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AeroQuest 2… Canto 38

Canto 38 – Friashqazatla, “Freddy”

Ged, Junior, Tkriashav, Naylund, Sara, and Friashqazatla were all gathered in the office of Shen Ming inside Akito House.

“Honorable Ged Aero-sama, we are here to determine the course we must follow to honor the prophecy.”  Shen Ming smiled his unnerving crooked smile.

“So, what prophecy are we talking about?” asked Ged.

“The prophecy of Shan,” answered Naylund.

“The prophecy of Xan,” answered Tkriashav.

Shen Ming chuckled.  “Ah, so… a matter of spelling, ha?  It is the wisdom of my ancestors that the two prophecies are the same.”

“How do you know this, Shen Ming-sensei?” asked Naylund.

“What does the prophecy of Shan say is the White Spider’s first task?”

“He will teach students the Way of the Spider.”

“And what does the prophecy of Xan say he will do first?”

“He will teach Psions to use their inborn powers,” said Tkriashav.

“Is this not a similarity rather than a difference?”

Neither Naylund nor Tkriashav was able to dispute that.

“Well, then, I will discuss this first with the Black Wolf.”  Shen Ming smiled at Friashqazatla. 

“Who is the Black Wolf?” asked Naylund.  Ged looked confused as well.

“I am the Black Wolf,” admitted Friashqazatla quietly.

“And how do you know this to be true, little Freddy?” asked Shen Ming very patiently.

“I see the Black Wolf in my inner eye.  He constantly tells me, Come and be me.”

“Do you know the process to become the Black Wolf?”

“I do not.  It distresses me.”

Friashqazatla, or, more simply, Freddy, was a very comely and attractive child.  His skin was a rich, reddish brown in color.  His hair was jet black and shiny.  His eyes were two glowing-blue sky-colored sapphires.

“The Way of the Spider is to look within,” said Shen Ming.  “The Way of the Spider is self-fulfillment and the honing of personal skills and moral strengths.  Can this Way not also mean the development of Psion powers?”

“Yes, honored Shen Ming-sensei.  I understand how to teach shape-changing power like my own,” said Ged.  “But how can I teach the Way of the Spider if I do not know it?”

“Have you a personal code of morality and honor, Ged-sensei?”

“Yes.”

“Then teach that as the Way of the Spider, for the White Spider is you.”

“And is that all that I must teach?”

“I believe in the combat with Ginjiro, the Black Spider, you actually consumed his flesh, did you not?”

“Shamefully, I did.”

“And your Psion power allows you to change into any living creature you have tasted or otherwise genetically analyzed, yes?”

“Yes.”

“Then the Way of Combat will be easy for you to teach, for Ginjiro, though evil, was a master of powerful martial arts.”

Ged was a bit stunned to learn that part of what he was to teach was knowledge he had gained by eating a teacher of martial arts.

“Who will I be teaching the Way of the Spider to?”

“I see three students here.  Lovely Sara, the daughter of Naylund Smith-sama.  Your own little blue nephew, Junior Aero.  And, of course, the Black Wolf, whom I will always refer to as Freddy because of the lack of ease I have saying his birth name without bruising my tongue and cracking my few remaining teeth.  And there is one other we must add to this dojo.  We have reason to believe he is a Psion also, a telekinetic.  His name is Shu Kwai.” “I accept this assignment, Shen Ming-sensei.” 

Ged bowed to Shen Ming humbly.  He had become a teacher, complete with the necessary class to be one.

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AeroQuest 2… Canto 34

Canto 34 – The Great Galactic Web

      It is said that life in space exists on a spider’s web of invisible star lanes.  A photon drive can propel a starship only through certain well-defined mathematical probability arrays to a new location in geometrically-and-gravitically-folded space.  They work basically by popping in and out of reality, though you can only precisely describe the physics of it in mathematical terms.  So, of course, there are those who claim that if space is filled with spider webs, then God himself must be the Great Spider who spins it all.

The Megadeath roared into orbit around the bright blue planet that filled the life zone of a star listed on the charts as The Old Yellow Man.  It had been identified as a habitable system before, but no one had dared to come this far beyond the Imperial Borders to colonize before.  At least, no one these spacers knew about.

“This is a spectacular world,” said Vince Niell.

“Yeah, man,” said Nikki Sixx.  “Like a toatally gnarly hammertime world!”

“Wha…?” answered Cold Death.

Ged chuckled at the verbal density of his crew.  You have to be happy with the pick of the litter even if the dog pound only has mutts.

“What do your sensors pick up, Cold?” Tkriashav asked Cold Death.

“Wha…?” the white-skinned bone-man responded.

“Your instrument panel, you thick…” grumbled Ged.

“Oh,” Death said.  “Signal from the third moon of the big gas planet, man.  Like, ancient dudes put a scout base there.  Dead zone, dude.  No life.”

“Other signs of civilization?” asked Tkriashav.

“Stellar observatory in the third orbit.  Also, dead zone.  One moon around this planet.  None around the planet in the first orbit.  Also, dead zones, dude.”

“What about the planet below us?” asked Ged, beginning to grow impatient with the brain-dead zombie stoner at the sensor panel.  “Are there people or signs of civilization on this planet?”

“Whoa… Like two billion people.  Not human, man.  Humanoid, but definitely not human.”  Cold death shook his green Mohawk hair-do like a horse shakes flies off its mane.  He was definitely not human either.

“Vince?  Do you think you can land safely?” asked Ged.

“Yeah, boss man.  I can put her down on a dime.  I’ve never had such a sweet girl under my control before.  Yeah, baby!”

Ged ground a frustrated fist into his temple.  He knew there was something important about this mission because of Tkriashav’s damnable clairvoyance, but he felt he needed to know what.  Was it something for his own good?  Or something for the greater good that would mean sacrificing his own life?  He wanted to be able to make those choices himself.

“Cold Death?  I’m gonna hate myself for having to ask this, but do you find any signs of a starport down there?”

“Wha…?”

“A landing field!  A flat patch!  A place to put down where we don’t go CRASH!  BOOM! And blow up!”

“Oh, yeah, man.  Major city with walls, flat all around, dude.  Gnarly!”

“You see it, Vince?” asked Ged.

“I’m swoopin’, Daddy-o!”

“Ugh!  What does that mean?” Ged looked at Xavier Tkriashav.  Tkriashav merely shrugged.

Aboard the Megadeath

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AeroQuest 1…

Canto 2 – A Bit of Blue

The two spaceships finally locked together belly to belly in the middle of a barrel roll. Dalgoda’s fireball was tearing itself apart from inside. Flaming projectiles tore free on every side of it, sparking out in airless space. Meanwhile, Tron’s Pinwheel Corsairs were bathing the two spiraling space dancers with hot laser fire. Two of the six corsairs had a pretty decent lock on Trav’s ship and were peeling more chunks off the drive core.

“Ged!” hollered Ham, “can you get the Goofer out of his ship before it blows?”

“I can try,” said Ged, more to himself than to Ham.  His brother was busy trying to fly the ship in a carnival-ride maneuver.

Ged scrambled down the hatchway ladder to the ventral docking port.  The metal around the port doorway was already glowing red from heat.  With a moment of panicky concentration, his hands grew fire-lizard scales all over them, like gloves that appeared out of nowhere.  How did he do this thing?  Well, he had to admit to himself that as a safari leader, he’d skinned more than a few of the fire-resistant xeno-beasts in the past twenty years.  He knew the feel and look of the skin quite well.  He had even tasted fire-lizard flesh.  His protected hands could spin the locking wheel of the heated door and throw it open without singeing his fingers off.

“Goofy?  You there?”

“Atta-boy, Ged-boy!  You’re a hero.”

Ged expected to see the thin, eye-patched face next, but instead he found himself looking into the beautiful blue face of a Nebulon woman.

“Who are you?” Ged asked with open mouth.

The blue-skinned young lady with the yellow hair just shrugged and eyed Ged like she didn’t understand.

“She’s part of my treasure, Ged!” called a goofy voice from somewhere behind her.  “Pull her into your ship.  Not all Nebulon slave girls speak Galactic English, you know!”

Ged pulled her into the Leaping Shadowcat.

“Here’s more,” called Trav.

An elfin blue-skinned boy with bright yellow hair was held up next to be rescued.

“Another slave?”

“He’s the son of the Nebulon Princess.”

“Your son?”

“No way!  I’m greedy, not perverted!”

Ged couldn’t argue that.  He pulled the boy in too.

“Where’d you get the cool lizard gloves, Ged?” asked Trav as he clambered through the doorway and eyed the scales with his one uncovered eye.

“I kinda made them,” Ged answered sheepishly.

“Is our boy, Ham, ready to jump out of this mess?”

“I hope so.”

“Good.”  Trav hauled a huge anti-gravitic cargo-bag into the ship after him and slammed the portal door.  “Eeyow!” he cried as he burned holes through the fingers of his own gloves.  It was fortunate the Goof always wore those stupid white gloves.  They saved him from burning flesh off his fingers.

“Ham, you can let ‘er go!” hollered Ged into his commo dot.  The communicator was glued comfortably to his throat.

They heard a rumble as the Leaping Shadowcat released her grip on Trav Dalgoda’s nameless ball of flame and melting hull.  The rumble was followed shortly by a huge boom and jarring shockwave.

“Ged!  Get the Goofer up here.  We’ve got big problems with his corsair friends.”

Ged’s eyes widened.  “What happened that made that shock wave?”

“Goofy’s ship exploded and took out two of the trailing corsairs.”

“Jeez!” moaned Goofy, “I hope Maggie and Tron are all right.  They’re good friends of mine.”

“Do I read the situation right?” asked Ged.  “If they live, they are going to kill us?”

“Well, yes, but I still love Tron like a brother.” Ged nodded unhappily.  He wished he lived in the same alternate universe as Trav Dalgoda.

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AeroQuest 1… Canto 2

Adagio 1 – Googol Marou

Sometimes a good historical tale requires the right story-teller to really explain it correctly.  Sorry, you are stuck with me, Professor Googol Marou.  I am an astronomer and physicist, not the kind of story-teller I knew so well when the events I will try to relate to you actually happened.

I am not calling this bit “Chapter Two” like an ordinary writer with writing sense would.  No, I am following the unscientific metaphors that Ged Aero himself always used when telling a story.  He talked about the universe as if it were a symphony played by musical instruments that don’t make sounds.  Their musical notes are actually lights and energies, physics, if you will, or some such nonsense as that.  So, the first chapter was called a “Canto”, a section of poetry or lyrics, intended to be sung out loud.  This little pile of narrative nonsense is primarily exposition, a part that is probably good to know about, but it won’t kill you if you skip it.  It won’t kill the story either… hopefully.  I may also use “Nocturnes” in the course of this tale, classical movements of romance and sensual beauty.  And I am looking forward to the “Scherzos”, the short interludes of comic musicality and brief relief from the heavier fare.

My over-all plan for this tale is to tell you how a group of teachers were able to make history and change the Galtorr Imperium of a Thousand Worlds, turning it into the New Star League, even though the stars in it were billions of years old.

Now, you might wonder how it is that a group of teachers were able to conquer and realign the very stars, especially since they didn’t know they were teachers at the outset, but I swear it is true.  I’m not the liar Trav Dalgoda was.  And, even though I didn’t personally witness everything I intend to tell you, I did participate a bit.  And, I was able to learn even more through my special telescope.

Space in the era of this history was already partially colonized by human beings who originated on Earth. Four branches of Earthers had reached out to the stars and planets of the Orion Spur of the Sagittarius Spiral Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.  The Texans had created the Coreward Union of Inhabited Worlds, also known as the Pan Galactican Union.  Those fools in their plasticized cowboy hats had a way of running roughshod over the galaxy until they met forces more determined and self reliant than they were.  I don’t apologize for Space Cowboys, there really is no excuse for them, but they were a necessary part of the cultural mix that preceded the New Star League.

The Japanese had reached out to the Trailing Area of the Spur and their colonies disappeared from known space. Many thought they had run afoul of a powerful alien menace.  In some ways, it was probably the truth.  Still, the inscrutable Space Samurai would come back to haunt us in a new incarnation.  It would prove to be the right thing at the right time.

The Southern European Union had branched out towards the Nebulas of the Leading Edge of the Orion Spur.  There they founded an exclusive humans-only Empire called the Classical Worlds.  They were so pig-headedly convinced of their own perfection and superiority, that they took to living everywhere as Space Nudists, shaping the environment to accommodate the human form rather than making any adaptations themselves.  These descendants of the French, Italians, and Greeks adopted Greco-Roman dress and culture, and I mean the Ancient form that had served the original Greeks and Romans back on Earth, the culture of social nudity and reverence for the naked human form.  They were very enlightened about philosophy and science, but as buck-naked people, they had absolutely no fashion sense.  They were also unusually prejudiced towards any intelligent being that wasn’t human.  They never seemed to figure out that most humans weren’t really intelligent beings.  Still, in the long run, we needed them too.  Good thing we didn’t have to look at them often… well, unless we really wanted to.

And finally, the Eastern European Space Initiative had made maximum use of their discovery of the humanoid lizard Galtorrians found in the Delta Pavonis Star System on a planet known as Galtorr Prime.  They established their Imperium in the center of the Orion Spur.  Something about the Germans and Russians just naturally dove-tailed with the lizard peoples of Galtorr.  The Galtorrian lizard-men and humans became the first genetically altered, melded race in known space.  They were able to take advantage of the many genetic similarities between humans and reptiloids for the purposes of making the two species into one, the Galtorrian Imperial Lizard Race.  They were like humans in every way, even mostly blond-haired and blue-eyed, but their snake-like eyes had vertically slitted pupils. They discovered they could thrive in Earth-like worlds and hostile Galtorr Prime-like worlds equally well.  They used their supposedly superior breeding to field vast space armies and navies of powerful starships and began conquering their neighbors.  This, of course, included the conquest and devastation of the Earth itself.

The Galtorr Imperium had been established almost 500 years before Ged and Ham Aero started the Great Outworld Expansion of 5526 C.E.  People would come to call the Imperium the “Thousand Planets” because of the 1,212 inhabited worlds in the 882 stellar systems it had conquered or colonized.  It was not the securely settled Orion Spur that I am sure you enjoy now.  It was necessary to keep an active scout service even in the heavily populated center of the Imperium.  Information traveled only as fast as the fastest starships, and one end of the Imperium rarely knew what was happening in the other end.  There had been a need for the Galtorrians to fight three Jihads and five Unification Wars.  Pirates and Privateers were everywhere.

No merchant traveled safely. New colonies often disappeared without a murmur.  Delivering goods meant risking life and limb.  Of course, some of my best friends were pirates at one time.  You shouldn’t really hold that against them.  But it is no wonder that an outworld expansion required someone of great courage and character to step out of the general darkness.

Now, I’m sure you are wondering, “Who are you, Professor Googol Marou, to be telling us about the distant past over so many light years of space?”  Well, that would be a good question.  I’ve been described as a “total nut-job” on many occasions. I know what I’m talking about, though, because I’ve studied history in action through the Marou Ancient Light Holo-Assembler Telescope (the MALHAT).  It takes the collected light from the stars and planets we see, and reassembles it in a holo-recording that shows what happened at the moment those light particles reflected off the event.  The true genius, of course, was in finding the quantum shape-memory in photon particles and building a re-assembler.  That means that to view the past as it was 500 years ago, all you have to do is look at it from 500 light years away and gather 500 year old light.  This I could do from the relative safety of a space platform or space ship.  I mostly preferred a scientifically-oriented lab ship, but also found Ham Aero’s quaint little hunting ship serviceable as well.  And, I invented this wonderful thing.

I won’t lecture you now on the fierce repressions of the Galtorr Imperium.  Most of that goes without saying, and if you’ve heard of them at all, you know it is true.

I know you are probably still marveling over the simple brilliance of the Marou Ancient Light Holo-Assembler Telescope!  I can’t blame you.  I’m still amazed that I invented it.  It makes me have to stop in the middle of my thesis just to marvel at myself.  Wow!  Aren’t I wonderful?

What I will tell you, though, is that the Aero brothers left known space because Ged was slowly transforming into a rare form of Psion known as a Shape-Changer.  Like the telepaths, pyros, savants, teleporters, and telekinetics who made up the usual run of Psions, shape-changers could make use of their entire brain system in a conscious way to control the universe around them by mind power alone.  That is not to say that they were any smarter, wiser, or more moral that the rest of us, just unusually gifted with special brain powers.

The Imperium hated Psions because they were so much harder to control.  They actively hunted, persecuted, and, often, even executed Psions.  I, myself, am not a Psion, but you will note in the course of this history, when I come into the picture to play a key role, that I have a real affinity for Psions and their way of life.  So, as the story continues, please don’t doubt the veracity and mental stability of my observations.  I’m a genius, after all.  My inventions prove it.

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Waiting for the Curtain to Fall…

Firefang

The Amazon rain forest is burning. It filters our atmosphere, removing carbon, and producing about 20 percent of our breathable air. The Latin Trump, newly elected leader of Brazil, wants it to burn to make arable land for growing soybeans to sell to China and profit over the Pumpkinhead President’s stupid trade war.

I already worry about having a heart attack at any moment. I can’t afford insulin for my diabetes, or another trip to the emergency room. The next concerning chest pain may well be the onset of the end of everything for me. If it is just another mystery pain caused by the inflamed joints in my rib cage, or the arthritic bones pressing on my spinal chord, I will not be able to pay for the inevitable surgery I discussed with doctors before. Better for my heart to go boom and the suffering to end.

But I believe in the Dylan Thomas solution. “Do not go gentle into that good night, rather, Rage! Rage! Against the dying of the light!”

So, how do I do that? How do I rage against the end of days? Whether for the entire planet facing heat death and a destroyed environment, or just for myself?

I will write the next home-town novel about the boy who cannot die. I am calling it A Boy Forever… at least for now. That’s a working title.

The Paffooney for today pictures Firefang, a girl who comes to the little town of Norwall, Iowa, against her will with her adoptive oriental father. She is not the protagonist. Young Icarus Jones is that. Rather, she is the antagonist, the fire-breathing troubled teen dissatisfied with life and longing for chaos and escape.

This will not be a teen romantic comedy. Well, not only that, anyway. It will be a book about an imprisoned dragon, the undying, and the undead. It will be about murder and the quest for immortality. I am working on the plot of it as an epistolary novel, made up of letters, interviews, and first-person accounts. And it will be both funny and sad, both an allegory and a farce, a parody and a prose poem.

Okay, I know it’s a tall order. But when faced with imminent death, you gotta do something, right? I intend to write another novel.

The picture is modeled after a girl from Brazil that I met over the internet, on Twitter. The character is not based on her. I barely know her. But I used her internet selfie to draw the picture portrait of Firefang.

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AeroQuest 1… Canto 1

Canto 1 – Escapade

When you look out the portal of a space craft, especially a large portal like the main view-port of the Leaping Shadowcat, you get a glimpse of the great orchestra of light and silence that has been playing its music in space since the dawn of time.  The diamond-bright stars glow with an electric melody in a great sea of black, littered with the silent notes of the Galactic Symphony written on the face of the universe, and being conducted by God himself.

Ged Aero stared at this silent music as he contemplated his brother’s plan.  Ham Aero had proposed the impossible.  How could it be the only solution?

“You can’t deny it any more, Ged.  The Galtorr Imperium is no place for a man like you.”

“…but the unknown, Hamfast?  How can you expect to get by beyond the edges of known space?”

“Others have done it in the past.  You know that civilization still has not absorbed even half the worlds that Martin Faulkner visited five hundred years ago.”

“Yes,” said Ged, pulling at the front brim of his dirty brown fedora as if to hide his eyes and the doubt that was in them, “but he was an explorer.  He knew how to live in space without any human contact for years on end.”

“What he can do, we can do.”  Ham pushed a fall of thick yellow hair out of his eyes.  It had been far too long since he had had a haircut, but only their mother had been allowed to do it, and she was now gone.  “We have to.  Prejudice against you has reached the point that it will be fatal.”

“Okay, I know that.  But I’m learning to control it.  I don’t have to change all the time.  I can stop it when I need to, and maybe even start it myself.  I don’t know why it happens, but I think I can make it work for me instead of against me.”

“Yes, well, mutations like yours are almost always fatal in the end.  You’ll slip at the wrong moment, and the Imperials will have your head on a platter.  What did they call your disease?”

“Lycanthropy.  Werewolf disease.”

“That’s my point exactly.  We both know it’s really something else, but the torches will come out to burn you the next time they see you change even a little bit.”

“Unknown space, Ham?  Does it have to be unknown space?”

“Yes, Ged.  Unknown space.  It’s my spaceship.  The decision is ultimately mine.”

It was a beautiful space ship.  It was a safari cruiser of the Xenomorph Class, a smooth airfoil shape with silver skin and a photon drive that could leap across parsecs of space in practically no time.  It could land on planets with atmosphere as easily as it could glide through the electric sparkle of space.  It had a good, sturdy ground ATV and accommodations for as many as twenty-five people.

“So how do you plan to navigate the unknown?”  Ged knew Ham was a capable starship captain, but they had no reliable navigator.  And the third member of their minimum crew of three, the engineer, was not even aboard.

“Goofy can do it.  He’s more gifted than you believe.”

“Don’t tell me your friend Trav Dalgoda is the engineer we’re waiting for!”

“Okay.  I won’t tell you.”

“Are you insane?  You’re going to jump out into unknown space with that Lunar Tick as our only means to fix the ship and set our course?”

“Yeah,” said Ham, grinning.  “It doesn’t sound too smart when you put it that way.  But he is an original thinker and a good problem-solver.”

“He’s also wanted on four planets and owes ten million Galtorrian credits to the biggest Vice Lord in the Thousand Planets.”

“Yeah.  It was easy to talk him into jumping out with us.”

“Oh, I’m so glad it was easy.”

The two brothers had started calling their boyhood friend, Travis R. Dalgoda, “Goofy” when, as an academy graduate, he started wearing an eye patch over his left eye even though he could see through it perfectly.  It didn’t hurt that he always wore that silly Donald Duck sailor’s hat that he got on his one and only leave on the Disney planet.  He also had a thing for ties with weird pictures or sayings on them.  Trav was one of a kind.

“I guess I understand your plan finally,” Ged said morosely to Ham.  “You’re going to bring an end to my suffering by committing suicide in deep unknown space.”

“Yeah,” said Ham staring out the view port at the silent music of the stars, “Something like that…”

At that moment, a blazing piece of space junk trailing sparking debris came fluttering toward them like a wounded sparrow.

“Oh, gawd!  Get to the co-pilot console, Ged!”

Whatever it was, it was maneuvering, using powered flight.  It was apparently seeking them out.

“Any bets that this burning space-ball is Goofy?” Ham asked as he strapped himself into the pilot chair.

As if in answer, Trav’s voice came over the ship-to-ship commo.  “Ham-boy!  You gotta help me.  I picked up a band of followers on my way out of system!”

“Yep.  That’s Goofy,” moaned Ged.

“I’m pickin’ up bad guys!” shouted Ham.  He flipped on the commo.  “Goof?  You got six of them on your tail?”

“Oh, is that all?  My sensors are out.  I figured it was more like fifty.  Pinwheel Corsairs, ain’t they?”

“Yes.  I make them to be Tron Blastarr and Maggie the Knife.  What’s your beef with them?”

“Oh, they’re friends of mine.  I helped them loot a cargo out of Mingo Downport.  They just didn’t like the ninety-ten split I left them with.”

“Typical,” muttered Ged.  “They got the ten, right?”

“Could I split it any less fair than that?” Trav answered. Ham launched the Leaping Shadowcat into an arching intercept course.  Ham had never done a high-speed docking maneuver before, that Ged knew of, but the young pilot was about to learn fast.

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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 30

Canto Thirty – Rage in the Clarke Name

Kyle Clarke came storming into the Zeffer house before either the sheriff’s deputy or Mrs. Philips could arrive.  He was angry to the point of curse words over what apparently had happened to Valerie.  He made Mrs. Zeffer and Ray repeat the story of how Ray found her three times before he even started calming down.  He made it clear he wanted the story from Ray, not Valerie.  Once he had learned she had been unconscious, he didn’t even want to hear her version of events.  He told her she would not be able to make sense of things until she was well rested and recovered.  He wanted Mrs. Philips, a registered nurse, to examine her before any other investigation took place.  Valerie could only imagine in horror what he suspected.

“Mrs. Philips!  We need you to examine little Valerie Clarke,” said Mrs. Zeffer as Mary’s mother arrived at the Zeffer home.  “She’s been attacked by someone.”

Mrs. Philips was very pale, and also seemed shaken.

“What is the matter, Mrs. Philips?” Kyle asked.  “You seem unwell.”

“My daughter Mary and her boyfriend Pidney Breslow are missing.  I’m afraid it has something to do with what happened to Valerie.”

“Oh, no!  We’ve phoned the sheriff already and he’s sending Deputy Harper from Belle City to investigate,” Kyle said in a concerned tone.

“Do you know what happened?” asked Mrs. Zeffer.

Ray was sitting on the bed in Bobby’s room next to Valerie who was already wearing the clothes Kyle had brought her.  Both of them looked at the adults standing just outside the bedroom doorway.  Valerie’s fear for what might’ve happened to Mary and Pid was overwhelming.  She leaned against Ray’s shoulder and began to cry softly.

“It was the strangest thing.  The three of them were all in our basement, reading some old book.  Then, suddenly there was a purple fog in the house.  It smelled so sweet it made me sick to my stomach.  It apparently knocked me out.  When I came to, I found my daughter Amy and her brother Jason were both sleeping on the floor.  They had been knocked out too.”

“And the kids were taken from your house?”  Kyle looked alarmed and upset.

“Yes, all we found were their clothes in the basement.  I have never seen anything so strange.  Whoever took them must have stripped them naked first.”

“Oh, you poor dear,” said Mrs. Zeffer, taking hold of Lady Philips’ shaking hands and guiding her to a chair in Bobby’s room.  “Sit here.  Let me get you some tea.”

“Was there any indication who might have done this terrible thing?” asked Kyle.

“I… I don’t know,” Mrs. Philips said as Mrs. Zeffer bustled out of the room to make tea.  “We found the empty clothes… and then you called asking me to come here and examine Valerie.”

“You should’ve said something then,” Kyle said.

“I… I just felt numb.  I told Jason to look after Amy and came right here to see what I could find out.”

“All right… um, Mrs. Philips… I called you over here to examine my daughter Valerie.  I was worried someone might have… well, she was found naked in the alley, unconscious.”

Lady Philips made a small strangling sound in her throat.  Valerie knew immediately what she must have thought had happened to Mary.

“I’m okay, Daddy.  I know for a fact that nobody did anything like that to me.”

“Valerie, princess, you were unconscious.  Somebody drugged you and stripped you naked.  We need to be certain what happened.”  Daddy Kyle was trying to be comforting and soothing, but there was a cold, desperate edge to his voice that actually scared Valerie.  She looked at Ray.  Ray’s eyes were frightened too.

“Your dad is right, Val.  You need to be checked.  Mrs. Philips is an RN, a professional nurse.  She’ll be able to tell.”

“Okay, Ray,” said Valerie’s dad coolly, “You should go help your mother in the kitchen.  Deputy Harper will be here soon.”

Ray reluctantly let go of Valerie and stood up.  “You know, sir, that I would never hurt your daughter.”

Kyle’s angry glare softened a bit.  “I… I do know that, son.  And believe me, I am grateful for the way you rescued her and brought her somewhere safe.  I’m on edge right now.  I don’t know what was done or who did it.  You know what I mean?”

“Of course.  If I were in your shoes, I’d be afraid for my daughter too.”

Ray nodded resolutely.  Then he went out of the room.

“I will examine her in private, Mr. Clarke.  I will be able to tell.  I have treated rape victims before.  I don’t have a kit with me, but I will know if one needs to be used… Only…”

“What?” Kyle asked.

“After we know, I am going to need you and Deputy Harper to find Mary.” Valerie’s dad was grim-faced, but he nodded his agreement.

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