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THE JOINING: The Cycle of the Shards Book One

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A disgraced warrior from the other side of the universe joins forces with an average teenage boy in order to save Earth from an intergalactic war. 2000 Years ago, two powerful artifacts, called 'The Shards', were stolen. Critock, a lifelong soldier, chases his old friend down to return them to his planet's empire, but at the moment of truth he chooses to leave his friend-turned-enemy and the Shards frozen forever in a vast Ice field. Now, after being stripped of his rank and honor, Critock is called home with the promise of reward, only to find that he has one more mission to fulfill. His old friend is still alive, and hiding in a school on the unevolved planet 'Earth'. Using a quirk of their genetics, he has 'joined' with an earthling, absorbing their mind and taking over their body. They don't know who he joined with, they only know where. The plan is simple. Critock will go to Earth, join with an authority figure, and use their combined minds to uncover the Shards. But nothing ever goes according to plan. Distracted by a sudden attack, Critock accidentally joins with Kyle, a schoolboy, who is not pleased with the sudden takeover of his body. Now, with less than one day, Critock will have to overcome the resistance from his host, and find a way to uncover the identity of his enemy before the Shards wake...

Scifi / Adventure
Chris Stephenson
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

The two ships rushed over the empty desert landscape as fast as their engines would allow them, fueled by the mirrored desires of the two souls that were in control; One trying desperately to escape his fate, the other doing whatever he could to catch his prey. The chase had now lasted for over half an hour, which was not a long period of time by any stretch of the imagination, particularly for beings that could conceivably live for thousands of years barring accident or injury. But for the both of them, especially considering the events that had just taken place, this run seemed like it had been happening for centuries.

The crafts, built for high-speed racing on long empty stretches such as this one, maintained incredibly high velocities with little strain to their forms. On the exterior, both chaser and chased could feel every mile and every acceleration. The sweat flowed freely, both from the external stresses and the internal strife. But they were committed now, and neither would give up this game.

For Pt’ron, he felt that all his many sins that had built up through the centuries were chasing him. He did not feel sorry for what he had done. In fact he blamed most of the strife on his pursuer, however misplaced. But the situation was there, the sum total of his life culminating in this last run for freedom. What temporary victory he had in the past was now lost. He now had two runs to face, he thought as he clutched the manual steering column with one hand and a small black bag in the other. This would be the easier of the two.

The two crafts quickly jumped over a small incline, neither dropping in speed. Critock, the stone faced dark-haired Marconian in the pursuing craft, had thought about increasing velocity and possibly overtaking his adversary, but thought better of it. He knew Pt’ron’s strategies like the back of his hand, having had been around him for so long. He refused to dwell on that particular fact though. With everything that had happened, everything so fresh in his mind...

The end of the war. The traitor. The battles...

Her death.

His mind overridden by vengeance, he tightened his grip on his own column causing the gold craft to surge forward. It nearly struck the red and white vehicle, its driver not expecting a direct assault so quickly. Pt’ron moved to the right and silently gave thanks to Gods he didn’t believe in that there were no obstacles in the way. Indeed, the only items in this barren landscape were rocks and odd bush formations that were too low to the ground to be struck by the hovering vehicles. Even if they had been rumbling across the ground the scenery would have been pushed away without incident. So intense were the emotions and the chase that both believed nothing could stop them as they continued through the motions of their wordless battle of wills.

An unexpected large hill sent them both hurtling upwards, and then just as quickly back down. The bottoms of their crafts actually touched the ground and sent a spray of yellow sand into the air before the hovering devices reasserted themselves and the crafts regained their usual upright stance. As before, the chase continued.

As Critock focused his orange eyes menacingly onto the back bumper of Pt’ron’s craft, the light from one of the desert planet’s three suns shined off a small glass trinket that sat on the bench seat next to him. He refused to even acknowledge its presence, despite where it came from and who gave it to him. He used the feelings to push him forward, the anger and rage building up within him. He wished he knew the design of this craft better, to try and gain any advantage he could find.

Pt’ron was doing the same thing, but he was taking a more proactive approach. Since there were no obstacles in front of him, he was able to take his eyes off the landscape and scan the control panels to look for anything he could identify. He knew the racing vessels built on this planet were for more ‘colorful’ sports, so he knew that somewhere on these vessels were at least rudimentary weapons. If he could use them, his escape would be all the easier, and considering who his pursuer was, it would also make it all the sweeter.

He took a chance and tapped an unlabeled panel, expecting that an ejection seat or emergency brake would be clearly marked and out of the way. For a moment, nothing happened. He frowned, until the schematic of the craft suddenly rotated on the console in front of him, and two red dots appeared on the sides of the display. Words began scrolling on the sides as a targeting reticule appeared. He couldn’t read the language that was being displayed, but he certainly could guess what had just happened. He allowed himself a smile, overcoming the fear and stress that had been enveloping him.

Critock shared no such smile as he watched two cannons slide out of the canopy of his enemy, flipping themselves around from their former forward position and training themselves squarely on him. A momentary flare of panic rose within him, but he had been well trained to ignore it and use it to heighten his senses and abilities. He forced himself to look closer and remember what few courses he had taken, years before in the academies, that would allow him to decipher whatever code this species used to label their defenses.

Pt’ron savored the moment as he quickly located the firing controls. He focused on his target, even as a small hook emerged from the front facing underside of Critock’s ship.

Critock fired the grappling hook, hitting its target and spearing through a side panel. It came to rest still on the interior of the craft, small spikes extending out to secure its position. He nodded satisfactorily, and tapped the panel that would open up the roof of the vessel to the air. As the insane wind whipped into the cockpit and around him, he grabbed the glass trinket. Slipping it back over his neck, he also checked his pocket to make sure that the small pen-shaped device was still present. Satisfied that it was secure, he began the uncomfortable climb.

Pt’ron growled. This wasn’t going to happen. Not when he was this close to the first part of his freedom. He attempted to set the target on Critock himself, but the reticule could not get a lock on him, and missing shots would take away precious time and energy. Time in particular he did not have. Even now he could see on the limited radar capabilities that they were coming up on a small town. The same town he had planned on escaping to, as they had a small ship port there that was not well policed. Perfect for what he had in mind. He re-centered the targeting reticule on the craft itself, and pressed his finger down on the panel.

Critock had by now climbed out onto the hull of the craft, its auto-piloting capabilities proving quite useful despite it’s total lack of comprehensive weaponry. He slowly crawled towards Pt’ron’s craft, moving as fast as he could, almost touching the rope...

Red fire came out of Pt’ron’s cannon, striking the craft three times in rapid succession. A small explosion occurred as the right engine exploded, and fire surged throughout the craft. Critock knew time was short. Even if he could dodge the fire, one more good blow and the hovering capabilities would be gone, and him with them.

He saw one chance, and he took it. He reared up and flung himself forward off of his craft, just as the left engine blew. As he dove for and grabbed the rope, still secured within Pt’ron’s craft, the hover jets lost power. The craft struck the ground, and was torn apart from the velocity and a hundred tiny explosions rippling over its body. The grappling gun was ripped from the wreckage by the great speed of the lead craft, and Critock held onto the rope with all his might as the rope drug along the ground, pulled down by the heavy gun. He, thankfully, had pulled himself up enough so that he was not being drug along with it.

The angle of the craft and windows, along with the limited radar capabilities, were such that Pt’ron could not see Critock holding onto the rope. But he knew the rope was there, and that the gun would be dragging and slowing him down. Already his speed had dropped by a third. He relaxed a bit though, as he had rid himself of his adversary. A small amount of sadness entered his mind, as he wondered what had been done to deaden him so, that the man that he had spent so much of his life with could die by his hand and he would feel glad for it. Then he remembered the past, from his own point of view, and the sadness passed. He stole a peek inside the black bag, and smiled again. There would be no sadness for him. The future was bright.

Having finally reached the craft proper, Critock pulled himself aboard gingerly. The ride had gotten rougher on this end due to the excess baggage being drug behind, so he had made sure to keep a tight grip at all times. Reaching the top of the vessel, he reached in his pocket for the pen device and pulled it out. He thought for a second, wondering if he should warn Pt’ron somehow, or find another alternative. After all, he was ordered to bring him back alive so that justice may be served and the military population sated. At this point though, he knew that the only true justice was vengeance. The vendetta would be resolved. He aimed the weapon carefully...

Critock quickly ducked as he was nearly decapitated by the entry sign to the town of Kq-Ki kiki KTO. (No translation available). As he threw himself down he lost his grip on the pen device, and it flew off the craft to the ground now behind him. He didn’t have a chance to mourn its passage, however, as he kept his eyes forward and made himself as flat as possible to ensure the next obstacle would not hit its target.

As Critock attempted to keep from flying off, his left foot moved over the front window of the craft. It was only for an instant before he moved it back out of sight, but it did not escape Pt’ron’s attention. Pt’ron’s mood soured, and he removed a sleek pistol-shaped weapon. He quickly thrust it towards the ceiling and fired, not aiming at any place in particular, just hoping to get lucky. The orange lasers burned quickly through the ceiling.

The first shot missed Critock’s head by a foot, the second missed his leg by an inch. He threw himself to the left, almost falling off in the process. He awkwardly clutched one of the ridges, his feet dangling. All thoughts of anything but survival left his head as he desperately tried to regain his grip. As his feet found purchase on top of the exposed cannon, the craft jerked left, striking and dragging the side against a rock building in an array of yellow sparks. It slowed the vessel down, and would have crushed Critock had he not been able to move away from the cannon, which now took the brunt of the hit.

The smooth strike and drag helped Pt’ron realize that his gambit had failed, and Critock still lived. He growled again, which transformed into a yell as he fired many shots into the ceiling, taking his mind and eyes off the controls. None of the shots hit, as Critock had moved to the opposite side, having an easier time of hanging on. So focused was Pt’ron on eliminating his former friend once and for all that he didn’t notice that the speed of the craft had dropped by another third, nor did he realize that his destination was so close at hand. Critock saw it coming, and launched himself off of the craft, making a bet that they were going slow enough that he would escape any serious harm. The craft slammed into the old and rusty metal doors of the nearby abandoned space port, sending them flying without impeding the craft’s progress at all. Critock rolled as he landed, scraping every piece of exposed flesh in the process but managing to stay mostly unharmed. He watched as the craft disappeared into the darkness of the interior, followed moments later by a horrific crashing sound. Grimacing at his aches as he rose to his feet, he began a slow walk towards the spaceport, already making plans in his head for the many different places this encounter could head next.

As he walked, Critock passed two short, round workers running for their lives. Obviously not used to any kind of excitement here, he thought. He also thought to himself about expending the energy to change his structure, for his body to reconfigure into what he jokingly called the beast formation. He very quickly chose against it. With the amount of energy that he would have to expend, it was very likely that once he had changed he wouldn’t have anything left to fight with.

As he entered the dusty, dark brown interior of the spaceport through the recently made hole, he realized that the workers probably weren’t used to much of anything. From the looks of the area, and the growing darkness the farther in he went, he correctly guessed that this spaceport hadn’t been used for years, and probably was only manned in case of emergencies. Pt’ron undoubtedly knew this. Critock steeled his nerves. He could not let him escape again. If he got off this planet and escaped into the stars, it would inevitably start all over again. Wars engulfing another third of the universe. Countless races exterminated for living on the wrong planet. All for a madman’s quest, for a legend that may not even be true. ”He who holds the shards will control the universe." How many lives lost because of that one sentence? Where would it end?

The light had dimmed to the point that he could barely see in front of his face as Critock entered a large open area. He could see many ships, primed and ready for takeoff at a moment’s notice, and realized that this was no ordinary spaceport. This must have been placed here for a planetary evacuation, he thought, set up in the earliest days of the War of the Shards. Luckily, this planet had become barren, and was known to not have any Shard activity whatsoever. Thus, it was overlooked and not thought of as anything more but merely a stopping point for armies to refuel and resupply. A perfect place to set up a secret base for an empire.

He reached the craft, still remarkably in one piece considering everything that it had recently been through, and peered inside the windows. If there was anyone in there, they were well hidden. It looked like the shell had been cracked, and someone had gotten out. Critock turned and looked up, making sure that the dome had not opened, allowing a ship to leave. It remained intact, and Critock turned back to the craft. At least Pt’ron was still here. Where he was, was another question. There was no time for him to find another escape route, and the only exit would have been past where Critock had entered. Taking a deep breath, Critock decided the only approach he could take was a direct one.


Silence. Up on the catwalks and grating Critock thought he heard footsteps, but that could have just as easily been a small creature searching for a meal. A Trk, perhaps. He strained his ears, reaching to find something, anything to reveal Pt’ron’s position.

What he didn’t expect was for Pt’ron to reveal himself directly behind him, whispering out of the darkness. “Was this what you wanted?”

Immediately after the silence ended, Pt’ron was on him. Punctuating every syllable of every word with a strike from his fists. “Was. THIS. What. You. WANTED?” The initial strike left Critock reeling, sending him backwards and down on one knee. Recovering quickly, he blocked the next punch and fired off one of his own, catching Pt’ron by surprise with the quick blow.

“YOU started this! You and your ’Mistress!” Critock advanced, and Pt’ron backed up quickly. “It’s going to end, Pt’ron. Your army is beaten, and the Shards...”

“Are right here!” Bouncing off his heels, Pt’ron lunged forward, something red and shining in his hand, slashing Critock across his chest. Critock fell back, Pt’ron pressing his advantage. “You never understood, Critock. Not ever!” He slashed again and again, Critock attempting to block the blows but having a very difficult time of it. “It was never about the Shards! It was never about them, or you, or armies...” Critock fell, and Pt’ron kneeled menacingly. “It was about her.”

Critock bellowed a primal roar at him. Pt’ron was prepared for that, and struck him in the face again. “And you had to have it your way, like always, didn’t you Critock? You had to have everything in the universe. It’s your fault, Critock! IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!” Critock had long since stopped fighting back, but Pt’ron continued his assault. When Critock stopped moving, Pt’ron grabbed the back of his long hair, and pulled his head up. Pt’ron moved his face back and to the left, and whispered savagely. “And you’re going to remember it.” He slammed Critock’s face down again, and stood, satisfied at the outcome.

He glanced around quickly, checking to see if any of the closest thing that this planet had to law enforcement had come to investigate the crash. Not hearing anything, he jogged to the closest starship to him, a sleek, silver, angular model that undoubtedly would provide ample speed to make his escape. He examined it, realizing that he would need the release codes so that he could take control. Pt’ron ran back to the front rooms, through the holes in the wall that he had created, and retrieved the items that he needed. He smirked, as they weren’t even locked away. This had proved to be easy after all.

As he moved past the lifeless body of Critock, he thought about ending his life once and for all. The thought exited his mind as quickly as it had entered it. No, far better for him to have to live with his failure, and with the knowledge that everything that had happened was his fault and his alone. Opening the cockpit and climbing inside, he figured that Critock would end his life himself within a cycle.

Pt’ron could see by the overhead radar that the authorities were approaching. He knew it wasn’t this planet’s police by the speed and formation by which they were responding. No, these were soldiers. Critock may have chased him down with only vengeance on his mind, but backup was never far away. It did not worry him, however, they weren’t expecting this.

As the first military vehicles arrived at the spaceport, the protective dome over the top of the building shattered from the force of a starship crashing through it. Pt’ron’s second stolen vehicle of the day was just powerful enough to accelerate through the closed structure, though the glass covering seemed to be more of a decoration rather than any type of real protection. As the sharp pieces fell below, some cutting Critock’s body further as he stirred from his pummeling, the starship flew away from the desert planet. Pt’ron let a large smile envelop his face as he exited the atmosphere and entered space. He had done it. He clutched the shards, still in his hand, and breathed out in relief, then studied them. Such a small thing that would eventually give him such great power...If it was his power to have, that is. Unfortunately, he was tasked to deliver these items. Two small crystals, resembling red rubies. The pursuit of which had doomed civilizations and killed untold trillions of people the galaxies over. Powerless but for centuries from now, when their activation would give their owner the abilities of a God. Pt’ron was going to give it all up, for no small reward of course. You did not back out on an agreement with this individual, no matter what the prize. Noticing two fleet vessels approaching, not yet in firing range, he quickly set his course, and in a flash of purple and red, the starship tore a hole in subspace, and disappeared from sight.

Critock rose to his knees, looking up at the gaping hole in the structure above him. His fists clenched as the military personnel gathered around him, offering him aid. He stood up slowly, ignoring them. Aid was the last thing he needed right now. The call for vengeance still shouted within him, and he could not ignore it. He looked around the personnel quickly, searching for a familiar face. Finding it, he strode over quickly to the Commander of this squad, a short, tiny-faced man with hair on the sides of his head but nowhere else.

“I need a ship.” The Squad Commander was caught off guard as Critock walked right past him, with no acknowledgement other than the request. He quickly turned to follow.

“Sir!” Critock ignored the Commander’s calling. “Sir!” He walked past a few occupied fighters, landed but not yet empty, before he found what he was looking for.

The Commander finally caught up to Critock as he was climbing into the pilot’s seat of the TC-657 Warper, ignoring the markings that clearly denoted this craft as the Commander’s. He waved his arms frantically as he yelled towards Critock. “Haven’t you done enough?”

Critock shook his head, sighing. “Not yet.” He laid his hands on the screens, getting a quick feel for the controls. The ship wasn’t the most advanced, but it had an impressive load out, including a few experimental weapons. It would do nicely for what he had in mind. He glanced over at the Squad Commander, a small voice in his mind whispering for him to go back and apologize. But this wasn’t the time for standard military procedures. Every moment he wasted Pt’ron got that much farther away from him. He had probably already escaped the initial scouts, and the trail would soon grow cold. He gave a quick salute, and closed the canopy. Already he could see a few other soldiers began to head towards him, knowing that something wasn’t quite right. There was nothing that any of them could do. The ship took no time at all to power back up, as it had just arrived. Tapping a couple panels, the Warper moved through the sky, on the exact course that Pt’ron had taken. Hopefully he would still be able to track the signature from the subspace rupture. If not, he had a pretty good idea where to look.

The silver starship slowed to a stop after coming out of the rupture, then switched seamlessly to emergency power. A couple of hours of this, and there’d be no evidence he ever went this way. Not that the fleet would be tracking him this far out. With every light-year that went by, the probability that the tracking systems would find him lessened. Nobody would think to look here, on the edge of what many considered one of the most dangerous places in the universe: The Katron ice fields.

He liked coming here, and always had. The constant destruction of the countless freezing crystals and the subsequent reforming calmed him, and helped him to remember that while nothing lasts forever, even in the farthest reaches of space, things would always find a way to come back together again in new and interesting ways. The fact that daredevils would often attempt to pilot through the constantly moving crystals always gave him a laugh, as it always ended badly for the pilots. He himself had attempted to fly through the less dangerous portions, but never to the interior. No one sane would ever go that far. Another reason for coming out here was the solitude. It was a great place to hide if it ever came down to it, and so it had.

He tapped his console, giving a small amount of power to the communications array. He thought it wise to give his benefactor his whereabouts, in case she became antsy and sent her legions to hunt him down. There was no fear that the conversation would be traced back to his location. No one would be listening on the other end that his benefactor didn’t want. He placed the Shards back in their bag and patted it, knowing what a large commodity they were, and knowing that half the universe would be here to collect them if they knew where he was.

The communication went through in a moment, and a woman in a dark room appeared. All that Pt’ron could clearly see was her eyes, and they were a bright, terrifying red. He assumed that the woman had utilized some complicated surgery on herself to give the proper effect. Whatever the cause, it was definitely working. It never failed to simultaneously terrify and intimidate. He struggled to speak with just her visage on the screen.

“My mistress...”

The humanoid figure, clutching a scepter decorated with an ornate ruby-like display, stared Pt’ron down. “You were to contact me a long time before now.”

“I know, forgive me. I have collected the Shards, they are yours...”

“Mine! You Kari Kim’cha! You have every military within a trillion miles looking for you! Do you think I want you leading them to my doorstep?” She calmed her voice suddenly.“Or is it that you want my destruction...” She gripped her scepter menacingly.

“No! Never! I simply wish to fulfill my end of the bargain!”

“And you shall. The bargain was never yours to begin with, however. My bargain was with the Shards, and so they will be recovered, in due time. My...minions will recover them when the war has truly burned itself out. Sometime I would think around their awakening.”

Pt’ron thought for a half moment, knowing that he would not be able to survive for long without his leader’s protection. “Have mercy! What would you have me do?”

Without a second glance, Pt’ron’s leader glanced away dismissively. “Hide.”

“The shards won’t be activated for a thousand cycles! Until their power is restored I am vulnerable!”

“Then you had better find a good hiding spot. I do not care for failure, nor fools, and thus far you have proven yourself to be both. If the proper time comes and you have not caused further disaster, perhaps you will have a place in the legions. Until then, do not disturb me again.” There was a brief buzz of static as the connection closed, and then nothing, just a black screen.

Without a moment to register his shock, suddenly he both heard and felt laser shots hitting the hull. Four or five distinct blasts striking right above his head. Jumping up in his seat and restoring power to everything the shots did not damage, Pt’ron looked out the windows at who had found him. He was not surprised at the answer.

Critock lazily swung his Warper around for another pass. It was child’s play to locate the starship, due to the size of the hole torn in subspace. The garbled communication coming from uninhabited space didn’t help matters for Pt’ron, but truthfully Critock would’ve been able to locate him without any of the help he had received. He knew Pt’ron, and knew he would come here. ‘The best hiding place in the universe’, he had always called it. Unless of course the person trying to find you knew where it was. He fired another series of blasts, right as Pt’ron’s vessel had gotten its shields up.

As Critock’s shots were absorbed by the field of energy surrounding his ship, Pt’ron cursed. He should have known that his old friend would have recovered far quicker than he hoped. Now that his ego was wounded along with his pride, his need for vengeance would have increased. He scanned the console wildly, hoping against hope for something, anything, that would help him turn the tide against the surprise attack that seemed certain to end his life. Unfortunately, it seemed he was incredibly outmatched. This was a glorified civilian vessel, built for speed and comfort, not war. He looked at the Heads-Up-Display, and realized that if speed was the only thing that this ship was good at, it would have to do.

The targeting sensors were locked on to Pt’ron’s vessel. Critock allowed himself a smirk as he prepared to fire. Vengeance and anger had now clouded his mind, and all he could think of was silencing the ghost of his love, his intended, his Shau’ri. The voice called to him to finish it, to end her call and his suffering. Yet as his finger closed on the panel he was denied yet again as the targeted vessel suddenly accelerated away, in the last direction that Critock expected: the ice fields.

Mad with fear and the incredible desire to get away, Pt’ron knew that his only chance was to escape into the fields. There were few that could navigate the exterior clouds let alone the interior crystals as they spun and crashed in an endless dance of destruction, beautiful at a distance yet deadly up close. He was a good pilot, but he knew that he would need an extraordinary amount of luck to survive the fields. Better odds there, he figured, than with Critock’s rage. The starship entered the freezing cloud, the lowered temperature affecting the systems as the lights flickered, but luckily for Pt’ron the engines held. It would not be any colder within the crystal field, so at least that would not be an issue.

For Critock, there was no question about what he must do next. If Pt’ron thought he could survive the fields, then so would he. He knew he was the better pilot, so if it would just be skill that decided victory today, then this would be a short flight. He also knew, however, that luck and chance would be everything once they entered the interior. He hoped he had built up enough karma to keep him alive long enough to watch his enemy burn amongst the ice, perhaps having foolishly followed his reflection right into one of the outcroppings. It was this thought that caused Critock to smile an empty, crazed smile, which faded as he refocused himself. He couldn’t just think he was the better pilot, he had to be the better pilot. This was the only way to win the day. His eyebrows furrowed, he accelerated, and his vessel followed Pt’ron into the clouds and the endlessly spinning crystal fields.

Pt’ron had hoped for an instant that Critock would do the intelligent thing and let him go. The war was over, he would still have his victory. But the thoughts of vengeance and pride must have been too much for him, he assumed, and so the chase would continue in this dangerous arena. Pt’ron increased his speed as fast as he could, not as fast as the vessel would go but still within controllable limits. At least he hoped they were controllable, as he didn’t have much experience with this type of ship. He deftly maneuvered around an outcropping of ice, to the left and to the right, moving up a little in the process. His eyes glanced to the radar, but it was a mess of whiteness with the multiple crystals affecting the systems. He hoped Critock’s was malfunctioning as well, as he would need every piece of luck he could get at this point.

Indeed Critock’s was, but he didn’t notice, so focused was he at maneuvering around and matching Pt’ron’s motions as best as possible. In perfect formation, as though they were putting on a show, the two spaceships moved up and around and under the various crystals. Critock did not let up for an instant, using everything he could to quickly bring this to an end. They were still on the outskirts of the exterior cloud, and it would get much more dangerous the farther in they went.

In front and to the left of them, two crystals came together in a spectacular crash which sent large pieces of themselves floating quickly towards the two fliers. Pt’ron reacted solely on instinct, diving out of the way, overcoming the crystal shards and simply outrunning them. Critock saw a place to press his advantage and he did so, firing carefully and slowing his speed slightly. The lasers he fired quickly melted the ice in front of him, and he was able to fly straight through the crystals, dodging the larger pieces by turning sideways, with the intent of overtaking his adversary on the other side. To his surprise, however, once he was through nobody was there to meet him. He flipped his ship around and scanned the area, with no sign of Pt’ron at all. Now he was well within the ice fields, with no way to track his enemy. Any advantage he had was lost.

Pt’ron had watched as he dove out of the way, and noted that Critock had decided to take the direct route. Quickly finding an opening, he did an 180 degree vertical turn and flew back up, dodging the now smaller pieces of ice that he was heading towards. He flew straight, going deeper into the ice fields in the process, but to a place where Critock would have no idea where he went. This pleased him greatly, and he immediately began planning his next move. He supposed he could keep an eye on the other vessel to better plan, attempting to use what little defenses this craft had to attack and finish the job he should have completed not even an hour before. But even as the thought came up, he dismissed it. He could not win in a straight fight. This was a civilian vessel used for transport, and Critock’s was a military ship designed for combat with multiple enemies. It would be a short battle and not one that would end in Pt’ron’s favor. He decided to fly deeper, hoping that he would be able to dodge the crystals and lose his enemy even more than he already had.

Critock knew that Pt’ron could have gone in any direction, so he decided to go straight down, working his way through the bends and twists of this section of ice. It was more a cavern than a field in this area, endless shards having melted together to form a maze of glaciers endlessly floating and moving through the stars. He moved through it, getting deeper and deeper into the field before he finally gave up in this direction, spinning his ship around and retracing his steps back upward.

Pt’ron had not stayed on the same course for long. His innate paranoia was playing tricks on him, and every minute or so he would change course, sometimes to the complete opposite way. It was because of this that he had not gotten that far away from Critock, and in fact was now losing ground to him yet again. Sweat from nervousness had returned to Pt’ron’s brow, as he checked his useless sensors and rear displays at least ten times a minute. There was nothing that wasn’t ice, but he could swear he saw something. Something that was not just the reflection of his own ship, but another ship. Sometimes, many ships. And faces. Faces staring at him accusingly. Each time he shook it off, and each time they returned quicker and quicker. He shook himself one more time and was brought back to reality by a series of red lasers moving past him to the right, to strike a crystal. Now realizing that Critock had really shown up, he allowed himself a moment of levity at Critock’s aim. That was, until a giant ice shard created by the immense heat of Critock’s lasers came crashing down towards Pt’ron. His innards leapt into his chest as he, completely on instinct, spun around and went in the opposite direction, directly at Critock.

Critock was caught off guard at this, especially when Pt’ron fired what little weapons he had. With the excitement and with his clouded vision, Critock had neglected to turn his shielding on, and a red report came over the panels explaining the damage that had been caused. A string of Marconian curses came out as Critock assessed the damage and flipped his vessel around simultaneously. Nothing important thankfully, at least nothing he would need. Critock powered forward, determined not to lose him.

Pt’ron was not satisfied with the damage done to Critock’s ship. His own ship had little offensive capabilities, and that could not have been shown more clearly but from the pitiful performance of the cutting laser that had just been displayed. It was primarily used for moving asteroids out of the way, not for the attempted destruction of a heavily armored ship! If his shields had been up, Critock would not have even noticed the attack! As it was, Pt’ron was sure that he had caused nothing but to make his old friend angrier and that was the last thing he wanted to do. A vengeful Critock he might be able to deal with. An angry Critock was something else entirely. There was no hope now to lose him, now that he was even slightly wounded. His pride had already suffered so much this day, and now taking fire from this weakling of a vessel would only escalate things. Deeper in...that was the only escape now. Deeper into the recesses of the ice fields. The danger that Pt’ron faced in there would be far less than if he were to challenge Critock again. He executed a perfect swan dive between two crystals, increasing his speed and narrowly missing being speared through by a particular sharp shard. Critock matched him, any regard for his own safety forgotten. Together they moved in and out of the increasingly perilous encounter, closer to the center of the Katron ice fields.

At last Pt’ron had lost Critock again, having made an incredibly sharp left, then diving around and into a right turn. The intense forces impacting his body almost caused him to black out and only his fear of being caught kept him conscious. Even then he was surprised when he realized that his pursuer had once again disappeared from sight.

He was lost again, this time ever so close to the center of the fields, a place that few had ever seen. Those that made it this far were merely lucky, and most would not be able to repeat their luck to escape. Curiosity won a sudden battle in his soul, the want to see the sight so often denied to mortals. But he wasn’t mortal any more, was he? He thought hard as he clutched the Shards to him. At least he wouldn’t be, pending him surviving this test. And that’s all this was, really. A test to determine if he was worthy of these ancient gifts. Only time and escape separated him from what he believed to be his rightful place and his rightful power. His fears alleviated momentarily, he nudged his vessel forward into a small tunnel that was barely big enough to maneuver through. But he made it, focused on this new task to see the unseen, even if it was only a distraction. If nothing else, it was somewhere that he would never be found. Critock would never think to look for him in here. It was only chance that had led himself in here to begin with.

Not knowing what to expect, his breath was still taken away by the sight that awaited him when he exited the cavern. The Katron ice fields had formed in such a way that in their center there was simply a hollowed out sphere, completely constructed of ice but allowing for plenty of space on the inside. He knew that the purpose and reason for this sphere was not for him to know, and he didn’t care. For all he knew, it was made just for him to hide within. Critock would look forever for him out there. Let him freeze, let him burn for all he cared. He would wait it out in here for a few days, maybe longer if this ship carried any supplies. He had called the fields the perfect hiding place, never knowing just how true it was. So he sat, powering down his vessel to where only life-support would sustain him, this time not needing any communications. Let those that would control him burn with the rest of time. He had the Shards, soon enough he would be invincible! For once, it would be his leader bowing to him! Yes, the universe would bow to Pt’ron, and Pt’ron would bow to no one!

Lost in his fantasy of domination, he caught a face out of the corner of his eye and jumped, almost firing a shot before relaxing at the sight of his own reflection. Looking back in the opposite direction he saw himself again, and as he glanced around the sheer ice crystals that formed this sphere he realized that he was surrounded by identical ships and identical faces staring out of identical cockpits. He was not alone in here, not anymore.

The reflections took on a dark, accusatory look, glaring their hatred at him. He squinted and tried to shake it off. Surely this was just a delusion. He had no doubt that the intensity of the past few days had made him slightly insane, but he was not crazy, he knew that much. A little megalomaniacal, maybe, but who wasn’t? And if he wasn’t crazy...

The faces continued their ceaseless stare. Their eyes burned into him angrily, hatred seeming to exude from their pupils. They did not blink, they did not tire. And in Pt’ron’s head, they began to speak. Not just speak, but to yell, spit, and rage against him, against everything that he had done or would do. They attempted to convince him of his evil, how his actions had doomed entire worlds. Entire civilizations...and her. Blinking once, he saw her face in a reflection. He rubbed his eyes. Surely this could not be happening! But indeed to him it was, and all of the faces seemed to morph into the face of his love. His dead love. Dead because of Critock, of course...But why was she accusing him? Why did she call him a murderer? Why was she now asking why he killed her, after all they had been through together? She, Critock and himself, once all together in friendship and in war...and now it had all come to this. A togetherness forged by fate and conflict that led to a deeper bonding on the battlefields of the war, a war that she now blamed on him! And now she was gone, and the two remaining friends now hunting each other across the stars.

“No...” He muttered silently. “It wasn’t me. It wasn’t my fault...He did this...” He repeated the words, but her face remained constant, her voice ringing in his ears. “NO! HE DID THIS!” No change, only her stare. He had had enough, all reason and sanity had left him. This wasn’t her, this was just another trick, undoubtedly designed by Critock himself. And so there was only one way to deal with this. Screaming at the face, he began firing his cutting lasers into the sides of the sphere, and they seared through the surprisingly thin walls as a knife cuts through butter. In an instant, the sphere began to collapse inward. Pt’ron had a brief instant of triumph as her face disappeared into the crashing ice, only to realize his folly. He turned his ship around and accelerated quickly, but not quick enough as the sphere collapsed upon him, shards and crystals raining down upon his small ship.

Critock could not miss the destruction of the sphere, though it had initially escaped his attention since from his view it appeared to be solid. He paused his increasingly fruitless search to watch the top half begin to fall, causing the flimsy shell to explode outward in a blaze of small ice shards. The shrapnel bounced harmlessly off Critock’s shields, and once the threat seemed to have passed, he decided to risk a closer look.

What he saw didn’t surprise him as much as it probably should have. There floated Pt’ron’s ship, battered by the ice, and completely defenseless. He put his finger on the trigger as he watched a bloodied Pt’ron struggle with the controls, and watched as he came to realize that Critock’s eyes were upon him, and this time there was no escape.

It seemed so simple to Critock that after everything that had happened, the only thing he had to do was send one simple stream of fire, and it all would be over. It didn’t seem fair, really, considering all the suffering that Pt’ron had caused him, to say nothing of the atrocities that he inflicted on the rest of the universe in the name of the Shards and of his Mistress. The idea came to him then, a vengeful, even evil idea. After everything he had gone through to get to this point, he found that he didn’t care about the consequences. In a haze of righteous fury, Critock switched his firing controls. No longer would he be sending Pt’ron to his death quickly. But neither would he capture his foe and take him back to ‘the proper authorities’. No, this would be true justice, not something as simple as a painless flash of light and fire. He depressed the firing trigger as he stared at Pt’ron, his face emotionless.

The silver steam surged out of the military ship, striking Pt’ron’s vessel on the back end. In seconds, where it had hit was completely frozen over, and it was spreading. Ice was forming on the interior where Pt’ron was now pounding uselessly on the windows. But it was too late for him. The ice had now reached Pt’ron’s leg, and in an instant it spread across his body to his other one. The only thing he could move now was his head, and he looked up, shaken by fear and rage, as the ice crawled across it. His entire body sat frozen, covered by ice and extreme cold. The weapon that Critock had used was an experimental device meant to temporarily place it’s victim in a state of suspended animation, brought on by a state of being essentially flash-frozen. In anything but the cold vacuum of space, it only lasted mere moments, long enough to subdue whomever it struck. The weapon was rare, and Critock was lucky enough to have chosen a ship which had the prototype installed. In later times, it would be banned by peace accords due to long term suspended animation causing madness. Here and now, Critock had just tested it out on his enemy, and it worked. Pt’ron would float forever as one of the crystals, the cold of space keeping him infinitely locked. Critock hoped that Pt’ron was not truly unconscious. He wished for his mind to stay awake, locked in a hell unlike any other Critock could imagine. He watched him float away, the silent look of perpetual pleading in Pt’ron’s eyes fading as the ship became smaller, and soon indistinguishable from any other ice shard. If Pt’ron was lucky, he would strike another crystal and be annihilated. As Critock maneuvered his vessel to exit the ice field, taking as much care as he could to not end up destroyed himself, he prayed that Pt’ron would be unlucky, very unlucky indeed.

As the war closed, much of the historical records dealt with the rebuilding of the great alliances and federations and councils. Marconia reasserted itself as the central governing power, and the Qua’roti reigned.

Critock was stripped of his service record and rank due to depriving the Government the Shards, and in the interim little was known about him, other than that he turned his back on Marconia and their rulers, some would say rightly so.

The Katron ice fields were searched lightly for Pt’ron’s body, and more importantly the Shards, but nothing was ever recovered. The danger of the ice was bad enough when you knew what you were looking for, but when your target is identical to everything else around you, the recovery operations proved to be truly impossible. Despite the promise of the greatest power in the universe hidden in plain sight, after a few cycles Pt’ron was officially listed as deceased, and the matter of the great war was put to rest at last. It was assumed that he was likely killed within the fields soon after entering the suspended state.

The fields themselves moved through space as they always had, pulled by the solar winds and gravity pockets. Eventually a small portion fell through a wormhole. This was documented by a survey team, but no more was noted of this. Later, much much later, it was discovered that the portion of the fields had emerged in a small galaxy several million light-years away, where only one planet supported life, and even then it was undeveloped life, unable to detect the fields or approach them. Again, it was documented but deemed unimportant.

If it had been truly unimportant, this would be where the tale would end. Instead, this is where it would begin. While the life there was undeveloped, they and their planet would prove to be more important than anyone could have foreseen.

To the local time customs of this planet, just over two thousand years had passed since the end of the War of the Shards.

The inhabitants, uncultured and undeveloped as they were, simply called their planet:

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