Chapter One: Teisha

“Pull it toward you,” I said, raising my voice so that I could be heard over the growl of the hovercraft’s twin engines.

Sitting between my legs, Lyrie shifted her weight nervously and reached toward the yoke with her tiny hands.

I laid my hands on top of hers and, being as gentle as I could, I pulled the yoke toward us. The hovercraft’s nose pointed up almost immediately, and the engines pushed us away from the ground and toward the bright blue skies overhead.

“Higher, higher,” Lyle squealed from behind me, and I let a smile spread across my lips as I obliged.

Tilting the yoke toward me, I used my free hand to flick a couple of switches on the panel and redirected some extra power to the engines.

Their growl turned into a furious roar, the hovercraft’s fuselage rattling and shaking, but neither of the kids showed any fear. If anything, it was the opposite.

The twins were just seven, but they were already as passionate about flying as I was.

Syra, their mother, wasn’t exactly happy about it—no mother really enjoys having their children too far away, especially if too far away means being in a metallic box hundreds of feet up in the air—but she trusted me with the kids all the same.

And she was right to do it.

As their aunt, I would never do anything that would put really them in harm’s way. I loved them more than I did myself.

But that was life on Ankou.

Risk and reward. They’d have to learn a little bit of the danger soon enough.

“It’s all you now,” I said as I pushed on the yoke and stabilized the hovercraft. Slowly, I removed my hands from Lyrie’s and let her have the controls.

She nodded quietly, an expression of absolute focus washing over her face, and she held the yoke tightly as the hovercraft zoomed through the vastness of the blue sky.

“Bring us back around,” I continued. “Tilt it a bit left.”

Doing as she was told, Lyrie banked the ship left and settled in a circular trajectory over the woods. Once she straightened the ship, I looked back over my shoulder to ensure Lyle was enjoying himself.

I didn’t need to worry.

He had both his hands on the cockpit window, forehead pressed tight against it, and he was looking at the sights with pure fascination.

“Say hi to your mother,” I laughed, pointing down at the small outpost right underneath us.

A tall wooden palisade encircled a group of squat buildings, one main road cutting through the outpost from one end to the other; it couldn’t even be called a village, but it was home all the same.


“There,” I replied, pointing at the tiny figure standing in front of one of the houses.

It was hard to make out who that figure was from a distance, but I had absolutely no doubt it was Syra. Judging by the time, she was probably hanging the laundry to dry on the clothesline I had set up outside our house.

“Hi, mommy,” the twins cried out at the same time, and I had to grab the yoke as Lyrie let go of it to wave at her mother.

Smiling, I reached for the panel and turned one of the engines off, allowing the air resistance to slow the hovercraft down.

Giving a quick glance at all the numbers and metrics on the dashboard—I’ve always relied more on instinct than on my technical expertise—I started to make a controlled descent, the belly of the hovercraft almost grazing the outpost’s wooden palisade as I made a beeline toward our house.

“Already?” Lyle asked, his words thick with disappointment.

“Yeah,” I laughed. “You have to do your homework, remember? Your mother will kill me if I keep you away from the books for too long. We’ll fly some more tomorrow, alright?”

Carefully, I lowered the hovercraft onto the extension of overgrown grass that separated the house from the shed where I kept the hovercraft whenever I was away.

The clothes hanging outside swayed aggressively as I landed but, thankfully, they held onto the line. 

I really, really didn’t want to have to redo the washing, and that’d be my fate if the gusts from the hovercraft knocked them down.

“Off you go, kids.”

“Homework! Right now,” Syra cried out from the doorway, as if to punctuate what I had just said. She wore an apron over a pair of blue jeans and a faded black t-shirt, but her youthful appearance was betrayed by the stern look on her face.

Her eyes shone in the same way our mother’s eyes had whenever she wanted to make it clear we were to obey immediately.

I couldn’t help but smile at the memory, despite the twinge of sadness.

The twins jumped out from the hovercraft once I opened the doors, and they marched dutifully inside the house, barely sparing their mother a glance as they went.

I was checking the hovercraft’s panel when I noticed Syra walking toward me.

Placing both her hands on the ship’s nose, she gave me a thin lipped smile, her brown eyes shooting daggers at me through a few locks of her blonde hair.

“I thought we had talked about it,” she finally said with a sigh.

“Talked about what?”

“The kids,” she replied. “Homework before playing. You know.”

“C’mon,” I laughed, poking my head out of the window just so I could look at her. “Remember when we were kids? Did we ever follow any rule like that?”

“Yeah, well, just wait until you’re a mother. That devil may care attitude will bite you in the ass.”

“Look at you, acting like such a grownup,” I teased her.

Popping the pilot’s door open, I climbed down from the hovercraft and made my way toward her.

She was still looking at me with a stern expression, but she mellowed out once I kissed her forehead.

Even though she was two years younger than me, Syra had always been the responsible one, and she hated whenever I treated her as if she was the oldest of the two.

It didn’t help that I looked younger than I really was.

“I’m serious, Teisha,” she sighed. “Life’s tough as it is. I just want them to have a shot at a good life.”

“I know you do.” Laying one hand on her shoulder, I gave it a gentle squeeze and smiled. “And they’ll turn out just fine. These two are some of the brightest kids I’ve ever come across. And they’re brave, too.”

“Thank you,” she merely said, and this time it was her turn to kiss my forehead. Without saying another word more, she turned on her heels and walked back inside the house.

I stood there, leaning against the hovercraft, and watched her go as the sun started its descent past the horizon line, a bright shade of orange spilling across the sky.

Syra was right—after the war, life had become tough. She had lost her husband during the fight against the Xathi, and was left to raise two children by herself.

 Always keeping her chin up, she fought tooth and nail for the twins to have a happy life.

Even though I didn’t worry as much as she did, I could see where she was coming from. I just hoped I was helping more than I stressed her out.

After her husband died, I moved in with her so I could help, but I wasn’t really sure about how successful I had been.

There were times I wasn’t around much, always flying on behalf of the Alliance League and General Rhour, and that meant the burden of raising the twins fell on her shoulders alone.

Sure, the money helped, but it only went so far. I was a part of a human pilot auxiliary program, and that meant I was on auxiliary wages.

Sometimes I couldn’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t be better for me to be around the house more often.

I had a degree in linguistics and anthropology—an interest that took the backseat once I got my first taste of the open skies—but even if the pay would have been higher, there weren’t a lot of university jobs open right now.

Maybe in a few years we’d all be back on our feet, and I could get something that brought in more money, while allowing me to be home every night to help Syra with the kids.


Come in, Teisha,” a voice crackled through my comm unit, derailing my train of thought. “Are you there?

Recognizing that voice as belonging to my favorite K’ver, I smiled as I picked up the small communication device I had hanging from my belt.

“I’m here,” I said. “What’s up, Sa’lok?”

Are you free?

That was Sa’lok.

He never tiptoed around a subject, and he always cut straight to the chase. Most of the aliens were like that, especially the K’ver, but Sa’lok’s background as an engineer really defined him as a straight-shooter.

A man that was always looking for solutions instead of dwelling on problems.

I liked that.

“Yeah, I’m free,” I replied, immediately forgetting all about my plans of having an office job in the city. “Do you need a pilot?”

I do. I need someone to fly me to Glymna.

“What’s there?” I asked him. Glyna wasn’t exactly a hub of activity for the General’s men, at least the last time I checked.

A small city carved into the earth, it was more like a relic of the first colonists attempts at urbanization than a proper modern city.

“Don’t tell me you’re going on vacation,” I teased. “There are much better places to visit, you know?”

And how would you know that?” He threw right back at me, his tone one of amusement. “I don’t remember you ever taking a day off.”

Then, before I could say something, he continued, more serious now. “There’s been a development against the Gorgo, and I’ve been asked to consult. The Puppet Master is helping as well, and Glymna’s one of the easiest points of access for him.”

“Sounds good to me. Where are you?”

Nyhiem,” he replied. “Can you pick me up in an hour?

Smiling, I looked at my hovercraft.

It wasn’t exactly a pretty model—its maker had filed for bankruptcy even before the war, and its outdated lines were too angular and stern—but I knew every single component hiding under the fuselage.

I had restored and retooled the entire thing myself, after all.

“An hour?” I laughed. “Please, I’ll be there in thirty minutes.”

Won’t you need to pack a bag?

“Nope.” I always kept a go-bag in the cargo hold, one with everything I needed for at least a week, and that meant I was always ready to go in a minute’s notice.

Unlike those pilots that liked taking their time with preparations, I preferred to be ready all the time.“Then see you soon, Teisha.

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