The Seven Hunters

By Rhombus

Adventure / Horror

Chapter 31 A Matter of Character

Character is a journey, not a destination. ― William J. Clinton

Communicator Active. Specify Recipient.

As the bright circle began to rise over the horizon, its radiant glow illuminated the desolate landscape of the Ragged Bluffs. Its lack of vegetation and discernible features gave it a foreboding look. Its very appearance gave rise to a feeling of impending doom.

The robotic-sounding statement had arisen from a smooth rock that was lying on the rocky substrate at the bottom of the bluffs. The rock in question had little visible indication of its technological nature. Its black surface was impossibly smooth, forming an elliptical orb that appeared to be of finely-polished obsidian. From the rock, however, a mysterious symbol appeared several feet above its surface. The symbol was static, but it occasionally flickered. A hint at the source of its creation.

Standing beside the communications device stood a female rainbowface. She wore a grim appearance, obviously not looking forward to what was going to happen next. She glared at the rock with an almost contemptuous expression. Her fingers were twitching in a rhythmic pattern that even she did not consciously register. A nervous tick that she had developed back in her academy days when dealing with unpleasant necessities. With a final sigh, she looked up at the symbol and spoke.

"Commissar Galek." She replied grimly.

Secured Account. Level Six. Authorization?

She then stared intently at the stone. Suddenly, a light appeared from the stone and illuminated her right eye. As she was still in her rainbowface form, and not her original state, a normal communicator would not have recognized her identity. However, this communicator had been calibrated specifically for her new form and this current mission. All she had to do was wait for the retina scan to complete its work.

Confirm. Logos to Galek link pending. All non-authorized personnel must leave.

Logos didn't even look back before responding. "Chronos..."

A voice called out from some distance away. "I understand. I will just... wait outside." The last words were choked out with a morose tone. His departing footsteps could be heard against the rocks of the bluffs.

As Chronos left the area, the proximity sensor of the communicator registered that Logos was now alone. Two beeps emanated from the stone, indicating that the call was pending. After a few moments the symbol disappeared and the form of Galek appeared.

Above the desolate rock that the communicator rested upon, the visage of Galek appeared. His form would have been incomprehensibly alien to any dinosaurs that would have seen the image. The nearest description that they could have given would be to describe him as some sort of strange insect. Neither the atmosphere, nor the gravity of their current home would be hospitable to their previous species, of which Galek was a member. With a totally different biosphere came a different evolutionary path. With a different evolutionary path came a very different result.

Overall, it was an appearance that was alien to anything that appeared on the planet in which Logos and Chronos now found themselves. Which was curious, considering that they were the same species as the Commissar until a few years ago, when they were appropriately 'modified' for their first mission on this planet. They had been so overwhelmed after their initial transformation, that they almost had to be changed back in order to allow them to keep their sanity. They had persevered, however, where many others had not and thus they were given the mission to explore this planet. It spoke volumes about their change in perspective that they now no longer looked upon the Commissar as one of 'them' but instead as 'other'. Logos supposed that she was now as mentally alien to her kind as the beings of this world was to her homeworld. She knew that the Commissar had already made that deduction long ago.

A series of warbles and clicks emanated from Galek's stalks as he began 'talking'. As her ears in this form could not discern the distinct vocalizations of their kind any more, the warbles meant nothing to her. Thankfully, the communicator began to translate after a pause.

"Ah... Commander Logos. It is [happy time] to see you again!"

Logos cringed. She really needed to recalibrate the communicator. It was rather poor at translating certain things into the lexicon of her kind. Well... her former kind. She responded to the fake show of being glad to see her with a fake expression of respect. She knew that the translation program would confirm her untruthfulness, but she didn't particularly care.

"It is nice to see you again as well, Commissar." She then took a bow. "Forgive me, but my current form will not allow me to do the customary salute..." The customary salute involved a twirling of the tail-like extension of their kind. "So I will do the equivalent gesture from people of this world."

Galek paused for a moment as this was translated back to him. He could not understand Logos's vocalizations with his ears any better than she could understand his. After the translation was finished, he responded.

"Of course... Of course... I suppose that it is the gesture that counts..." Even before the translation program informed her of his duplicity, Logos could almost hear the sneer in his voice. He mocked her with kindness, because he thought that he still had the upper hand. "But I take it that is not why you have contacted me? We are quite busy preparing for the 'clean-up' mission... You should be preparing to disembark, should you not?"

Logos blinked. What a monster... I knew he was power-hungry, but not like this... So the Council was correct in their suspicions... Galek was obviously preparing to exterminate all life on this planet, as the euphemism for "clean-up" in the common tongue had only come into use since the destruction of the planet of The Outsiders. He wasn't even waiting for them to have a chance to complete their mission, to eliminate the contaminated dinosaurs, he wanted to cut their moment of glory short. They had already showed up him and his allies by proving them wrong about the stone. If they could also remedy his mistake by removing the threat then the perception of their wisdom in the Consortium would be further increased and that of the isolationists would be further diminished. Galek was obviously trying to stop the political damage before his faction would be out of power. It was the desperate power play of a person who was about to lose everything.

And... Her mind finished for her. Since he didn't actually relay our findings to the Council, the destruction of this world would eliminate all evidence of his mistake! The deduction was now very clear. Not telling the Council, trying to destroy the evidence, keeping us out of the loop... He is trying to eliminate us. Permanently. She ruminated on this for a moment. Thank goodness we had enough sense to talk to the Council directly this time... We nearly made a fatal error.

"We don't really have much equipment to get ready, sir." The 'sir' was muttered with disdain, which she was almost sure that he would have picked up even if the translation program did not catch it. "You made sure about that." She was still irate that he had only allowed them a communicator and a single weapon on their journey. The pretext was that he was ensuring that the potential for contamination was low, but she knew the real reason - it made it more likely that they would not survive the mission. If they died in their mission, then two troublemakers would be disposed of and his position would be secure. They had already damaged his position with their findings on the stone, which they had relayed directly to the Council, but now they were going to deliver the killer blow.

Before Galek could make the 'killer blow' on this hapless planet.

"Besides... The clean-up mission will not be necessary. We took care of it."

Galek slumped slightly and his eyes jiggled from side to side. He had heard the translation correctly, but his mind refused to consider the implications. He asked for clarification.

"What do you mean, Commander?" He asked softly. It took the translation program a few moments to process his words.

Logos smiled. The facial expression would not mean anything to Galek, but it perfectly represented the fact that she knew that she had him. He was about to realize that his career and the influence of the isolationists on the Council were over.

"Well, despite your attempt to move up the schedule... We found the children and eradicated them. The proof has been recorded and sent via narrow-beam to the Council." Her smile now turned into a wide grin as she saw the expression that Galek made when she mentioned the Council. She waited for the inevitable question.

"The Council! The Council!" Galek raged. "I should have both of you court-martialed for such insubordination! What gave you authorization to bypass the chain of command and contact the Council?!" The livid alien began to pace in his office. The image above the communicator followed him as he moved.

"Insubordination? Ah... That is rich, isn't it?" Logos mocked. "The Council was rather surprised about your 'recent activities' when Chronos and I reported our findings to them... I did not inquire about what those 'recent activities' were, but I can only assume that your 'clean-up' mission has been noted." Galek slumped backwards; he knew that he was beaten. "Likewise... I was surprised to learn that our findings were not reported to the Council at all. Instead you seem to have reported us missing in action after finding suspected Outsider activity..." Galek looked down at that revelation. The Council was not stupid, his intentions were now clear for all to see. He had tried to cover up evidence, murder active Consortium officers, and conspire to destroy a planet's biosphere in the process. "I can only imagine what the Council will do with you during your appointment with them..."

"My... appointment?" Galek muttered.

Logos frowned in false surprise. "Oh, right... That was the other reason that I contacted you. The council requests an audience with you after we are finished here." Galek closed his three bulbous eyes. The implication was clear. The Council usually gave its summons directly when a meeting was friendly or neutral, but gave the summons to a proxy when the meeting was disciplinary. Such were the customs of her species. A blow should be given by an enemy, even if the punishment is ordered by a friend. The fact that the Council had entrusted her, quite possibly Galek's second-worst enemy behind Chronos, to relay that information spoke volumes. He was going to be terminated for his unconscionable crimes. He had played a high-stakes game and lost.

That explained the security incident. He deduced. The guards are not guarding my office to protect me; they are here to keep me secure until my summons... His assistants were probably already captured themselves, he realized. They would most likely share his same fate. No wonder why he couldn't contact them for the last few hours...

Had he simply relayed their findings to the Council then his side would be discredited to a great extent, but at least they would still exist. They could still regroup and argue for moderation within the new political paradigm. But since he and his colleagues had decided to pursue a cover-up through such extreme means, a modest loss of influence was no longer a possibility. As he was set in the old ways of thinking, he had decided that any opening of the Consortium to open exploration would inevitably lead to a similar disaster as The War. As a consequence he decided that any action, even violating the principals of the Consortium, was justifiable in avoiding the possible of another cataclysm which could claim the lives of billions. Now, however, he could clearly see that his decisions had left the isolationist movement in ruins. He had given his enemies the perfect weapon to destroy his ideology: proof that extremism from within was a bigger threat to the Consortium that the unknown from outside. The true enemy was not from the stars, but rather was within themselves. In fighting the monsters that he perceived in the unknown reaches of space, he had become the monster himself.

Logos stopped for a moment before continuing her speech. Even though such tactics were supposedly purged from the 'enlightened' Consortium, she realized that he was probably already pondering how to seek revenge upon his foes. The isolationists still were a force to be reckoned with on her homeworld and would seek to persecute her and Chronos through other means. She wanted to dash his hopes of a proper revenge right now. The two rainbowfaces would never return to Consortium space where they could be directly threatened. The Council had made sure of that. Their quarantine, which was to be ensured through strict monitoring of all entries and exits through this sector, was in a way both a blessing and a curse. It was an extraordinary precaution on account of their extraordinary situation. The Council was extending direct protection onto both this planet and the two explorers. A simultaneous gift and apology to the two mavericks who had prevented a great atrocity that was about to be committed in the Consortium's name.

"If it is any consolation, Galek, the Council has decided that Chronos and I are to be quarantined." She said this as a sad smile appeared on her face. She knew that the order was coming, the Council had little choice under the Consortium's rules, but it still stung to be told that they could never return. "Since we have changed too much to be reintegrated back into Consortium society, we are to be kept on this planet on a continuous basis for 'continued research'." She then looked at Galek with a knowing expression. "I won't lie to you, Commissar, I am greatly saddened by this order. I will never see my friends and colleagues again except through a communicator's projection. But I do take comfort in one thing, Galek..." She paused for a moment to restrain her emotion and collect her thoughts. After recollecting herself, she resumed. "When I look at the stars tonight, Galek, I will now that I have made the Consortium a better place even though I may no longer be a part of it. I will take great comfort from that." Galek looked at Logos now with a defeated look. "When you look up at the same, will anything comfort you?"

Galek and his allies were fearful of change and outside influences because of their bad experiences in the war. A war that they blamed on the overexuberance of the Consortium to seek out new life and cultures, which had led them to the fringes of where The Outsiders resided. But because of their protectiveness they had forgotten about what made the Consortium great. The exploration of the unknown entailed finding new things and being willing to change and evolve as both physical and mental horizons were expanded. They had become fixated on increased power and security for the Consortium and, by extension, themselves. Their insularness had left a hollow legacy. Now that the power was about to dissipate nothing would be left. Just like how the smallest pebbles would eventually be eroded by the waves of an ocean, their petty achievements were being eroded by an idea whose time had finally come again.

Galek answered solemnly. "I... doubt I will ever see the stars again, Commander. You have made sure of that."

Logos responded with an equally grim retort. "It is customary to execute traitors outdoors, Galek. I am sure that you will see the stars one more time." He recoiled from the communicator, but held back from raging at the commander. If any of his legacy was to carry on then he had to make a brave showing here, as this communication was certainly being recorded for posterity. He had done what he thought was in the best interests of the Consortium. He would face his end with dignity.

"Goodbye, Commander." Came the depressed parting.

Logos simply uttered. "Farewell."

And then the communications link was broken.

......

Logos stared for quite some time at the communicator that now looked like the rock that it was designed to mimic. They had done it. They had really done it. The planet that they had grown attached to over the years was safe from a threat that so many had labeled as a fantasy. The isolationists were effectively powerless as their highest-ranked official was now a dead man walking and his reputation rightfully tarnished. And her partner, Chronos, was finally proven right. He believed that it was their mission to explore new worlds and possibilities. He believed that the Stone of Cold Fire could actually be the Stone of Destiny. And he had believed in their ability to complete the hopeless task that lay before them. He was right on all counts. That only left one more critical task.

Living out the rest of their lives.

Logos had lived a life of duty ever since she enrolled in the academy. She sat aside no time for herself or for relationships, which always seemed to fail her in any case, but rather fixated on her job at which shall was highly proficient. It was during her first mission to this planet that she was assigned Chronos as an assistant. He was her opposite in many ways. He had a tendency to intervene when expedient and would even question orders when they seemed outlandish. She had considered filing a disciplinary report on him when they returned, but by the end of their mission she realized that his arguments had some merit. What was the point of being part of the universe if one could not interact with it? What was the point of having knowledge and power if it couldn't be used? She was the only one who volunteered to go with him on their mission, their final mission, to this planet. Not even other members who were sympathetic to their cause were willing to risk what they had risked. But now because of their sacrifice, they had won. Now she simply had to find out what to do with her life, now that her duties to the Consortium no longer really existed. It was an interesting conundrum. It was both liberating and frightening.

"Logos..." Came an uncertain voice from some distance away.

Chronos. She thought to herself. I guess that it is time to tell him the news.

"Galek is gone." She affirmed. "It is over."

Chronos did not move or give any response to indicate that he had heard her. After a moment, however, he simply gave a slight nod. "We figured as much, didn't we? The Council's response to us was... interesting." At her confirming nod, he continued. "The stone proved the folly of his mindset and now we have fixed the problem on this planet..." She bowed her head in shame. Those poor children... They didn't deserve that. She could still remember the smell of burning and the charred bones...

"I'm sorry." She spoke before she even realized the words came out of her mouth. "You shouldn't have had to that... I shouldn't have ordered you..." She looked away. She was never one to break down in front of anyone, but now that her mission was effectively over she no longer had to keep up the appearance of a commanding officer. To carry out the extermination order was an unimaginable burden. She deeply regretted that Chronos was left with that sad duty. She was still quite surprised that he didn't wake her and let her take care of it... He was the closest to the children and she knew that their loss would hurt him the most.

He seemed to consider this for a moment, before walking over to Logos. He placed his hand on her shoulder in a reassuring manner, neither of them being used to comforting the other so directly. He sighed before responding.

"I'm sorry too. But the communicator would detect any lie. So I had to trick you."

Logos pulled away and looked back in shock. "What?"

Chronos smiled. "None of us wanted to carry out this order and both of us thought it was stupid, right?" At her nod, he continued. "Well... It only takes one good blast of this thing." He lifted up the weapon in an illustrative manner. "..To form a large crater... And the children were very helpful in providing a few bones that they found lying around..." Logos was shaking her head in disbelief. Surely he didn't... That couldn't work, would it? She thought frantically. "Then one more blast to char the bones and make it look really nasty..." He waved his hands in a flourish. "And..." She interrupted him at this point.

"Since I believed it all... The Council thinks that we completed the mission..." She finished for him. She didn't realized that she had tears beginning to run down her cheeks. The guilt of having 'killed' the children had touched her more deeply than she had expected. Now that guilt was being washed away.

He nodded, the smile on his face stretching from ear to ear. "Exactly."

She looked away for a moment, hiding her weakness from her companion. After swallowing deeply, she finally spoke again. "Well, Chronos. You have just committed perjury before the Council, misrepresented an official report, disobeyed a direct order, misused Consortium equipment, and probably violated more regulations than I can count... Do you know what I think?"

Chronos shrugged. "That the Consortium can stuff it?"

Logos turned with a wide smile on her face. "For once, Chronos, I approve of your insubordination." She then looked about after a pause. "So... Where are the children?"

"Me here!" Came a reply from nearby. Both rainbowfaces suddenly looked up to see a small flyer affixed to the top of the rock face. "Can we come out now? Cera mad and Littlefoot want answers."

Chronos smiled. "How am I not surprised? Tell Littlefoot that I will tell him everything and remind your friend that I still have the 'pain rock'."

Logos looked at Chronos. 'Pain rock' I guess that is one way to put it...

The flyer then answered back. "Me tell him! But me not remind Cera about pain rock... She still really mad about that."

As Petrie flew back to where the children were hiding, Logos looked at Chronos in such a way as to demand an explanation.

Chronos sighed. "The Repressor takes a reading of every time it is used." She nodded. Obviously she knew this as every cadet learned the basics of Repressors in basic training. "The 'evidence' that you provided to the Council included the reading right before I fired at the children."

Logos paled. "So... You actually did fire at the children?"

Chronos nodded with a look of regret. "Yeah... It was on heavy stun..." He then swallowed. "While the children were out of it... I disabled the recorder program, as we already had our 'evidence' and then I made the crater that you saw..."

Logos shook her head. "And after being stunned they helped you?! Heavy stun is not exactly a soft setting!" She looked at him with incredulity. "I'm surprised that they didn't attack you!"

Chronos shrugged. "Well, the yellow one did. That is why I had to stun her twice."

Logos gave him a mischievous grin. "Oh... So that one has it in for you then?" He gave her a pointed look; obviously he did not find this amusing at all. She, however, still had to have the last word. "Great... You can lead the way then."

With a final indignant groan from Chronos, the two rainbowfaces walked to where the children were hiding. They certainly had an interesting conversation ahead of them.

......

"How can any of you believe any of this crap?!"

To the surprise of absolutely no one who was present, Cera did not believe the narrative told by the rainbowfaces. She had been hit twice by the 'pain rock' and she was still enraged. Nonetheless, Littlefoot decided to try and speak reason.

"Cera... They have a rock that can spit pain and fire!" He said this sentence as if that fact alone made their story believable. "...And besides, I still remember what happened when you two left for the first time..."

Chronos and Logos both looked as if Littlefoot had grown a second head. What was the brown fastbiter talking about?

Littlefoot noticed their confused stares and the unsure glances of his friends. He would have to tell them the story. "When you two left after the first Stone of Cold Fire... The fake one..." He added quickly. "I saw both of you leave in a pillar of light." Chronos looked down, while Logos slapped her head as he said this. They were not careful enough to avoid cultural contamination it seemed.

Ruby looked at Littlefoot and then focused her gaze on the two rainbowfaces. "If you left on a pillar of light, then where did the pillar go?"

Chronos looked knowingly at Logos, who shared his glance before answering. "That... led us back to our ship... um..." She tried to remember the way she described it in leaf-eater. "Our sky-log... Then we went back to the stars..."

Spike seemed to ponder this for a moment. "It is said that when we die we go up there... To be the stars... Did you see any of our folks there?"

Logos licked her lips. This was a very delicate question. It seemed that the dinosaurs had the beginnings of a belief in the afterlife, a notion that many in her world had not entirely parted with. She had to make sure that she didn't destroy the hopes of the young ones. "We did not... although there are many, many stars... Far too many to see in even a thousand lifetimes!" She then looked at Spike, who seemed to be taking on a contemplative expression. "Who knows what wonders await up there?"

Littlefoot smiled slightly at this. "So... Now that you have faked our 'deaths' down here... You're going back home aren't you?" The small dinosaur looked sad to see them go, a very different expression from the one that Cera was sporting. He obviously relished the idea of having someone who was as curious of the deeper questions as he was. Additionally, as Chronos deduced, he was probably just glad to have someone who understood what they had been through. Littlefoot was fearful that would soon be gone.

Ducky, having concluded that the rainbowfaces would be going soon, actually wished them good luck in her own innocent way. "Be careful up there! Don't fall off of your sky-log it must be a long way down. Yep, yep, yep!"

Chronos had to smile at her naiveté. "Well... We actually can't go back... The Consortium won't accept us anymore." He now had a more serene expression on his face. "This... this is our home now." The children were surprised by this revelation. It seemed that they had more in common with the rainbowfaces than they suspected. "We can only look at the stars... But never return to them."

Littlefoot looked at them both with a sad expression. "I'm sorry. That must be terrible!"

Logos waved him off. "It is alright, little one... We have made peace with it." She then smiled slightly. "We are just glad that this planet is safe. It is truly a wonderful place."

Chomper was pacing. "But why did your people want to kill us?!" The little sharptooth was quite upset. "Everyone wants to kill us! Their parents..." He said this while gesturing towards the rest of the gang. "Star people, Red Claw, Screech, Thud... I'm sick of it!"

Cera huffed, as she was still angry at her situation, but agreed with Chomper. "Yeah... Why did your people want to kill us? It isn't like we can go up and hunt them in the stars..."

Chronos sighed. "That would take some explaining... But let's just say that the Stone that you touched changes people..."

"No kidding." Petrie noted sarcastically.

Chronos ignored the interruption and continued. "It changes their heads..." He pointed at his head as he said this. "To make them smarter and it well..." He seemed to be struggling for the right words. "...Just make them better. Long ago another stone like the one you touched made the wrong kind of people better and they attacked our people..."

Ruby nodded. "They were worried that we could turn bad too..."

Chronos nodded. "It doesn't really make sense. I mean, you haven't even developed spac... um... made sky-logs yet... So you wouldn't be a threat to my people. But sometimes people get set in their ways..." He wisely decided to leave out the entire political side of things, as the children would neither understand nor care.

Even Cera nodded at this. As a former threehorn she realized just how stubborn some people could be. It was still disheartening to hear that even the 'star people' wanted you dead though... Mr. Thicknose would have had a field day with that one...

Littlefoot pondered for a moment. "But why did the Stone change us? What is the Stone meant to do anyway?"

Logos nodded. "That is a good question. We think that those Stones were made long, long ago... Before there were any dinosaurs..."

Cera muttered in disbelief. "Before dinosaurs? Ha! There were always dinosaurs."

Logos gave her a wry smile. "Well... There had to be a first dinosaur didn't there? Anyway..." She returned to the topic at hand. "The people who made them wanted to make more life like them. More intelligent life. So they made these stones 'help' the kinds they encountered to become smarter and better adapted to their lives."

Ducky interrupted at this point. "Better adapted-ed? But we were fine with green food. Yep, yep, yep!"

Chronos then reentered the conversation. "Well it listened to what the matriarch of the Vetre wanted..." Logos looked at him with a pointed look and he went back to the more simple-talk that he had used earlier. "Um... I mean..."

"In plain leaf-eater or sharptooth, please." Cera demanded impatiently. She was not pleased about being talked over by these arrogant dinosaurs from the sky. But she was even more displeased about not understanding what they were talking about.

He started again. "We think that it listens to what the finder of the Stone wants... That is how it determines how to make them adapt to their situation." He then looked straight at Littlefoot, figuring that he would have probably been the one to lead them to the Stone in the first place. "What did all of you ask the stone?"

Littlefoot swallowed hard. "We uh... We wanted to be powerful enough to get rid of Red Claw." He then looked down. This was all his fault. If only they had wished for something else... Or ignored the Stone altogether.

Cera noted Littlefoot's sad expression and slowly walked towards the brown fastbiter. "We couldn't have known Littlefoot..."

The two rainbowfaces then looked at one another. They now realized what had happened. The Stone crashed in the valley and the children touched it. They then requested enough power to fight off a great foe. Somebody named Red Claw. The Stone then granted their request, not only greatly boosting their intelligence, but also modifying their bodies to become more powerful. It was curious though that the Stone modified them into sharpteeth instead of simply making them more powerful leaf-eaters, but this was something that had been seen in the case of the Vetre. The Vetre went from being mostly herbivorous to becoming completely omnivorous. As the progeny of the first matriarch who touched the stone became more numerous, the omnivorous condition and heightened intelligence became more and more common. It seemed that the creators of the Stones did not believe that herbivores were best suited to sapience. Perhaps that indicated a bias on the part of the Ancient Ones? In any case, the stone seemed to have taken a genetic template from other carnivores on this planet, as all but two of the children were obligate herbivores, and simply modified those templates to a more advanced form. The Stone, no doubt, expecting the children to eventually breed into their new respective species, making their new traits more numerous, and eventually uplifting each species into sapience.

They then nodded to one another, understanding shining in both of their eyes. They were witnessing something incredible. They were seeing the birth of new sapient races right before their eyes and like most births it was a painful and messy process. But they both knew that the children would pull through and persevere through the trials and tribulations that now faced them.

And the two rainbowfaces would each do their part to help them.

......

Several moments later:

"So we're off to the Land of Shallow Waters. I guess that it sounds like a nice place to make a home..."

Chronos was playing with the idea of actually settling down. He had always been restless and adventurous through his academy days and throughout his career, but watching the children adapt to their new lives would be adventurous enough. To see the birth of new sapient races that may one day join the Consortium or a future alliance... It was truly amazing.

"Who says that we're bringing you?!" Cera protested.

Littlefoot sighed. "Cera... They saved us!"

Cera stomped. "Yeah, by blasting us with the pain rock a few times!"

Ruby and Chomper both looked indignantly at Cera. They were not pleased about being blasted either, but it was far better than being killed or worse yet... having everyone they knew and loved being killed. Cera's pride was getting in the way of her reason.

Chronos knew what he had to do. He had seen situations like this before when he was in a negotiating party with the Asthu, one of the more warrior-like species in the Consortium. They did not engage in war anymore, but they still had strict honor codes and engaged in limited combat to assert dominance and protect their sense of honor. One day his commander had inadvertently insulted one of the other parties by using the wrong greeting gesture. He diffused the situation by admitting his fault and accepting an insult of equal severity. His actions proved his honor to the Asthu negotiating party and the remainder of the negotiations had gone smoothly. Now Chronos needed to partake in a show of reciprocity.

"You're still mad at me aren't you?" He asked rhetorically.

Cera snorted. "Glad you noticed."

Chronos smiled. "What if I got hit with the same pain rock that you got hit with? Would that make you happy?"

Cera looked surprised. The pain rock hurt like hell. Why would anyone willingly subject themselves to that?

Chronos continued. "I did what I had to do to protect you all... and then also to protect myself..." He was referring to his second stunning of Cera. "But I will do this just to be fair."

"Fine!" Cera affirmed gruffly, although she actually felt some respect for this rainbowface. He was willing to take his blows and not shy away like a coward. The threehorn upbringing of hers respected this. He was acting like a self-respecting threehorn should.

Logos looked uncertainly at Chronos. "Are you sure?"

Chronos nodded. "Make it quick, will you? I'm not exactly looking forward to this... I remember what it was like at the academy when we had to test these on one another..."

Logos smiled. "It's a shame we were in different years... I never had the chance to test this on you..."

Chronos frowned in an annoyed expression. "Oh laugh it up! I'm not doing this to amuse you."

She smiled, but then took on a more compassionate expression. "Lean forward, with your hands on your face. I don't want you to hurt yourself when you fall."

He nodded, some fear evident on his face. He was grateful for the compassion from his friend. However, he was actually holding up better when he was lost in their playful banter back and forth. Now that he had to actually reflect on what was about to happen... He placed his hands on his face and leaned forward...

Zap!

All of a sudden everything seemed to go out of focus... And then pain... Unbearable pain... He didn't feel it when his legs went out from under him and he fell face-first into the soft sand. Every muscle in his body seemed to tense and jerk in spasms as his entire body seized uncontrollably. He couldn't scream. He couldn't breathe. It felt like an eternity to Chronos even though the entire episode only lasted for about five seconds. Then finally he could breathe again, although the echoes of pain that was so recent but now absent still permeated through his body.

"Are you alright?"

That voice. Logos... His confused mind deduced. She was wondering if he was okay. He sucked in a few breaths before finally feeling well enough to respond.

"Yeah..." His voice was labored, but still intelligible. He knew that he would be alright in a few minutes. The Repressor's heavy stun setting was meant to only incapacitate for a few minutes. The higher settings, on the other hand...

Suddenly he saw something yellow appear over him. Oh no! He thought to himself. She has come to finish the job! He was now defenseless on the ground and too close to her in order for Logos to risk firing at them. Why had he agreed to this anyway? As his pupils then trained back and forth, he could see both Logos and Cera standing side by side. What was Logos doing? Didn't she know that the yellow one was dangerous?

Suddenly Cera spoke.

"Hmmm... I guess that we are even now." She then turned away from him, as if she were about to walk away. "Make sure that you two keep up with us, because I don't feel like slowing down. I'm hungry and since our leader..." She used Littlefoot's title in an annoyed fashion. No doubt Littlefoot was rolling his eyes somewhere. "Says that we can't eat you, we need to get some food in the Land of Shallow Waters."

Chronos spoke softly. "Understood."

Cera did not look back, but did give a firm nod. By giving him a simply response, not tinged with any hint of sarcasm, she was showing him respect in her own way. He had shown that he was willing to take pain in order to prove his good intentions to her. Even though she refused to admit it verbally, she respected that deeply. The two rainbowfaces had nothing to fear from her.

As Chronos rose from the sand with assistance from Logos, the pack resumed their journey towards their destination. Even though they now knew why they were transformed, that did not really change the reality of their situation. They simply were what they now had to be. Both them and the rainbowfaces had left their homes for good in order to travel the unknown in bodies that were not their own. Even though they were born on planets orbiting different stars, they felt affinity towards one another in the way that only victims of similar circumstances could. They didn't know what the future would bring, but they knew that they would face it together.


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