When Kiwi Has A Cold

Kiwi did not feel well when she woke up. She was burning up and every time she swallowed it hurt. The scholar's assistant reached up and rubbed the side of her face. Her nose was stuffy and swollen with snot. She groaned and snuggled deeper in the comfort of the blankets of the bed. "Sofia?" Kiwi croaked into the open air after a couple of minutes had passed. "I don't feel so good." Time passed and nothing happened. The faerie-like girl began to think her employer hadn't heard her. She cracked her mouth open to speak again, but she heard footsteps before she could utter a single syllable.

"Kiwi?" Two brown eyes blinked above the girl officially named Carmine and she felt a soft touch on her forehead. "You're burning up."

"I don't feel so good." Kiwi verified for the Rozetian, shifted under her blankets, and closed her eyes.

Sofia stroked the Skysonne's forehead. "You must've caught something in the rain. Stay in bed. I'll make you some tea." The savant stifled a yawn, she'd just returned from the negotiations with the Ia, which had gone on for far longer than she would've like.

"That will help?"

"I was once taught by someone very wise to make a healing tea that's never failed to this day." Kiwi only heard the kindness in the Rozetian's voice; she completely missed the hesitation when the scholar spoke of the person who taught her how to make the tea.

Sofia caused a lot of clanks and clunks, the door to open and close, and final silence as she went about her mission. Tranquility ensued for a short time. Eventually footsteps betrayed the scholar's return and more clanking and clunking could be heard.

Kiwi was brought into full wakefulness by warm steam gently colliding with her face. She slowly opened her eyes. Sofia was back by her side and a cup of steaming tea was held in her hand. "Sit up and drink this. It will make you feel better and I had to go back to the Waterfall to get all the ingredients."

"Oh, poor you. Having to walk all that distance while I'm here sneezing my brains out." Kiwi had meant her words to come across in a joking way, but due to her snuffed-up nose her voice was altered. She couldn't be sure whether her words came across in the right way or not.

Sofia either took the words as the joke they were meant to be or she let the possible insult pass by. Her only reaction was to hand the tea to her assistant and say, "Well, this will make you feel better."

The scholar's assistant sipped the hot drink; it tasted like nothing she'd ever drunk before. It was tangy and fruity, but also hinted at being peppery. It was strange and, for medicine, had a decent taste. Kiwi decided she liked it.

"Do you think you feel well enough to bathe or at least change clothing? You wore those clothes yesterday in the rain and you'll probably feel better wearing something cleaner." Sofia did not wait for her assistant to stop drinking before speaking.

The Rozetian tea had cleared up Kiwi's head and she felt a tad better than she had previously. She nodded slowly, though to her blankets and not to Sofia. "A bath sounds nice."

Sofia nodded and went off to collect a tub from somewhere and fill it with water as well as soap. Kiwi sat, picked lint off one of her blankets, and mused over her thoughts. She liked Sofia being nice, but it didn't add up. Not when it was compared to the enraged, book-throwing Sofia she'd known yesterday or the stern Sofia who'd hired her. The humanoid girl took her brain off the topic of her employer; she already had a headache. Her mind immediately turned to its most pressing matter. The clothes she wore were the only ones she owned. She wanted to tell her employer, but explaining that spare clothing was something a stowaway couldn't carry seemed too embarrassing. Thus, the girl's mouth remained silent. Kiwi didn't know that Sofia had thought of the same problem.

Leaving her assistant bathing under the eye of a vigilant Demona, the Rozetian noiselessly made her way out the door and down a long, creaky, staircase. She stopped one floor below hers. Due to it being just past midnight, the market was closed and most all Saion Port was asleep. Sofia's only hope of getting Kiwi clothes was from a member of the Waterfall's crew who didn't take offense at being woken in the middle of the night. Sofia knocked on the first door she came to; Captain Dewey had informed her other crewmembers had used the inn for lodging, though not specifically where they were. The best she could do was guess randomly and hope that behind the door there was a human.

"What?" the woman who opened the door snarled the moment the door was fully open. She looked Sofia up and down and then added, "What do you want?"

Feeling slightly embarrassed, the Rozetian spoke, "I'm here to ask if you have any spare clothes. My assistant is sick and the only clothing she has is dirty."

Two icy blue eyes gave Sofia a very annoyed and disbelieving look. "Seriously, you bother me in the middle of the night with that? Do you know how false that sounds?"

"I'm not lying. Please, anything you have will do." Sofia gave the woman nothing but a blank look, hiding her discomfiture. She understood the woman's vexation with being woken for such a strange request, but there was really nothing else she could do. Except for the clothes she wore and the muddy ones she'd changed out of, the Rozetian had, without thinking, left all her garments aboard the Waterfall and the spaceport was locked down for the night.

The woman disappeared into her room, her chestnut hair flaring out behind her like a flame. She slammed the door shut behind her.

"Wuzgoinon?" The woman's boyfriend, woken by the loud door closing, murmured from his place, still in bed.

"Darken's out there. Looking for clothes for her sick assistant, or so she says. I seriously doubt she's telling the truth, though." The woman crawled back into bed.

Stefan Fitzgerald woke up a little more. "Kiwi's sick?"

"Fitzgerald, don't be an idiot. Fruits can't get sick. Not like we can, anyway," Melissa muttered. "Go back to sleep."

"The assistant, her name is Kiwi." The man sat up and yawned. "Nice kid. Did ya get the clothes?"

"No. Why would I?"

"Kiwi's a good kid. Go give Darken some."

Melissa snuggled into her pillow. She was not getting up again. "If you want it done so much, you do it."

"Come on, Mel." The engineer shook his companion's shoulder. "Kiwi is a girl, you're the one here with girl clothes. There's no way I'm going through your stuff in the dead of night."

"Leave me alone."

"Not till you do this, sweetheart."

"Stefan, why do you care so much?"

"Kiwi is a nice kid."

"Whatever." The woman finally got up. She stumbled her way over to her bag, snatched up whatever was on top, and made her way over to the door. She groaned when she opened it and found an empty hallway. Fitzgerald would, no doubt, ask about her mission when she returned to bed and she'd get no sleep if she told him she hadn't accomplished it. Melissa chose a direction and started walking. 'If I don't find her in the next five minutes, I'm calling it quits. Stefan's conscience be damned.' The engineer was relieved to find that her search would be a short one.

"Hey, you! Darken!"

Sofia's ears did not catch the shout as her mind, at that moment, caught up on other things. She raised her fist to knock on the third door of her quest; the people behind the second door had been as rude as Melissa. She stifled a yawn.

"Hey, Darken! I have your clothes!"

The savant's fist stopped and hovered next to the door it was about to hit. Sofia turned and her eyes found Melissa; it took them a second to recognize the first person she'd asked for clothes. Before the Rozetian had a chance to do anything, the engineer marched up to the savant and tossed a clump of clothes at her. "Here, take these."

"Thank you." A very much surprised and relieved Sofia answered.

"Since when have you had an assistant?"

Put off by Melissa's tone, the Waterfall's translator turned on her heel and began to leave. "That is none of your business." She'd left Kiwi under the guardianship of a bird, a smart bird, but judging one. Sofia had what she needed; it was time for her to be getting back.

A hand reached out and grabbed the Rozetian's arm. "It is my business. The Waterfall is my ship and you aren't even supposed to be on it. If you have some kind of alien child—"

"I thank you for your kindness, but now, I have a sick girl to tend to." Sofia shook off Melissa's grasp. "Also, I believe the Waterfall is the ship of Captain Dewey."

Melissa Cunningham was not to be deterred. She had been disturbed in the dead of night, which annoyed her, and the person who had disturbed her had become a thorn in her side in recent days. "I am Melissa Cunningham, my father is one of the CEOs of F&C, the corporation that owns the Waterfall. Therefore, the ship is mine and I want you off it."

"I am not currently on any ship." Exasperation was clear in Sofia's tone. "Right now, also, I don't care who you are." She turned again, passed Melissa's room, and headed for the stairs.

"Do not walk away from me!" Melissa caught up to and stopped the Rozetian's retreat. She grabbed at the nonhuman, causing her to stumble a few steps. The engineer didn't exactly know what she was doing, but she hated it when people walked away from her. She had been walked away from enough in her life. She was not insignificant, not in the slightest. "The only reason you were hired onto my ship was because Dewey was an idiot." The woman hissed. "The only reason you've remained on my ship is that my boyfriend, for some stupid reason or another, decided to take a fancy to you." Her nails began to dig into her captive's flesh. "But, let me tell you, all that is over."

"Mel, what's going on out here?" Both Rozetian and Earthling turned at the sound of the new voice. Stefan Fitzgerald, shirtless, stood in the doorway Melissa had so recently left. He saw Sofia and inquired flatly, "Did Mel give you the clothes for Kiwi?

Sofia roughly shook off Cunningham's grasp. "Yes." Clutching the precious garments she'd been given to her chest, she briskly marched up the stairs.

Later, as dawn was crawling over the horizon, Sofia watched Kiwi sleep. 'At least she's cleaned up and in fresh clothes, though they're much to big for her.' The Rozetian yawned, since her journey downstairs she hadn't been able to sleep. She had nibbled her way through a small ration of her food and released Demona out the window to hunt, but she hadn't been able to relax. Too many thoughts plagued her mind. Eventually Sofia found herself looking over a sheaf of papers the Ia had given her. During the negotiations between the natives of Iavs and Dewey, they had, under the captain of the Waterfall's nose, offered her a proposition that much better than the deal she had with the humans. Given current circumstances, the Rozetian was seriously considering transferring ships.

The Krian sun broke through a blanket of low-laying clouds and bathed the ground below in shimmering, golden sunlight. The world, frozen by the previous day's storm, greatly appreciated the warmth. Saion Port woke with somnolent eyes and it took the city some time to fully wake from its slumbering state. The inhabitants of the city, whenever there was rain, no matter how short it of a period it descended upon them, always took the opportunity to rest. Usually the Krians would remain sleeping long after the rain had departed.

Kiwi, when the heated touch of sunlight stole her from her dreams, found, though she was still sick and sniffling, her previous deadening exhaustion was gone. No longer tired in the slightest, the girl who bore some similarity to a faerie was nothing but a bundle of energy bouncing off the walls.

"What will it take to get you to rest?" A very much fatigued and exasperated Sofia cut Kiwi off from rambling off everything that came into her mind. "Do you not understand that you need to rest in order to fully get better?"

"I get it, but I'm boooored," Kiwi grumbled. "Sitting around doing nothing drives me crazy."

The scholar present crossed her arms and informed her assistant flatly, "I can give you a book to read." Since the incident with the notebooks she hadn't brought up the topic of Kiwi lying about her reading capabilities and, by the tone of her voice, it was still a sore topic for her.

"No…" a plan took shape in the ex-stowaway's mind. "Tell me a story."

"What?"

"Tell me a story," Kiwi repeated.

Sofia sighed heavily. "Will that get you to rest?"

"Yup."

"Fine." The Rozetian left her place by the window, grabbed a nearby chair, hauled it over to Kiwi's bed, and sat down. "Once on Raiannek—"

"What's Raiannek?"

"A planet."

"Where?"

"Closer to here than Imaa is, but farther away than Entropion—"

"I have no idea where either of those are." Kiwi didn't give Sofia a chance to continue speaking. "Well I sorta know where Entropion is, because my sister, Ruby, once stole a lot of books about it from the library." She continued to ramble, "Do you know the Entains, the inhabitants of Entropion, live completely underground?"

Sofia raised her eyebrow at her assistant, annoyance rising. "Do you want to hear this story or not?"

"Yes, please." Kiwi paused. "What's it like on Raiannek? Have you ever been there?"

There was a long moment of silence before the girl's employer decided to answer the questions that had been thrown at her. "I've never been on Raiannek." She started slowly. "I've never had a chance or reason to go there. The planet is covered near completely with water and it's inhabited by a species of Selkie-like creatures, who don't usually socialize with foreigners."

"Selkies?"

"Like seals."

Kiwi blew a stray piece of her hair out of her face. "What's a seal?"

Sofia studied her assistant. How many questions was she going to have to deal with before she could get this story over with? "A seal is a fat, furry creature that has fins. It lives in an ocean or near one. A Selkie is like that, but takes on humanoid qualities when on dry land."

"Ok…so it's a shapeshifter."

"No, not exactly."

"Then what is it?"

At that precise moment there was a knock at the door. Sofia was more than happy to answer it.

Stefan Fitzgerald was scratching the back of his neck when the door in front of him was flung open and he came face to face with Sofia Darken. "Hi, I was wondering if I could have a word with you," the engineer blurted a greeting before his brain had a chance to think.

"You have my attention."

Not expecting this abruptness, Stefan was left momentarily speechless. "Would you mind going on a walk with me?" He asked Sofia after he had regained control of his voice. "I think we need to discuss some things."

"I can't." The scholar gave the engineer an odd, half apologetic half evil smile. "Kiwi is sick and—"

"I'm perfectly fine! Go on the walk!" The shout would've sounded completely normal and been more effective if it wasn't followed directly by a cough.

Sofia glanced back in the room at Kiwi who shrugged at her as if saying, 'what did you expect?' The Rozetian turned her gaze back to Stefan, who was waiting for her decision. 'What could he possibly have to say? There is nothing more to be said.' Confusion and curiosity made the decision for the scholar. "I'm in no mood for a walk, but you can come in if you like." Sofia, believing herself to be an imbecile, stepped to the side and gave the engineer an open walkway into the room. "Maybe you can convince Kiwi to sleep."

Hearing this, Kiwi crossed her arms. "I was promised a story." She glowered.

"That was only if you calmed down enough to go to sleep afterwards," Sofia countered.

"It wasn't my fault you decided to tell me a story about a people I know nothing about." The faerie-like girl quickly glanced at Stefan while she addressed Sofia. "You've known me long enough to know I ask questions when I don't know what's being talked about." She was careful enough not to say that she hadn't known Sofia for a while. Stefan, Kiwi thought, was under the assumption that she had worked for Sofia longer than she actually had, though the ex-stowaway wasn't sure how, seeing as he knew Sofia longer than she had.

Stefan looked from scholar to assistant and back again, feeling awkward and out of the loop of the argument between them. Deciding to attempt to help, he spoke to Sofia, "Maybe you can tell her a myth that's more… universally acknowledged, one that she might understand more, like the Legend of Oamiruu." He looked at the scholar hopefully.

At the name of the mystical planet, Sofia winced, but the action went unnoticed by her two companions. She made no reply to Stefan or even acknowledged he'd spoken, but instead started telling the story, "There was once said to be a mystifying planet of unimaginable treasures. Many maps have sprung up over the millennia leading to it and many have set out on bold adventures, yet none have succeeded in finding it. It is said to have existed in many different star systems, even that of my native world, Rozetia." The translator paused there and checked both Kiwi and Stefan's reaction to the beginning of her tale. They both sat transfixed. Sofia shook her head. Ever since she was young she had been told she had a good storytelling voice. She had never had reason to believe it, before now. "Oamiruu is the basis for many great tales and only the bravest of travelers are those who have attempted to find it," the scholar continued hesitantly and almost sighed in relief when she saw Kiwi's eyelids begin to droop. 'For a child who argues she's never sleepy, getting her to fall asleep is relatively easy. At least I won't have to speak much longer on Oamiruu or go into a detailed story.'' When her assistant was finally safely back in the world of dreams, the Rozetian turned to Stefan. "Now, why are you here?" she snapped.

The engineer braced himself. "I wanted to talk to you about what happened the other day."

Sofia stood up. "I thought I made myself quite clear, then. I do not see what else we have to discuss."

"Sofia." Stefan grabbed her hands. "We do. I—"

"No, we don't. Stefan, what do you want from me? The savant brushed off the human's grip, tetchiness growing. "In the tavern, I told you exactly where I stand when it comes to you. I caused you pain, remember that? Why you keep fantasizing that I'm something different than what I say, I don't understand. If you knew what is best for you, you'd leave me alone." Sofia readjusted a blanket over her assistant. Once that task was complete, she turned back to her visitor. "I don't know what you want from me, Stefan, and I honestly don't care right now. It hasn't been the easiest couple of days for me and you aren't making it any better." The scholar hesitated before finishing, "It seems to me, that you want me to fit into some kind of mold. I will not, I cannot. If you truly knew who—what I am, you would know that."

"What if I want to know? What if I wouldn't care what you are as long as I could know you?"

"Mr. Fitzgerald, trust me, none of my secrets are of the light variety. My life hasn't been one of happiness. If you seek to see down it, you will be horrified at what you will find. You will be far happier staying with Melissa Cunningham."

"You don't know that."

"I do." Sofia smoothed out one of the blankets on Kiwi. "If you have nothing of importance to talk to me about, I would be pleased if you left."

Stefan did not relent to the Rozetian's wishes. "I don't want to fit you into any kind of mold, Sofia. Heck, yesterday, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with you. Then you came searching for clothes for Kiwi…I was up the rest of the night, thinking. Finally, I realized something. I don't see how a person, who can go to such lengths for an ill child she barely knows, can be as villainous as her words make her out to be. Yes," he added when he saw Sofia's face. "I know Kiwi hasn't always been your assistant, as you've made it out to be. I am sharp enough to notice when a person suddenly appears."

"As I've said, if you have nothing of importance to talk to me about, I would be pleased if you left."

It was then that Fitzgerald did relent.

In the following hours, Kiwi's condition worsened. Her temperature rose to the point where she was radiating heat and, no matter what Sofia did, the girl refused to wake up. Finally, in desperation, Kiwi's employer found the head medic of the Waterfall and brought him to her assistant's bedside.

The medic had Kiwi brought to the med bay of the starship, one of the places that had remained intact after the collapse. A day or two later, the man went to Sofia and asked her what race her assistant belonged to. When the Rozetian answered that she didn't know, he became stricken. Kiwi's body had rejected the medicine he'd given her. He wasn't sure what else he could do for her since he didn't know her race and what remedies would work for it.

Soon it was the date of the Waterfall's departure from Kryien. To say the least, the planet wasn't displeased to see the ship go. Its eventful landing hadn't gotten it the best of reputations.

Kiwi opened her eyes feeling better than she had in days. She stretched, slightly amazed to find herself in the Waterfall's med bay. 'I must've been really sick', the Skysonne shrugged to herself. It was no use being shocked at waking up in a new place she had no remembrance of ever getting to. It had happened often enough before she left home.

"Ah, you're awake." The head medic, equipped with clipboard, walked leisurely out of his office and into the main bay. "Feeling better, I trust?"

"Yes." Kiwi nodded. "Much. Why am I here and do I have to stay here?"

"You're here because you were very sick and haven't woken up for a good number of days." The medic informed his charge, clasping his hands together and his clipboard between them. "Though you seem to have done a splendid job in healing, I would like to take your temperature and run a few tests to make sure you're completely better. You were, after all, quite sick." He paused, thoughtfully. "I would also like you to stay here for one more night, I need monitor your condition in case of relapse. Also, I must know what race you belong to."

Kiwi's face turned pale. "I…I can't tell you."

"You don't know what race you descend from?"

The charge of the medic studied her thumbs intently. "No, I know. I just can't tell you. It's not something I can tell people."

"Ah, I see." The medic didn't see at all. He examined his patient; it was more than obvious she was hiding something. The human debated whether or not to dig deeper into the matter; if he'd known her ethnicity, treating Kiwi would have been easier and, if she became sick in the future, there would be less complications with her treatment. 'Though, I don't believe it will be a simple matter to get her to reveal anything…and the Rozetian obviously knows something I don't. She, after all, provided the final medicine that helped this child recover. If anything comes up in the future, she will most likely be of use.' The medic concluded not to press Kiwi for personal information.

The youngest nonhuman on the Waterfall bit her lip nervously. She wanted to ask a question, but considering the emptiness of the med bay, she didn't believe she'd like the answer. "Has Sofia Darken been here at all or is she down on Kryien?" The words finally spilled from the girl's mouth.

"Kryien?" The medic laughed. "We left that planet days ago. Currently we're en route to Iavs. To answer your question, no, Sofia hasn't been here for days, but don't feel bad. She's the one who came up with the remedy that finally restored your health. Found something in one of those books of hers, I suppose." After seeing the crestfallen look on his patient's face, the man quickly added, "And she rarely leaves those rooms of hers. Heck, the first time I met her was on Kryien and she's been on the Waterfall for nearly two years. Don't feel bad, kiddo."

Kiwi took this information with a disappointed feeling in her gut. Sofia had tended to her when she was first sick; she had gotten her new clothes, baggy clothes, but still new. Most importantly, she had told her a story. They may not have known each other too long, but all that meant the Rozetian was beginning to care, right? That Kiwi meant something to her. The girl burrowed beneath her disinfected sheets. 'No, it doesn't. She just felt guilty she threw a book at me. She hasn't been here for days.'

Later on, after the medic had finished his tests of her health, Kiwi was staring at the ceiling in a fit of boredom. She'd already braided her hair to the point where it had gotten into a giant knot, she'd made up fantasies in her head, she'd even attempted to sleep; nothing had worked to get rid of her restlessness. The girl fidgeted, she'd been told she had to stay in bed, but maybe the medic guy wouldn't notice if she extra-quietly slipped out the door.

"Hey, kiddo." Or maybe he would approach Kiwi the moment she decided to make a jailbreak; whatever floated his boat. The twitchy girl scowled. The medic, not noticing his patient's temper, held up two books. "These were left outside for you, as well as this." He fished a small, golden device attached to a thin chain out of his pocket. "You probably have a better idea than me on what it is, because I've never seen anything like it." He placed the books and the device on Kiwi's lap and then went off to do whatever doctor things he needed to do.

Deciding to postpone her jailbreak until she'd fully examined the objects given to her, Kiwi began scrutinizing the device. It was heavy in the palm of her hand and glinted a golden color the girl didn't hesitate in calling butterscotch. It was shaped like a teardrop, or Kiwi thought, a comet. In its center was what the ex-stowaway thought was a circle of glass; she rubbed the clear substance and realized it wasn't glass, it felt nothing like the fragile material. Kiwi had no idea what it was. The girl turned her attention from the strange, translucent circlet and to the sable veins running intricate patterns through the surface of the device.

After thoroughly looking over the most mysterious gadget, Kiwi put its chain around her neck—she didn't want to lose it, whatever it was, and moved on to the books. One was nothing more than a collection of parchment roughly bound together and, upon opening it, the Skysonne found she couldn't read the words within it. Grumbling, Kiwi shoved the first book aside and examined the second. Its cover was yellowy-gold, reminding the girl holding it somewhat of pee, and it was quite thick, full of pristine, ivory pages. Like its brother, it was written in a language Kiwi couldn't read. The girl muttered curses and threw the second book down by her feet, causing a small piece of paper from within it to become dislodged. The piece of paper was thrown up in the air by the force of Kiwi's throw and then fluttered down to gently land on her lap. The scholar's assistant picked it up and found, surprisingly, that she could read it; it was written in Common.

Kiwi—

It is beyond my knowledge what languages you can or cannot read as you refused to tell me. I expect you to upon your return. The two books you have received, you are to read while you are recuperating. The golden object on the chain is an automatic translator of sorts. Press your thumb on the gelium circlet (what looks like glass), hold it down to a page, and think of the language you wish to translate the passage found there in. The translator will do the rest. If you lose it or break it, you are fired, permanently. There was a huge blot of ink between these last words and the next ones. It is the only one of its kind in existence and the inventor who created it is far too busy to be bothered with remaking such things.

The note was not signed, but Kiwi had seen Sofia's handwriting enough times before to recognize it. The fruit-named girl picked up the device—the translator—again and stared at it. It didn't look like it was anything special, in fact the only idiosyncratic feature it had was what looked like a tiny black heron painted on its tip. Everything else seemed lacking when, in her mind, she compared it with other gadgets she'd seen. Eventually, the Skysonne did what the note instructed and found the device did work, rather effectively too. Kiwi was able to read The Complete Manual On Being An Assistant/Apprentice (the collection of parchment roughly bound together) and Adventurers of Oamiruu (the yellowy book) in Ogumo with ease.

((O))

The village was rural, poor, depressed, and overshadowed by a great, shining, modern facility sitting on a hill, looking much like a monstrous spider. The ship that landed in the outskirts of the village was the first to do so in a long time; only those invited to the facility were authorized to land on the planet's surface. The natives of the village, forbidden to have contact with extraterrestrial life forms, ran into their homes and locked their doors as the alien of the starship strode down their streets.

Archimedes Cricket ignored the brightly colored eyes watching him from the safety of the other side of nearly closed windows. He wanted to be on the planet, Cora 5, as much as the Coral people wanted him to be there.

The Ogumo frowned as dirt and tiny pebbles crunched under his heavy footsteps. When he had been told his new mission was nothing more than retrieving a stolen weapon, he had felt insulted. Such a task was the work for younger, greener agents, not someone as experienced and respected as he. His anger had quickly turned to pleasure, though, when he realized that he could get the job done quickly and return to his task of seeking revenge. Archimedes stopped walking when he reached an old-fashioned, wrought iron gate. Above the gate was a high-tech hoverscreen bearing the words:

The S.E.F. II

'Where The Future Begins'

After a quick search, Cricket found a black box on the left side of the gate. Pressing a shiny button he found on its side, the emissary promptly spoke into its speaker, "I am Archimedes Cricket, agent of the Ogumo sent to fulfill the request of the master of this facility." A guard soon came and admitted him into the S.E.F. II.

The being Cricket met the moment he entered the facility was unique, to say the least. He, the Ogumo supposed, was a Calken, a race made up of robots and cyborgs that came from the planet, Nuncalkin. His head was built like a Zeuffi's, human zebra-like, and the rest of his body was a mash up of flesh and bionic limbs. He was not a pretty creature and various synthetic parts of him hissed and produced steam at inopportune moments.

"Mr. Cricket, I have been expecting you for some time." The voice was halfway between mechanical and natural. The mix did not blend well, giving it a grating quality that hurt Archimedes' ears. "I have been without my property for far too long and, though most of my plans have gone on as intended, there are some experiments that I have been unable to complete."

"My apologies," Cricket spoke as if the Calken's problems concerned him, which they didn't. "But the Ogumo, as you do, have had problems and investments that needed tending to."

"I realize that, but I think you and your people will find that, if you bother to take me seriously, I can provide you with great power." The being stopped talking and pondered a moment away. "I have been quite rude, haven't I?" He didn't wait for Cricket to provide an answer. "You may call me Maximilien de Greene-Stone, if you wish to address me using a name."

Archimedes Cricket's third eye bore into Greene-Stone's face while his other two eyed the pristine hall he and the Calken were standing in. "I will take that into consideration. Now, may I ask what weapon I'm retrieving?"

"Ah, that, of course. What you are returning to me is not the weapon itself, but a crucial piece of it." Greene-Stone clasped his bony fingers in front of his body. "Also, I believe you will find it helpful to talk to the thief who stole the weapon."

"If you have the thief, why do you need me to retrieve the piece of the weapon? Surely you found it on your own when you apprehended robber?"

Greene-Stone gestured for Cricket to start walking down a long corridor that left the entrance hall. "A worthy concern, but I'm afraid the thief was clever enough to hide the piece before we captured her. Nothing we do thus far has convinced her to give us its location. My hope is that a new face will bring her around."

Through many passages and down many staircases the master of the facility and Archimedes Cricket went. When it became abundantly clear that Cricket didn't know where he was going, Greene-Stone took the lead. Soon the Ogumo and the Calken were deep underground and the only light came from dull, flickering, electrical light bulbs. The strange duo only stopped when they reached a steel, locked door. Greene-Stone pressed an intricate pattern on the portal with his fingers, causing it to tediously grind open. There was no doubting the small room was a prison cell. It was completely dark, smelled of rotting flesh, and had an overbearing sense of despair.

"Nova, dear, are you conscious?" Greene-Stone called into the darkness. "I've brought you a visitor."

"How delightful." Something shifted in the cell, causing a shuffling noise and an eerie clanking of chains.

Unperturbed by the answer given to him, the Calken master continued, "Your visitor's name is Archimedes Cricket. He wants to know all about what you stole."

"What I freed, you mean."

"We do not see on the same level when it comes to your actions." Greene-Stone turned his face away from the gloom of the cell and to Cricket. "She believes she liberated the piece of the weapon by taking it away from me. She is wrong, of course."

Cricket seemed confused. His eyebrows hurried together as if they found it necessary to have a discussion together. "This weapon or the piece of it is living?"

"Not in the way we, you or I, are living." A slight annoyance entered Greene-Stone's voice as he responded to Cricket's question. "It can think so far as to protect itself from danger, but past that, it has no consciousness."

"Of course you'd say that." Nova snorted and let out a derisive laugh from her shadows.

"Be quiet!"

"Why should I? You're only going to kill me at some point anyway. Or torture me. It really makes no difference anymore." The prisoner snorted. "I took your weapon because you didn't deserve to have it. I released it to the universe and prayed it would take care of it because there was little else I could do." She paused, breathing heavily as if it were hard for her to speak. "You may have destroyed my life and my family, but I will do what I can to stop you from destroying completely the lives of my fellow Corals. You've done enough to the natives of this planet."

"Enough of this!" Greene-Stone plucked a chain from where it was half-hidden in the dirt of the ground and jerked it forward. Nova was thrown forward into the little light of the light bulb above Archimedes Cricket's head. "You see him." The Calken pointed to the Cricket. "He is an Ogumo and—"

Nova raised her head, making her gaunt face visible. She still held faint traces of once-held beauty and her harlequin hair still held some blotches of brightness. "I thought I taught you by now. I've won. There's nothing you can threaten me with." Her entire body shuddered, she let out a maniacal laugh, and then, quite unexpectedly, her eyes rolled back in her head and she fell over, dead.

The Calken and the Ogumo stood looming above the corpse for an everlasting minute before Greene-Stone muttered, "Pity" and kicked the cooling body back into its cell. Though this apathetic treatment of the dead bothered him to some degree, Cricket did not react in the slightest. He stood, waiting and watching for his companion's next move. All three of his silvery-grey eyes watched the Calken, unblinkingly. "Come, Mr. Cricket, there is more than one way to kill a pesky cat." Greene-Stone finally beckoned the Ogumo to follow him back the way they'd come.

Lost in thought, Cricket didn't bother giving his full attention to Greene-Stone as he talked. In the Ogumo's mind, the scientist's exile was well deserved; he didn't seem to have any kind of higher thinking capabilities, he was clearly lacking in morals, and he had a tendency to ramble nonsense.

"Cricket." Greene-Stone stopped so abruptly that Archimedes nearly ran into him. "You said your name was Archimedes Cricket, son of Darius Cricket?"

"That is correct."

"Ah." Cricket's trained and experienced ears easily picked up the note of fear hidden within the Calken's voice. "I once knew your father, he was accomplished."

"Is this a necessary topic of discussion?" Archimedes may have been rude in cutting off Greene-Stone, but that was of no concern to him. His late father was not a matter he enjoyed. He followed his companion as he started walking again.

"No, it's not." With a wave of his hand and a puff of steam erupting from it, Greene-Stone dismissed the topic. "Family happens to be on my mind. You see, I'm taking you to see a tracker, the best I know, and she happens to be my daughter." The Calken stopped in front of a door and knocked. "Mag, Maggie dear. Remember the agent I was telling you about? Well, he's here, child."

Archimedes Cricket was in a foul mood when he returned to his ship twenty or so minutes later. The reason behind his mood was prancing along behind him, jollily swinging a duffel bag. He had informed Greene-Stone that there was an entire department of trackers in the Ogumo government, all highly skilled professionals, but the scientist had been adamant about sending one he knew personally after such delicate material. It made Archimedes want to strangle the Calken. He wouldn't be the one being held back by a child on a mission well below his level. The Ogumo itched to walk back into the S.E.F. II and downright refuse Greene-Stone's terms, but Mr. Xerxes had made it clear it would be the end of him, if he didn't complete this task 'without complications, Mr. Cricket.'

Cricket watched his underage tracker jump into one of the pilot seats of his ship and start pressing random buttons. 'This is going to be a long search. I have no leads and I'm saddled with a child.' The Ogumo commanded Maggie to sit silently while he got them off the cursed ground of Cora 5.