A runner came up and handed him a flimsy; it was new orders and his new ship was waiting behind him at the top of the hill. The ship was an impressive new design, sleek, made for speed. He spotted a few others just like it scattered around the valley but Kaz wanted a beer.
But he wasn’t to have his beer. His sub-dermal receiver came alive with the disappointing news; the peace talks had failed - he was a warrior once again.
Kaz ran for his ship, shouting for an accounting as he sealed the hatch, flipping switches as he called a countdown. The ship’s voice responded with smoothness and calm. She had coordinates for him and then she had sleep for him - a very, very long sleep.
Kaz wasn’t wakened until nearly six hundred years later. He was now on the edge of a different solar system and Ship was telling him that this had been their destination. She was telling him that he was to start scanning for a planet. Fuel was low; he would be scanning for someplace to stay. Why?
Kaz spent some time recovering and checking the ship’s systems to make sure everything had survived the long flight well enough for in-system flight. While he worked, other ships began to appear so he waited even longer.
As first to reach this location, Kaz took command, and when it looked like no more were going to show up, he started them on their entry into the system. They scanned each planet they passed until they came across one with breathable air, drinkable water and abundant animal life. The ships spread out and landed - end of the line.
There was little Kaz could do for the refugees that had been his cargo. The people had brought whatever they wanted as long as it fit in their stasis pod. Some brought extra food. Some brought simple tools. Most of the people brought extra clothes in case their destination happened to be cold and probably because that was all they had.
Kaz closed up the ship for the first and last time, saying a long goodbye to the seat that had held him so securely during take off, to the controls that had been so smooth and sensitive. He loved to fly, but there would be no more flying ever again. Then he noticed a counter and registered its meaning the moment it reached zero. He didn’t hear the ship’s calm, quiet voice say, “Good night, Pilot Foster. Sweet dreams.”
Sergeant Johnson brought his shuttle in for a landing on the dark side of the moon; a significant metallic signature had been detected there on a previous fly-by and it warranted closer examination.
After Johnson and his squad had reached the rim of the crater, they panned their spotlights across the closer edge of the field. They were long moments digesting what they saw. They had found a graveyard - a graveyard of ships and they had to be spaceships - hundreds of spaceships.
Johnson got one open so they all converged to see what there was to see. Leaving one man outside, they went inside the dark ship. As they were assessing the hold that looked like an ear of corn turned inside out, a flashing red light caught their attention.
Cautiously, they explored further. On the other side of another hatch, they found the cockpit and another mummy in a chair, surrounded by a thick bubble of glass. As the cabin pressurized, things were being done to the mummy. Astonishingly, the mummy seemed to be trying to breathe. Other automated systems kicked in as Johnson and his crew watched with horrified fascination.
The struggle for survival wasn’t without pain but it was successful as was communication, and bringing the ship up to their bay was a forgone conclusion. After the captain casually voiced wonder as to how many such ships were down there, the ship told him the exact number, and then offered to inquire as to how many pilots remained on board.
Kaz was exhausted, but he was afraid of sleep, he was afraid he wouldn’t wake up if he slept again. Promising safety, Ship offered her chair and Foster couldn’t resist any longer. Ship woke him when his host, Captain George Bryson, arrived with the owner of the ship, Mr. Meyers, to ask questions. Hours later, they relented when it became obvious that Foster was flagging again. Though questions and answers were satisfying, they were an incomplete means of information transfer so a hard copy report was requested. While the ship formulated a synopsis, Foster slept again.
When he woke, he was given the opportunity to witness something he could never have imagined - life without a constant war. Sergeant Bret Johnson, the man who had found and rescued him, took him shopping at the most popular shopping center in Omaha. Kaz was stunned and mesmerized by the display of wealth and luxury. All he’d known before this was a ship’s exchange, which contained everything a person needed. Though need was addressed here, wants were every bit as prominent.
It wasn’t until Kaz went into the city to deliver his report that his guide and new friend got a glimpse of just how warlike Kaz and his kind were. Street thugs tricked them out of their taxi and then accosted them as they walked. After getting an abbreviated explanation of law as it pertains to street fighting, Kaz quickly dropped three while Rice grappled with the leader. The fight was nearly over before local police could reach their location and break it up.
At the office of Mr. Meyers, more questions were asked and answered in front of the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Security as well as his lawyer. Kaz also voiced his fears of possible trouble between him and the other pilots. They had no officers among them and no orders to dictate their actions in such a situation as this. All they had was their rank and though Kaz wasn’t the least in rank, his birth counted him ‘lesser’. His having his ship, named him ‘pilot of rank’ but others might contest that.
On the way home, they visited some of the shops in the terminal building adjoining the tarmac. Here, Kaz bought a glass egg that reminded him of the colored fountain he had seen in the shopping center. He had never bought anything so frivolous before in his life; the closest thing that might qualify was his camera, but everyone had a camera. He’d never seen an egg before either - curious.
Back in the hold that still held his ship, Kaz’s fears were proven. Some of the pilots, the women and the youngest, hung back to watch the outcome of this contest for rank. Some broke from the fight after taking damage, but that still left sixteen men who were in it for the ship. Half of them were killed on the spot and another five died of their injuries before ever waking, the others would take quite a while to recover. Against such odds, Kaz couldn’t afford to be gentle and his beautiful egg had been a formidable weapon for a few seconds.
When Kaz woke after the surgery that pieced together his broken bones and shredded flesh, he knew he had to answer more questions, so, taking care with barely mended bones, he sought out the captain. Kaz’s appearance was deceptive; his hands and feet were wrapped, his arm was in a sling, his face was blotched with bruises and he walked with a limp but he did walk and he stood straight. He was pilot of rank, now uncontested, and he took command and responsibility for the others.
The next night, it was decided that the ship, as well as the pilots, would be moved to a new location under cover of darkness. Their new home was an underground military instillation and their quarters were several three-room apartments, each with two bedrooms and a living room. They were here so that the ship could be studied. They were here because no one knew what to do with them, and so they too could be studied.
Kaz’s stay here wasn’t without it problems. First, one of the females in her heat made an effort to advance her standing by mating with him. Her scent drove him into the mating madness - something innocuous between mated pairs but something that can turn quite dangerous when unsatisfied. Kaz shoved the female into one of the other rooms and then went to the surface to try to weather the madness in safety. He didn’t have much luck; in the end, using the ship’s simulator, he tried to fly into the sun. The only reason he survived was because the ship picked that moment to run out of fuel.
Another hitch in their stay was the birth of two boys and a girl, the result of their mother’s attempt to mate with Kaz. The babies weighed between two and three pounds each and they were quite healthy, it being a very normal birth and delivery - normal for them anyway. When the medical personnel kidnapped the babies for study, they too learned how much damage these pilots could deal out, even if it was only to equipment this time - mostly.
After watching the ease of which the pilots recovered the children from behind bulletproof doors guarded by seasoned soldiers, they got new orders. They would try to teach some of what they could do. They were taken to a post located directly on the coast and they were introduced to an environment that was far more familiar, far more military. They were issued new uniforms and instructed in basic military conduct. Their ranks were also converted. After they were changed into their new uniforms, they were taught all the regulation nips and tucks and then taken to meet the base commander. Though they looked like someone who should be in high school, they didn’t act like it.
When their students had arrived and assembled in their formation, the new rules and parameters were covered then the training began. Each section of the training was scored and failure or debilitating injury was grounds for disqualification. By the time they reached the final test, four squads had been eliminated.
Shortly before the final test, the children began to walk. This was a milestone that was celebrated with a naming. After each child had been named, Kaz’s sub-dermal receiver came to life with a voice he hadn’t heard for over a year. His ship had been reactivated and she was bringing herself to his location. She landed in a ball of fire and in so doing, earned her own name - Phoenix.
Another attempt was made to take custody of the children away from the pilots but the General of their third base was more practical. He had enough power at his command that he could take the children but he couldn’t justify the cost, so since the order hadn’t been official or even on paper, he made an offer; he would take the children and raise them as his own. He didn’t believe that he would be able to protect them as well as the pilots had been able to, but at least he had made an offer. It was denied but Kaz recognized the offer for what it was.
The interior of Phoenix was totally different now and Kaz moved them all into the ship; it was safer. He still wanted to go home but as things stood now, there wouldn’t be any survivors this time. Mr. Meyers, however, had a surprise for them. Perhaps their return trip wouldn’t be so fatal after all.