I never really fit in with the others as a child; I was too rough and tumble for the girls, and the boys shunned me because I was female. I've heard it's not like that on all Lentaa colonies; but it was like that in Mera City, Skogland.
My name's Kettera. I am the daughter of a prominent Lentaa business man named Gurrul. Ever since I was born, people told me that I wouldn't be able to achieve nearly as much as a male could. I decided to prove them wrong.
My troubles all began at my sixteenth year of life, when my mother found me playing Heroes of the Multiverses with my slightly younger brother Sular. I was told that females were not to engage in such activities; that we females were to place greater emphasis on gardening and comforting males then fighting and defending one's family. This confused me; why was Sular encouraged to someday join the military, while I was meant to stay out of the way and look pretty? Oh yes, and do a little bit of gardening. Boring.
Things really got bad on my nineteenth birthday, when my mother insisted on finding a husband for me.
She chose the most awful males, it seems; there was one canidate that was too morbidly obese to fly. He had to be carried around by servants. Mother seemed to think he would make a good husband because he could afford that many servants willing to place their hands in Lentaa blubber. Frankly, I'd much rather have a husband who didn't have to afford servants; one who could do things like moving by himself. But Mother didn't really care for what I had to say about any of this, and Father was too busy conducting commerce to care about any of this.
"Kettera," Mother said to me one day, "someday your father and I are going to die. You're going to have to get married, so as to carry our genes to the next generation."
I left my thoughts on where she should shove her genes to myself.
I felt certain that I was doomed to a life of misery, spending my centuries with some blubbery excuse for a Lentaa, and forgetting about any dreams for a better life I might have.
But then my salvation came to me; the headlines of a Lentaa Gazette issue:
"NEW SPECIES DISCOVERED: LENTAA NOW AT WAR WITH KERARAN EMPIRE"
This caught my attention. I was overcome with excitement; the very idea of fighting aliens to protect my homeworld was very appealing. I resolved to join the Lentaa Fleet. Unfortunately, I was certain that my Mother and Father would find some way of stopping me, even though I was legally of age. There was no law against a female joining; in fact, it was done quite often in some parts of the empire.
And so early one morning, I gathered a few things, and snuck out of the house.
The Lentaa Recruitment Officer laughed out loud when I told him I wanted to join. That attitude was very common in Mera City, I'm afraid.
"You--a female," he said, trying to hold back his laughter, "you want to go into outer space and fight aliens. Really? Why would you want to do that? War is Male's Work."
"Listen here," I said angrily, "There is no law against me joining the Lentaa Fleet. I am a Lentaa citizen, who just wants to go out and fight for her homeworld. Is not patriotism the noblest of virtues?"
"Keeping females out of harm's way is virtue enough," he said warningly, "Now go home. And don't come bothering a Lentaa officer with your pleas again."
"Fine," I said, an idea coming to me, "I'll go over your head. I'll contact one of your superior officers. And if you do, you better hope they feel the same way you do. Cause if they don't, you'll get sacked, and I'll get assignment regardless."
The Recruitment Officer pulled me close to him, "Fine, I'll cut you a deal," he whispered urgently, "I'll recruit you quietly. And you will never, ever speak of this to anyone. My reputation would be ruined if it was learned that I let a female sign up."
I smiled. "You have a deal."
My training was long and vigorous, although slightly different than the males. The men were learning how to lead an effective charge, how to fire cannons, and how exactly to slice off the head of a Keraran in flight.
For me, things were different. I learned aerial acrobatics, so I could avoid enemy fire. I guess it wasn't all bad, since I learned how to aim stun bombs, but I still would have liked to learn how to fire a cannon.
After I had trained for a few months, my training squad was contacted by a high-ranking officer. He was there to give us some interesting news.
We were about to be deployed on our first battle.
We eagerly waited for a day, until we were briefed on the nature of our assignment. What had happened was this: a Keraran legion had boarded a vessel belonging to an alien race known as the Tahawe. The Tahawe were a peaceful species, and had been unable to combat the invaders effectively. We and a team of Salsenes and Lutrians were to board the Tahawe ship, and drive out the Kerarans.
Looking back on it, I can see how foolish a plan this really was. We knew hardly anything about the layout of the alien vessels; how were we supposed to effectively drive out hostile defenders? But at the time, I was too thrilled by the concept of battle to stop and think about any of this.
We were soon on board a large Salsene battlecruiser, of the Warsong class I think. Before we knew it, we were flying through space and towards our enemies.
It wasn't long before the Tahawe ship came into view. It was made mostly of various metals, but with a few thick stones as well. A Lutrian engineer managed to chop a hole into the vessel, and we entered. It was only me, ten other Lentaa, fifteen Salsenes, and eight Lutrians. A total of thirty-four soldiers.
The first thing that struck me was the fire, and then the fact that I was in a burning forest. As it turns out, the Tahawe travel the galaxy in giant Jungle-Ships, a unique fusion of machinery and nature. In regular times, it is beautiful. However, here it was a nightmare. The huge, coral-like trees had been thoroughly ignited. The smell of burning ammonia, the remains of Tahawe, filled the air. I could feel my eyes become irritated, and they filled with tears from the noxious fumes. Ashes filled the air, and I could hardly see. The Salsenes had it easy, with their combat helmets, and so they pushed on ahead. The Lutrians, not wanting to be outdone, followed them.
Unfortunately, there was no space for me to fly, so I had to walk on all fours along with the others. Suddenly, the Salsenes in the front stopped, and signalled for us to look in a certain direction. Deeper within the flames was a centaurine shape, holding a large rifle. The creature, evidently a Keraran, raised its weapon, and fired.
Instantly, a Salsene in the front was thrown a few feet backwards from the force of the shot. And then, other Kerarans from all around us opened fire.
It was a nightmare. We could barely see through the smoke and ammonia in the air, but they could see perfectly. They had protective helmets, and infrared visors, meaning they could see us when we couldn't see them. We were defenseless. All around me I could hear and feel my companions dropping to the ground; had I been a larger target I would be dead right now. The only thing I could do was run. I flew along the ground, heading into a cloud of smoke and gas. It burned, but I didn't quite care at the time. All I knew was that if I stayed put, I would be killed. And so I flew through the gas.
The ammonia in the vapor blinded me; I could not see where I was going. However, I could hear Kerarans chasing after me from behind, and so I continued flying. I flew straight into a burning shyull tree. The force of the blow knocked me unconscious, and I dropped to the ground.
When I woke up, I was bound by the wings to a horizontal board. I was in a dark room; the only source of light was a small bulb giving out an eerie red light.
There were other prisoners, also restrained. Salsenes, Lutrians, a few other Lentaa, and a Vrah. Guarding us was a Keraran dreadtrooper, holding a very large rifle. It seemed relaxed; it had taken off it's helmet, revealing it's saurian face.
I had none of my things; none of my weapons, armor, or anything. I was almost overwhelmed by the feeling of utter helplessness that overcame me.
When it saw that I was awake, the Keraran began to approach the bed. It took a needle full of yellow liquid, tapped it slightly, and started to take it towards one of my legs. I'm not proud of the fact that I began to panic.
However, the restraints were not designed for a Lentaa of my size. Most Lentaa soldiers captured were males, and were therefore bigger than I was. When I struggled, I managed to slip out of it.
I still find it strange that an intergalactice empire like the Kerarans didn't think of this. But let's skim past this confusing thought.
Once free, I rushed towards my captor, knocking it down. The alien dropped it's rifle, which I picked up. It was rather heavy, but I could manage.
I pointed the rifle at the Keraran's chest, and told it to surrender. I doubt it understood my voice, but it understood the gun. It put down the syringe, and began to step away from me. It then pushed a large red button on the wall, setting off an alarm. Angry, I wacked it in the head with the rifle. I had heard in training that their gun's recoil was powerful enough to break a Lentaa's arms, so I didn't want to risk shooting it.
The Keraran was knocked unconscious, and I was faced with the alarming prospect of the still-buzzing alarm.
I looked around the room, looking for some way of escaping. There were various surgical instruments, none of which would be useful in fighting hordes of dreadtroopers. There were some medicines and chemicals, which also would be useless. While I was searching, however, I noticed something rather important. The Vrah that had been bound before was missing. It's bounds had been cut. As I pondered this, the Kerarans kicked down the door and entered.
There were six of them, all armed with forceguns and heavily armored. They leveled their rifles... I prepared for the end of my life...
Suddenly, a Vrah swept out from underneath one of the beds, kicking the legs of one of the Kerarans out from underneath it. He then sprang back up, grabbing the forcegun as he did so. Casually, almost lazily, he swiveled around and blasted each Keraran in turn. The projectiles from the forcegun were quite capable of penetrating their armor; each one died after one headshot.
When the conflict (if it can be called that) was over, the Vrah turned to face me. "Are you all right?" he asked with a surprisingly gentle voice.
"Yes," I said breathlessly. After a moment, I blurted out "That was incredible! How did you fire their weapon without breaking your arms?"
He showed me his arms: he was wearing one of the shock-absorbing gauntlets the Kerarans wore. He had looted it from the Keraran I had knocked out, right underneath my nose.
I would like to say that I came up with a witty response to this, but since I was very tired with a slight concussion, all I could do was make a slight whine.
The Vrah laughed out loud. "Come, Lentaa", he said, "we need to get out of here." He paused for a moment. "What is your name?"
"Kettera. What is yours?"
"I am called Laughing Arrow. It is an interesting name, is it not?"
"It is that, if anything," I laughed.
Then, we turned towards the corridor the Kerarans had came through, and ventured into the vessel.
We sneaked through the ship for a while, avoiding dreadtroopers whenever possible. After a while. We came to a window.
The stars were different. In Fleet training, I had learned to recognize many of the stars of Viperius. The stars could tell an individual what part of the galaxy they were in. However, here I didn't recognize any stars. They were all different than what I was used too. It took me a few moments to realize the truth.
"Oh my god," I said quietly, "we're in the Lucifer Galaxy. This is where the Kerarans come from!"
Laughing Arrow was silent. "Let's move onwards."
And so we did. Before long, we came to a door, with a small window. Through the window, we could see a large room, filled with small starships. My heart jumped up from my legs to my throat, and I almost joyfully opened the door and rushed into the room. But then I saw twenty to thirty Kerarans guarding the ships, and my heart fluttered back down to my feet.
"You stay here," said Laughing Arrow, "I'll take out the Kerarans."
"What?" I hissed urgently, "even you can't take out that many at one time. It's impossible."
He paused. "I know. But while I have them distracted, you can get on board a ship."
"No! We both go, or neither of us goes. I'm not leaving without you."
"This is no time for valor or chivalry," said Laughing Arrow, "Since we can't both go, one of us should leave."
"And how am I supposed to survive the Lucifer Galaxy on my own? Nobody has ever been here and still come back to tell the tale."
He paused gloomily. However, before he could say anything else, an explosion rocked the ship, and we both got knocked about a little bit. An alarm went off, and we could hear Kerarans everywhere racing about the ship. Laughing Arrow and I were forced to hide in some sort of cupboard, which apparently contained rations for the soldiers on board the ship. I tried not to think about how there seemed to be a dried Lentaa wing dipped in batter and deep-fried.
We stayed there for a while; outside, we heard the sounds of gunfire. But after a while, the battle outside stopped, and we heard unknown entities marching about on the ship.
Finally, Laughing Arrow cracked open the door, and sneaked out of the room. There was a startled plocking sound, and then the sound of alien language. I took some comfort in the fact that it was not Keraran in nature, but not a lot. I suddenly wished I had a translator earpiece with me.
After a few minutes of this, Laughing Arrow opened up the door and let me out. I made a startled sound. The hallways were full of three-foot high, froglike creatures, with white feathery wings.
"These are the Ranaptor," said the Vrah cheerfully, "They're at war with the Kerarans, and are allies of the Salsenes. Ranaptor, my friend here doesn't have a working translator; could you please switch to Centro Basic?"
The Ranaptor agreed, and the conversation began to make a lot more sense from my end. Apparently, the Lucifer Galaxy was not only home to the Kerarans. There were a variety of other races, most of which were strongly opposed to the Kerarans. The Ranaptor were one such race.
After we talked to them for a bit, they agreed to let us on board their battleship, along with the other prisoners.
So, we were brought on board a large spacecraft, heavily armed and equipped with a powerful cloaking device. Quickly, we switched to FTL and traveled far away from that place.
We were brought to a space station orbiting a swampish planet on the far side of Lucifer. As soon as we arrived, we and the other prisoners were brought to a debriefing room, where we were questioned concerning our experiences with the Kerarans. After we had told our stories, we were informed that there was to be a transport bringing a new ambassador to Centro in a few days, and that we could hitch a ride back home.
I for one was much elated, and from what I could tell, the others were too.
And so we eagerly awaited the transport. Little did we know that this transport would result in the deaths of most of us, and would change the lives of the others forevermore.