Sqarians had always been secretive and quite distrustful people. Especially towards strangers, and more so if the said stranger had violated one of their most important laws.
As for Varl, they could have resented him for having landed on Xandria and Arkalon, two mysterious desert planets, despite strict interdictions put on them.
But the Sqarians, rather than blaming him, had called him to offer what they called an interesting job... With permission from his superiors - who were as surprised as him - the Ranger soon joined the Sqarian diplomatic cruiser orbiting Eternit, and was received by High Counselor Nara herself.
They were traveling since a few days - towards a destination unknown to Varl - when Nara called him in her office.
- "What do you know of the Anagohats?" was the Counselor's first question.
Varl expected it, having discovered artifacts on Arkalon and a whole abandoned city on Xandria...
His knowledge about that race wasn't much different from that of most people. He knew the Anagohats had had a very advanced technology and that they had disappeared thirty five millennia earlier, leaving no traces but a few ruins here and there...
A long silence followed that short introduction. Then Nara hit a button, making a hologram appear above her desk. A ship, apparently, and a rather big one according to the size of the exploration ships that could be seen on its sides.
- "A Colony Ship", Nara explained. "Each one can carry up to half a million passengers, stuck in artificial hibernation for the duration of the travel. Once its destination reached, the ship is entirely disassembled and all its parts are used for the very colony's construction."
- "Anagohat technology?" Varl asked.
- "In fact," she continued, "a ship like this one was responsible for my people's installation on Sqaria back then."
She smiled at her interlocutor's surprised look.
- "We've willingly hidden these facts for our own security, Ranger Varl."
- "A devastating civil war had erupted amongst us, and before we could have realized it, many other races had suffered from it. Once the war was off, the few survivors left decided to start a new life. We found a virgin world and settled it, and then we stayed far from the rest of the Galaxy until all memories of what we did had disappeared. When we took contact with the other worlds again, we decided to do our best so our previous mistakes couldn't be repeated again."
Varl nodded. Sqarians were also known for their habit to settle problems with diplomacy rather than fighting.
- "That was a rather interesting story, Counselor, but I doubt you would have made me come here just to reveal me one of your most important secrets. I suppose our destination is linked to what you just told me..."
- "You're right, Ranger Varl. We're currently heading for the Andorakh system."
- "I've never heard of it..."
- "And we intend on keeping it like that: Andorakh's location - and even its existence - must be kept secret as long as possible."
Varl felt that bizarre feeling in him, the same feeling he had when he knew he was about to discover something very important.
- "What's happening there, Counselor? Why all the secret?"
Nara sighed and turned the hologram off.
- "We discovered the second Colony Ship three years ago and are currently helping its passengers build a new colony on Andorakh."
Even if he expected something like that, Varl was still surprised by what Nara said. As he was there, unable to say a single word, the Sqarian woman looked at him intensely.
- "There's a huge problem on our hands, Ranger Varl. One of those we can't resolve ourselves. We were hoping you could help us."
Varl took a few seconds to calm himself then nodded.
- "Sure. I'll do my best."
Nineteenth year after the awakening.
Ryin'Lor examined the wound on Dar'Han's right arm and put some disinfectant on it. The younger An'gaat groaned a little at the pain.
- "Hold still," Ryin'Lor said. "I'm nearly done."
He took some bandage and rolled it around his protégé's arm.
- "Nee'Gor didn't really miss you this time. If you hadn't used that trick on him, he could have done some serious harm."
- "Tell me about it..." Dar'Han muttered.
He had several more or less deep cuts all over his body from the fight. It had been one of the most difficult ones he ever had to face, but he wasn't too displeased with the results. He was no real fighter, but he found that using his hiding abilities in the middle of a combat gave him some advantages over his opponent. According to Ryin'Lor, he was even one of the few to be actually able to concentrate enough to use these skills while fighting.
And as a result, he just passed the combat test, the last one required before his graduation from the Semerhok Military Academy.
- "Okay, I'm done. You're as good as new now," Ryin'Lor said.
- "Thanks, Ryin," Dar'Han answered.
He leaned back against Ryin'Lor's chest and closed his eyes. The older An'gaat gasped at first, surprised by the move, but then smiled and began massaging Dar'Han's shoulders.
- "That feels good," the latter whispered between two pleased groans.
- "Glad I can be of some help, boy."
- "You were more than that. Without your advice and help I wouldn't have gone this far."
- "I still think rushing to get all your tests done one year before schedule was a bad idea, but it was your choice and I'm quite proud of how you ultimately managed to do it."
- "You're welcome."
They remained silent for a few moments, just enjoying each other's company. But after a while Ryin'Lor felt some tension in Dar'Han's shoulders.
- "Is there something wrong?" he inquired.
- "I was just thinking..."
- "You never told me why you insisted so much on me following the normal training schedule. At first I thought it was just that you wanted me to stay longer at the Academy."
He didn't say "with you" but the insinuation was pretty clear. Ryin'Lor paused a bit to think about it then faced Dar'Han.
- "What do you think now?"
- "There are other reasons, isn't it?"
Ryin'Lor looked straight into Dar'Han's eyes, then turned his eyes down and sighed.
- "It's true I appreciate your presence and company much more than that of the other students, but it's also true this wasn't the only reason why I tried to keep you here as long as possible. I had my own reasons for doing it, but I couldn't tell you, and still can't. I hope I'll be able to tell you everything when the time is right, though."
Dar'Han took a few moments to think about what he just heard.
- "I'm sorry if I caused you any trouble," he then said. "I guess these reasons were pretty important, weren't they?"
- "They were, but not as much as yourself. I don't resent you for having followed your instincts, especially since you managed very well. And don't worry about any trouble I might get. I'm sure I can deal with it easily."
- "You sure?"
- "As sure as I can be. As I said, you shouldn't worry."
Dar'Han looked at his best friend. He never realized before how much Ryin'Lor had done for him. The other students must have resented him for their close friendship and, knowing them, they must have had gone farther than just words. His superiors must have also taken actions against him for having favored one student above the others. Not to mention how that particular student may have been quite difficult to deal with sometimes...
Dar'Han smiled and put a hand on Ryin'Lor's arm.
- "Ryin, I'll never be able to thank you enough..."
- "Let's forget it. I consider you owe me nothing."
There was an uncomfortable moment of silence before Dar'Han decided to switch to another subject.
- "What are you going to do after my graduation?"
- "Well, you were the last of your group so my job as a secondary instructor here at the Academy won't mean much anymore. I think I could ask about being relocated as a trainer in the knight corps."
- "So you can keep an eye on me?"
- "Hey, who knows?" Ryin'Lor answered with a wide grin.
He then looked at the clock near the head of the bed.
- "Well, look at that. I didn't know it was that late... We should get some rest tonight. Tomorrow will be a very important day..."
- "Indeed," Dar'Han answered. "Just imagine how it'd look if one of us fell asleep right in the middle of the ceremony."
Ryin'Lor laughed and stood up.
- "If that happens, you'll have to teach me the basics of hiding because I won't dare to appear in public anymore!"
- "I'll think about it," Dar'Han said with a wide grin.
- "You'd better. Have a good night, boy."
- "You too. And... thanks again."
Ryin'Lor smiled and stepped out of the room.
Sha'Alya had just finished her preparations and was about to go to bed when the comm unit beeped. When she saw the ID of the caller on her computer's screen, she knew it was something important. She pushed a button, accepting the call. Her nephew's face appeared on-screen, and she quickly noticed he was calling from his room at the Academy. Something very important must have had happened.
- "What is it about, Ryin'Lor?"
- "I was calling to tell you the last member of Alpha group has passed his final tests today."
- "What? Already? You told me he shouldn't have until several months!"
- "He's very stubborn, as I told you. He's very talented too. He may be the best candidate in the whole group."
- "We can't wait anymore, Ryin. You have to take him out of the picture and get back here..."
Ryin'Lor didn't answer immediately. His expression turned to a mix of apprehension and determination.
- "Sorry, Aunt Alya. I can't do that."
- "What are you saying?"
- "You can't just ask me to kill him like that..."
Sha'Alya lost her temper.
- "I won't let any feelings you may have for him stand in our way, Ryin'Lor! It's not a matter about your life or his here. It's about our cause, our people's lives. I won't let you jeopardize everything we fought for!"
- "I know that. You may think my feelings for Dar'Han could alter my judgment, but do you really consider eliminating him as the best solution? Phae'Ren will just select the next Alpha member and train him to take his place. But on another side, if we can convince Dar'Han to be our agent, we'll gain an invaluable asset against our opponents."
- "That's too much risk to take, Ryin'Lor. You can't even be sure your protégé won't turn against yourself once he discovers who you are."
- "That won't happen. I give you my word on that."
Sha'Alya looked intensely at her nephew. Her mind raced to see the pros of the cons of Ryin'Lor's plan. He was right about the advantages they could get by having an agent in Phae'Ren's elite troops, but was that worth all the risks?
- "Okay, Ryin'Lor. We'll see what happens from now. Keep an eye on that boy and ensure his loyalty as soon as possible. But I warn you: if he ever starts turning against us, I'll make sure he'll be taken care of swiftly, do you understand?"
Ryin'Lor nodded then turned off the communicator. Sha'Alya sat on a chair, thinking about what just happened and hoping she took the correct decision.
The following morning, a large ceremony took place for the last year's graduation. Dressed in their very complex and very elegant ceremonial costumes, the students were called one after the other and were given the marks of their new status as official soldiers.
In the audience, Ryin'Lor was lost in his thoughts. The conversations he had with both Dar'Han and Sha'Alya ran through his mind. He constantly wondered if he took the correct decisions, if playing the whole Rebellion's fate on his opinion about Dar'Han was fair. He worked so hard to get access to the members of Alpha group, but he never expected to befriend or even get close to one of them. Confused in his feelings, was searching for a clue proving he was right.
The cannons around the academy were fired towards the sky, meaning the ceremony's end. Ryin'Lor looked at Dar'Han, standing in the middle of students much older than him. The young soldier's expression was so happy... Would he really accept to fight against the institution he always dreamt being a part of?
Dar'Han spotted his friend and smiled at him. When he saw that, Ryin'Lor temporarily forgot his problems and gladly returned the smile, applauding with the rest of the audience.
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Chapter 1 - Beginning a new life
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15 years ago