It had only been three months since the WARBIRD’s crash on Ebon. It felt longer. Arctos and Rave had traveled from planet to planet in Ebon’s solar system, and finally they could say with certainty that Cruelthor was nowhere in Ebon’s colonies. So, they’d next turned their borrowed spacecraft to Ebon’s permanent portal, which the Ebonites claimed would lead to yet another solar system, though this new world was unexplored.
Flying once more into swirling, fiery lights, Arctos cringed. It was hard to forget that the last portal they’d entered had sent them crashing from Earth. However, as they emerged on the far side of this portal, Arctos held the Ebonite ship under control and saw that everything was as it should be. But…
“Where are we now?”
Looking out the windshield, Arctos and Rave found blank space before them. Somehow, the blackness looked clearer and cleaner than Ebon’s void. Less hazy. Less polluted. The stars even seemed brighter.
Working the now familiar Ebonite ship’s radar, Arctos tried to translate the grid. “Any ideas?”
Rave leaned over the controls to get his face closer to the windshield. His eyes narrowed, and he must’ve used his genetically enhanced eyesight to scan the empty space. Swishing the hanging bangs out of his face, he scowled in his typical way.
I’d laugh at that look, thought Arctos, except that laughing at anything lately seems completely inappropriate.
“Look over there.” Rave pointed against his side window.
Arctos looked where his friend indicated and saw a distinguishable planet against the stellar backdrop. This was the only celestial ball in the sky, so Arctos aimed their ship in this planet’s direction.
“It’s small compared to Ebon,” Arctos noted.
The planet’s orbiting moon was much closer to the planet’s atmosphere than any moon they’d seen. Because sunlight shone on the faces of the two globes, Arctos could see their surfaces quite well. The naturally smaller moon had a churning blue surface, suggesting a global sea. The planet itself was mostly yellow with only an equatorial belt of green suggesting vegetation.
Rave flicked his finger against the windshield. “Do you know what that planet is? That’s Phantasya! I’m home!”
“What? This is where Trok raised you?”
“Exactly! I wonder if the old Bearer is there now. You think?”
They’d been trying to rationalize Trok’s absence for some time.
“Could be. You always said Phantasya was Trok’s favorite planet. Maybe he’s been here, waiting for us to find this place.” The bigger Warrior shrugged his stiff shoulders. “I don’t like that Trok hasn’t answered sis’s calls, though. He’s always come when we’ve needed him before.”
Rave let out a puff of air. He sat back in his seat and strapped himself in. “Well, let’s just get there and then figure it out. You know how Trok skips around – I’ll bet he already knows we’re coming.”
Excited for the first time in months, Arctos sped their spacecraft to the planet’s orbit. It didn’t take long before they scorched through the atmosphere. The ship vibrated and grew a bit warmer, but they’d grown accustomed to this during their numerous landings on Ebon’s planetary settlements.
Arctos decreased their speed and controlled their descent. The clouds lessened. He brought the ship to a smooth coasting speed, and they flew lower over the planet’s surface.
Now they saw an endless desert of sand dunes. Sunlight reflected off the yellow sand, and Rave activated the dimmer on the windshield.
I’m squinting, thought Arctos. This light must be blinding Rave.
Eventually, a line of green appeared on the southern horizon. It stretched from east to west for as far as they could see. At the moment, however, everything below them was a wash of yellow sand. Despite the lack of scenery, Phantasya was a beautiful planet compared to the gray, sunless Ebon.
“It’s exactly as I remember,” said Rave as he looked out. “Sand, sand, and more sand. Trok never let me go to the forest. He said the Phantasyans should be allowed to keep their way of life without being introduced to outside influences. Trok always was a bit overprotective.” His lips stretched into a plotter’s grin. “Let’s go to the forest. Maybe the Phantasyans know how to reach Trok.”
Arctos flew the ship toward the horizon of green. They glided over several more kilometers of desert but saw nothing of interest.
As they drew near the forest, however, they saw an obvious indicator of intelligent life – a city stood at the forest’s edge. This city was surrounded by high, white, stone walls, but an opening in the northern wall showed a pillared entrance. In the middle of the city, rising high above the height of the walls, stood a single tower of white stone.
Before they could get a clearer look, the Ebonite ship flew past and the city dropped back out of sight. Now they flew over a lumpy, lush forest canopy.
Rave spun in his seat and exclaimed, “What was that?”
“You don’t know? I thought you grew up here.”
“I’ve never seen that before in my life. Trok raised me at an oasis in the middle of the desert, remember? No wonder he never let me come this far – I would’ve begged to live here!”
Arctos turned their spacecraft around. “I’ll land. We should find a place far enough away so the Phantasyans can’t get to our ship if there’s trouble.”
Rave seemed to agree as they flew back to the desert.
Arctos began searching for a suitable landing place between the dunes. “Are you sure we are where you think we are?”
“Of course, but I didn’t know these people were capable of building something like that.” Rave scrunched his face in thought. “Trok told me that the Phantasyans came from Earth through the Mainland-Euro DuoPort. Evidently these settlers wanted to return to the simple life, and they’re very agricultural. Trok never said anything about them being master architects. I never asked much because I got the impression that they were kind of boring. But if I’d know about that city…”
Arctos nodded, not having a full picture but not wanting to hear Rave’s undoubtedly long explanation. “Well, we should stay alert. We have no idea what we’re walking into, if you’ve never met these people.”
“Uh-huh.” Rave was still watching the ground below.
He’s excited Trok might be here, thought Arctos. So am I. Maybe Trok can help us out of this mess.
Arctos picked a level spot behind the dune nearest the city. The dune was high enough to shield the ship, so he eased the ship down until the landing gear settled into the sandy ground. Finally, he turned the spacecraft offline. They went through the checklist and then stood from their seats, Arctos ducking in the confining, metallic ship.
I don’t care what it’s like outside, he thought. Anything is better than this. We’ve been cooped up in here for… How long has it been?
Rave seemed equally desperate to get out. Together, they made their way through the shadows to the exit hatch.
Arctos had a thought. “Should we try signaling sis again? If we run into trouble, we’ll want her to know about it.”
Rave paused with a hand over the exit’s controls. “Good thinking. You’d better call out to her – I don’t think she’s been monitoring my mind link at all. I’ve tried asking about Kynacoba, but Amu hasn’t acknowledged me.” He scowled, worry for his sister once again clear.
Why hasn’t Amu been paying attention to our mind links? Arctos wondered yet again. She said she’d keep us informed about Kynacoba’s health, but she hasn’t talked to either of us in weeks. Shouldn’t she be monitoring our mind links to make sure we’re safe? She can’t be that busy at Phethorei.
“Well, I’ll try,” Arctos offered.
Rave nodded, though not with much hope.
Arctos closed his eyes and scrunched his face to think at his sister. A second later, he felt the familiar sensation of her mind link.
“Arctos, hi! I was just scanning my mind links for you,” said Amu’s mind-voice. “Oh! You’ve found Phantasya! Thanks for letting me know. I’m not busy here in Phethorei at the moment, so I’ll stick around as you go outside and explore. I’ll see everything through your mind. Okay?”
“Okay,” said Arctos aloud as he opened his eyes.
Rave turned. “What?”
“Amu’s in my head with us. She says she’ll see everything through me.” Arctos desperately tried not to think things that would alert his sister to the fact that he thought this was a disturbing ability.
Rave was also uneasy about Amu’s stronger telepathy, but he seemed to think it useful in this case. “How’s my sister?”
Amu heard this. “I haven’t been able to visit her in a while, but her doctor promised to send me a health report tomorrow. I’ll let you know as soon as I hear anything.”
Arctos was about to relay this, but Amu must’ve simultaneously spoken the same in Rave’s mind.
”Thanks, Amu.” Rave frowned but looked at Arctos. “Well, let’s get going.”
Opening the hatch, the two men finally exited the ship.
Arctos had to lift a hand to shield his eyes as he adjusted to the bright sunlight. He stood for a moment to enjoy everything his senses brought to him – Rave was probably getting even more out of it than Arctos. The sounds of blowing wind and sand were wonderfully organic compared to the hum of the ship. The air was warm and dry on his skin. Arctos felt immediately revitalized after spending so much time in the cold, dank ship.
He turned to look up. “Whoa! That may be the strangest thing I’ve ever seen.”
In the blue sky, an alarmingly close moon seemed to hang just beyond Phantasya’s atmosphere. The moon’s surface flowed hypnotically in varying hues of blue, and Arctos felt he could almost hear waves as the colors rolled over the moon’s surface.
“Wow!” Amu’s mind-voice chirped.
Arctos glanced at Rave. “That’s the moon you were always talking about?”
“Yeah, that’s Rowen from the ground view.” Rave sounded unenthused. “You can always see it. I know you Earth-born folk think of a moon as a planet’s underling, but this moon is its own entity. Rowen is entirely water, and there are people called Leks who live inside mer-pneumas, a squid-like species.”
I already like this place over Ebon, thought Arctos.
Amu sent him a feeling of disapproval.
Rave pointed back to the dune in front of the ship. “Meanwhile…”
Together, Rave and Arctos approached the dune. Hiking their way up the shifting sand, the two men eventually crested the dune and stood in the breeze to survey what lay before them.
From east to west, the desert ended abruptly where the forest began. Leveling off from the desert dunes, the sand hardened for a few meters before disappearing altogether into the thick vegetation of the forest’s edge. The forest looked like any ancient forest Arctos had seen in holo-pictures back on Earth. The trees were not palms, as would be expected, but instead were more similar to oaks and maples with an occasional white stripe of birch. Vines clung to tree trunks from their birthplaces out of hard ground.
That which caught the eye most was what had caused them to land in the first place – constructed on the edge of the forest was the white-walled city. The lone towering structure jutted up for perhaps twenty stories above the city walls. Along the tops of the walls, high flags waved in the breeze. From where the Earthlings stood atop the dune, they could look into the city through the northern wall’s pillared entrance. On either side of the city, the forest stood like an extension of the stone walls, adding to the city’s magnificence.
“Yeah,” quipped Rave, “I definitely would’ve preferred this to the oasis.”