Chapter One:


The Tanian commander, with the pale-gray eyes and military-cut blue hair, was dictating his report, but not verbally. As he sat in his chair in the command center of the ship hovering high above the Great Mountain, his thoughts were recorded directly into the devices before him.

Status Report

Administrator Borosh

Ikaran Mining Project

It has been approximately twenty years—or ten of the Ikarans’ tallas—since the original survey vessel made the initial landing. The locals have since dubbed this event “Candlefall.” Prior to Candlefall, there was no reference point for the linear time used by the general population of Ikara, other than the days related to planetary movements or major astrological events. Thus, linear time began to be counted in terms of Tallas After Candlefall, or A.C. For ease of reference, my administration has begun using this terminology in our own communications.

The project is fully operational and on schedule. Automated systems are completely synchronized and all personnel have been assigned to oversee and maintain the procedures. Everyone is performing optimally and maintaining proper integration with the mechanical processes.

Our existence has been discovered by the masses, but that has done nothing to set our schedule back. We already have a core tap established and are extracting as many resources as structurally possible. The “Great Mountain” has provided us with measurable concealment. Ironic. Security Chief Lort assures me that we have nothing to fear from these natives.

Now that our unwitting hosts have made the effort to openly contacting us, we have a lot more to do in a relatively short time. While a direct confrontation is unlikely, our response has to be unified. Dealing with a civilization developing so swiftly— on a world so extremely reconditioned— has to be carefully handled.

Fortunately, their own politics are working against them and buying us some time. I’ve told the Ikaran people that we would be glad to assist their planet, but only if they present us with a single world government to deal with. I also relayed that we have a Directive that prevents us from interacting with any world that hasn’t evolved beyond the phase of petty internal squabbling.

I then arranged secret meetings with each of their key leaders, promising each one some extra benefits if they could gain certain concessions from their peers without revealing our deal. The result has kept them fighting amongst each another, which will buy us a few more years until their Five Nations Government can come to a unified agreement regarding the Accords as we’ve proposed them.

Oh, and that Five Nations government of theirs is laughable: weak, ineffective, and little more than a façade. Easily handled. And, of course, we still have the one we’d first contacted dangling on a string.

While we’re making progress about dividing the leaders, we’re currently facing challenges about dividing the common people. Normally, this kind of hominid species would naturally turn on each other whenever they’re given the opportunity, but these people do not seem to care if their fellow Ikarans look different, sound different, and have different stations in society. We currently know of no way to justify a strong presence among them without these basic fears being manipulated. So instead, we are going to spend time concentrating on the Volst. Their ego is ripe for unrest. They have some “issues” that they’re holding onto from previous cycles that I hope to exploit and create division.

As the drilling continues, the Ikarans have no idea how many resources we’re funneling away from this world. They’re so occupied with what’s happening above them, they fail to comprehend what’s going on miles below them. Still, these insignificant beings are developing fairly quickly, making it imperative that they’re dealt with swiftly and completely to avoid any missteps during the full extraction process.

Had they remained a surface-scratching agrarian culture, there would have been no need for special handling, but now that their reach has extended beyond the atmosphere, they could potentially become a space-faring threat to the Tanian regime, however, slim that chance may be. I will keep my attention on both them and the mining project itself. But the reality is that we will be finished here long before they can create any significant gains in space travel, much less weapons technology. In fact, they don’t even have any real weapons of mass destruction, only something about some nonsense about “the grand cycle” and “one people.”

As far as extraction is concerned, we estimate the content of this world’s precious heavy metals to be roughly ten trillion tons. Even a safe extraction of 50% of that will more than earn back the energy costs to maintain the Bridge and make this trip a wild success. The fact that there is an even larger inward sister planet waiting for us is indeed a windfall. We will, of course, proceed with exploring that extraction once this world has served its final purpose.

Report ends.



“Ikara Central, this is Commander Tark Karth. We are ready for reentry.”

Tark was nervous. He was the first Ikaran in space for this cycle, and genetic memory had shown that many of the first men in space had not faired well when it came to survival. Tark never revealed his fears outwardly, though, not because of ego or the need to look strong, but because Tark felt that showing fear was simply a waste of time.

“This is Ikara Central. We show you coming in at three point four degrees too steep for proper entry. Please adjust shallow side four degrees pitch to give point six degrees’ margin.”

“Affirmative. Making adjustments now.”

Tark adjusted the pitch wheel four degrees upwards then looked over at Devane to see how the Chief Mate was doing after his first extraterrestrial encounter. Devane was pale and slightly ashen as the ship gave a violent bounce upon entering the atmosphere.

“Devane, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“I think we—Sir, I think we cannot possibly anticipate the potential ramifications of an alien species hovering over our great mountain. Who in the cycle are these…these people?”

Tark did not respond but just glanced at the controls as the ship’s interior heated up and the entire vessel began to vibrate.

“We’ll need to consider a strategic move before we reach for the blue planet Azur, Devane. This I do not doubt.”

The craft jolted again, requiring Tark’s attention.

“Ikara Central, this is Commander Karth. We are activating glide mode.”

Tark flipped a toggle switch, and the wings on the capsule fanned out like a dove, slowing the descent of the cumbersome craft.

“Affirmative. Remember to strap in before impact.”

“Impact?” Devane put in. “Don’t they mean touchdown?  impact sounds a lot more…painful.”

The two men looked at each other, not knowing what to make of the implications of the slight vocabulary change, then quickly scrambled to make sure they were securely fastened into the vessel before it hit the water.

The craft hit the water at an incredible speed, the heat searing across the water’s surface to leave a vapor trail in its wake. Inside the vessel, it sounded like they were being dragged across a gravel pit, then silence. The craft was airborne once again.

“Oh hell.” Devane managed to get a word out before they slammed back into the Ikaran sea.

With a loud crack, the water hit the craft, echoing another hideous rumbling sound. With no sensors to warn the crew, they couldn’t be sure if the craft was coming apart or everything was perfectly fine. Tark reached for the hydrogen engine breaks, but Devane screamed out as the commander’s hand grabbed hold of the toggle.

“Wait, commander!”

The roaring sea drowned out his plea. The untested engines exploded the moment Tark activated them, the craft blowing off the breakers and sending them into a mad spin across the top of the water. Holes the size of Devane’s elbow appeared on both sides of the craft and water began to rush in.

Yet throughout all this, Tark seemed unfazed as the landing turned into a rescue.

“Ikara Central, this is Commander Karth. We will be scuttling the craft due to damage on impact. Will need a water rescue team at our coordinates immediately.”

“Team en route, sir.”

Tark and Devane inflated their life vests, blew the exploding door bolts and jumped clear of the craft as it sank to the bottom of the sea.