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Chavenlink, Quorta III
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"Leaving the Tower"
Part One

By Lyla Toomney

"Jessi! Get your brother! Hurry!" Jacob Thieveson had abandoned his plow the second the smoke had appeared on the horizon. He cut the thongs that bound the plowhorse and vaulted bareback. The plowhorse snorted and wheeled sluggishly at Jacob's firm commands and they thundered through the unplowed field. "Jessi!"

He reigned the plowhorse in when a shock of red hair flared among the stalks of last year's grain. "I'm here!" his daughter shouted back. "Here's Scott." She handed her squirming two-year-old brother up to their father.

"Come on, Jess," Jacob reached to pull his daughter up when she turned back to the field. "There's no time--"

Before he could finish the thought, Jessi stuck her fingers in her mouth and whistled loudly. A graceful red-brown face appeared and a beautiful mare fairly leaped to Jessi's side. "You think I'd leave Crystal?" she asked Jacob defiantly as she mounted bareback and grinned at him. "That's like you leaving Scott or me."

Jacob didn't answer, save for a slightly disapproving expression on his face as he wheeled the plowhorse toward the farmhouse. Jessi wrinkled her nose and urged Crystal after him.

"Myla!" Jacob shouted as they thundered up to the house. His wife rushed out in a flurry of brown hair and linen fabric to collect Scott. Jacob and Jessi dismounted quickly and turned the horses loose before following Myla back into the house. The farm house was ill protection from what was coming, but they had little choice. "The cellar," Jacob ordered, taking a lazer rifle down from the wall. Myla carried her son down into the cellar, but Jessi reached for another weapon, an archaic crossbow that had hung above the fireplace for as long as anyone could remember. "Jessi, the cellar," her father ordered again, but she simply glared and loaded a crossbow bolt. "Jessi!" Jacob snapped again. "Go to the cellar with your mother and brother. Now!"

"No," Jessi replied firmly as she strode to a window and peered out. "That scum isn't going to take this farm and you're going to need my help to keep it."

"You are my daughter!" he bellowed back. "Do as I say!"

Before they could fight the issue to its conclusion, their foe arrived at the edge of the property. Jessi's eyes narrowed, she settled the crossbow across her arm and aimed carefully.

The monsters in her sights carried the guise of human men, sitting tall and proud on thundering horses easily three hands larger than either the nameless plowhorse or Jessi's Crystal. But, in Jesse's hard green eyes, the disguise fell away to reveal beasts, monsters who ravaged villages and farms, raped farmwives and set fire to both crops and livestock alike. Of course, the Galatic Government thought they were humans, simple brigands too trivial to warrant PeaceKeeper attention. "Damn them," Jessi growled and fired the bolt into the chest of the nearest raider. He gaped in shock, then slowly toppled sideways off his horse, dead. The horse paused and took off in a different direction, riderless.

Several of the raiders wheeled their horses out of crossbow range, but Jessi smiled grimly as her father shot at them with the lazer rifle. She shot two more of the monsters before the leader called and they rode away. She sat back on her heels with a self-satisfied grin that faded quickly as her father turned on her. "Jessi, what did you think you were doing!? You could have been hurt!"

"Dad," she sighed in exasperation. "They didn't expect a fight. They didn't even fire on us!"

Jacob took an angry step toward her and siezed the crossbow out of her hand. He threw it on the floor, where it clattered harshly. Then, he leaned in with his plow knife and slit the string. "If you so much as think about touching that piece of war-filth, I swear, you'll regret it." Jacob picked the batered crossbow up and pitched it uncermoniously out the front door before storming down to the cellar to retrieve his wife and son.

Jessi stood in shock, horrified to think of what her father had done to, what was in her mind, a very valuable, very useful antique. She crept forward and peered outside to where the crossbow lay on the worn front path, its broken string hanging limply. "It's ruined," she whispered miserablly. "He ruined it."


Silverware clinked on plates in the opressive silence. Myla Theiveson tried hard to keep the burning tears out of her eyes as she carefully ate her supper. The heavy silence radiated from two people she loved more than any others in the galaxy: her husband and her daughter. They were both incredibly well-mannered, but the silence was as thick as the bread they were eating. "Jacob," she finally whispered. He looked up calmly with a faint haze of love in his eyes. Love for her and her alone. His look left no room for love of anyone else: not even their daughter. Myla bit her lip. "Jacob, I need you to do something for me."

He looked surprised, but nodded and mumbled, "Anything, name it," around his mouthful.

"Give Jessi the rifle and teach her how to use it."

Jessi's eyes lit with hope and instant gratitude, but Myla steadfastly refused to look her daughter in the eye, focusing instead on the anger brewing on her husband's face. "Never," he growled. "A woman's place is in the home, where she can be safe and protected. I will not have my daughter enfatuated with these high, improper ideals, Myla."

"You cannot hold me here!" Jessi shouted in rage, standing and shoving her chair back. "A woman's place? What galactic century are you living in, Dad? A woman's place is where she believes she can do the most good. I can plow, I can plant, I can harvest right along with the rest of your farmhands, but that's not where I'm happy. That's not what I want." She straightened her shoulders and glared, "I want to join the PeaceKeepers."

Now, it was Jacob's turn to rise in anger. "I forbid it!" he shouted. "You will stay here and work this farm. I won't allow you to abandon this family!"

"You don't have a whole hell of a lot of choice, Dad," Jessi bellowed back. "I will leave." Her eyes turned to stone. "And I will leave tonight." With that, she turned from the table and walked silently to her room, ignoring her father's enraged sputtering.

Myla's eyes filled with tears and she covered her face. She had failed. She had lost her daughter. "You!" Jacob growled dangerously at her, his rage boiling over and scalding the one nearest to it. "You brought her to this! All those stories, all the garbage you taught her. This is your fault!"

"No, Jacob," Myla struck back with all her voice. "It's not my fault. You can't pin this entirely on me. She's your daughter. She has your iron will and your stubbornness. We have both brought her to this." With tears streaming down her face, she got up from the table and scooped Scott up from his high chair. Before she vanished into the nursery, she looked back at her husband and whispered, "And neither of us can reverse it. It's too late for that, now."


Clutching her bag to her chest, Jessi Theiveson sat on the shuttle. She had used every penny she had to buy herself a one-way, coach ticket to Ralier, the home of the PeaceKeeper Headquarters. She was on her way. Dreams of glory, dreams of freedom, dreams of independance and self-sufficence danced before her wide green eyes while fear and uncertainty made those dreams slightly sour in her mouth. Her father's angry words still echoed harshly in her ears, "If you walk out that door, don't you dare come back." She had walked out without even glancing back to see her mother's tears or her little brother for the last time.

Now, the shuttle was being released from its tiny docking bay aboard the huge hyper-capable ferry, Prince Charming. As the viewports opened, Jessi got her first look at the PeaceKeeper homeworld of Ralier. Soft blue oceans dominated the northern hemisphere, dotted with brown and green islands and lacy white clouds. The southern hemisphere's massive landforms were visablly surrendering to technology, allowing their rolling plains to be built on and their skies to be choked with a thin film of pollution.

Slowly, her shuttle started its planetfall, letting Ralier fill the viewscreens until the deep void of space was beyond the planet's generous curve. There was a brief red glow as they passed through the upper atmosphere, then a bizarre lurching feeling as the planet's gravity fought for control of the little ship. With a slight jolt, the shuttle landed and the hiss of equalizing pressure filled Jessi's ears. Then, people of many different species gathered their carry-ons and disembarked. Jessi took a deep breath and joined them.

In the terminal, she noticed a different smell, but assumed it to be shuttle fuel. Her bag seemed heavier and she wondered if Ralier's gravity was more than her homeworld's. She collected her luggage, a single battered suitcase, from the baggage claim and headed for the land shuttles. "PeaceKeeper headquarters," she said as she climbed in.

She had to surpress a scream of surprise when her driver turned around and blinked wide, sapphire blue eyes at her. He looked at first like a mechanical feline, but, when she looked closer, she could tell that he did have a thin coat of shining grey fur. "You joinin' da PKs?" he growled in a gutteral accent. When she nodded nervously, the metallic humanoid feline chuckled and keyed up the land shuttle. "Good luck to ya, den."

"Thank you," she replied softly.

"I's Jedeti Silverfang."

"Jessi Theiveson. Nice to meet you."

"Yeah, likewise," Jedeti chuffled. "You a little town girl? From a backwater?" Jessi paused to think, then nodded. "Thought so. You not know non-humans?" When she shook her head, he chuckled, "Well, I's a Stonecat. A Silver Stonecat. We's from da Quota system, long way off. Dere be some other 'cats in da PKs, Gems and a few True's even. You be lucky to meet a True out-system. Us Metals are the wanderers." Too overwhelmed to interrupt, Jessi let him ramble on about his species and homeworld until they reached the PeaceKeeper HQ. "You's here," Jedeti grinned. "Have fun."

"Thank you," Jessi said timidly as she got out. "How much?" Her mind suddenly panicked when she realized how little money she had left. She hoped the shuttle ride wouldn't cost much.

"Pfft," Jedeti waved an immense silver hand at her. "No charge dis time. Next time, you have a PK shuttle pass and only leave a tip." He winked. "Good luck, clei Jessi." When she looked puzzled, he grinned, "Mean's...like young one, like miss."

"Oh," Jessi flushed. "Thank you again, Jedeti."

"Bye!" the Silver Stonecat crowed as she collected her suitcase and he drove away, leaving her in the ponderous shadow of PeaceKeeper Headquarters.

Jessi gathered her courage and slipped into the building. In the front lobby, a human in a PeaceKeeper's navy and maroon uniform stood behind a desk, filling out paperwork and generally looking bored. "I'd like to join the PeaceKeepers," she announced to him, setting her bags down.

"That's nice," the man--a corporal, she noticed--replied non-committally. When she didn't walk away, he looked up with a surprised expression on his face. "You mean, right now?" She nodded. "oh, well." He handed her a packet of papers on PeaceKeeper stationary. "Fill these out and I'll schedule an appointment with the recruiter for you. How does next Saturday sound?"

Jessi stared at him weakly. "Next Saturday?" she croaked. "I...I don't have a place to stay. I just landed on-planet...I used all m-my money for the ticket here..." The enormity of her situation hit her in a violent wave and she found herself fighting desperate tears.

The corporal saw it and a flash of compassion crossed his handsome face. "I see. Well, let me ring the recruiter on-duty and see what he says. Take your things and have a seat over there. See if you can't get a start on those papers, too." He directed her to a comfortable bank of chairs in the lobby. Jessi nodded numbly and did as she was told while the corporal spoke quietly into the intercom. "Miss?" he called a few minutes later and Jessi looked up from the page she had almost finished. "Sergeant d'Marca is on his way down." When she nodded hesitantly, he smiled at her. "What's your name?"

"Jessi."

"Well, Jessi, I'm 2nd Corporal Henry Zicola. It's nice to meet you. Where are you from?"

"Krion."

Henry whistled, impressed. "No kidding? Wow...the Arthorian system, right? Didn't think we'd ever see a Krionian in the service..." He glanced at her and saw her slightly puzzled expression. "I mean, you being so anti-tech and all."

Jessi managed a small smile. "I know. That's why I left."

Henry smiled back. "Oh, I see."

Just then, a tall creature strode out of the lift and scanned the lobby. He was wearing a PeaceKeeper uniform and even Jessi could recognize the sergeant's stripes on the shoulder of his uniform. What she couldn't recognize was his species. The sergeant was roughly 6'3" and obviously insectoid, with large, graceful butterfly-like wings folded fan-style behind him. He smiled--or she thought he smiled--and walked towards her on two sets of long legs that moved in tandem. His face was vaguely muzzle-shaped and when he smiled, he showed a good-sized set of fangs. He extended a clawed hand to her and said, "Welcome to PeaceKeeper Headquarters, New Toronto, Ralier. I'm Sergeant Si'hie d'Marca, recruiter."

Jessi stared at him in shock for a long time until Sergeant d'Marca cleared his throat and Henry hissed, "Jessi!" She blinked.

"I-I'm sorry!" she gasped in embarrassment and forced herself to shake the sergeant's hand. "I'm not used to seeing non-human's."

"She's from Krion," Henry added and the sergeant's face changed into what Jessi hoped was an expression of surprise.

"Well, then!" he chuckled. "My, my..." He mused for a few seconds, then continued, "Corporal Zicola said you'd like to join the PeaceKeepers, but you've special circumstances that prevent you from completing the normal waiting period. Is that right?"

Jessi sighed and nodded, "Yes, sir. I...used all my money on my ticket here. I don't have a place to stay...not even for one night."

Sergeant d'Marca glanced at her two bags. "Don't tell me that's all you've got...?" She looked down and nodded. He leaned back on his back pair of legs and sighed something in a soft, flowing language. It sounded beautiful, but, judging by Henry's flinch, it was most likely an obsenity. "Protocal," d'Marca finally began, "states that all potential recruits go through a battery of aptitude tests before admission to any branch of the PeaceKeepers. That way, they can be placed in classes most suited to their needs and abilities." He rubbed a hand over one of his long, smooth antennae before continuing, "Concievably, those tests can be completed in one day and the results can be analyzed the next morning. We can have you scheduled for classes by the end of the week and house you in the academy facillities. How fast can you finish those app forms?"

Hope flared up in Jessi's heart. "I finished the first one. I can have the rest done in a few minutes, sir." She paused and asked nervously, "D-does this mean I've got a chance?"

Sergeant d'Marca paused and began to laugh softly. "Anyone who would cram all they own into two bags and spend all their food money on a ticket into the unknown deserves a chance. I expect you've got what it takes to be a PeaceKeeper, kid."


Ships flew at her, rolling and spinning, firing al the while. Impassionately, Jessi fired back, gritting her teeth as her little fighter jostled her under the enemy fire. She struggled with the sluggish stick and sighed miserablly when the final enemy came at her from behind and her "fighter" disintegrated.

The hatch of the simulator popped open and Sergeant d'Marca's angular face peered in at her. "You sure you're from Krion?" he asked, helping her out. "That was amazing. You ranked higher than some of our actual pilots."

Jessi flushed and smiled at the praise. "Does that mean the navy wants me?"

"Wants you?" d'Marca paused to laugh, his head tipped back. "Jessi, the navy would gut anyone who kept you away!" He turned slightly and motioned to a lean, rangy man standing to one side and watching with bright blue eyes. "This is Admiral Shawn Toomney. He's been watching your scores--"

"--and drooling," Admiral Toomney broke in with a chuckle. "You are amazing, young lady. The navy would be proud to have you in its ranks." His voice had an unearthly edge that Jessi couldn't place, but his words were so welcome that she forgot about it quickly.

"I'm honored, Admiral, sir," she breathed excitedly.

His bushy brown eyebrows shot up to his hairline. "And well-mannered! Get this child a uniform! Hell, get this child a command!" The admiral's eyes twinkled and Jessi felt her own eyes widen when she realized his pupils were slitted like a cat's. "And observant, too," he smiled. "Yes, child, I'm not human. Have you ever heard of the Rramackrof?" She shook her head and the admiral chuckled. Then, before her astonished eyes, he showed fangs half the length of her finger and talons bared from his fingertips. His cat-like pupils contracted like an extra pair of eyelids and Jessi couldn't repress her terrified scream.

Before either d'Marca or Admiral Toomney could stop her, Jessi fumbled for a weapon. When she couldn't find one, she settled for throwing a punch at the admiral's midsection. He intercepted it easily and held her fist tightly, claws gone, but eyes contracting in surprise. "Whoa, whoa...settle down!" Jessi froze, shaking in fear and adrenaline. "Obviously, someone disabled her F2," he said to d'Marca, who smiled thinly.

"F2?" Jessi asked weakly, her voice shaking.

"Fight or flight," Toomney replied calmly, releasing her. "F2 means flight. You never run from a fight, do you?"

"No, sir," she replied softly, flashing back to the brigands on Krion. "Not even when told to."

"Hmm..." the admiral's unearthly eyes narrowed in concern. "You'll have to learn to take orders, Theiveson. And you'll have to overcome your fear of non-humans. I will admit, I was a bit over-dramatic, but still..."

"I'm s-sorry!" Jessi panicked a little, afraid he was going to withdraw his offer of naval membership. "I was just surprised. It'll never happen again, I promise!"

Admiral Toomney chuckled gently. "Don't worry, Theiveson. You're too good a potential pilot to waste you in the Marines or the army." A brief flicker of amusement crossed his face and d'Marca glared good-naturedly. Apparently, rivalry between the branches was an old joke. "The navy still wants you, child."

Jessi's face felt like it might crack from her enormous smile. "Thank you!" she whooped and hugged the admiral around the neck. "Thank you so much!!"


To: Mrs. Jacob Theiveson
Theiveson Farm
Western Fields, Cloya
Sector 59, Krion

From: Jessi Theiveson, Naval recruit
c/o PeaceKeeper Naval Academy
New Toronto
Sector 5, Ralier

Mother,

I've offically joined the PeaceKeeper navy, as you can see. They say I've got an amazing amount of untapped potential as a pilot and have enrolled me in some basic galatic history and technology classes and a few advanced math and critical thinking courses, plus some regular frosh courses that everyone is taking. I love it here. I really do. I'm keeping plenty busy, but I still miss you and Scott and Crystal.

I've been learning a lot outside class, too. I've now met members of seven different non-human species: Stonecats, E-gin, Rramackrof, Kickrans, Lousins, Cins and even a Doppleganger! It's just incredible. My roommate is a Gold Stonecat named Ryn Goldtooth. She's about the same height as Dad and shaped like a huge cat that walks up on two legs. She looks like she's made out of pure, hammered gold, but she's got a short pelt of fur, too.

Our suitemates are Br^ek, a Kickran, and Harli, a Lousin. Br^ek--or Brek, as we call him--looks like a human-shaped wolf, but...different. I can't explain how, but he looks so much more intelligent than a wolf. He can be a real dingbat, sometimes, though. Harli is enormous, easily 5'7" at his shoulder. He's like the dragons that used to burn the border villages a few years ago, but smaller, with feathered wings and he can't breathe flame. So he says, anyway.

One of my human classmates, Justin Gerome, asked me out yesterday, but I told him no. He's nice enough, but I'm just not ready, I guess. I'm more interested in keeping a 3.5 GPA and getting good scores on my sim tests.

I love you, mom. Take care. Give Scott a hug and a kiss for me.

~Jessi


"Sleeping beauty...wake up..."

Jessi moaned, rolled over and swatted at her roommate's face, which she knew would be hovering near hers. "Go 'way...lemme sleep, Ryn." Her hand batted something warm and moist, but it sure wasn't Ryn's muzzle. "What the hell...?" She opened her eyes and blinked to see Harli's sleek face dangling in front of her. "Harli!!" Jessi screamed, pulling her blankets up to her chin. "What are you doing, you idiot?!"

The scruffy Lousin sat back on his haunches, laughing and tossing long, floppy white mane out of his ghostly blue eyes. "Priceless...simply priceless."

"Out!!"

"Not for a million creds." The Lousin grinned evilly. "Let's see how well you can get into uniform with an audience."

"Idiot," Jessi repeated firmly as she threw the blanket at him and pulled her uniform pants on before he could fight his way free. She had the shirt-blouse on and half-buttoned by the time Harli had managed to disengage himself from the blanket.

"Aww," he pouted teasingly. "I missed it."

"Shut up!" Jessi chuckled. "I'm not your type. Hell, it's probably not even physically possible."

"And I know it's illegal," Harli added soberly, then grinned. "So, why'd you protest if I'm not your type and you're not mine? What's it matter?"

Jessi paused to think. "I dunno. You're still male and I'm still female. It's just the principle of it, I guess."

"Hmm..." He sounded thoughtful.

"Got an idea for your next psych paper?" Jessi grinned and the Lousin smiled back.

"Could be."

"Could be what?" Br^ek stuck his furry, black face into the common room as Jessi and Harli came in.

"It could be that we caught you with your pants down," Jessi grinned evilly. Br^ek's ears swiveled in embarrassment and he glanced down. "But I could be wrong." The Kickran glared at her and tested his belt to make sure she stayed wrong. "Where's Ryn?"

"She went to get the hard-copy mail," Harli replied, poking his nose into the kitchenette in search of breakfast.

Jessi followed with a chuckle, "Good for her."

The door opened and the Gold Stonecat waltzed in, yelling, "Mail call!! Brek!" She tossed a letter at him and he caught it. "Me!" She threw the letter over her shoulder and onto the floor. "Brek!" She threw another one at him, but a puff of breeze caught it and sent it under the common room couch. The Kickran dove after it as Ryn shouted, "Harli!" and threw the letter like a tomahawk into the waiting talons of the Lousin. "Me!" Over her shoulder and onto the floor again. "Jessi, heads up!" she added and threw two letters quickly at Jessi, who missed them both and had to chase them into the kitchenette. "Me!" Ryn threw the letter over her shoulder. "And Brek." The last letter hit the Kickran in the face as he looked up. Ryn grinned at the chaos of the common room. "I love mail call."

"And it loves you right back," Harli snickered and slit open his envelope with a foreclaw. "Oh, phooey. Just junk."

"Same here, 'cept a letter from home," Br^ek announced, tossing two of his letters into the garbage and eyeing the last one like an unsavory meal. "What about you, Jess?"

Jessi didn't answer right away. "Jess?"

"My letter," she whispered mournfully, touching the return address with trembling fingers. "He sent it back."

Confused, Ryn came over and saw the return address was the school and the mailing address was the Theiveson Farm on Krion. 'Return to sender' had been clearly written in handwriting that could only belong to Jessi's father. "I'm sorry, Jess," she whispered.

"That jerk sent it back! This is the tenth one!" Jessi snarled and threw the envelope on the floor before fleeing to the room she shared with Ryn and slamming the door. Her friends stood in shocked silence, gaping at each other as the sounds of Jessi's sobbing reached them.

"I'll kill him," Ryn snarled under her breath. "I swear, if I ever meet him, I'll tear his heart out with my bare claws and feed it to him."

"I get his liver," Br^ek growled as he crouched beside the dropped envelope. "Little, stinking..." He trailed off into low, muttered, growle curses in Kickran.

Harli looked nervously from his two violently pissed-off friends to the closed door of Jessi's room, from which he could still hear Jessi sobbing. "I'll help skin him, but shouldn't we wait to decide his fate until Jessi can help divide the spoils?"

"You're such a wuss, Harli," Br^ek growled, but his resolve broke a little to hear Jessi's heart-broken sobbing. "We'd better check on her," he finally conceeded.

Since Ryn was her roommate, the Gold Stonecat went first. "Jess?" she asked tentatively. She slowly pushed the door open with Br^ek and Harli close behind her. "Are you okay?"

"No." Jessi replied coldly. She was sprawled face-down on the bed, her head buried under a pillow. "My father hates me. My mother probably thinks I'm gone for good." Suddenly, she sat straight up and her pillow flipped onto the floor. "And I have an astro-navigation test in ten minutes. Oh, shit!!" Her friends struggled to get out of her way as she scrambled out of the room.


PART TWO


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