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The Day Benden Went to War

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Chapter One


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

            Becoming Deneb Prime felt...stranger than he had expected it would.  He'd spent most of his childhood here on this far-flung colony planet with his grandmother Isthia and his siblings, while his parents, Jeff Raven and Angarhad Gwyn, did their duties as Primes far away on Earth and Callisto Moon Base respectively, telekinetically shifting cargo and travelers from one end of the Nine Star League to the other.  The land for Deneb’s Tower had been set aside since before he was born, a concession that his father had wrangled from the previous Earth Prime before consenting to take up the position himself, and sometimes, when their grandmother was not keeping a close eye on Jeran and his sister Cera (usually because their other siblings Damia and 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 by some cousin.  They'd pretended it was the biggest and finest Tower in the FT&T, as grand as the Tower their father had created in their heads, or, as they grew older and their imaginations became more agile, even grander.

            The FT&T finally broke the ground to actually 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 “uncle” Ian, who was only a little older than Jeran, and Damia and Larak, but Damia had been snotty, and so had her brother Larak, so Grandmother had thankfully sent them away with the admonishment that if they couldn’t say anything nice to Jeran and Cera, they shouldn’t say anything at all.

            At sixteen, Jeran had left Deneb to begin his advanced Tower training elsewhere in the Nine Star League.  First he went “home” (although he really considered Deneb home now) to the moonbase on Callisto, where his mother and father lived.  For three months, he assisted his mother The Rowan and her T-3 twic Afra Lyon in their duties, shunting traffic and cargo that didn’t actually have to land on Earth through the Terran solar system and into the hands of other Primes and Tower teams.  Then for another quarter-year, he went to Prime David at Betelgeuse, to train under him and his T-2 wife.  After that, he visited Altair, his mother’s childhood home, and worked with the T-2 pair that had been handling that tower ever since Prime Siglen had died.

            And in his downtime, when the thought of ‘porting himself all the way back to Deneb after a long shift under some senior Talent’s watchful eye didn’t seem too exhausting, he went back to Deneb, to watch his tower being built.  Then 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.  Until Cera had started her own training, she had accompanied him, talking, supporting him, and never making superior comments that it wasn’t his yet and that he shouldn’t count his brood before it was hatched like Damia liked to warn.  Damia didn’t have a specific Tower waiting for her, but it was waiting for her, wherever it ended up being—she didn’t understand that the illusion of choice they had was false.  Talent was in their blood.  It was absolutely vital to the smooth running of the Nine Star League…and there were only a handful of Primes in the universe.  They’d all be Primes in Towers—all but Larak, who wasn’t a T-1—because they had to be.  There was no “counting eggs” about it; the FT&T had been placing Primes in Towers as quickly as it found them for the past three hundred years.

            Now, suddenly it seemed, Deneb Tower was finally finished.  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 they needed to be thoughtful in their planning so that Deneb Tower’s cargo spaces weren’t broken up and scattered around a dozen different sites like Earth Tower’s was.

There were areas for sleds to land on at the new Deneb Tower, an airport, and maglev tracks.  The exterior of the Tower was landscaped with native and attractive 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.  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 was there, smiling happily for him whenever they brushed minds.  Father was there too, dressed smartly and acting very Earth Prime-ish around the polite Denebian reporters, because Deneb was proud of having produced Earth Prime and expected him to play the part.  Mother was there, looking beautiful and mystical with her pure white hair unbound and flowing.  She’d told him when he was small she’d only ever colored it once, when she was eighteen, and that had been blond.  (She hadn’t told him why, though.)  And grandmother had come too, and a flock of their Raven, Sparrow, Hawk, and other various bird-surnamed cousins.  Oh, and of course Damia and Larak, who paid as much attention to him as the most distant cousins did.  They were more interested in poking their noses all around the corners of his tower, and they were interested in eating things.  Some days he almost felt ashamed of them.

            There were also high-ranking non-family Talents.  Gollee Gren, his father’s T-4 twic, greeting him loudly and familiarly, then catching himself and repeating the greeting in a slightly less rakish manner as Jeran technically outranked him now that he was a posted Prime.

            Afra Lyon, on the other hand, of course never forgot politeness as he approached Jeran to convey the appropriate well-wishes the Rowan's twic should convey--although he also let a tiny bit of pride show through his shields.  Jeran wasn't as close to Afra as his younger siblings were, but he'd known the reserved Capellan all his life and the man's well-regard warmed him.

            Then there was the parade of Deneb notables, reporters, and performers.  He performed his prepared speech for them, and closed his mind to Damia and Larak's attempts to broadcast images of everyone being naked at him.

            And after all of that, there was the private birthday party, with family only.  Close family—which meant that fortunately the extraneous Denebian cousins left, and unfortunately so did Gollee and Afra, and even more unfortunately, Damia and Larak stayed.

            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.  Jeran had a competent crew behind him, and they had trained with him at Earth Tower, doing one and two hour shifts in Earth Prime's stead as the senior Talent and his crew 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 Hiver aliens 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 into the depths of space, desperate for help as he telekinetically lobbed bombs off of the planet into the sun--and mother, on her moon at Callisto, had responded.

            Jeren would never admit it to anyone—well, anyone except Cera who knew his mind like she knew her own—but that was sort of romantic.  Or would have been, if there hadn’t had an alien fleet systematically trying to rid Deneb of its human inhabitants.  Would he find whomever he was destined for somewhere in the stars?

            Jeran pushed those thoughts aside for now, and 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, reached 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 alive...like 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.

            Pods?

            Flicking his mind around, he found these pods also extended into space in a sort of cloud or corona, beyond what was reasonable for most planetary-based life forms.  He brought his mind close to one of these pods, followed it on its journey, watching, but not touching, observing, but not altering.  He followed as it began its descent 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.

            Hivers?

            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 and, quite literally, slowed his heartbeat.

            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 actually were or how they got there.  Or was the mind 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 made a face.

            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.  And he absolutely should not 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, and the last initial tremors of excitement and trepidation in his hands had ceased, 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 and didn’t even attend the second party.  Didn't you celebrate 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 in a solar system between here and Earth, 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!