Covert operations always come with enormous risk, but Intel is crucial to prevent more chaos than what Planet Cyrene is already experiencing . As I began the final process before boarding the ISMA unmarked spacecraft, I heard Commander Anderson calling after me. "MindStar," he said winded, "there's been a slight change in your flight plan." "Oh," I said surprised, "and what's that Commander?" "Once the unmarked ISMA spacecraft reaches the outer corridor of Planet Cyrene, you will be docking at a space station and switching to Senator Neff's carrier. He felt it would be best not to approach Cyrene in an unidentifiable spacecraft given the current state of affairs." "Well, that makes sense," I responded, "thanks for the update." I had to laugh at myself for what I was thinking at the moment, because I was actually wondering if the flyboys would be piloting the Senator's ship again. They are an interesting duo, and while professional and quite accommodating with a humorous flare, there's also a mystery that surrounds them. Just before I left Cyrene the last time, they were clearly lying dead in the Zekkonian Swamp after being attacked by a vicious creature when my transport was hijacked, but their bodies were missing when I was returned to the transport by the ARC guards. It was quite baffling, but then when I left the Senator's home after debriefing him and saw the flyboys standing outside the transport that would take me to the Senator's ship, I was completely confused. When I looked at the Senator, his only response was, "don't ask." Maybe I'm onto something regarding the flyboys possibly not being human, just like my new personal assistant Hannah at the ISMA Cyrene Ops Center, but then, I'm not sure just how much the Senator will reveal when asked about it. "Will do," I responded as I walked to the entrance of the spacecraft, "and thanks again for all your help in getting me settled, it's really appreciated." "My pleasure," the Commander replied as he began walking away from the launch pad and toward his transport, "and Hannah will look after everything while you're gone." "Excellent," I said, "all seems to be working well so far." I was skeptical about Hannah at first, but am more relaxed and confident that the Senator's choice for my personal assistant was a good one. I'm definitely going to explore this human-like, but not human situation with him, and just what I have to look forward to as Hannah and I get more involved. His intimations about her were interesting, but there are so many unanswered questions. The spacecraft I boarded looked more personal than commercial, with an all black and unmarked exterior that gave a clear impression that navigating stealth might be the order of the day. As I reached the cockpit area to acquaint myself with the pilots, the Captain stepped through the doorway to introduce himself. "Welcome aboard MindStar, I'm Captain Reynolds," said with a firm yet friendly tone, "and this is Lt. Nash, my Co-Pilot." The Lt. swiveled in his seat to acknowledge my presence and then returned to his preparations for take-off. "If you'll follow me MindStar, I'll give you a tour of the craft." As the Captain moved forward into the cabin, I could see that no one else was on board, but I also noticed that my first impression was correct. This is a personal craft and outfitted accordingly with a very comfortable sitting area and what appeared to be reclining seats, as well as table and desk area for conducting work or dining. "As you have probably surmised MindStar," began the Captain, "this craft is not for commercial use, but rather extended personal missions, and complete with every amenity to cater to the traveler's need and comfort." As we moved through the cabin, the Captain revealed the restroom and the sleeping quarters, as well as the galley where I discovered that we weren't alone. "This is Rose," the Captain continued, "and she has been the attendant assigned to this craft for 3 years now. If you need anything at all while in flight, she's the one to contact." We shook hands and exchanged greetings, but I noticed that her grip was quite solid and perhaps overly firm for such a petite person. Nonetheless, after the customary smile, she went about her business as the Captain and I walked back into the main area of the craft. "If you'll choose a seat MindStar," the Captain directed, "we will be departing shortly." For some reason, I always like sitting on the right side of an aircraft, but I have yet to figure out why. I settled in to one of the oversized reclining leather seats and prepared for departure. I wondered if I was going to be restricted this time as well from using my laptop, so I thought I had better check to be sure. "Captain Reynolds," I asked as I pressed the intercom button to the cockpit, "am I restricted from using my laptop during this trip?" "Not at all MindStar," the Captain replied, "at least not on this leg of your trip to Cyrene. You might want to check with your pilots once we reach the space station for the transfer though, just to be on the safe side." "I'll do that Captain, thank you." I love take-offs, the G-Force is adrenaline-pumping, as is shifting into hyper-drive, but landings are always rather boring for me. Besides, it signifies the end of travel, and I love racing through space, taking in all the wonders of the universe that sometimes defy any rhyme or reason for existence, other than just being. SPACE STATION ARRIVAL AND TRANSFER The flight from ISMA to the space station was uneventful, but then I slept through most of the trip. Not a bad thing though, because my sleep patterns of late continue to suck. "We will be docking at the space station shortly MindStar," said the Captain over the intercom, "in case you need to prepare before landing. I have been notified that the Senator's ship is ready and waiting for your final leg of this trip to Planet Cyrene." "Thank you Captain Reynolds," I replied as I positioned my seat upright and unfastened my seatbelt. As I began walking to the back of the craft and toward the restroom, Rose stepped out of the galley and asked if she could assist me with anything. "I'm fine Rose, thank you," I nodded, "and perhaps next time around I might be able to stay awake long enough to enjoy some of the other amenities." "Not a problem MindStar," she smiled, "see you on your return trip." No way could I think about a return trip right now, other than I hope I get to make it. After a brief visit to the restroom and retaking my seat, it wasn't long before we docked at the space station. As I headed toward the front of the craft to make my exit, both Captain Reynolds and Lt. Nash came through the cockpit doorway to wish me well on my continued journey. Exiting the craft I walked a long narrow tunnel to reach the inner area of the space station, where to my complete surprise stood the Senator to greet me. I'm sure my dropped jaw, raised eyebrows and stunned look presented an attractive visual. "I certainly didn't expect to see you here Senator," I said as I tried to compose myself. As the Senator extended his arms to greet me in the customary embrace, he began to speak. "Hello MindStar," replied the Senator, "how great to see you again. Let's chat once we have reached the interior of my ship, ok?" His response seemed rather mysterious, but the Senator always has good reason for his actions. "Good to see you too," I responded as he took my arm and began walking me to the bay where his spacecraft was docked. As we boarded the Senator's ship, who do you think was grinning from ear to ear in the cockpit? Of course it was the flyboys, who else. I chuckled and waved as I shook my head and followed the Senator into the main cabin where I found some renovations had taken place. "Well now," I said, "looks like you've done a bit of reconstruction Calvin," (inside personal space I didn't need to be so formal). "Indeed," he responded, "have a seat here and I'll bring you up to date." The Senator pointed to an oversized table against the bulkhead with an inlaid glass top that had large leather swivel seats on either side. The glass top seemed a bit strange to me, especially if it doubled as a dining table, but given the surprises I encountered in my office at the Cyrene Ops Center at ISMA, I'm expecting just about anything. I sat down opposite the Senator with great anticipation as to what I would learn. It was a big deal for him to meet me in space, so I am guessing that this briefing will reveal some pretty interesting things. AND SO THE MISSION BRIEFING BEGINS "Before I get into specifics," said Calvin, "this ship is now more of a command center between the ISMA and ongoing missions pertaining to Cyrene. I have also installed a similar operation in a hidden room within my home, thanks to Commander Anderson's assistance." "Ahhh," I replied, "I thought there was something different about your office when I chatted with you the other day from the Cyrene Ops Center, now it all makes sense." Calvin smiled and continued to bring me into the loop. As we sat across from each other at the table, the Senator informed me that my presence on Cyrene going forward was going to be quite different. Previously, the long-time friend and visiting guest on vacation worked relatively well, but now that my presence on Cyrene would be more frequent with longer stays, Calvin said I needed a more suitable cover. "You need to have more maneuverability across the planet without suspicion," started the Senator, "so I have made it known that I hired you as part of my personal staff to assist with certain historical documenting, as well as periodic event planning that will engage locals in contributing toward advancement of planet colonies." "You make it sound like fun," I responded, "but will I actually be doing any of this stuff?" The Senator grinned before leaning forward on the table … "Absolutely," the Senator came back, "your cover must be seen as authentic. And besides, your historical documenting and event planning will be of great benefit to my personal endeavors outside of the Senate. You will be able to travel to many parts of the planet to engage the locals without incident, unless military personnel decide to stop you for whatever reason. There's always risk, but this should cover everything and not raise undue suspicion." Cal handed me a bracelet that he said was made out of a metal resource found on Cyrene and that my credentials were embedded just beneath the surface identifying me as official staff. It looked like a simple piece of jewelry, but there were special-made scanners that were capable of reading the information. Certain military personnel carried them, and if I were ever stopped to be scanned, then all would be in order. As I attached the bracelet and adjusted the fit, Cal continued with his briefing. The Senator focused on the glass top table we were sitting at, and started waving his hands over it like a Ouija Board, tapping the top in several places. In the meantime, a black panel screen dropped from above at the bulkhead to my right. All of a sudden, images and text began appearing, and the entire tabletop turned into a high-tech operation. Before I could utter a single word, the Senator started briefing me on the details of my covert operation into Zekkonian territory. "I thought it would be far more efficient to meet you at the space station where the transfer took place so that we would have time to cover the details of your mission on the way to Cyrene." Cal pointed to a photo on the wall of a Royal Noble Zekkonian named Rak'Zik from the Tan'Hok tribe. Not a high ranking Royal, but important enough to carry certain responsibilities. "Currently," continues the Senator, "there are wars going on between the Zeks, and Rak'Zik senses there is something not on the up and up with some of the other Royals. As such, his current mission is to make an attempt at creating new alliances. He trusts me more than any other human, because he has witnessed time and again that I don't go along with the grain on most issues." Despite the Senator's powerful position in the Senate, I've always known him to be a stand-alone guy when it came to issues he didn't feel were beneficial, and leaning more toward dictatorial rule than citizen equality and participation. There is still much work to be done, but the present focus was on the seeming uprising in the Zekkonian territory. "The present part of your covert ops mission," stated Cal as he returned focus to the glass top operation, "is to meet with, and befriend Rak'Zik in an effort to gather further Intel as to what the friction is between the Zek tribes. I know that he is planning an ambassador trip to a tribe of Zeks that he hopes will join with an alliance." The Senator proceeded to tell me that it was his hope that the mission would be a successful one, and that the end result would at least settle things down a bit, but he wasn't too confident that this was the case, and that more would need to be done. "If Rak'Zik is comfortable with you," continued Cal, "then perhaps he will invite you to join him and his group to this meeting. I know he trusts my judgment, as well as what my motives are, so hopefully there won't be an issue." The Senator moved more photos and info to the black panel against the bulkhead and continued his briefing about the Zekkonian lands spread out over the planet. He is hoping that my covert ops mission will bring forth more information that will not only give clarity to what the uprising is, but also feed into future missions that will help to bring more of a peace within the Zek territories. If not, then at least enough Intel that will foster strategies to be able to deal with whatever the challenges might be. "That's about it for now MindStar," Cal said as he shut down the table-top operations, "the rest is up to you. I can't tell you how important this initial mission is in uncovering the Intel we need in order to move forward with other plans that you will learn of later on. I know it puts a lot of pressure on you, but I wouldn't have involved you if I didn't think you were capable of handling it." "I appreciate the confidence Cal," I replied as I sat back in my seat for the first time since the briefing started, "and I also appreciate the opportunity of being of service to you and your plans for Cyrene. I'm prepared to do whatever it takes, and you also know that I have major resources at my disposal not only on Earth, but connections on other planets as well, and I'm ready to make use of them if need be." "I know that," said the Senator, "and we may very well make good use of those resources, but for now, our main focus is getting you to that meeting with Rak'Zik. Your pilots will not only transport you to the meeting, but will also pose as your guards. Rak'Zik is aware of this arrangement and has no issue with it, so if you end up going with him to that ambassador meeting, then your guards must be part of the traveling group." "Understood," I said with an internal grin. The flyboys were growing on me, and it would be nice to get to know them better. Maybe even find out what they're made of – literally. Perhaps when the time is right the Senator will let me in on the mysteries that surround not only the flyboys, but my personal assistant Hannah as well, but I'm also curious where Rose came from, because things just don't feel right in that department either. Just as my thoughts began to wander deeper regarding the impending mission, I heard a thundering sound outside the craft. Cal said not to worry, that it was an Imperium Fighter command that had come to escort us to the landing area on our final leg of the trip. Apparently, there had been an increase in pirate activity and the flyboys had made arrangements for a safer passage just in case of any challenges. After landing, we entered the Senator's transport and the flyboys headed directly to the Senator's residence. It was still morning, but getting closer to noon, and Cal informed me that the trip to meet up with Rak'Zik would be made almost immediately. "My apologies MindStar," offered Cal as we departed the landing area, "but there is no time to waste regarding this mission, and I'm afraid that you will need to leave within the hour. There will only be enough time to drop off your things and assemble what you will need to take with you. My housekeeper is preparing a quick brunch for us, and we can have a summary chat prior to your departure." As I looked out the window of the transport, it was obvious that we weren't taking the back roads this time, and it finally dawned on me that everything was out in the open. Well, everything regarding my presence on the planet that is. I was now allowed a greater level of freedom of movement, and in spite of the looming mission, I felt more relaxed. After arriving at the Senator's residence, we did exactly what was mentioned. Even though things were a bit rushed, I was able to enjoy the sweet tea and biscuits that Cal's housekeeper introduced me to on my last visit, along with other offerings that left my tummy full and satisfied. "Time to get this operation underway," said Cal as he pushed himself away from the table, "your pilots are waiting outside for you. There is a set of Imperium Trooper armor in the transport for each of you in anticipation that you may encounter hostiles, along with standard assault weapon gear. Hopefully you won't need to use it, but it's always good to err on the side of safety." Just the thought of what he said caused an adrenaline rush. It's been a while since I was caught up in hostile fighting, but then there was a time when it was a major part of my activities back in the day when I was a resident on Planet Calypso. It started to wear thin, along with other activities, until such point I made a drastic professional change and decided to go strictly media and cover news, along with starting a radio station. When Planet Arkadia entered our universe, it was an opportunity to expand my media coverage, but then I received the telecommunication from Commander Anderson and everything changed. "MindStar," Cal said startling me out of my daydreaming, "you with me?" "Oh, sorry Cal," I said as I snapped out of it, "I was just reflecting on what you just said and seemed to have wandered off to another time and space, but I'm here and ready to go." "No problem," he responded, "it happens to us all at one time or another. I just wanted you to also know that communication between us will be minimal. The ground transport and the Imperium Fighter ship that you'll take to Tan'Hok'Zis city has the capability of reaching me, but outside of that, you'll be on your own. We can't risk detection of electronic devices in potential hostile territory. Once your mission is complete and you are in the ground transport or the ship on your way back, then we can pick up communications again." "Not to change the subject or anything," I said with a rather mischievous grin, "but do the flyboys have names? I know I've called them that collectively since my previous visit, but if I'm going to spend any amount of time with them, perhaps I should be able to call them by name. I noticed they are twins, is that correct?" "I had a feeling this time would come," Cal responded, "but if you can wait until you get back from this mission, I promise to give you an explanation." He had a grin on his face as well, sort of, and it all but confirmed that there was indeed something different about them as suspected. I'm just wondering again if this was the case for Hannah and Rose, and whether the Senator will be forthcoming about them as well. "Sure," I said, "no problem, we can talk when I return, but know I won't forget." "I didn't think you would," responded Cal, "now grab your things and head out to the transport, time is of the essence. I wish you success with this mission, and I hope you come back with Intel that at least gives us something to work with." As I headed out the door, the flyboys flanked the transport as usual, and after taking my seat in the passenger compartment, we were on our way to meet up with Rak'Zik. There was much to think about, but since I was only able to rest on my first leg of the trip to Cyrene, I informed the flyboys that I was going to take a little snooze. "You're going to miss some interesting scenery," one of them called back, "especially when we get to the forest." "Oh geez," I responded, "do you guys ever sleep?" I got total silence, and no answer to the question. I wanted to pursue it further, but I figured I better not push my luck. I just settled for laying my head back and resting a bit, remembering that the Senator said he would fill me in about the flyboys when I returned. Unlike our previous escapade through the Zekkonian Swamp, the trip to the Tan'Hok'Zis city was a nice change. Once our ground transport reached the Imperium Fighter ship and we were in flight, the aerials were magnificent. Cruising over the falls in the City of Janus was just breathtaking, and I couldn't wait to have more leisurely time to do some exploring on my own. A ROYAL MEETING AND INVITE The flyboys found a nice clearing to land the ship, and upon arrival at the city proper, we were taken to Rak'Zik, a lower ranking Noble who represented the Royals. The floating Royal Islands were quite a vision, but the common city area beneath the floating islands is where the meeting took place. "Welcome," says Rak'Zik, "it's finally nice to meet you MindStar. The Senator was very forthcoming with how you have helped him in the past, and trusts your representation on his behalf. If your guards don't mind waiting here, you can come with me and I can fill you in on what concerns us most." "Nice to meet you as well," I responded, "and my guards will be fine waiting here." I followed Rak'Zik and two of his personal guards to a more private meeting place still outdoors to enjoy the environment. He said the floating Royal Islands were more secure, but I wasn't allowed access. As Rak'Zik began to share the challenges the Tan'Hok tribe faced, I noticed a rather buzzing undertone in his speech, but didn't want to question it for fear of seeming rude. I found myself straining at times to understand fully what he was saying, but I managed. "The Tan'Hok control a vast amount of land," stated Rak'Zik, "where rare crystals can be found, and we covet the most concentrated supply here in this area in the southeast, which is highly protected. Without going into too much detail, I can tell you that these rare crystals have valuable properties with benefits that are much sought after." Rak'Zik continued to share that the Zil'Zik Clan of Zeks control a very large portion of land in the southwest and were beginning to move more to the north into the neutral Nie tribe Zek lands. I gathered that they were an opposing tribe with an objective to flank the land controlled by the Tan'Hok in an effort to acquire more of the rare crystals. It became clear that Rak'Zik saw this as a huge threat, not only to the Tan'Hok, but also to the Nie tribe as well. I have to admit, that my curiosity about the rare crystals and their use continued to increase, but I wasn't sure I was going to get that kind of Intel at this point. I didn't want to come across as overly probing and allowed the Noble to share what he was comfortable revealing. "I've set up a meeting with the Leader of the Zek Nie Tribe, Kol'Zak," says Rak'Zik, "and I would like to invite you to join me. It's a sort of ambassador trip if you will, in an attempt to create an alliance with the Nie tribe to fight against the Zil'Zik. The meeting is scheduled for this afternoon, and we will get underway shortly if you're willing to accompany me." "I would be happy to accept your invitation," I replied, "but I have one request if I may. I would prefer that my guards accompany us as well because they are also prepared to assist in battle should the need arise." My first thought was, the Senator will be happy that we were able to secure an invitation to this meeting with Kol'Zak, and my second thought was, I hope that the Intel acquired will be of benefit in sorting out the issues with the Zeks. However, sitting in the back of my mind was still the intrigue about the crystals, and just how much of a part they play in the whole scheme of things. "That would be fine MindStar," responded Rak'Zik, "your guards are more than welcome to join us. I don't anticipate that we will meet with interference on our journey into the Nie Zek lands, but it's always good to be prepared. If you want to inform your guards of the trip, then we will get underway shortly." I rejoined the flyboys and informed them that we got the invitation to accompany Rak'Zik to the meeting with Kol'Zak – ok, I got the invitation, but managed to get them invited as well. I asked the flyboys to bring our equipment from the ship as we would be leaving shortly. As they walked away, I stood admiring the floating Royal Islands and hoped that one day I might be allowed to visit them. They were truly a site to behold, and it would be nice to get to meet some of the other Royals. "Are you all set MindStar," asked Rak'Zik, "we will need to make this journey via land route because there is a no-fly zone over the neutral Nie Zek lands. The transports are waiting, and you and your guards can join me in mine if you like." "Yes, we are ready," I responded, "just needed to grab our gear." "Excellent," he replied, "then we shall get underway." As Rak'Zik led us to his transport, my mind raced in anticipation of how this would all go down. If there is a war over the crystals, there seems to be far too many unanswered questions as to why. What are they used for, what are their true benefits, and why are they such a hot commodity that some of the Zeks are willing to wage war over them. As we headed northwest, the terrain was quite interesting. Not too much swamp area as before, and as we advanced further, it turned into a beautiful forest with purple trees, which seemed to be a good portion of the environment we were traveling through. Rak'Zik informed me that we were now traveling through a larger portion of Tan'Hok-controlled land, but about to cross over into the neutral Nie Zek lands where we will meet with Kol'Zak. Within minutes after entering the neutral Nie Zek lands, all hell broke loose. The convoy was obviously being attacked as the transport came to an abrupt halt and loud buzzing sounds seemed concentrated nearby. The flyboys and I equipped our armor and grabbed the assault weapons as we exited the transport behind Rak'Zik. He informed us that the attack was Zil'Zik scouts who apparently moved further north into Nie country than anticipated. There appeared to be 8 or 10 of them all carrying large spears, but didn't seem to be using any other methods of attack. "MindStar," yells Rak'Zik, "BEHIND YOU!" As I turned, 3 of the Zil'Zik were rushing my way, looking ready to skewer my ass for a company picnic, but I raised my assault weapon and began firing. I heard additional gunfire to my right and noticed the flyboys jumped into action as well. With 3 down, we turned our attention to Rak'Zik's crew to see if they needed any help. The flyboys and I joined Rak'Zik who appeared to be holding up quite well, but since we had the assault weapons at our disposal, we thought we would lend a helping hand. A few Zil'Zik had retreated, but we weren't sure if more were regrouping for a secondary attack. It's a good thing that there are distinctive features between the different Zek cultures, as well as the Royal Nobles, because it sure would make it difficult otherwise. As we waited momentarily, Rak'Zik said that he wanted to take a couple of the dead Zil'Zik bodies as trophies to the meeting to show proof to Kol'Zak that there was real concern about the Zil'Zik breaking through defenses to control more land. Just as I began pondering that thought, more Zil'Zik came rushing out of the forest. They were headed directly for Rak'Zik, and I'm sure it was an attempt to take out a Royal Noble, which I'm also sure would look favorably in the eyes of their Leader. However, swift action on the part of the flyboys shielded Rak'Zik while we and the rest of Rak'Zik's crew made short order of their feeble attempt to be victorious. After making sure the forest was clear of any further Zil'Zik scouts, Rak'Zik began to speak. "Thank you MindStar," he said, "to you and your guards for assisting us in fending off what clearly proves to be our enemy. I hope that Kol'Zak gets the message as well, and will consider an alliance to prevent further encroachment by the Zil'Zik. Let's continue on our journey, the meeting place is not far from here." As we re-entered the transports, we left our armor on and assault weapons handy as precautionary measures, but we were able to arrive at our meeting destination without any further interruption. We did however remove the armor and leave the assault weapons inside the transport prior to the meeting for obvious reasons. TO ALLIANCE OR NOT TO ALLIANCE Kol'Zak and what appeared to be a few of his aides greeted us, but I was surprised to sense a bit of apprehension. The demeanor and atmosphere didn't seem to feel too friendly, but maybe that was just me. I'm not familiar with the Zek tribes and their culture, so perhaps it was a custom not to appear too overly friendly. After all, I was a human, and if I learned one thing in my travels across planets, not everyone appreciates us. Rak'Zik extended his hand first to Kol'Zak in a friendly greeting, who returned the gesture, but in doing so, his eyes shifted my way. I briefly smiled and nodded, but said nothing. Rak'Zik did not introduce me, but neither did Kol'Zak inquire as to my presence. I found it interesting that no one moved, but rather started conversation at the very spot where we were standing. Again, the buzzing undertone made it a challenge to comprehend what was being said, and I found myself straining to make sense of everything. "I am here today," began Rak'Zik, "in hopes that you will consider aligning with our tribe against the Zil'Zik who continue to advance toward Tan'Hok territory in an effort to gain control over more crystal-rich land. They are large in numbers, and once they have breeched our defenses, they will move further north and encroach upon the Nie lands." "I don't see it that way," responded Kol'Zak, "it's the Tan'Hok that have the major crystal supply, and there's no need for the Zil'Zik to invade the Nie tribe lands. Perhaps if the Tan'Hok were more sharing of the crystals there would be less aggression on the part of others." There was no mistake that the curtness in Kol'Zak's response was intentional, nor the focused glare in Rak'Zik's direction, but I knew what was coming next, and I just stood back and waited for it. Rak'Zik's return stare spoke volumes, but as he shifted his stance, his reply was swift. "Perhaps this will convince you otherwise," said Rak'Zik as he motioned to a few of his crew to bring forth the trophies collected in our recent battle with the Zil'Zik. "I bring you proof that the Nie Zek lands are not safe," offered Rak'Zik, "and that their further advancement into the north is a very real threat. We were attacked just outside of your city area in the neutral Nie territory, but were able to fight them off with the help of MindStar and her guards." Kol'Zak shifted his focus on me and the flyboys prior to returning his attention to Rak'Zik, but it left a cold and rather intimidating feeling, and thoughts that this meeting was not going the way that Rak'Zik had hoped it would. "I still don't see the benefit of joining an alliance with the Tan'Hok," stated Kol'Zak, "and how do I know that these trophies are from where you say they're from, and not just an attempt to persuade us into furthering your own personal cause at our expense." "You will just have to take my word for it," Rak'Zik said with a more firm tone, "and besides, it's not just the Zil'Zik who have become aggressive against the Tan'Hok. The Merfolken are also building a camp on the coast and attacking, and it has become difficult to fight the battles on both fronts." "We have nothing to do with the Zil'Zik or the Merfolken," states Kol'Zak, "we mind our own business and keep to our own, so I see no reason to involve our tribe in whatever escalating war is occurring between the Tan'Hok and others. And to be more frank, we don't take kindly to the Tan'Hok being so friendly with the humans, along with the exchange of technology, which we feel gives you an advantage, so we aren't willing to help advance that in any way either." Oh boy, there was now no doubt in my mind that this meeting was a bust, and that Rak'Zik was about to walk away empty-handed. My mind was racing, because it seemed rather obvious that Kol'Zak and perhaps the Nie Zeks had something against the Tan'Hok that hadn't quite surfaced yet. I was sure of one thing though, the value of the crystals played an enormous role in this waging war, and all indications point to the Tan'Hok for any perceived aggressive moves on the part of others. "I didn't quite anticipate this reaction," Rak'Zik replied, "and truly thought that we could work together for the greater good of both of our tribes, but I see that doesn't seem possible at this point. Perhaps you will give it more thought and contact me if you change your mind." "I doubt that will happen," Kol'Zak responded, "but your efforts are duly noted. If there's nothing more, then I will consider this meeting concluded." "Thank you for your time," Rak'Zik said as he watched Kol'Zak walk away, "and the trophies are yours to keep as a reminder that not all is as it seems." Kol'Zak never looked back, and as we turned toward our transports, Rak'Zik looked at me and said, "This is not good." However, I had already come to that conclusion, so it will be interesting to see where all of this will go from here. The trip back to the Tan'Hok'Zis city was uneventful, but we were prepared just in case. It was a rather exhausting journey, and I for one was ready to get back to the Senator and some much needed rest. Prior to leaving the Tan'Hok'Zis city, Rak'Zik made it clear that he would report to the Tan'Hok Council on how helpful we were in the fight against the Zil'Zik, and that it would certainly gain favor with the Nobles. At least this trip was productive in that respect, and perhaps it might aid toward gaining further access into the inner circle, where I'm sure more Intel would be possible. However, if there's one thing I'm walking away with from this journey today, it would be that the Tan'Hok tribe has enemies, and it appears that the Zil'Zik and Merfolken are first in line to encroach on their territory. There is also no mistake that the crystals that everyone is talking about have value beyond anything I understand at this point, and I'm just wondering if the Senator has any further information that would shed a bit of light on why they have become so much in demand. The flyboys and I said our goodbyes to Rak'Zik, and as we departed, I mentioned that I would give the Senator a full report, and that I was sure that he would be back in touch with him at his earliest convenience. SORRY SENATOR, BUT IT'S NOT GOOD NEWS On the way back to the City of Janus and the Senator's residence, I was able to use the Imperium Fighter's communication system to reach Cal and give him a minor briefing on what took place. He wasn't too happy about the results, but he was glad that I was at least able to attend the meeting with Kol'Zak and learn of the interaction first-hand, as well as build a good beginning relationship with Rak'Zik. "We'll talk more when you get back MindStar," Cal said, "but I can tell you right now that this operation isn't over based on your preliminary report. There's too much mystery surrounding the crystals not to pursue this further, and I'm afraid we're looking at a deeper penetration into Zekkonian territory to find out why the Zil'Zik Clan and Merfolken want them so desperately. We have a lot of work to do yet. See you when you get here." Royal Crystal Gardens with Guard Illuminating Royal Crystal Gardens After my brief chat with the Senator, there was only one conclusion I could draw. My stay on Cyrene this time was definitely going to be longer. And I don't know about you, but deeper penetration into Zekkonian territory could mean only one thing – a potential undercover operation with more risk than I've ever encountered before. However, there's no turning back, and I'm just as curious as the Senator about the crystals and why they carry so much value. Also, the Tan'Hok may be friendly with the humans and exchange technology, but is the Senator sure they are of as much a benefit as thought. As I rested my head on the back of the seat and felt myself drifting off, one of the flyboys yelled back and startled me. "You're going to miss the SCENERY if you doze off." Geez, again with the scenery. Tired or not, the only thought that crossed my mind was that the first thing I'm going to do when we get back, is remind the Senator that he promised to fill me in about the flyboys. If I find out these guys are not human and programmable, I'm going to make a few suggestions. "MindStar, that wasn't nice."