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Little Moment: Peacekeeper's Oath

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LITTLE MOMENT: PEACEKEEPER’S OATH

By Eric ‘Erico’ Lawson


One: Forgotten Planet

 

Join the Galactic Enforcers, the advertisement had said. For a better galaxy. As a youngling, Deleth B’yal had been as starstruck by Ultimos as every member of her cohort had been. The figurehead and most powerful member of that organization, Ultimos had made people believe in the Galactic Enforcers, given that organization fangs. He made sapients across the galaxy believe that there might be a chance at true peace, and for the worlds within the sheltered arms of that organization, there was. Beyond it, though, lay chaos.

The acrid scent of ozone and burned out wiring stinging her nostrils, Deleth finished strapping on her emergency oxygen supply. She immediately started breathing easier, but her eyes kept burning until she snapped her first transparent eyelids shut. She threw her scoutship into a jink that kept her out of the path of another salvo of heavy ionic disruptor blasts. “Fragging pirate scum…” She ground out, and double checked that her emergency transponder beacon was still running. The empty expanse of deep space lay out around her, the hazy cloud of the galaxy’s center a backdrop that served as a horizon. “Repeat! Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! This is the GE patrol ship Wandering Idol, Sector 2815! Under attack by pirate warships, heavily outgunned! Request any and all assistance!”

Deleth had joined the GE not out of a sense of obligation or heroism. It’d just been the easiest ticket off of the rock she called home. The Melaxian species weren’t powerhouses like others out there. They weren’t as strong as the Tetramands. They weren’t as cunning or predatory as the Vulpamancers. They were quick-witted, but didn’t command a mental capacity anywhere near the Cerebrocrustaceans, much less the enigmatic Galvans. In nearly every category by which a species was measured, the Melaxians were decidedly average. The only point in their favor was an ability to see far more clearly in dim lighting conditions and slightly more sensitive hearing. It hadn’t been easy, being just another Melaxian colonist applying and holding out hope. She wasn’t a naturally gifted pilot or a fighter, but she’d done it. It had taken three attempts, two galactic standard revolutions of busting her ass at the shipyards unloading cargo to pay the bills while she studied and trained, but she’d done it. She suspected that even that had been the result of the GE just being plain short-handed. With threats like Vilgax to defend against, other smaller problems had gotten bigger. They needed investigators. They needed agents where fully-fledged Magisters couldn’t be all the time. They had needed scouts, and in spite of her best wishes, Deleth had been assigned to one such scouting patrol.

It wasn’t like she’d been helpless. GE scout ships were armed and armored, meant to fly in and out of areas and handle themselves in a scrape. That had been the assumption her superiors had been running on when they’d handed her the assignment and told her to go looking into one of the outer patrol lanes where intergalactic shipping had recently been reporting losses. They had believed that she could handle the problem, because pirate ships were small and lightly armored. Even if they were packing more firepower, their first and best weapon was their speed and maneuverability, the natural enemy of most space freighter’s bulky compositions and point defenses. Against the modern weapons and defenses available to the GE, the secondhand ships used by the various space pirate factions were small potatoes.

What Deleth’s superiors hadn’t counted on were the pirates somehow getting their hands on fully-fledged warships for use in their raids. Instead of running into a pack of three or four pirate runners like she’d been told to expect, Deleth found herself running for her life in the face of an older Incursean Dalto class battleship and a frigate of unknown provenance. She’d managed to blast the frigate’s weapons and engines out before the battleship had torn into her, and now she was flat out running for her life.

They must have had some kind of subspace jamming, because the usually crystal clear communications she had with GE Control were scrambled, every third or fourth word futzed to uselessness. Another shot lanced across her already crippled ship and the alerts grew more insistent.

“Fraggit!” She snarled, and her stomach sank as she realized there was only one option left to her which might keep her alive. She would have to make a blind jump. In practice, superluminal velocity did require specific calculations - an entry point, a vector, a time - to get you where you needed to go. It wasn’t like you’d impact objects during subspace transit, but if you weren’t careful you could ‘phase back’ into a planetoid or in the gravity well of a wandering singularity and that would ruin your day awful fast. There were whispered stories of the Warlord Vilgax using that axiom intentionally to make the star at the center of an Incursean starbase go supernova with a well-placed and well-timed iron asteroid. The general rule of thumb was, know where you’re going to end up when you hit the button.

She didn’t have the time.

With her ship being shot to pieces around her and relying on emergency oxygen to keep on breathing while her eyes watered from the building smoke in the cockpit, Deleth B’yal punched the switch for the hyperdrive and watched as the stars stretched out in front of her in the moment before she punched through the subspace barrier. She didn’t know where she was headed, or if she’d be in one piece when she got there.

All she knew before the smoke in the cockpit got thick enough to overload the filters was that wherever she ended up, she’d be lucky to land this thing in one piece.

 

***

 

0.5 Galactic Standard Rotations Later

 

It had taken Deleth far too long to get the cockpit fires put out as she fumbled around blindly, and longer still for the ventilation system to catch up. As things stood there were stains on the inner surface of the translucent canopy that no amount of scrubbing seemed to remove, which gave the glow of subspace a faint tint that was markedly displeasing to her eyes.

“One problem solved.” She muttered, and none too soon because her navcom started beeping a warning at her that she was dropping out of subspace again. The reversion to realspace always left her tense and she had one hand on the throttle and the other on the stick, just waiting to be notified that she was half a second from crashing into an asteroid. It had happened before when some jackass forgot to update the star charts in an obscure sector and she’d nearly been splattered. The reversion also gave her navcom a chance to re-connect to the GE subspace network and give her a fix on her current location. The process took longer than she liked, never a good sign because it always meant that she was off of the beaten path, but after watching that spinning ‘processing’ circle on her monitor for far too long, it finally spit out a set of spatial coordinates.

“Sector 2814?!” Deleth wrinkled her button nose up and her whiskers twitched in annoyance. “That’s out in the sticks!” And worse, it looked like the only ping she had gotten was from a navigation satellite that was just barely in range. 

2814 was a backwater with only a few planets that had viable atmospheres and arable land for a Melaxian. One of them was in an uncommon single-star solar system, and her maps gave her the name of Terra.

Terra. Something about that name seemed familiar, but she couldn’t place it off the top of her head. It was the closest planet to her which offered water and a suitable biosphere, though. She would need to set down to make repairs, and that was her best option under the circumstances. “Well, then.” She muttered, punching in the coordinates for a much shorter hop. “Let’s go slumming it.” Her FTL drive blared a warning at her about damage to the field coils and she scowled. The field integrity would hold for now, but the hits she’d taken and her blind jump hadn’t done her engines any favors. A problem for later after she had landed.

The microjump was nowhere near as stressful as her blind jump had been, and she emerged from subspace outside of the orbit of the planet’s singular (But impressively sized) moon. She’d seen other worlds with similar characteristics, but the combination of oceans, significant landmass, vast stretches of green plan life and polar caps made for a distinct combination. As she curved around from behind the dark side of the moon and took in the sight of that orb, she couldn’t help but think of how it seemed to glow against the darkness of space. A pale blue dot in a sea of black.

That tiny bit of fluff-gathering almost cost her, but she saw a flicker of movement and light high on the Z-axis and to her right and jinked the fighter even before her ship’s combat systems warned of a guidance laser lock. The high-density plasma lance meant to spear her ship through screamed past her wing, and Deleth swore. “What frigging now?!” She snarled, punching up her comms array. “This is the Galactic Enforcers patrol ship Wandering Idol in Sector 2814 to whoever just opened fire on me! Disengage your -” And then the screech of data static overwhelmed the speakers, forcing her to turn them off. She’d been jammed again, and only one group fired without warning and jammed communications at the tail end of the galaxy. Just perfect.

“Fragging pirates. Frag all of you!” She screamed, jinking as she caught sight of what had done the firing. Her scanner picked up a transport ship which had been hidden from her sensors before she moved around the planet’s singular satellite, but it was the transport’s backup that had fired on her. Was still firing on her, actually.

At least this one wasn’t another battleship. The escort for the transport was only a light cruiser - heavy on the armament, light on the armor. 

“Come on, girl. You’ve got one more fight in you, right?” She begged her ship, bringing the weapons back online. The other ship had bigger teeth, but they skimped on defense for speed. Most times that paid off. It would have today as well, but Deleth scored a lucky hit with her dual laser cannons, catching it at just the right angle to burn through its shields and hit something critical close to the engines. A power shunt or a heatsink, perhaps. It caused some kind of a cascade reaction, undoubtedly due to poor maintenance, and in a move of pure desperation, it closed in to try and ram the Wandering Idol before power containment was lost. Deleth shrieked and tried to dodge, but she still got clipped. It wasn’t the suicide kill that the pirates might have been hoping for, but that much mass against a smaller vessel still did damage. Nearly a third of her starboard wing was sheared off from the hit, taking out an engine with it.

The alarms started screaming again and Deleth had only a moment to enjoy the sight of the pirate cruiser exploding before she was again fighting for her life. “Come on, you stupid…work with me here! Come on, come ON!” She snarled, trying to stabilize the Wandering Idol enough to bring it in for a landing. She wasn’t so fortunate, and the planet labeled Terra kept coming closer and closer as her last engine pushed her closer into its gravity well. She didn’t have enough power to escape it, and pretty soon she was going to lose all power. The ship itself wouldn’t survive re-entry.

Nothing else for it but to bail out. She wondered if the Galactic Enforcers would be able to find her, given how garbled her transmissions had been due to the pirates jamming her.

She wondered if she would be alive if they managed to trace her ship at all.

 

Silently thanking the Wandering Idol for keeping her alive this long against the odds, Deleth B’yal buckled her crash harness up tightly before punching the eject button. A tremendous shuddering marked the separation of the ejection pod, cockpit included, from the dying scout vessel. The maneuvering thrusters and the pod’s automatic systems kicked on as she fell into a degrading orbit around the planet. It needed one sweep of the unknown world to figure out the best place to put down.

“Multiple acceptable landing sites identified.” the computer droned, showing a holographic map of the world with several glowing dots over the landmasses and multiple descending lines - traces of possible paths. “With available remaining power, these four locations are ideal. Please select your destination.”

There were two continents connected by a narrow strip of land and the first dot flashed in what looked like a desert on the northern one. The second landing site was on the iced-over glacial continent at the southern pole. A third seemed to be in the lowlands just past a significant mountain range on the largest continent. Deleth hated all three of those. With time not on her side, she punched the fourth - an extension of the larger continent that would put her close to water, wilderness, and presumably, natural resources. 

“Location selected. Beginning re-entry procedures. Please secure for re-entry.”

 

Deleth took the computer’s warning to heart. She grabbed hold of the sides of her cockpit as a heat shield slid into place over her canopy, trapping her in a metal box with dimly glowing red lights as the shuddering vibrations grew worse by the second. The hard seat jostled her tailbone with every shudder, sending jolts of pain up her spine.

“If I live through this, I’m going to have a strongly worded complaint about putting in more comfortable seating…” She told herself, trying to hold on to her waning sense of self-control.

Agent Deleth B’yal shut both sets of eyelids and did her best to ignore the noise.

 

***

 

 Rhineland, Central Europe

June 3rd, 1908 A.D.

 

Deleth came to with the heat shielding retracted and her escape capsule half-buried in a small crater of its own making. The retro-rockets had obviously fired or else she would have been nothing but a pancake. 

“Landing successful. The local time is half past midday. Estimated time to nightfall is 0.21 galactic standard rotations.” The escape pod’s VI chirped helpfully. “Atmospheric content: 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen, and trace elements of assorted non-reactive gases and hydrogen. Atmosphere compatible with Melaxian respiratory system. Recommend broad-spectrum immuno-booster as local microbiome is unknown, possibly life-threatening.”

“In other words, scan the food before you eat it.” Deleth muttered. All it took was a quick injection from the emergency medical kit tucked under her seat and she was good for at least a month of roughing it. She popped the seal of the pod’s containment and hauled herself out, breathing in the local atmosphere. A touch more humid than she was used to, but clean. Although…she sniffed again and made a face as she caught a whiff of carbon dioxide mixed up with other particles. Industrialization? It sure as hell smelled like fossilized hydrocarbon remnants in the air. Faint for now, though. She thought of her own people’s ancestors dredging up fossil oils from the shale of ancient oceans in the salt flats before they realized the damage and switched over to renewable energy sources for local infrastructure. It seemed that whoever lived here on Terra…

The other shoe dropped, and she groaned before slapping her forehead with a paw. “Terra. Terrans.” She chastised herself. A slave species in parts of the galaxy, bare-skinned and without any real evolutionary adaptations. Usually ignored when they weren’t taken advantage of. Middling tolerances for heat and cold, middling lifespan, prone to difficulties and death with procreation and wholly beyond the purview of the Galactic Enforcers even if they were known. 

So this was the planet those people hailed from. Marvelous.

 

Sheer terror kept her moving, and she tried to dredge up her emergency training. These procedures can save your life, her instructors had hammered into her class. She was right. First came the checks on her suit. Intact, no damage. Next, her helmet, unnecessary in the breathable atmo, but damn if she was leaving it behind when she could think of a dozen reasons to keep it on. Her emergency subspace radio, albeit with a limited range. Her service laser rifle. Her backup laser pistol, with its belt holster. She checked the charge on both to make sure they were at full capacity and set them into place. The last thing was the go-bag under the seat of her escape pod; the mounted emergency medkit, eight standard days’ worth of rations, her auto-purification water flask with extra sterilization tablets, a collapsible solar charger for her devices and her multi-scan capable PocketScreen. She flipped the screen on and took a reading of her local surroundings, almost surprised at the utter lack of EM emissions from the planet. There were some sporadic AM waves, but nothing like the hyper-condensed…

Wait. No, there was something about halfway around the world if these readings were right. Coming from two places. Weak subspace emissions for one, too weak to be more than fuzzy noise, but there was also some form of wireless energy transmission as well. Entirely primitive, hardly efficient, but…

“Someone on this backwoods dirtball’s smarter than the rest.” Deleth said to herself with a shake of her head, before tapping the button to link the PocketScreen to her helmet. Mission Logs were also a part of standard procedures, especially after being shot down. Stowing her P-Screen in its shock-resistant housing, she started walking away from the crash site and talking into her helmet’s audio pickup. “Mission Log, G-Standard date 28045.31 - Galactic Enforcers Agent B’yal reporting. Encountered heavy resistance by space pirate forces in Sector 2815 and was forced to flee via blind Subspace Jump. Emerged in Sector 2814 and made for the singular carbonform life sustaining planet in the local star system to try and land for repairs. Encountered 2 more unregistered vessels, a small warship and some kind of transport in the vicinity of the planet’s singular moon, was forced into combat and had to abandon ship. The Wandering Idol is destroyed and my jettisoned pod has landed me in the wilderness of one of the larger joined landmasses on the world my ship’s registry identified as Terra before things went to hell. There are signs that the primitives of this world, who I suspect to be related to the ‘Terran’ population abroad in the galaxy used as slaves by the galaxy’s less reputable powers, are well on their way to a full Industrial Age based on the pollution levels my sensors picked up. I’m…”

 

She’d been walking through the woods, a strange figure wholly out of place surrounded by trees and brush and grasses. That next thought had her stopping cold, still as a statue as the ramifications hit her. 

“I’m alone here.” She finally said, shaking her head. “I’m alone in the wilderness, I’m on my own, and I don’t know if the locals here will be helpful or hostile. I don’t know why the space pirates had ships here, but it can’t be for anything good. Ideally, I should try to find a way to broadcast a signal and hope that it’s picked up on the nearby subspace relays, but there’s no guarantee that the resources of this world would even allow for me to generate a strong enough signal. Or that GE would be able to hear it through whatever jamming the space pirate forces are using to keep their activities here unnoticed. This is the kind of mission they should have had a freaking Magister-led strike team to deal with, not…” She flailed for some word that wasn’t useless, barely-trained, wet-behind-the ears… “Not me.” She finished numbly, swallowing hard.

 

She heard a branch break through the outer audio pickups of her helmet and whirled around, crouching as she did so. Out of the brush came a four-legged animal with hooves, a brown hide speckled with spots of white, and all the features of a prey species reliant on flora biomass. It seemed to be running away from something, and was up until a loud crack ripped through the air and a small lump of something hit it, dropping it to the ground with a pained bray. The sudden violence of it left Deleth standing stunned and stock-still.

Moments later, two bipedal creatures exploded out of the woods after the downed creature carrying some kind of primitive firearms - slug throwers, Deleth’s helmet categorized, reliant on chemical propellant, one recently fired. Medium threat level. They were entirely focused on the animal that they had killed, and the taller (older?) one was speaking to the younger in a quiet, vaguely supportive tone that came out as gibberish to her brain. Not surprising- new languages took a while to register properly.

 

They tended over the kill, with the older one speaking to the younger (male, Deleth thought) and pulling out a knife to finish the job of killing the animal which the slug had started. It was only after the thing’s throat had been slit and its struggles ceased that one of them - the younger - looked up and realized she was standing there. The young one froze and his eyes went wide. A moment later the older male looked up as well, probably wondering what had caught the other’s (His offspring’s?) attention. 

The terror was clear in their small, but expressive eyes. Deleth slowly and carefully raised a hand and waved at the pair, triggering her helmet’s speakers. “Um, hello?”

The older one snapped his weapon up and screamed something that was gibberish at her. Lauf, Klaus! Lauf jetzt!” And then she felt the impact of the projectile from his weapon smash into her ribs. The bullet didn’t penetrate but her helmet’s sensors warned of blunt impact trauma that her suit hadn’t been able to entirely stop, and the noise of the weapon’s firing and her own stumble backwards as her ribs groaned in protest was enough to jar the cub loose and send him running, screaming his head off.

The male kept coming at her, his shaking fingers reaching for a pouch at his waist for more shiny brass-colored ammunition for his weapon. Unable to risk being hit again, Deleth pulled up her own laser pistol and fired a beam at the man’s feet, kicking up an enormous cloud of seared dirt from the impact. Returning fire caught the Terran by surprise, and he let out a scream and jumped backwards, dropping his gun in the process. Before he could retrieve it, she fired again and burned a hole through the center of the primitive weapon, rendering the threat immune. He scrambled for his small blade, but Deleth had run out of patience and really didn’t want to kill him if she could help it.

“DON’T!” She snapped at him, and the hiss of it made him freeze. “What in blazes made you think that it was a good idea to start shooting at me without provocation?”

“Bitte töte mich nicht, bitte! Verschone mich!” The Terran begged her, dropping his knife and holding up his hands in surrender. Deleth let out a disgusted sigh, keeping her pistol up and vaguely pointed in the man’s direction. It was at least keeping him pliant, if panicked.

“Just…keep talking.” She encouraged him, knowing he wouldn’t understand. “It takes the microbes a while to catch up.”

And he did, prostrating himself and weeping, letting out more words in that guttural tongue of his before finally bits and pieces of it started to come through clearly. “...Do not kill, bitte, ich habe a child, please do not…”

“I’m not going to kill you.” Deleth repeated wearily, stowing her pistol back away. “And thanks for talking, I can finally understand you. Why didn’t you lead off with that instead of trying to shoot me?”

The Terran male gaped at her as she spoke, her mouth automatically forming the words in his native tongue. She waited for him to say something, to utter some excuse. He didn’t. Surprising her entirely, he turned and ran. Deleth could have shot him in the back easily - but what good would that have done? 

“Great job, Deleth. Your first encounter with natives of this dust ball and all you manage to do is scare him off.” And how much worse would it have been if she hadn’t been wearing her helmet, and the fellow had seen her non-Terran face? With a disgusted sigh, she stowed her pistol back in its holster and turned to start walking in the other direction. 

She could hear running water that way, and after everything she desperately needed a drink.

 

***

 

Evening

 

On second thought, maybe she would have been better off shooting the cowardly bastard. As night had come, her sharp ears had picked up the noises of Terran shouts, angry Terran shouts and the baying of animals mixed up in them. She did her best to stay ahead of them but it was clear that it was a full-blown hunting party tracking her down. Even though they didn’t move with the speed or the accuracy that Vulpamancers did in search of their targets, it was clear that the humans had recruited some form of local domesticated wildlife to do their bidding in chasing down what they perceived to be a threat. Advanced they weren’t, but unless she was willing to open fire and kill all of them - something she didn’t want to do or expected she even could if they had enough of those slug-throwers of theirs and managed a lucky shot - the only real option she had left to her was to run for it. So she ran, and she hoped that she’d live through the night.

Deleth was so caught up in listening for the footsteps and howling noises of the pack beasts that in her panic, she missed subtler cues as she stumbled through the brush and through rugged terrain. That was how she found herself yelping unheard within her uniform as she stumbled into a depression covered in decaying leaves too close to the edge of a ravine. She scrambled for handholds but she still found herself sliding gracelessly down the embankment, banging off of rocks as she went, before hitting the bottom of the slope in a heap.

On her helmet’s HUD, the bio-sensors flashed a warning diagram of the damage she’d taken. “Perfect.” She moaned. Nothing broken but based on the feeling in her ankle she’d twisted her foot but good. And the seal of her specially manufactured Melaxian boot was compromised from a tear. Which meant she’d gashed her foot for good measure.

“Just perfect.” She repeated, hissing first and then whimpering as she struggled to push herself up onto her feet again, hating the sounds of this world’s chirping insects in the background. But then Deleth realized something that had her ears standing upright inside of her helmet.

The insects - indeed, all the wildlife around - had gone silent.

 

She stayed low and slowly reached for her sidearm, not wanting to commit to the longer movement unslinging her rifle would require. 

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Illegible sounds hit the audio pickups of her helmet, and yet through a strange dissonance she understood the message perfectly. It wasn’t the language the Terran male had been speaking earlier in the day, she knew that much. It should have taken longer for her translator microbes to kick in. She got the message, though, and her hand stopped its slow march to her pistol. She looked around again, and all at once, a nothing that her eyes and her brain had made her slide her attention away from disappeared, revealing four Terrans riding on the backs of some kind of domesticated animal. One of the Terrans was wearing metal armor, of all things, with a helmet and visor. All of them were carrying primitive projectile-shooting firearms.

“...how did you…” Deleth started to say, still crouched and wary. The figure in metal made a gesture, and one of the figures not in armor uttered two strange words while raising a hand that glowed yellow.

“Penitus somnum!”

Deleth’s world went dark.

 

***

 

She woke up in a cell kept shut by iron bars with only the faint light of a torch to illuminate her surroundings. Others would have found it impossible to see anything in that setting. As Deleth came to and found herself devoid of her weapons - her uniform and helmet - she had more than enough light to see a guard sitting outside of her cell, dressed in the same kind of metal armor as the one who’d probably led the party that blindsided her. The one keeping vigil over her raised an eyebrow as she bared her fangs and hissed at him.

“Curious.” The Terran mused in the language her microbes had translated. “Whatever you are, you really do resemble a cat. No tail, though.”

She stepped up to the bars, her weariness gone in a flash. They’d at least left her the decency of her GE standard issue undershirt and shorts, but she still felt naked without her gear. “You will let me go and return my gear. You’re holding an officer of the Galactic Enforcers as a prisoner!”

“You’re a Trespasser.” The guard snapped back at her, and Deleth blinked at the unfamiliar word. “And Pendragon will decide what’s to be done with you.”

“...Who?” Deleth blinked, flexing her hindpaws and arching up another few scant inches as she gripped at the bars. The ankle she’d twisted screamed at her for her trouble, a problem she could have solved in moments if she still had her medkit on her. “I demand to speak to someone in authority! You’re impeding an official GE investigation!”

“Don’t worry, Cat-woman.” The fellow in the metal suit said, turning and walking away with the clank of his suit’s joints banging against each other. He pounded on a heavy wooden door which swung open a moment later, and on his way out the Terran looked back. “You’ll meet with the highest authority soon enough. In a few days, I expect.”

 

Then he was gone, and Deleth found herself seething in the dark. She was underground, she could tell that much by the cooler temperature and the stale, musty air. They’d left her some water of unknowable provenance and food that seemed equally dubious, and she ignored them. She didn’t have any of her gear if she got sick on the local food, after all - and given how awful the slop looked, the Melaxian didn’t want to chance it. Perhaps later, if the Terran’s statement about how long she would be waiting for the ‘proper authority’ to appear, she might have to.

 

To her surprise, though, perhaps only a tenth of a rotation had gone by before angry voices broke the hateful solitude. Deleth straightened up on her bunk as she heard them descending down to her level, and finally the voices became legible.

“...were not expecting you for days, milord Pendragon…”

“Your telegram indicated that this Trespasser’s presence was a matter of some urgency. So move aside, knight, and let’s see just what was so important that I burned out a fairy ring and exhausted a sorcerer to get here.” That commanding voice finished the sentence right as that damnable heavy door swung open. A lone Terran came wandering in, seemingly middle-aged if the graying hair at his temples was any indication. The thick metal armor the other had worn wasn’t present, but he wore a red cape with shoulder pauldrons that it seemed to fasten to. He appeared fit and wore a sheathed blade at one hip with a small pistol at the other. Something in how he held himself, how he walked made all of her fur stand on end, and she braced her hindpaws. To jump at him, to jump away, to jump anywhere she needed to.

Instincts she hadn’t lost from when she had been a kitten flared powerfully as she took in the sight of him, how all the others had acted deferential. Fearful, almost. Listen, listen, those nearly forgotten instincts warned her now. Listen and watch, for this one is dangerous.

The Terran male watched her, sizing her up with eyes that didn’t seem terribly concerned. And then he said something, in a tongue that left her ears and her brain scrambling to make sense of.

“What?” She asked, and the fellow frowned before speaking again. 

“I said, you’re new for a star traveler.” He must have switched to the local tongue, because that she understood.

“I’m also an agent of the Galactic Enforcers being held illegally.”

The man crossed his arms. “Never heard of them. But in general, no star traveler who ever comes to Earth is innocent.”

“Earth?” Deleth frowned. “I thought this was Terra.”

He blinked a few times and his eyes narrowed before he finally shook his head. “No. Earth. What’s your name, creature?”

“Agent Deleth B’yal of the Galactic Enforcers. Assigned to the scout patrol ship Wandering Idol until I was forced to abandon ship and crashed on this miserable backwater.” She waited for that to sink in. “And you would be this Pendragon, then, male?”

“...Pendragon is a title.” The male said. “And on our planet, we refer to male humans as men, females as women. You may call me Pendragon if you wish. It’s as good a name as anything else.”

She sized him up again, taking note of the emblem on his right shoulder pauldron - some kind of red reptilian legless creature, swallowing its own tail around a blue world. Terra. Earth. “And you are the ruling authority on this world?”

His face darkened at the assertion, and he quickly shook his head. “No.” He dismissed the idea. “This world is fragmented, not ruled by any one person or group. The Forever Knights, the group I lead, protects this world from the things that would threaten it. Things like you.”

“How many times do I have to say this?” Deleth rolled her eyes. “I am no threat! I am an officer of the law, charged with keeping the peace! That was what I was doing, up until space pirates blindsided me and shot me down! I don’t even know why they were here around your world! This is a part of the galaxy that has nothing going for it!”

Pendragon didn’t move like someone who wasted energy. His stance and his moves seemed perfectly controlled - a warrior, forever denying an easy blow. The way he stilled at her words caught her interest. It was only fitting, given how she must have claimed his.

“You’re saying that you observed other Trespassers above our world. In ships like yours?”

“Yes. And while I don’t know what exactly they’re here for, it can’t be anything good. And I can’t do a damn thing about it while I’m being wrongfully held as a prisoner.”

 

“No.” Pendragon mused, his eyes a thousand miles away. “I don’t suppose you could, Agent B’yal.” It was peculiar phrasing, and she stood a little taller, waiting for him to come to whatever decision he seemed to be mulling over. “But we can’t exactly let you roam free around the world in search of answers either. Humanity at large doesn’t know about the forces that threaten it. Seeing you in broad daylight would inspire panic, and that we could not have.”

“...So what are you saying?”

“I’m saying, Agent B’yal…that I’m willing to give you a chance.”

Deleth blinked, then stepped closer to the bars. “So you believe me then.”

“I believe that more Trespassers mean to cause this world I protect harm.” Pendragon declared. “I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt for now. We shall see if my faith in you is rewarded.”

“Just do one thing for me.” Deleth told Pendragon, hiding her wince as her ankle almost gave out on her when she shifted her weight. The man smirked a little, seemingly amused at her boldness.

“What would that be?”

She wrapped her paws around the bars. “Give me. My stuff. Back.”

 

To Be Continued In

Chapter Two: The Silent Watchmen