LOCATION: Orbit of Teraneus

TIME: 17/40 Rotation, Local Time

MESSAGE: Turukaishal. I certainly hope that this message reaches you in good health. We all wish you luck on your upcoming assignment, and await your reports with baited breath. All of us are gravely concerned should the Vahran reach the stars. They have already built an orbital station, as I am certain you know. No good can come of this. Please continue your research for an additional 180 local rotations. After this time, please notify us if you require further time to study their defenses.

Some of us here are worried that Sovakadris is sending you on a farcical mission, though. The Vahran may be reaching for the stars, but how long until they realistically reach them? I admit that it will be to our interest to study them, but Sovakadris is bracing to attack as soon as your final report reaches him. Is such haste really necessary? Please, forget that I voiced this doubt. This comes not from any high-ranking officer, but from your friend, and I suppose it is born out of a concern for your health. Forgive me.

The war is not going well. I am sending this message from the Vermillion Comet, as most of our other technical ships have been destroyed. We have all but lost Teraneus, and we know that Edomai and Gelmore have both fallen to the Anu'bai. Containment is pointless once they get a foothold – we have no choice but to Cleanse the planets. You know what that entails, and how many lives are lost in the process.

Once your mission is at an end, please return to our base near Chindrus – we could use a soldier like you. I hope we meet after this is over – it would be my pleasure to treat you to a can of methane upon our reunion, if we both survive our respective assignments. Sovakadris has almost managed to completely ally our race with the Heil and Visoth, and it will not be long before we move as one against the Vahran.



Turukaishal read the screen in front of him with dispassionate black eyes, his Scain body crammed into a Vahran armchair that he'd brought down after his had broken. He was too tall, but nowhere near too fat. At nine feet, he only weighed ninety pounds, and most of that was his head.

He stood up, his silicon bones popping in their sockets, and powered down the receiver unit. The war against the Anu'bai was critical – if the parasites spread too far, they might have to go so far as to abandon Chindrus. Turukaishal had no wish to leave his homeworld in the clutches of a rampant virus, but the Scain would have little choice.

He looked at his reflection in the far window. He was a Scain. Nine feet tall, ninety pounds, grayish-green skin and large eyes. He looked like a stretched-out version of the Gray aliens Vahran were so fond of slandering with their accusations of probing and abductions. The poor Erythians. They were seeking a way to prolong their now-infertile race, not harm Vahran. He sneered, his eyes shifting from black to red as his anger for Vahran surged. Vile, disloyal creatures. He was on their planet, undercover, and it was all he could do not to attack them outright. Every nerve in his body said to attack, but he had to maintain control for the sake of a mission. He was a Scain. Scain didn't botch missions.

Turu focused his inner energy – his Psionics – into a shell around himself. It was time. He was going to go out into the world of the Vahran. The energy hardened around him, forming a cocoon. It slowly began to tighten around his body, a thin film not unlike plastic. Moments later, it began to break away and fall to the ground.

He looked in the mirror and grimaced. Could they think of no other punishment? Did he have to take this form? Standing in the room was a seven foot Vahran – the shortest he could make himself – with black hair and ivory skin. His eyes hadn't changed – he couldn't alter them with that technique. Instead, he opted to wear some kind of eye protection that would mask them. He settled on a pair of mirrored glasses.

He pulled on a set of Vahran clothing that he'd procured through a digital medium they used on this planet. He admired himself again, now wearing a gray top, black pants and a black coat that brushed his knees. He pulled on a set of footwear and brushed his hair absently. He wasn't used to having it. His flight suit, having shrunk to fit him, was the only thing he was truly used to having.

Turukaishal looked down at his hands. Five fingers. The fourth finger on a Vahran hand was an empty space on his. They only had one thumb, whereas his kind had two. He cringed. So inefficient. What kind of joke was nature trying to perpetrate on the universe by creating such creatures?

After making certain that everything was in order, Turukaishal put on the glasses he'd set aside and stepped into an elevator. His ship would remain beneath the ground, connected to the surface by this single shaft. He looked around. The bluish lighting, the tables and computer monitors, the tubes on the walls and the carts with their clutter… he was going to miss it. All of it. He breathed in the sterilized smell of his ship's laboratory before ascending. His Psionics powered the lift, sending him up to the surface where a building masked the entrance to his domain.

A Vahran building. He winced. He'd averaged the data from 1,200 local buildings to create a simulated environment that looked convincing. Vahran were behind the power curve. Rectangular buildings instead of spherical? And their buildings didn't hover! Turukaishal had been appalled when he'd discovered that. How was he supposed to remain secure in a building that shared the same ground with predators and, of course, Vahran?

The elevator reached the top, and he found himself in his airlock. Scain didn't breathe the same air as Vahran. Whereas these beasts were accustomed to primarily oxygen and nitrogen, Turukaishal was more partial to the argon, xenon and hydrogen of Chindrus. He took a tube from the wall containing a mixture of protites and examined it.

Once injected into his lung, the protites would convert any incoming chemicals into a breathable mixture. By breaking apart the components of any gaseous molecule, the protites would be able to mimic some semblance of his atmosphere. He screwed the first tube into a syringe and stabbed it violently into his chest, depressing the plunger until there was nothing left in the capsule. He waited for a few minutes while the airlock ran its atmospheric conversion protocols before opening the door and stepping out. On his way out, he snagged a second tube from the wall, allowing it to hover behind him as he employed his Psionics.

This second tube would remove the protites from his lung, allowing him to breathe his own atmosphere again. He placed it in a small strongbox on a table near the airlock – cleverly disguised as a storage chamber – and sealed it. He'd need to head back down eventually, and he didn't want to suffocate in his own mixture of chemicals.

He looked out one of the windows of his home and cringed. Soon, he would have to head out into that environment and play the part he'd been selected for – a Vahran.

Turukaishal squinted at the sky. One sun – and yellow? A G2V, if he remembered the briefing. Chindrus, his home world, was a body around a white dwarf somewhere in the area of 50 light years from this ball of dirt. How could these blasted Vahran live under such blazing light and heat? He felt his skin bristle in uncertainty. Although he no longer possessed his near-reptilian skin, he felt nervous about walking out into the sunlight and ultraviolet. He squared his shoulders, though, and walked toward the portal that would lead him outside. He had a job to do, and there was nothing out there that was going to stop him unless it killed him first.

Turukaishal used his hand to open the door instead of his Psionics. Vahran were afraid of things like that. He would need to adjust to doing things manually. He grimaced. Stupid, backward, unevolved creatures! He was going to suffer on their planet for his kind, but he didn't have to like it. He looked outside and inhaled, making sure the protites were working properly. So far so good. He tapped his head, trying to remember everything he had learned about his new environment.

After all, he couldn't keep calling it "G77220-P3" forever.

To the Vahran, this world was called "Earth".


Turukaishal had gotten rather used to his daily routine. The data matrix they had on this planet had laughable firewalls, and he was able to remotely hack them from his lodgings. Every day, he would wake up and check to see if anyone from Chindrus had contacted him. So far, all communications conduits were dark – even those to the Alpha Base. Had the Anu'bai infection spread that far already? Or was there some kind of interference from Earth's atmosphere.

Following his daily check, he would find nourishment. This was easy. The Vahran had erected some kind of nutrient dispensing plant a short distance away. Several of them, in fact. Turukaishal had become very accustomed to Earth's unusual time, and had calculated that it took him only twenty 'minutes' to reach the cluster of structures. He would arrive every day and use a piece of plastic that he had manufactured in his laboratory to perform a monetary exchange for his nutrients.

As with the data matrix, the Vahran currency depositories had weak defenses against his powerful computers. It was too easy to set up a program that deposited one-hundred thousand dollars every Earth 'month' into his supposed 'account'.

After purchasing his nutrition and returning to his lodgings with it, he would eat in peace while continuing to surf the data matrix – commonly referred to as the 'Internet' – and attempt to find traces of defense systems. He continued this act every day for almost a month. The records of weapons were easy to find – most of them were free knowledge anyway and those that weren't were easily hacked. Chemically or combustion-based firearms were widely in use on Earth, and there were some allusions to defoliant projectors as well. They had grenades, which wasn't surprising, but they were older fragmentation-style devices instead of EMP or laser-based.

As far as orbital technology went, there was none. There were a few missiles that could reach space. ASATs, to be exact. These, however, were only developed by three of the major political powers on the planet and were used primarily for destroying old and/or outdated satellites, although records of their use to damage or destroy enemy units existed as well. Turukaishal scoffed. Plain ballistic missiles. A Scain dropship could withstand those easily. These creatures were defenseless.

He leaned back in the chair, studying the screen before him. He'd managed to get his hands on a record and timetable of the Space Program for the United States of America. He wanted to laugh. The bureaucratic process had created a web of red tape one of the spidery Visoth would be proud of. At best, the Vahran would be able to colonize their own moon in… he checked the date on the computer… 2050. At best. Turukaishal finally did laugh. If Sovakadris wanted to blow this ball of dirt off the map, who was he to stop him? It was like a killing an infant – there was no one to stop him.

Turukaishal began to dutifully fill out his report regardless. Ballistic ASAT missiles were still missiles, and a handgun was still a threat. For a moment, he wondered if any other races that had made contact with the Vahran would have an objection to their annihilation. Surely the Erythians would complain at the loss of their organic test tubes, but apart from them, who cared? The Alinteans would certainly be glad of their extinction – bastard Vahran had slighted them before, not that they remembered it.

He set down his Data Pad, staring at the ceiling. Something was gnawing at him. He relaxed for a while, allowing his Psionics to seep out and levitate several of the crystal meditation spheres he kept nearby. They slowly began to orbit his head like moons. He finally realized what it was. Sovakadris had lied. He frowned. His thoughts spoke heresy, despite their ring of truth.

According to his leader, and the Mindbank of his race, Earth was a desolate cesspool of a planet inhabited by apelike lifeforms that warred with each other for everything from mates to territory – like animals. They were greedy and violent, and had reduced their planet to a husk of what it once was.

In reality, this part of Earth at least was green and fertile. It rained more than he liked – a clear liquid known as hydrogen dioxide (or, to the Vahran, "water") – but the sun and rain managed to create a beauteous atmosphere. Vahran, or at least those he saw on a daily basis, kept to themselves or carried on conversations in small groups. From what he understood of their language, they were discussing everything from politics to entertainment to a recent performance by a music group.

The topics of discussion varied based on age group and gender as well. Turukaishal noticed that males seemed to veer into physical topics while females remained more emotional. A difference he was hard-pressed to understand. He sighed, allowing the meditation spheres to rotate faster, spinning around him like multicolored planets.

Vahran were not what Sovakadris had made them out to be. He had watched enough of their inane television programs to realize that. The media reported violence and hatred, as well as cultural aggression over things as stupid as the place of birth or color of skin. That kind of discrimination fit Sovakadris' image of the Vahran.

But he also saw other sides to them. Vahran in the streets did not always conform to this kind of logic. Some did, certainly, but the majority didn't. Other channels on that ridiculous Vahran device known as a 'television' portrayed them as either stupid, weak, ineffectual, or a combination of the three. He had sat through an entire hour of some program that showcased the most amusing home footage from around the United States. Most of it pertained to genital blows, scare tactics, or amusing slip-and-fall situations. Could a race as erroneous as this actually be a threat? Turukaishal sat forward and made a small note at the bottom of his report.

Vahran threat level appears very low. Weaponry is insufficient to cause damage to our armored infantry, vehicles, or even structures. Technology level is barely cresting the wireless point, and they are still a disjointed race divided by cultural notions. It is my firm belief that attacking them would be of no benefit to the Scain other than to secure a Type-I planet for terraforming and habitation.

He set the message to send and relaxed slightly, returning the meditation crystals to their spots around the room. He was going to actually try mingling with the Vahran for a while – he still had five of their 'months' before he was to pack up and leave. What harm could it do? As long as he didn't blow his cover, there was very little danger involved. As a last resort, he could easily overpower any Vahran that decided to assault him.

He slid the Data Pad into a desk drawer and locked it. He was getting better at using his hands – something he wasn't wholly proud of. Soon, he was going to need to revert back to his Scain form. He ached to feel that sensation of being "Turukaishal the Scain" instead of "Turu Kaishal the Vahran". Perhaps he could last the entire five months, but he certainly wanted to be him again. It just wasn't the same in a Vahran body.

He smirked, or the equivalent to it. Scain's faces didn't move that much – their lips could twitch slightly but their main method of expression was their eyes. Their mood was easily discernable based upon the color of their bulbous ocular devices. It made things far simpler than the Vahran had it, what with their varying facial expressions. And Vahran could lie! That shocked Turukaishal to no end. If Scain tried to tell untruths, their eyes gave them away. Not Vahran. Apparently lying was easy for them. He'd had to use his Psionics to uncover more than a few untruths.

A unique structure had opened a short distance away, and Turukaishal was intrigued by it. He had no idea what it was, to be honest. It served nutrition, that much he was certain of, but it was all liquid. Correction – mostly liquid. They served a variety of pastries as well. Turukaishal couldn't stand pastries. He had tried one or two, and they had made him violently ill. Apparently the Scain system couldn't tolerate yeast in high concentrations. He had made a special note of that to his superiors, requesting that he be given additional compensation in his paycheck for the suffering.

Naturally, that had been denied. It fell under the 'occupational hazards' heading.

Turukaishal was still intrigued by the liquid they served there. It was black and hot, and he could smell the caffeine from a distance – a compound that would effectively block his Psionics. He had taken caffeine tablets at first to help him get used to the concept of not using his abilities, but now he was bound only by his self control. Still, he was more than a little curious. Vahran flocked to the establishment in small knots, seating themselves and downing the pastries and thick black liquid while talking with each other. Apparently it was some kind of cultural meeting place.

Turukaishal decided that it would be a good idea to visit such a place – even if it was as an informational excursion. He didn't have to eat the blasted pastries. He'd probably just order a cup of cold water and sit in a corner pretending to read the Vahran newspapers. He stood up and stretched. Tomorrow, he would handle that particular hurdle. Not today. He had been sitting at this cursed desk for twelve hours, and he wanted to go down to his ship and sleep.

Scratch that, he couldn't. He had to adjust to living like a Vahran. Instead of heading to the airlock, he marched up a flight of stairs and lay down gingerly on the pale white mattress. How Vahran slept on those things was beyond him. The springs poked his back and the lumps kept him awake. Still, he felt that tonight he'd be able to get a good night's sleep. He was exceptionally tired. And the prospect of tomorrow's excursion left him needing his rest to operate at full capacity.

He did not want to be out among Vahran if he wasn't ready for anything.