Twenty years have passed since the destruction of the Gray invasion fleet saved the worlds of the Pride; twenty years without a single sign of the Gray throughout the known universe. The lessening of tension has permitted the Guardians to focus on reclaiming the devastated planets. As the children of the Guardians come of age, a new and more deadly peril emerges. The unexplained loss of one hundred ninety-two Æthereal warriors brings them face to face with a new Gray species even as treachery and rebellion threatens the Guardian alliance, forcing them all to face the truth about their past, their present, and whether there will be a future.
Ebon the Black, leader of the Æthereal Council and Guardian of Earth, stood staring out the window of his third-story office overlooking the large landing field at Paradise Base. He didn’t move when the door to his office opened as he knew who was coming through it. Being telepathic had its advantages.
“There’s been no word?” asked Eric Johansson, Ebon’s human partner.
Ebon shook his head mutely and continued to watch the field in vain.
“How many teams does this make?”
“Too many; twelve teams too many, and all of them trained combat veterans,” Ebon responded, a hint of anger in his voice. “What could possibly overcome that many Æthereals so quickly that not one managed to portal home or even broadcast a mind call to tell us what happened? Each team had been briefed to let us know when they arrived on their assigned planet, and yet not one of them has ever checked in once their portal closed behind them.”
Ebon turned around and faced Eric. “I am recalling all the teams except for those involved in reclaiming the Pride home world. Until we know what we face out there, I will not send teams out blindly.”
Eric shook his head. “That’s not going to be popular with any of the science or exploration teams. It will interrupt a lot of research.”
“Better a temporary interruption than a permanent death,” Ebon said. “As head of the Council, that is my decision. I am convening a Grand Council in three days to discuss what we know, what we think, and what we will do next. I am also inviting the Ursars and the Pride to send representatives to the meeting as this will affect all the Guardians.”
* * * *
The Æthereal Grand Council was comprised of every available Æthereal who could be physically present or attend in astral form. On a vast plain on the Paradise planet, they gathered in a huge amphitheater with terraced edges that allowed the massive dragons adequate space for comfort during the long Grand Council meetings, which had been known to last for days. Grouped by specialty, they formed a rainbow of colors around the mile-long amphitheater. First came the Golds, the historian/archivists. Next to them were the Whites, the smaller healers. The Blues of the Science Corps and Greens of the Exploration Teams were next, followed by the Oranges of the warrior class charged with protecting them, then the Reds, Browns and Blacks—the combat wings that guarded the galaxy. The center of the amphitheater was filled with the human partners of the Æthereal, intermingled with the larger bearlike Ursars and feline Pride.
What sound there was in that vast arena came from the humans, who talked quietly among themselves as they waited for the meeting to begin. The other species were also communing with one another, but their discourse was telepathic.
The first rays of the rising sun broke over the rim of the amphitheater and edged down the western slope, highlighting the Golds. When that light came to rest on the lone Gold standing in the front of the assemblage, a mental tone rang in the minds of all attending.
‘Let the Grand Council of the Guardians convene,’ Amber the Gold’s mental voice echoed in everyone’s mind. Instantly all eyes and minds were focused on the ancient Gold dragon, the first female of their species created by the Ancients in their war against the Grays.
‘By request of the Guardian of Sol and Head of the Æthereal Council, this Grand Council has been summoned to discuss the grave peril that now threatens us all.’
The massive form of Ebon the Black now strode to the front. Over three hundred feet in length, with a wingspread to match, Ebon was one of the largest Æthereal in existence. The rising sun glittered off his scales.
‘Since the destruction of the Gray fleet almost twenty years ago, we have not had a single encounter with the Gray. Many of you believe the Gray menace is gone forever since we have not seen any sign of them in all these years. We have shifted our focus from being protectors of worlds to being their conservators; reclaiming the damaged planets ravaged by the Grays, especially the Pride home world.
‘The battle wings have spent the past few decades working with the Science and Exploration Corps to explore and understand these other worlds left by the Gray, or else working with reclamation efforts on various worlds. Peace, we believed, was at last within the grasps of our talons and our eternal vigilance could ease.
‘For the past few months, a dozen teams of combat veterans from the Blacks have been simultaneously dispatched to planets bypassed by the Gray fleet in their rush across the galaxy to attack the Leonid worlds. These were to be routine missions involving a standard patrol of Blacks. Sixteen veteran warriors to a team, they would travel by portal to one of the bypassed planets to verify whether they were uninhabited before we would send an exploration team. Initially, the teams found many planets that will need the attention of the reclamation experts as they had been plundered far in the past, although they did find a few that seemed ready for exploration. Then one of the teams disappeared.
‘A second team was dispatched to check on the missing Blacks. Sent with firm instructions to immediately report their arrival at the new planet, they entered the portal to that world and vanished. Not one of them made contact again once their portal was closed.
‘This pattern occurred simultaneously on six different worlds. We have lost a total of twelve veteran combat teams, one hundred and ninety-two Blacks and Browns, on surveys of these worlds in six different planetary systems, two teams per world. Although we do not know what has caused this to happen, we must assume that it is of a hostile nature.’
When Ebon finished, there was a moment of silence from the assembled guardians. This was followed by a burst of mental babble as everyone—Æthereal, Ursar, Pride, and human—all began to mentally speak at once. Thousands of side conversations erupted from the various color groups, punctuated by the growls exchanged between the Pride and Ursar contingents.
Ebon turned to Eric, and said, ‘I think that went well. Do you not?’
Eric looked at his giant partner and shook his head in disbelief. ‘How can you think such a thing, Ebon? With this many involved, it will take forever to reach a consensus of what should be done now.’
‘Consensus? Who said anything about a consensus? In a few days, when they all start to wind down, we will tell them what the actual Council has decided to do. Until then, let them argue and wear themselves out.’
* * * *
The smaller sixteen member Æthereal Council met in closed session. Membership in this body was confined to the acknowledged leader and deputy of each color group. Headed by Ebon the Black and seconded by Negron the Black, Guardian of Paradise, the Council met in their chamber inside the Austrian Alps. Each member portaled into the sealed chamber in human form and took their seat in the sixteen stone thrones that sat in a circle off to one side of the room. Representing the Blues were Azure and Indigo, the Browns by Grendal and Brundig, and the Greens by Forrest and Celadon. The female Æthereals present were Hecate and Scarlett from the Reds, Sienna and Terra from the Oranges, Astra and Etienne from the Whites, and Amber and Oura from the Golds.
“Well, Mother, does the debate still go on at the Grand Council?” Ebon asked.
“It does, indeed,” replied Amber. “I predict at least three more days before things start to wind down.”
“What will be our guidance once they are ready to listen?” Astra asked.
“First of all, we need to expand the ratio of human partners among the combat wings. We have allowed this to taper off during the past twenty years as the humans have retired. If we are facing combat, we need more humans to use the cannons and shields,” Negron said. “That means more humans through the training course.”
Astra replied, “The deactivation of most of the human military has also eliminated the trained pool of humans we used to draw upon. Where will we find the resources?”
“There are still plenty of young men and women on Earth who would come to us if we began recruiting again,” Ebon said. “Just because there was no longer a need for national defense forces on Earth did not change humanity enough to breed out those traits that make a good soldier. The off-planet militias are also a good resource to consider,” he looked at the other council members, “but we must take care not to leave the planets without a strong enough force to defend the settlements. We should also consider the viability of partnering with other guardian races, like the Ursar or Pride.”
“I would hate to try to fly with an Ursar on my back!” Brundig laughed.
“It is not that hard,” Negron replied. “I flew the Clan War Chief to the battle on Ursar Minor.”
“But you did not try to fight with him there,” Grendal responded, and then laughed. “Ursars have short legs and big bodies, with a center of gravity not suited for aerial maneuvers. I once took a Clan warrior on a flight. If it weren’t for my scales, I would have had furrows from his claws along my entire side and across one wing as he scrabbled to grab hold of something when he slid off as I banked my wings in a turn. I managed to catch him before he hit the ground, mind you, but he was one very unhappy Ursar!”
The whole council laughed at Grendal’s tale, breaking the tension. Celadon said, “These are good suggestions all, Ebon, but what do we know about the enemy itself?”
“Absolutely nothing. We are not even sure there is an enemy. Perhaps there is some natural phenomenon on these planets that prevents the teams from returning or communicating. If it is not something natural, then perhaps it is something artificial which achieves the same thing and they are stranded,” Azure said. “If it is artificial and deliberate, then we face a new kind of threat.”
“Azure, Forrest, we need some answers. How can we get some?” Ebon demanded.
“The only way I can think of is to astral project to the planet and see what we find,” Forrest replied. “There is a risk. It is remotely possible that if there is something there which stops the ability to open portals and communicate mind-to-mind, then it could very well trap an astral projection. If that happens, there would be no way to return to the natural body.”
“What if we were to portal into the world in human form? If something happened to that form, would we not automatically return to our real bodies?” Brundig asked.
Azure shook his head. “That would be much too dangerous. If this mysterious force keeps your consciousness prisoner, then your body would be alive but devoid of a conscious mind to control it.”
Astra spoke out against the idea. “I cannot support anything with such a grave risk. There must be some other answer.”
“Astra, if we dare not explore the place using astral projection, and we obviously cannot portal there, what other way can we discover the truth? Fly there through space?” Grendal grumbled.
Forrest looked thoughtful for a moment, and then said, “That is not such a bad idea. The humans have done quite a bit of that in the past, you know.”
* * * *
Ebon took his place in front of the Grand Council after a week of debate among the various species present. He waited until the vast assembly grew still, and then began to speak. ‘There are several measures that the Æthereal Council have determined are necessary to meet this new challenge. First and foremost, we must expand the battle wings, and that means more recruitment among the humans to serve as partners to replace those who have retired as well as expand the number of partnered Æthereal. In addition, we will implement a test program to recruit partners from among the Ursar and Pride, as well. Negron will oversee the recruitment and training of the new partners.
‘Secondly, we must gather intelligence about the threat itself. I have asked Azure to head up a commission to determine the most effective means to gather the information we need with a minimum risk of more lives. He will be contacting those he wishes to assist in this venture.
‘Finally, we must assess that information and determine the best means to deal with what we find. That will probably mean physically traveling to that world by some method other than portals. Indigo will be heading up a group looking into means of accomplishing that. As a part of that, we need to determine the best possible mix of forces to bring to bear against the threat. Our experiences together have shown we are stronger when we combine our forces. Therefore, whatever strike team is put together will have a mixture of Æthereal, human, Ursar, and Pride.
‘These actions will all take time, and that is something we risk running out of. Whatever is on those worlds may decide to move against us at any moment. Everyone needs to be vigilant and prepared for combat.’
The assembly stood and shouted their approval in manners appropriate to their species. The humans applauded and cheered, the Pride and Ursars roared, and the Æthereal trumpeted.
by Christopher W. Wilcox, Sr.
Genre: Science Fiction
EBook formats ISBN: 978-1-59374-727-5
Trade paperback ISBN: 978-1-59374-726-8
Buy this book!
“Christopher Wilcox creates a wonderful universe full of creatures not yet seen or found. The characters are engrossing, the situation feels real, the story moves at a great pace, and you can't put the novel down. For a wonderful afternoon or two of reading, this is a must have book. “ Michael D. Johnson, Sage Fire Reviews,
“Æthereal’s Children by Christopher W. Wilcox, Sr. is part of the Æthereal series. This book easily stands alone. Wilcox successfully weaves the threads of the story together to form a tapestry that comes to life on the pages of Æthereal’s Children. The characters were well-developed and matured as the story progressed. The plot was entertaining and flowed smoothly. Fans of fantasy and science fiction will enjoy Æthereal’s Children.” Debra Gaynor, ReviewYourBook.com,
“Mr. Wilcox has once again penned an engaging future for humanity. Taking what is known up to this point in the Æthereal series and adding a new twist to things, he has also brought forth some SciFi and special effects favorites from my own past movie watching experiences. Bravo for incorporating the classics into this soon to be classic series. As this is the fifth installment of the Æthereal series, Mr. Wilcox has included an introduction of what has gone before, and a glossary of who's who as an appendix to the book. But it would be my recommendation that you simply read the entire Æthereal series to enjoy the excitement and emotion of the stories as they build one to the next. Æthereal's Children carries the excitement, intrigue, and full-on SciFi adventure begun in the first installment, Æthereal, and continued through Æthereal Revealed, Æthereal's Clans, and Æthereal's Pride. It will be a long wait for me until the sixth and final novel, Æthereal’s Destiny.” MargeAnn Conrad, Novelspot.com
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