This is an original work. All characters and situations belonging to this book are the property of Linda Thackeray. I have very good lawyers and have taken precautiosn to protect the copyright of this work. Read it a your leisure, steal it at my displeasure.

THE TAPESTRY OF MEN & GODS

The High Queen writes;

I am writing this chronicle at the behest of the Troezon Emperor.

He claims that I above all would be the best suited to chronicle the events that have shaped our age because I have always held the heart of us all. While I do not share that particular belief, I will nevertheless comply.

After all, one does not refuse the world of the Emperor even if he is a childhood friend.

There are times when I think he has forgotten that he is master of the New Democracy and that a request from him is subject to complete obedience. Emperor was not a title he had chosen for himself but had come to him as a birthright from a life dead in the making. Indeed, it was his subjects who required him to take that vaunted position because we were unable to fathom a universe without an Emperor. It was for our benefit that he allowed himself to be called master of the galaxy because we needed to feel that same power watching over us in the way that Rathe had.

After all these years, he still considers himself the boy I knew in my childhood. Yet while he forgets his station, I find that I cannot. However, in all truth, there will always be a part of Koryander, High Queen of Villand who will remember him that way.

I must confess however, to feeling some scepticism as to the impact any of this will have upon the future generations. Yet I do understand the need for a written record of the history I helped to make. If my efforts in this chronicle are all in vain and we are considered merely relics from a more barbaric age, then so be it.

I do not expect much else.

How could they know what we have lived through our life time? Their world is built on what we created for them. They enjoy the fruits of the new world we built, with little concept of what it took to build it. Their understanding does not extend beyond the stories they now learn in schools and what we choose to tell them and thus I wonder if any chronicle could ever fill the void of their ignorance.

Yet the Emperor makes an impressive argument that this is to be more than just some piece of historical curiosity to those who come after us. This is to honour the dead who fell fighting for an ideal in the great struggle that shaped the future we now enjoy. This also the story of those who lie in graves that will never be seen or remembered, whose families will never know the truth behind their loss and the part they played for the sake of freedom.

I do this because I owe the dead heroes their requiem.

Perhaps we will be reduced to nothing more than faceless names in the pages of history for the records are always littered with such forgotten faces. To the ages after us, we will become nothing more than fact while the essence of what we were becomes lost in time forever. How could they know what we endured to birth the safe comfortable world in which they now sleep? They will never know what we sacrificed. Every one of us. Ariel, Zak, Marc and ultimately Peter.

Always Peter.

Without Peter, there would be no glorious New Democracy, no matter how hard we fought or what we have endured. In the end, our triumph was bought by everything that Peter was. We who were his friends from the very beginning mourn the day when his lifeblood became apart of that terrible price. We who loved him most, mourn that sacrifice more profoundly than anyone can imagine. Peter was the architect of the new age. He alone inspired the vision that became ours and that of an entire galaxy. The vision that healed the wounds of oppression and renewed the will to hope for more than what was. For that alone, I would have died for him.

He was born a man and I saw him become a god.

If there is any record for the future, then this is what they should know most of all. They should know of friendship and love, of how the ties that bind souls together can also strengthen them beyond all heartache and torment. This may not seem important until one has to live in its circle and know its pain.

To you in the future, I will tell you about a promise made between friends and the Troezon Emperor who kept it

I will tell you about Peter.
Her Royal Highness

The High Queen Of Villland

Koryander Of Jace

BOOK ONE : T H E T R O E Z O N H E I R

The greatest failing of childhood is innocence.

CHAPTER ONE

I

After the bloodshed of the Great War was a thing of the past and the New Democracy was an order firmly established in the galaxy, the Troezon Emperor would be asked a question. It was not a question requiring an answer of deep complexity or one about secret intimacy but merely one laced with the simple curiosity of one who was ordinary to someone who was a legend.

What in his life had been his greatest achievement?

To that inquiry the Emperor would smile. His face would soften as he dispelled that mask of cold indifference that was worn much in his later years. His eyes would meet the querist while he considered his answer.

During the pause, the querist could be forgiven for making speculations of his own, for the triumphs of the Troezon Emperor had been great and many. So many, that it was often difficult to imagine that so much could have been accomplished by one man. There was the establishment of the Democracy and the part of puppeteer he played in the creation of the rebellion. As the querist ran off the possibilities in his mind, he quickly realised that it was difficult to decide what the Emperor considered his best.

The man had done so much!

However, it would surprise the querist to know that all these speculations were wrong.

What he considered to be the greatest achievement of his life was something only the Emperor could know for sure and he was not about to impart it to anyone. This man who would someday be known to an entire galaxy as the Emperor, was good at keeping his secrets. His life before the Great War was almost a great an enigma as the man himself. Emerging from nowhere, he had arrived suddenly and quickly, proving himself a master craftsman and manipulator, when it came to procurement of his people's freedom.

He would not answer the query but he did think about it.

There was no question what his greatest achievement was, no question at all.

************

He was ten years old and he had spent the day fishing.

The day could not have been more ideal for it. The sun was blazing down on Peter all its brilliance, the lake was shimmering and the fish were attracted by the sunlight bouncing off its surface. He recalled that day vividly, the warmth on his cheek, the smell of the fish he had caught, baking in heat, as they lay on the floor of his boat. He remembered the simple joy flowing through his veins, at being alive on a day like this.the lake particularly early that morning. The day was typical of the summers he had known all his life here. He had gone knowing that if he went out early enough, he may be able to bring home dinner for himself and his Uncle Cy. Peter had just turned ten in the spring and considered his duty to start providing for himself and his uncle because Cy was not as young as he used to be.

Meanwhile, he seemed to be changing almost on a daily basis. His once fair hair was quickly turning into a deep shade of mahogany while his eyes were a sharp contrast, being almost an almost emerald green colour. In his aristocratic features, was the promise of the handsome man he would someday become even though at this point, Peter had no idea what that meant. He was tall for his age, with a lean and wiry frame appropriate to someone slowly approaching adolescence.

Later on, he would remember this day with the utmost clarity of mind. Every facet of it would be committed to memory and only when he was older, would he understand the significance of it. For until this day, he had been an innocent lost in the bliss of ignorance, not knowing who he was or from where he had come. After today, all that would change and so with it, Peter himself.

For today, was the day Cy had told Peter he was going to die.

II

Peter returned that evening to the cabin where he had lived all his life, full of satisfaction at his accomplishment for the day, yet totally unaware of the events about to take place. As he walked up the dirt path leading to the cabin on the crest of the hill, he could see Cy sitting in his favourite chair on the front porch. The old man was leaning back and smoking his pipe as he regarded the wide expanse of the Yaran Ranges in the distance.

Peter had been only a baby when they first came to this peaceful sanctuary on the banks of Lake Shima. Other than his Uncle Cy, he had grown up in this forested paradise without ever laying eyes on another human being. He sometimes wondered about the outside world, about the people who lived there and the adventures only a child could imagine but these were things not for him. His uncle had told him once long ago, that there was nothing beyond this place other than misery and he would do well to stay where he was.

He was young enough then to not question this.

Despite his natural curiosity, his home was not such a bad place to be. It was his own private little playground and the animals who dwelt in it were his friends, even though they knew it not. This was a secluded world that belonged only to him, with its tall, imposing trees and its wonderful inhabitants. When he was younger, he would often sit and watch the animals emerge from their secret places in the forest to drink by the waters of the lake. Could the outside world be any better than this?

Peter did not trust himself to answer.

"Hello Uncle Cy!" Peter greeted his uncle as he ran up the steps of the porch.

Cy Axym regarded his arrival with warm smile, for he was glad to see the boy back. His uncle's height was concealed by his seated position, but Cy, was no means a small man. In full length, he towered over Peter considerably. Much of his face was hidden by a neatly groomed beard which was greying more rapidly these days. His eyes, which were the most telling thing about him, were the deepest blue and seemed to have the mischief of a child not much older than Peter himself.

"Nicely done boy. I see you've made a good catch today." Cy praised, observing the half a dozen fish that Peter was holding from his hook.

"Yes," Peter smiled bashfully, trying not to sound too arrogant at his success. Even though, secretly, he was very proud of himself. "They're easy to catch in the summer." he explained.

"Could we have them for supper?"

"I don't see why not." Cy rose from his chair to lead Peter into the house when he was suddenly overwhelmed by a wave of fatigue. His head spun around uncontrollably for a moment and his limbs lost all their control. For that instance, it felt as if all his strength had been suddenly sapped away. He fell back down on his chair with a heavy thud, weak and unable to remain on his feet. When he regained his composure, he saw the young boy staring at him with wide eyed fear.

Cy cursed softly under his breath because these spells were becoming more and frequent these days and usually came without any warning. He had been trying his best to hide them from Peter, but now not even his clever explanations could not hide from the boy, the evidence of what he had just seen. The truth had to be told and Cy hoped Peter would be strong enough to hear it.

"Sit down Peter." He said gruffly still having reservations about what he was about to do. Automatically, the boy sat on the floor by his feet, his eyes still watching Cy intently. Cy could tell the boy was afraid but Peter was trying very hard to hide it.

"There are things I should have told you well before this Peter." Cy let out a weary sigh. "Things I left too late because like all men, I assumed that I would have time later and my life was far from over." At that, he met Peter's eyes and added; "I was wrong to assume that I could live or die as I choose. Now, that it appears that decision has been taken out of my hands."

Peter's small fists clenched hard as he tried to control the bile rising up his throat and the stomach that was slowly knotting up like leather. He could feel the fear that was starting to overtake him. "Are you sick?" He managed to ask through a great effort not to cry.

"I am not well." Cy admitted and his answer impacted on Peter like a physical blow. The boy exhaled loudly in dismay.

"Will you be alright?" Peter asked, his voice trembling. The hope in his voice was another stab of pain in Cy's heart.

For an instance, Cy almost regretted bringing any of this up and was sorely tempted to lie and tell the boy that everything would be all right. He wanted to give Peter hope, to allay the fears that the boy was surely feeling. Most of all, he knew Peter was terrified of being left alone. Cy wished he could do it but knew he would not. He could not lie to Peter this way and it would be a greater sin to not prepare him for what was coming.

And its coming was inevitable.

"No." Cy answered and crushed Peter's fragile hopes in a single word. "It is beyond help now. It has been for a very long time. I was hoping that I could last until you were older but I was wrong. The time is drawing close Peter. I am going to die."

Peter's eyes remained tightly shut. His mind was slowly force feeding him the acceptance of Cy's impending death, without rushing him headlong into panic. He was still only a boy and the fear of losing the only person in his world, was more than any child should have to bear.

Cy could sense the boy's terror and wished that there was some way he could put away those fears. However, he knew better. Peter's fate was sealed long before the sun had risen on this day and the it was time that he knew how. For right now, Cy had said enough. The news of his death would take time to for Peter to get accustomed to, if he ever could at all. There was so much more that Cy had to tell him, some of which was worse than just his death. "I know this frightens you Peter," Cy spoke up, forcing Peter to look at him. "But for the moment, I am still here and we have some more time left to us."

Exactly how much time was unclear, even to Cy and this was what caused his apprehension. The things he needed to tell the boy could not simply be blurted out during a fireside chat in one sitting. Cy had wanted to tell Peter of all this when he was at least in his eighteenth year. Not now, when Peter was only ten years old, facing the prospect of spending untold years alone once he was gone. Cy scolded himself for misjudging his own body's ability to endure.

For that misjudgment, Peter would pay dearly.

III

Peter had awakened early the next morning even though he had slept very little the night before. His mind had been in turmoil and trying to deal with his fears saw very little success. All it did was leave him exhausted and still afraid, especially with Cy's impending death weighing heavily on his mind.

Throughout the night, his mind had been encompassed with one singular thought. What would become of him when Cy was gone? It shamed Peter to think that he was more concerned over his fear of being alone, rather than the coming death of his beloved uncle. Still, these were legitimate fears, borne of a child who was alone and had never seen another human being in his life nor had ever left this place to meet one. What lay beyond this paradise, beyond Cy's frightening words? Could he remain here all his life and not find out?

That thought had also kept him awake for most of the night, until the sweet sounds of the morning birds lulled him into a temporary slumber.

Now hours later, Peter stood on the edge of the porch, staring into the horizon as he waited for Cy to appear. His uncle had wanted to speak to him when the sun rose this morning. There were matters of importance to be discussed, Cy had said. Peter had wondered what else could be more important than Cy telling Peter he was dying.

What was left after that?

He did not have long to wait for an answer, for Cy soon stepped onto the porch behind him. Peter turned around and studied his uncle's approach, taking time to really see what he had taken for granted in the past few weeks. The older man's steps were more cautious and slower, as if the illness was sapping away at his strength with each breath he took. It pained Peter to see Cy this way, when in better days he had always seemed larger than life to Peter. To see Cy so depleted made Peter fully conscious of how little time they had left together made him ashamed that he had not noticed how sick Cy was before this.

"Come," Cy called to Peter once he had set himself down on his chair. "Sit by me."

Peter obeyed immediately and Cy smiled warmly as he stared into the boy's eyes, eyes that were so full of sorrow for him. This child had been the only thing he had ever loved, except for his mate Aria, in his entire life. The passion of that love startled Cy in its expression for he had never meant to get too attached to Peter. However, their long confinement in this place and mutual need for companionship had changed that perception.

He remembered briefly that small, warm bundle that had been Peter as an infant and felt another ache in his heart. How quickly the years of humanity fluttered by, ten years seemed like almost yesterday to him now. From a helpless, needy babe to a boy on the verge of becoming a man, much sooner than he should have. Time was indeed a cruel master to the human.

"What do you know of the Emperor?" Cy asked Peter suddenly.

Peter met Cy's gaze with confusion over the relevance of the question, but answered nevertheless. "Only what I have read in my history disks. The Emperor is the hereditary ruler of the Grand Council, also called the Democracy. His job is to maintain the Charter of Rights, as established at the Treaty of Axinar. Although he is called Emperor, he is only supposed to act as an arbiter over the Council, ensuring that the rights of all citizens be recognised and treated with justice and equality."

"Your studies give you credit," Cy remarked and saw that Peter was puzzled by the question.

If only he knew.

"What do you think of the Emperor?"

Another strange question, Peter thought. However, it was obvious that Cy was serious about receiving an answer and thus Peter gave it the full attention it deserved. His Uncle Cy rarely made conversation about nothing. There was a reason for these questions.

"I think its better than some of the other Emperors I read about in my history disk. In the Democracy, he is like a king, but he is not really. He makes sure that the Grand Council obeys the Charter and that everyone is treated fairly. I would like to live in a place with an Emperor like that."

"I am certain that there are many who wish the same Peter," Cy said with an expression of sadness. "Unfortunately, those kinds of Emperors no longer exist. The last Emperor like that perished a decade ago, and the one to follow is nothing like him. He, along with the Democracy and the Grand Council are no more."

"No more?" Peter exclaimed visibly shocked. He was a well-educated boy, Cy had seen to that, and such news, even for one as young as Peter, was alarming. "How can there be nothing now? How would everyone communicate and trade with each other?"

"There is order, and a new task master." Cy said grimly. "It is called the Citadel."

**********

Cy did not elaborate very much about the Citadel because he had not called Peter out to discuss governments, good or bad. He had only revealed this much because it was necessary to prepare Peter for the rest. He did however hope, that Peter would never leave this place to find out about the Citadel.

"You remember what I told you of your father?" Cy said to Peter. The boy nodded slowly, sensing they were arriving at the heart of the matter.

"You told me that my father and my mother died when I was a baby." Peter answered softly.

"Yes, that is true." Cy replied with equal softness in his own voice. "Your parent are dead. However, what I have never told you, was the circumstances of their death."

"Circumstances?" Peter looked at Cy suspiciously. "What circumstances?" Suddenly, Peter became aware that all he knew of his parents were based solely upon what Cy had told him. For the first time in his life, he began to feel suspicion towards his uncle. Had Cy been hiding things from him all these years? What were the circumstances of their self imposed exile here?

"I wanted to tell you about them when you were older, when it would be easier for you to bear. Since we both know that I will not live to see you grow to adulthood, so it must be now that I tell you now. These are adult things Peter and you must bear them like an adult. I have to have faith in your maturity, because these are difficult things to know."

With a deep breath, Cy plunged into it, deciding to waste no more time. "You were only a few weeks old when the trouble began. Your parents fearing for your safety, gave you to me because he knew his enemies were closing in on him. He knew time was running out for him and tried to send both you and your mother away. However, your mother Ferra was a stubborn and fiercely loyal woman. She would not leave without her husband.

Finally, it was decided that you at least would be taken safely away from Accra. Accra is where you were born. Even that departure was difficult, I barely managed to smuggle us both on board a freighter. The galaxy was in chaos, the Democracy was crumbling and the Citadel was rising from its ashes. This land was a part of your father's private estate, known only to himself and your mother. It was your father who suggested we come to this planet. He believed that we would be safe here and he was right. We have been safe. Rysta is barely inhabited. Its location is what is considered to be the galactic wilderness and has very little to do with the Citadel hierarchy."

Peter swallowed hard, trying to envision it all. It was hard for him to imagine a conspiracy to escape, to flee a civilisation in ruins and a child that had to be safe at all costs. What did it mean? At that moment, another thought struck him. One he neither liked very much nor had ever occurred to him "Are you really my uncle?"

"No, I am not." Cy answered truthfully watching the boy's face as his worst fears were confirmed. "I was an acquaintance of your father's. When the end arrived, I was the only one he trusted enough with your care. Does that change anything for your Peter?"

"I suppose not," Peter shook his head knowing that it really did not. "I guess I've always wondered why you never talked about my parents much. I always thought that it might be difficult for you but to me you are my uncle. You always will be." He answered feelign more confused than anything now. "But what happened to my parents? How did they die?"

Cy was pleased that the boy was handling all this with remarkable calm and with discipline. He hated to tell Peter the rest but now that he had begun, he could not stop. "I do not know what specifically happened to them. What I do know, I heard after we arrived on Rysta. By the time we reached this planet, the Democracy was gone and the Citadel was established and," he paused. "Your parents were murdered."

Cy decided that he would omit telling Peter that his parents had been incinerated before an audience or that their remains were scattered to the winds, without even the dignity of a burial. That was too much for anyone to know, especially a fragile young boy. Besides when he became a man, Cy was sure Peter would find out for himself any way.

Peter absorbed everything that Cy had told him but knew unconsciously that a greater shock was yet to come. Cy was wording himself carefully, Peter noticed, revealing all, except something that was of vital importance to this whole affair, which would explain everything including this conspiracy of secrecy.

"Uncle Cy," Peter's voice was sober and yet forceful. "Who were they that they had to die? Who was my father?"

Looking him straight in the eye, Cy delivered the final piece that would put everything into place for Peter. Although, by the look on Peter's face, the boy had a good idea of who his parents were already. "Your father was Aman Troezon of the House of Troezon and Emperor of the Grand Council and Democracy as it was. You my boy, are Peter Troezon. The last of the Troezon Emperors."

IV

It was nearly dusk when Peter climbed onto his bed with the small, velvet satchel. Uncle Cy had given it to him after their talk earlier today and the revelations about his identity. His father had been the Emperor of the Grand Council and he was now the last of the Troezons.

What did that actually mean to him? The Democracy and the Grand Council were gone. Why did Cy tell him all this? What was he meant to do with this knowledge? How could he lay claim a title or an order that was no more? He was just Peter Troezon, orphaned and soon to be very much alone. What bearing did any of this have upon his own life now? None of it could help him.

He was just a kid! What could he do about his parent's wrongful death? Even though he wished it was otherwise, he did not even know them! How could he avenge them against the might an empire? He had no images of them from which he could draw some comfort. There were no memories of them hidden in his mind. Cy was the only family he knew.

After staring at the satchel for a long while, Peter finally unfastened the silken chord that held it close. It was made from the finest of material he noticed, soft and smooth. In all his life, Peter had never seen any fabric so fine or so intricately woven. Even its embroidery of golden thread seemed to be the work of a great craftsman with exceptional skill. An intricately embroidered dragon, with flames flaring from its nostrils, stared up at him.

Opening it, Peter found only one item contained within. It was a ring. Specifically, a man's signet ring. Peter picked it up slowly, as if it was the most fragile thing in the universe. As he held it in his palm, he saw that it was far too big for him at present but eventually, he may grow into it. The same dragon image was etched exquisitely on the ring's golden face. He fingered it for a few moments, growing accustomed to the cool metal against his skin before he examined its inner wall and found an inscription etched within.

To the first son of Troezon, by the crest of Dragon shall he be known as Emperor.

A sudden feeling of loss overtook Peter with surprising speed. Those words had a profound effect upon him. For in that moment, he saw himself as a part of lineage that had spanned generations, of a heritage that shaped the galaxy once upon a time. Knowing that he was the last of the Troezons made him feel more isolated that he had ever felt in his life. Peter felt so alone because he was not just a child orphaned but he could have been a part of something grand and honourable. An entire lifetime had been stolen from him, years that could never be replaced. He wanted to know his father and mother! He wanted to hear his father tell him about the Troezons, past and present. Was he the only one left?

From that moment onwards, he was no longer just a boy who lived in seclusion from the rest of the galaxy. He was the last remnant of great tradition dead to the eyes of all. Peter would see to that the Troezons would live on within him, he was determined of that He was no longer just Peter, he was Peter Troezon. Whatever happened next, he would face it like a Troezon.

CHAPTER TWO

I

To another boy half way across the galaxy, the past held no mystery for him.

Unlike Peter Troezon, Marcus RaynÕr or Marc, as he preferred to be known, had no unanswered questions about his origins. At the moment however, his most immediate concern was focused on the possibility of whether he would have any future at all. Presently, he found himself in the company of several hundred children, varying in ages and species. They were trapped in the same cage and would suffer the same fate. Grimly, they waited with growing unrest for their embarkation on board the slave ship, only a hundred yards from where they were being held captive.

Once on board, they would be transported into the heart of the Spacing Guild's Mining Belt, to a stygian world known only as Staryn. Once they had landed on Staryn, they were the indentured property of the Mining Guild and what they faced was nothing less than slavery. If they were lucky, they would die quickly in the mines before the Guild decided that they were strong enough to endure more hazardous duty.

If they were lucky.

Marc RaynÕr did not believe in luck.

If the truth be known, he was unashamed to admit that there was very little in which he did truly believe. Throughout his short life, the lesson most beaten into him was faith in anything was always unfounded, often with very painful results. He was only eleven but faith had been driven from him with the most ruthless efficiency that brutality was capable of administering.

The boy trusted no one. He relied upon no one and he cared for no one. A person who happened along Marc RaynÕr would feel somewhat disconcerted by this boy who looked back with expressionless eyes. The few adults that did come across him wondered why a child as young as this, would feel such an urgent need to conceal everything that he was, behind an impregnable fortress. Such control took great discipline. There were men who spent years trying to achieve that level of indifference and yet Marc erected this barrier in little less than six years. Yet, Marc had taken the experiences of his life with the discipline afforded to most seasoned veterans of war.

Sometimes, it almost felt like a war to him. A war against the society of which he was an unfortunate product. As far as he was concerned, it was society that was cruel, harsh and utterly ruthless to children who were alone and orphaned. What he was had been moulded in the wake of sadistic abuse and systematic degradation. His pliable innocence had been shattered long ago by the barbarity of the system and it scarred him forever. Almost eleven, Marc had come to understand with singular clarity, what it took a lifetime for most to comprehend.

Men were created for GodÕs amusement.

At a time when most children his age were growing up and enjoying their childhood, Marc was struggling to simply survive it. In the galaxy as it was now, this was no simple thing and Marc had long passed the hope that it would ever change. The days when he had dared to hope was now only a grim reminder of how foolish that sentiment was.

He had the scars to prove it.

His present situation exemplified this with extreme accuracy. Despite all the caution he had taken over the past four years to avoid the Slaving Guild, he had been unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. An unexpected Citadel sweep of the area, now found him stabled with the rest of these children, waiting to be shipped off to a planet most never survived. He had sworn when he was seven years old that no one would ever enslave him again. Yet as things always seemed to transpire throughout his short life, the random luck of fate would step in and he would be powerless once again.

Just as it was the first time.

With bitterness, he recalled the first time he had been placed in prison camp for orphaned children, deceptively known as Youth Centres. The rumours had been thick and fast about children who were shipped into deep space in the cargo hold of slave ships before being jettisoned and left to die. He remembered cringing every time they came to take more children away. Marc was certain he would die in a cold vacuum. Later, Marc had learnt the reality was far worse. Children who were taken on board slave ships were doomed to years of slavery. Until they were eighteen years of age, what the bureaucracy considered legal adulthood, they were the wards of the Imperium, to be handled in whatever way deemed appropriate.

They were exceptions of course. Sometimes, a child could get lucky and be fostered by childless couples genuinely wanting a family. Unfortunately, these were rare occurrences and most of the fosterlings were adopted for slave labour. In any case, those were the realities of the Youth Centre. One could either become fostered to anyone willing to pay for the privilege or be sent away on a slave ship. Usually, the slave ships were bound for worlds where the local industry required fodder for the danger involved in ore mining. If one was fortunate to reach ones eighteenth year, then the Citadel would release them with an obligatory slap on the back.

Sorry for the inconvenience, but at least you're alive.

Marc had decided long ago he would survive his eighteenth year. Then somehow, he would make them pay.

II

Around him, the sound of open sobbing and incessant whining heightened the annoyance of his situation. By their example, at least he knew what he would not do. He would not panic. Marc faced his imprisonment with calm and sensibility because it was necessary that he conserved his strength and his energy as much as possible.

He would need it when he found a way to escape.

There was never any doubt in his mind that he would escape. It was simply of a matter of waiting for an opportune moment. For now, it was impossible. Beyond the confinement grid, were Citadel guards on patrol. Each carrying high precision plasma rifles and were unafraid to use them. Even if he could elude them, he had to first penetrate the Confinement Grid that surrounded him and his fellow captives. No, he did not like his chances, so he would wait. Above all else, he knew the value of patience and the wisdom of keeping it.

Thus, he remained in his corner within the grid and saved his strength. Escape would come later.

**********

Some hours later, the slave ship was finally ready to accept its cargo. One section of the Confinement Grid was deactivated and the Citadel guards, with their weapons drawn, ushered the children out of their cage. Slowly, the frightened group began to move towards the enormous ramp that extended into the slave ship's cargo hold.

Marc studied his environment carefully, seeking out the slightest possibility of an escape route. However, the guards were alert, prepared for resistance, even if none was forthcoming. His observations only reaffirmed the conclusions he had made previously. Escape was impossible. It seems that he too was just as trapped as the rest of his companions.

Suddenly, his thoughts were interrupted by a loud, harsh voice followed by a hand shoving him roughly forward. "Get a move on brat!"

Marc averted his gaze and caught the Citadel soldier dead in the eyes. The black guard was tall and imposing, even more so in the dark Citadel uniform. However, Marc was unafraid of going where angels feared to tread.

"Touch me again and I will kill you." He retorted icily before continuing onward.

The guard wanted to react, but something inside him held him back. For a moment, he had seen something in the boy's icy blue eyes, a glimpse of something dark and terrifying. Something so vile and awful that he was not about to provoke it and he could not shake the cold shudder running down his spine even when the boy moved away.

III

The boy who would some day grow to be Commander Marcus RaynÕr was born on the central planet of the star system known as Fiolina. His mother, what little he remembered of her, was Erin RaynÕr who had come to Fiolina as a young woman. Originally an Accran aristocrat, she had come into scandal and was forced to leave the home world. Erin had fallen pregnant to one of her courters, who had wooed her with promises of marriage and then retracted the offer when she was with child. Mortified, her parents could only think of sending her far away, to be sequestered until something could be done about her 'dishonour'.

She almost allowed let them take her baby away. However, all it took was a moment of reflection, that life at court held very little interest to her and this baby she carried was something that was exclusively hers. Thus, she took the small inheritance her parents had given her in the hopes that her destination would take her far away from Accra and the scandal.

Erin had selected Fiolina for that very reason.

The only inhabited planet in the system was aptly called Fiolina 2. Despite its distance from the seat of the Democracy government, it stood in main space lanes and was fast becoming a thriving trading centre. Erin had been attracted by the promise of a new life where she could be allowed to build a future for herself and for her child.

Upon arriving on Fiolina, Erin found that the tales of prosperity had not been exaggerated by the Democracy Colony Guides. Although, it was still largely undeveloped, it held promise and potential. With her inheritance, she bought herself a house in the better districts of Metro, Fiolina's capital city.

The first months were difficult for a young woman who had spent much of her life in expensive boarding schools and was unaccustomed to living within a set financial budget. Especially now that she was alone and pregnant. Still, with astonishing adaptability, a characteristic her son would someday inherit, Erin survived and eventually gained some sense of her own self worth. For the first time in her life, she had to fend for herself and for her child, without anyone's assistance except her own determination.

Eventually, she gained employment as a public servant. Although it could hardly support the life of glamour and luxury she had been accustomed to all her life, Erin was more than contented with it. It paid well enough for Erin to prepare for the arrival of her son.

**********

Marc squinted.

His eyes tried to capture the thin, beams of light that sneaked through the gratings above his head. He looked up to see that the entire ceiling, was in fact a large grating and that the loud clanging in their ears, were the sounds of feet walking on the metal above them. Marc had tried keeping track of time, a difficult task when the cargo hold was dimly lit throughout the journey. He estimated that they had only been in this dungeon for no more than two days. Despite knowing that, it still felt like weeks.

He stood up, stretching limbs that had become stiff from the cramped surroundings. Marc tried to catch a whiff of ventilated air that seeped in through the grating. He could almost smell the faint aroma of fresh oxygen and he inhaled this like one dying of thirst. Inside the cargo hold itself, the air was near fetid. There was one utility among thirty of them in this sector and it did not surprise Marc that their needs outweighed its ability.

After a moment, he returned to his corner of the cargo hold, almost slipping on a scrap of food on the grimy floor. The guards simply emptied containers of food over an opening in the ceiling. It probably amused them to see the children scrambling for food like a pack of hungry dogs.

He felt sweat on his brow. Hardly surprising considering that the cargo hold was hot and humid resulting from too many bodies crammed into such close proximity. Wiping the sweat from his forehead, he sat down in the darkened corner, resting his head against the wall and tried to get some sleep.

A few minutes later, he lifted his head up again. It was too hot to sleep and he could not get the sound of crying out of his head. Didn't these foolish children know anything? What was crying going to get them? Nothing! All they were really doing was squandering what little strength they had. Didn't they know that at this moment, surviving this trip was going to take all the energy they had. The reason for this nightmare was to weed out all the weaklings before they arrived at Staryn.

Marc voiced none of these opinions to the others. Why should he? He was going to survive, one way or another and if that meant that others would die because of their own stupidity, what had that to do with him? Why should he care about them, when they did not care about themselves?

Look at them, he thought, as he studied the children with him. They came in all types, human, reptilian, arthropods and of varying ages. The youngest, Marc noticed, was a six year old human, who had not stopped crying since he was brought on board. It was not impossible to survive, even when one was that young. He ought to know He had been younger than this child when he had first fallen into the hands of the Youth Centre.

He had been three years old.

Closing his eyes, the Fiolinan tried to remember what it had been like before the Youth Centre, before life had imprisoned him behind a wall of pain. A lot of his memories were faded, most bore the clarity of suffering, but his mother was always vivid in his mind. Memories of his mother, her Alderian Violets and that wonderful house by the sea were things he carried with him always. For many years, after the Youth Police had taken him, Marc RaynÕr's memory of his mother was the only thread that held his sanity in place.

There was their house in Metro, with its bright, red roof and his mother's violets that were growing just outside the kitchen window, filling the house with their sweet fragrance. Years later after his escape, he had returned to the house. Perhaps in a desperate search of some link to the person he had once been. All Marc had found was debris. They had destroyed it to make way for some new Citadel building.

He had stood there, staring at the ruins, with the rubble at his feet, and tears running down his face. Standing in the darkness of where Erin RaynÕr's violet bush had been, Marc finally cried for his mother. Only then, did he finally accept that she was gone and was able to mourn her.

Marc had cried that night.

Four years after she had died, he was a completely different person, bearing little resemblance to the little boy she left behind. He had sworn to love nothing again for in his despair, he knew he could not bear the anguish of losing it.

Yes, he remembered some things clearly.

And other things were simply buried away.

V

Marc RaynÕr was born a year before the downfall of the Democracy. He had been an easy delivery and Erin loved her little boy from the very first. Despite her meagre resources, she was determined to give Marc, named after her brother, the best of everything.

He was a healthy baby, with dark gold hair and his mother's features. His eyes, however, were very much his own. They were an icy blue, a blue so cold and intense that Erin was certain that he could see through her. They could have been his father's but Erin would never acknowledge that to anyone or to herself. Marc Rayn'r's father did not exist for her and he was her son alone.

His life with his mother was idyllic. She set the standard for all the women that would come into his life. Erin was everything that Marc admired. She was strong, independent, beautiful and the utmost centre of his world. Receiving a single mother's allowance from the government allowed both of them to live quite comfortably during Marc's infancy. Erin was completely devoted to her son and lavished all her love upon him.

Marc remembered her vividly. He clung to his memories of her fiercely because after she had died, that was all he had left. He remembered picnics on the beach, helping her in her garden, falling asleep adrift on the sound of melodic her voice.

She had died when he was three.

Through the haze of his shock, he vaguely heard the sympathetic Traffic Officer tell him that it had been a traffic accident of some sort. Later he learnt that Erin's family on Accra wanted no responsibility for him. He heard the words but did not understand what they meant. In the days following her death, he was numb and angry. He was too young to understand what it meant to be dead. All Marc could comprehend was that his mother had abandoned him. In those few days after she had died, he thought he had gone to hell.

Unfortunately, hell was to come later.

It was approximately a week after Erin RaynÕr's death that Marc was turned over to the Youth Centre since he had no other family that chose to claim him. It marked the end of his idyllic existence and began his cruel initiation into a new life.

A life of abuse and survival.

CHAPTER THREE

I

The cold night bit into his skin.

Peter shivered slightly as he stared into the darkness of the Rystan night. He often stole out of his bedroom during the small hours of night, usually when he was unable to sleep.

Lately, that had been happening quite a lot.

Ever since the day, Cy had told him of his impending death and the true identity of his parents, Peter had hardly a moment's peace. His mind lingered between two worlds now, torn asunder by his vigil over Cy's health while another part of him, tried not to long for his parents. It seemed as nothing was simple any more, no matter how he looked at it.

He sat by the banks of the lake, watching the dark water rush past him, indifferent to his problems. There was such peace in this place, now more than ever. Peter longed to be a part of it all. In the distance, he could hear the hooting of a Silver Crest Owl, singing its twilight song. He knew the forest as if it were a part of himself. He knew every sound that was made by the creatures of these parts, he knew what berries and fruits could be eaten. If he wanted to he could remain here for the rest of his life, even after Cy was finally gone.

He would if he could bear being alone.

More than anything else, that terrified Peter the most. The thought of being isolated in this place, to never know the smile or the touch of another human being frightened him beyond comprehension. How could he endure it without going insane?

He did not think he could and that brought him to another question. Was he brave enough to leave after Cy had gone? This place represented safety and familiarity. Could he give it up to go in search of something new? Peter exhaled loudly in frustration. He did not even know what he was going to do when he left! Just where was he to go? This was his world. It represented the boundaries of everything he knew.

Dare he leave it?

All of a sudden, Peter looked up snatching himself out of deep thought. He had heard a sound. Something with soft padded feet, four footed but heavier than most of the creatures that dwelt in this area. The predator paused and peered out of the bushes that served as its hiding place. It studied its potential prey for a moment, evaluating its ability to launch a counter attack. It knew the scent of human well and this one was young and not terribly formidable. It did not taste human often, for the two footed kind preferred to gathered together in packs.

Peter knew something was out there. Something that even now, could be preparing to kill him. As glorious as the forest was, he knew its dangers. The forest was full of predators and prey. Now Peter had to decide what classification he came under. The boy reached for the knife in his belt. Although the instances such as these were rare, he knew enough of the forest to bring it with him,

Peter did not see it until it began its attack run. There was a moment of clarity when the young boy heard a fierce growl and he swung around to see a huge furry beast lunging at him. Without thinking, Peter flung the five inch blade forward, watching it slice through the air neatly.

The creature let out a short abrupt yelp before it fell on the ground like a lead weight, its fur matted with blood. Peter had to steady himself as his insides churned with nausea. A feeling not unusual to someone who had just come within a breath of dying. After a few minutes, he felt confident to rise to his feet. Moving forward slowly, it took a moment before his nerves settled down.

The tika lay on the ground very much dead. Peter's blade was buried deep within its forehead, between the eyes. He stared at the beast in stunned silence, unable to believe that his shot had been that accurate. The tika wolf was one of the most deadly predators in these woods and if Peter had reacted one second slower, he would surely be dead.

Once his terror had subsided, Peter realised with a start that he was not as helpless as he believed he was. Maybe he was inexperienced and maybe he knew nothing of the world, but when the time came, he was more than adept at taking care of himself. For a brief moment, he had faced terror and he had faced it on its own terms and survived.

Maybe that was worth the price it almost cost him.

II

Cyrus Axym awoke the next morning with one thought in his mind.

I am dying.

He knew it because, for the first time in his life, his body was wracked with the most unpleasant feeling he had ever known. Is this pain? He wondered as the pain renewed its attacked on him with relentless waves of unyielding force. Cy staggered to his feet, taking only a few steps before he was forced to rest by his dresser. The agony of it! It ate away at him as if he was in flames! Suddenly, he caught sight of his reflection in the mirror and gasped in horror.

His skin was withering, turning into dust as he was standing there! This was it! This was the moment! He was going to die!

Knowing that, gave him some measure of understanding in what was to come. He struggled to the door but barely made it into the next room before collapsing on the floor. His body wracked in excruciating pain. His energy was almost totally gone. He had expected that although he never thought he going to feel it so potently.

As he lay on his back staring at the wooden ceiling above, Cyrus Axym saw images flooding in on him. Images he recognised as his life. How ironic, he thought, through the pain. I am seeing my life flash past my eyes......

He remembered seeing the first creature slither out of the infant sea. The confusion in its mind as it emerged from the primordial depths. It had looked at Cy and through its mind, asked the questions that could only be asked by a newborn child.

Why did I leave? I like it where I was.

It was a child. A child that could not know that it was but a pawn, in the games played by nature. Despite its simple, primitive mind, Cy had called it friend and taught it how to survive in its new domain. He had taught it survival through change. Cy had taught it the meaning of evolution.

It died as Cy was now dying. Yet its death was not in vain. It had died leaving others in its place and when those others passed into the unknown, there were more to come after them. The cycle of its life was never ending and each generation was different, better, more sophisticated. It learnt the lesson of evolution well and used it to survive the awesome changes occurring around it in its world.

For their world was a cauldron of fire, earth and water. Seas were being born in one place and dying elsewhere. Continents were rising through the vast oceans and subsiding all at the same time. Land and water were rivals in the ultimate battle.

The future of a world.

I saw it all.

I saw man when he first came down from the trees. I saw him searching for food gone scarce where once again, he was forced to adapt. I saw him pick up a branch and used it as a tool. Even then, he had set himself apart from all other species on his world. In that one single moment and with that one act, he had set the stage for his entire species and its place in history. From the naked primitive of the cave dweller, to the majesty of the empire builders.

I have seen man at his worst and at his best. I have been little more than an unaffected observer, moving through time as men would move through the air, for most of this universe existence. I was voyeuristic intruder who no right to be in this cycle of existence. My time has come and gone. My life should have ended instead I was trapped as a pariah who was doomed to see all about me, wither and die. Cursed with immortality while I, the last of my kind, waited to complete one more task before death claimed me.

Strange, how every species strove to achieve immortality when they had no idea that it is more of a curse than a gift. I am as old as the universe and I have waited for so long. I was not born a being of flesh and blood even though I lived for millenniums as one. For the beings of this existence, their lives are so simple. They live and then they die. There are no in-betweens for them.

Consciousness for them exists in tandem with life force. When they die, both are extinguished in that single moment. For them, there is nothing beyond that except for some deluded hope of an afterlife. For my kind, it is not that simple. When our consciousness has outlived itself, it begins a sequence of events within our bodies, energy slowly becomes matter and our souls die when that metamorphosis is complete.

I cannot let the energy dissipate into nothingness! Even if my consciousness has started to die, I cannot allow the rest of it be extinguished as well. I was sent to complete a task and that task is not yet done. Everything has transpired because I never imagined that I could die. I never foresaw that such a thing could happen! So I must do what I have planned for the past decade. Before I breathe my last, I will use the last of my power for one final thing. Using it will effectively finish me, but my quest will continue.

Above all else, that must be done!

I can use the power to change another being, to alter his matter into pure energy. I can see to it that the transference process occurs gradually for it will take years, for one to become accustomed to such extraordinary levels of pure energy. In time however, he will learn to use it.

Such a person would no longer be human. He would achieve at the final transfiguration, godhood. I do not know what it will be like for a human, when his old shell is burnt away for our new. We have never seen one of ours born in human skin.

Maybe that will be of some comfort to Peter when his skin begins to burn.

III

Peter awoke to sound of gasping.

He sat up immediately, jumping out of his bed because this was the sound he had been expecting for weeks. No, he amended, fearing. Running out of his bedroom as fast as he could, Peter froze in the doorway as his worst fears were confirmed.

It was Uncle Cy.

He had been fearing this moment since Cy had told him that he was dying. Peter had been hoping against hope that perhaps his uncle was wrong. Maybe he was sick but overestimated the severity of his illness. Perhaps it was a mistake of his age, maybe Cy believed he was worse than he really was. However, as he stood there watching his uncle gasping in agony on the floor, all his illusions fell away and Peter knew that there was no more hope.

Peter approached Cy and discovered something else too. At first, Peter could not understand what he was seeing. Certainly Cy was dying but it seemed as if he was changing right before Peter's eyes. His skin seemed yellowed and flaking. It was falling of his flesh like dust. His balls were sinking rapidly into his head. With each passing moment, his condition deteriorated until Peter could no longer recognise this hideous parody of a man as the uncle he had loved most in the universe.

"Uncle Cy!" Peter cried out but the sound was lost in his throat. He had dropped to his knees, almost afraid to come near his uncle. Eventually however, he forced himself to move because Peter was not going to let his fear allow him to stand by and see the old man die alone.

Cy averted his gaze weakly and looked at Peter. He met Peter with glassy eyes and could not see the boy well for his once intense blue eyes were almost a milky white. Peter did not doubt that Cy could actually see him What was happening to him?

"Peter," he croaked with great difficulty. "Come to me."

It took every ounce of courage Peter had to not run away from Cy and mask the revulsion in his eyes at what was taking place. However, Peter would rather die than humiliate the man who had been father, mother and friend to him. Peter crawled forward and stood over his uncle.

Cy looked at Peter with eyes that seemed almost blind, yet somehow Peter knew that Cy could see him. The old man's breathing was becoming more irregular, reduced only to hoarse rasps. With a sinking feeling, Peter knew that it would not be long now. Whatever was happening to Cy had reached it apex. From this point, Cy's prolonged existence was maintained on his sheer force of will.

"What is happening to you Cy?" Peter asked trying not to cry, even though he knew Cy was dying. He tried to remain strong and keep up his courage, but a pain was rising out of his chest like no pain he had never known before. How could he live without Cy being there for him?

"Peter, listen to me." Cy whispered with all the strength he could muster. "I did not tell you everything. I lied to you, my precious boy," he swallowed hard with tears forming in his wizened eyes. "Until Rathe appeared, I had never even laid eyes on your father. I knew who he was, but I had never met him."

"Don't talk Cy," Peter said softly, not really listening and more concerned over the old man's remaining existence. "Save your strength."

"No!" Cy exclaimed vehemently, in a sudden burst of force, grabbing Peter's arm tight, making the boy look into the whites of his fading eyes. "You must listen to me! You must remember what I am about to tell you."

"All right Cy," Peter answered, conceding to the old man's demand so that it would calm him. "I am listening."

"I was never your father's acquaintance, I came to see him on the day Rathe arrived. I knew Rathe would go for Aman Troezon first. As the ruler of the Democracy, it was the quickest way for Rathe to gain recognition. He thirsts for power. That is Rathe's way. I tried to warn Aman but he would not believe me. Who would have? It is so unclear now, even Azara feels like a dream, just like that other existence, just like my home..." Cy began to ramble incoherently and Peter couldn't understand what he was saying any more.

"Cy, what do you mean?" Peter demanded hoping his voice would focus the old man instead of fading away into oblivion. "Are you telling me you knew my parents were going to die? And who is this Rathe?" However Cy was slipping deeper and deeper into his delirium and could barely hear him. "Cy!" Peter shouted, shaking him hard to bring him back from his feverish state.

Suddenly, Cy stopped ranting and faced Peter once more, with a faint glimmer of recognition in his sightless eyes that were now filled with tears running down his leathery cheek.

"I love you Peter, you are the son of my heart. You have made life in this strange existence almost bearable and you must accept my apologies. I did not mean this for you but I have no other choice. I am sorry Peter."

Now it was becoming confusing. "Sorry Cy?" Peter asked once again. "Sorry for what?"

Cy did not answer. His eyes were still focussed on Peter but when his head flopped backwards and his grip on Peter's arm slackened, Peter assumed he was gone. However before Cy Axym passed into that other world, if such a place existed for him, he gave his ruined body one final command before the last conscious thought evaporated from his mind.

Peter tried to move away, unable to look at the lifeless husk that was his uncle. He noticed that the old man's grip was stronger on his arm and tried to prise it loose through his efforts to stop crying. Perhaps if he suppressed his tears, he could almost make himself believe that Cy was not dead. However, as he tried to remove those bony, withered fingers from his arm, he noticed something else.

CyÕs skin was getting warmer.

That's not possible. He had to be mistaken. How could a dead body generate rising heat? The impossibility of the whole idea made Peter dismiss the notion as preposterous. Yet when he tried to pull away from Cy, the fingers would not release him and the heat grew more intense until Peter began to feel pain most acutely.

Suddenly, Peter saw Cy's corpse begin to radiate with a powerful white of light. It emerged from his mouth and out of every orifice that existed in his decaying body. By now he was terrified, and was pulling harder to free himself, but to no avail. Cy's death grip had Peter firmly in its clutches and the blinding white light radiated in an expanding web of energy that consumed both him and the corpse.

Later, when the entire event was a thing of the past, Peter would replay it over and over in his mind, trying to unlock the secret of what had been done to him. All he truly recalled was the pain. It was the most excruciating and agonising pain he had ever felt in his young life. It seemed almost as if he was being flayed alive and his flesh seared away, layer by layer. He did not remember much after the white light had consumed him, for by then he had faded into darkness.

IV

The soft rumbling of thunder outside the house awoke him.

He blinked slowly as darkness flooded into his eyes. For a moment, Peter was uncertain whether he was fully awake or still in the midst of his black sleep. However when he sat up, he felt his head swim and the room was a vortex off images all crowding in on him at once. Focusing his eyes, he found himself in the main room of the house, at the place he last remembered himself to be. He was still on the floor and lying next to the dead corpse of his uncle, Cy Axym.

Upon remembering that, he made an effort to move. Looking outside the window, the sun was no longer visible in the sky. He had lying unconscious on the floor for most of the day. It was dawn the last time he recalled and staring outside, the sky was dark and it was raining heavily.

His throat felt hoarse and some memory of what had taken place began to return to him What had happened to him? He wondered as he staggered to his feet. Somehow, Peter made his way to the door leading out of the cabin, desperately needing fresh air to clear his muddled senses. Outside, the night was dismal and cold. Ominous grey clouds had sent heavy rain to batter the ground mercilessly. Not to mention it was cold.

More dazed than anything, Peter took the sign of his slight shiver to build a fire. Even though he was awake, he was still somewhat confused about what happened. The attempt to start a fire was more to focus himself than anything else. After several minutes, the room was warmed by the flames of the fire and illuminated the cabin as well. As the room glowed with amber light, Peter noticed Cy corpse on the floor where he had left it. There was not much that remained of Cy Axym and his body was reduced to little more a withering husk that was quickly becoming dust. Peter knew what death looked like. In a place where animals lived and died often in the cycle of nature, death was something he had to become accustomed. Cy had explained it to him once and Peter somewhat preferred his uncle's perception that death was just the last act in the machinery of regeneration. Peter tried to keep that idea in mind as he stared at CyÕs lifeless form. However, there was nothing natural about what took place during CyÕs death. The pain he had felt was prove enough of that and Peter found himself wondering about something else.

"What did you try to tell me Cy?"