When the Grays devastate the home world of the feline Guardian race called the Pride, a single family survives, rescued by the Æthereal. Resembling large lions and reared in a patriarchal society, can they adapt to the ways of the humans and Æthereals? Will the Ursars accept the addition of large predatory felines in their peaceful valley? When a much changed Spyder returns from near death to reveal the secret of the Ancients, the stage is set for a confrontation with the Grays.
Right on schedule, the meeting began in the conference area at the Borland Guardian Facility on Paradise. Ebon the Black, Guardian of Earth, watched as the facility began to fill. The facility, created to house the joint human and Æthereal force known as the Guardians, was both their home and the embarkation point for its many missions. As a part of the principle mission to protect the galaxy from the planet-stripping Grays, the Guardians also performed other missions. Divided within their species by color group, the Æthereal had eight functions. The Blacks, Browns, and Reds were warriors, charged with defending the planets. The Blues were scientists, while the Greens were explorers. The Oranges were also warriors, but their mission was to protect the Blues and Greens. The Golds were historians and scholars, and finally, the Whites were healers. Many of the mighty Æthereal had bonded with human partners in the years since they had chosen to reveal themselves to humanity. It had come as a shock to most humans to find their legends were true, for the Æthereal were fire-breathing dragons.
Together with the humans, the Æthereal had prevented a Gray invasion of the Earth, foiled a terrorist plot to detonate a nuclear weapon in Washington, surveyed other worlds and established settlements on a few of them, and more recently, assisted a fellow Guardian world in wiping out a Gray incursion. The cost of that battle had been high, and that was the purpose of this meeting.
In addition to Forrest the Green and his mate, Laranja the Orange, the other senior members of the Exploration Corps and their Orange counterparts were also present, along with their human partners. Danny and Katarina, Forrest and Laranja’s partners, were not there. Ebon and Negron were conversing quietly at the front of the briefing room while the last of the stragglers came in.
“If everyone would please take a seat,” Negron said after a moment. A hush fell over the room as the Æthereals sat around the table and their human partners sat in the chairs along the walls.
Ebon stepped forward, and said, “Thank you all for coming. This is one of a series of briefings we are giving to all the various branches of the Guardians and to all Æthereals. It concerns the recent battle against the Grays we fought in conjunction with the Ursars on one of their out-system worlds.” He let the group settle back and then said, “As you may be aware, we sustained high losses during the battle because of an unexpected weakness in the shield developed by the humans.
“In retrospect, the flaw was obvious and we all should have seen it. The shield does not cover either our feet or our heads. This means the Gray beam weapon can seriously damage our claws and allowing the beam to strike our unprotected heads is fatal. Scientists, both human and Æthereal, are working on extending the shield to provide protection to our heads and feet. Until a fix is found, however, it is important that all of us remember our limitations. Avoid any direct head-on confrontations. Turn to the side and let your human partner use the shield cannon to return fire. Is this clear to everyone?”
Making sure he looked each and every Guardian in the eye and that they all nodded their heads, he waited before he spoke again. “Okay, next point. The unalterable fact is the Grays now know we have a defense against their beam weapons. That means we can soon expect them to change their tactics and possibly their weaponry. It is an inevitable point of history that as soon as one side develops a counter to the other side’s weapons, it results in an armaments race to newer and more deadly military hardware.
“I bring this up because I want you each to brief all your teams thoroughly, here and at all off-world locations. Furthermore, we need to start contacting the other Guardian races to warn them about the probable escalation in weapons and severity of the Gray attacks,” Ebon said. “That is your mission, Celadon and Forrest. I believe you can skip the Ursars; they already know.” The two Greens nodded.
“One final point. From this moment on, no Guardians travel off-world alone. There must be a minimum of two pairs on every mission. If you run into trouble, your first duty is to return to let us know where the Grays are. I do not want heroes and I really would prefer not to add any more names on that Cenotaph.” The mention of the monolithic monument that bore the names of the Guardian dead was a sobering thought for the entire group.
As the meeting broke up, Ebon asked Forrest and Laranja to remain behind. Once the three were alone, he said, “I am not comfortable with sending you off on a mission without your human partners.”
“There is no way we could ask Danny and Katarina to abandon Katherine, Ebon,” Laranja said. “They are all she has right now and she is due to have her baby any day. That has not stopped her from making the long trek from her house down to the Chamber of the Ancients so she can sit by Spyder’s medical bed. Clan Mother finally insisted they put a pallet in there for her to lie on.”
Ebon shook his head. “I have not spoken to Astra recently. Has there been any change in Spyder’s condition?”
“Not that we can discern. Astra repaired the physical damage caused by the Gray rail gun drill that passed through his skull and brain, but he remains in a coma. Katherine insists she can still talk to him mentally, although no one else has been able to detect him, not even Danny or Katarina,” Laranja said. “It may be a part of their life bond. No one believes it to be just the blind hope of a pregnant woman.”
“Astra said that Katherine was also convinced she could talk with her unborn baby,” Ebon said.
“Talk may be too strong of a word, but they do pass emotions back and forth. Clan Mother says this is normal for telepaths,” Laranja added.
“Our own young have been known to communicate with us before they break their shells, Ebon,” Forrest said. “Why is it so hard to accept that the telepathic humans can do the same?”
“Because those telepathic humans were not born that way. They got that ability from one of the machines in the Chamber of the Ancients on Ursaria,” Ebon snapped.
“Even Astra admits the machine could have done little if the human mind did not already possess the capability. She says it merely awoke what was dormant,” Forrest said.
“My sister is a dreamer when it comes to humans. She spent sixty-five million years on Earth and the last three or four thousand of them studying humans,” Ebon said. “All right, I will grant that ultimately, it has paid off for both our species. Adopting human forms and human ways has made us better Guardians.”
“It has also shown us our limitations, Ebon. We may be almost immortal, but we do not know everything,” Forrest said. “Any time I start thinking that way, I just remind myself that it was the humans who developed the shield against the Gray beam weapons. It was the humans who revealed the existence of the other Guardian races from the captured Gray data. And if that were not enough, our very own Council Chamber on Earth and the tunnels underneath it appear to have been built and designed for humans and not us.”
“I do not need reminding of that. Azure plagues me with his attempts to penetrate the chamber on Earth but so far, none have succeeded,” Ebon said. “Well, do be careful, my friends. Where will you head?”
“To visit the Pride, I think,” Forrest replied.
* * * *
Katherine sat in the tall chair the master artisan had crafted for her so she could see and reach her beloved Spyder. She held his hand as she sat with her eyes closed and her other one resting on the unborn child inside her swollen body.
‘Spyder, I think the time for Meredith’s birth is approaching, so I probably won’t be here for a few days. Once she is born and Clan Mother permits, I shall come back.’
Her mind echoed with his response. ‘It doesn’t matter whether you sit beside me or are home in bed, I’m always with you. Our thoughts are not limited by distance, my love.’
‘I thought the barriers around the chamber prevented such a thing!’
‘Not to me. I am changing, Katy. I know so much more. I can move beyond this chamber at will now,’ Spyder said. ‘I can even reach our Meredith. You are right. She will be born tomorrow.’
‘Why is it that only I can hear you?’ Katherine asked. ‘Katarina and Danny have both tried, and so has Astra, but none hear you save me.’
‘It is our life bond that makes it possible for us to communicate,’ Spyder replied. ‘There will come a time when I shall awaken and then all will know what I have learned.’
* * * *
Korin gently carried Katherine up the long spiral ramp from the Chamber of the Ancients to Clan Home. The gigantic Ursar, resembling a twenty-two foot Kodiak bear, had been Spyder’s first friend among the Clan and Katherine’s as well, unless one counted the Clan’s youngest cub, Lili. She had attached herself to both Spyder and Katherine from their earliest days amid the Clan, especially after Spyder had saved her life. When Korin reached the top of the ramp, Clan Mother was waiting for them.
“You must go to your home and get ready, Kay-Tee,” Clan Mother said. “Your cub will be here soon.”
“Yes, I know. It will be tomorrow.” With a rueful smile, Katherine said, “I am so glad she is finally going to be born as I’m very tired of being pregnant.”
Clan Mother nodded as laughter danced in her eyes at this common complaint by all females of whatever species. “Be glad you are not Ursar, or you would have another nine months to go!”
Katherine groaned at the thought. “Korin, could I impose on you some more? Could you carry me back to my house?”
“It is no imposition, Clan sister. I would be honored to carry you there for you are no burden to me,” Korin replied.
“I will go with you,” said another voice. Lili stepped forward. She was no longer the small cub she had been when Katherine first came to the Clan. Lili was now an adolescent, standing nearly ten feet in height. Her fur had started to darken but she retained the lighter shades around her eyes and her upper chest.
Clan Mother started to object but Katherine forestalled it by saying, “You will be welcome to come along, Lili, so Korin will have company on the walk back. Perhaps you will come with Clan Mother tomorrow.”
* * * *
Once she was safely back in her home and the two Ursars had departed back to Clan Home, Katherine sighed. Katarina and Danny fussed over her, making sure she was comfortable, and she thought it would be a long night. She closed her eyes. ‘Spyder, can you hear me?’
“Of course.’ The essence of his being filled her mind and, for a moment, she felt his lips pressed upon her own. ‘I am with you always.’
Content, she drifted off to sleep. Perhaps the night wouldn’t be so long after all.
Katarina looked in on Katherine and decided not to wake her for dinner. She knew Katherine had not been getting much sleep since Spyder was injured. Katarina did not know how she herself would have reacted had it been Danny lying there. As bad as it was having one quarter of their conjoined mind missing, it would have been worse for her had it been her own life bond. Accepting that fact had made it easier to deal with Katherine’s insistence that she still heard Spyder in her mind. Perhaps she did or maybe it was only her fervent desire for some hope that Spyder might recover. Katarina had her doubts of that; she had seen people with serious brain injuries before and those who did wake up...well, sometimes death was more merciful.
Since Spyder’s fall, there had been no mental joining among them; primarily out of compassion for Katherine, who would feel everything the other two felt, but also because of the pall that had fallen over them all since the battle had ended. Katarina knew she wasn’t “in the mood” and she suspected even Danny had lost much of his desire. The imminent birth of the baby had them all on edge, too. She hoped Katherine was right and the baby would be born tomorrow. Little Meredith may be able to bring some joy back to their home.
by Christopher W. Wilcox, Sr.
Genre: Science Fiction
EBook formats ISBN: 978-1-59374-725-1
Trade paperback ISBN: 978-1-59374-724-4
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"So far this book is this reviewer's favorite of the whole series. It was bright with humor and hope, and touched on some more of our historical myths and legends. Dragons are real, and perhaps we have some racial memories of the so-called Ancients that exist to this day in our legends of elves and the like.
The Ursar, giant purple bears, are still this reviewer's favorite creature in the series, though the Pride, the new feline additions, are definitely worthy of notice. The gender issues that divide the race is an eerie echo of our own history and brings up some important points about how some of our darker myths have perpetuated gender discrimination.
This reviewer cannot recommend this series enough. So far it is one of the most enjoyable reads he has encountered and hopes that the author will see fit to revisit and expand this remarkable universe many more times in the future."
Reviewed by 5 Hearts, Saje, LoveRomancesandMore.com, Jan 2007
"This is a great and original sci-fi series. Where else will you read of dragons, enormous purple bears, and human-like lions in a modern setting defending the universe with humans from little gray men?" Gretchen, Fallen Angel Reviews, 4 Angels
"Talented author Christopher W. Wilcox Sr. opens portals into several subplots that weave together in a well told fun read that is rich in characters and the unusual forms they take. This is a tale any fantasy or sci-fi fan will enjoy. I'm pleased to recommend it to any reader who is searching for something different." Review by Anne K. Edwards 01/17/07, http://www.mysteryfiction.net/reviews.html
"ÆTHEREAL'S PRIDE is similar to the previous book in the series as it still highlights the power of family. However, it also explores the nature of equality between the sexes in a culture. The Pride or Leonid worlds, cut off from their home world after a plague broke out, have developed in surprisingly different but also similar ways. The home world culture changed so women took a subservient role to men, and the opposite occurred on the other worlds. But the one thing all of the Pride forgot was the existence of the Grays and that their purpose in life is to destroy worlds. The lesson is bought in blood.
The most interesting part of this series remains the characters and their relationships, specifically Spyder and his closest family and friends. They are the pivot upon which the plot turns, and it's their interactions that draw you in. I will say that Spyder's newfound knowledge of the Ancients is interesting, if a little jarring. I won't give away who the Ancient's turn out to be, but it's definitely a new take on an old theme.
If you're as caught up as I have been in this out-of-the-ordinary series, ÆTHEREAL'S PRIDE will not disappoint." ~ Reviewed by Kathy Samuels, Romance Reviews Today
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