Kadamba watched as the shuttle approached and landed at the Elite Forces training center. It was the same shuttle that he had been on before, but this would be his last time. The door opened, and Lieutenant Padda stepped out and beckoned Kadamba aboard. The shuttle was airborne in moments.

The seats were as plush and as comfortable as Kadamba remembered them, and an attendant served him a drink. It was a stark change from the last year of training. He’d endured countless hours of physical and psychological drills. While it had been extremely tough and there were so many times that he wanted to give up, he continued to remember the terror of being in the containment facility. No matter how miserable he seemed, he was better off suffering with a weapon in his hand than being abused by Jackos the Giant.

The Lieutenant sat across from him, studying him intently. He’d watched this boy become a soldier and, in many ways, become a man in the last year and a half. Society’s norms would likely condemn Kadamba forever. It wouldn’t matter what he did or what contribution he might make to the two worlds. He was branded and forever would be seen as less than human.

Somewhere there was a family that had lost a child to the actions of the man sitting across from him. Lieutenant Padda pondered that thought for a while. Did they still hate Kadamba, did they even hate him to begin with, or did they even know him? It was challenging to ponder what it must be like to lose a child. It had to be an experience like none other. Padda was torn in many ways as he looked at Kadamba. Yes, he’d done something terrible, but what the Lieutenant had seen was not the monster that the world wanted Kadamba to be, but a tenacious, honorable soldier.

“Son, are you sure you want to do this?” asked Lieutenant Padda. “You haven’t had much time to think about this.”

“Yes, sir,” replied Kadamba. “I am sure that I want to do this.”

“Alright,” replied Padda. “You know that this is the third time that we’ve been on this shuttle together. And this is the third time that I’ve watched the strings of your fate be twisted in a direction that I would have never guessed would happen.”

“Sir?” asked Kadamba.

“I am your commanding officer, but I am at a loss at what to say now. This world would condemn you and damn you forever. I don’t know you that well personally, but I know what I have seen. You’ve never given up, even in some extremely tough circumstances, with many things and people weighing against you. I think it will serve you well, whatever the future holds for you.”

“Thank you, sir,” Kadamba responded, honored by what the Lieutenant had just said.

“Get some sleep, son, we’ll be at the launch facility in the morning.”

Kadamba looked out the window of the shuttle. Late the night before, Colonel Jecamiah Agastya requested his attendance in a holographic conference. As he walked to the conference room, it had seemed very odd to him. He had only just finished training. He wasn’t really that important, but the acting head of the Donovackia Military wanted to talk to him.

Kadamba had accepted the Colonel’s offer without a second thought, but that was last night. Today, he was still confident that he wanted to go, but he thought about his family. Over two years had passed. Had they forgotten him? Did they still love him? Should he try to contact them before he left? It was all too much to think about right now. He could stay awake for hours and hours thinking about it, but it was time for sleep.

Ka took a deep breath. The air was clean, almost sterile. As always, everything was perfect on Schmarlo’s Landing. The grass and shrubs and trees were all green. Not a speck of litter was anywhere to be seen.

Ka, looking down, realized he was still in his uniform. It felt odd to be dressed like this, rather than in the clothes that he was wearing the day Alorus died. He walked around the Landing, looking for the boy but couldn’t find him. The playground was perfect as always, without a speck of sand out of place.

Ka walked to a bench at the edge of the Landing and looked out at the landscape. The sky was black and grey in the distance, with clouds looming large on the horizon. The sun, close to setting, cast an eerie glow across Stujorkian City.

“A storm is coming,” the boy announced.

Ka spun around, almost grabbing for the weapon that should be at his side. He knew it was Alorus, but the boy startled him.

“Ka, do you see the storm in the distance?”

“Yes, I see it,” replied Ka.

“Will it be a bad storm?” asked the boy.

“I don’t know, but I think we’re safe here in the Landing.”

Ka walked over to a bench and sat down. He looked out at the storm, watching the lightning between the clouds, and felt the tears welling up in his eyes. Why did he have to say that? The Landing would be unaffected by the storm, but that didn’t mean it was a safe place.

He gestured to Alorus to join him on the bench, knowing that he wouldn’t. He’d been here on the Landing so many times in the last couple years, and he knew Alorus wouldn’t get too close. He wasn’t sure why he always ended up in the Landing with Alorus, but he did. Over and over and over again.

“We’re in that shuttle again, aren’t we, Ka? Where are you going?” asked Alorus.

“Someplace called Earth.”

“Ka, I don’t want to leave Koranth again. Do I have to go with you?”

 “I’m afraid we don’t have a choice.”

As dawn broke, the shuttle touched down gently, and Kadamba continued to sleep as two men walked into the room. They both looked at him, but one of them was shaking his head. “Are you sure this is the best you could do, Lieutenant?” asked Commander Conall Bornani. “We launch this afternoon.”

“I think this kid will surprise you,” replied Lieutenant Padda.

“A drug-dealing, child-killing, untrained thug?” asked Commander Bornani.

“He’s trained. He passed Elite Forces military training under circumstances that most men would crumble under.”

“Maybe you’re right, Lieutenant,” Bornani stated. “The training is excellent, but I wish he had some real experience.”

“Commander, we found a replacement crew member for you in a matter of hours. He’s here, and the launch will remain on schedule,” the Lieutenant ordered.

Bornani began to chuckle under his breath. “You know, you are right. I’ve got a trained Elite Forces soldier who already has a taste for blood. He’ll be paired with Dr. Nahash Tarea. He’s one of the Transprophetic Experts. They’ll probably love hunting their prey.”

• • •

Chapter 27 Chapter 29

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