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Agharta

By Andrew Marsh

Horror / Mystery

Chapter 1: The Mission

On board the Jade Sabre

This is what she needed. Calm concentration. Peace at no cost. There were no pesky brothers antagonizing her here. No spirits of Sith Lords interfering with the Force. She even managed to purge her excitement of flying her father's graduation present to her. It was an old Z-95 Headhunter heavily modified in the usual Solo style. It took her great will power to not bring it along with her on this trip.

At the moment, it was only her and the Force.

It had been some time since she had experienced the calm of the Force as a Jedi. She cherished the tranquility of meditation as she used the Force to levitate a few objects inside her quarters. Not since she had been a student on Yavin 4 did she so completely immerse herself in the Force and could feel the objects around her. Within the far distance of that feeling was the presence of her twin. He would always be common ground whenever she concentrated this hard in the Force. It was inevitable. People have said how different they were from each other, and scientists proclaimed that fraternal twins did not always share the same traits. She wasn't so sure. Was their bond even more focused than other fraternal twins because of the Force? If heredity did play a part in their bond, then what about her Uncle Luke and Aunt Mara's bond in the Force? They were not blood related, yet their bond is as strong as her and her twins' bond. Her love for her brother was one thing. To have a life partner whom you could communicate with mentally from anywhere within the galaxy would be ideal for her.

Jaina Solo groaned slightly while still concentrating in the Force. Her love life was another matter that she pushed to the back burner of her mind. Whenever she mentioned Zekk or even the new candidate, Jagged Fel, people close to her would tell her that she was too young to think of such things now. Yet, with all that had happened to her in her short fifteen years of her life, Jaina felt much more mature than most girls her age. When she really thought about it, she had been through more adventures and emotional tragedies than most normal people experience in their whole lifetimes. It was strange to think about, but Jaina's young maturity made her feel older. It was as if the spirit of Exar Kun, the Shadow Academy, and the recent battle on the way to Mon Calamari had somehow drew her away from a proper childhood.

Just like Mara Jade.

Jaina was excited when she heard that she was to be apprentice to the Mara Jade Skywalker, despite the fact that she was her aunt. After she graduated to Jedi Apprentice, she and Mara stayed on Yavin for a few weeks so Jaina could get a feel for Mara's brand of training. Immediately, she could tell the difference between Luke and Mara as instructors. Whereas Luke would explain the reasoning and the purpose of each exercise before giving it, Mara Jade would keep silent. Her lessons seemed to blend in with everyday chores. Jaina would not realize a job was a hidden lesson until after Mara pointed out the Jedi skill involved. Not only that, but Mara's fighting style with a lightsaber was much more aggressive than Luke's. Though Jaina respected defense, she also felt there was a need for offense. She would learn from both teachers equally. Though, she wished that Mara had been a full time instructor at the Jedi Academy from the beginning.

Jaina seemed more at ease with her aunt. Not that she loved her uncle any less. She also loved her brothers and parents equally. There just was a time when she had to be away from them. This was that time. And Mara Jade Skywalker was the perfect person to spend that time with.

Jaina had been in her mediation state for some time now. Before that she had just awakened from a long sleep while the Jade Sabre was in transit. Though Mara was vague as to their destination, Jaina didn't care as long as they were away from chaos.

Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by sounds of blaster fire. Amidst the firing were small explosions at random. Jaina opened her eyes at once, losing her concentration in the Force. The datapad, the cup of water, and her boots that were once floating in midair all came crashing down to the floor. She found her lightsaber in the Force and cursed herself for leaving it on her cot. She called it into her hand and ignited the purple-white blade. She sprung up into a defensive position and eased her way towards the door with blade held out.

The sounds of battle increased in volume as she neared. Had they been attacked? She didn't feel the engines lurching. Maybe they had been boarded somehow. She decided she needed answers, so Jaina slid open the door and stepped out into the hallway.

The sounds of battle were now almost deafening as blaster fire and explosions filled her ears. Yet, there were no signs of any physical damage. At least, there was no damage in the hallway. It could be a different story in the main section of the ship. She walked along the corridor with caution. She approached the open space that led into the Jade Sabre's main lounge area. She turned the corner swiftly with her sword ahead of her.

Sitting in one of the luxury chairs in the lounge was Mara Jade. She was calm. Too calm with the sounds surrounding them.

"It's about time!" Mara yelled over the noise. "If this had been a real battle, I might be dead by now!" She raised her right arm to reveal a small remote in her hand. She depressed a button and all at once the sounds of battle ceased.

Jaina's ears relished at the sounds of silence once again. She snapped, "What was all that noise?"

Mara shrugged and replied, "An audio recording of an Imperial ambush on Ord Mantell years ago." Mara sighed. "Looks like I'm going to have to work on your concentration in the Force during the extreme noise of battle. Your reaction time was a little sluggish."

"No kidding. I was in a meditation trance."

"Apparently, it was a very deep one." Upon noting Jaina's blade still on, Mara said, "You can put that away now."

"I might use it on a sneaky aunt of mine," Jaina quipped as she shut it off.

Mara gave back a wry smile and said, "Then don't leave it on your cot anymore. Keep it with you at all times. A few seconds can mean the difference between life and death."

"Having fun with your student?"

"Fun time is over."

"Yeah, I get that. But I really thought something happened to you."

"Did you find me suffering within the Force?"

"No."

"Did you bother to feel my presence at all?"

The sudden thought made her wince. She closed her eyes on the realization.

"Come on, Jaina. What did you learn?"

She sighed and admitted, "By only hearing the battle sounds I assumed the worst."

"And we all know what happens when you assume."

"Don't remind me."

"I won't. I will remind you that what you hear is not always the same as what is happening."

"Uncle Luke always focused on what we see."

"Which is only one of the five senses. All of the senses rely on your mind to interpret them. That's why sometimes, your senses can lie. It's your brain interpreting them incorrectly. When you use your mind first in the Force, you can filter out what is real and what isn't."

Jaina nodded. "Maybe I need to meditate on that some more."

"You don't have to meditate so often with me."

"But Uncle Luke says that it helps keep our focus sharp."

"Your instincts are what keeps your focus sharp. And your instincts work better when you are alert, not when you're sleeping on it."

"But Uncle Luke–"

"Is not teaching you now, is he? You're with me now. A different school of thought. More action, less thinking."

Jaina smiled in admiration and mocked an honorary nod. "Yes, Master Jade."

"Stop it, Jaina. Mara will do. Why don't you freshen up and have a bite to eat before I go over our mission."

"You mean we're actually going somewhere? Where to?"

"I'll tell you when you return."

Mara watched as her new young apprentice nodded is slight frustration and returned to her quarters. Mara kicked the word around in her head a few times. Apprentice. How long ago had she been a student? With a teacher who was half mad and could wield Force lightening, no less. Now she was the teacher. She didn't feel any guilt in the way she gave her lessons to Jaina. The direct approach was how she was taught. Luke taught his students the basics. They knew what abilities they had under the protection of a Jedi Master. Now it was time to apply those abilities to reality.

As she migrated to the small kitchen, Mara imagined that if she had accepted to teach at Luke's Jedi Academy on Yavin 4 all those years ago, she would probably have been the least popular among the students. The teacher who you loved to hate. Oh my stars, you've got Mara Jade for that class? Good luck! Perhaps that was part of the reason why she refused.

A small part.

Mara no longer regretted those years spent staying away from Skywalker. When they discovered each other and how, it was perfectly timed. It was too insane to figure out the why. First she wanted to kill Luke. Then she couldn't be near him. And now, she couldn't live without him. He would always be with her. Literally. Their Force bond allowed them to touch each other's minds wherever they were in the galaxy. That was special to her. Oh, if Palpatine could see me now.

Mara proceeded to pull out something to eat for the both of them. She rummaged through the frozen ribenes that she kept in the icer for Luke's meals and found two ronto patties. She popped them both in the nanowave and in a few minutes, she placed them on their own plates and set them on the short counter. Jaina's timing was impeccable this time, as she appeared in a fresh beige tunic and her hair was brushed back.

"All right. I gotta say, Aunt Mara, you have the best food on your ship."

"That's because your father still keeps scraps in his icer on the Falcon. Luke told me he used to keep a tray of frozen rations in there just in case."

"I remember. Though, I haven't seen it in there lately."

Mara shrugged. "Luke hasn't been on the Falcon lately."

"Been too busy, I suppose." Jaina showed the famous Solo half-grin. "I guess he's too busy to spend time on the Jade Sabre, too."

Mara stared at her niece without expression and demanded, "Eat your food."

Jaina laughed as she took her plate and flopped on the cushioned bench set against the far wall of the lounge. She curled her legs under her as she set the plate down on the cusion. Mara took her plate and sat in the same chair she sat in when Jaina came out during the faux battle.

Jaina asked between bites, "So...where...are we...going?"

Mara waited until she chewed a bite and answered, "We're going to a system where the Republic hasn't been back to since before the Clone Wars. Ever hear of Qiilura?

Jaina stopped eating to think. "Sort of. Not much to tell. Wasn't the Old Republic banned from returning?"

"That's right. They made an agreement with the natives not to interfere."

"Natives. Gurlanins?"

"Right."

"They're shape-shifters, right?"

"You're just a walking library today, aren't you?"

Jaina shrugged after she wolfed down a chunk of meat. She mentioned after chewing, "I liked looking through the history datapads during the boring times at the Academy."

Mara warned, "There won't be any of those times with me."

"Promise?"

"Oh, yes. Anyway, you're right. The Gurlanins are shape-shifters. Similar to Clawdites, but canine-based, not reptilian. From what I hear, they are pretty good ones. The very old ones can mimic anything from a rock to a human. And they don't fall back to their original forms during high emotions like Clawdites either."

"They are more hostile, I've read."

"They can be. Any species would be hostile if their home was almost taken over by another species."

"And that's why they ban all humans off of their planet," Jaina said before popping the last bite of ronto into her mouth.

"Not exactly. They only prohibited the Old Republic from setting foot back on Qiilura. Seems there was a violent disagreement between the Separatists and the Old Republic during the Clone Wars. The Gurlanins were caught up in the middle of it and they had the Old Republic outpost on Qiilura evacuated. There's not much detail about it anymore, thanks to the Empire. What I do know is that the Gurlanins do allow humans on their home system, along with several other species across the galaxy. The condition is that they have to affirm their loyalty to a certain faction set up in a compound on Qiilura."

"Faction? Who are they?"

"Ever heard of the Mahra pirates?"

"I don't think so."

"I'm not surprised you haven't. There isn't much we know about them. They made themselves known on raids and attacks of anything involving the Empire. I had my own run-ins with them when I was Emperor's Hand. They destroyed outposts and industries that the Empire took over."

"Even though it wasn't the original owners' faults that the Empire took over their business?"

Mara scoffed. "That didn't matter to the Mahra pirates. Once you were branded Empire property, you were fair game to be destroyed by the Mahra."

"Why didn't the Rebellion recruit them?"

"They weren't sympathetic to the Rebel cause. The Mahra didn't want a better galaxy. They just wanted the Empire eliminated. They wanted the violence all to themselves."

"Obviously, they didn't destroy anything major, or else it would have been made public."

"They did attempt an assault on Yaga Minor. They failed. Proof that history is always written by the winners. There were several Mahra pirates captured. They were tortured and eventually killed by the Emperor himself."

"That couldn't have been pleasant. All right, so why are we involved?"

Mara stated, "Apparently, the Mahra have turned over a new leaf. They claim they are no longer violent and want to discuss a peace agreement with the New Republic."

"And we believe this, why?"

Mara gave a small chuckle. "You and I come from the same school of skeptics, Jaina."

"I inherited mine from my parents."

"Unfortunately, I can't say the same."

"Oh, stop it with your motherless shtick, Mara. You had to be a daughter to someone."

"I'm sure I was. I'm just saying that my travels through the reality of the galaxy gave me my cynicism."

Jaina sighed. "Uncle Luke was right. You are a hopeless case."

"What? When did he say that? I'm not hopeless. Next time I see him, I'll show him hopeless. And why are you smiling at this?"

"Anakin was right, too. The best way to get you mad is to mention something Uncle Luke said about you."

"Keep it up and you'll find another way to make me mad. And here I thought I was unpredictable."

"Don't worry. Given your surprise lesson earlier, you still are." Changing the subject quickly, Jaina questioned, "Are we signing a peace agreement without a member of the New Republic Council present?"

"No. These are the primary talks that the Mahra have initiated. Trust me, the New Republic won't sign a thing until they have proof that the Mahra are truly peaceful. Which is why I was summoned for this mission because of my past involvement with the Mahra."

"And the whole Council approved of you judging their word?"

"Most of them."

Jaina sniffed. "Let me guess. The new Chief Of State, Fey'lya , wasn't one of them."

Mara nodded. "He thinks we're wasting time and money. Leia and the others on the Council believe it will be a grand gesture to the other pirate groups out there to join the New Republic. Fey'lya was outvoted. "

"I guess that shows how mom will be influencing the new administration. Do you think the Mahra are really willing to work with us?"

"In my experience, pirates don't change their stripes. Nor do people for that matter."

"You did."

"I evolved. I didn't change," Mara corrected.

Jaina rolled her eyes at her aunt and reiterated, "So...we're going into the foreign territory of one hostile species to talk to another formerly hostile gang of pirates in hopes of peace."

"Pretty much sums it."

"Where do I sign up?"

"We already did."


A few standard hours later.

"You can keep the pitch down a little, Jaina," Mara pointed out to her from the pilot's chair.

"But the atmosphere here on Qiilura looks like the same makeup as Yavin 4. Won't a higher pitch affect the hull on entry?"

Mara smiled proudly at her niece. Not many other teenage females would know the difference. "You'd be right if you were flying your X-Wing or the Falcon. But Luke installed the Jade Sabre with a high grade shield generator. It can take the abuse of a lower angle entry."

As Jaina leveled the pitch down, she claimed, "I think dad would argue with you about the shields on the Falcon."

"Modified as they might be, they'll never be military grade. Now, ease up on the throttle. That's it. Don't want to come in too fast."

"I know. What kind of welcome are we expecting?"

"I'm actually not sure. The only comm we got was for the coordinates of where to land. We are essentially the first representatives of the Republic, Old or New, to set foot here since before Palpatine took control."

"Don't we feel honored. Speaking of where to land, where are the coordinates?"

"They're up on the screen to your right."

"Oh, I see them. Will I be looking for some type of beacon?"

"Not sure. Just follow the coordinates."

"Coordinates only and no beacon. Oh, this is starting out well. Looks like we're several klicks away."

"Perfect. Just enough time for a short nap." Mara sat back in her chair.

Jaina glanced to her left at her aunt and said with concern, "You don't do much napping when you're flying."

"Only when you're at the controls." Mara could feel her niece fill with elation from her words. The truth was that Jaina was an excellent pilot. It was so fitting that Han had given his daughter an old Z-95 Headhunter for a graduation present. That was also Mara's first ship when she started flying star fighters at Jaina's age. Given that similarity and all of the adventures that Jaina had experienced at such a young age, Mara thought there may be a strange parallel between she and her niece. Neither had lived through normal childhoods. She wondered if that was a flaw with both Jania's and her own personalities. Was a proper childhood required to become a well adjusted adult? And just what makes a childhood proper, anyway? Was there a wrong way to raise a child? Luke Skywalker was raised all right on Tatooine, yet he still had issues to work out as an adult.

The old Mara would say that childhood was not practical. Then again, the old Mara would say that children and family were impractical as well. Mara slightly cringed at the subject of children. Her mind always seemed to find it's way back to the subject lately. The discussion of having offspring had been brought up more than once during their first years of marriage. It was during those discussions when she was glad that she married one of the most patient men in the galaxy. How could she raise a child with all of their duties? Training an apprentice as a Jedi was one thing. Raising a child the right way was another shockball game altogether.

A sudden beeping launched Mara out of her nap. "What is it? What's going on?"

Jaina looked back at her aunt guiltily. "We're almost approaching the coordinates. I forgot to turn off the proximity alert. Sorry I woke you."

Mara smiled at her. "It's all right, Jaina." Mara sat up closer to see outside of the viewport. The sky was full of ash-colored clouds above a horizon of large treetops. The overcast sky gave the clouds a look of fog. Down below she could see the greenery of fields and trees speckled with occasional marshes. She tried to look ahead beyond the clouds but visibility was dense. "Do you detect any spaceports anywhere?"

"Nothing but fields of green. Looks like the coordinates will put us in the middle of a forest. There's a wide clearing of a field there."

Mara glanced at a nearby screen that showed Qiilura's topography map. "That can't be the pirate compound."

"Doesn't look like it. But if you notice, there's a huge lake north east of the field."

"That's a good ways away."

"It's where I'd put a pirate compound. Nearby a body of water."

"Makes sense. But why land us so far away?"

"Maybe it's the only place to land a starship. The Gurlanins may be on the primitive side."

"That's good thinking, Jaina, but the Mahra pirates used to fly all kinds of fighters and star cruisers. Anything they could get their hands on like most bands of pirates. They would have to land them all somewhere."

"Unless they're truly peaceful now and stopped flying them."

Mara shook her head in wonderment. "You really do have a child's logic, Jaina."

"Laugh it up. There's something to be said about a child's perspective on things. Besides, these days I don't feel too much like a child." She paused while glancing at the screen. "We're at the coordinates now. Shall we press on?"

"Might as well. I still have a bad feeling about this."

"Now, you're talking like a Skywalker."

"You all right to land?"

Jaina scoffed. "Of course."

"You say that now, but one scratch on my wedding present..."

"Hey, I've been threatened by Han Solo himself to not scratch his prized Falcon."

"A threat from Han Solo has nothing on a threat from Mara Jade, my dear."

Mara allowed Jaina to land the Jade Sabre inside of the clearing. Jaina did let go of the landing clutch a little too late for Mara's liking, thus making the ship bump upon impact with the ground. As Jaina finished up the landing cycle, Mara looked out of the viewport again.

And still there was nothing. Or more to the point, no one. The clearing was a flattened field of scorched grass, which told Mara that this area was used to land ships. Usually on visiting a new system in the name of the New Republic, there would be some kind of welcoming party. Or at least one representative of the planet. There was no living soul in sight except for vegetation and animals.

"Remarking how well we've been received?" Jaina asked.

"I don't like this. I can sense several beings out there. There's plenty of curiosity about us."

"But no expectation. I feel it, too. Or rather, I don't. Well, should we wait here for someone to retrieve us, or go out there in the strange forest and draw attention to ourselves?"

"I know what my husband would say. And I usually do the opposite."

As she climbed out of the co-pilot's chair, Jaina cheered, "That's what makes you two so perfect together."

Mara sighed. "There are no perfect couples, Jaina. Luke and I have our disagreements and problems as well as our romantic sides. The quicker you learn that, the better your relationships will be."

"Ugh, let's not go there. All right, so you're not perfect. Would you settle for compatible?"

"Actually, I would. Come on, let's go see what's out there. I'll be with you in a moment."

After Jaina left the cockpit to lower the exit ramp, Mara started to configure in her security ignition sequence as she always did when she left any of her ships for long periods of time. When she was done, Mara fetched her duffel bag for travel and then joined Jaina at the bottom of the ramp. She set her bag down next to Jaina's.

The young Jedi was looking up at the ash-gray sky and then to the empty field that was lined with a wall of gigantic trees. Jaina expressed, "Kind of a dreary day. There's a coolness in the air. A lot of moisture in the mix. Qiilura is similar to Yavin 4 except there's more bodies of water."

"You actually studied the environ report on Qiilura?"

"Yeah. So?"

"That means you were bored."

"Ah, you know me too well, Aunt Mara. What else is there to do here? We can't venture out because we don't know where we'd be going. There's no one here to guide us. Not even predators."

"Those will greet us when it gets darker."

"Thanks for being your optimistic self," Jaina sneered.

They stopped speaking to pay attention to the sounds of Qiilura's natural habitat. There were calls of birds and insects. Nothing near them.

After a few moments, Jaina commented, "They wanted a peace agreement. There's nothing out here but peace."

Mara had to chuckle and remark with no hint of sarcasm, "Thanks for being your optimistic self, Jaina." As if on cue, Mara detected a new sound. It was not part of nature. This sound was mechanical. "Do you hear that?"

Jaina listened carefully. "It's certainly not a predator."

"Not a living one, anyway. It's getting closer."

Jaina reached in her pack to fetch a pair of macrobinoculars. She brought it up to her eyes and started panning the field. At some point she stopped and called out, "There. From the northeast." She pointed in that direction. "About fifty meters."

Mara faced that direction and soon she could hear and see branches being knocked down by something man-made. She started hearing the sounds of a repulsor engine revving. She crinkled her brow as she searched her memory. "Those engines sound familiar."

Jaina was still looking through the macros when she noted, "Looks like some sort of transport. An old one at that. It has treads instead of repulsor lifts."

The vehicle was indeed coming towards them at a slow pace. It was dark gray in color with paint peeling in places and rust covered in others. The transport moved along by giant treads on each side with one major tread in front. The cockpit looked only big enough for two—a pilot and a gunner. Perched atop the cockpit was double-gauge laser canon that looked to be dormant. The rear hatch was an opened section that looked to be covered by a canopy. It looked like it could hold about six troops.

When the transport was a few meters away, Mara exclaimed, "That's an old Imperial PX-7 troop transport."

"Where do you think they got their hands on one of those?"

"Probably from one of their raids back in the days of the Empire. You'll probably find several old pieces of equipment like that here. Qiilura isn't exactly an industrial system."

"That could be why the Gurlanins wanted the New Republic out. They didn't want their home to be another Coruscant."

"You may have something there, Jaina."

The transport stopped, but did a 360 to head back in its original direction. They could see now that the canopy was a simple tarp that was weather worn in several places. The door to the passenger side of the cockpit folded open. Out came a figure of a human male who was fairly tall and wore a dusty gray tunic with a flapping tail in the back that made it look like a cape from the waist down. His black boots were worn high over his loosely worn black pants. The man climbed out of the transport and headed towards the new visitors.

As he got closer, his features were more defined. His jaw was square with at least a five o'clock shadow covering most of it. Hidden underneath the stubble were a series of small scars and cuts. His dark eyes were set in deep but not too far apart. He was what some women would consider ruggedly handsome.

The proof was evident in Jaina's first reaction to the sight of the man. "Hello!" she exclaimed softly.

"Hose it down there, girly. You've got enough problems in your love life as it is."

Jaina smiled wryly. "A girl can look, can't she?"

"If you must. But he's at least three times your age."

"You married an older man."

"By a few months, not decades." Mara shook her head and sighed. "Yes, you are Leia Organa's daughter. Always going after the scruffy types."

"Shh, here he comes."

The man walked up to them and gave his own wry smile and spoke in a low sandpaper voice. "You must be the famous Mara Jade."

"More like infamous. How am I famous by your standards?"

"Oh, I've heard of you."

"Where from?"

He shrugged. "Here and there."

"Too bad I don't know you as well as you do me."

"Name's Trogan Eclane."

"Trogan Eclane," Mara repeated. "Have we met before, Eclane?"

"Trogan, please. And no, we haven't. I'd certainly remember that meeting." He looked at them and then beyond them and asked, "Is this it? Just you two?"

"You were expecting more?" Mara asked.

"Nah, just thought there'd be some Jedi coming along."

Jaina emphasized, "We are Jedi."

"What, you two? I was expecting men with long brown robes and hoods."

"We're more fashionable, now," answered Mara.

"And less sexist," added Jaina quickly.

Trogan took note of Jaina. "And you. You're just a kid. Aren't you a little young to be a Jedi?"

Jaina shot back, "Aren't you a little old to be a space ape?

"Jaina," warned Mara with a smile. She addressed Trogan. "I'm sorry if we don't meet your assumptions. I can assure you that this 'kid' can take on the most capable warrior."

"Yeah, whatever."

Mara asked straightforward, "Why do we need a transport?"

"The Mahra compound is about twenty klicks north east of here."

Jaina cut in, "By the lake, right?"

"I see you don't miss much." He shifted his view to their packs. "That all you have?"

"All we need," Mara replied.

"Need help with them?"

As she lifted her own pack and put it in the back of the transport, Jaina sneered, "We've got it, earworm."

Trogan grinned as Mara put her pack inside the transport. They were about to climb in the back when Trogan stopped them. "Wait. We've dispensed with the pleasantries, as they say. Now, I have to go over the ground rules."

"What kind of ground rules?" Mara snapped.

Trogan stated, "For one, no guests are to roam freely on Gurlanin territory without a guide."

Jaina asked incredulously, "And you are our guide?"

"No." Trogan turned toward the front of the transport and called out, "Ruht!"

They could hear the front door opening and closing and then the sound of footsteps coming closer. Trogan explained further, "By Qiilura law, a guide outside of the Mahra compound must be Gurlanin."

Appearing around the corner was a short, stout figure of what looked to be another human male. His skin was dark with an abundance of hair along his arms. His mane of dark black hair was uncombed and straggled just past his low shoulders. The shape of his face was such that his nose protruded outward, almost like that of a canine. His limp was noticeable, but it didn't seem to be from an injury. He walked awkwardly as if the act of walking was unnatural for him. He appeared before them with his posture arched forward. He didn't say a word.

Trogan announced, "This is Ruht. He is the official liaison between Qiilura and the Mahra compound."

"Leeson," Ruht repeated in a low guttural voice that closely resembled a growl.

Mara noted, "The Gurlanins must really not trust any outsiders."

Trogan nodded. "They do only after they proclaim to be a Mahra follower." He motioned to Ruht and said, "Go ahead and drive back. I'll be back here to watch them. I'm sure they'll have several questions."

As Ruht turned to go back to the drivers seat, he uttered, "Ruht go back to drive. Ride too rough in back." He disappeared around the corner of the transport.

Standing in awe was Jaina as she asked, "That was a Gurlanin?"

Trogan laughed. "First time seeing one? I had the same reaction on my first time. And Ruht is young compared to some other 'lanins around here. He's only three hundred standard, or so."

"Three hundred is young?" Jaina repeated as she climbed into the back of the transport.

As Mara did the same, she quipped to Jaina, "Don't feel so old now, do you?"

Trogan looked up at the sky and checked his chrono. "We'd better get going before it gets dark."

As Trogan climbed in, Mara asked, "If Ruht there is the Mahra liaison, what is your official position, Trogan?"

"Me?" Trogan replied, "I'm the Mahra Security Officer."


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: This story was gripping and very professionally written. With lots of twists and slight of hand tricks, the author deceives the reader until finally showing their cards at the end. With several subplots all intertwining to create the main plot, this really is an interesting and engaging read.

Ashley Stryker: So I'm writing this review, keeping in mind that this is a work in progress and it's part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), so my "deeper" critiques will be saved until it's all finished up.+ Chapter One: A stewardess would not talk to anyone quite like that, particularly a clear minor...

Jordan Young: *ALERT FOR POSSIBLE SPOILERS* Where to start? I don't know how to sum up this review, this story was absolutely sensational. Brilliant. Flawless. I loved every single bit of this story, it is truly amazing. I read this story in fifteen hours, it is magnificent. I loved everything about it, the p...

E_W_Hemmings: First of all, sorry this review took so long: I've had science mocks recently and then when I came to read this, I made notes to put in the review like I usually do... but then I deleted them. Well done me. As a result, this review is a bit more general than most reviews I write, but hey ho, let'...

Deleted User: This is a very clever story in the style of 19th century (and turn of the century) Gothic writing, very reminiscent of Stevenson's The Body Snatchers or even of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (less so of Frankenstein itself, since the author is more minimalist than Shelley's florid, Romantic rhetoric). ...

Someone: This was a fun, entertaining read. Although the novel wasn’t stylistically polished, and although the first couple of chapters struggled to hold my attention, the rest of the novel was engaging and beautifully done. You had me fooled until the end. The rest of this review will contain spoilers fo...

Darren Powell: Very nice read. Lots of surprising treats from: Schrodinger’s cat and dervish dance forms; to sensei masters and brownian motion. I wasn't expecting this, so it was a pleasant discovery.Also liked the 'cross-over' events connecting one character's/or group's journey to another. I like how that wa...

Maryam Rehman: The story was overall amazingly penned down. I loved how the story transitioned from the lavish city of London to the war torn Aleppo. Even though the story had some loopholes in some places, it made me contemplate failing in chemistry, because I was up all night glued to my mobile screen rather ...

Anehalia: This review is for the first chapter:I struggled to get through the first couple of paragraphs. The first couple of paragraphs were all setting detail without any introduction of characters. The description of the setting used repetitive words and had some tense mix up for words. It made for a ve...

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CornflowerBlues: I'm liking everything about this story so far: the brazen detective, the way he gave in to temptation, the temptation (<3!!), and the unexpectedly complex backdrop of his job and the case he's working. The story is well written, and despite its erotica tag, has an intriguing detective story and a...

Sarah_M_G: This story was truly gripping from start to finish. The way the author used Scottish dialect throughout the novel really helped to put you in he in the place where it was all happening. Every character was well described and thought out. How they all fitted together really worked and loved how t...

Shelley Miller: The ideas and the set up and this are amazing! The feel of the story goes from science fiction to horror to suspense all in a big, thrilling ball. I really like your character so far and her powers and the idea of the ark being a person. The world is intense and gritty and clever as well. While a...

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FreakyPoet: "you made me laugh, made me cry, both are hard to do. I spent most of the night reading your story, captivated. This is why you get full stars from me. Thanks for the great story!"

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Sara Joy Bailey: "Full of depth and life. The plot was thrilling. The author's style flows naturally and the reader can easily slip into the pages of the story. Very well done."

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Ro-Ange Olson: "Loved it and couldn't put it down. I really hope there is a sequel. Well written and the plot really moves forward."