was spared as the substance rippled outward.  It enveloped the entire area, growing and moving faster and faster, racing across sea and land, over mountains and under bridges, with equal ferocity.

     Kaity watched in fascinated horror as it wiped out every shred of vegetation, animal life, and civilization in its path.  She gazed, unable to look away despite her heart desperately wishing to.  The wall of death smashed into Vogul Bay, leaving nothing in its wake but bare, stripped earth.  Just like that, her hometown was gone.  The shuttle was climbing away from it, but Kaity could steadily see more of Earth.  She stared numbly as the wave of energy continued spreading.  Details faded from her vision, but as they neared the thermosphere, she saw that every inch of Earth was shrouded in the killing substance.

     There was no time to process the utter destruction happening before her eyes.  Kaity was incapable of considering the true depth of what had been lost, or the tragedy of losing all that she had known.  She simply felt numb.  Her clenched fingers loosened limply from Sharko’s.  The room, Nancy, James, the Taylors, and even her husband faded from her mind.  The world felt empty and static.  Only the shuttle’s sudden lurch as it entered the thermosphere interrupted her reverie.

     Kaity blinked, trying feebly to stop the tears that were flowing down her face.   In that single blink, Earth was lost from view.  The exterior of the shuttle burst into flames.  Her last image of Earth was through fire, enveloped in pink, the black object of destruction lingering to deliver its final payload of devastation. 

     She had lost her parents.  She had lost her home.  It was too much for Kaity to bear, and she merely sat, numbed with the apathy of shock.  Fire gave way to shadow.  The space shuttle shot out from the thermosphere, and the end of the world had come.  Their journey into space had begun, and they would be leaving the naked rock which had once been Earth far, far behind.

     The Tower’s ceiling hatch retracted and, with a roar, the engines kicked in.  The entire space shuttle vibrated, the porthole windows filled with smoke, and then they were soaring upward.  Out of the gantry the shuttle zoomed, rocketing into the storm clouds with such incredible speed that the force pushed Kaity back against her seat.  Her vision blackened slightly.  She reached for Sharko’s comforting hand, fingers clamping on with frightened desperation as they zoomed upward, climbing at an insane velocity.

     The smoke cleared, and from the porthole, some distance away, she could clearly see the black object.  Completely vertical to the ground, it hovered against the fading horizon, ominous and dark.  The pinkish glow was brighter now, and as she watched, a solid beam of energy shot out from the barrel of the object.  It struck earth, sending shockwaves through the ground for several miles.  The energy almost seemed to coalesce right beneath the object, and walls of pinkish plasma shot forth in every direction.  Not an inch



     They were coming.  Vexador was doomed.  All Kaity Anderson could do was etch this frightening moment into her mind.  The roar of approaching hovertank engines grew deafeningly loud.  The tromping of her foes’ feet matched the thumping of her wildly-beating heart.  Sharko was beside her, transformed into Blaze.  Samantha as Crosshair was at her other side, brandishing the pistols that could take life with deadly accuracy.  Kaity was Valora.  She could handle this.  An entire crew of Trylithians hadn’t stopped them…but this wasn’t Sahara anymore.  This was Vexador, her new home:  her comfort, her oasis, in a wide and unforgiving galaxy.

     United, the Starganauts stood, the Vexadorian soldiers behind them.  Their electrashields were switched on, the humming of the energy barriers between metal frames filling the air.  The soldiers looked as nervous as Valora felt.  The others always seemed calmer than her.  Battle.   It shook her

to the core, making all else fall away but those things in life most crucial.  She took a deep breath, and from between parting ranks of enemy troops emerged a group of individuals.

     Face paint and tattoos distinguished them from the common Trylithian warriors.  Their blue skin was covered with designs, and their plating heavier.  The most fantastical headdresses Valora had ever seen adorned their heads, but their blazing eyes riveted her to the spot.  In unison, they stopped in the space between armies.  Drawing their hands downward and together until the palms touched, they faced the Vexadorians across the rubble-strewn square with faces that inspired fear.  They shouted words which Valora couldn’t understand.  Their arms suddenly flew apart, and she was blasted by walls of purplish energy. 

     I trusted You, Lord, Kaity thought, in that brief instant before oblivion.  Despite my wants, despite this life of sacrifice, I trusted You…and now I’m going to perish.  We’re all going to die.

     The world was engulfed in a single color.  The combined waves of plasma slammed into Valora like a sledgehammer, searing her armor and tearing her body from the ground.  Backward, backward she flew…unable to see anything but purple.  Her vision darkened, and she knew this was the end.

Vengeance of Sorrow

     Samantha Harris tossed and turned.  It wasn’t that her bed in the women’s dormitory was uncomfortable, but her thoughts were troubling her over several things.  The Cybrius attacks were foremost on her engineer’s brain.  Of the former, she felt a strange, inescapable dread.  The Cybrius were so inhuman, so horrid and unnatural.  The very idea of losing one’s self-control to a supercomputer terrified Samantha.  Of the latter, mysteries swirled in her head.  Unanswered questions plagued her about the Voices, the assassin…everything.  She felt this riddle was far from over—perhaps not even solvable in her lifetime.

     “You and I are not so unalike,” Vogul taunted.

     “For ones so talented, you know so little of this galaxy!” mocked the Shadow’s hollow, weird voice.

     “You have no conception of what has begun!” The Voices screamed, across her memory.

     Samantha sat bolt upright.  Cold droplets of sweat ran down her spine, and she brushed a hand through her bouncy, brown hair.  She was breathing hard.  What a

horrible nightmare!  The Prophetess was about to heave a sigh of relief when she realized she wasn’t where she ought to be.  A creeping feeling settled over her.  Her dormitory was gone!  She was instead in a strange courtyard, a garden really, surrounded by four walls.  She had awoken on some sort of alien daybed.  Her heart pounded as she wondered if aliens had once again abducted her.  Could it be the Cybrius…or something worse?

     Rising, she padded softly over grass that felt wet and cool to her bare feet.  Her nightgown trailed behind her as she walked toward a large, shadowy opening in one of the walls.  She entered to find herself in a strange library.  The sky outside was a dark, menacing red.  The walls inside were tinged in dark violet, whether from lights or the sky, she couldn’t tell.  It appeared to be night, wherever she was, and not a soul stirred.  The silent stacks were packed with volumes that appeared at once tangible and digitized.  She reached out her hand for a book, and heard someone behind her.

     Whirling, Samantha nearly had a heart attack as she beheld a man in a cloak surveying her.  The aged man’s beard was neatly-trimmed, his cloak was without hood, and his blue garments were edged in gold.  Diagonal patterns crisscrossed his alien but traditional-looking outfit.

     “Fear not,” the librarian told her.  His authoritative voice was hardly soothing. “You are seeing this realm but in a dream.  One day you shall arrive here, but for now, you view a shadow of the future.”

     “Is this a prophecy?” Samantha questioned.

     “Perhaps.” The man smiled slightly. “Take care which book you peruse, Miss Harris.  Only one may be chosen in the Library of the Infinite, and it is not that volume which you will seek.”

     “Why am I here?” Samantha asked, bewildered.

     “Because the Lord has seen fit to show you a glimpse of the future,” the librarian explained. “You are a Prophetess, yes?  One day you will come to me and my brothers, seeking the help that knowledge gives.  Many greater beings have found wisdom in the hallways of this Library.  There is one word I must impart to you, before you awaken from your dream.  Or is it in sleep that we truly awaken?”

     “Speak plainly,” Samantha demanded. “I’m tired of riddles from the Servant of the Lord!”

     “Ah yes, that one,” the Librarian said, a funny look crossing his face.

     “You know him?” Samantha was shocked. “Does everyone in this freaking galaxy know each other?”

     “In a way, everything is connected,” the librarian answered mysteriously. “For now, simply know that one of your own shall betray you.  A Starganaut will turn against his fellow orb-bearers.  When you face him, it will be the end of the Starganauts.  Yet face him you must.”

Starganauts: Defector


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