot that the man lay unconcious, even though cars were driving over it at the moment.

She wanted so badly to know where the police cars were headed in such a hurry – deep down, she was still a cop. She had to take a deep breath and calm herself, tell herself that she was on vacation, and that the other officers were more then capable of handling the situation on their own.

Sliding on a pair of sunglasses, Renee focused on a small coffee shop fairly close to where she had parked. Sharon had asked to meet her there to talk over lunch.

As soon as she stepped through the doors of the coffee shop, she spotted Sharon sitting next to the window. Sharon still had a little bit of warrior in her – she always sat, stood, or hung around where she could see everything and everybody who came her way. She was never content just to hide in the back corner in peace and quiet.

“Enjoying your vacation?”

Renee smiled at Sharon and sat down at the table, tossing her sunglasses in front of her. She looked at the various pastries and extra cup of coffee that Sharon ordered in anticipation of her arrival. “It’s very relaxing. But I’m also getting a little bored. How can you stand to do this every day?”

“I’m a writer, Reya.” Sharon smiled as she shoved her cup of coffee around in a circle. “Writers find entertainment within their own minds. And if that fails, we just watch TV or go out for a while.”

“I have to tell you the truth, Sharon. Those stories of yours scare me a little. You must have destroyed San Francisco a half dozen times already.”

Sharon laughed quietly, trying not to attract too much attention from other customers in the coffee shop. “They’re just stories. The Arions have no idea this place even exists yet. We just got here first.”

Renee sighed and leaned back in her chair. She suddenly seemed a little upset by Sharon’s implication – that eventually, the Arions would come to Earth…and destroy it. “I love Earth. It’s such a peaceful place, Sharon. Even as I grew up…as we grew up…back home, there was always an undercurrent of fear, and hatred. I want my children to grow up in a place like this…knowing what peace and tranquility truly are.”

“Children?” Sharon smiled and took a sip of her coffee. “You’re thinking about children? Do you have any idea how much trouble you’d get into if you tried to raise a family here?”

Another sigh from Renee as she produced a small steel scroll from her purse and slid it toward Sharon. “I’ve been called elsewhere, Sharon. But I’m not going. I want to stay here.”

Sharon slid her chair back suddenly, turning a little pale as she used an amazing amount of strength to uncurl the small scroll. It was almost as if she had to confirm that what Renee told her wasn’t a prank. “But you can’t…I mean…it’s a death sentence if you–”

“The messenger would have to find me first.” Renee sounded confident as she took the scroll back and stuffed it into her purse. “And even if he does, I’ll just turn him away. It’s funny, really…messengers are supposed to enforce these things, but they’re forbidden to fight a Protector.”

“No, no–” Sharon leaned closer to Renee. The deep serious look in her eyes caused Renee’s smile to vanish, and a chill to run down her spine. “They won’t send a messenger. They’ll send a recovery team…of experienced protectors.”

“But–” Renee bowed her head and paused, trying to curb the feelings of frustration and sadness she felt. She felt like crying. She didn’t want to be forced to leave this place. “Can’t I…appeal this or something?”

Renee bowed her head further as Sharon shook her head sadly. She could tell that Sharon was becoming involved, emotionally. To her, that was a bad sign – between the two friends, Sharon was always the strong one, telling Renee not to let things eat away at her.

After she left the Malibu police station the night before, she went directly to Sharon’s house. Sharon accepted her warmly, even though she already had company of her own. She listened quietly as Renee poured out her heart in her kitchen, handing her a box of tissues as she began to cry. To Renee, Sharon was a rock, someone stable and caring enough to trust with anything.

“You really can’t handle this, can you?” Sharon smiled softly and held Renee’s hands between her own as Renee responded by shaking her head slowly. “I’ll tell you what, Reya. I’ll do what I can for you. I can’t promise anything, but–”

“Thank you”, Renee whispered softly as she reached across the table to hug Sharon tightly. She knew that the odds were stacked decidedly against her – but just the thought that Sharon was on her side was enough to give her the courage to do what she had to.

Renee wiped away a few remaining tears as she waved at Sharon and headed back to her car. It was impractical for them to walk to their cars together, given that they had parked at opposite ends of the block. Even so, Renee made sure to wait until Sharon reached her car, waving at her as she climbed in and drove away slowly. Sharon waved back as she passed by.

She guessed it was part of her cop instinct that always caused her to make sure everyone else was safe before leaving herself. Maybe, as a trained police officer, she felt she could handle anything which may befall anyone she watched over. Or perhaps it was something genetic, from her breeding as a protector back on Velor. Whichever the case, she realized at that moment that she had been absolutely, positively wrong.

As soon as she turned and headed toward her car, she felt a strong hand grip her arm. She was literally lifted off of her feet and slammed into a brick wall in an alley hard enough to send a crack down the center of the building. Her head spinning, she looked up at a very large man…and immediately felt terror surge through her body. It was as if some nightmare of hers had suddenly come to life before her eyes. But somehow, she realized that the nightmare had just begun.

She turned and tried to run away – but his steel-like grip on her arm stopped her in her tracks. He grabbed her hair with his other hand, and pulled it, hard, sending a searing pain through her scalp. He then used his body to pin her flat against the wall. Once she realized that she had been immobilized, she began screaming as loud as her lungs would allow.

Renee felt a blow to her head. It felt like a large truck had slammed right into her. Another blow, and another pull of the hair. She tried to push him away, to kick and claw at him, hopefully causing him enough suffering that he would choose to leave and pick on someone else. Yet he still held her against the wall, his foul breath entering her lungs as he laughed at her attempts to fight him off.

She screamed louder as she felt her clothing being torn, like tissue paper. She used all of her strength to try and push him away desperately, as she turned her head away to avoid that foul breath. He seemed amused by her struggles. That scared her more then anything else.

Her eyes widened with terror as something changed – he gripped her neck tightly, and suddenly shifted position to pin only her torso to the brick wall. She tried to cry out – but with her air diminishing, she couldn’t make a sound.

Every muscle in her body burned, and cried out to her as the man suddenly overcame all of her possible defenses, and invaded her in a most personal way. She closed her eyes and began to cry quietly, imagining to herself that this was all a horrible dream, a nightmare from which she would wake at any second. Or possibly that this was the first level of hell.

If it was hell, it lasted beyond an eternity…she hoped, and prayed that sweet death would take her. And as she collapsed to the ground, she closed her eyes and curled into a ball. There would be no more fighting. There would be no more warmth. Only cold darkness. So it will be written…the end.

#20 – Made In America, Part 1

A young boy, perhaps nine or ten years old strolled down a street in Gotham City just after 8 p.m., carrying a bag full of groceries. His parents were going to be home soon after working a twelve hour shift at the factory – and it was up to him to bring the raw materials to make dinner home.

He walked with his head down, cringing at every voice, every crash of breaking glass, or clink of aluminum cans hitting the street. Just like every week, he prayed that he would be left alone to complete his small mission – or that he would simply slip through unnoticed.

But tonight, he realized as he saw tall shadows blocking his way, that would not be the case. There were three shadows – one took the paper grocery bag from him and began emptying the contents onto the street. Another shadow shoved him into a brick wall. The three shadows then began laughing as they picked up the most valuable of the grocery items and wandered off, fading away into the darkness of the street.

The boy sighed as he looked at what was left – a loaf of bread and a head of lettuce, both purposely torn open and cast into the rain-slicked street. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and looked down again, quickly shuffling toward home. His mom and dad would be very disappointed…again. For the second time this month, they would spend the week hungry – sadly, there was no more money for groceries.

One day, he remembered his dad tell him, they would have enough to move away from this place. Enough to afford food for the entire week, and to be able to safely transport it home. And maybe enough to have a real home, with electricity and telephone.

As the boy rounded the corner into an alley between rows of crumbling apartment buildings with boarded up windows, he sighed. For now, this was home. And in spite of his dad’s dreams, he instinctively knew that there was no escape.

One day he would be bigger and stronger, like the shadows which took his groceries…and maybe he could become a shadow himself. Someone who rules this place, instead of being crushed by it. One day…he would be king.


It was unusually cold that night, as Batgirl crouched inside a window well alcove several stories above the street to shield herself from the icy rain which was falling, as she silently watched and waited.

Robin sat next to her, casually leaned back against the wall of the building next to the window. He seemed so relaxed, he could have well been asleep – while Batgirl, on the other hand, wrapped herself in her cape and hoped that Robin wouldn’t notice her shivering.

“A little chilly out,” Robin whispered. He looked at Batgirl, who still crouched at the end of the rear of the alcove, wrapped in her cape. He could see her breath as clouds of smoke as she stared straight ahead, refusing to speak or gesture a response. “I know Bruce asked us to wait outside…but he didn’t say where.”

Batgirl looked at him for a moment as he carefully forced the window open and slipped inside the building, motioning for her to follow. She did so, without speaking a word…but she did silently wonder where he was leading her, and how upset Batman would be when he found out they weren’t outside.

Batman was in the building across the street, which was taller than the building she was following Robin through at the moment. He was the one who picked the alcove because it gave an excellent view of the street and most of the building across the way.

As she followed him up a flight of stairs toward the roof, she began to wonder if he’d been in this building before. He seemed to know the place pretty well. She followed him through a door and onto the roof, only to be greeted by icy rain pelting her leather costume. She was almost ready to curse him for luring her up there…

…until she realized where they were headed. One corner of the roof, just above the alcove where they were hiding earlier, was covered by a glass pyramid. It was some sort of greenhouse.

Robin opened the glass door, and she followed him in quickly to get away from the relentless icy drops of rain. He closed the door behind them, offering her one of three plastic lawn chairs left there by the garden’s caretaker.

She sat down quickly and rolled into a ball, wrapping herself in her cape. It wasn’t much warmer in the greenhouse than in the alcove…but at least it was dry and less windy.

“You’re hopeless, you know that?” Robin joked. He leaned over Batgirl suddenly…and she turned around to see that he was turning on a propane heater installed in the greenhouse which had been installed by its builder to keep the plants from freezing on cloudy Gotham winter days. It was powerful, too – warmth began oozing from pipes along the bottom of the walls almost immediately. “How are you going to survive the winter?”

“I wear more layers under this in winter,” she replied in a whisper.

“What’s under the costume now?” Robin asked. He almost didn’t expect an answer after Cassandra gave him an icy glare.

“Not much,” she replied, eyeing him as she suspected her answer might make him more curious. “Something, but not much.”

“Ah. Underwear.” Robin leaned back in his chair, ignoring the even colder glare Batgirl sent his direction. “Does it match the costume?”

“Shut up,” Batgirl warned. “At least I wear mine inside the costume.”

Robin whistled out loud. “Ouch. That hurt, Cassandra. You’re becoming more like Barbara every day.”

Batgirl gave Robin an icy glare before removing a set of powerful binoculars from a pocket on her belt, quickly unfolding them to look at the building across the street. It was a four floor office tower stacked atop a four-story factory, totalling eight floors tall. The roof of the building she was on was about the level of the sixth floor across the street.

And Robin was right. They did indeed have an excellent view – the sixth floor was where she caught fleeting glimpses of Batman moving from office to office. He was searching for something, trying as much as possible not to leave any evidence of it by moving furniture or leaving drawers open.

“The factory across the street’s a sweat shop,” Robin whispered as Batgirl silently watched. “That’s why it’s camouflaged to look like part of the office tower.”

Batgirl nodded silently, dropping the binoculars in her lap as Batman vanished across the hall to more offices. “In Gotham?”

He nodded. “The workers probably live in broken down apartments near here.”

“Or under here.” Batgirl pointed around the greenhouse at the sparse foliage and hand-cleaned panes of glass with rusty steel between them. “This is…hope, put here by someone who has none.”

Robin looked around at the greenhouse quickly as he remembered the empty, crumbling apartment and dark stairway they used on the way up to the roof. “You know…you’re probably right. Nice going, I didn’t know you were so observant.”

She smiled, her eyes closing for a moment as she remembered the rose bulbs she had planted somewhere on the grounds of Wayne Manor, and watered daily. She made a mental note to herself to check on them later. It was own her symbol of hope.

“Don’t you feel lonely sometimes?”

Batgirl turned to face Robin just as she raised the binoculars again, giving him a suspicious look.

“It’s just that…most of the time you’re either fighting with Bruce, or hiding from him. Sure it’s a big house, but–”

“Sometimes I do”, Batgirl interrupted. She paused long enough to smile at Robin. “But you’re always nice to me…so are Barbara and Alfred. I survive.”

Robin smiled and waved a finger at Batgirl as she returned to her binoculars. “Don’t let Bruce hear you use the word ‘survive’. He’ll tell you a whole story about bats being survivors.”

Batgirl shrugged. “I’ve heard it.”

She looked up suddenly as the sound of the rain suddenly changed from a light tapping on the glass to louder clacking. It was falling harder now, and leaving a shiny coating atop the glass panes of the greenhouse.

Robin removed a small electronic device from his belt and pressed it against the glass for a few seconds. A number flashed on its small display for just one moment. “It’s dropped below freezing. The building’s going to be really slick.”

“We’ll just stay in here.” Batgirl looked at Robin for a moment, and found him looking back, before she wrapped herself in her cape again and leaned her head back against the glass behind her.

A few seconds of silence passed as Robin removed his binoculars and watched Batman attempting to open a safe in an office across the street. “Might as well. Batman’s doing a thorough job, he’ll be there for a while.”
“I hate freezing rain.” A young man, perhaps eighteen years old, wrapped his jacket tightly around him as he watched his friends approach through the darkness through a window. Well…they were less friends, and more like employees – though he let them think they were ‘partners’.

They would rob neighborhood residents of money and food, and return them to their hiding place – not that they needed one, since the cops never lifted a finger to stop them. The hideout happened to be a storage room for a factory which was closed at that time of the night. The factory’s owners had no clue that the room was being used after hours…and they probably didn’t care.

“Big score, Zeke,” one of the returning ‘partners’ said, “Some old guy was carrying 1200 bucks.”

Zeke held out his hand and waved his fingers in the younger man’s direction. “Great. Hand ’em over.”

“But…what about my cut?”

With that, Zeke whipped out a switchblade in a blur, slicing open a gash on the younger man’s arm, forcing him to double over in pain. “There’s your cut. Now hand it over.”

He handed the bundle of money to Zeke, and started backing out of the small room quickly. “You’re crazy man. You’ve totally lost it. I’m not coming back here again.”

“Yes you will,” Zeke said calmly, “Or the others will be hunting for you tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. Get the picture?”

The younger man, blood flooding down his arm, backed up until he felt the wall behind him, and then slid down to the floor. He mumbled something unintelligible to himself…but the expression on his face confirmed the realization that he knew he had no choice.

“Any competition yet?” Zeke asked.

Most of the young men he’d recruited from the street shook their heads, bringing him a smile…almost. One young boy simply bowed his head, avoiding Zeke’s gaze. “Who is it?”

The boy looked up slightly, but remained silent at first – up until the point where Zeke drew his blade again and took a step toward him. He stammered something quickly just to stop Zeke from slicing him to bits, though at first it made no sense.

“J-Joker’s g-gang has been m-moving in.”

“You’re lying,” Zeke said, dismissing the boy as he turned to walk away.

“I’ve seen ’em. Guys with white painted faces wearing purple and green. I’m tellin’ you, they’re around.”

“Me too. I’ve seen ’em too.” another youth volunteered.

“Anyone else seen ’em?” Zeke asked. Another round of shaking heads. “All right…I’m getting us some weapons for tomorrow night. I’m not letting ’em on my streets. I’m still the king around here.”
The minutes seemed to run together as Batgirl sat in a plastic chair, leaning her head back against a glass pane and looking straight up through the glass insulating her from the freezing rain falling outside. Inside the greenhouse, it was warm…toasty, even. She wrapped herself in her cape more for comfort than to conserve heat.

Robin was still all business, and highly vigilant. He divided his attention between looking through his binoculars at Batman sneaking around the office building across the street, and glancing around the greenhouse to make sure no one was visiting the roof.

Batgirl, on the other hand, had her own method of watching the area around them. She remained perfectly still and silent, until she could hear every frozen raindrop tap on the glass around her. It wouldn’t take much of a sound to break her concentration and earn her attention…only problem was, every time Robin moved, she felt disturbed by the sound of the fabric of his costume rubbing together.

“Let’s go.” Robin suddenly said.

The two words Batgirl found most irritating – just when she had warmed up and relaxed, now she would be forced back out into the cold. She stood reluctantly, cringing as Robin opened the door, allowing a blast of icy air into the warm greenhouse…

…and promptly slipped and fell on his back. “Ow,” he groaned, slowly propping himself up against the doorway.

Batgirl removed a cable launcher from her belt, waving it under Robin’s nose. “Want to try that again?”

He frowned at her before removing a launcher of her own, waiting for her to lead the way. She aimed at a ledge on the building across the street…and then Robin stopped her.

“No. It won’t be able to retract if ice forms on the cable. We’ll have to walk down.”

“You walk down,” Batgirl responded. She tossed her cape behind her as if to underscore what she planned to do – dive off of the building, using the cape as a parachute. She knew full well that Robin’s lighter, smaller cape lacked that ability…but she didn’t care, as she still felt annoyed at having been pulled from the warm greenhouse.

“Hey, wait,” Robin whispered behind her. He waited for her to stop and turn to face him. “How much weight can that cape support?”

She sighed and waved for him to move closer to her. “One way to find out.”

Robin barely had time to scream silently as Batgirl suddenly clipped two climbing hooks to his belt and pushed the both of them off of the edge of the roof. He heard a loud ‘whoosh’ as Batgirl grabbed the fringes of her cape tightly in her gloved hands and strained it, trapping as much air as possible beneath the cape to slow them both. But…

…they were still going too fast. She heard Robin audibly gasp as she purposely aimed for a large car parked on the side of the road. With a crunch of metal and the sound of exploding glass, the two of them tumbled from the roof of the car onto the hood.

Batgirl quickly unsnapped the two climbing hooks and stood, tumbling off of the ice-slicked car onto the pavement. She didn’t let it slow her, though – she stood quickly, placing one hand on the slippery pavement to stabilize herself before she raced quickly to the alley, where the Batmobile was parked.

Once she slipped the Batmobile’s remote from a pocket on her belt and opened the car, she glanced behind her. Robin was doing his best to keep up on the slippery street – his softer shoes, designed more for acrobatics than traction, weren’t making it easy for him.

“Come on,” Batgirl slid back to the entrance of the alley once she realized that he had been hurt in the fall, which was slowing him down even more. She pulled his right arm across her shoulders, gently helping him into the Batmobile, climbing in herself a moment later. “Are you okay?”

Robin nodded, pausing to take inventory of himself again before giving her a weak smile. “Yeah. I just…landed badly.”

She closed the top of the Batmobile and slipped her mask off, sliding into the passenger seat as she watched Robin crawl into the nearly non-existent back seat and curl into a ball. He seemed to be in pain, yet he was trying to be brave about it. She didn’t quite understand why at first…but then she figured it out by recreating the landing in her mind.

A slight smile formed on her face, but quickly disappeared, as she realized how insensitive that was. A light throb from her leg confirmed her suspicions – when she had landed on the car, she attempted to break her fall by extending her feet below her, collapsing her knees, and rolling onto her back, just as Batman taught her to do.

What she forgot…was that she was carrying a passenger – and that the act of breaking her fall had caused her knee and thigh to slam into…well…everything between the legs and chest of her passenger during first impact. Cassandra didn’t even think about it before – because when she released the climbing hooks and sat up, Robin was on his back on top of her. She remembered having to push him off.

“I’m really sorry–” she started to say, before Robin finally sat up and leaned back in the rear seat.

“It’s okay. Really.” Robin whispered. “I’ll take a little pain over becoming road kill any day. Besides, if you hadn’t jumped off of the building voluntarily, we probably would have slipped and fallen off due to the ice.”

“The ice.” Cassandra bowed her head and gently smacked her forehead. “That’s why we came down so fast.”

“That’s right.” Robin nodded slowly and smiled to spite himself. “The freezing rain made your cape too heavy.”

“I’m so sorry,” Cassandra apologized again.

“You know, Cassandra,” Robin continued, “Maybe Bruce is right…maybe you are a little reckless and crazy. I was never more terrified than the moment you threw us off the building.”

“I’m–” Cassandra started to say again.

This time, Robin interrupted her by covering her mouth before the word ‘sorry’ came out again. “On the way down, however, it was one heck of a thrill. Sure, it ended kind of…painfully. But at that moment…” Robin smiled suddenly. “Now I know. I understand perfectly.”

Cassandra gave Robin a confused look. “And?”

“It’s because you can see the result…you can see how everything will work out–” Robin leaned closer to the front seat wincing as he felt pain from his ribs. “–and it all seems so easy to you. Easy as falling off a building, in this case.”

“Hmm.” Cassandra leaned back against the front passenger seat and shrugged. She hadn’t actually thought about any of that before…which is why Robin’s thoughts rang true. It was indeed easy for her, and her actions were as quick as her thoughts. Need a quick way down? Just jump off the building. It truly did seem so simple and logical to her. “Maybe you’re right.”

Silence suddenly took center stage as the shadow of Batman approached the car. Cassandra slipped her mask back on just as he opened the car and climbed in, removing it again after Batman was secured inside. He gave her a cold look as a result – he knew what she was up to – but she ignored it.

“How did it go?” Robin asked.

Batman shoved a folder in Batgirl’s lap – it was full of newly made copies. He began driving the Batmobile as finally spoke. “Zachary Key, known to his friends as Zeke. He watched his parents die at the Joker’s hands.”

“Just like–” Cassandra looked down at the folder as she caught an icy glance from Batman.

“Except he vowed to take the city from Joker. He’s forming his own gang–”

“So why was he on file at this office?” Robin interrupted.

Before Batman responded, a half hour of silence passed. It was almost as if he couldn’t concentrate both on speaking and driving at insane speeds toward the Bat Cave. Once the Batmobile pulled into its parking space and stopped, Batman opened the door, and Cassandra and Robin followed. He then paused to finish the conversation he started a half hour ago.

“It’s a sweat shop. Zeke and his gang have been employed by the factory to make sure none of the employees – all illegal aliens – become brave and decide to turn the owners in to the authorities.”

“But I think,” Bruce said, as he pulled off his mask suddenly and headed toward his computer console, “The file on him was placed there just in case. So if police ever search the factory’s records–”

“I think I get the picture,” Robin said. He then headed up a stairway toward the house to change.

Cassandra, on the other hand, simply stood there, looking at the file still in her hands, and then at Bruce. He glanced for a moment at her, and then at the small steel closet where he would store his costume.

After a moment’s pause, he pointed at the folder. “Give this to Barbara,” he said, before disappearing into the small steel closet.

Before even bothering to change herself, Cassandra raced up the stairway into the house, and headed straight into the study. Her guess paid off – Barbara was there, seated in a comfortable chair with her wheelchair nearby. She was quietly reading a book in front of the fireplace.

Cassandra headed straight for her, approaching her from behind. Without a word, she waved the folder under Barbara’s nose.

“What’s this?” Barbara asked. She ended up answering her own question before Cassandra spoke a word, as she opened the folder and began leafing through it. “This is interesting. Very interesting.”

“What?” Cassandra asked. She sat down on the arm of the chair, trying to look over Barbara’s shoulder.

“I know this Zeke,” Barbara said, holding up a few papers from the folder. “Back when I was–” She suddenly stopped, worried that she was about to tread on a gentle subject.

Cassandra followed Barbara’s gaze down at the yellow bat symbol on her chest. She gave a slight smile to show that she wasn’t the least bit offended by Barbara’s trip down memory lane.

“When I was Batgirl,” Barbara continued in a softer voice with renewed confidence, “I broke up his gang a few times. He started forming it as a teenager.”

Cassandra shook her head slowly. “He’s gonna get himself killed.”

“Yeah, I know,” Barbara whispered, “One of these days, he’ll anger someone powerful, like the Joker.”

Nodding politely, Cassandra looked at her own gloved hands, wondering to herself if they would end up killing again. She happened to be referring to herself…not Joker. She didn’t want to tell Barbara that…because it scared her.

But she didn’t have to. Barbara could read her reaction. “Are you worried that he’ll force you to kill him?”

Without giving a verbal answer, Cassandra gave her a weak smile, just for a moment, before looking down at her hands again. That’s when Barbara reached over and squeezed both of Cassandra’s hands in hers.

“These doubts you’re having are good, Cassandra,” she said calmly, “They show that you’re learning and growing as a person. But don’t let them affect your judgement. Lives are at stake every time you go out at night.”

Cassandra nodded slowly. She knew Barbara was right, because her own fears were not the source of the doubts running through her mind. She was more afraid of disappointing Barbara, Tim…or even Dick and Bruce.

“One more thing,” Barbara said, looking around the room for shadows before lowering her voice again. “This…sweat shop you found tonight. Families are being hurt by this place…and kids, too.”

“You…want me to shut it down?” Cassandra smiled and rose to her feet, slowly. To date, only Batman had been allowed to take on such ambitious projects. Batgirl and Robin were simply a support team.

But Cassandra’s hopes were momentarily crushed when Barbara answered by shaking her head quickly. “If you do that, the families will no doubt be deported. See, that’s the handle the factory owner has on them. He virtually owns these people.”

“Hmm.” Cassandra rubbed her chin gently, leaning back against the arm of the second chair alongside the one Barbara sat in. “So how…?”

“They can be freed…but it would take a huge sympathy vote by the people of Gotham to keep them here.” Barbara smiled and leaned on one arm. “We’d have to secretly get the press involved. Batman has done it before, but it takes a lot of planning. That’s something the computer in the Bat Cave can help us with.

Cassandra noticed Barbara attempting to pull herself out of the chair to climb back into her wheelchair. She moved stood in front of Barbara’s chair, offering her a hand…but wasn’t at all surprised when Barbara declined.

Instead, Cassandra watched in amazement as Barbara slid forward in the deep chair, placed both hands on one of its arms, and then launched herself over the side of the chair and into her wheelchair. She was smiling as she straightened herself, and noticed Cassandra staring. “Pretty amazing for someone who can’t walk, huh?”

“Yeah,” Cassandra laughed. She led the way down to the Bat Cave as Barbara followed.
A Gotham City police officer stopped his car and sighed as he noticed a man in a tattered coat and long, scraggly beard curled up in the doorway of a closed shop. The steel blinds covering the windows and door were a fairly good indication that the store wasn’t in the best of neighborhoods, prompting the officer to check the man out.

He turned the car’s spotlight on the doorway and climbed out of his car, grumbling about the fact that he had to leave the warm comfort of his car to brave the freezing rain and deal with some miscreant.

“All right…on your feet.” the officer said. The man ignored him completely…so he approached cautiously, pulling up on the man’s coat as he got closer. “Let’s go. This isn’t a hotel, bub.”

The man still refused to budge. Even as the officer pulled him up by his arm, he just hung there like dead weight, shivering.

“Possible code six,” the officer said into his radio, looking down the street at the nearest intersection. “I’m on sixth street. Request backup.”

The man finally looked up, shivering uncontrollably as he tried to force a few words from his quaking jaw. “C-Can’t…w-walk. S-some o-one stole…wh-wheelchair.”

He slumped back into the doorway as another police car pulled up, red and blue lights flickering throughout the street. A large officer stepped out and headed toward him.

“Clarkson, right?” the larger cop asked.

The officer who had arrived first nodded.

“You’re new here,” the larger cop said, as he slowly drew his nightstick from his belt, “You don’t know how to deal with these types yet.”

“No…p-please!” the old man sputtered.

“Hey, wait,” Clarkson started saying, “He was saying that he can’t–”

Before Clarkson finished his sentence, the first blow from the larger officers’ club struck the shoulder of the old man. He howled in pain, his screams echoing off of the surrounding buildings.

“Stand down, officer!” Clarkson yelled, his voice nearly muffled by the sounds of the old man crying and begging as the larger officer raised his club again. “I said, stand down!”

“I outrank you, Clarkson!” the larger officer yelled back, “Either back me up…or don’t bother to report for duty tomorrow.”

Before Clarkson could protest again, the larger officer brought his club down upon the old man again. More screams of pain. Clarkson became numb as the other officer brought the club down again, and again. The echoing of the old man’s screams began to fade into the darkness around him…and then it stopped.

Clarkson took a step forward to look closer as the larger officer backed away. He was lying in a quickly growing pool of blood, which ran with the rainwater across the sidewalk toward the drain. “Oh, hell,” he whispered as he began walking backwards slowly, “What did you do?”

“Hey, the mayor himself wanted these filth off the streets,” the larger officer said calmly as he slipped the night stick back onto his belt, “He didn’t move when I asked him to.”

“What the hell did you do?” Clarkson yelled this time. He angrily shoved the larger officer…who promptly shoved him back. “I’m reporting this. There’s no way–”

“You do, and your career is over.” The larger officer stood in front of Clarkson, pointing a finger accusingly at him. “You’ve got a wife and a new kid, Clarkson. Think they want to see you go to prison?” He tapped the gun at his side gently. “Or worse?”

“Are…are you threatening me?” Clarkson asked, his voice wavering slightly.

The larger officer shoved him again. “Go home to your wife. Go on…get out of here.”

Clarkson sighed, hanging his head as he returned slowly to his car. Before he opened the door, he glanced up at the top of the buildings nearby…but there was nothing. He remembered hearing the urban legends about a man dressed as a bat…and he kind of hoped that such a man would be a witness to what had happened this night. No such luck.

He did go home to his wife that night…and he told her everything he had seen. When she asked him why he didn’t do anything to stop the larger officer, he only shook his head and began crying.

That night, as he awoke during one of his bouts with a fitful sleep, he realized that he had a visitor. A large shadow, the shape of a tall man, wearing a cape. One eye blink later, the shadow disappeared. But after that, he was finally able to sleep soundly. There was indeed a Batman…and he had seen everything.
Cassandra walked through the Bat Cave, noting as she did that the Batmobile was missing. He apparently had returned earlier just to bring her and Tim back – and then he went right back out again. She felt a little jealous that she wasn’t invited along, but she also could appreciate his need to work alone once in a while. Sometimes she wanted to work alone, too.

Barbara rolled across the concrete floor of the Bat Cave in her wheelchair, just ahead of Cassandra. She was rolling down a wide ramp, heading directly toward the computer center.

It amazed Cassandra to see how quickly and easily Barbara worked with the computer system – she must have truly been a marvel as Batgirl. Cassandra was far from being technically illiterate, but, as Barbara’s expertise seemed to accent, there was always room to learn more. Barbara knew everything; every inch of Bruce’s computer system, and how each of his devices were designed.

She watched for a moment as Barbara began looking through the public library computers with frightening efficiency. They weren’t exactly open to just anyone…but Barbara seemed to find their security to only be a minor distraction.

“Can you teach me to do that?” Cassandra suddenly asked.

“Huh?” Barbara seemed confused at first, her concentration on her work having been broken by what seemed like a question out of the blue. But after a second or two, she figured out what Cassandra meant. “Oh. Yeah, I guess I could. You really want to learn this stuff?”

Cassandra nodded. “I want to be as good at it as you are.”

Barbara stifled a laugh. “That takes a lot of time, Cassandra. If you want to do something to impress Bruce, then learn more about the Batmobile than he knows.”

“No.” Cassandra shook her head…but then paused thoughtfully, and smiled at Barbara. “Well…maybe. But not to impress Bruce. I just want to know things.”

“That’s good.” Barbara smiled. “Sure, I’ll teach you. If you really want to know a lot, though, the man to ask is standing right behind you.”

Cassandra turned around slowly, expecting to see Bruce standing behind her. After all, he had an annoying habit of sneaking up on people and just standing there, silently, until he would be discovered by accident. But instead, in his place, was Alfred…just as silent, as a result of training himself to stay in the background.

“Alfred?” Cassandra asked.

“Sure,” Barbara laughed, “He sees everything that goes on around here. Even things I don’t know about. Right Alfred?”

“Absolutely, Barbara.” Alfred smiled at Cassandra. “When shall we begin our lessons, Cassandra?”

Cassandra looked at Barbara, and then back at Alfred. “Won’t Bruce be upset?”

Alfred chuckled and placed a hand on Cassandra’s shoulder. “Why Cassandra, who do you believe taught Bruce? Did you assume he was born with the knowledge?”

She had to smile at the mental image of a small child named Bruce Wayne skulking around the dark corners of Wayne Manor. Of course, the concept was ludicrous…he had to have a teacher.

“Uh-oh.” Barbara whispered, loud enough to attract the attention of both Cassandra and Alfred. “Remember when the mayor said he wanted to clean up the streets of Gotham? Looks like some cops took it too seriously.

Cassandra leaned over Barbara’s shoulder at the computer screen. A small homeless advocacy newspaper showed fuzzy pictures of a bloodied old man with a beard, with the headline, ‘Mayoral Decree Claims First Victim’. The neighbors, who wouldn’t be identified, said that the police did it – and that the victim was a Vietnam Veteran who couldn’t walk. The local news web sites had no such information…as if the story were simply being swept under the rug. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know,” Barbara whispered, “I really don’t know.”

With that, Alfred headed back into the house to finish a few errands…and Cassandra wandered outside, this time in a heavy raincoat. She wandered to the edge of the property, to a spot she had visited many times before.

She was a little afraid as she approached the small grove of trees next to the walled-in border of the Wayne Manor grounds. It had been raining off and on lately, but she had forgotten to return and water the rose bulbs for a few days. She feared that nothing would be left but shrivelled buds and overturned earth. But as she approached, she realized there was a lot more.

Several small leafy vines were beginning to grow, but they lacked support. They leaned away from the tree line, looking like they were in danger of falling over. She looked at the small piece of green wire mesh she had stolen from the gardener’s shed and carried out there – she brought it just in case her fear of the roses’ demise was unfounded. Now it would come in handy.

Cassandra gently shoved the wire mesh into the ground as close to the rose vines as possible, making sure it was secure. When she drew her hands back, one of them brushed against a vine…and came away with a scratch. They had thorns already. She felt a little amused that something she had planted learned to defend itself before it did anything else.

Then she just stood and watched them for a moment in the moonlight as the freezing rain pounded on her raincoat, and left a glittering icy coating on the vines in front of her. The image of the old homeless man with a beard, beaten to death in a doorway, flashed through her memory for a moment. It was done by cops, the people charged to protect the citizens of Gotham.

She frowned and took a deep breath as she watched the rain come down. It wasn’t fair – Bruce thought she was dangerous…yet she couldn’t stomach the thought of an innocent man, unable to run away…beaten to death by clubs. Her hands clenched into fists. What if the next victim would be Tim, or someone else she knew? Or…she thought with a painful cringe…what if it were Barbara?

Something had to be done…she knew that much for sure. And something would be done. Tomorrow night, she would put a stop to it once and for all.