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The Traveller: Sorrow Has The Swiftest Wings – Chapter 1

“Here we go”, said The Traveller, drawing a hearty breath into his borrowed, artificial lungs. “Baxam-Col-Vree, in Consolidation of Species territory – almost on the very edge of the Tai-reh’taran galaxy…”

The air was warm and fragrant, laden with the scents of the lush forests surrounding the small trading station – The Traveller made a point of savouring every sensory experience, for he was very glad to be alive… after a fashion.

Take it easy, now, he told himself. You’re borrowing a body, and it’s one you’re not exactly familiar with. And be thankful you were able to convince Mariella to wear lower heels

***Just don’ make me look like an idiot***, muttered Mariella da Silva, an ever-present ‘voice in the ear’ and the true owner of the synthetic form The Traveller was now occupying. ***I know y’ got loadsa stuff t’ do – important stuff – and I’m okay with ya hitchin’ a ride every now and then…***

***Never fear, Miss da Silva***, The Traveller responded. ***With your guidance, I’ll do my very best to be as… feminine as possible. I must admit, it’s quite a revelation…***

***Just keep y’r hands where it’s decent an’ proper for them t’ go!***, snapped the Earth girl. ***And you betta steer well clear of any tattoo parlours…!***

***You do know you could have any body decoration you wanted, and none of it permanent – don’t you?***, The Traveller told her. ***All-over Maori tattoos in an instant – and gone without a trace just as quickly.***

***What? You been goin’ through my customisation menus?***, exclaimed Mariella. ***Right – look down. Look down at my chest – now!***

The Traveller did as he was asked, and he knew why. ***There – see? I have not given you “a boob job”, and you are not the space-faring equivalent of Lolo Ferrari.***

***An’ y’ betta keep me that way***, growled the girl.

***I think you’re quite lovely the way you are***, the explorer told her. ***At least that’s what I thought when I was running around naked the other day…***

***Hey…!***

The Traveller was already laughing, drawing a bemused look from his companion, Irinati. ***Relax***, he told Mariella. ***I’m just playing with you…***

***That’s exactly what I’m afraid of!***, she snapped back. ***Dammit, I’d kick your ass… if it wasn’t my ass…!***

***I’d love to see you try***, chuckled The Traveller. ***Now, shall we get going, and see whether we’re in the right place this time? Miss Saluq is getting rather agitated…***

It was a poor excuse. Irinati was far from agitated, having drifted off into one of her occasional “daydreams”. The girl was lucid most of the time, but every now and then, she seemed to “switch off”, as though her conscious mind had… leaked out of her, through the hole in her head now closed by a tear-drop of shining metal the size of a thumb-print.

For an unknown length of time, Irinati had been the unwilling bearer of an unusual artefact – a horn of crystal, reputed to be part of a greater whole, that some said was the crystallised soul of a god. Freed from her burden, and her mind at least sometimes her own, Irinati had decided to heed the voice of the spirit of the fragments, and search for the other pieces, with the help of The Traveller, a mysterious agent of Dominion. Together, they had made some progress – until The Traveller almost died.

Critically wounded in a desperate attempt to prevent an entity called “The Emperor” from claiming a foothold in civilised space, The Traveller had been placed in a healing chamber, comatose, but the adventurer had refused to give up on his duties at a time when the universe was still recovering from recent ordeals. While his body was healing, his mind was “hitching a ride” inside the synthetic body of his other companion, the telepathic Earth-girl Mariella da Silva…

Suddenly, Irinati spoke. She asked “Do I call you ‘he’, or ‘she’?”

The Traveller frowned. “Oh – oh, that’s a good one“, the explorer replied. “Hmmm – better be safe than sorry, and stick with ‘she’ and ‘her’. We don’t want to arouse any suspicion.”

Reaching into the pocket of her waistcoat, The Traveller took out what to the uninitiated would appear to be an oversized pocket-watch, or compass, with a well-worn and deeply-engraved brass case, and flipped it open with a much-practiced flick of the wrist. This was no mere mechanical time-keeping device – this was the “Omnisensor”, a scanning device The Traveller had devised all by himself, and refined over the many years of his adventures. “So, we appear to have a trace of shard-energy in this neighbourhood”, she declared, after studying the results of the Omnisensor’s scans, “but it doesn’t seem to be enough to indicate the immediate presence of our mystery superhero – especially if Darkhawk’s report was accurate, and he has three of the fragments…”

The Traveller started off down the hill towards the trading post. “Let’s go see what the locals have to tell us”, she said to Irinati, who quickly fell in step beside the adventure. “If we haven’t managed to find our… target this time, we can at least get a better idea of where he’s likely to be, and hopefully arrange a bit of convergence.”

Convergence – Irinati’s “catch-phrase”, which was usually uttered whenever the girl emerged from one of her trances, or deduced the location of another shard by staring into the Tanusov Matrix, the almost infinitely complex equation that served as a key part of the navigation system of The Traveller’s ship, The Endless Sunrise. On this occasion, the young woman said nothing – and The Traveller had the distinct impression that his companion was far from happy with this particular adventure. It would, after all, involve stripping a hero, a champion of justice and order, of his powers…

…o O o…

In orbit around the planet Lakaz-Col-Vree – two point two light-years from Baxam-Col-Vree…

Jason “Psilancer” Derwent, leader of the famous Adventurers’ Guild of Kraan, tensed as the communications interface of his team’s starship and mobile home, the Pride of Kraan II, beeped at him insistently. During this current “tour of duty”, patrolling the edge of civilised space, just about every planetary authority had been eager to talk with such prestigious visitors of Consolidation of Species space, and as leader of the team, Jason had had to sit and talk to them all, sometimes only listening as their hosts fell victim to severe bouts of verbal incontinence.

The hero felt momentarily inclined to responding to whoever was demanding his attention with a precision-targeted plasma torpedo – until he saw who was calling. This was a call he was more than happy to take…

The face that appeared on his office’s main view-screen was not some alien out of hundreds of species in this region, but a young woman with dark brown skin, tumbling red hair held back by a silver scarf, and eyes that gleamed with inner magic. “Hi, Sis”, he sighed, slumping back in his chair now that he knew he could finally relax. “How’s things on Sentinel?”

Za’Lita Derwent, Beloved of Zallah, the magically-endowed heroine known as The Paragon smiled back at him. “It’s early days yet, Jason, but I think approaching the Tai-reh’tara problem through religious channels may just work. Ever since it became known that The Pandemonicum had been influencing them telepathically, the Tai-reh’tarans have been in a serious panic-state, and many of them are turning to their gods.”

“One of whom you work for”, Jason observed. “I know why you’re doing this – and why you stayed behind – but still…” – he sighed again, and rubbed the bridge of his nose – “…I wish you were out here with us.”

“To share the leadership duties?”, asked Za’Lita. “Diplomacy getting you down…?”

Jason leaned back in his chair, and closed his eyes. “A bit.”

“Would you rather be fighting through fleets of enemies every step of the way, like a video game with a broken random encounter generator?”

“No”, he murmured. “Well, not all the time.”

“Then stop complaining”, said Za’Lita, sharply. “At least you get a change of scenery. I’m stuck here at the Tai-reh’taran Embassy, and my only choice of location is the conference room here, the conference room at the Dominion Embassy or the meeting room on the Station’s diplomatic deck. Not exactly thrilling.”

“I’ll see your ‘not exactly thrilling’, and raise you a ‘major disappointment’”, said Jason, smiling. “Just the other day, we received word from the local authorities that one of their deep-space scanning arrays had ceased transmitting. We went out to investigate, expecting trouble – even a collision with a stray refuse pod…”

“And what happened?”

“Some idiot on the last service detail forgot to plug a secondary power cable into one of the cooling plants“, growled Jason, pressing his fists against his temples to try and stop his head from exploding in frustration. “It took us the best part of a day to track down the problem, and what thanks did we get? All the head of their corps of engineers could say was ‘Oh – really…?’”

Za’Lita clearly wanted to laugh, but restrained herself. “Such are the trials of the honourable”, she said, reaching for a tall, plastic drinking vessel. “Still, diplomacy does have its perks – like refreshment breaks…”

Jason sat forward, eyes widening as he slid to the edge of his seat. “That isn’t… is it…?

“Jane Graham’s Speciality Dark Chocolate and Honey Milkshake?”, said Za’Lita, smiling over the rim of her beaker. “Got it in one.”

She took a sip…

…and the two Derwents made telepathic contact across the gulp between Sentinel Station, orbiting Mystalorn, and the Edge Territories under the rule of The Consolidation of Species – a distance of several thousand light years. Some psionicists were powerful enough to make contact over interstellar distances, but it took more than that to bridge a distance that great – an exceptional level of power, a sibling bond…

Jason found his taste-buds stimulated from outside, and he was able to savour the milkshake for himself. Powdered dark chocolate… Sylinian honey… milk from the Stexosian gur’sho – all lovingly blended at The Setting Sin by the club’s owner, in person. “Thank you“, he murmured. “Not quite the same as the real thing, but I needed that.”

Za’Lita took a moment to enjoy the drink herself, then set it aside. “You’ll be pleased to know that your daughter is settling in nicely”, she said. “There is actually a proper school now, albeit with no more than a dozen students, and only two at Sable’s level, but still, she’s getting chances to interact with a whole lot of other races. of course she loves being around the Yituron – I’m surprised she hasn’t grown a tail yet.”

Jason laughed. His daughter Sable had received most of her formal education on Yituron, far away from the AGK’s often dangerous work, so it was to be expected that the girl would gravitate to what she knew best. “She’s naturally good at making friends”, he said to Za’Lita. “She can fit in anywhere.”

Za’Lita nodded. “There is one person she seems to be forming a bond with”, she said, somewhat hesitantly, “and I’m not entirely sure how you’re going to react…”

“Tell me”, insisted Jason. “It’s a boy, isn’t it?”

“No”, Za’Lita replied. “It’s Brighthawk.

Brighthawk – “Soul-Sister” of Darkhawk, and the new ruler of Dominion, thought Jason. “Do you think that’s a good thing?”

“Actually, yes”, his sister answered. “Brighthawk has been rather dumped into the job of running Dominion, although I’m wondering whether she’s more of a figurehead than a ‘hands-on’ leader. Whatever the truth is, she’s still a frightened young woman who needs all the friends she can get.”

“We all need stability”, Jason told her. “Especially Brighthawk. Thanks for letting me know, Sis.”

“My pleasure…”

Za’Lita was interrupted by the chirping of the office door’s comm-panel, and Jason, sensing who was outside, let his guest in without hesitation. In swept Suya, the heroine known as Warpsinger, and Jason’s wife. “Oh”, she gasped. “I didn’t know I was interrupting…”

“Not at all”, assured Za’Lita as the slender, dark-skinned woman, in a floor-length pure white casual gown, floated over to kiss her husband. “Keeping busy?”

Suya sat in Jason’s lap, and rested her head on his shoulder. “We have the usual regular training sessions, I practice with my powers, but other than that… I can’t even make clothes for Sable any more, ’cause she’s growing so fast, and buys a lot of her own things…”

“So I noticed”, said a smiling Za’Lita. “But it could be a whole lot worse; be thankful she’s not going Hyrkulean on us.”

It was the custom for the Hyrkuleans, beautiful giants, to wear jewellery, some kind of footwear, and nothing else, and Jason was indeed grateful. “At least she could pull it off”, he said, “like her mother…”

Suya had been examining the end of Jason’s knee-length plait of fiery-red hair, and she reacted to his revelation by whacking his across the chest with it. “Do you mind?“, she squealed. “That is not for public consumption…!”

“And on that note, I think I better sign off for now”, said Za’Lita, looking a little apologetic. “Take care, you guys – and Suya, don’t be too hard on him…”

Jason’s hopes for a quiet life were dashed as Za’Lita disappeared from the view-screen – and Suya pinned him back in his chair, her hands firmly on his shoulders. “Not a chance”, she purred wickedly. “You don’t get off lightly…”

“So I guess that means the dominatrix outfit tonight”, sighed Jason, not particularly disappointed.

“Not tonight”, murmured Suya. “Now.

“I can’t – I still have half my shift to sit through…”

Suya had been unusually playful of late, and Jason’s plea fell on deaf ears. He had just enough time to call for someone else to temporarily assume command of the ship, then Suya was leading him away, gently tugging on his hair like a leash. Opportunities like this didn’t come often for the two of them, first as parents, and then as active members of the Confederacy’s super-powered community… it would be almost blasphemous not to show such passion its due respect…

“Could… could I at least make a request?”, said Jason meekly. “Could you… perhaps… well, wear just the gloves and boots…?”

Suya flashed a frosty stare back over her shoulder at him. “We’ll see”, she replied, coldly. “We’ll see…”

On the way to their apartment on the Upper Gallery Deck, the couple passed an unlit observation port, and something stirred as they walked by. Fleetingly, sister-in-law and brother caught Cloudmane Derwent’s attention, but their actions eluded his understanding, and before they had gone out of view, the white-haired mystic had turned back to the window, and the cosmic panorama beyond the plasti-glass. Something was gnawing away at the back of his mind, something out amongst the stars, and it would do no good to try and tell anyone about it until he knew what it was.

…to be continued…

TRAV101-01