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The Day Benden Went to War (Original, discontinued. Edited version is up!)

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            Jeran Gwyn-Raven sat down quietly on his tower couch and fingered the controls in the armrest, but did not activate them.

            It had been both overwhelming and underwhelming to finally become Deneb Prime.  He'd spent most of his childhood here on the far-flung colony planet of Deneb, with his grandmother Isthia, and his siblings, while his parents, Jeff Raven and Angarhad Gwyn, known as Earth Prime and The Rowan respectively, did their duties as Primes far away on Earth, and Callisto Moon Base.

            The land for the Deneb Tower had been set aside since before he was born, as a part of a deal that his father had cut with the previous Earth Prime, and sometimes, when their grandmother was not keeping a close eye on himself and his sister Cera (usually because his other sister Damia and brother Larak were making trouble) they'd come out here to play.

            Look at me!  I'm Prime! he'd tell his sister, and they'd shift piles of debris telekinetically from one side of the wilderness to the other, while sitting on the roof of the small shack with its temperamental old dynamo and over-enthusiastic "Deneb Tower" sign spray-painted on, pretending it was the biggest and finest Tower in the FT&T.

            They had finally broken the ground to build the Tower when he was fifteen years old.  He'd come to watch, with Cera at his side, and in his mind, so they could think at each other, lightning quick.  Grandmother had been there too, and Ian, and Damia and Larak, but Damia had been snotty, and so had her brother Larak, and Grandmother had sent them away.

            As the Tower was built, stage by stage, he'd stop off back at Deneb, to visit his sister until she left for training too, and he'd walk the bones of the building, blueprints in hand, looking at the CAD illustrations and imagining what it would like to be Prime here.

            And then, suddenly, it was built.  The cradles were in, nestled halfway into the ground, awaiting the catch of the first interstellar shipments.  The cargo fields stretched on forever, built purposely overlarge as time had shown great cities tended to build up around the FT&T Towers, and in time there would be no room to expand, unless they were thoughtful and set aside the land now.  There were areas for sleds to land, an airport, and maglev tracks laid down.  The exterior of the Tower was landscaped with native Denebian plants.  Inside, there were rows upon rows of empty storefronts, which would soon be filled with the exotic goods from each of the other colony planets, Altair, Procyon, Betelgeuse, Capella, and so forth, even Earth itself, goods that would be brought there by Jeran's telekinesis, and there were baggage terminals, security checkpoints, a hotel, and thousands of square feet of office space.

            The official opening of the Tower came first, on his birthday.  Cera, smiling happily for him whenever they brushed minds.  Dad dressed smart and acting very Earth Prime-ish around the polite Denebian reporters.  Mother looking beautiful and more than a little mystical with her pure white hair unbound and flowing.  Grandmother, and a flock of their Raven, Sparrow, Hawk, and other various bird-surnamed cousins.  Gollee Gren, with a wide smile and a telekinetic clout on the back for "the new Deneb Prime!".  Afra Lyon, gently radiating avuncular pride at Jeran just long enough for Jeran to pick it up, before closing his shields in a polite manner.  Damia, unsurprisingly wearing a tight and revealing top and trying to catch the eye of anything male that moved and had gone through puberty, even going so far as to pester Afra with her childish tricks when she was bored, which was quickly in Jeran's opinion since she had the attention span of a gnat.  Larak, being rambunctious with the cousins when they thought the official people who had also come to see Deneb's first FT&T Tower open weren't looking if he wasn't glued to Damia's side.  And of course, the group of nervous hand-picked Talents that had come to Deneb to operate this Tower as his crew.

            And after all of that, there was the private birthday party, with family.

            Now, past midnight, was the first time he finally had to himself.  Tomorrow, at noon, he would commence sending and catching his very first cargo ships.  Altair Tower was the first he would catch from, as it was closest.

            It shouldn't be a big deal.  He had a competent crew behind him, and they had all trained at Earth Tower, doing one and two hour shifts in Earth Prime's stead as he looked on.  If they could handle an hour or two of Earth's demanding Tower schedule, Deneb with its relative drip of back-and-forth would be a breeze.

            Still, he felt a little nervous.  He was also the FT&T's eyes out in this sector of space.  Never mind that Deneb had never had a prime of its own in its short history; it had been repeatedly bombed by Hivers only a year or so before he was born.  That was, in fact, how his father had met his mother.  Jeff Raven had reached out his then-untrained but powerful mind, desperate for help as he telekinetically lobbed bombs off of the planet into the sun--and mother, on her moon at Callisto, had responded.

            Jeran leaned back on his couch, and closed his eyes.  With a finger, he depressed the button on the armrest to start up one of the new dynamos.  Just one, a small one.  It rumbled faintly to life, purring warmly like a cat at his mental touch.  And like a cat, he gathered it up to him, gestalting with its power, and sent his mind off-planet to roam among the stars.

            The nearest stars weren't entirely unfamiliar to him.  He'd grown up on this planet after all, and had sometimes sent his mind out to touch them, to know the flavor of their inner fusion, to count the number of rocky planets they had whirling around them.  Tonight, he passed those by.  He stretched further, exploring, cataloging with his near-perfect memory.  He skimmed planetary rings, zipped around moons, paused to examine an Oort cloud.

            He might have missed what he found next, had not the curious orbit of a rogue planet caught his attention.  The rogue planet had a strange texture, not quite like anything he had encountered before.  In fact, it felt somewhat a grassy plain was alive, or like an ocean was alive.  Not alive in itself, but covered by a slick veneer of living, although dormant...pods.

            Flicking his mind around, he found these pods also extended into space in a sort of cloud, beyond what was reasonable for most planetary-based life forms.  He brought his mind close to one of these pods, followed it on its descent, watching, but not touching, observing, but not altering.  He followed as it began its journey into the atmosphere of a planet in its star's "goldilocks" zone.  He observed as its outer layer was scored away by the friction.  In fact, he focused so tightly on it, that he didn't realize something much more fascinating was a hairsbreadth away (in stellar terms) until a dragon roared in rage at its ancient enemy and seared his thread spore to blackdust.

            Jeran jerked his mind away from the dragon like it was he who had been seared by the fire.  An alien.  A mind!  An alien mind, that he had touched, just for a moment.


            No.  Not Hivers.  No sting-pzzt.

            But a mind.  A sentient, thinking mind.

            In the Tower, Jeran's eyes popped open, and the whine of the dynamo he had been drawing upon dropped to inaudible levels.  He sat up, his hands shaking.  With a quick internal glandular adjustment, he filtered the extra adrenaline out of his system.

            A moment of self-doubt assaulted him--if the mind he had touched had been alien, why had he thought of it as a dragon?  Dragons were a human thing, stories built up when ancient man had unearthed fossilized dinosaur bones without knowing what they were, or how they got there.  Or had the mind been so alien to him, that the first thing his mind had done was draw something out of mythology to describe it?

            Was this like that soul-eater stunt that Damia and Larak had pulled?

            He should go back and touch it again, to be certain.

            And yet--this was his first day as Deneb Prime.  There were protocols to be followed.  Rules that existed because there were reasons.  He couldn't violate these rules his very first day as Prime.  In a case like this, he should contact Earth Prime and report it.  Nor should he be arrogant, to believe that if he touched it again and things went sour, he could handle it alone.

            So he called up a console window, and quickly typed out a report.  The first report he'd entered into the system as Deneb Prime.  He did this to organize his thoughts, and to identify more precisely which planet circling which star had these dragons on it.  Rukbat, his star charts told him.  There was a planet circling it that scientists had determined was probably habitable, using spectrum analysis and other methods of research from telescopes set up on Altair.  However, it showed few traces of the elements a modern starfaring civilization needed to expand.  There were far better prospects out there for the Nine Star League to explore.  Iota Aurigae was one recent example, colonized almost solely due to its extremely rich and easily-accessible mineral deposits.

            Once Jeran had completed typing up his report, he revved the dynamos again, and reached out to touch his father's sleeping mind.  Earth Prime!

            Mmm?  His father said.  Go to bed, Jeran.  I'm worn out.  Your mother's worn out.  Hell, even Afra's worn out, and he's good at hiding it.  Didn't you party enough?

            Doubt assailed Jeran, but he hid it well behind shields not even his father could break.  Earth Prime, I'm sorry for disturbing you, but I have a report to make.  I thought it was important enough to wake you with.  He knew he sounded stuffy, but he had to make his father know he was contacting him in his role of Prime, not family member.

            Stuffy or not, it did get Jeff Raven's attention.  He felt his father's curiosity begin to unfurl.  Report then, Deneb.

            I was surveying the stars around Deneb, getting their feel, learning them so that if anything unusual occurs or approaches this planet, I will be aware of it.

            There was a restrained feeling of approval from Earth Prime.

            I was exploring an Oort Cloud, which had the orbit of a rogue planet cutting through it.  I followed the planet, and I identified that some sort of life is seeded everywhere upon it, although dormant.  Some of that...seeding, some of those pods, are being pulled from that planet to a different planet with a more stable orbit in the goldilocks zone.  When I followed a pod, I encountered...well, it sounds silly, but the first thing that came to mind is "dragons".

            Go on.

            They're sentient.  I felt minds.  And they're busy breathing fire at those pods falling on their planet.  They're sentient.

            There was a heartbeat, then two, then three, where Jeff Raven's touch vanished.  Jeran waited patiently.

            Then Earth Prime's mental touch returned, much more alert.  Get your new Tower going, prepare to catch my pod.  You better not be pulling my leg, Deneb.

            No sir.  I'm not.