Alanius stood next to his parents. Both his posture and demeanor of disdain towards those around him showed that he knew he had been born into wealth and considerable political influence. People nodded deferentially as they passed the trio, none daring to look them directly in the eye or stand within their aura of influence. His father Andertal, and mother Justina, were second only to the supreme commander, Maxor Candenian and their influence and power stretched across the Denarian kingdom, a cluster of twelve planets centered around two suns and seven moons.
Glancing at his father, a wisp of contempt flickered behind his eyes. He could not understand why his father, a distinguished Denarian war veteran, remained unflinchingly loyal to Maxor Candenian. Their Denarian ancestry could be traced back to a time eight millennia ago, before this impostor took the throne, his father’s royal Denarian bloodline recorded in sacred texts from this time. These were kept deep beneath their feet, in the sacred hall where they now so dutifully stood, guarded, within the central atrium housing all Denarian history.
‘And yet despite this, father has never challenged his ancestral right to the throne.’
He turned to look across the atrium to where Maxor sat on the throne, impressive and handsome for his age, his wife and daughter dutifully seated to either side of him. As though sensing his gaze, Maxor looked across the multitude of loyal subjects to where Alanius stood. Their eyes locked. Maxor’s deep blue eyes waited for acknowledgement from his future son-in-law. Maxor waited for him to break their gaze. Alanius nodded deferentially and looked away. He was well aware that the outwardly benevolent appearance of his future father-in-law masked a brutally cruel individual, who would not hesitate to kill anyone stupid enough to challenge his monarchical position as the undisputed leader of the twelve planets. Feeling the anger welling up inside him, Alanius glanced back to where Selina sat next to her parents. His life role had been ordained . . . no, decreed by his parents. As an only son, he was fated from birth to follow in the footsteps of his father.
‘My only task? To serve Selina, the next ruler of Denaria as her deputy commander.’
They were to be wed, but he knew his role would always be one of servitude to Selina as the next ruler of Denaria.
‘Just you wait until after our marriage . . . bitch. You won’t see me coming.”
Just then, Selina looked across at him, her intensely blue eyes holding his gaze. She smiled lovingly at him. Forcing himself to smile back at her, he lifted his left hand in acknowledgement.
‘Soon, my love, soon, will I teach you the meaning of true power.’ Breaking their gaze, he glanced at his parents, ‘Both of you as well, you weak headed fools.’
He looked back at the throne, his face expressionless, his hatred, masked. He felt his true form wanting to exert itself.
Alanius cursed inwardly for letting his emotions get the better of him. He clenched his fists, willing his form to suppress his secret. He closed his eyes and inhaled. He stood quietly, letting his mind feed on his thoughts.
‘To be subservient to this . . . woman. This insult based solely on the fact that she,’ he looked across the heads of the crowd at Selina, ‘is that fool’s only daughter, ordained to rule all of Denaria based on her false bloodline and claim to my rightful throne.’
Alanius turned to look at Maxor again, internally verbalizing his contempt for the man who had discovered Essence and then used it to impose his supremacy on all Denarians. His eyes darkened in anger and he nearly uttered the words out loud, ‘and rob me of my destiny.’ Just then he saw Selina’s tutor and companion walk up behind her and whisper something to her. Selina nodded. As he observed, she stood up and started to walk away. Maxor said something to her. After a brief discussion, Selina, reached down and touched her father’s arm. She turned and walked down behind the throne.
Alanius glanced at his father again, ‘You really are a weak fool. You control the harvesting of Essence and never once have you tried to take back what is rightfully yours.’ He looked back to where Maxor sat, ‘and mine!’ Over three millennia, since the discovery of Essence by Maxor, Denarian nobility had evolved into a genetically modified monarchy, the harvesting of living Essence the prime objective of the twelve noble clans, the subjugating of compatible races, the cost. Dependence on the extract of Essence made Denarians a violent, war-mongering race, their influence across the known galaxies brutal, ruthless and without mercy. All known planets were conquered, the unfortunate inhabitants immediately put to work constructing Essence harvesting farms. As fast as harvesting farms were completed, the productive species of a conquered planet were brutally subjected to a process of artificial insemination. The process focused on a singular goal, the harvesting of Essence, the extraction process ruthless, cruel, inhumane. Babies were taken from their mothers at birth, and the mothers immediately re-inseminated for re-harvesting. Their unfortunate babies were swiftly transported by incubator drones to the nearest harvesting farm. On arrival, they were unceremoniously dropped into narrow, transparent, tubular harvesting containers filled with synthesized amniotic fluid mimicking the protective liquid contained within the amniotic sac of the female race just conquered. Synthesized fluid was adjusted according to the biology of a conquered race, the synthetic fluid finely calibrated to extend the embryonic phase of babies immersed in the fluid. As each baby was dropped into the fluid, automated drones attached two harvesting tubes into the back of their craniums for extraction of the precious Essence fluid. Mortality rates were high with up to twenty percent of harvested babies drowning on first immersion. Harvested Essence, once extracted, was stockpiled and then shipped to each of the twelve planets according to designated need. Babies that survived, were nurtured within their entombed, transparent prisons for up to five years, the optimal pure Essence harvesting age. They were then removed from the fluid by drones and dropped wherever a genocide battalion was found. Their defenseless bodies were greedily pounced upon by the closest soldiers, who drained them of all remaining Essence. Their lifeless bodies were then vaporized by shadowlight. Five thousand embryonic babies provided a pint of pure Essence, enough to maintain extended life of one noble for a period of five years. As the harvesting of Essence fluid on a planet became unproductive, Denarian genocide battalions stationed to keep the populace under control, were given full authority to pursue and annihilate its remaining inhabitants. This brutal strategy ensured no rebellion or insurrection from any inhabitants remaining on a harvested planet. Battalions comprised of non-nobles were carefully chosen for this task of genocide. The brutality of these battalions was feared, its soldiers being the only non-nobles permitted to receive a weaker strain of Essence, this taken from Essence harvesting sources matured beyond five years. Maxor had discovered that, whereas the purist of Essence provided a four-score millennial semblance of immortality, the purity of Essence extract rapidly diminished when harvested from Essence sources older than five years of age.
Alanius seethed, ‘And this is what has kept this fool in power.’
A serendipitous side effect was that aged Essence extract activated an addictive mutation of the Denarian gene, allowing its user to morph into a primordial, reptilian warrior state of being. This primordial state could be invoked at will and provided Maxor with an army of ruthless warriors, loyal only to him. In return, they were allowed to pillage conquered worlds to feed on their hunger for aged Essence extract. The diminished effects of this type of Essence required sustained and continuous extraction and digestion, to maintain both reptilian form and longevity of life. Once infused with impure Essence, digestion of any pure form of Essence caused uncontrollable mutation and death to any Denarian warrior unwise enough to try to attain a state of Denarian purity. There was another safeguard for ensuring undivided loyalty; unfettered and free reign given to soldiers to plunder the riches of planets marked for genocide. Ten percent of any planet’s wealth was allocated to Maxor’s battalions, enough to sustain a level of privileged existence way above that of any non-noble Denarian citizen.
The genocide battalions were ruthless in their addictive pursuit of mature Essence of planets marked for annihilation. Inhabitants unfortunate enough to be caught by Denarian soldiers were immediately drained of all Essence. This was achieved by inserting two tubular proboscises directly into an unfortunate victim’s cranium. Full Essence extraction caused the immediate death of victims.
This self-perpetuating cycle of conquering new planets was the only way of ensuring a sustainable flow of Essence for those privileged enough to receive it. Once digested, pure Essence fused to its user’s DNA, providing, not only the gift of near immortality, but the ability of mental gene-structure manipulation. This allowed its user to effortlessly change into a state of both flight and combat capable form. This mutation made Denarians practically invincible as a race, allowing the first Essence supreme commander and all Denarian nobility to assume a state of luminescent god-like being. Pure Essence had provided the incentive that had enabled Maxor’s undisputed rule above those of his parents. It was rumored that Maxor and his wife were more than four hundred years old.
Alanius smiled inwardly, ‘but your time is running out for you and your reign. You have become too complacent, too blind to see where loyalty and power actually lies.’
Even so, Alanius respected Maxor’s unquestionable, ruthless and cunning control over Denarian society. Maxor had chosen each noble family across the twelve planets with the utmost care. The gift of immortality ensured their total allegiance to his sovereignty as their supreme leader. And Maxor brutally enforced the monarchical structure of Denaria. All non-nobles were screened on a frequent basis. If any trace of extracted Essence was found in their systems, they were killed by shadowlight at monthly public executions held on each of the twelve planets. All non-noble Denarians and subjugated inhabitants were forced to watch these executions on huge public screens. Refusal to do so meant immediate death for themselves and their families. Any sign of dissent, from any citizen of the twelve planets or any conquered planet, was met with immediate execution. Nobles knew the brutal consequence for disobedience to the House of Candenian.
That was until Selina came to power.
Selina glanced at her mother sitting in animated discussion with a crowd of women standing reverently to one side of her throne, doting over her every word. A sadness filled her eyes. She rarely experienced the same affection her mother gave to her subjects. Vain and self-centered, her mother spent most of her time maintaining her own outward beauty and undisputed presence in Denarian society, this leaving little time for her only child. Selina turned and smiled across at Alanius standing with his parents. Just as he smiled back at her, a quiet voice distracted her loving gaze. Selina turned in her seat and looked quizzically at Jalda who had walked up quietly behind her.
Jalda placed her hand on Selina’s shoulder.
“Come, let’s go for a walk in the garden,” she whispered.
Selina nodded and glanced back at her mother. She was still in deep discussion and had not noticed the intrusion. Keeping an eye on her mother, knowing she would not approve, Selina quickly got up and walked around the side of her seat.
Sighing, Selina turned to face her father. Maxor smiled, winked at her and nodded towards the atrium doors in affirmation. Giggling, Selina reached down and affectionately touched his arm. She grabbed Jalda’s hand and careful not to move too fast, she helped her down the stairs behind the throne. Pushing through the crowds, Selina headed for the huge atrium doors, thankful to get away from the boredom of state appearance.
“Let’s go for a quick ride,” she said.
Before Jalda could protest, Selina morphed, carefully enclosing her companion in her Essence. She laughed as Jalda screamed, knowing she hated Selina’s unscheduled rides. People scrambled to get out of her way as Selina slowly changed into her Essence craft. Adjusting her height, she picked up speed and burst through the doors of the atrium into the bright sunlight. Selina glanced down at Jalda, lying beneath her. Jalda still had her eyes tightly shut, a grimace on her face. Turning to concentrate on her flight, Selina smiled to herself. She loved this woman of poor birth with all her heart. Her own mother had left the raising of the heir-to-be to this woman so neatly tucked into her Essence. A Denarian scholar, common in appearance but of exquisite intellect, Jalda, of non-noble Denarian cast, had been offered the elixir of life as part of her role in educating the daughter of the supreme commander. She had respectfully declined, gracefully aging, as Selina grew into youthful womanhood.
Growing up, Jalda had taken great delight in teaching Selina the ways of the old philosophers. About the importance of showing kindness and fairness to subjects. About working for the people in creating economic, social and political stability through the empowerment of common citizens. About using the tools of education and economic prosperity based on a system of judicial rule of law for the common good of all Denarians, not just the privileged elite.
Selina had spent a vast amount of time in the white marbled coolness of the central atrium they had just left, pouring over musty old texts, electronic records and looking at holographic reenactments of Denarian history with Jalda. She had taught Selina about the old ways of government, before the discovery of Essence and the creation of a genetically infused noble class. About history, where representatives of the twelve planets created laws of governance based on rule by the people and for the people, instead of the brutality and dominance of the common populace by a privileged nobility. These teachings were in direct contrast to Selina’s privileged birthright. Had Jalda’s teachings ever reached the ears of the queen, she would have been executed, her death public, slow and painful.
As Selina matured into womanhood, she grew in political stature and her orator skills endeared her to both the noble class and common folk alike. Under Jalda’s careful tutelage, Selina’s statesmanship flourished, and her father proudly gave her increased responsibility, loving having his daughter, the next heir to the throne, at his side. He took personal responsibility for his daughter’s warrior and combat training. He wanted to ensure that she mastered the skillful art of Essence morphing and hand to hand combat, using a shadowlight which he had his craftsmen carefully design to match her height and exquisite physique.
Selina excelled in all given tasks and soon surpassed and bettered, not only her class companions and teachers, but also her father, much to his delight. As her proficiency increased, so did her external Essence countenance. The radiance of her Essence craft left spectators gasping in amazement at her combat proficiency and level of skill, putting her Essence craft through maneuvers skilled combat fliers believed could never be achieved. As her popularity increased, so did the distance between her and her mother, now jealous of how strong and politically powerful her daughter had become. As a consequence, when not on official duties or combat training, Selina spent most of her free time visiting, talking to and learning from her dearest caregiver, friend and confidant, whom she playfully called, “my true mother.”
Flying down over the palace gardens, Selina slowed her craft to walking pace and gently morphed back into Denarian form. As her Essence collapsed back into her body, she gently took Jalda by the hand and led to the bench where she had spent so much of her time in learning about how to be a true and compassionate Denarian leader. Sitting down, Jalda took Selina’s hand between her frail hands and said, “You will be the greatest leader of Denaria, Selina.” She reached up and placed the cool palm of her hand on Selina’s cheek. “Do not fear. When your time comes you will be ready. My time on Denaria is coming to an end, but I celebrate your future as my greatest reward, way more precious than Essence.”
Sitting back into the comfort of her favorite garden seat, Jalda looked out across the vivid flower gardens of blue, white and red Amaryllidaceae, set between expansive lawns of green. The two of them sat quietly for a moment, comfortable in the solitude of silence.
Jalda chuckled, “Do you remember my ridiculous story about how Essence was harvested?”
Before Selina could answer, Jalda continued, a touch of sadness in her voice, “Ahh, my wonderful girl, those were such happy times . . . the most precious time of my short, but happy life.”
Selina put her arms around the person who meant so much to her existence and hugged her frail body close to hers, saddened that soon her closest companion would, by choice, be no more.
Choking back her tears, all that she could say was, “I remember, my dearest mother, I remember.”
It was on her fifteenth birthday, whilst receiving her five-yearly infusion, that Selina had innocently asked her mother and father how much the nobility of Denaria paid for the expensive plant Essence extract. Jalda, in protecting her innocence, had told her that Essence was a plant extract, so extremely rare and expensive, that it was reserved only for Denarian nobility. The executions, she had been forced to witness, were masked as the killing of criminal elements in Denarian society intent on stealing this plant extract for personal gain. Her parents had looked at each other and then looked back at Selina lying on the infusion table. Seeing she was serious, they had laughed so loudly and raucously, her father had doubled over, tears rolling down his cheeks. To her horror and revulsion, they had then explained the process of Essence extraction in graphic detail. Seeing her tearful face, her mother had viciously admonished her for her lack of appreciation for the gift of life and godliness Essence conferred on her, as the heir to the Denarian throne. In anger, her mother had promised that she would severely punish her caregiver for not teaching her the truth about Denarian nobility and privilege. With these words, her mother, inadvertently, set the course for Selina’s life. Sensing the extreme danger her weakness had placed Jalda in, Selina had immediately dried her tears. Forcing her Essence to respond, she had snarled up at her mother, her eyes cruel spheres of synaptic blue, her body morphing into a seething, translucent presence as she absorbed her Essence form. Her transformation was so violently swift, so complete, her mother had fearfully stepped away from Selina, startled and frightened at the deadly, ruthless swiftness of her daughter’s response to her words. Masking her fear, Selina had hissed at her mother in the coldest and most commanding tone she could muster.
“No, mother, you will leave her be, or you will answer to me! Now that I know the truth, I will make her pay for her impertinence in lying to me about my birthright.” Slowly turning her head to look across to where her father stood, she received his nod of approval. Morphing back into her normal state, relief had flooded her body, knowing that she had most probably saved the life of her closest companion and her dearest friend.
At her next lesson with Jalda, Selina had asked that they go for a walk in the garden beyond the ears of the palace servants and guards. There they had sat on the same bench on which they now sat. Beneath the white Orchid tree, and just like today, so many moons ago, she had taken Jalda’s cool hands in hers, remembering the words she had spoken with conviction, “When it is time for me to take on my role as the next heir to the Denarian throne, I promise you my dearest friend, my first act would be to put an end to the harvesting of Essence and the suffering of millions. The search for a humane form of Essence starts with me today.”
Jalda had cupped her face in her hands and had gently kissed her on her forehead, before embracing Selina to her chest.
Shaking off her reverie of the past, Selina let out a deep sigh as she refocused on the present.
Jalda sensed her apprehension, “The path you have chosen with the Selina strain is fraught with danger and you will need to proceed with caution. Your decision could lead to your death. Your father and mother might not accept the gift you offer to both commoner and Denarian nobility.”
Selina simply nodded in affirmation as she thought back to her fifteenth birthday, the exact day she set the process in motion to put an end to Denarian nobility rule of law. From her fifteenth birthday, the same fateful day she discovered the awful truth about her noble longevity, Selina, with the assistance of Jalda, set aside her monthly stipend, equal to more than a year’s Denarian commoner salary. This money was used to set up a small team of Denarian scholars consisting of one female from each of the twelve planets, all carefully hand-picked by Jalda. For the next twenty-five years, Selina’s loyal team worked in utmost secrecy on finding a way to create a synthesized strain of Essence, using minute traces of Essence extracted monthly from Selina herself. This surgical intrusion was carefully executed by her own trusted physician, one of the team and a woman extremely courageous and loyal to Selina. The extractions were performed under the guise of monthly health checkups. Jalda was meticulous in ensuring that any extraction would not cause any long-term cognitive side-effects or harm.
Jalda and the small group of scientists treated Selina with utmost reverence. Almost worshiping the ground she walked upon, some, then all, affectionately referred to her as the ‘Mother of the Nation,’ even though she was but forty years of age, a young adult by Denarian noble standards. The tiny amounts of Essence extract, too small for use to extend life, but adequate enough for research and synthesis, were slowly refined until, finally, her loyal group of companions made the scientific breakthrough Selina and Jalda had been hoping for. A week before her fortieth birthday, Selina’s team of researchers perfected a synthetic strain of the Essence extract. This was so pure, it provided the equivalence of near immortality: an expected life span of eight hundred years for anyone receiving a single infusion, of what her team now called the Selina strain. On her birthday, Selina carefully orchestrated a switch of palace medical practitioners so that her regular Essence infusion team be replaced by her personal physician. Using the synthetic substitute, her physician completed the infusion, this act finally putting an end to the need for the barbaric practice of Essence harvesting. The new hybrid strain also had an unforeseen side effect. It allowed Selina to morph and manipulate her DNA in a way that surpassed all fellow Denarian nobility, her Essence radiance, combat skills and agility now surpassing all.
Selina lay in the dark, staring up at the faint white outline of the ceiling high above her. So much had happened since her trip with Jalda to their favorite spot in the royal gardens. All of this now seemed to be but a faded memory.
A cool breeze rustled through the thin white curtains that covered the open entrance leading out onto the palace courtyard. Listening to the deep breathing of Alanius asleep next to her, her mind drifted back to the chaos the kingdom had been plunged into five weeks before. It was the day before her forty-first birthday. She was in the palace courtyard talking to Alanius when her father’s elite guard had stormed across the open courtyard towards them. On reaching the spot where they sat, the full elite guard had immediately taken a defensive stance around them, shadowlights at the ready. The commanding officer had stepped forward and dropped to one knee in front of her. She immediately knew by the look on his face that something terrible had happened. He had proceeded to relay the news that both her father and mother had been killed on their battle cruiser, Defender. Alanius’s parents had also perished on board. The commander stood up and gave a curt command. Two of the elite guard whisked her away into the safety of the palace, leaving Alanius where he sat.
Selina sighed in sorrow. Remembering her parents, especially the love of her father, a tear rolled down her cheek wetting her silk pillow. As she drifted off into a light sleep, conscious of the enormity of the task and responsibility she now had to accept, she thought about the surrealness of what the morning would bring.
Selina woke with a start. She recognized the voice of the woman gently shaking her awake. Fearful of waking Alanius lying next to Selina, the woman bent down and whispered in her ear, “Supreme commander, Jalda has taken a turn for the worse.” Reaching up in the dark, Selina gave the visitor’s hand a gentle squeeze of acknowledgement and whispered, “Wait in the corridor and tell my bodyguards I will be out in five minutes.” The woman returned her squeeze and quietly walked out of the room, gently closing the door behind her.
Selina lay quietly for a moment, hoping not to disturb Alanius asleep next to her. A sadness came over her. She thought about the recent loss of his parents as well. Andertal and Justina had also died in the tragedy that took her parents, their ship being attacked by an unknown force, believed to be a planetary resistance group, intent on revenge for the annihilation of their planet. She turned onto her side and stared through the darkness at Alanius’s sleeping form.
A troubled look crossed her face.
Ever since their marriage he seemed to have undergone a radical change of personality. Gone was the friendly, congenial, and loving man she had grown to love during their courtship. This had been replaced with an irritable, broody and sexually demanding individual. That evening, he had violently gripped her during love making, the intensity of the act, now devoid of the tenderness she had come to know, hurting her, drawing blood as he dug his fingernails into her shoulders. Confused, she had stared up at his face and sensing a presence she had never seen before, she had involuntary morphed in defense, the act violently throwing him across the room. He had picked himself up, stared at her, shrugged, and had simply gone back to bed. Without saying a word, Alanius had turned his back on her and had fallen asleep.
‘It must be because of the tragic death of our parents,’ she thought to herself.
Selina got up, dressed and then hurried out of the palace. Under armed guard, she rushed through the narrow streets of the city to Jalda’s home. Selina still found it strange to be called ‘supreme commander’ and to have a heavy contingent of soldiers whenever and wherever she went. They arrived just as her physician, who she had appointed to care for Jalda, came out of the bedroom. She saw Selina and bowed in respect. Selina stepped forward and took her by the elbow.
“How is she?”
Seeing the look of concern on Selina’s face, the physician shook her head, “It will be best for you to go in and spend what little time Jalda has left with her.”
Sitting down on the side of the bed, Selina looked sadly at her only true confidant. Taking Jalda’s frail hand in hers, she rubbed it between her two palms to warm the coldness of death she felt lurking beneath Jalda’s skin, waiting to be released. Over the past ten years, they had synthesized ten thousand Essence orbs from the original Selina extract. There was enough Essence to infuse all Denarian nobility and to systematically create enough Essence extract to eventually infuse all Denarian society. Selina’s dream was to create a Denarian race, immortal and peace loving, all infused with the Selina strain, removing the need to conquer worlds. Throughout this time, no amount of pleading by Selina could get Jalda to take the elixir of Essence to extend her life. Jalda had gently admonished Selina for her insistence, firm in her belief that she had made peace with her decision to never use the substance that had caused so much suffering and the annihilation of millions of people. Not even the fact that the Essence extracted from Selina provided the assurance of no suffering, Jalda had stood firm in her conviction that the original source made it impossible for her to do so. Selina and her team of researchers, although saddened beyond grief, respected her ethical right.
Selina bent forward and softly whispered, “What am I going to do without you, my true mother? Who am I going to confide in?”
Jalda became aware of her presence and opened her eyes. She looked up at Selina and a wisp of a smile touched her lips, her eyes now a faded reflection of the vibrant blue Selina remembered as a child. With effort, she pulled her hand from between Selina’s palms and pointed across the room at a cabinet of drawers.
Taking hold of Selina’s hand, Jalda gave it a surprisingly forceful squeeze and said in a frail but commanding voice.
“My research of the ancient scripts gives reference to what an astronomer of the ancient order believed to be a planet compatible with Denaria. Selina, should a time come that you fear for your safety,” she paused, fighting for breath, urgency in her voice, “and should you fail in convincing the order of twelve planets to swear allegiance to your reign in denouncing the human cost of harvesting, you have to take the chance to find a new life away from the horrors of Denarian life.”
Jalda lifted her hand and gently touched Selina’s cheek. “My time has come to leave you, my dearest treasure. You have been my reason for living, my hope for the future of all Denaria. Promise me that you will be true to all I have taught you. Lead your people with compassion and mercy. Your Selina strain will end the harvesting and the ruthless exploitation of living beings, as well as the endless destruction of planets. Then, find a way back to the old, just ways of ruling your people.”
With these words Jalda closed her eyes, let out a long sigh and peacefully passed into the Denarian afterlife.
Selina sat quietly on the side of her bed, her tears soaking Jalda’s hand as she held it to her cheek. She sat like this until the night passed into light and Jalda’s touch was as cold as Denarian granite. Her physician re-entered the room and seeing Selina still sitting at the side of the bed, she walked over and gently put her hand on Selina’s shoulder, giving it a light squeeze.
“Supreme commander,” she said in a respectful tone, “It is time. We need to remove her body.”
Selina nodded and after reverently arranging Jalda’s arms across her chest, she gently touched her caregiver’s cheek one last time.
Selina stood up and walked across to the chest of drawers. Opening the top drawer, she saw a mempad with her name scribbled across its surface in light ink. Picking it up, she put it in her robe pocket. Without looking back, Selina walked out of the room into the crispness of the cold morning.
Selina’s throne was located on an elevated platform situated in the center of the large domed Senate. Alanius sat next to her, quiet and composed in full military regalia. Selina was exquisitely dressed in blue formal uniform adorned with gold braid and medals, designating her position as Denarian leader and warrior. She sat quietly looking out across the mass of people before her. Denarian noble representatives and their families sat in hovering seats, each a distinct color signifying one of the twelve planets. They waited expectantly for Selina to address them. This was her first Senate address since her inauguration.
Twelve tall pillars adorned the edge of the throne platform and rose through the opening at the top of the Senate dome. Each pillar was transparent providing an unobstructed view of Selina and Alanius. Richly embroidered flags representing each of the noble houses, adorned the top of twelve mastheads. The flags gently fluttered in the early evening breeze, the sound of the vibrating material barely discernable to the audience now sitting expectantly below. It was only by looking up at the apex of each flag, fluttering in a perfect circle, that spectators could discern the edges of each pillar. The purpose of the pillars was twofold. One, to display the flags of the twelve planets, the other to offer shielded protection to the supreme commander in the unlikely event of an enemy attack.
Without looking at Alanius, Selina stood up and walked across the platform to the edge of the throne circle. Alanius, as deputy military commander, remained seated. Six Denarian royal guards, dressed in ceremonial red and blue armored battle dress, came to attention at carefully selected strategic points around the platform. Facing outwards, ready to ward off any threat to their leader, each guard had their right hands resting lightly on their shadowlights. A high-ranking officer stepped forward and called the Council of Twelve to order. As Selina waited, the murmuring slowly diminished to an expectant silence. The seated occupants hovered at elevated angles affording each pod a clear view of the throne platform on which Selina now stood. Looking out across the crowd of faces, Selina spoke in a strong, vibrant voice.
“My fellow Denarians, I stand before you as supreme commander based on my direct lineage to my departed father Maxor, the discoverer of Essence and the giver of extended life to all Denarian nobility.” The crowd rose in unison, a roar of adulation, cheering and clapping echoing around the Senate dome. Selina raised her hand and the crowd took their seats, their noise dampened by the acoustically absorbent walls of the Senate dome.
“My reign heralds a new beginning for Denarian nobility,” she paused, “and the immediate abolition of the harvesting for Essence.”
A shocked silence descended on the seated representatives of the twelve planets. Some individuals jumped to their feet, their hover platforms tilting by their sudden movements, forcing their occupants to grab hold of their seats to steady themselves. Others looked blankly at one another and then back at Selina, most in shocked disbelief, trying to comprehend her absurd statement.
Selina continued, not wanting to give anyone a chance of responding to her statement.
“Look at me.”
For effect, Selina let her Essence shine through, the brightness of her countenance forcing those closest to her to raise their hands and shield their eyes. She let her Essence subside.
“I have not taken the extract of mined Essence since my fortieth birthday. My life expectancy, is eight hundred years.”
She paused for effect.
“And I now offer it to you.”
As she uttered the words, disbelief gave way to a roar of jubilation. One portly Denarian noble, so excited by the announcement, accidently toppled from his seat and fell towards the ground twelve feet below. Two sets of eager hands reached out from the hover seat directly below him and grabbed him as he fell past, laughingly pulling him into their hover chair.
Selina continued, “Since my fifteenth birthday I have taken from my own Essence for research.”
She lifted her hand and paused for effect, “To create a strain that can be synthetically reproduced. This I did in utmost secrecy and with the assistance of my recently departed caregiver Jalda and a small team of trusted scientists.”
Selina reached into her inner robe and lifted a vial of crystal blue Essence for all to see.
“Every Denarian taking this will never again need another infusion. We have synthesized enough for every noble Denarian. Jalda and my team have named this Essence, the Selina strain.” She waved the vial from side to side for emphasis, “I dedicate this gift to her memory, for her inspiration, dedication, and compassion in seeking an end to the planetary suffering our quest for immortality has perpetrated across our universe.”
As the jubilant crowd once again rose in celebratory unison, a violent roar filled the Senate chamber.
Looking up, Selina saw the flag pillars surrounding the throne circle collapse in on themselves. Stunned, she stepped back from where she stood between two protective transparent pillars. The flags of the twelve planets came hurtling down towards the Senate floor, the ball-weighted tips of each falling flag now a deadly projectile. The flags struck those in the audience, rich and unfortunate enough, to have had ringside seats, severing limbs and killing many as the deadly projectiles crashed through the crowd. Continuing their deadly descent, the now bloodied tips struck the Senate floor with such force, the whole chamber shook. White marbled dust swirled and swiftly rose from the floor, filling the area in a fine cloud of deadly opacity. The shock wave pushed a huge cloud of white dust through the atrium entrance where it swirled and slowly dissipated in the early evening light.
As jubilation turned to terror, Selina sensed danger from behind.
She swung round.
Alanius now stood, the tip of his shadowlight buried in the throne consul, his act of treachery responsible for deactivating the pillars of light, allowing them to be attacked and destroyed. He stepped forward, effortlessly pulling the point of the shadowlight from the smoking consul. As he did so, Alanius morphed into his true self, the sight of his Essence form terrifying, magnificent, breathtaking. Alanius straightened to his full seven-foot Amural height, muscles rippling and contracting across his uniformed torso. His chest expanded outwards in a mass of supple, cable tight sinews, each reacting to his slightest of body movements. His face, now elongated, was terrifying in appearance. The structure resembled that of a reptilian warrior – his eyes, now deep-set in his transformed form were an intense, dark grey, cold and ruthless, devoid of compassion.
Seeing his Essence transform, understanding dawned on Selina.
She gasped in disbelief. His change of personality and mood swings, his violence during their lovemaking, his cruelty . . . all became clear.
‘He has been ingesting mature Essence extract.’
Stunned by his treachery, Selina took a step back, away from this abomination she called husband, companion, lover, friend.
The six Denarian guards rushed across the chamber floor forming a line of protection in front of her. Seeing this, Alanius laughed out loud. Launching himself into the air, he twisted his body in flight and swung his shadowlight down at a diagonal angle using both hands. The blade effortlessly sliced through the first two guards severing their torsos. As their lifeless bodies crumpled to the ground, he immediately pulled the blade back. Releasing one hand, he slapped Selina across the face, snapping her head back with such force, it swung her around. She faced a scene of utter horror. Her subjects sat immobile, filled with fear, surrounded by hundreds of Denarian soldiers who had entered the chamber in impure Essence state. Men, women and children lay scattered across the dusty, white marbled floor. Some lay in twisted and mutilated positions, their bodies bloodied from horrific wounds indicating that they had tried to defend themselves and their families. Soldiers moved between those still living. As Selina watched in horror, she saw some of the attackers lifting their struggling bodies. Inserting their proboscises into the craniums of their ill-fated victims, the soldiers drained them of their Essence. The insignia on their battle armor identified them as her deceased father’s feared genocide battalion, now under the command and control of Alanius. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her remaining four personal guards locked in mortal combat with genocide soldiers. Selina let out a wail of anguish at what was being done to her subjects. An uncontrollable rage took hold of her. As she morphed into battle mode, Alanius plunged his shadowlight through her upper right shoulder aiming for her heart. Selina’s own Essence instantly gripped the blade, stopping its deadly thrust, cauterizing the wound. The pain from the blade was so intense Selina slumped forward, momentarily blacking out, incapable of defending herself. Keeping the blade in place, Alanius gripped her by her left shoulder and pushed her limp body to the ground. As she regained consciousness, she found herself on her knees, immobilized by excruciating pain, facing her helpless subjects. Sensing victory, Alanius lifted his hand from her shoulder. Raising it in a fist, he shouted at the top of his voice, “Citizens of Denaria, it is I who killed the supreme commander, his wife and my parents. A new order is come. I now take my rightful place as your supreme commander. Swear allegiance to me or suffer the consequences.” He pointed down at the soldiers still foraging and sucking Essence from their victims. He pulled Selina’s head back and hissed in her ear, “There can only be one ruler of Denaria.”
Alanius swiftly withdrew the shadowlight from her shoulder. Lifting it above his head, he struck down to kill her. As he did so, Selina morphed in defense. She swung round, her arm now a razor-sharp blade. Deflecting the deadly downward plunge, her Essence pulsed a blinding flash of light, encasing and protecting her in a mesh of snaking blue and white synaptic cores. Instead of slicing through her body as intended, the tip of the shadowlight embedded itself in her protective shell and snapped, rendering the weapon useless. Alanius pulled back just in time. The tip of Selina’s blade penetrated the skin above his right eye, cutting deep and to the bone, the wound inflicted, gushing bright blood. Dropping his useless shadowlight, in one fluid movement Alanius drew his shadowblade. Lurching forward, he stabbed directly at her torso.
This time Selina was prepared. Jumping forward, she slapped the blade back towards his face. Alanius stumbled back, surprised at the strength of her unexpected blow. Selina jumped to the side of Alanius and in two strides launched herself into the air. Instantly her Essence transformed and reshaped itself into a radiant, bright blue battle craft. A hemispherical cockpit materialized around her body, wings extending from her sides reshaping into razor-sharp aerofoiled blades. In pinioned position, Selina bent forward, her eyes ablaze with anger. Gripping her controls, she scanned the now hostile environment surrounding her. Cannon extended in a deadly cluster from the nose of her craft. At the same time, an arsenal of ordnance materialized under each wing. Selina banked sharply and deftly flicked her right wing towards the floor, narrowly missing decapitating Alanius where he stood. Cursing her misfortune, Selina instantly pulled back on her controls. She flew straight up and out of the open Senate dome, her form a bright streak of blue. Flipping her body into a tight arc, she throttled back slowing her craft to a point of negative gravity and then she purposefully dropped back on her trajectory towards the Senate dome far below.
Now in complete control, Selina flew through the opening.
Scanning the Senate floor, she saw a minute figure, hands on hips, looking up at the dome apex. In rage, Selina released a salvo, cursing the man who had betrayed her love and who had killed her parents. Seeing her attack, Alanius ran and jumped directly into the Denarian pavilion full of captives. The missiles struck the platform obliterating the structure, a cloud of debris and dust, obscuring Alanius from Selina’s view.
Alanius watched as Selina pulled up in frustration, fearful of killing her own subjects. She banked sharply and flew around the inner wall of the Senate chamber. Soldiers standing below immediately opened fire on her darting form. A laser blast hit the wall in front of her and another ricocheted off her form. Cursing, Selina pulled herself into a steep climb and flew out through the smoking domed opening. She immediately banked left towards the western kingdom.
Looking back over her shoulder, Selina made sure she was not being followed. Satisfied she was alone, Selina set course for the research facility where ten thousand orbs of her synthesized Essence lay waiting in a transport ship. These had been prepared, ready to be distributed to the Denarian nobility of the twelve planets, once the Senate had confirmed their allegiance to Selina’s announcement. These hopes had been dashed by Alanius’s betrayal. As she sped towards the location, Selina opened a secure communication channel with her twelve scientists. Still unaware of what had transpired, they patiently waited for her command to release the Selina Essence to inoculate all Denarian nobility. Hearing her call sign, they enthusiastically gathered around a monitor in the research facility.
Selina’s face appeared onscreen. Seeing her drawn face in her Essence craft, instead of the Senate dome, immediately turned their excitement into despair.
“Sorry girls, all is lost. Prepare the transport and be ready for departure. Make sure no one is left in the research facility. We will have to destroy it.”
They were now all she had, her closest friends and only allies, chosen by Jalda, each a common inhabitant of one of the twelve planets.
Seeing the stunned look on their faces, Selina snapped a command,
“We have no time to waste. Do it now. Each of your lives depends on it!” They all nodded in unison. One of the team leaned forward. The screen went blank.
Selina’s mind raced as she flew towards the rendezvous point, thinking of what to do to keep them safe. Suddenly she knew what she had to do. The mempad Jalda had given her! If they needed a haven, somewhere to hide, maybe this would provide the answer.
It was in her bedside drawer at the palace. She spoke calmly into the communicator, “Get everything ready. I need to go back to get Jalda’s instructions.”
She paused, “If I am not back within thirty minutes, leave without me. Flee and save yourselves.”
Selina banked and turning in a sharp arc, her wings trailing twin streams of shimmering light, she headed back towards the palace.
Alanius looked across the Senate dome as his genocide troops led the survivors of Denarian nobility of the twelve planets out of the building. He barked an order at his second in command, “We cannot let her escape. Dispatch cruisers to all corners of the planets. Find her and destroy her and anyone you find with her!”
Alanius paused, “Find her cache of Essence and destroy it. We do not want any Denarian commoners thinking they can share our birthright and what is rightfully ours.”
Looking across to where his troops were gathering groups of bewildered Denarians, he said with disdain, “Do not fail me, commander. Selina is a threat to our very existence. She wanted commoners to live amongst us as equals.”
His second in command nodded, saluted and hurried off.
Alanius addressed a group of genocide battalion officers, “Our plan is in force.”
Pointing to the long file of Denarian nobility leaving the Senate dome under guard, he ordered, “Infuse each of the eldest Denarian nobility firstborn, male or female, with mature Essence and conscript them into separate genocide battalion squads. Then gather all their parents together. Tell them that should any of them be found to be treasonous towards my reign, their children and all of their lineage will immediately be executed. Loyalty will be rewarded with the continuance of their noble line. There will be no change to their way of life, except one. Their firstborn, male or female, will have the privilege of conquering planets, to mine and harvest Essence for the continuance of our way of life. From this time forward, each firstborn child of noble birth is conscripted to military life.”
Turning, Alanius cursed under his breath. Pointing to an injured Denarian noble woman of exceptional beauty, standing in one of the long lines waiting for medical assistance, he indicated to a guard to bring the terrified woman to him. As the woman was led to him, his proboscises extended from his neck. Seeing this, the woman started screaming, struggling, trying desperately to break free from the guard’s grasp. Without hesitation, the guard struck the woman across the nape of her neck. Her legs sagged, and the guard deftly swung her semi-conscious, limp body towards him, her head now resting in the hollow of his right shoulder. Holding her, he stepped up to where Alanius stood waiting. Alanius plunged his two searching proboscises into the nape of her neck. As he fed, Alanius casually surveyed the terrified Denarians standing in line. He smiled at the effect his macabre display of ruthless power had on his unwilling spectators. Some stared in horrified fascination, others shuffled, heads down, afraid of being noticed. He fed on the woman’s Essence for about 30 seconds, taking just enough to revitalize his strength. Extracting his proboscises, he indicated that she be carried to the front of the line, “If she has any children they will be spared having to serve as genocide troopers. This is to thank her for her service to her supreme commander.”
Alanius walked towards the rubble littering the perimeter of the throne ring. As he crossed the Senate floor, his mind raced, a mixture of anger, confusion and frustration that his plans had been thwarted by Selina. If he had known she had created an Essence strain capable of extending their lifespan by four hundred years, he would never have taken mature essence.
He let out an expletive. “Secretive, devious bitch!”
He stopped at the periphery of the destroyed throne ring, now a silent symbol of Selina’s powerful Essence strain and her refusal to die as he had planned . . . publicly and in humiliation. He knew that one of his first tasks would be to rebuild the throne ring as a testament to his ruthless rule. He did not want the demolished Senate to become a reminder or a beacon of hope for the twelve planets.
He cursed again. “The bitch foiled my plot, so carefully planned.”
Gazing through the open Senate dome, envy reflected in his cold grey eyes. Her remarkable defensive attack on him, and the fact that she had managed to escape, placed his brutal coup in grave jeopardy. With her alive, loyalty amongst Denarian nobility and commoners would survive and always be a threat to this reign. With an impatient flick of his hand, he wiped away some blood still oozing from the open wound above his right eye.
He sat down on one of the demolished flag pillars.
Examining the destruction his treachery had unleashed, Alanius leaned forward. Subconsciously rubbing the blood wiped away between his thumb and forefinger, he sat brooding for a minute or so. Grunting, he stood up and paced across the dusty, debris filled Senate floor.
His mind raced. ‘The bitch outsmarted me in front of my command and troops. I have lost face. She has to be found and killed at all costs.’
He raised his hand and his second in command, standing at a respectful distance, came running over, “Nandor, the cache of Essence must be found at all costs. If Selina gets away with it, our plans for conquering the known planets and beyond will be forestalled, especially if she manages to infuse all nobility, and the gods forbid . . . commoners with her strain. I lose all political advantage.”
Nandor nodded in acknowledgment, turned and ran towards the command ship, parked at the Senate entrance. A fleet of battle cruisers now hovered above the city, silhouetted against a backdrop of blue Denarian sky.
Worried, Alanius hurried after Nandor, wanting to make sure the coordinated seek-and-destroy battalions had already been deployed. Every second counted in finding and killing Selina.
Her Essence form now translucent and barely visible, Selina flew low, skimming over, under and past obstacles in her flight path. Reaching the outskirts of Denaria, she lifted her Essence craft and flew over the high city wall at a point where she knew there would be no guards. Once over, she put her craft into a steep dive and pulled up, hugging the surface of the well-manicured farm fields. Glancing back, she saw that her engine thrust left a broad visible ripple across the wheat field she was flying over. Worried this might be spotted from any enemy craft cruising in the sky above, she adjusted the height of her flight. Checking behind her, she now saw no visible trace of her flight approach. Satisfied she would not be spotted from above, Selina concentrated on finding the least detectable flight path across the city looming up ahead of her. On reaching the first row of the city buildings, she pulled up. Flying just above rooftop level, Selina brushed over the rooftops of homes, her engine wake lightly rattling the roof tiles. In the streets below, curious inhabitants looked up, trying to locate the strange sound as she flew by, invisible to the eye. Most people, seeing nothing, went back to trying to be as inconspicuous as possible to the large genocide battalion presence now roaming Denarian streets. As Selina passed overhead, one genocide battalion guard walking below, heard the rattling of the rooftop tiles and immediately recognized the sound. He clumsily grabbed his communicator and shouted into it that a cloaked craft was fast approaching the palace area. The guard turned and started to run back towards the palace, shouting to his fellow companions to follow. On hearing the communique, Alanius sprinted past Nandor, walking up the ramp of his command craft. “Hurry, Nandor, I think we have her!” Nandor increased his pace, following Alanius down the corridor. They both entered the command center at the same time. Running up to the main consul, Alanius punched the communications command-line interface and shouted a command to dispatch all troop carriers to the palace.
Selina flew straight for the palace and on reaching the open courtyard, slowed. Her form, in pinioned position, became visible, her battle suit a shimmering blue of reflective Denarian light. Reaching walking speed, her Essence craft collapsed into her body and she morphed back into human form.
Selina ran across the courtyard and through the expansive building entrance. Running down the wide marbled corridor, the sound of her shoes on the polished floor slapped echoes against the corridor walls. Holographic images of her noble ancestry silently stared down at her as she raced past. She entered the second large wooden double door to her right. This led directly into her bedroom chambers.
Rushing over to her large bed, Selina yanked open her bedside cabinet drawer. To her huge relief, she saw that the mempad lay where she had left it. Grabbing it, she jumped onto and over the large bed, landing nimbly on the adjacent side. Standing quietly for a moment, she tucked the mempad into a fold of her battle suit. A rumbling sound, followed by strong vibrations, warned her that she had run out of time. Selina raced across the spacious room. Yanking open the side patio doors leading onto the open courtyard outside, she paused in the shadow of the room. To her right, close to the entrance she had just used, a battalion troop carrier hovered a few feet off the courtyard floor. Another waited in holding pattern behind.
A small detachment of genocide soldiers had already deployed from the hovering carrier and were running through the main entrance doors leading into the palace. Taking two strides, Selina leapt into the air. In a single seamless transition, her Essence morphed. She purposefully did not bother fully cloaking her presence.
‘Alright Alanius, you wanted to make a statement and so will I.’
Looking across the wide expanse of courtyard separating her from the battle troop carriers, she felt an inner peace wash over her. She did not feel afraid, confident in her own power. She gripped her controls and as she looked across to where the enemy hovered, her retinas weaponized. Selina calculated the distance and the size of the hovering enemy. Selina accelerated and flew diagonally along the side of the palace wall towards the hovering, unsuspecting troop carrier. As she accelerated, her Essence extended her wings to compensate for the offensive attack she planned to execute.
She approached the entrance, now devoid of the guards who had already stormed inside.
‘Good, they have not seen me.’
Reaching the entrance, Selina banked towards the hovering cruiser.
Layers of crackling synaptic blue fibers rapidly crisscrossed her craft, thickening her exterior hull. The pilot, intent on landing, looked up from his instruments just in time to see Selina accelerate in a blur of blue. Her Essence struck the hovering troop carrier with force, effortlessly slicing through its hull, killing the pilot, co-pilot and the forty troops sitting in the cargo hold. She exited through the back of the fuselage, the craft disintegrating in a ball of explosive fire behind her. Without reducing, speed, Selina pulled up and brought her sights to bear on the second hovering troop carrier. Opening fire, a salvo of Essence orbs steaked towards the doomed craft. Pulling back on her controls, she banked, flipping herself into a vertical position, her left wing now pointing towards the ground, three hundred feet below.
Looking to her right, Selina flew past the troop carrier. Lifting her middle finger in defiance, she calmly observed the destruction as her ordnance hit. The troop carrier fell towards the ground, scattering troops and debris across the palace courtyard far below. Without looking back, Selina leveled out and flew towards the city perimeter wall. Crowds of people streamed into the streets, shouting in jubilation and waving their hands as they ran along, trying to keep sight of her craft. Selina rocked her wings. Selina, overcome with emotion, released a sound wave so intense it was heard across the city, “My fellow Denarians, my promise to you is that I will return some day to take back what is rightfully mine, to avenge my father and mother and to punish Alanius for what he has done to you.”
As her message boomed and reverberated down city alleyways and echoed off walls, Selina engaged stealth mode and raced towards the Essence research facility location. Reaching into her suit pocket, she pulled out the mempad and pushed it into the instrument panel in front of her. The mempad dissolved in its gel, all information transferred to Selina’s consciousness. She immediately sent the co-ordinates via coded encryption to her team. Flying over the perimeter wall she communicated with them.
“Have you left the facility?”
Samantha, the lead researcher, replied, “Hi, Selina. Yes, we have just departed. As instructed, we have all of the Essence orbs we could load aboard.”
“Samantha, use the coordinates I provided. I’ll catch up with you as soon as I have destroyed the facility. We cannot leave anything to chance.”
Selina turned her attention to creating ordinance and as she flew towards the facility, four missiles materialized under each of her wings. Her wing profile changed, becoming thick and concave to compensate for the weight of the missiles. Approaching the spot where she had spent every moment of her free time, she forcefully suppressed the heartache and pain she felt at having to destroy the haven of hope that she and Jalda had created so painstakingly. She zeroed in on the main facility building and pulled the trigger. A salvo of destruction streaked towards their target one hundred miles away. Wanting to put as much distance between herself and the destructive force she had just released, Selina pulled herself into a steep climb. Increasing speed to Mach fourteen, she lost consciousness as the sky around her blurred to blackness. Entering the stratosphere, she shook her head from side to side, willing herself back to full consciousness. Looking down towards the planet, she saw the flash from her missiles reaching their target. The missiles vented with force, the shockwave slamming into the mountain cliffs surrounding the facility. The cliffs crumbled in on themselves, burying the vaporized site under tons of rock. As it spread out in a perfectly spherical shockwave from its point of origin, the explosive quake continued its destructive path towards Denaria. From the protection of space, Selina offered a silent prayer to her people, any Denarians that would surely be killed or hurt by what she had just done. Selina banked and set course for the three Denarian moons, not wanting to witness the event.
The shockwave rushed through Denaria shaking the city’s foundations to its core. Debris from windows, walls and rooftop tiles tumbled into the streets below, creating clouds of dust intermingled with dying and injured screams of men, women and children.
Alanius lifted himself off the ground. Together with his command team, he dusted himself down and turned to look at the fire and smoke plume rising above the mountain range in the far distance.
He laughed out loud, “The silly bitch has done our work for us. We don’t have to find and destroy her facility. She has done it for us.”
Swinging around he barked a command.
“Send every available ship to pursue her. There must be some kind of transport carrying her Essence extract.”
His eyes hardened.
“Find it! Kill its crew and secure the cargo.”
To Nandor he shouted, “She cannot get away! We need to destroy her Essence, Nandor. It will make her unstoppable. Go! Make sure you find her. Our future is at stake if she gets away!”
Nandor came to attention, saluted and ran towards his battle cruiser, screaming commands to his second in command to follow him.
Selina increased speed to catch up with the transport. As instructed, her team had navigated to the furthest of the three Denarian moons to hide. Approaching the transport, she docked by entering the rear cargo door. As the outer door sealed behind her, Selina morphed into human form and hurried down the grey elongated passageway towards the briefing room. Entering the room, she saw her team standing together in a close protective cluster, uncertain, afraid, talking to the side of a large conference table. Seeing her, they turned to face her and fell silent, waiting expectantly for her to speak. She walked to the head of the table and indicated to them to sit. They quickly took their seats.
Sitting closest to Selina, Samantha spoke, “Twenty battle cruisers have been deployed from Denaria and we are tracking their movements.”
She continued, concern visible in the tremor in her voice, “Three of the cruisers have branched away, on course towards our moon.”
She looked up at Selina, “We have, at most, fifteen minutes before the battle cruisers are in range, Selina. They will most definitely detect our transport.”
Selina nodded in affirmation. Wearily, she sat down.
Scanning their expectant faces, Selina smiled and said flippantly, “Well, this day turned out to hold a bit more excitement than I had anticipated.”
Her light-hearted comment broke the tension, and everyone laughed.
Leaning forward, Selina explained, “Now to our escape plan. We have no time to waste.” As the red blips on the overhead screen indicated the approaching enemy, she continued, “Our Essence cannot fall into the hands of Alanius.”
She paused, “If we cannot escape, and if there is the slightest chance of being captured, we will have to destroy all Essence pods.”
Seeing the stunned look on their faces she continued in explanation.
“All is not lost. To ensure the continuance of our dream for a free, peace-loving and compassionate Denarian society, I will take twelve,” Selina paused, “No, thirteen Essence pods. One pod to represent each of our planets through you and another to provide coordinated protection and possibly a new deputy commander, should this ever be required.”
She smiled again, pulling her mouth into a grimace, “My last choice turned out to be less than adequate.”
Laughter again erupted at her flippancy in the face of extreme danger.
“I will fly out ahead of you. Use my transponder to keep visual contact.”
She looked across at Samantha, “Have thirteen orbs brought to us.”
Samantha leaned forward and tapped a display on the table in front of her. Selina continued. “I want us to use the meteor belt to hide until they have completed searching this region. Then we will set off to find the planet Jalda provided the co-ordinates for. We must all pray she was right in her belief about what the ancients foretold. If this planet matches our own in atmosphere, it will provide us with a safe haven, hopefully preventing Alanius ever finding us.”
Selina paused, “And pray that we are not detected, or all will be lost.”
A noise at the door distracted their attention. A hover trolley hummed into the room containing thirteen blue Essence orbs.
Selina stood up and cast her gaze across the group.
“My friends, it is time for us to separate. May the gods protect us from harm.”
With those words, she gave them all an affirming nod and without looking back, she walked out of the room, the hover trolley following her. On reaching the rear cargo hold, Selina sprinted. In three nimble steps, she launched herself into the air and hovered as her Essence formed itself around her and absorbed the hover trolley into her form. Seconds later it reappeared, empty. It hovered for a few seconds and then gently droned to the deck far below her. The doors of the cargo hold opened, and Selina flew out into the darkness of space. Selina banked to her left and headed towards the meteor belt two thousand miles to the east of their location, the thirteen orbs now safely stored within her form.
The transport ship followed her at speed.