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Rei never thought she would find herself on this planet once again. Then again,

there was a lot about her life she had never imagined happening. As she stared blankly

out the vehicle’s window at the landscape she once knew like the back of her hand,

she felt more agitation than nostalgia, more lost than finding security in the familiar. A

sob rose in her throat, but it was a cough that escaped her lips.

“You okay?” her driver asked as he stopped behind a blockade of traffic. He

engaged the secondary engines which sent them into a hover mode.

“I’m fine,” she snapped. “I am just going to be glad when we get back to the ship.

This planet’s air is a bit too…. heavy for my liking.”

“Me too,” he agreed and turned his attention on either side as he lowered them

back to be even with the other vehicles on the road. “We’re getting so many damn

looks for this.”

“Well, sadly, this is the only vehicle we have right now.”

“Still, not a way to keep a low profile like you wanted.”

“If someone didn’t always use the ability to fly over these old models we

wouldn’t be that much different than the rest.”

“I thought you wanted to get there fast.”

The car banked into a long, gravel driveway lined with pine trees. The pair fell

silent as Rei resumed staring out the window as they passed. Before long, the gravel

turned to cement that was in the midst of being reclaimed by plant life and a decent

sized house came into view. The car stopped right beside the house, settling down

with a slight thud. The man winced at the noise, but he pulled his hands away from

the controls as the vehicle powered down and grabbed for the door handle.

“Afraid you might have broken something on your toy, Yeke?” Rei asked as she

pulled on the hem of her skirt, metal keys in her free hand.

“Yes!” Yeke cried. “I don’t need Chia pissed at me for giving her another thing to

fix, and then you’ll be pissed because Chia will complain to you about my supposed

incompetence.”

Rei’s door opened with a hiss, “Then don’t break it.” She stepped out, heels

clicking on the pavement, and looked out over the overgrown yard. It was like

standing in the middle of a wild field; tree branches met grass, creating walls of

foliage. As she turned to the house, it was in decent shape. The clearest damage was

part of the chimney lying in the grass while vines climbed up the edges of what was

still standing, and the few broken windows. The paint on the siding was faded from

time, but other than that it could have been a place still full of life. She left her door

open and walked to the house, her vivid red hair whipping about her face in the brisk,

spring breeze giving her time to keep her emotions in check. Goosebumps rose along

her arms and legs as she reached for the door, the keys fumbled in her hand as she

selected the proper one and inserted it in the lock. The door swung inward easily with

a loud creaking noise that echoed in the silence.

Rei peeked down the entrance hall; the interior was dark and unwelcoming with

long cobwebs visible as they hung at the edge of the light from the door.

“Looks like something that gives kids nightmares,” Yeke comment dryly from

behind her.

“I doubt we’ll come across anything remotely like that,” Rei replied. “Come on—

the sooner we find what we’re here for, the better.”

She led the way inside. Their feet cast little puffs of dust into the air as they went.

“Where do we start?” Yeke asked, looking around.

“Anywhere--your guess is as good as mine. Unfortunately, my information isn’t

that specific.” She looked around the hall. “I’ll take the back rooms, you start up here.

I want this done fast but not half-assed.”

“Gotcha.”

Rei continued down the hall. Around the bend her left hand was suddenly

smothered. She looked down and bit back a scream at the thick coat of cobwebbing.

She frantically shook it clear until she felt safe to move on, paying extra care to avoid

further incidents.

With a deep breath, she stepped in the nearest room and paused just inside the

door way. Her gaze traveled over the dressers and tables lining the walls, taking in the

chipped paint and half-fallen posters.

It probably doesn’t have more than teenage secrets, but still… She sighed; and

strode over to the nearest promising thing—a dresser—and yanked open a drawer.

Inside was clothing waiting for days that would likely never come; she flipped

through each article, not trying to keep things neat. Her hand swept over the bottom

before she threw it closed and pulled out the next drawer to repeat the process.

She abandoned the dresser, walked over to the queen sized bed and lifted the

mattress. Underneath was a notebook and an office envelope that bulged with its

contents. She picked up both before dropped the mattress back down, sending a

cascade of dust in the air. She coughed as she flicked through the notebook while

keeping a tight grip on the envelope. Just what I thought; it’s full of teenage musings,

crushes, and dreams. She tossed it back onto the mattress. Too bad most never got

realized.

The contents of the envelope were dumped on the bed as well and she began to

rifle through. Old notes from friends, some random information from classes, a couple

photos of a smiling group of women in smart looking dresses… Rei fought to keep

from roaring her frustrations and instead strode from the room.

The next room Rei charged into was an office. A large desk sat against a wall

littered with writing utensils and knickknacks. In the corner a computer sat with a

broken screen while the chair rested on the floor as though it had been thrown there.

Rei passed all this for the moment and knelt by one of the side tables, examining a

safe tucked underneath. She fiddled with the combination lock, trying a few different

possible ones with no luck.

“Anything?” Yeke’s voice came from the doorway.

Rei’s hand immediately unholstered the gun she had secured to her thigh under

her clothing, its barrel pointed directly at his chest. The weapon whirled up as it

prepared to fire, the chamber glowed a bright blue as her power flowed in.

Yeke calmly put his hands up, “Easy there.”

Rei lowered the gun, the glow vanished instantly. “You should know better than

to sneak up on people. Didn’t anyone ever tell you?”

“Sorry, must have missed that class. Have you found anything yet? The front

rooms look ransacked before we got here so the search was easy for me.”

She glowered at the safe and considered the gun in her hands for a moment

before holstering it once more with a shake of her head. “This is the most promising

thing I have found.”

“Odd that it escaped their notice.”

She heaved it to an angle to peek underneath. “Damn it—figures.” She closed her

eyes with a sigh. A faint, blue glow appeared on the lock and moved it in random

combinations. “Come on,” she muttered, keeping her eyes closed. “Come on.” The

lock spun in a whirl, faster and faster until Rei’s eyes flew open, forcing it to stop,

“Damn! Why the hell won’t you open?”

“Finally found a lock that proves to be a match for you,” Yeke chuckled.

Rei’s eyes shot daggers at him. “Shooting you is still an option. Load it up—we’ll

take it back for Grandma to look at.”

“She’s unreliable.”

“She’s faster than this and she’s more reliable than you say. Only her hold on the

present is affected by her condition—her abilities are still as strong as ever.” Rei

stood, wiped off her knees and walked to the door. “I’m going to have a quick look at

these last few rooms.”

“Fine,” Yeke replied.

The next room Rei came across contained racks and machines for washing

clothes and a pantry. Most of the shelves were already bare so she gave it one quick

look before moving on. The final stop was another bedroom; this one was much larger

than the previous, but no less dust covered. The light fixtures on the walls looked like

hanging curtains with the amount of cobwebbing on them. This room was also a

victim of the storm of searching: clothes were strewn across the floor and the

wardrobe was half open. Cosmetics lie thrown across the large bureau, and the mirror

was cracked and caked with spilled makeup. A tipped box caught her eye before it

sailed to her hands. It turned in her grip until she saw a small padlock secured an

ornate latch. Her fingers traced the intricate carvings in the wood before she turned

her attention back to the lock. It glowed blue as her power went in, quivering slightly

as she started to work the interior mechanisms to open it. Despite her valiant efforts, it

stubbornly remained on. Rei set the box among the wreckage on bureau and grabbed

the most promising thing to try and set to work. For a while it seemed she was making

progress until the tool slipped into the top, chipping the design. She threw the tool

against the wall where it left a dent and ruined the paint. Don’t know why I figured

that would work in the first place, my Eiha certainly didn’t.

Regardless of her failure, she tucked the box beneath her arms and gave a final

look to the room before she turned on her heel and started toward the exit. She used

the journey to block the current state of these rooms from her memory. No, for her it

was best to remember what was, not what is. There were enough reminders of the

latter for her, and she didn’t need to carry the burden of this place as well. Out of

habit, she locked the outside door and pulled it shut, giving it one last jiggle before

wandering back to the car without another glance.

Yeke’s dark head bobbed above the trunk lid as she strode over to put the box

inside. “Ready?” he asked as he gave the safe one last shove into position.

Rei nodded, not trusting her voice to remain neutral. Whether Yeke noticed or

not, he didn’t say, but simply allowed her to get inside in silence before following.

The vehicle went airborne once more as he turned it on spot and headed back down

the drive. Rei tucked the keys in a small, worn bag she had brought along and dropped

everything back at her feet. Her gaze returned to the window and she watched the

trees lining the drive pass as she blinked rapidly, trying to fight the tears as they

welled up.

As they pulled onto the dock, a curtain of rain fell over the large ships docked

there. Most were terrestrial water-going vessels that their destination towered over.

For the first time since they docked Rei felt balanced; her head was clear as she

watched the gawkers braving the weather. She would have preferred some privacy,

but sadly this port was the only one big enough in this city, of only a few ten thousand

people, to handle their ship, the Kathya. Their band was only a couple hundred strong

at this point, but the vessel could hold at least twice that amount comfortably. Yeke

guided their vehicle up the ramp to the open cargo hold and set it into place for the

docking procedures to run. Rei tapped her fingers against her thigh as she waited for

the noises to silence and allow them to exit.

Immediately after the mechanisms stopped, the doors popped open and Rei

almost leapt out, startling one of the engineers as he came up to check on the vehicle.

“Are we ready to leave?” she asked, his confusion the least of her concerns.

“Almost. Chia wanted to upgrade something while we were waiting since we

didn’t get a chance last stop.”

“Where’s she at?”

“In her workshop.”

Rei glanced over her shoulder hearing the storage area of the vehicle open. She

left the engineer to his work and grabbed the jewelry box out of it. “Take that to my

office. We’ll have Grandma look at it as soon as possible. I’m taking this to Chia to

see if she might be able to figure out how to get the damn thing open. I want to get off

this planet today and if I don’t harass her, she’ll take forever coming up with new

upgrades to do.”

Rei tucked the box under her arm and left him to take care of what she told him

to. The hall was quiet as she entered it. She imagined most, especially families, were

enjoying the time outside while they were docked and taking in the fresh air and new

sights. She rounded several corners and bypassed the lift that went to the areas such as

personal quarters for nonessential crewmembers. Near the front sections of the ship

she paused outside another lift, shook her head and started up the stairs nearby. She

wasn’t in the mood to share transportation today, even though she didn’t have far to

go.

A few levels up, movement outside the small window caught her eye and she

paused to look out. Two little children, a boy and a girl, stared up at their vessel in

awe. Both could barely have been more than ten years old. She watched them with a

slight smile before she tore her gaze away and resumed her journey, climbing a few

more levels until she emerged into another corridor. The entire hallway was washed in

mechanical chaos echoing from somewhere up ahead. Rei walked toward it and

peeked around the closest doorway to see a cascade of sparks erupting from the

center. She edged in, careful to avoid any strays.

A large device was materializing on a workbench surrounded by several

holographic screens running complicated equations. No sooner did one answer appear

to be reached, the screen wiped clean and a fresh one started.

For a moment, sparks faded and a pair of reddish-brown furred ears twitched

above the device. Rei walked around while it was safe, examining the sphere while

her field of vision was clear. It had several control panels which lay dark, waiting for

the metal casing to join it so it could come to life. “Chia,” Rei greeted.

“What brings you here?” Chia wiped her hands on the leather apron she wore,

leaving dark streaks behind. She tossed the mask from atop her head on the table

beside the sphere. “I thought you’d be searching for a while still.”

It was an almost apology for keeping them on the planet for longer. “How long,

Chia?”

“A couple of hours at the most. This piece is almost done being made compatible

while my minions have been busy getting the rest installed.”

Rei tapped her foot, “And what exactly was so important that it couldn’t wait?”

“It’s part of the engines.” Chia flitted around as she grabbed parts. “This will

make them run at higher efficiency and give us more speed. Handy if you keep

pulling off these amazing escapes like we have been.” She considered two separate

wire gauges before throwing the other back in the bin. “It would be done, but we’ve

been flying around so much I didn’t dare take everything offline until today. I would

have had it done already, but one of the power centers failed.” The tail that emerged

from her rear end flicked in her aggravation.

“You say this as though it’s my fault we had to keep moving so we wouldn’t get

caught.”

“Regardless, we are on schedule for the repairs. But you could have gotten that

from anyone. Which leads us back to my first question—why are you here?”

“This,” Rei hoisted the jewelry box on the table beside what Chia was working

on. Chia turned from her gathering, her ears twitching as she studied the box. “I tried

all I could think of to open it without breaking it so I brought it to you so that one of

your machines might try.”

“Let me take a look.” Chia tossed the wires down on the other end of the table

and hopped up so she was even with it. She rotated the box in her palms. “Seems easy,

but no wonder you couldn’t get it… how much Eiha are you wasting right now?”

Rei frowned. “I’m using no more than usual. How does my using Eiha affect

opening the damn thing?”

Chia sighed. “It’s no ordinary lock, but Eiha pressure based. You send a certain

amount at it, but you need a certain amount in reserve for it to detect that you’re not

super powerful or a weakling trying to get where you don’t belong. Not exactly the

most foolproof design since there’s people who can trick it, but it works.”

“So how much will open it?”

“I can’t tell without experimenting on it.” The lock alternated between glowing a

bright orange and normal as Chia continued to fiddle with it. She glared at Rei and

sighed. “You drop what you’re doing and try it. You’re bound to have more luck given

where you found it.”

Rei concentrated on pulling her active Eiha back within her. As it withdrew, the

web of silvery scars along the right side of her body became visible, standing out

against her tan skin. What appeared to be normal nails at the ends of her long fingers

became golden claws and her brown eyes glowed amber within their depths, casting a

bit of light over her face. Chia took her clawed hand in her own and a measure of Eiha

flashed where their skin touched.

“That is how much you should use,” Chia informed her and withdrew her hand.

Rei concentrated on the lock; her entire being focused on sending the exact

amount of power needed at the lock. The lock glowed blue and then faded as it

remained secure. Chia let out a string of curses in Ornian, her native tongue.

“That should have worked!” she exclaimed in Banal, the shared language all

planets spoke to communicate with one another. Her ears and tail twitched as she

pulled the box back into her grasp. She continued to rant as she turned it over in her

hands, “It should have worked, there has to be a way to get it open… Maybe…”

Chia’s eyes slid to Rei’s and she returned the gaze, silently daring the woman to

blame her for the failure. The glow in the depths of her eyes grew steadily brighter

and took on a bluish hue as their standoff continued.

The level of danger was near exploding, but Rei broke it off. “Just figure it out.

Maybe the Eiha levels were just a touch off.” Chia opened her mouth to protest. “As

soon as we leave this planet, make it your priority. We have the grab to cash in so it’ll

give you plenty of time.”

Chia closed her mouth and nodded in agreement. “I’ll bust it open if I have to.”

Rei nodded and strode from the room. She paused just outside the door, leaned

back against the cool metal of the wall, and coated her form in Eiha once more as she

calmed her frustration and anger. Skin smoothed and claws melded into normal nails

again. The glow vanished from her eyes, leaving no trace. Chia was lucky her Ornis

nature won out and she focused on the mystery of getting the lock open without

simply breaking it. If she had pressed Rei, her temper would have slipped the fragile

hold it had and the results would have been disastrous. Of course, Chia also wasn’t

dumb; she valued her life, her work aboard the ship, and her position here too much to

risk it by pissing her off with further arguing.

Rei pushed off the wall and started toward the stairs. By now, the noise echoed

from Chia’s workspace once more and Rei knew the almost-argument was long

forgotten as Chia’s work overrode all. Silence descended over her as the door to the

stairwell closed and she renewed her climb. As she went up, the stairway became a bit

more crowded, but those she passed were too intent on their own destinations to give

her more than a passing salute or nod. Near the very top of the stairwell she arrived at

the glass-like enclosed walkway she preferred to use to go to the bridge and office.

Two doors lie at the end of the hall; she ignored the farthest and entered the first.

Inside, Yeke waited with an older pale-skinned woman next to him, her blonde hair

speckled with grey. The safe rested beside Rei’s desk.

“Good, you’re both here,” she greeted. “How are you today, Grandma?”

“Fine, fine.” Her clouded eyes were distant but focused near Rei. “You agitated,

dear.” Rei bit back a wince. “Something didn’t go as planned, is all.”

“Maybe,” Grandma replied. “But bring more adventure than thought possible.”

Rei exchanged a look with Yeke. “Can you possibly look at this?” She guided the

older woman to the safe, holding out her hand so she could grasp it on her own. Her

hands started to move about the safe on their own and Rei withdrew, falling back to

stand beside Yeke. The clouded eyes darted around the safe as fast as the hands

looking for something they no longer could physically see. A white glow blossomed

from their depths and bled out the cloudiness. “Is this important?”

“Possibly very.”

“I see now—it is. You want answers of your past, but are you ready for it to affect

your future?” The old woman turned to the pair.

“I’d like to think so, but how can anyone be fully ready?”

“Wise words, but you’re not.” The glow faded. “But I can’t.”

“Why not?” Yeke asked.

“Aede… must find… granddaughter.”

“I’ll take you to her soon, Grandma,” Rei said. “She’s asleep because she worked

late, she’s fine, though.”

“No, no one fine… none of us fine…”

Yeke shot Rei a pointed look she turned away from. She gently took Grandma’s

hands in hopes of bringing her back to the present. “We are fine, Grandma. We’re all

safe and fine.”

“No, not yet… long way…”

“Feel my hands in yours. We’re here on the ship—safe.”

Rei felt her heartbeat in her throat as she waited for Grandma to acknowledge

what she said. Grandma remained silent, and the glow returned to her eyes as she

pulled her hands free and moved them to hover over the safe. Her face went slack,

though her brow furrowed in concentration as she worked.

“Nerves. 8… 8… 30… 16… 17,” she said. Yeke moved out of the corner of Rei’s

eye to her desk to take them down before they were lost to memory. “Can’t see what

is inside…more…”

Grandma blinked as the glow disappeared once more. She stepped back, her arms

reaching out in search of a way to a nearby seat. Rei quickly took her arm and shot a

glare at the safe. “I’ll take you to Aede.”

The door chimed and a tan, willowy woman entered. Her black hair was braided

tight to her head and wound around. “Aede!” Grandma exclaimed, and Rei questioned

how limited her ability to see was once again. “You fine?”

“I’m fine, Grandma.” She took her from Rei as the older woman embraced her

tightly. “Sorry for just coming in, but Kuv told me she was here.” As she pulled

Grandma gently away purple eyes met the cloudy ones. “What are you doing?”

“She was helping me figure out the combination to this safe,” Rei replied.

Aede sighed. “How many pit stops are we going to have to take to investigate

this?”

“No idea, but let’s find out,” Yeke said. He walked over and set the combination

on the top of the safe. “With our Captain’s permission, of course.”

“Do it,” Rei ordered.

Yeke started to turn the dial to lock in each number. Rei’s breath caught in her

throat and she wondered what was inside that made Grandma say such things. She

leaned forward, conscious that the other occupants of the room were doing the same

as the last digit was entered. She sent a silent prayer to whatever power might be

inclined to listen that more surprises weren’t in store. Yeke pulled back as the door

swung open, allowing his Captain free access.

Rei darted forward. As she reached inside the Eiha flickered on her hands

revealing their true nature hidden beneath, but only for a moment. Several boxes laid

resting atop a pile of papers and folders. Rei eased the whole bunch out of the safe

before starting to sort through the boxes. Inside each sat jewelry, looking about fifty

years old at least, likely old family heirlooms waiting to be passed down. Rei handed

these to Yeke to deal with until she could secure them. She began to scan the pieces of

paper, starting with the loose ones. Most were old bills deemed important to be kept

for record, and a bunch of legal nonsense, some very old news clippings of ancestors

long past and their achievements. She carefully casted these back atop the safe,

moving her attention to the folders. Several disks were tucked into one side that

rivaled the level of anything she had seen on any of the planets they had visited so far

since acquiring the Kathya. Light-years ahead of what had been available when that

house had life. Rei’s brow furrowed as she turned her attention to the other side of the

folder and the stack of papers stored in that section.

“What is it?” Yeke broke the silence.

Rei set the folder down and shifted the papers in one hand. She rapidly flipped

through them, “This mentions Eiha… But my planet didn’t discover it existed until

deep space opened to us, shortly after I was taken from the planet. And that was a few

years after… everything.”

“Then how did these get there?” Aede asked.

“It’s not like we’re strangers to governments keeping secrets. Maybe someone

had a tie to a secret program…” Yeke quickly trailed off as Rei’s eyes flashed in

anger, dangerously filling with that blue glow.

“They—my parents—worked for an independent laboratory. It did simple blood

work for doctors. As far as I know, it had no government ties besides taking insurance

payments for blood work and wasn’t even properly equipped to do anything more

intensive than the basics. Anything that needed more analysis they always complained

about needing to send elsewhere. This is so technical, it’s worse than reading one of

Chia’s proposals for whatever improvement she’s trying to talk me into.” Rei

continued to flick through the documents.

Grandma wandered over and picked up the papers Rei had discarded. “Can just

ask?” she suggested and tossed it down in disgust.

“Yes, let’s ask them about what is likely a top secret program. They’d be more

interested in this ship given how advanced it is and then shut us up for asking,” Yeke

snapped.

“Enough, Yeke,” Rei ordered. “But I agree. We shouldn’t approach them with our

questions. I doubt we’d get anywhere.” She sighed and tossed the rest aside as though

they offended her. “We’re going to have to do this backwards.”

“What are you thinking?” Aede asked.

“Bruatin,” Rei replied. “There are no better experts on Eiha then the scientists

there—at least, among the planets I feel safe prying for such information on.”

“I hope you have some idea on how to get them to give you the information

without the full story,” Yeke muttered.

“I have a few ideas.”

“Do you plan on making this stop before or after we do our drop off on Vantani?”

Aede asked. “You know they need at least a week to clear us.”

“Make it after,” Rei said. “Chia’s grounded us for the moment so we’re running

behind as is and I want that stuff off our ship.”

“I’ll go see how long Chia’s going to be still,” Yeke said and strode out. Rei

exchanged a look with Aede who nodded gracefully in acceptance of her silent

dismissal. With a gentle hand, she led Grandma from the room.

Left alone, Rei flopped down in the chair she kept near the large window to the

outside to stare out at the passing stars. Her right hand rose with its true nature

revealed and she stared, unfocused, at it. Her mind wandered back to the papers that

sat not too far away. That much information on that power made no sense—it wasn’t

even found on that world. She vividly remembered being forced to listen to the

broadcasts of the panic when it was discovered. There had been many debates on

whether to embrace this new reality, isolate themselves from what Eiha, and most of

the universe, had to offer. A debate that some continued to this day.

Those papers, though. They raised as many questions as they posed to answer

regarding her family’s disappearance. Rei reapplied her Eiha with a sigh and rose. She

shut the items they had taken in her safe hidden behind the large painting on the wall.

She sat down at her desk, the holo-projection screen sprang to life. A message from

Aede popped up to reveal a chart of facts and figures on various targets and what

might be best for future prospects. As Rei decided what was on the horizon, she put

their new discoveries to the back of her mind. She had survived by going forward as

best she could, and that meant knowing when to let the past lie where it belonged.