“Sir?” Masterson's immature baritone voice sounded muffled.
Breathing a sigh of temporary relief, Desslok quickly pocketed the small capsule.
“Come in.” he said flatly, some of his irritation abated.
His friend slipped into the room quietly. The door slid closed after him almost soundlessly.
“What is it, Masterson?”
“It’s the middle of the night, sir.”
Desslok shook his head. Would he never break Masterson of his “sir” or the ever-increasing “sire” habit? “Probably not.” He thought, and let the hint of a smile show then quickly hid it again as he turned to Masterson.
“I know what time it is.”
“Then what time is it?” Masterson called his bluff.
Desslok just looked at him the way he usually did when he had been caught lying. And unfortunately – or fortunately, he still wasn’t sure which – Masterson was quite good at catching him.
“I thought not.”
“What time is it?” the prince relented.
“Three hours until dawn.”
Had it really been that long since he’d begun that bizarre history again?
“And…?” the prince failed to see the relevance of the lateness of the hour.
“And if you don’t sleep tonight – ”
“If I don’t sleep tonight it will be no different than any other night I haven’t slept.”
“Perhaps.” Masterson nodded. “But you’ve never had my father to answer to after a sleepless night either.”
Desslok rolled his eyes and said, “You’re right. I haven’t. But, in my defense, I could take a history exam in my sleep. Why should I concern myself?”
Masterson smiled. “I know you could, my friend. One test is not what I’m most concerned about.”
“I didn’t think so. Why are you really here then?”
“I want to know what’s going on, Desslok.”
The personal address caught the prince’s attention immediately.
Masterson saw the spark in the prince’s eyes and knew his intuition had not led him wrong.
“You’re hiding something. What is it?”
Desslok remained stubbornly silent.
“I know she left you something.”
The prince’s guarded face faltered.
“How did you find out?” Desslok’s eyes narrowed.
Masterson dreaded his friend’s response. “She told me.” He then quickly added, “She didn’t tell me what it was, just that she had left it for you… in the event of… her death.”
Desslok rose and turned his back to the other youth. Then, to Masterson’s utter amazement, every muscle on his friend’s back tensed, relaxed and tensed again. Not one sound came from the prince, but the fact that this son of royalty stood before him weeping touched his heart.
Masterson took a careful step towards the prince. When he did not object Masterson took one step, and then another until he was standing beside his friend. Unsure of what else he could do, Masterson gripped the prince’s shoulder just hard enough to tell this very sad young man that he still had one friend he could rely on.
Some moments later the prince finally gathered his courage and looked at Masterson. “Why didn’t she tell me?” he asked quietly.
“I don’t know.” Masterson replied. “Perhaps she didn’t think you were ready to know whatever it was she wanted to tell you.”
Desslok nodded. “Perhaps.”
“Do you know why you found that letter when you did?”
“Me.” Masterson confirmed. “She entrusted it to me – an eight year old boy. Why she chose me, I can only guess. When she left on that last mission, two years later she gave me another charge to keep.”
“She told you to watch my back, didn’t she.” It was more statement than question.
“She did, sir. And I will honor her wish for as long as I live.”
Desslok nodded. “So be it then. If I’m stuck with you, there’s something you need to see.”
“I’m not sleeping tonight either, am I?” Masterson asked.
“No. You’re not.” Desslok said as he carefully slid the message capsule from his pocket and laid it in Masterson’s hand
Admiral Talan looked up from his lectern as he heard the door opening and two sets of footsteps entering the room. He looked up and an interesting sight met his gaze.
Two teenagers – one was his son, the other might as well have been his son – took their positions at the consoles, ready to take the test. Masterson looked like he hadn’t slept. The prince appeared to be a little better off. The dark circles under his eyes were much less pronounced than Masterson’s. Perhaps because young Desslok had had more experience with sleepless nights – too much on his mind.
Both young men were looking at him, waiting for the word to begin.
The Admiral tapped a few icons on the computer screen set into the face of the lectern, setting the appropriate permissions for the test.
His students continued to stand quietly. Masterson looked as if he would fall asleep on his feet.
Raymond pushed one final button then looked up.
“Would anyone like some kave?
Two hours, a hundred questions and two pots of the caffeine-loaded beverage later, Admiral Talan released his charges for the day with a reminder to be prepared for the last exam tomorrow – grammar and language.
To Raymond’s amusement, the prince looked at Masterson with a pained expression only to receive a grin in return. This, of course earned Masterson a glower from Desslok. The prince was a born orator, but he had only passable finesse with the written word.
“I would suggest you two prepare for tomorrow.”
With that encouragement the two teenagers left.
Masterson’s eyelids began drooping; his caffeine high was starting to wear off, but as they passed the huge window that looked out on the Temple, the sight gripped the admiral’s son. No matter how often Masterson saw the Temple – the monument to his God – the one thought that always came to him was that his people had become lost in tradition. If they would only open their eyes and understand the truth behind the rituals, the reality of the symbols they ignorantly used in their worship, that his homeworld – perhaps even the entire galaxy – would be different.
“Looking down on the traditions of the ancestors again?” Desslok prodded.
“Merely thinking, sir?”
“The way it could have been – the way it might still be someday.” Masterson said.
“The Gamilon people are quite attached to their heritage – even though we do not even know where we originally came from. The oldest manuscripts that the Temple has are less than to two thousand years old. No one really knows where we got them in the first place; for all we know, they’re not even real.” The cynicism in the prince’s voice was not lost to Masterson.
Desslok had never truly believed in anything – except perhaps himself. His father’s empty semi-adherence to the Torah had disgusted him. His mother’s faith in the one she called “Yeshua ha Mashiach” seemed too much like a faith for the weak, the downtrodden of the world. What made things worse was the fact that the two faiths seemed to agree on some things, but violently disagree on other things. Both claimed to serve the same God, but one faith claimed Him to be one, the other claimed Him to be three. None of it made any sense to the prince so he chose to disregard it all. At times he gave lip-service to laws of the Torah – once in a while he even abided by them but only when it was to his advantage.
Masterson let himself fall into deep thought as he and the prince left their vantage point and continued, as they had done for years, on their walk back to their rooms.
Last night, when Desslok had handed him that small message capsule, it had powered up. The queen’s image had startled Masterson. What had shocked him even more was that Queen Talonka had left him a message as well. Somehow she had known that her son would trust him enough to show him this secret.
The portion of the story that the former queen had related was both amazing and confusing. The words of the Shlichim – the Apostles – had come to this world through unbelievable circumstances. That those words had reached Gamilon at all had convinced many of the validity of them. Exactly where those words had come from… no one had ever been able to find out.
The places that Queen Talonka had mentioned in her history sounded foreign to Masterson’s ears, but something nagged at him. Two names, “Jerusalem” and “Israel.” Were they translated, transliterated? Neither? Something similar to those two names were found a multitude of times throughout the Torah, “Yerushalaim,” and “Yisrael” but no one had ever been able to find out where those two places were. The country called “Yisrael” was on no map, ancient or modern, from any known world – from Gamilon to Bemera. The city of Yerushalaim was even more invisible. The Christians of his world had long proclaimed that if they could find Yerushalaim, they would have found their planet of origin – the planet where Elohim breathed life into the first being – the adam – and fashioned his eesha to stand at his side.
Both the followers of the Torah and the Christians longed to find Yisrael, their true home, but search after search had returned empty-handed. Even now another group of ships was under way, this time going beyond known space, out into the void to continue the search.
Legend had it that the first ones to settle this world had known the location of their ancestral home, but an unrecorded disaster had wiped out all records they had brought with them – and most of the brave souls who had dared pioneer the planet. Only the copies of the Torah along with the Arown - ark - and its Kapporeth had survived.
The lights in the hallway went out.
“Perimeter breach. Security has been compromised.” The computer-generated female voice filtered through the palace accompanied by an alarm.
Almost immediately the prince whisked out a palm-sized computer, hacked into the data stream going out to the guard’s HUD* units and disappeared in a flash of gray and black back down the semi-darkened hallway towards the palace entrance.
Masterson reacted a half a second later, tearing after Desslok and leaving his grogginess far behind.
The sight that met their eyes when the two young men reached the ornate entrance struck them both. They had outstripped all but two or three of the palace guards to the scene. Masterson, not knowing what information the prince had seen, had no idea what to expect, but when he saw it he understood Desslok’s haste.
The old-fashioned gray cobblestones that covered the center of the courtyard amplified the sounds of the struggle. The guards normally stationed at the entrance lay dead not far from the colossal doors, their weapons still holstered.
The guards who had beaten Desslok and Masterson to the entrance were locked in hand-to-hand combat with six militants – all wearing silver amulets. A seventh intruder was on his knees behind the group, holding his talisman to the sky, chanting “Malha Guardiana!”
Another person joined the fray, expertly taking down two of the Guardiana followers almost instantly. Desslok recognized the fighting style of his brother Deun as the crown prince broke through the fighting men and seized the chanting zealot, securing one arm around the man’s throat to silence him and digging the tip of his knife into the man’s back.
The hairs on Masterson’s neck stood straight up as an almost tangible dark chill ran through the courtyard. He was so horrified by what had almost happened that he nearly yelped in surprise when a gloved fist shot past his face and connected solidly with an eighth zealot’s forehead.
“You should watch your own back more often.” Desslok said quietly.
“Thank you, sir.” Masterson nodded, still faintly sensing the quickly dissipating darkness that had unsettled him.
“We could have all been dead.” The prince hissed. “Why do they hate us so much?”
“Perhaps we may yet know the answer to that.” Masterson said as quickly and quietly as he could to avoid the ears of the guards now streaming into the courtyard.
The last one to get there was Leader Deun himself, dark eyes blazing and assault rifle in hand.
“Did they have enough time?!” the ruler demanded of the squad commander.
“No, Sire. Your son saw to that.”
Deun looked approvingly at his elder son, now handing the captured man off to a palace guard.
“How did they get through?” the Leader continued.
“We don’t know, Leader. No one saw them. No one heard them. We suspect some treachery.”
“Interrogate every guard, every officer, every servant in this palace. I want to know who arranged for them to get in.”
“Yes, Leader.” The commander dipped his head in respect before sending a handful of his men with the cuffed Guardiana followers to a holding cell within the palace then dispatching the rest of the guards to carry out his ruler’s wishes.
Masterson knew Leader Deun had seen them standing here, just outside the palace entrance, but the man never acknowledged their presence. He steadfastly avoided looking their direction from the first moment he entered the courtyard until he left.
Not long after the guards, young Deun, and Desslok’s father made their exits Masterson and the prince began their trek back to their respective living areas.
Something, perhaps because of an in born instinct of distrust, stuck in the back of Desslok’s mind about the scene they had just witnessed. He had the feeling that he had missed something important and it unnerved hi
When the two finally reached their rooms after their unplanned detour Masterson quickly kicked off his shoes and was asleep before his body hit the bed. Desslok, on the other hand, upon locking his door behind him, stood silently by the enormous window that overlooked the city and part of the Temple.
With a few words, he turned the lights off and gazed out over his homeworld’s capitol. The morning light made every vibrant color stand out. This picture of elegance that was Rapha’owr, despite its beauty, was thick with tension. The Guardiana followers had torn the city apart with their sedition. It was well-known that those demonic militants would love to see the entire royal family dead. What was not so well-known was the reason why they were so intent upon that goal. The royal family had never done anything to them...
“Or have we…?” a light went on in the prince’s head and within moments he was beating on the Talan’s door.
Naomi, Masterson’s mother answered the knock. “What can we do for you, Desslok?” she asked in her pleasant voice.
“I need to speak to Masterson.”
“If you can wake him up, you can speak with him for as long as you wish.” She smiled.
“Thank you.” The prince said as he slipped through the door, passed the main living area and marched purposefully up to Masterson’s door, fist ready to pound on the metal.
The instant before he would have knocked, the door hissed open. Masterson had left it unlocked and on a motion sensor. He shook his head. He would have to speak to his friend about his lax security habits.
“Talan! Get up!” the prince barked.
The sharp sound only partially roused Masterson and a light snore escaped him.
Desslok stood in Masterson’s doorway, arms folded, eyes determined. “Don’t make me drag you out.”
When Masterson still didn’t rise, he almost cursed, but just before he let the word escape his lips he remembered the last time he had used such language in the Talan residence. It had been severely frowned upon. Instead of saying anything more, the prince stepped purposefully over to the bed, opting to grab an arm instead of a bare foot, and made good on his threat to drag Masterson out of bed. The sleeping teenager did not even stir this time. Seeing no other option, the prince proceeded to drag Masterson across the room, through the living area and out the front door.
“Bring him back, please.” Desslok heard Admiral Talan’s voice.
“I will, Admiral.”
After the door closed Raymond Talan let loose a hearty laugh
Masterson did not completely stir until something cold and wet came crashing down over his head.
“What’s wrong?” Masterson’s glazed eyes popped open in response to shock of the ice water. The first thing that registered in his mind was that his feet were wet. Then he realized that he was no longer in his own room.
“No, I didn’t happen to grab your shoes on the way out.” The prince stated absently. “If you had been awake you could have gotten them yourself.”
Masterson took the light rebuke with the hint of a smile. “Never a moment’s rest.” He thought.
Deciding to abandon the subject of his hijacking, Masterson asked more seriously, “What is it, sir?”
“I have a theory, Masterson. The problem is that there’s only one place that I can confirm it. I doubt anyone else would admit the truth of the situation – except the zealots themselves, and I don’t relish getting myself killed to find out if I’m right or not.”
“The Guardiana followers, sir? What do you think we’ve done to them?”
“Not you, Masterson. Not you or anyone else besides the royal family.”
“What do you think you’ve done to them then?”
“We’ve destroyed the line of the Malha.”
Masterson’s eyes widened as he understood.
“I had heard rumors that what happened to your mother was… planned.” Masterson said hesitantly.
“She was murdered, Masterson!” Desslok snarled. “Murdered by her own mother… They couldn’t take her ship by themselves; they had to get inside information to do it. The traitor!” the prince’s fist slammed into the wall and Masterson winced at the sound of denting metal.
“Sir, no one knew – ”
“They should have known! He should have known. Why did he even let her take command of that ship?!”
“She was the best there was. She taught many soldiers to fight effectively. Her prowess is still lauded in every military institution on the planet. She was the only one for that mission. Your father knew that.” Masterson waited for the prince’s explosive anger. He was greeted with silence, so he continued. “She was the most familiar with the situation; she knew the enemy and their weaknesses. Her sources in the Bolar government wouldn’t trust anyone else. There was no other choice…”
“There is always another choice.” Desslok seethed.
There was silence for a moment. Masterson looked out the window and down on the Temple. The fire on the altar still blazed. Its flames leapt into the air, continuing its never-ending dance.
“Our family has turned on itself.” The prince said quietly. “We have killed each other, betrayed each other… If everything my mother has revealed in her history so far is true even the very beginning of my family line was based in deceit and treachery.” Desslok removed the glove from his left hand and tossed it almost carelessly onto a nearby piece of furniture. He studied the appendage as though it were foreign to him. The white portion of his hand seemed to stick out even more now than it ever had against the blue of the rest of his skin.
As Masterson watched, Desslok suddenly flew to the window, shaking his left fist and yelling, “Why did You mark me this way?! Why do You torment me with the curse of my line?”
“Sir…” Masterson tried to take the prince’s mind away from his anger.
“What?!” Desslok snapped.
Masterson looked at the prince, gauging the wisdom of saying anything else. His loyalty as a friend won out over his discretion.
“Adonai did not mark you, my friend. But He will use that mark in ways that you and I cannot know now.” Masterson said, referencing the conspicuous hand.
“Is that supposed to reassure me? Because it doesn’t.” Desslok bit back. “Your God – the God of that Temple” he pointed out the window, “doesn’t care one bit what happens to me. Except for this,” the prince held up the offending hand, “and this,” he indicated his russet-blonde hair, “He hasn’t convinced me that He really thinks much about my existence! He has forgotten about me altogether…”
Masterson’s heart was heavy as he heard the prince say all of this, and as Desslok began to pace the length of the room the admiral’s son shook his head and thought, “God has not forgotten you, my friend. He knows the plans He has for you. Plans to prosper you, and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future…"
The next few hours were spent hashing out how the Guardiana followers had gotten into the palace grounds undetected.
Afternoon came and with it the realization that another obligation was becoming more pressing as the day wore on.
“Sir,” Masterson interrupted the prince’s one-sided conversation.
“What is it this time, Masterson?”
“The day is not getting any younger.”
“I realize that.” The prince said absently.
“Have you given any thought to that last exam tomorrow?” he ventured.
The prince stopped pacing and stared at him.
“Will you never stop hauling me back to reality, Talan?”
“No, sir.” Masterson smiled.
“Go on. You weren’t saying much anyway.” The prince waved a dismissive hand his way.
Masterson went home, hoping that this time he might be able to get some sleep.
That night, even after an evening of scouring texts in preparation for the morning, the prince could not sleep once again. The events of the day played over and over in his mind, the incident with the Guardiana fanatics especially. Their power was unprecedented. How had they acquired the ability to summon a shêd powerful enough to kill the enemies they marked for execution?
“I wish you could help me.” He said quietly, staring at the small capsule resting in his bare left hand.
The small device remained inert.
“How did the Guardiana followers attain their power?” he inquired of the crystalline messenger.
Light spilled from the blue heart once again and the capsule lifted itself from his hand, floating just as it had the last time it had been activated.
He was tempted to look away from the place he knew the image of Talonka would appear. Instead, he steeled himself and watched the phantom appear.
“Your question is a good one, my son.” Talonka smiled. “One that I will answer soon. But first, go and find Masterson. I must tell you both the next piece of my family’s heritage. The hologram will reappear when you return.”
Desslok nodded, then realized how stupid it was to be trying to interact directly with a hologram. Then the image disappeared.
Masterson was very vaguely aware of another knock on his door. This one sounded quite insistent, so he pried open his heavy eyelids.
“I’m coming…” he said, throwing on whatever clothes were nearest his half-conscious body. Before he had finished, the door opened and the prince stepped in, still wide awake.
Sometimes Masterson was convinced that Desslok was a recurrent insomniac – especially on occasions such as this one. Did he ever sleep these days?
“Come, Talan.” The prince turned and left the room beckoning for his friend to follow him.
Masterson shook his head and chuckled to himself. Why he found the entire situation funny, he did not know. Maybe one day he would figure it out.
Thankfully it was not extremely late yet and Admiral Talan was still sitting out in the family’s living area when the prince came through with Masterson in tow. As Desslok passed the Admiral he gave a short casual salute and said, “I’ll bring him back.”
“Before two in the morning, please. He doesn’t run on the same batteries you do.” The Admiral interjected.
Desslok half-smiled and nodded his capitulation, and Masterson shot a thankful look towards his father
The two teenagers entered the prince’s suite. As soon as the door had closed Desslok began talking.
“Talan, the shêdim that the Guardiana followers summon - how did they get that power?”
“From Abaddon, the Destroyer.” Masterson said groggily.
“No – yes – but that’s not what I’m speaking of.” Desslok said. “How did they ask for that power? Who decided that they needed it? Who initiated the pact between the shêdim and Malha Guardiana?”
“Your many-times grandmother?” Masterson ventured.
Desslok shook his head. “She only bargained for the survival of her descendants, not the utter destruction of her enemies. There’s something else here – something we don’t know yet.”
Masterson looked at the prince with drooping eyelids. “What are you trying to say? I don’t understand.”
“I’m saying that there had to have been another point in time – a point in addition to that first bargain that supplemented the original agreement.”
Masterson nodded, agreeing with the logic. “So… what was that point, sir?”
“That’s what I’m hoping the rest of the message will tell us.” Desslok gestured toward where he had left the holographic letter, then beckoned Talan to come stand in front of the reappearing image.
As the image of Queen Talonka appeared, Masterson shook his head in amazement. This was the second time he had seen this event, but he was just as amazed by this encounter as he had been with the first one. The Queen, though dead, stood before him, bearing witness to the events – and the miracles – of the past.
“Good, you are here, Masterson. Since my son has also entrusted you with this history, you should be here to know the rest. I cannot tell you how long it will take to finish this telling. There are many years yet between the death of Malcus and the present time. But I will tell you what you need to know in order to better understand our world – our galaxy – and the state of it.
“The power the Guardiana followers wield is a deadly one – one that they received from Abaddon himself many years ago.”
Desslok and Masterson looked at each other, then back at the hologram.
The Queen continued, “But, before you understand the giving of that power, you must first understand the Derekh: the seeking of another home – one where there were no wars, no racial prejudices, no political uprisings. This group of people became known as the Mnasonim. Our ancestor Simay was one of the original Mnasonim. It is that piece of the story that I must tell you now – how the Mnasonim left their home in search of another.”
The two young men stood speechless. The official records chronicled the coming of a group to Gamilon years ago, but it made no mention of these Mnasonim. How could such a significant piece of the past become lost to them? There was already so much the Gamilon people did not know about their origins. Most of the pieces of their past they still clung to were contained in the Temple of Adonai – with the exceptions of the religion, culture and language of their people, not much else had survived the pioneering efforts.
Another question rang in Desslok’s mind now. “Were the Mnasonim and the first settlers of this world the same people?”
“Patience, my son.” Talonka’s voice rang through Desslok. “You will know the truth soon – sooner than you would like to.”
The prince’s brow furrowed in confusion. Sooner than he would like to?
He would have thought on the strange phrase longer, but his mother’s voice drew him back into the past once more along with Masterson.
Images of the place called Masada formed in his mind again as he recalled the brief description his mother had given of the mountain fortress outside of the great Yerushalaim.