The pilot heard the footsteps behind him as he walked down the hallway. He didn’t even turn as the figure strode up beside him.
“What in the name of the Traveler was that?!” Darmata growled angrily. She had moved down the corridor in such a hurry, that her cowl had come off of her head, and her cloak had become unsnapped, revealing a lightly colored, light weight tunic and trousers.
“What was what?” The pilot asked, his head unmoving, picking up his pace.
“You know what I mean. That scene in there with Elder Mon-Krega!” She said, matching her pace with his. “Why did you do that? Half the council was afraid and the other half was ready to attack!”
“I don’t know Mata.” The pilot said, his pace slowing slightly. “That Drega guy just got under my skin is all, and when that kid spoke up, I just snapped.” They had reached the elevator and the pilot slapped the control panel. The lights of the elevator blinked in descending order, showing its decent. The pilot released his rifle and it swung there freely, connected to his armor by a carbon fiber nano-tube strap that the pilot had installed, this way he wouldn’t loose his weapon in a sprint. He crossed his arms across his chest and tapped his foot in annoyance.
“Look.” Darmata said, her voice softening. “I know what you’ve been through with the council. I know how hard it is for you every time you come back here, but you have to understand, this is my life now. On the council I can change things. We no longer conscript children. We have dropped the selective breeding program. We continue to test children up until the time they leave the monasteries. That initiate girl that you so lovingly call ‘Pluck’? Her parents are Warlocks and have only just now reached the position of Master. We even allow inter-species couples to join our ranks and do not ask that they separate. So much has changed since then.”
The elevator stopped and the doors opened. The pilot stepped inside and Darmata followed. Once the doors closed she continued. “I am not saying that the Order is perfect, but it is changing.” The pilot turned to face her and looked into her eyes through his visor. Her original eyes had been a dark hazel and would shift depending upon her mood. These eyes were not her original eyes however, and had lost that color changing effect. While the color of the eyes were still hazel they were only replacements. A pang of regret hit the pilot as he remembered that he’d never see those eyes again.
“Not all of the things that we thought were wrong with the Order has changed.” He said, his voice hollow.
What is that supposed to mean?” Darmata asked, her eyes taking on a quizzical look, the scar tissue wrinkling at the corners.
“You said that the council had dropped the selective breeding program, right?” The pilot asked, his arms dropping down to his sides and his hands balling into fists. ”Then what’s the deal with you and ‘Professor Snape’ being betrothed and all that yotz?” Darmatas’ face turned red, not out of embarrassment, but out of the anger that had sprung up into her face.
“Look buster.” Darmata said, anger in her eyes as she stepped closer to his helmeted face. With his boots and helmet, the pilot was a full head taller than she was, without them, her hairline came to his nose, so she didn’t have to look up any farther than normal. “I’m not even going to pretend to know what a ‘Professor Snape’ is, but what business is it of yours who I’m ‘betrothed’ to?!?” She stabbed a finger into his chest. “You…weren’t… there!” Her voice rose with her anger. “I waited, and you weren’t there! When you stood before the council after the ‘incident’, I was there outside with a bandage over my eyes and using crutches to support myself. I thought, finally the council will see what I had always known, finally they would let you in, finally they would let us…” Her voice began to crack and tears welled up in her eyes. She wiped the tears away with the hem of her sleeve. Regaining her composure, she said. “With your power, it would have been you as the leader and not me.”
Often, when they were children, the pilot would make her cry by playing, what she had thought, was a mean spirited prank. Often, it would be the one thing that would make him feel instantly sorry for what he had done, and he would try his best to cheer her up. When she cried because of her masters death, he would hold her and tell her that it would be okay. The pilot almost felt that way now, but when she had said the word “power,” all of the sorrowful feelings washed away, to be replaced with an explosive anger.
The pilot tore off his helmet and his pale green eyes bore into her. The pilot had brown hair that was cut short and greying at the temples. His nose was slightly bent, mostly because of being broken once too often. He had a square jaw, its muscle twitching as he looked at her. His face always seemed to consist of a five o’clock shadow no matter how often he shaved. He was moderately attractive by current standards, and would look even better if it wasn’t for the scar that traveled from his left ear to the bottom of his jaw. The scar wasn’t that deep, and would only become pronounced if he got too much sun. He was only thirty-five but due to his livelihood, looked much older.
“Power!” The pilot said as he lost control of his own anger. “Power!?” He said louder this time, his voice rising. “Is that all you people think about, ‘power’?!” He spat out the words and Darmata shrinked away. “The Council of Elders, all they talked about was ‘my power’ this, and ‘my power’ that! The entire time I was in there, that’s all they whispered! ‘His power is great! With his power he could help us. With his power we could be victorious. He has minimal affinity, how could he hold so much power? Why was he chosen? Quick, find a record of his birth, there must be something in there. We can’t find a birth record anywhere, all we know is that he was found at the monastery in the night. By the Traveler, how can we make use of this? He’s only twenty-two, but the level he’s shown on…’ They never asked about what happened to your master?! They never asked about what happened to the enemy! All they asked about was ‘my power’!” His voice continued to rise and the elevator began to shake, the lights flickering. “Dammit Mata, I didn’t even know if my best friend was still alive!” The pilot spread his arms wide, the elevator stopped and began to shake even more violently, the lights flickering more and more.
Darmata lept back, as the air around her friend began to charge with electricity, the smell of ozone burning her nostrils. His hair had begun to stand on end, and his eyes began to glow yellow. “I thought I’d lost you when you went to be trained by the Warlocks! I thought I’d lost you on Enceladus! I don’t know what happened then, but I knew that I couldn’t loose you again!” Tears began to run down his face. “I can’t loose you again. Mata I just can’t! When you talked about ‘my power’, you sounded just like them! I can’t loose you again Mata!” A bright light filled the elevator, and then all was dark.
The lights flickered on and there was the pilot huddled in a heap, sobbing. He was curled up in the fetal position, just… sobbing. The elevator resumed its normal operation and Darmata rushed to the pilots’ side and held him in her arms, tears streaming down her own face. The two of them laid there for a while, crying. After a moment, she helped the pilot to his feet and they continued to stand there holding each other in silence.
After what seemed like forever, the pilot spoke softly. “I love you Darmata.” Darmata pulled her head from his chest, tears again in her eyes, and placed his forehead against hers.
“I love you too, you big dummy. The last time you said that to me was on Enceladus.” Darmata looked up slightly into his pale green eyes. “The last time we did this was on Enceladus too.” Darmata smiled coquettishly, leaned slightly upward and tilted her head, their lips pressing together in a gentle kiss. The kiss soon escalated, and their hands began to move, trying to find purchase. In the fray her tunic loosened and the pilot kissed the space between the base of her neck and her collarbone. Darmata gripped the pilots’ head tightly and tugged at his hair, her eyes looking towards the ceiling.
The pilots’ hands slipped under her robe and around her waist as he tried to pull her closer to him. The pilots’ hand tightly gripped her left buttock, the combination of the pressure of his hand and the thinness of the fabric caused a shock of electricity and sent shivers up Darmatas’ spine, causing her eyes to close and a sharp gasp to escape her lips. The pilots’ other hand found purchase on her right buttock and he lifted her up, her legs instinctively rising, her feet hooking onto the small of his back. They slammed against the wall of the elevator as the pilot lost his balance. Darmata winced and rubbed the back of her head.
“Sorry.” The pilot said sheepishly. This brought them to their senses long enough to look at the lights that indicated the elevators’ rising. “How long do you think we have?” The pilot asked as he looked into Darmatas’ eyes.
“Not long enough.” Darmata said slyly. She placed her hands on his shoulders to steady herself and her legs slid off of him, so that her feet could feet touch the floor. The pilot squeezed her buttocks, lifting her slightly. She yelped, and then took a hand from his shoulder to cover her mouth and stifle a giggle. The pilot turned her around, moved her long hair to the side and began to nibble on her neck.
“Like I should care.“ The pilot breathed into her ear, sending another shiver up her spine, coupled with a warm feeling as he slid a hand into her tunic.
“Seriously, you’re going to get me in trouble like last time.” She chuckled. Her eyes closed and a slight moan escaped her lips as the pilots’ hand found what it was looking for.
“Some traditions are best left untouched.” The pilot said as he moved away from her. He began to check over his equipment, as Darmata straightened out her robes and tunic. As he picked up his helmet from the corner of the elevator, he watched her for a bit. “You know the loose fitting look is a good look for you.”
“Ha, ha, ha.” She replied flatly, a smile across her lips, belaying her tone. “You know I wish I could. It gets soo hot with these robes on. The building‘s not as drafty as people are lead to believe either.
“Well you could always, well, you know.” The pilot said, tilting his to one side, a smirk crossing his lips. Darmatas’ eyes grew wide.
“Ewww, no!” She exclaimed, drawing her arms across her body. “That’s like, gross. Seriously, you’re gross.” Her voice deadpan, her lips pursed tightly.
“Something else I noticed.” The pilot said as Darmata turned to primp herself in the mirrored surface of the interior of the elevator.
“Oh what’s that?” She asked as she wiped away a black mark with the sleeve of her robe and began messing with her hair.
“Well, you used to always use contractions, but since you joined the Order you never use them. I first noticed it when we were together on Enceladus.” The pilot said as he watched her. “But when you’re really irritated or when we’re alone together like this, you use them. Why is that?”
“Well.” Darmata said, as she fiddled with her hair. “We have to be pretty formal at all times as Warlocks, it’s like tradition or something…” She stopped and sighed in frustration, as her hair refused to cooperate. “When I get angry, I begin to forget that. This one time… ugh this hair… I almost launched Radiance at this poor initiate who was just doing their job. I was so mad at what happened that I completely forgot that I was supposed to be this super-composed Elder. Anyway, when I’m with you I can be more myself and I don’t have to worry about being all formal and such.” She sighed and dropped her arms, giving up straightening out her hair as it drooped around her head, a tangled mess.
The pilot connected his helmet to a mag plate on the lower back of his armor and pulled out a comb from a pocket on his belt. He stepped towards her and gently took hold of her hair. As he began to work out the tangles Darmata winced. “So how long has that girl been your partner?” She asked, wincing as another tangle was worked through. She’s very pretty.”
“Huh, you can tell?” The pilot asked as he gently tried to remove another tangle. “Oh wait, that’s right, you can tell with your magic Warlock powers.” He removed another tangle. “Well it’s been about twelve years. I couldn’t get to her until I was twenty-three, what with all of the interrogations, psych-evals, rehab and all that jazz. After all of that was done, I spent the rest of the time trying to find her. After I had been to all of the Warlock monasteries with no luck, I finally found her in a back alley. Needless to say she tried to proposition me, and when that didn’t work, she tried to rob me. After I subdued her, I told her who I was, and that her had father sent me. Well, being that she was fourteen at the time, and even though she’d had a year that would make any kid a hardened street thug; she balled her eyes out, wrapped her arms around my neck, and almost choked the life out of me. I took her to the nearest spaceport and we hopped a transport off of Earth. After drifting from place to place for about a year we linked up with Sa’Dar, you remember, the hunter who was with us on Enceladus. Well, to make a long story short, we worked with him for a bit and now here we are.”
The pilot finished with the last tangle and began running his fingers through Darmatas’ hair. “You always did have such beautiful hair. How come you don’t braid it any more?” Her eyes had a lazy look in them as the pilot continued to run his finger through her hair. Darmatas’ eyes closed and her mouth dropped open, exposing perfect teeth. She shivered slightly, a slight moan escaping her lips as the pilot tugged slightly.
“Don’t get me started again.” She said, pulling away from him. “I won’t be able to stop this time.” Her back to the pilot, she settled against his chest, placing his hands in front, her hands clasped on top of his, and closed her eyes. She sighed. “I wish we could stay like this forever. Oh, and I don’t need to braid my hair anymore because I don’t wear my armor that often, except for Open Ceremony.” Open Ceremony was when new Warlock apprentices received their permanent armor and became Journeymen. It is then that they were able to go on missions outside of the City with their masters, and be teamed together with Titan’s and Hunters.
“Wait, weren’t you teamed up with me as a Journeyman? The pilot said as he held her. “That would have meant that you were about two years into it right?”
“No.” Darmata said as she lazily opened her eyes. “I was a special case, I passed my initiate phase just a couple of years after I left the monastery with my master for the first time at twelve. My apprenticeship lasted the standard five years so I passed that at seventeen. I received my mastery when I was twenty-five, a few years after Enceladus. So altogether my Journeyman phase was eight years.”
“So what took your Journeyman phase so long then?” The pilot asked as he looked down at the top of her head. His next train of thought stopped as he noticed a light pink butterfly barrette in her hair. “It was because of me wasn’t it.”
“Not entirely” She said, turning to face him. “Remember, back then marriages between Warlock males and females were arranged through the selective breeding program. My name was selected and Sal-Drega’s was as well. We were paired up when I reached my Journeyman phase. We had several times to meet and then a date was decided. What did you call him, ‘Professor Snot’? Well whatever, he was a grease ball back then too, always looking around like he was plotting something. He was reported to be the child of two long standing Masters, so he thought that he was ruler over everybody. Because he had a high affinity like I did, he thought that made him special, above everyone. It’s only gotten worse since he was placed on the council.”
The pilot stopped her. “Wait, I thought that only the Traveler could choose the next successor to the council?”
“Yes, the Traveler does, although confirmation of council status can take along time.” She continued. “We only announce that a new council member was chosen at the time of appointing. The truth is, that once a council member applicant, is chosen by the Traveler, it can take some time for them to mature as Warlocks. This way we don’t have a five-year-old sitting on the council. Before you stop me again, a person is only selected to join the Order as an initiate after their tenth birthday. A month before that, we receive our ‘final’ test for affinity, to decide if we are fit for Warlock training. A lot of us in the monasteries as kids were taught that, ‘before our tenth birthday the Traveler will test us to see if we are worthy’. The reality is that the testing starts as soon as we enter the monastery. Remember those blood tests we had every six months?”
The pilot nodded. “That’s because they were gathering our DNA wasn’t it?”
“Exactly.” Darmata said, moving her arms around the pilot. She held him close, her head resting on his chest. “What a lot of people within the order don’t know is that the test not only determines ‘Magical’ affinity, but also potential. My affinity numbers were the same consistently as I grew older, except for my final one, along with Dregas’. Our numbers were near identical, with mine the dominant ones. It’s part of why we were paired together.”
“That still doesn’t explain how you dodged the bullet with ‘Professor Snape’ for so many years.” The pilot said as he processed what Darmata had already said.
“I’m getting to that.” She said as she gripped him tighter. “Most human females reproductive organs are prepared to reproduce between the ages of nine and fifteen. This is called menarche. In human females, where an average ‘Magic’ affinity is present, this menarche is delayed until our early to mid twenties. In the past, human females matured enough emotionally to have children by their early to mid twenties. This often changed a woman’s outlook on life enough to complete the emotional maturity by the end of their ability to have children, or menopause. It’s part of the reason that women are less emotional when they are older as opposed to when they are younger. There are exceptions to the rule however; it was just a matter of getting to know a person.’
‘With a female who has an average ‘Magic’ affinity, the opposite of what I said about emotional maturity is true. Because our menarche is delayed, our minds compensate for the bodies imbalance of the ‘natural’ order of things. We now reach emotional maturity between the ages of nine to fifteen. In all honesty when we last saw each other in the monastery, I had completed my emotional maturity, and was ready right there and then, it’s that just my body was not.”
“Okay.” The pilot said, still not fully comprehending. “I think I got it so far, you can have children emotionally, and put up with a man’s emotional immaturity when you reach about nine, but physically you can’t have children until your are twenty, which is why the regular Journeyman phase started when it did. However, your emotional maturity decreases as you get older…” The pilot shook his head. “Wait a minuet, you mean that you’re going to get crazier as you get older?!?”
“That’s okay.” Darmata said, looking up at him. “Males still complete their emotional maturity around forty, so while I’m going nutters emotionally, you’ll be able to handle me.” She reached up and kissed him with a smile. “And I’ll love you for it, you’ll be my rock.” She kissed him again. “Anyway in my case, for females with a high ‘Magic’ affinity rating and a low potential rating, like I have, this delays the process even further to about their late twenties to early thirties. This is the reason that my union to Dregas was held off until five years ago. Because of my high affinity and low potential, I couldn’t reproduce offspring until now. Dregas has a fluctuating potential rating, so the breeding program was counting on a balance between our highs and lows. Now is when Dregass’ potential is at its lowest so they are pressuring a union between us. For all of their talk of balance, they seemed to focus only on the balance of the high and not the low.”
“Ah.” The pilot said as revelation dawned upon him. “So that’s why he seemed all lovey-dovey with you. Because of our past history, he wanted to assert his dominance over me.”
“There’s more.” She said, her voice a little softer, as she nuzzled the pilots’ chest. In a small, soft voice she said, “It’s the best part.” She raised her head, smiled at him, and then kissed him again deeply. When she pulled away there were tears in her eyes, and her lower lip was quivering, she hurriedly buried her face in the pilots’ chest. “I mentioned that the test measured the potential as well as affinity right?” The pilot nodded. “Well,” Darmata continued, her right ear against his chest. “When I was a Journeyman I discovered that on the last day I was tested, my affinity scores were through the roof. No one in the history of the Warlocks had a score this high.’
‘But my potential was listed as, ‘Fails to meet minimum standard, not measurable.’ When I brought it to my Masters’ attention, he told me that while it was unique that my potential rating would be so low, it was not uncommon. He said that when they had first discovered that ‘Magic’ potential was testable too; they tested the DNA of some of the first Warlocks. They discovered that their potential rating was not all that great either. He said that, while DNA degradation was a plausible factor in the reduced potential rating, the findings were inconclusive, so it had been decided that the potential rating would not be an overwhelming factor in the decision of viable candidates for Warlock training. However, it would be a factor within the selection of mates under the guidelines of the selective breeding program.’
‘I asked my master who my chosen partner would be, and he told me that because of my unique potential rating, I would need to be paired up with an individual who, not only met the requirements for my unusually high affinity rating, but also my unique potential rating. The only person who fit those requirements was a young Journeyman named Sal-Drega. My master told me that Sal-Drega had a potential rating that fluctuated and that because of my potential rating, it would need to be at the right time. I met Drega, and it only took one meeting to tell that he was a jerk. I continued to meet with him, as part of my obligation, but he just continued to disgust me.”
The pilot tried to look her in the eye but she held her head fast against his chest as she continued. “I had always worn that barrette, it helped hold my braid together. My master found it on me once and asked me where I got it. I told him that it was, from a ‘friend’. He told me that any link to my old life before the Order would only be a hindrance, but when he saw my face, he told me to keep it. He said I reminded him of the way his own daughter looked when he told her to give up a stuffed animal that he had given her, long before she was to become an initiate. Even thought she couldn’t take the animal with her, he had snuck it into her room late one night.’
‘Of course her master had found it immediately the next day, but when he found out that she was the daughter of my master, he decided to let her keep it, and he said that her daddy was his first master too, and pulled out a ring that he kept on a chain that was once his mothers.” Darmata looked at the indicator of the lift and noticed that they were nearing the top. “This sucks, we have to go.” She said sadly, as she pulled away from him. She took the helmet and kissed it on the forehead. “ A little blessing from a hot Warlock. Hey, will you be here long?” She asked, as she handed him his helmet.
“Don’t know, it all depends on by how much I wear out my welcome with a few choice people within the City.” The pilot said as he placed the helmet on his head and shouldered his weapon. Darmata gripped his hand tightly.
“There’s more I wasn’t able to reveal, I would like the time to talk to you about it.”
“Well there’s always my safe house here in the City, or my fighter Zephyr’s Shadow?” Darmata shook her head.
“No, your safe house is monitored by the intelligence sections of the Order and the TDC. The Zephyr’s Shadow just… scares me.” She thought for a minuet. “I know of a place. Do you know where the ‘Rabble’s Hole’ is?” The pilot nodded. “I have a friend from my initiate days who didn’t make apprentice. She’s sympathetic to us. Traveler knows that I talked her ear off about you for five years straight.” She placed the palm of his free hand against her face, and breathed in deep. “Traveler! I love your smell!”
“What, the smell of leather, old man and lubricant?” The pilot said as he cocked his head to the side. She kissed his hand three times.
“No, it’s just the smell of… you! I don’t care what is, if it’s of you I love it.” She dropped his hand and looked at him. “Traveler! Why couldn’t the elevator have stayed broken?”
The pilot looked at her, cocking his helmet to the left side to indicate his confusion. “What do you mean the elevator was broken?”
“Nothing, never mind.” She said as the chime rang. A chime in the elevator would ring to announce to the occupants that they had arrived at the ground floor. The doors slowly groaned open, not because of any damage that they had took, but because when they did finally open, it seemed as if it would be flooded with bodies from the outside.
Darmata yelped, and clung to the left side of the pilot, as several people lost their balance and fell into the elevator. Quickly regaining composure, Darmata flipped her cowl over her head and smoothed out her robes.
“Make way! Make way!” A booming voice came from the rear of the throngs of people. Sal-Drega came through the crowd, pushing people away from him. Several initiates and apprentices recognized Sal-Drega and hurriedly parted ways. A short distance behind him, Mon-Krega was keeping the people from crowding in behind. When Sal-Drega reached the elevator he was taken aback by the way it looked inside.
The once pristine, gleaming surface of the elevators’ interior, was blackened and buckled in several places. Darmatas’ robe had several singe marks along the hems. The pilots armor however, showed no such marks and appeared as if untouched. Darmata stepped forward and raised her hands.
“Do not be troubled.” Darmata said in a loud voice. “I assure you that I am in no harm. An investigation will be done to see what has caused this incident. Please let us through.” The crowd began to disperse, and Darmata stepped out into the room. Sal-Drega took her by the hand and led her away from the crowd. When the crowd fully dispersed, the pilot stepped out of the elevator and headed for the doors. As the pilot exited the building, he saw his partner leaning against the railing, facing him.
“I don’t know what happened in there boss.” Elsibeth said; her arms crossed in front of her. “But it sure caused a lot of commotion.” She nodded down the stairs. The pilot looked and saw that there were several vehicles within the courtyard, red and blue lights flashing on their roofs.