Chapter 1

The Interstellar Republic battlecruiser Antares was two weeks into the current leg of its end run around the battle lines between the Republic and the alien Morro. The Antares was making her best cruising speed, a high multiple of the speed of light, in order to return to the Republic as soon as possible. The Antares was being forced to take the long way to the Republic lines due to the overwhelming Morro forces standing between her present location and the Republic. Unfortunately this meant the return to the Republic would take at least five standard years.

Petty Officer Mev Van Zehe, last High Lord of Venda from Venda, was not troubled by the long journey the Antares must make to return home. With the surface of Venda destroyed and now lifeless from a Morro assault there was little left in the Republic that he had any interest in quickly returning to. With a life expectancy of several thousand years there was little reason for Mev to hurry about anything.

Mev and the others had moved to different quarters, although their new space had not really been designed for human habitation. Sheila's stateroom had just been too cramped for five people and a robot, even when most of the group slept on the floor there was barely room for them to fit. After searching through the ship for several days Mev and Sheila had finally found an empty storage compartment that somehow had not yet been already turned into another makeshift berthing area for the overcrowded battlecruiser. Sheila used her influence as an officer in security to gain permission for everyone in the group to move into the empty compartment.

Mev and the other High Lords didn't really have much to move and Anna had little more than a few clothes that had been given to her since she had come on board the ship. Most of the furnishings they used inside the compartment were the same they had used when camping on the surface of several planets they had visited previously. They spread a carpet on the bare deck plates and set their bags, packs, and camp furniture on top of the carpet and even set up the tent as well. Mev was careful to ensure that everything they had was on the carpet which fit into his current project.

Except when they were interacting with others in the crew Mev and the others spoke little with each other verbally. Instead everyone in the group was linked with everyone else and this linkage hummed with extensive silent telepathic communication. Mev and the entire group had been overjoyed when the human girl Anna had made a breakthrough and learned how to join in the telepathic interaction on her own.

The origins of the strange robot Medron remained as mysterious as ever despite the fact that Medron allowed Mev and the others complete access to its artificial mind and body. Medron had been created by spellcraft far beyond the understanding of even Zira, the most knowledgeable of the high lords in the way of their power. Of how and by whom Medron was made the High Lords learned little, but their scans and interactions with the robot did lead to Mev gaining much new and useful knowledge. Medron was a full participant in the mental network that linked every one of Mev's group and its thoughts were becoming less machine-like as time went on.

Anna was now able to communicate telepathically with the High Lords in the same way she had been able to do with Medron for some time now. The human girl was learning much about the ways of the High Lords and their powers, to the point that her body had begun to change without her even realizing it. Because the changes had occurred gradually Anna did not realize how much stronger, faster, and healthier her body had become, though all of the High Lords had quickly noticed the changes but didn't make anything of them with the human girl. But the time would soon come, much sooner than she expected, when Anna's transition to becoming a full High Lord of Venda would be complete.

Mev and the others took their exercise with the rest of the Security division during their daily workouts, though now only Anna still sparred with the other humans. The experienced security officers assigned to be unarmed combat instructors were all amazed at Anna's rapid progress and physical development. Anna still assumed her improvement in speed, strength, skill, and stamina were solely due to the daily workouts with the security crew.

With little in the way of duties anymore with the Antares crew Mev spent much of his time working on developing new spellcraft based technologies, unknown to Venda in his life there before. While the High Lords of Venda had done some basic work in that area, of which Mev's sword and hand weapon were examples, in the culture Zira came from they were far more advanced. Since everyone in her people shared the same powers they made extensive use of advanced spellcraft technologies in their daily lives. With the intimate mental connection Zira now shared with the other High Lords they all knew as much as she did about how such things worked.

And Medron was an even more advanced form of spellcraft technology than anything Zira's people had known or used. While Medron knew nothing of those who made him or where he was made, the alien robot knew much about how he was made. This knowledge Medron had no problem with sharing with his companions, so Mev and the other High Lords had progressed greatly in their knowledge of how spellcraft could be harnessed to create technology.

The first result of Mev's work hung from chains around the necks of everyone in the group. They appeared to be smooth oval transparent stones, homemade costume jewelry. But decoration was not the purpose of the stones for they were not stones at all but instead were completely artificial. They were devices which Mev had constructed which had several useful functions, functions which could only be accessed by a High Lord of a being which shared some of their powers. Even though she was not able to fully use it yet Anna wore one of the stones, too.

One of the functions of the stones was to act as an energy storage which the wearer could draw upon if needed. This is the same thing that Mev's sword and weapon could do but was in a smaller and more discrete form. But despite the small size the stones could store a considerable amount of energy, energy that only a being with the powers of a High Lord of Venda could draw upon.

The stones also had a second capability and that was something new which Mev had not known how to construct before. In addition to energy storage the stones could also act as a miniature computer similar to the portable computers in common use in the Republic. But the stones differed in that the interface to the computing function was only possible using the telepathic power of the High Lords. Due to her developing mental powers Anna was able to use the computing portion of her stone to some extent and her ability to work with it was steadily improving.

Mev knew the time was coming when the High Lords would have to leave the Antares and live independently away from the humans. The time for this was not yet but Mev felt the need to begin to prepare for that time's inevitable arrival. While the High Lords had the power to travel through space on their own it would be more comfortable to do so using some sort of space ship. The need for some sort of space ship was a big part of Mev's reason for exploring what could be developed in the way of spellcraft based technology. Zira's people had used ships and vehicles which utilized spellcraft to propel themselves and even provide the major part of the structure of the craft itself. Mev hoped that the High Lords could replicate such a craft for their own use.

A few days later the Antares picked up a solar system in the general direction the ship was traveling and soon was able to determine there were one habitable planet and several gas giants within that solar system. Captain Mason altered course toward the newly discovered solar system which seemed to offer the possibility of both refueling the ship at one of the gas giant planets as well as restocking food supplies on the habitable planet.

The solar system ahead did not pass unnoticed by the High Lords and Mev made a point to scry the system and especially the habitable planet long before the Antares entered the system. The High Lords found no sign of the Morro or any other hostile forces lurking in the system but they did discover the habitable planet was inhabited. The planet was actually inhabited by the human descendents of a long lost colony ship from Earth.

The colony ship had contained a mixture of colonists from a variety of different locations on Earth, though primarily from Asia and North America. Because of their isolation the colonists had lost most of their technical knowledge over the years and had only recently begun to regain it. In some places on the planet the colonists had regained enough knowledge to reach a level similar to that of Earth in the early 20th century but much of the planet's inhabitants still lived in a more primitive level of civilization.

As the Antares drew closer to the solar system several robotic probes were launched to scan the system more closely and search for any hostile ships or bases. Just as the High Lords had several days before the probes found no Morro or other hostile forces in the system, as well as the fact that the Earth-type planet ahead was inhabited. Probes sent down to the surface remotely explored the land areas of the planet and discovered numerous sites where humans originally from Earth were living.

Captain Mason ordered the records to be searched and it was found a colony ship had been lost while traveling in this general direction 422 years before and it seemed likely this lost vessel was the source of the human inhabitants of the planet ahead. For Captain Mason this presented somewhat of a dilemma since it wasn't really possible to the Antares to rescue or even spend much time in this system. Because of this Mason decided that while they should still make a landing upon the planet to gather supplies it should be made incognito.

It was not long after the ship entered the solar system that Mev and the other High Lords received an unexpected visitor. Just as he had before, the alien Zesh made an appearance, materializing in their midst with no warning. Zesh was so powerfully shielded and hid himself so well that neither the High Lords nor Medron sensed anything of him until he suddenly appeared within their room. All recognized the alien being immediately, though Anna and Medron knew of Zesh only from what they had been told of him by Zira.

"Greetings, Mev van Zehe!" spoke the alien as soon as he was visible within their room.

"Welcome Lord Zesh. What brings you to visit us?" Mev replied, speaking aloud.

"The time has come for you to leave this vessel. After you arrive at the planet to which you approach you must separate yourself from the others on this ship. It is no longer a good thing for you and your companions to remain amongst them," Zesh answered.

"So soon? I had hoped for a while longer, though I knew the time was approaching when we would have to leave," Mev replied.

"There must be no delay. Should you remain aboard this vessel once the planet is left behind dire events would result for all concerned. Your path thereafter would be dark and this ship soon destroyed if you were to remain. Heed this warning!" Zesh said.

"Fear not Lord Zesh, we will do as you suggest. I have already foreseen that we would soon need to leave this ship, though I had hoped it would not be so soon," Mev said to the alien.

"It is good then. You should only remain for a short time on the planet you approach and be discreet. Their time to know of the wider universe is not yet come."

"Is it necessary to descend to the surface of the planet?" Mev asked. "What means shall we use to leave it?"

"Yes, you must first visit the surface of the planet and seek out three of those who live there and bear them away with you. You already possess the knowledge require to facilitate further travel without exhausting your energies." Zesh answered.

"Who are the three people we must find? Why must we take them with us?" Mev asked.

"You are aware there are some on the planet you approach who have taken the first steps to the powers you and I possess?" Zesh asked.

"Yes, we have sensed this. It had made us curious to investigate further," Mev answered.

"Your perceptions are correct. There are three of the inhabitants who have passed the point of no return, yet the people of the planet are not ready for such things. Thus it is necessary for you to bear those three away," Zesh explained.

"Lord Zesh, if they are willing, we shall find the three and do as you command." Mev said.

"Thank you my son. If those three are allowed to remain the entire planet would be destroyed and I do not wish for that to happen." Zesh explained.

"Nor would I either Lord Zesh. We shall provide a place for the three of which you have spoken with us," Mev promised.

The alien reached out with his right hand and gently placed his palm on the top of Mev's head for a moment and then he withdrew it. Zesh looked around the compartment the High Lords shared and smiled at each of them in turn and then he slowly walked over to where Zira was standing.

Zira was standing right next to Anna, who as often was the case was leaning up against the robot Medron, which floated three feet up off the deck of the compartment. Zira smiled warmly as Zesh approached while Anna looked on in awe.

"Zira my child, does your presence here agree with you? Zesh asked.

"Yes Lord Zesh, it does. Very, very much," Zira said, reaching over and caressing the naked side of Anna, who wore nothing.

"That pleases me very much." Zesh said. "You have found the love, acceptance, and comfort here that I had hoped for you."

"Yes, lord. And this one is extra special to me," Zira said, moving a little closer to Anna to indicate the one she meant.

Zesh turned his gaze to the human girl, who smiled shyly at him. Anna could sense a little of the power of the alien looking at her with her fledgling senses, she quailed inside a bit at Zesh's attention. Yet Anna could also tell that Zesh was favorably disposed toward her which lessened her fear of his power.

"Patience, little one, the change will be upon you very soon. In time you will be a Lady of great power," Zesh said, addressing Anna.

Anna found herself unable to say anything in reply to the alien before her and Zesh turned his attention to Medron, against which Anna was leaning.

"Such a curious device, a machine, yet at the same time a living and thinking being. It is good you have joined this group Medron. In time you will learn who it was that created you," Zesh said addressing Medron.

"Lord Zesh, do you know of those who created me?" Medron asked the alien, speaking aloud as the robot could do if it wished.

"That knowledge is revealed to me, but it is far better for you and your companions if you seek out the knowledge of whence you came yourselves," Zesh answered. "If you seek in time you will find it."

"Understood," the robot replied.

Zesh walked a few steps until he was standing in front of Sheila. The High Lord woman and the alien looked at each other for a moment before Zesh addressed her.

"Sheila, you sacrificed everything for this ship and your brethren on it, in a way even your life. Yet it would seem your sacrifice has not gone unrewarded," Zesh said to Sheila.

"You're right, my lord, I am happy with how things turned out," Sheila replied.

"Do not be sad that you must leave your people now, it what is best for both you and them. It is no longer safe for you to remain among them," Zesh continued.

"Yes, lord, I understand."

"It is good then."

Zesh moved over to Kathleen next, it was obvious to all that the alien wished to spend a moment with each of them.

"Kathleen, it will be hardest for you to leave your people, yet it must be done. You and the group you are a part of grow too powerful to safely remain among them any longer. Yet despite the difficulty of it you have sensed the truth of this just as the others have." Zesh said to her.

"Yes Lord Zesh, it is as you have said. I feel sad to leave but I know it must be done." Kathleen replied.

"Good."

Zesh walked a couple of steps and turned in such a way that he was facing the entire High Lord group once again. He then addressed them with his final words:

"The three on the planet I charge you to find, take them into your midst and into your hearts, just as you have done with each other. It is your destiny to be with them and theirs to be with you. You will know how to travel to be near them and then they will find you," Zesh said, and then suddenly disappeared as abruptly as he had arrived.

As soon as Zesh has disappeared from their sight and other senses the High Lords commenced a rapid telepathic conversation with each other. Despite the difference in service rank between Mev and Sheila, Mev was the leader of the High Lord group, even Zira and Medron followed his lead. None of the High Lords felt any desire to defy the wishes of Zesh that they must now strike out on their own. Everyone's thoughts turned toward what was needed to get ready to leave.

"Sheila, you should go tell Casey we are leaving. It would be best if we can get their agreement about our leaving if we can, though we can leave without it if we must." Mev sent telepathically to Sheila.

"You're right, Mev. I'll go talk to him right now," came Sheila's thought in return. Sheila immediately left the compartment to see out the security officer.

"We need to pack up everything we want to take with us. What is the best way to transport everything?" Mev sent to the others, soliciting ideas.

"Use the fold door, Mev. There isn't any limit to what we can carry with that," was Zira's telepathic reply. "If it fills up we can just expand it to a larger size."

The fold door was an item of technology used by Zira's people which Mev and Zira had recently been able to reproduce. Basically the fold door created a small pocket universe which was accessible by a portal opened into it from the normal universe. These pockets of space could be created in any size and were used for storage, but were not safe to live in because once the portal was closed it could only be reopened from the outside. Anything inside was forced to remain there forever with no way to escape unless someone outside opened the portal to the pocket universe. The one Mev and Zira had constructed provided a space of 20 by 30 by 10 meters, which was large enough to contain everything the High Lords owned, with room to spare.

Mev immediately began setting up the device, the fold door, which opened the portal to the storage universe. This simply consisted of a set of metallic strips which were pivoted to each other and could be either folded into a small space, or opened to be a rectangle the size of a standard door. When the device was set vertical and activated, one size would allow passage through to the pocket universe, the other would simply appear to be empty. Mev unfolded the device and taped it to the wall of the compartment, and then activated it.

As soon as the fold door was activated it was as if there was a doorway to another compartment, for the pocket universes could be created with a specific shape, in this case rectangular. With the fold door activated it was as if an extra compartment had been added to the ship accessible through the doorway that Mev had opened. Mev and the others in the room began to quickly sort through their belongings, selecting those items which they could carry with them in their back packs for use when the fold door was deactivated. Everything else was to be moved in to the store room that had been created with the fold door.

Sheila meanwhile entered the security office and knocked on the door frame of the open door to Casey's private office. Sheila and the security officer actually knew each other pretty well since they had worked together in security for the past two and a half years. While Sheila's membership in the High Lord group could not be reversed she did feel a bit of sadness to be leaving people she had come to know and respect during her assignment to the Antares. But leave they must and Sheila hoped Casey would understand the reasons he could be allowed to know about why that was.

"Come in and sit down Sheila," Casey said when he saw who was waiting at his office door.

"Yes, sir," she replied entering Casey's office and sitting in one of the visitor chairs in front of Casey's desk. As she did so Sheila felt a dichotomy in her thoughts between the familiar military routine and the outlandish things she had been experiencing as a High Lord of Venda.

"What can I do for you Sheila?" Casey asked once the High Lord woman had taken her seat.

"Mr. Casey, we need to leave the ship," Sheila replied, getting straight to the point.

I see. Why do you and your group feel you need to leave? We're even further away from the Republic now than we were before. How would you get back there?" Casey asked.

"I'm not sure we'll be returning to the Republic at all. In any case we have means of our own to travel where ever we wish to go. The reason we need to leave is our numbers and powers have grown to the point where it is no longer safe for the ship and crew for us to remain on board," Sheila explained.

"I've felt some concern along those lines myself and that's mainly why I had Van Zehe transferred to security, even though that is not his professional specialty," Casey said. "I understand the process which was used to make you like he is can't be reversed?"

"No, it can't, and now that I am the way I am, I would not reverse it if I could. In any case it is not a good idea for any of us to stay," Sheila answered.

"What about the girl who is with you, Anna? Does she want to go with you, too?"

"Yes, she wants to come with us, and the change to be one of us is almost upon her, so she can't remain in any case."

'Well, since I can't really do anything to stop you from leaving, even if I wanted to, I won't stand in your way. To be honest I actually agree with your reasons. But you will need to talk to the Captain about it just so that he knows what you plan to do," Casey said.

"I'm planning to see him next," Sheila replied.

"Good. We all appreciate the sacrifice you've made for the ship. Good luck!" Casey said in dismissal.

Sheila left the security office and sought out Captain Mason, who was in his own office doing routine admin work. As Sheila entered the Captain's outer office a female Chief Yeoman occupied a desk in the outer office to screen the Captain's visitors.

"I need to see the Captain, Chief. Does he have a few minutes free?" Sheila asked the CPO.

"Wait a minute, Lieutenant Blake, let me check," the Chief replied. The CPO spoke for a moment into her headset and then looked back to Sheila. "Yes, he can see you now."

"Thanks, Chief," Sheila replied as she resumed walking toward the door to the Captain's inner office. As Blake approached the door the CPO pressed a button on her control board and the door to the inner office slid open, allowing Sheila to enter.

"Sit down Sheila and tell me what's on your mind," Mason said as Sheila walked into the office. Blake sat down in one of the visitor chairs in front of Mason's desk.

"Captain, I've come to tell you that it's time for us to leave. Myself, petty officer Van Zehe, and everyone else in our group, we all need to leave. It's not safe for us remain on the Antares anymore, sir."

"Much as a part of me hates to admit it, I must agree with you. Ever since Van Zehe's security exam, strange things have been happening on the ship. I'm thinking if you stay on board the Antares you'll continue to attract the same type of problems," Mason replied.

"You're right sir, and I'm glad you understand us."

"You'll be taking that robot, Medron, with you?" Mason asked.

"Yes, sir."

"Good. While it's behaved itself and hasn't caused any trouble so far, I'm still not comfortable having it on the ship for any length of time. I'll seep easier when it's gone from the Antares," Mason said.

"We're all leaving together and Medron is going with us," Sheila said. "We'd like to leave as soon as we can."

"I agree. I will have your and Van Zehe's records closed out as discharged, just in case you ever make it back to the Republic," Mason said.

"Thank you, sir. While I doubt we will be going back there any time soon, you never know," Sheila replied.

"Do you have a way to travel once you leave the ship?" Mason asked.

"Yes, sir, we have several ways we can transport ourselves wherever we want to go. You don't need to have any worries about our being stranded here." Sheila answered.

"Good. You and Van Zehe can draw any reasonable personal supplies and equipment you might need before you go. Good Luck, Sheila, it's been good working with you."

"Thank you, sir. I'll be going now," Sheila replied, standing up and leaving Mason's office.

Sheila returned to the compartment she shared with the other High Lords to find most of the packing and sorting was already finished. Of course she had remained in mental communication with all of the others the entire time she was arranging for them to leave so there was no need for her to communicate anything further about it.

As soon as Sheila arrived she immediately left with Mev to go to the supply department to draw what equipment and supplies that might seem to be useful. The two had to wait only for a moment while the Captain's authorization was confirmed and then they were allowed to browse the catalog of available supplies and make their selections.

Mev and Sheila quickly selected a week's supply of field ration packs for ten persons, as well as coats, boots, and field uniforms for the same number of people. The two then picked out hand and shoulder fired weapons, again enough for ten people. The probably wouldn't need those, but they might be useful sometime. Finally, Mev and Sheila picked out two 16 person tents, first aid supplies, short range and long range portable communicators, and camping supplies. They piled everything onto an antigrav cart which they were allowed to take with them and keep.

Even though they could have just levitated or even teleported the items on the cart to their room Mev and Sheila instead chose to just push the cart back to their room. In doing this they looked no different than what some other work party might have been doing, perhaps preparing for the upcoming planet visit for supplies. When they reached their room Mev and Sheila pushed the cart through the door to their room and as soon as the door slid shut behind them, pushed it into the storeroom beyond the open fold door.

Everything else the High Lord group was planning to take with them had already been moved into the storeroom, except for a few quick use items they would be carrying with them in their backpacks. Mev and Sheila simply moved their cart to an open area of the room, deactivated it, and walked back out of the room. As soon as both High Lords were out of the storeroom Mev deactivated the fold door, detached the fold door frame from the wall, folded it, and stashed it in his back pack.

Mev and Sheila quickly changed out of their ship uniforms into non-descript clothes similar to those worn by the inhabitants of the planet below, the rest of the group were already wearing the same thing already. The two pushed their discarded uniforms into their packs, and everyone was ready to leave the ship for the last time. The entire group melded their thoughts and reached for the planet the ship was rapidly approaching and then threw themselves toward it. The compartment was left completely empty as the entire High Lord group disappeared.

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