Emerald Legion, chapter seventeen
“A tale of three Ranzzes” – another family reunion, with 250% less property damage
Garth settled down onto the mattress with a contented sigh, already sinking into sleep, arm draped possessively over Imra’s slender form, his sun-freckled arm contrasting sharply with her flawless ivory skin.
Champion Ranzz, came the Queen’s crisp voice through the Champion’s Ring. You have a guest, please report to the audience chamber.
“Sprock.” Garth said as Imra’s mental voice tinkled with laughter in his mind. “No rest for the wicked,” he said with a grin, turning to steal another kiss.
~Go,~ Imra thought, pushing him gently but firmly away, with a matching grin, ~Don’t keep the Queen waiting.~
Garth stepped into the bathroom and freshened up, before slipping into his Champion’s Garb and heading out, blowing Imra another kiss before cycling the door shut.
He could hear voices talking in the audience chamber, and came in to found Sarya crouching next to her robot dinosaur, talking to a pair of legs belonging to someone who had crawled under it and was fiddling with the controls.
“It was built for war?” the Queen was asking dubiously.
military so much, as designed for gladiatorial matches with other giant
robots. It’s an annual thing they have
out in the desert areas of this continent.
“Ayla?!?” Garth shouted, rushing over and dragging the figure out from under the machine, only to see a hand upthrust, crackling with rose-tinted electrical energies.
The Queen stepped back quickly as Ayla rose to her feet, hand still crackling with energy. Garth just looked puzzled, pushing her arm aside and folding her in a massive hug that lifted her from the ground.
“It’s so great to see you! When did you get here? How long are you staying?” Garth begin to say all in a rush while spinning around.
“Garth!” Ayla shouted in a strained voice, “Garth! Put. Me. Down!”
Garth set her down, but kept his hands on her shoulders, repeating, “It’s so great to see you.” Reaching up and brushing her cheek, so much slenderer than his own, but still having the same strong lines. “You look good,” he said softly.
Ayla’s hand had stopped glowing and she looked angry and confused, “I’ve commed and commed, and you never sprocking answer,” she pulled away and smacked Garth on the shoulder, “And now you’re all, ‘I’m so glad to see you!’ like nothing happened! Like you never left us! Like you never left *me!*”
Garth was suddenly aware that Rokk, Jath and Imra had flown into the room.
“Uh, no emergency, just family stuff,” Garth said, hands in the air, stepping in-between Ayla and his friends.
“I called them when I saw the lightning.” The Queen said dryly. “The last Ranzz family reunion set fire to the Talokkian Embassy…”
“Yeah, we should probably take this somewhere else.”
“An excellent idea,” agreed the Queen, “Perhaps your quarters,” she suggested, “assuming that you still remember where they are after all this time.”
Garth flinched slightly, and turned to a distracted Ayla, who was staring at the new arrivals. “Hey, how about we go somewhere a little more private before you kill me for being a rotten brother?”
“Huh?” Ayla said blinking. “Yeah, sure.” Pointing to Rokk, she asked, “Has anyone ever told you that you look just like Kid Cosmos?”
Rokk smiled, and raised his arms in triumph, mimicking the most famous image of him, after his second victory as planetary champion. “Yeah. I get that a lot. Want an autograph?”
“You *are* him!” Ayla said. “Wow. I had your holo on the wall.” Her face darkened, and “Well, until the scandal, and then Dad said that you weren’t an ‘appropriate role-model’ and made me change it.”
Garth took her arm. “We have to leave now, before you tell my best friend that you had a crush on him.”
Ayla took her arm back, “Who said ‘had?’ He’s still hot.”
Rokk grinned and stepped to the side, “Nice to meet you, Ayla. And this is my wife, Jath.”
Ayla snapped her fingers, “Darn. The good ones are always taken.”
Rokk looked to Jath, who was fingering a short sword-sized blade idly, “She doesn’t mean anything by it, honey.”
Jath shot him an impatient look. “She admires you. What of it? She pays me a compliment by praising my choice. If we on Kathoon, I would make you wear less clothing and have you accompany me everywhere.” Rokk’s eyes shot wide as she finished. “I would get many compliments.”
Garth said from behind his hand, “Can we please leave now, before the trauma becomes irreversible?”
“Yes, please,” added the Queen, who had settled herself back on her throne and was reading a pad. “That wasn’t a request.”
Rokk, Jath and Imra huddled in Jath’s quarters, Imra pacing near the doorway.
“Seriously, just peek in there with your mental powers, make sure that nobody’s getting electrocuted.” Rokk said.
~No. I’m not going to spy on Garth. This is personal, and if he wants us to be a part of it, he’ll share it with us.~
Jath tossed silver hair-pins into a board across the room idly, saying in a flat tone, “Such respect for your mates privacy surprises me.”
Imra shot Jath a look, only to receive a challenging stare in return, before Jath turned back to her impromptu game of darts.
Rokk just looked back and forth between the two women, “Okay, what did I just miss?”
“So,” Ayla said, breaking the uncomfortable silence. “This is your room.” Smacking her hand on the bed and bringing up a small puff of dust, she grinned, “And that’s what the Queen meant about you not remembering where it was…”
Garth just shook his head. “Yeah, I’m staying with Imra, the one who isn’t married to Kid Cosmos.”
“Not with the Queen? I was wondering…” Ayla commented.
“Sprock, no! She’d kill me.” Garth said, before walking up behind Ayla, who was running her hand along the shelf, picking up more dust. “Let’s stop saying useless stuff. I screwed up, Ayla. I got scared, and I ran away and left you deal with all sorts of crap that I should have been there to help you deal with.”
“Yeah, we agree on that, at least.” Ayla muttered angrily. “I didn’t even know where you sprocking were until I saw the newsfeeds of you and Mekt blowing up the Talokkian Embassy.”
“We did not ‘blow up’ the Talokkian Embassy. It was only a few small fires and they put them out pretty fast,” Garth began. “And I’m changing the topic, again,” he muttered.
“Yeah, well, that’s what you do best, isn’t it, Garth? Run away.” Ayla demanded, “Is that what you’re going to do to your new girlfriend? Bail on her the second it gets tough? The second she isn’t exactly who you want her to be?”
“Look, I know I screwed up, and I don’t want to mess up again. Can’t you just give me a sprocking chance here?”
“Give you a chance? Right! My life is going sideways, we’ve got lightning shooting out of our hands, Mekt is sprocking nuts, ranting about how the weather control service is unnatural and must be destroyed, and you’re *gone!* The farm’s totaled, our folks are freaking…” Ayla ranted, not hearing Garth’s intake of breath.
“What do you mean the farm’s totaled?” Garth demanded.
“What? You don’t even know? It’s gone. We had to move to Chaba province…”
“Why is it gone? Are mom and dad okay?”
“Yes, they ran out of the house when the lightning started flying. Mekt was on one of his tears, and he blew up the silo. We lost the second harvest, and I tried to distract him while mom and dad got clear, but we both ended up destroying the house, and shutting down the power-grid over the county.”
Ayla had leant against the wall, arms folded and Garth wanted to go to her, but knew that she was still too angry to accept any comfort from him. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. He was just too strong. He kept trying to convince me that we were the avatars of the storm or some crap and that it is was our sacred destiny to free Winath from the weather control service. He said the storms would bless only the righteous with rain, and strike down the unworthy, as nature intended. He knocked me out and bailed. Mom saw him drive off. Dad had gone for help, and mom ended up running into the house to pull me out before it collapsed.”
“Chaba province? What’s there?” Garth asked.
“A farm that isn’t burnt to the ground. The government resettled them, called it ‘disaster relief,’ and gave them some land that had been left behind by a family that had resettled off-world.” Ayla looked up, eyes veiled. “But Chaba province is in the boonies. It’s all naturists and their damn religion. Turns out they think that changing your gender is unnatural and defying the natural order. So we couldn’t get any hands to help us with the harvest, because they didn’t want to be seen around me.”
“I’m sorry, Ayla.”
“No big deal. Same sort of attitude I had to deal with from you,” she said bitterly.
“It’s not the same at all!” Garth shouted, getting right in her face. “You didn’t trust me. The biggest thing *ever* is going on with you, and I had to find out with everyone else, when you got caught sneaking Pro-fem! Yeah, I messed up, but you didn’t even give me a chance to get it right!”
“Maybe I knew you’d freak!” Ayla shouted back. “*I* was freaking out about it, the last thing I wanted to do was try to talk *you* ‘through it! It’s not enough that we shared everything, I could tell that you weren’t like me anymore, and that you’d never feel what I was feeling. We couldn’t share this, Garth!”
Garth again resisted the urge to hold her, putting his hand on the wall next to her and leaning close. “So why come here?”
The anger drained away and Ayla lowered her head. “Because I didn’t know where else to go.” After a deep breath she continued, “You left. Then Mekt freaked out and destroyed everything, and we didn’t hear anything from him until we saw the news-reports. By then we were trying to start all over in Chaba, but the naturists were making it hard, and I realized that I had to go. Mom and dad would never be able to hire enough hands to run the farm with me there, so I just followed the family tradition and ran away.”
Garth finally reached out and placed his hand on the side of her face, turning it to face his. “No. I ran away. You ran to me. That’s way smarter than what I did,” he smiled, pointing at the disused bed. “I happen to know a place where they’ve got an extra room…”
“I don’t think your Queen would approve.” Ayla said doubtfully.
“Please. She’s spent a star-cruiser worth of money outfitting Rokk with mag-steel and Imra with psi-metal. I totally rate an extra room,” with a grin he added, “And, if you program her pet dinosaur to attack people that piss her off? You’ll be her best friend.”
Ayla looked up, resting her hand on her brothers chest. “You know we aren’t square right? I’ve never felt so, so lost. I always felt bad for Mekt, all alone, but I never in my worst nightmares thought I would know what that felt like.”
“I screwed up real bad.” Garth admitted. “And you’re gonna have to give me the rest of our lives to make up for it, okay?”
“Deal.” Ayla nodded, hugging her brother.
“So you also throw lightning, like your brothers?” Jath asked matter-of-factly, around a mouthful of kabba fruit.
“Yeah.” Said Ayla, feeling vaguely uncomfortable sitting with Garth’s friends.
“A useful talent.” Jath grunted, spitting out seeds and reaching for another fruit.
“So,” Ayla said towards Imra, hoping to stave off another uncomfortable silence, “You and Garth, huh?”
~Yes,~ Imra thought with a smile. ~We complement each other well.~
“So, a Titanian telepath, a Braalian sports-star and a, uh, Kathooni was it?” Jath just nodded. “Warrior woman. I guess that makes Garth the odd-man out, since you guys all naturally have powers…”
Rokk cut in smoothly, “Jath also received her abilities later in life, but there are hundreds of Warriors like herself back on Kathoon.” He looked sideways at his friend, biting his tongue.
Looking around at the Champions, Ayla noticed the matching wary looks of curiosity on Rokk and Imra’s faces, and how Garth was avoiding meeting them. “He hasn’t even talked about it, has he?” she said, and Garth shook his head as the others perked up. Even Jath looked up, curiosity overcoming the slow torture she was inflicting on a kabba fruit with a smaller knife. “Let me guess, ‘oh, some things are better left a mystery.’”
Garth just threw his hands up, “Fine. But I get to tell it.”
The others leaned closer.
“I had just finished flight training, and I wanted to show off, so I rented three orbital ‘burners for me and Ayla and Mekt, figuring I’d lead them out on the training loop around the second moon and back.” Garth began. “Everything was going good, and Ayla had managed to hot-rig the comm and control systems so that that I could slave all of the controls to mine, in case one of them was having some problem with something. We circled around to the dark side of the moon,”
Ayla cut in, “Mekt complaing the whole time how sprocking boring it was.”
“Yeah. Anyway, we were just at the apogee, and turning back to the planet when some sort of energy discharge came up from the moon’s surface. We were too close, which was completely my fault, I wanted to skim close to make it more interesting,”
“We insisted, Garth. You were being a wuss. And it’s not like it would have mattered, the energy surge went well into the safe zone, anyway.”
“Anyway. It shorted out our systems and Mekt and Ayla both crashed into the surface. The slave controls totally fritzed out it was all I could do not to crash my own ship.”
“I made sure my suit was sealed, and went out to check on Mekt and Ayla. All three ships had landed soft, and nobody was hurt,”
“Not that you could tell, from all the complaining Mekt was doing,”
“Can I finish?” Garth said, shooting Ayla a glare. She just glared back, and he continued, “And then we determined that the fuel cells were completely drained. We couldn’t even break lunar orbit, let alone land safely back on Winath. And, of course, the emergency transmitters were burned out. It was like everything that could possibly have gone wrong, had.”
“That’s when we saw that the energy column was still active on the horizon, and moving towards us.” Ayla cut in. At Garth’s look she shrugged. “You were taking too long.”
“Right, the energy column swept over us like a wave, and the only thing I remember is lightning lashing over me and something pounding in my skull. I saw these creatures, and they seemed to be moving around us. Ayla and Mekt were also on the ground, thrashing around under the creatures lightning attack, and I saw them catch fire and die. I felt myself die. My suit was breached, my skin was black and cracking and I think the last thing I felt was my eyes explode.”
“Ow.” Rokk exclaimed sympathically.
~Was it some sort of hallucination? Oxygen deprivation from the suit malfunction?~
“No idea.” Garth shrugged. “I have these fuzzy memories of getting up, suit all repaired, no damage on me and jerking around like I didn’t know how to walk. Lightning shot out of my hands and recharged the fuel cells. Mekt and Ayla were there, too, and we fixed up the ships and launched into space. The next thing I remember is waking up on Winath in the med-center. They told us we’d landed on auto-pilot, and that there was no sign of injury or damage to the ships. That we’d been unconscious ever since the mysterious energy discharge on the moon’s surface.”
“The only thing they couldn’t explain was that our ships were almost fully fueled when we landed. It’s like we’d gotten to the moon without expending any of the fuel cell’s charge.” Ayla added.
“The authorities were baffled, because our stories didn’t match up. I told them about the creatures I saw, orange skinned quadrupeds with tentacles on their faces that the lightning came from. Ayla described them as humanoid stick figures, made out of lightning bolts, and said they lashed at us with whips of energy. Mekt said they were clouds of energized particles, shot through with static discharges, and that they enveloped us.”
“He also said they talked to him…” Ayla said derisively.
“Yeah. I felt a weird pressure in my skull, and even during the worst of it, I never felt like they were trying to hurt me. Ayla said it felt like some sort of mathematical progression, like they were trying to communicate. Mekt had this whole story about the fury of the storm, and us being chosen to return Winath to the forces of nature or something.”
“The authorities ruled that we had just hallucinated, and Garth seemed to accept that. He nearly lost his piloting certification, because of the altered flight-plan, but they let it slide because of the energy surge. There was no record of anything like that, anywhere, and they couldn’t explain it. They just sort of buried it, and while Mekt and I insisted that it was something else, everyone else was happy to forget it.”
“I just didn’t see how it mattered. We discovered our lightning powers that day, and spent the next few weeks being poked and prodded like lab animals.” Garth shrugged, “Mekt’s ‘theories’ to the contrary, we didn’t have any special insight to offer, and I didn’t want to spent my life trying to figure out why it happened, or *what* had actually happened. I just wanted to go home and get my life back…”
Ayla nodded, “I get that. But Mekt needed something to feel special, and I wanted it to mean something too, because I couldn’t deal with the crap I was going through. I just wanted to focus on something else. Garth thought I was crazy…”
“No, I thought you were right. But as much as you wanted to poke at it, I wanted to ignore it and make it go away.” Garth admitted.
~Didn’t you have a theory of your own?~ Imra asked curiously.
Garth looked up, as if he’d forgotten that the others were still in the room, so wrapped up in this moment with Ayla. “Uh, no, not really. Mekt had a theory, and it was insane.”
“Like Mekt,” Ayla added.
“Yeah, and Ayla had a theory that made more sense than anything I would have come up with, so I didn’t even think about it. I was trying to find a piloting job, and nobody wanted to hire me after the accident because of the whole ‘lightning’ thing, so I was annoyed that these powers had messed up my life. I didn’t want to sit around thinking about it, or have Ayla and Mekt reminding me of the accident all the time…”
“What was your theory, Ayla?” Rokk asked. “Please tell me that you guys are transcending into energy beings, because then we can collect the whole set…”
“Uh, no.” Ayla said, looking at Rokk like he had grown a second head, “My ‘theory’ is that the energy surge was a probe, from another dimension entirely. One of energy. It crippled our ships, and the beings we saw were energy creatures. They wouldn’t have material forms, especially not any forms that we could understand, and so our minds just made up images to fit over them. They hurt us trying to communicate, and then they fixed us and sent us home.” Ayla turns to Garth, “Did it sound this lame when I was telling it to you?”
“Pretty much, yeah. But I liked the ending better than Mekts,” he grinned.
Jath had long since finished tormenting fruit and was sitting back with her legs on the table. “Will the changes pass on to your children?”
Both Garth and Ayla looked surprised, but Garth was the first to respond. “I don’t think so?” he shrugged, “The researchers couldn’t find *anything* different about us. No genetic changes, no extra electrolytes, no increased neural energy, nothing. But when I want lightning, I get lightning. They couldn’t figure out where it comes from, or how I make it appear, or how I make it stop. They did brain-scans and bio-electric stuff, but my body didn’t change at all. I can be standing pointing at a wall, or I can be shooting thousands of volts of current at the wall, and my heart-rate doesn’t change or anything.”
“I’d guess no, since our DNA hasn’t changed.” Ayla concurred. “But who knows?”
“So anyway, I’ve been saying it’s kind of a mystery, and it is. We don’t really know what happened, or even *if* there were other beings present, or much of anything. I kind of prefer it that way. It wouldn’t really change anything if we did know one way or the other, would it?”
“I don’t know, it would kind of change my feelings about the whole thing if it was invaders from an alien energy realm and they tried to kill us or something…” Ayla said with a grin.
The Queen had agreed that Ayla could stay in Garths room ‘for the duration.’ She left it unclear exactly what ‘the duration’ meant, but proclaimed that she too knew what it was like to be many light-years from home, and the comfort of having family near.
In a shadowed chamber, a humanoid hand rests gently on an enormous curved bicep, the sound of slow breathing coming from the mountainous form before him.
“It is time, my son, time to meet your mother.”
His hand reached back to press a button on the console behind him, and a signal travels out from the secluded base, reaching through the endless twilight of space. On ice-bound Titan, a woman clutches her head and begins to silently scream.