BOOK TWO: CHAPTER 19 – Shuttle Magic

CHAPTER 19 – Shuttle Magic


“Mother…Mother!  I just saw Uncle Adario getting mated!” The young girl was excited and puzzled.  While her uncle Adario was a handsome man, he had been so consumed in his work alongside her father, Raphael that he seldom socialized except at family events.  Yet, Arianna clearly saw her beloved, hardworking uncle being mated in one of the beautiful little chapels found in the small town of Jolf.  It frustrated her a tiny bit that she didn’t quite make out the identity of the tall slender white blonde lady standing at his side.  So many of the female inhabitants of Jolf, indeed of Medina had white blonde hair, as did she herself, as she yanked one of her braids in frustration.

As Julia came up to where her daughter was sitting, she smiled. She had heard, even felt the vision of her daughter. Arianna was broadcasting it she was so excited. Julia was thankful that most of the men were at work, whether at the outpost or on Elexa. As always, there were two Eagles on guard over the household while Raphael and the others were gone, but those loyal men would never share her daughter’s secret.

Julia sat down on the stone bench in the courtyard where her daughter was still trying to see and chided her gently: “My dearest Arianna, visions don’t work that way; at least they don’t for your father. You cannot force your gifts to obey your will. As gifts and messages from Source, they come when they come, sometimes when least expected. You have seen your father receive visions in the past when you were younger. Fortunately, he isn’t prey to many these days, just when there is something vital that needs to come to his attention.”

Arianna looked up at her mother who was still a bit taller, and nodded, replying: “It was so fleeting… but I clearly saw Uncle Adario standing in one of our chapels getting mated…”

“Could you tell the identity of the lady?” asked Julia, with her own curiosity beginning to pique her interest. Her dear brother Adario had not yet mated and supplied his bewildered parents with grandbabies… a state of being her mother and father often commented on during those rare occasions when they visited Medina. Adario just patiently smiled at them and went his way, spending hours talking to his brother-in-law, Raphael, and other members of their Starship Project team on yet another potential creation. Still, it was up to Adario to decide when and even if he wanted to get mated. Julia was sure he would…eventually.

Julia was aware of her daughter’s gifts were beginning to fully blossom. Although Arianna had showed some of her gifts since childhood, the gift of prescience was not one of them. Perhaps it was time to bring this new development to the attention of some of her teachers at the girl’s school here in Jolf. Julia considered this idea for a moment while contemplating a nearby rose. Then she turned back to her now silent daughter and asked: “What are some of the names of your teachers, Arianna? It seems neglectful of me to not have invited any of the ladies to take tea here at the house so I can get to know them.”

“Oh, Mother – Lady Edith is the Director of the School and Lady Bettina is my present instructor. The ladies are busy, but I’m sure they would be pleased to meet you,” replied Arianna.

Julia nodded, comfortable with her maternal nature, she was content to have created a home out of the house that Lord Mathdis so generously supplied her family and associates many years before. With the help of her now experienced staff, Julia had grown in confidence with her own skills. Plus, she was blessed with an extraordinary man like Raphael who, despite a busy schedule, made time to spend with her and the children. Both she and Raphael had taught the children meditation and how to interact with crystals. They would often sit in the courtyard meditating along with the Crystal Masters, Pelleur and Beteros, conversing with the beautiful crystals that the Crystal Masters were choosing for Raphael’s ships. All the children were talented telepaths and had been born with full memories of their past lives. Jychondria and Arianna sometimes shared stories with their parents about life on Sirust when all of them lived there. 

Julia studied her daughter, who was just beginning to show signs of growing into a lovely young woman. Her rounded little girl face was beginning to lengthen slightly, displaying the high cheek bones inherited from her father. She was sure to be an attractive young woman when she finally came of age. Arianna certainly had the large brilliant blue eyes with thick dark lashes that Raphael had had originally as a child and young man. Arianna’s mouth, nose and ears looked more like the Kadish side of the family. She also had thick white blonde hair like her mother.

Julia ventured a question about a topic that sometimes-disturbed Arianna: “Have you given any thought, my dear, about becoming a priestess? You are beginning to have visions now. Your father was rather unique in that he was self-taught in many of his gifts, and he even struggled with them for many years. You, on the other hand, have access to fine teachers and counselors who can help you into moving through some of the potential difficulties your father had to face alone until he was freed from captivity. Should I invite some of the priestesses to come over to speak with your father and me, and maybe even some of the other men around whom you have been raised? I’m sure your uncle Adario would be able to give some insights into what he has seen whilst you have been growing up in this house. And if your uncle is to be mated, perhaps his future mate is among those ladies who are currently your teachers and instructors?”

Arianna’s great blue eyes twinkled as she lifted a hand to cover a large grin… “Oh, I hope she isn’t Lady Edith! While she is a wonderful teacher, she is extremely strict! I heard a story once that she sent away one of the students who was getting too familiar with one of the local boys. The girl was sent to the Shemont – she was a pretty redhead who was already determined to become a high priestess someday so she could marry her true love…”

“Arianna! We don’t encourage gossip in this home!” Julia gently chided her daughter, but then looked rather thoughtful and said: “However, I think I do remember that story. Jychondria once shared his dismay that a young friend of his was abruptly sent away to the Shemont soon after your sister Remmie was born. I remember Raphael saying something about his sending Connie to fetch some healing priestesses to help with the birth of dear little Remmie.”

“Connie and Rita – oh, my! Yes, Rita was the one who was sent away. She is very pretty, but I haven’t seen or heard about her in over a year now. Connie doesn’t often share his thoughts with me about such things,” replied Arianna. “He is usually engaged talking to his foster brother Lyonell about all the golden ships they will help build once they are both qualified engineers. And Ezekiel talks about being an Eagle like Gareth and the others. He must grow a bit more to take on that role, doesn’t he, Mother?”

Julia sighed and nodded, “Yes, dear, but he’s growing like a tree already, just like Jychondria. Your brothers are both going to be taller than your father. Your uncle Ezekiel was a very tall man with beautiful broad shoulders. He towered over Raphael who, unfortunately, wasn’t given the right nutrition or care as a youngster. You know the tale well – what little Father has chosen to share. If Ezekiel is still intent on becoming an Eagle, eventually he will be exposed to things we do not discuss here at home. He was an Eagle Commander in his most recent incarnation before this one and probably has been a warrior for many lifetimes. He certainly has a brave heart, our little Ezekiel!”

Julia gazed skyward, estimating the time of day, and sighed once more, “It’s time for Remmie to wake up from her nap. Frida has been watching her, but now needs to start helping the kitchen staff with the evening meal. And I need to feed little Remmie; we mustn’t neglect our latest addition to the family. I will have to bathe her and comb out that curly hair of hers. Raphael says both he and Ezekiel had curly hair as youngsters. His only straightened out a bit during his metamorphosis. Apparently, no Ashkerians from Sirust have curly hair!”

It was Arianna’s turn to sigh, “I hope I can meet Grandfather Chananda someday. I love it when Ramanda visits with Master Edar. And of course, Cousin Tazo is a reminder of how beautiful the Ashkerian people are today. While I miss living on Sirust, I am glad to be here with you and Father, dear mother!”

Julia smiled to herself; Arianna was the aunt of both Tazo and Ramanda, although both Ashkerians were older than her, Tazo considerably more so. Tazo was older than Raphael who was, technically, on a soul level, his Ashkerian grandfather. It was easier for the children to call Tazo and Ramanda’s cousins, which was fine for both the Ashkerians. Ramanda was now 32 years of age, a fully-fledged Specialty Commander, serving on board The Golden Dolphin, under the command of one of the brothers of Lord Lyonell, Top Commander Adrigus. Ramanda’s foster uncle—it was kind of hard to figure out precisely what the relationship was.

Operations Commander Esturias was still on board The Dolphin, having served with distinction for the past sixteen years or so. On the rare occasions when Esturias made it to Jolf, Raphael would ask him if he wanted to join the efforts to build the golden ships, but Esturias always replied he wasn’t ready yet to make that migration. He was still intent to learn everything he could possibly learn on how to run a mothership and to command men. When Ramanda returned to Jolf to visit his grandfather, which was more often, the young man gave Raphael and Adario confidential reports on his perspective about serving as a Ashkerian on a Pleiadian ship. He also shared his personal thoughts about his grand uncle’s progress. 

In the days since Esturias and Lorenna had successfully brought forth their lovely little Serena, the couple had also produced a set of dark-haired twin boys, Francis, and Adarius, to add to their growing family. For the time-being, the boys were being raised by their mother, Lorenna, on Maia within her father’s household while her mate Esturias continued to serve on The Golden Dolphin. However, as potential heirs to the lordship of the Pleiades, it was understood that once the boys reached five years old, they would be fostered out to Lord Demetrius and Lady Ann VaCoupe, on Medina, and attend, in turn, the schools at Arconia and the University Ship, depending on their career choices, gifts, and talents. The boys were presently about four years old and growing fast, being carefully tutored by their intelligent mother and private teachers. Serena VaCoupe, their older sister, was already attending one of the many liberal arts colleges based in the cosmopolitan city of Milan, the capital of the planet of Maia. The ambitious Esturias seldom visited Maia or his family.

Within the last year, the love match between Lord VaCoupe and his lovely former High Priestess, Lady Anna, had finally proved to be fruitful as Raphael’s adopted mother brought forth her own set of twins, tiny white blonde girls, Tina, and Nina. Lady Anna was pleased to present the little girls to her beloved mate and see his darkly tanned face light with joy and love as he held the precious bundles close to his great heart. She knew with the birth of the girls, she had helped to fill the hole in her beloved lord’s heart left by the unfortunate death of his third son, Reynar, some years prior.  Lady Anna knew that between the other members of the family, these girls would receive much love and attention as they grew into womanhood. As the news of their birth spread slowly through the Pleiadian Star Federation, discrete inquiries had already reached the two parents as to probable future unions with the sons of prominent families on far-flung worlds. Lady Anna diplomatically turned down the offers, as she knew in her heart and from her internal conversations with her daughters, that they would both become priestesses. Then, each of the girls could make her own choice on whether to get mated in the future. 

Lady Julia wondered how Raphael and his team were going ahead on their latest ship designs, a survey ship. They were progressing steadily towards building their first prototype, with some help from the crew of The Golden Thunderbird, at least some of the men in the Research Department, who would ultimately be the ones piloting and working on such a vessel. Since as Line Communications Commander, Raphael had worked with such men, he felt comfortable asking questions about what the crew needed in terms of labs, storage, and placement of their specialized equipment. The existing survey ships were put to many uses, doing high-altitude mapping of planets, taking lower altitude surveys to see what kind of damage was being done on the worlds with smaller populations, taking air, soil, and water tests when it was safe for the crews to land on the surface.

As a Line Communications Commander, Raphael had used data from such findings as these to weave into his team’s reports, which were (ideally) then presented to the Specialty Commander and on up the chain of command. Raphael had profound respect for these brave men who ventured from the relative safety of the great motherships to do their surveys, often while in hostile territory with enemy ships within a short distance away. He wanted them to understand he was willing to design a ship that would function fully as a portable laboratory and research vessel, while keeping its sentient quality and remarkably fast speed… that would occasionally be required to retreat quickly from a dangerous situation.

In fact, Raphael was conducting such a meeting this afternoon in the old conference room at the Elexa headquarters building… Master Adario was presenting blueprints and mock-ups of the proposed golden survey ship to members of one of the survey teams from The Golden Thunderbird. To say the crew members were skeptical about sentient technology translating to a larger ship than a fighter was an understatement. For one thing, not all the crew members were trained pilots. Yet, in case of an emergency if the pilot were injured or even killed, who would fly the ship; would it respond to those who were not highly telepathic or psychic in nature was a question raised by one crew members, a cartographer.

Adario looked at the cartographer and replied: “We’ve anticipated that those crew members who are not trained pilots – perhaps 80% of the survey crew? – could, instead use the computer interface we will be installing into these ships. Although the ship will be fully sentient, any crew member will be able to manage the ship with the aid of the navigational skills of the sentient crystal running the ship. There will be a computer interface where the crew can enter the needed coordinates required to return the ship to the mothership. Even without a pilot, the ship can dock itself while interacting with the Mother Crystal of the mothership. If another course is required, the coordinates can be entered onto the computer interface, wherein the ship will respond immediately. The sentient qualities of the ship can allow the vessel to interact with specially trained individuals to survey the surface of the planet being studied. The components or focus of the study can be typed into the computer interface so the ship understands what is being surveyed. The sentient ships will be able to perform and record several scans simultaneously. While we would prefer to have pilots who are fully attuned to the individual ship, since these ships often change crew, we understand that situation will not always be possible especially given the restraints during wartime situations. Upon returning to the mothership, the survey ship’s crystal can automatically download the data collected during the trip, which can then be collated, sorted, and written up into reports to present to the line command staff and/or command staff.”

One of the crew members, a geologist asked: “Are you saying that any of us on the crew – which can vary depending on the planet being studied – will be able to punch in navigational coordinates or inform the ship’s sentient crystal as to what kind of survey is required?”

“Yes – that is exactly what Master Kadish has been attempting to convey,” replied Raphael as he surveyed the participants in the meeting. They were seated in the conference room where once a young line commander had first encountered his new commanding officer. He had never liked the room since that time. Being there more often recently, he could never get beyond feeling like the room was a fulcrum upon which the future of the Starship Project depended.

All the Starship Project team had noted the overt resistance now coming from certain elements within the Command structure. Ships larger than fighters required more intensive training to manage even the sentient ships. A survey ship which would include crew members of a variety of disciplines and levels of training was a difficult puzzle to put together to the satisfaction of commanders who were used to handling fully mechanical ships which responded according to directions punched into a control console.

The sentient ships could access the consciousness of all crew members, something that initially bothered a lot of the men sent to Elexa to discuss this matter with the Starship Project team members. There was a simple reason for concern; not all crew members were telepathic or as skilled in telepathic communication as was exhibited by the team members. The crew members who were less telepathic were apt to feel like the ship’s sentience was intruding upon their own conscious awareness. For these individuals, the mere thought they could be scanned by the ship upon which they were serving was a bit unnerving, and even scary and somewhat threatening to others. 

Due to some of these reactions, Raphael began to realize that many crew members within the Command were simply not ready to make the leap forward to fully embrace the use of sentient ships. There had to be a compromise for those crew members who were uncomfortable with the sentient aspects of the ships. The computer interface was thought to be at least a technical compromise until the crew members became more comfortable with the concepts and convenience offered by having a ship that could follow simple telepathic commands during a voyage. The challenge was the crew would have to designate the primary person to interact with the ship so that multiple commands were not given at the same time. Raphael felt the Command should train even their more technical staff to be aware of the general operational modes of an intelligent ship, something they appeared to be unwilling to do. 

Raphael was growing more impatient with the seeming resistance to his suggestions. As Commander Delos, he focused on cross training all crew so anyone could replace another crew member if someone were injured or killed during an encounter with the enemy. Perhaps the Pleiadian ships now in existence were generally more complex than the ones Delos worked with in the Ashkerian fleet, but Raphael felt some sort of consensus should be met to be able to fully utilize the sentient technology – namely, the Command would have to give all crew training so they could understand the basics of navigation and running a ship – not that a geologist or cartographer would do that sort of thing when in space. In short, Raphael felt the Pleiadian vessels, and their attendant crews had become overly specialized as each department focused entirely and solely on its discipline. This factor was, at least in Raphael’s mind, a significant area of weakness in the running of the ships should any vital crew be killed, wounded, or simply retire. It was not always convenient for the motherships and their support vessels to stop off at a shipyard for extra parts or at a University ship to take on new crew members.

During Raphael’s time, the only generalists within the present Command structure were the commanders, who were trained to oversee the running of several different departments as they were gradually promoted up through the ranks.

Men like the Operational Commanders had to know quite a lot, including the names, ranks, and specialties of all crew involved in those departments that focused on the running of the ship, namely: Mechanics, Data Bases, Housing, Intercommunications, Schools, Shuttles, Research, Support Vessels, and Fleet Commander. On any mothership or large battleship, there were at least two commanders in this role. Most of the commanders in lower ranks tended to specialize in one area within the operations of the ship.

The commanders of small ships like shuttles, scout ships, and the survey ships were in rank equal to the second level or third level Commanders. In particular, the survey ships were utilized by the Research Department, in which there could be, potentially, twenty different areas of specialization. So, in terms of specialization the survey ships had to offer a great deal more flexibility to be functional for a wide range of operations. The commander of a small ship would have at least several individuals who were qualified to run the ship; therefore, these were the crew members upon which Raphael decided to focus, not the specialists like the cartographers, and chemists.

Raphael looked around and asked: “Is there a flight commander present?”

A very large-looking man grinned and raised his hand, “My lord, you may not remember me, sir, but I am Alphar, foster son of Master Pelleur. Thanks to you, sir, I’ve qualified as a pilot and have been working with the survey crews from The Golden Thunderbird for about five years. I hope to be promoted to a specialty officer at some point, sir.”

“Alphar, it’s good to see you! I see you made it through instruction at the University Ship,” replied Raphael with an answering smile. The dark-haired boy was now a towering man with broad shoulders, a pleasant rounded face, and large light blue eyes. From previous experience, Raphael knew Alphar was a talented telepath. The boy had been born deaf and dumb, an exceedingly rare physical condition for a Pleiadian, which was rectified by Veyan healers hired by Raphael and his father, Lord Demetrius. Now, obviously, the now grown man could speak well with only a slight accent since he still had some hearing loss. “Well, given you have always been an exceptionally talented telepath, I’m sure you wouldn’t have any problem managing one of our sentient ships! Have you tested out on any of our Starfighter models?”

“Yes, my lord; I learned how to fly fighters first and then worked up to the larger ships, like troop carriers, and shuttle ships,” replied the affable young man. 

“Then you would be a good person to test pilot the prototype of one of our survey ships when it is finally ready,” replied Raphael. “While you’re at it – check in with your foster father, Master Pelleur. He’s now out at our work office several miles away. He should be returning to the headquarters – this building – in a couple of hours. Let me know the next time you’re going to be attending a meeting; I’ll arrange for Master Pelleur to be present so you can have a visit.”

“Sounds good, my lord; I haven’t seen my foster father for quite a while. He’s been busy growing crystals for your team, along with Master Betteros,” replied Alphar, with another grin.

I know – your foster father, Master Pelleur and his partner, Master Betteros, are some of the finest Crystal Masters I know,” replied Raphael with an answering grin.

After the meeting, Raphael asked Commander Strabo if he could obtain permission from Top Commander Vanderis to borrow Alphar as a test pilot as they developed the new survey ships. Not having a comm display at home made it sometimes inconvenient or slow to receive messages from the Command. 

A couple of days later, approval for Alphar acting as a test pilot arrived. The young man was excited to be in the company of men with whom he spent much of his teenage years until being shipped off to Arconia and then University Ship for the completion of his schooling.

While the team waited for the first prototypes to be built by the construction teams, Alphar tested out on various models of the Starfighters. He became quite adept at flying the amazing little ships and ended up being a trainer for other pilots. 

A couple of years passed before the survey ship prototypes were finally ready to activate. Raphael extended his senses to encompass the first ship and connected with the consciousness of the ship’s crystal. “Grow as we have taught you!” he commanded. The process was something to watch as the crystal grew into the very fabric of the vessel, until it became fully crystalline and sentient. With his inner sight, Raphael could see the internal growth of the quartz crystal, even as he could see it from the outside. When the process was complete, Raphael had tears in his eyes as he greeted yet another ‘child’ of his… a beautiful sentient golden ship. Raphael turned to his young companion, “Alphar, would you like to be my navigator on this test flight?”

“Oh, my lord – she is beautiful, so shiny… and I feel her inside my head speaking to me,” replied Alphar. “I would be honored to fly her with you, my lord!”

The survey vessel was perhaps the largest ship the Starship Project had built to date. It was shaped like a sleek cylinder with short wings for gliding, with lots of windows and powered by quantum solar energy through the master crystal and several solar battery arrays within the ship. She was perhaps one hundred feet in length and about twenty-five feet in width, not built for speed or agility like the fighters, but was surprisingly easy to maneuver in flight. The ship’s sheathing was the same golden aluminum-like substance used on the fighters, a material which was extremely tough and durable. The ship was long enough to have two sets of doors, one for the survey crew, while the pilot and his crew entered via another pressurized door and once through an airlock, entered directly into the command center of the vessel. The command deck was separated from the working quarters of the crew. There were also sparse crew quarters available for sleeping and eating when the vessel was out on a longer survey trip. Typically, a survey crew was large enough to have at least two shifts on board so while one crew slept or rested, the other one was fully occupied with their assignments.

Raphael and Alphar entered the new ship and sat in the adjusting seats. Alphar grinned as Raphael’s seat narrowed down to hug his slender frame compared to the large-boned man. Raphael shut his eyes, tuned into the master crystal, and felt it acknowledge the presence of the two men. “Are you ready to fly, my beauty?” asked Raphael silently. He felt the ship respond, while the engines began to rev up. The ship asked where? Raphael decided to fly above the small continent of Elexa at first. The ship locked in the course description and coordinates, as the doors clicked shut. Silently the new ship lifted from the runway and levitated about two hundred feet off the ground. Raphael gave the ship a picture of where he wanted to go and the ship responded at once, moving slower than a fighter. The vessel soon crossed the small continent of Elexa and then made a broad banking turn to return to the testing runway. The ship landed gently on its legs, with the padded feet setting down on the sandy surface. 

Raphael glanced over at his younger companion. Alphar had his eyes closed and was, apparently, deep in conversation with the newly awakened vessel. Alphar opened his eyes when he felt Raphael staring at him and blushed. He shyly announced, “My lord, she says her name is Meline.”

“Ah, the crystal’s name is Meline, although I doubt the Command will start naming their smaller vessels with girl’s names right now,” replied Raphael with a chuckle. “That was a successful although short flight. Perhaps tomorrow we’ll take her out for a longer flight. How would you like that, Meline?” asked Raphael. The ship responded in the affirmative: I would like to explore my new world…

“Well, Alphar – perhaps we can fly to Medina. My young nephews, whom I have never met before, should have arrived there to begin their schools soon at Arconia,” suggested Raphael. “I could even volunteer to fly the boys to Arconia, although this ship is not officially registered yet so perhaps not. I wouldn’t want to get into trouble with the Commander at the Arconia spaceport! Still, we can fly over Maubene for a ways, perhaps over the mountains. I better have Commander Strabo start the paperwork on this vessel so we can legitimately take her out on more test runs.”

After a few days, the paperwork complete, Raphael and Alphar, accompanied by Eagles Paul and Felipe, flew to Medina, and landed at the spaceport. Having warned Raimundo prior of their arrival, when they landed the two men found Raphael’s uncle and the twins waiting for them in one of the VaCoupe viscars. The two boys were mesmerized by the appearance of the large golden ship. It looked unlike anything else they had ever seen before. Even some of the Command personnel of the spaceport wandered out to look at the ship. Like the other golden ships, the ship automatically activated a shield to prevent people from approaching too closely. The twins, Francis and Adarius wanted to know more about the ship, so Raphael announced he would ask their grandfather for permission so the two boys could fly in the new ship. Raphael also wanted to take some time to become acquainted with the twins, sons of his eldest brother Esturias, who was busy advancing his career in the Command.

When the viscar settled down outside the VaCoupe compound, Raphael finally took some time to look the children over. He had never met them before as the lads had been reared on Maia mostly by their mother, Lady Lorenna, and her family. After giving Lorenna some children, Esturias had mainly turned his personal ambitions to rising through the ranks of the Command. Lorenna and the boys seldom saw Esturias unless it was during short mandated leave. The trip from Maia to Medina was the first off-world trip made by the youngsters, both of whom were eager to see more of the Pleiades. They were thrilled to learn about Raphael’s Starship Project and that he and his team built fighters. Both boys told their newly met uncle that they wanted to go into the Command. As heirs of the heir, it was probably inevitable that at least one of them would become a commander, perhaps both boys.

Francis was the eldest by minutes; delivered some 20 minutes before Adarius appeared. Both lads were dark-haired like their sire, with the deep blue eyes often seen in VaCoupe males. They were slender, wiry, athletic boys who had been encouraged to swim, climb, exercise, run, and learn martial arts even as youngsters. Their complexions were lighter than Esturias, being a light golden tan, as their mother, Lorenna, was quite fair in coloring. They were handsome boys, bright-eyed, polite, and intelligent. Both seemed intrigued to meet their somewhat exotic blonde adopted uncle with a light complexion and sea-green eyes. They were even more intrigued to see Raphael’s companions, the large-boned affable Alphar, and the two huge Eagle guards, Felipe, and Paul. Raphael patiently introduced his companions to the two boys. Adarius blushed when the blue-eyed Felipe winked at him as the Eagle caught the boy staring up at the tall Eagle.

Felipe said: “Young Master… Adarius, is it? I’m an Ashkerian. We’re all white blondes, and very tall. I come from the House of Diaz, one of the ruling houses of my home planet. It is nice to meet you, young sir.”

The young boy stared up at those twinkling blue eyes set in a handsome face and intuitively understood the Eagle was simply assuring him. He smiled back shyly and then turned to his brother, Francis: “See, our uncle has guards just as tall as Grandfather’s BerWarians!”

Raphael overheard the boys, “Are you speaking about Commander Samuél Montoya and Captain Pedro Longalis? Yes, they are impressive warriors. I’m glad their prompt arrival in Medina aided in preventing a crisis here, but I’ll let your Great Uncle Raimundo tell you the story if you haven’t heard it already. I also have a BerWarian Eagle as one of my guards, Gareth Vanderis, who didn’t come today on this short flight. He’s at least as tall as Captain Longalis!”

Raimundo endeavored to steer the conversation back to the matters at hand, “Demetrius will be sending the boys off to Arconia after the Howling is complete. Did you want to fly them there… in this new ship?”

Francis and Adarius looked at each other and yelled in unison: “Oh, can we, Uncle? Can we?”

Raphael looked a little stern and replied, “Boys, don’t interrupt your Great Uncle while he’s talking.”

The two boys blinked at Raphael but didn’t respond immediately. Instead, each of them intuitively tuned into Raphael’s energies and could feel his affectionate, trustworthy nature. Francis looked down at the ground and scuffed his feet; being the spokesman of the two, replied humbly, “Sorry, Uncle Raphael – we were just a little excited. Mother didn’t take us anywhere except around Milan. And Father… well, he doesn’t come home much.”

“Well, boys… We’ll see if your Grandfather and Grandmother approve of my flying you over to Arconia. If not in the new survey ship, we can fly there in The Golden Cat,” replied Raphael with a grin. “You’ll get to meet your cousins there… My second son, Ezekiel, and his cousin (yours, too) Allyn, your Uncle Romeo’s first son, are attending school there. Allyn is just your age. Also, our good friend Master Aiden Mathdis has three boys attending the school: the twins Adario and Raphael. We call the latter Young Rafe, so no one gets confused. And the third son of Aiden is called Pietro; he is about 7 or 8 years old now. So, with all those boys, you will have ready companions to spend your free time with when not studying. The lessons can be quite demanding, but there are tutors and counselors to help anyone who is experiencing some difficulties. All these children have grown up with each other in Jolf where we have been living since, I discovered the Feline outpost years ago.”

Raimundo interrupted, once again, “Let’s go inside, boys – the desert heat will be increasing and neither of you are used to it, yet. Come inside, Raphael and Alphar, with your Eagles, and have some refreshment. I’ll see if your father can break away from his work and come out to greet you. Lady Anna and the girls are away at the Shemont doing some meditations with the Shekinah and her ladies.”

Alphar and Raphael looked at each other and grinned. They were wearing Command standard issue jumpsuits which allowed the individual to set the comfort level. The desert heat was still an issue; nevertheless, for the glare from the blue-white sun increased as it rose in the sky. The four visitors acquiesced to Raimundo’s generous offer of hospitality – Raphael didn’t really feel like a resident of Medina anymore as he had seldom visited except for short visits like after the affair involving the late ex-commander Hercule Kadish. Both Eagles were familiar with the layout of the ancient house and volunteered to fetch the refreshments from the kitchens. They also wanted to visit briefly with some of the friends they had made there in the past.

When the Eagles re-emerged from the kitchens, they found Lord Demetrius already greeting his youngest son and his companion: “Young Alphar – you’ve grown quite a bit since you were last in this house, lad. Are you enjoying being in the Command? I understand you have been doing some test flights with Raphael on his newest creations.”

Alphar saluted the lord and replied, “Commander Vanderis was so kind as to lend me to Lord Raphael to oversee test pilots on the project. We did arrive here on the project’s latest ship, a golden survey ship.”

“Oh, I would like to see this new ship myself, but perhaps not today. I expect Lady Anna to return shortly. Now, Raphael, did you have a question for me that had to be offered in person… to get you to come to Medina for a short visit?” Lord Demetrius frowned slightly; he wished Raphael had been more obedient and was content to live in Medina but understood that his talented younger son loved Jolf and being close to both Elexa and the outpost where most of his present work was focused.

Raphael bowed to his father, “I did fly here with Alphar in the newest ship from the Starship Project – it is a golden survey ship – somewhat more complex than our fighters. I was wondering if I could fly the sons of Esturias and Lorenna to their new school on her or on The Golden Cat. I would like to introduce the lads to their cousins and their friends from Jolf, the Mathdis boys.”

Lord Demetrius studied his youngest son – Raphael was obviously extremely excited about his newest invention, that is, the newest invention of his team – Raphael was careful never to claim what was not his own work. He briefly cleared his throat and replied, “I would prefer you take the boys in The Golden Cat – a proven vessel and known in Arconia. You are still testing out the first survey ship, correct?”

“Yes, Father, but she flies very well, a fact that Alphar here can attest to and he’s an actual trained pilot unlike me,” added Raphael with another grin. “We have already flown her several times back and forth to Jolf and around the continent of Elexa.”

“Well, I approve you taking the boys to school after The Howlings are over – are you and your team members going to visit during that couple of weeks? No flying can be allowed then; it is too dangerous,” said Lord VaCoupe seriously. “I do appreciate your offer to introduce the twins to their cousins, and in turn, the grandchildren of my good friend, Lord Mathdis. The boys can then keep each other company while at school. They are less apt to suffer from any bouts of homesickness if they have friends to talk with between classes. Perhaps you can bring your sons to Medina also during the Howlings. Then the boys can meet each other before going to school. And while I’m on this subject, invite Roméo and Astrig to bring their two children, Sabina, and little Allyn. I understand the boy also started school a year ago. Bring the girls, too. It’s time all the cousins finally met each other.”

“Okay, Father – I’ll speak to Roméo and Astrig,” replied Raphael. “We can’t fly over to Elexa during the Howlings, so all the team will have to take a holiday. I plan to bring everyone here to Medina via the Golden Cat. The new survey ship isn’t suitable for transporting passengers, only crew and she hasn’t been completely fitted out yet. This house is more comfortable to stay inside during the Howlings, being larger.”

“Glad you think so, Raphael,” replied Lord VaCoupe somewhat sarcastically. “The visit will enable your children to also get acquainted with another set of cousins or rather aunts… as Tina and Nina are the children of Lady Anna and me. These little girls are also your newest sisters. They have been receiving lessons from a priestess at the Shemont as both intend to become priestesses like Lady Anna.”

“Father, I would be honored to meet Lady Tina and Lady Nina,” replied Raphael diplomatically. He was sure his own daughters would be more interested in meeting the young girls. “I’ll arrange to also have Jychondria and Lyonell home from Elexa so they can meet their younger cousins and aunts.”

Lord VaCoupe took a sip of tea from the cup he was holding and said: “While you’re at it, why don’t you invite the Crystal Masters Pelleur and Betteros to come, as well. I’m sure they would appreciate a break from dreary Elexa.” Demetrius turned slightly to address Alphar who was soaking in the verbal riposte between father and son, and said: “Alphar, I’m sure you haven’t seen your father, Master Pelleur, for quite a while, so why don’t you tag along with Raphael’s family?”

Alphar looked surprised and pleased to be included in the family gathering. He replied: “Thank you, my lord; I’m happy to be included with Raphael and his family – after all I half grew up in it. Jychondria, Lyonell and I are good friends.”

“Of course; how could I forget, Alphar?” replied Lord VaCoupe. He was saved from making another sarcastic comment when Lady Anna entered the room. She was holding the hands of her daughters who were now about six years old. Raphael leaped to his feet and gave his adopted mother a deep bow.

My lady mother, how are you? And are these my new sisters?” queried Raphael as he approached Lady Anna to give her a hug. The two little girls gazed up at their tall older brother with some wonder. They had never met him before. Raphael knelt so the girls could look him directly in the face.

Little Tina looked up at her mother and said, “Brother Raphael has green eyes, Mother. Yours are blue as are our Father’s, Lord Demetrius. Why are Uncle’s eyes different?”

Raphael chuckled and confessed, “Lady Tina, is it? I am adopted; I wasn’t born into this family but became a part of it years ago.”

“Adopted? Where is your family, Brother?” asked little Nina, gazing at her brother with his white blonde hair and extraordinary blue-green eyes. He didn’t look at all like other VaCoupe family members.

All dead, little sister,” replied Raphael, “However, my once brother has reincarnated as my second son, Ezekiel. You should be able to meet him soon. Father and I have just been discussing bringing my family and team members here to Medina during the next Howling so you and the twins can meet their cousins, nephews, and nieces!”

“Your brother is now your son?” chimed in Adarius, who was also growing more curious about the background of their mysterious uncle.

Raphael smiled, “Yes, Ezekiel died in battle when I was under the command of your father, Esturias, who was then a battleship commander. I was overjoyed to receive him back into the world as my second son. He has golden blonde hair.”

“Golden blonde, Uncle; but yours is nearly white?” asked Francis.

Lady Anna drew her girls close and gently chided them: “Questions, questions, girls…boys, if your brother wishes to share more about his background, he will, but now I would imagine both he and Flight Commander Alphar wish to return to Elexa, so they are not reported missing to the Elexa Spaceport Command.”

Raphael straightened up and gave Lady Anna a swift glance of thanks, replying: “Yes, the day wears on. Francis, Adarius, Tina, and Nina – I’m happy to have met you, if briefly. Now, Flight Commander Alphar and I must fly back to Elexa. We’ll see you soon as the Howling are but a few weeks away now.”

A sudden thought occurred to Raphael of an incident Julia had told him about… He turned back to Lady Anna and asked: “Would it be possible to invite Lady Bettina to the family gathering? She is currently instructing both Arianna and Sabina. I’m sure the girls would enjoy having their teacher with them during the storms while everyone is stuck inside, so they can continue with their instruction.”

Lady Anna looked surprised at this request, but knowing Raphael she nodded, “Of course, Lady Bettina will add some grace to this gathering. I taught her myself. I’m sure Tina and Nina would also receive help from her presence. She is a highly intelligent, well-balanced priestess. It is so thoughtful of you, Raphael, to include the lady.”

Raphael grinned and sent a short message to Lady Anna in private mode: My daughter Arianna’s gifts are opening. She received a vision of my brother-in-law Adario marrying one of Jolf’s ladies. Julia and I are guessing the woman is Lady Bettina, a little matchmaking, dear Mother?

Most interesting, Son; well, we’ll see if proximity works for those two. I’m also interested in learning about Arianna’s already strong gifts continuing to expand – I’ll have to test her while she is here. We can use the old chapel for such a thing as I would want it kept private until Arianna formally declares her vocation.

Raphael gave his mother and father another salute, then turned and signing to Alphar the party left the room. He commented over his shoulder, “Uncle, we’ll walk back to the spaceport. I need some exercise anyway!”

Demetrius and Anna looked at each other and then surveyed the children who were all staring at the hall where Raphael, Alphar, and their two Eagle companions had disappeared. Lord Demetrius commented, “Well, that was unexpected; I wonder what Raphael is up to now?”

Lady Anna just gave her mate a knowing smile and kissed him on his forehead. She then gathered up the girls and said, “Back to your studies, girls – you, too, Francis and Adarius. You both need to study some more for your entrance exams to Arconia.”

When Raphael returned to Elexa and Jolf, he notified his team members of the upcoming break from work. The Crystal Masters Pelleur and Betteros were surprised to be included as they had not been to Medina since the unfortunate incident with Reynar. Master Pelleur was especially delighted to learn his grown foster son would be going with the other members of Raphael’s team, including Jychondria and Lyonell. 

Raphael finally got around to telling Julia of the message he had given Lady Anna about Lady Bettina. He asked his mate whether she had finally met with her daughter’s teacher. Julia replied: “Yes, I did – I had a tea party for several of the priestesses and included Astrig and Brunella. Lady Bettina is an elegant blonde priestess from Maia who was instructed in some her senior work by Lady Anna. I’m sure Bettina would be thrilled to be able to visit with her former teacher. We can only hope that putting Adario and Bettina in the same room together will light some sparks between them. Only time will tell if our little matchmaking scheme works.”

Two weeks later found the Starship Project team members and families loading up The Golden Cat for an extended stay at the VaCoupe household in Medina. Jychondria and Lyonell were granted leave from the School of Engineering on Elexa. Allyn, Ezekiel and the Mathdis boys were escorted home by Commander Tazo via shuttle. All the ladies were in a tizzy about what to bring so Raphael recommended that they simply bring comfortable things. There wasn’t likely to be formal events in the comfort of the VaCoupe house during the Howling… at least that was the general thought.

All the Eagles, Commander Monteras, Tazo, Roméo and Astrig VaCoupe, their two children, Sabina, and Allyn, plus Raphael’s brood of five children piled into the Cat. Lady Julia was carrying little Remilla who was still quite tiny, accompanied by her faithful assistant, Frida. Lantrill, Sukio, and Specialty Commander Bakken were also going with the families. 

Lady Bettina was escorted to the ship by Adario Kadish and handed up the steps. The latter two had only briefly met the day before when Raphael shared the plans for the excursion with his excited children. When Lady Bettina entered the courtyard of the Jolf house and looked across the garden to see the handsome dark-haired Adario seated next to Raphael discussing some plans, he felt her eyes rest upon him. Adario suddenly stood up, startling Raphael momentarily until he saw who was present. Adario approached the priestess graciously welcoming her to the house and kissing her hand. As he stood up, again, their blue eyes met in a long and startled glance, as both felt a shiver of soul recognition run through their bodies. Seated behind Adario, Raphael nevertheless felt the shiver run through his brother-in-law’s body and gave his mate, Julia, a secret smile as if to say this won’t take any effort at all…

Julia nodded and squeezed the hand of her daughter, Arianna, who was watching the encounter with bated breath, chewing on her lips as she saw her beloved teacher meeting her favorite uncle. Arianna leaned her head into her mother’s shoulder as she also felt the soul recognition taking place between two people who had lived in the same small town but who had never officially met before. Her mother put her arm around her eldest daughter and gave her a little reassuring squeeze. And then, Julia also stood up and went over to formally greet Bettina and to introduce her to her brother Adario.

When everyone was safely seated, Raphael commanded the Cat to shut the doors. The engines whirred to life and the graceful ship levitated above the small Jolf spaceport. Below Aiden and Brunella waved good-bye; for although invited, they chose to remain in Jolf with Lord Mathdis. During the Howling, the Mathdis family would all be staying in the large comfortable house of Lord Mathdis. The inn would be temporarily closed as few people dared to travel during the worst of the storms, which could last up to three weeks.

The ship rose the range of hills that protected Jolf and ascended above the rugged range of mountains, crossing ridge after ridge, until reaching the great cacti-studded plains beyond. The children remained quiet with their noses plastered to the windows gazing down at the magnificent empty spaces of Maubene. Little Allyn squealed with excitement when he first spied the gleam of the tall towers of Medina. The ship circled the enormous Shemont Temple and its outer buildings and gardens and then quietly landed at the spaceport. As the Cat landed, Jychondria noticed another ship was approaching. He looked up; it was The Golden Sparrow, his grandfather’s ship. He shouted towards Raphael who was shepherding everyone into viscars, “Father – the Golden Sparrow; Grandfather is here!”

Seeing the last of his passengers stowed into viscars, he instructed the pilots to take them on to the VaCoupe household, telling Adario: “I’ll come with Father in another viscar!” Adario nodded and signed his group’s pilot to leave the space port. Raphael and Jychondria stood there together, father and son, watching as the second golden ship quietly landed. Raphael watched as the passengers began to disembark. He wasn’t surprised to see his sister Claudine handed down the steps by her mate, King Stephanus. However, he was surprised to see a couple of young children bounce down the steps followed closely by Lady Arla and two BerWarian guardsmen. His dignified father escorted Lady Anna down the steps; apparently, they were just arriving back from the latest High Council in Alyona. Commander Montoya and Captain Longalis followed his father down the steps. The sentient ship then retracted the steps, shut the doors, and activated the defense forcefield which would protect the ship from curious eyes and hands. Raphael sent Jychondria off to scout up a couple more viscars to carry everyone to the VaCoupe Family compound and stepped up to greet his father: “Welcome to Medina, Father, Lady Anna, Claudine and Stephanus… and who are these lovely children?”

Never one to be shy, Claudine stepped up to kiss her adopted brother on the cheek. Then she turned and drawing the girl close, introduced her: “This is Robbina, my eldest. And her brother is Patrick. Robbina is ten and Patrick is four, his father’s heir. I thought since the children were old enough to travel, it would be a good opportunity for them to meet some of their cousins and their new aunts, Tina, and Nina. It is good to see you, Raphael. Is that young giant your eldest, Jychondria?”

Jychondria drove up one of the borrowed viscars and hopped out when he saw his aunt, her brood, and the huge BerWarians. Then he noticed his grandfather and mother and diplomatically approached them first, giving both a deep courtly bow before hugging his grandparents. Next, he sought out his aunt, Claudine, and then gravely shook the hand of his uncle Stephanus after first giving him a polite bow.

Lady Arla was holding the hand of Patrick and brought him forward to greet their uncle, “Patrick – this is your uncle Lord Raphael. Give him a nice bow.”

The two children, both of whom took after Stephanus in looks, with straight blue-black hair and dark blue eyes, looked up curiously at their blonde uncle. Raphael grinned and said, “I’m adopted, children!”

“Raphael! You’re my brother, adopted or not!” retorted Claudine, slightly annoyed and amused at the same time with her brother. She turned to her children and explained, “Raphael is part of this family since his light frequency is so high… and he’s an orphan. Now, I understand you brought your brood with you this time? Children, you’ll get to meet a lot of new cousins this visit. Now, climb into the viscar so we can leave this spaceport. Oh, children, those two golden ships were found by your uncle in an ancient outpost near Jolf – maybe he will fly you in one of them someday?”

“Only if your grandfather gives permission—he’s heard about my flying style,” replied Raphael with another grin.

Claudine gave her brother a penetrating look, not sure why he was being so mischievous this morning. “Are you driving the viscar, Brother?”

Eventually, everyone got sorted out and placed into viscars and then proceeded to drive towards the village, passing through the town square and by many houses, large and small, all surrounded by walled gardens. Some of the villagers were out working in their gardens and sweeping walkways or tending to their small stores. Medina wasn’t large in those days long ago, so the trip wasn’t exceptionally long before all the family members disembarked near the large golden gate that opened into the VaCoupe Family compound.

Claudine soon found part of the reason Raphael was being so flippant – Esturias had called his father and let him know he couldn’t get away for leave during the Howling this year. She shook her white blonde head wondering why two men whom she loved were so antithetical towards each other. It was seldom they could be in a room together without getting into a fight or disagreement. And it was Esturias who bothered her the most, her own elder brother on account that it would appear he was gradually becoming extremely jealous of Raphael. Raphael’s dominance and control of the outpost and its sentient technology was one reason why Esturias was now being forced to reiterate his former progress through the various ranks within the Command. Claudine knew Raphael wasn’t at fault for Esturias failing as top commander, but it seemed that at every point or misdirection in Esturias’ life, Raphael was standing there first. She sighed inwardly and then concentrated on getting her brood through the huge entrance door into the solarium with the help of Lady Arla. 

Jychondria came up behind her and took up little Patrick into his strong arms, “Come on, little cousin – let’s help your mother get you inside. The desert winds are picking up; the Howling will soon start.”

The little boy looked surprised as Jychondria picked him, but then hugged his tall cousin around the neck and started chattering away at him about ships. As the two boys walked ahead, Claudine could hear them conversing about golden ships. Jychondria was telling the lad that he worked alongside his father and uncle, Adario, on the ships. Claudine shook her head again…perhaps another son lost to the Command? Perhaps Raphael would consider being a foster father for her son, too, as he had been for Lyonell. Then Patrick could get educated in Arconia and later the University Ship or the School of Engineering on Elexa. It was something she would have to discuss with her mate Stephanus, who was a traditionalist… but who also recognized that war required sacrifices. It would be good for the family to have someone who was more cosmopolitan, especially if Patrick were going to follow in his father’s footsteps as king of the BerWarian people.

The extended family of the VaCoupes and its branches gathered in the great family room. All the children were introduced to one another. Sabina and Arianna at once took to their young aunts and introduced the girls to Lady Bettina. The boys all gathered around Jychondria and Lyonell and asked them questions about the golden ships. Adarius, Francis, and Patrick were also curious about the Felines and asked Lyonell to describe his home world in the Suriya System. When he mentioned his father was a king, Patrick said, “My father Stephanus is also a king!”

“He’s not a king of a whole star system, cousin!” retorted Ezekiel, bravely defending his much older friend.  “And Lyonell used to be a great commander before this lifetime. My own father served under him for a time!”

Sensing a confrontation was in its beginning stages, Lantrill and Sukio strolled up to the boys. Sukio demanded to know what was going on: “Boys, you are all cousins; try to get along!”

As Francis whirled around, he yelled, “And who is interfering…oh, sir!” The boy was staring at the massive chest of another Feline and looked up into the large, clear golden eyes of the great Feline warrior. “Sorry, sir…we were curious about Lyonell’s family.”

“I am Lyonell’s family,” replied Sukio sternly, “He’s the nephew of Commander Lantrill and myself. My name is Captain Sukio. Lyonell is a prince of the Suriya System, although he does not carry that title here while at school, so he won’t bring attention to himself. If you have any questions about our home world I will answer them, although I have not been there for many years.”

“Why is that sir?” asked a curious Allyn who was a little intimidated by his boisterous cousins. 

We serve in the Pleiadian fleet so our people can be protected from our mutual enemy. We have done it so long now we consider ourselves as outer Pleiadians,” replied Lantrill in his deep growly tones. “Now boys, perhaps you should attend to your parents or go to the study room. It may be a holiday, but your studies are important.”

Adarius couldn’t resist yet another question: “Commander Lantrill, you’re not wearing a Command uniform now. What have you been doing?”

“Is it Master Adarius? I work with your uncle Lord Raphael as part of his Starship Project team. Both Sukio and I have been working on administrative tasks and generally overseeing the running of the outpost,” replied Lantrill with a toothy grin.

Are you not warriors? You’re big, Commander!” said the bold Patrick.

I served under your uncle Esturias on The Golden Lion. When he was transferred to The Golden Dolphin, I chose to remain on Medina with Lord Raphael… although he wasn’t a lord then,” replied Lantrill. “I was a warrior commander up until that time some sixteen or seventeen years ago.”

Raphael strolled over to the boys accompanied by Jychondria and interjected, “Is Lantrill regaling you about tales of when I was a young cadet? We first met when I was younger than Jychondria…”

Francis looked at Raphael curiously, “Lantrill said he served under our father, Commander Esturias. You seem to have known each other for a long time, Uncle.”

“Indeed, since I was fourteen years old and just orphaned,” replied Raphael. “Lantrill saved my life. He was also there when I first met your grandfather who is now my adopted father.”

Lady Arla came up and spoke to the boys, “It’s time for baths, young men; one of Raphael’s Eagles will guide you to the baths here at the house. Do you all know where you will be staying during the next couple of weeks?”

Like a mother hen gathering up her chicks, Lady Arla soon had all the boys following Eagle Vayin out of the family room. She turned to Raphael, “My lord, there is no need for you to share tales of your earlier misadventures with the boys. You are a grown man with many children, a beautiful mate, trusted friends, and challenging work. It is more than most people can boast of during one short life.”

“Lady Arla is correct, my lord; there are not many who remember you as a skinny cadet or a wounded slave boy carried off an enemy ship,” replied Lantrill solemnly. “I am glad I was there to save you. I hope never again to have to save another child in that kind of situation, my lord – but I would if it came to it. And now, to be your brother in work at the outpost, I am content.”

“There, my lord; you are truly blessed with loyal friends and soul mates,” said Lady Arla. “Now, my lady has been inquiring as to where you disappeared. Could you kindly join the adults, my lord? I believe your father Lord Demetrius would also like to speak to his oft-absent son as he refers to you…”

“Father has never appreciated my decision in wanting to remain in Jolf and keeping all of his grandchildren away from him while I pursue my work there and in Elexa,” replied Raphael quietly as he and Lady Arla returned to where the adults were gathered at the dining table.

Lady Arla simply nodded, understanding there was some tension existent between Demetrius and his independently minded brilliant son. The priestess simply sent a message in private mode to her lady: I found my lord with the boys, along with Lantrill and Sukio.

“Ah, there you are, Brother!” said Claudine loudly as Raphael entered the room behind Lady Arla. Lantrill and Sukio followed them in, too. Raphael’s Eagles were standing at attention at the corners of the room.

Lord Demetrius turned around and frowned at his younger son and said, “Are you forgetting your manners, Raphael – we have guests.”

“No, Father – I was simply looking after the boys for a few minutes until Lady Arla sent them off to take baths. I would imagine there will be quite a lot of splashing in that bathing room,” replied Raphael as he gave the ladies present quick bows. He then walked up and sat down next to Stephanus, something he was not wont to do normally and asked: “Well, Stephanus, how do things fare on your world these days? You have a fine son in Patrick and a lovely daughter in Robbina.”

Stephanus looked around at the gathering before replying, “Father Demetrius – we were wondering if you or Raphael could foster our children here on Medina. We’ve begun to have more trouble on BerWare of late and I am concerned for Patrick and Robbina. You know what I fear, Raphael.”

“Haven’t your people been taught to recognize implanted persons?” asked Lord Demetrius, suddenly concerned for the welfare of his daughter and her family. “Do we have to place a Command post temporarily on the planet to protect it?”

“Father Demetrius – our people are perfectly capable of defending themselves if the enemy fights our way, but they do not. They attack from the sky, burn houses and outlying villages, pillage food stores, kill valuable animals, and steal children,” replied Stephanus. “The war has begun to take a great toll on our people; I want my children, my future to be safe. Could you or Raphael accept responsibility for caring for them?”

“What about you, Claudine?” inquired Anna. “You could live here for now, along with your children.”

“Thank you, Mother Anna – but I must stand at the side of my mate and lend my strength, faith, and hope to my people. We will survive this new onslaught as we must,” replied Claudine bravely. 

Raphael looked towards his mate, Julia – she was holding Remilla in her arms. She nodded as she felt his glance. He replied to Stephanus: “I am proud to call you friend, Stephanus, and brother. My mate and I have many children, but the boys are usually off at school. Your boy Patrick is nearly old enough to go with his cousins and their friends to Arconia. And young Robbina can certainly join Sabina and Arianna in their schooling at the Jolf School for Girls. Lady Bettina, who is sitting here next to my brother-in-law Adario Kadish, is one of the instructors at the school. She is a fine teacher, trained by our Mother Anna when she was still the High Priestess of Jolf. We had a large, spacious house and wouldn’t mind having a few more children around. Lord Mathdis, the lord of Jolf loves children and delights in having them around. His son Aiden has four children of his own, two of which are also attending school in Arconia. Your son will not be without company.”

Claudine smiled and replied, “Thank you, Raphael, for your generous offer to foster our children. I think we would be more than happy to accept your kind offer. Then the children could periodically visit their grandparents here in Medina?”

Raphael looked from Lady Anna and back to Claudine and realized he had been played. Knowing his generous nature and love for children, the two women had devised this means to guarantee he and his family would have to travel to Medina periodically. He sighed and said, “Okay, Mother Anna – I understand your desire to see your grandchildren more often while they are still young and still close to home. They grow up quickly as it is. My firstborn Jychondria and my foster son Lyonell will soon have to decide whether to attend University Ship so they can take officer training. I realize both lads have wanted to help in building the golden ships, but currently we are experiencing a lot of resistance from various elements within the Command – Father, we need to talk about a possible solution to that problem. I feel commander schooling will be more beneficial for the lads than continuing to work on the ship lines with our Starship Project. As it is, Ezekiel wants to become an Eagle like he was in his most recent life before this one, so he will be going to the University Ship once he has passed the basic subjects needed to take the entrance exams. He is still a little boy, but close enough in age to your Patrick, King Stephanus, and Allyn is just a year older than Patrick.”

Lord Demetrius was studying his son closely during this long speech. It was probably the most heartfelt parental speech he had ever heard from this talented adopted son of his. He sighed and said quietly, “We’ll have that discussion about the ships on another day, son. Thank you for offering to take on the fostering of Patrick and Robbina. I know they will be safer in Jolf than BerAir for the time being. Obviously, I need to speak to the commanders out in the field who are supposed to be watching over BerWare and Morova, two planets which have proved to be problematic during these wars – no insult intended, Stephanus.”

 Little Remilla took this opportunity to start crying. Julia looked at her little girl and said to Raphael: “I think little Remmie needs a bath and a change. Could you help me, please, Raphael? I’m also in need of a nap. It was a terribly busy morning organizing everything for this trip.”

Raphael stood and helped his mate stand. He bowed to the table and said: “Well, we’ll be back out after our naps. I’ll also check on the boys to see if they’re not having fist fights in the bathing room.”

Astrig gasped and then quieted as she noted the grin on her brother-in-law’s face. She knew Raphael occasionally had an odd sense of humor. She waved briefly at Julia and turned back to Lady Anna: “Mother Anna, Roméo and I can share any responsibilities for the added care given to Robbina and Patrick. I’m sure our children and their friends will welcome the presence of new friends. They all play and study together. Also, the boys sometimes spend time out at the outpost, where Commander Lantrill and Sukio watch over things. Commander Monteras is also most helpful in tutoring the children when they are not in school, especially the boys.”

As Raphael and Julia made their way to their accustomed suite, followed close behind by Eagles Vayin and Felipe, Raphael remarked, “It is so peaceful not having Esturias here. I’m interested to see how well the twins adjust to life here on Medina. It’s not quite the same as sophisticated Milan.”

“Raphael – I doubt the boys would care at this stage of their young lives,” replied the sensible and maternal Julia. “The boys will have instant friends in their cousins and will be busy with their schooling. And if they want relatives to visit, we’re in Jolf, as well as their aunt and uncle, Lady Astrig and Roméo.”

“Indeed…my love, did I tell you today that I love you?” replied Raphael as he took little Remilla from her mother’s arms. He kissed his mate on the forehead and then bent over to kiss his little daughter who stared up at him with her beautiful bright blue eyes.

The great electrical storms started that night, with the colorful solar flashes lashing across the skies, setting off the violent storms and winds marking the transition between summer and winter. Meanwhile, the VaCoupe family, their friends and associates were safe and cozy in the spacious sprawling VaCoupe compound. The war seemed far away, but it was still on the edge of everyone’s consciousness, except perhaps for the youngest children present. Yet during the great storms which made navigation between the planets dangerous, even the war was suspended for a time.  Raphael was content even if challenges presented themselves at work. Family, friends, and trusted associates surrounded him. It was far more than a poor slave boy could have ever had imagined years ago…

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