Dark Legend: A Story in the Stars (by Cheryl Wolverton)

Chapter One

"And it was said these pale beasts roamed the night, disguising themselves as us, though they weren't of us...waiting for the next penumbra when they would again reclaim our land, again stalk our nights, draining us of our life giving blood and leaving us empty, with only the mark of their coming--two small holes in the neck..."

"Dara!"

The young woman in question turned from the vid her gaze widening with pure innocence. Pure innocence that she well knew was as fake as the news stories that had been going out on the vid lately.

Kendra Arunda Freland smiled. She couldn't help it. When Dara acted like this it reminded her of why she cared so for the woman. Shaking her head, she said as stern as she could muster, "What are you telling those children? I thought your vid-con was suppose to be about the military leadership?"

Dara smiled, and shrugged. Turning back to the vid, she waved to the kids. "And that, children, is how my unit got its name, Night stalkers. Remember the penumbra coming up tonight and think of us."

Kendra chuckled as Dara broke the link. "Why in the world are you telling those kids that old legend?"

Dara stood, her tall sleek body graceful as she moved across the room to hug Kendra. "Greetings, dear friend." Kissing her on the cheek she moved back and across to the table. Seating herself, she picked up a cup of tea and sipped it. "I was telling them the story of the night beasts simply because of my squadron's nickname and the penumbra that is coming up. You know the legends all say when Soleria is again blocked and our land is dark that a deep blackness will settle over us and the end of the world will come."

Kendra shook her head and walked across to a small alcove to pour herself a cup of tea before seating herself at the table. "And I know it's simply a legend. So we have a penumbra? Once in this lifetime. We should consider ourselves fortunate to see this. This is a very very rare occurrence and will only last four point five days if our estimates are correct."

Dara rolled her eyes with great exaggeration. "That's all you think of--science. You should get out more, enjoy life, experience it."

"Like you?" Kendra asked softly, smiling. Kendra compared the woman's tall sleekness to her own petite stature. Dara attracted men like a magnet. Her long dark hair, dark exotic looks, tilted gray eyes called out. Kendra on the other hand was too short, too round and bleached out from always being within the buildings. Too pale by far, she was known as a thinker instead of laborer. With the hot white star their planet orbited it was very obvious who spent much time outside and who did not.

Her whole life had been devoted to sciences with very little outside exposure unless a scientific activity took her there.

"Your idea of fun is to go to a lecture. I know," Dara said now.

"And yours is to live for the moment," Kendra replied. "That's probably why we get along so well. So, are you done with the lecture?"

Dara laughed, the sound warm and husky, one more thing they didn't have in common, Kendra thought wistfully.

"Yes. I'm done with the lecture."

"What brings you here?" Kendra asked and lifted a cup of tea to her lips.

"We've got a lead. Finally."

Kendra froze, her eyes widening in surprise. There was only one reason Dara would bring word like this to her... only one thing that could be important to her that Dara would insist she hear... "On the invaders?"

Dara nodded. "We have proof now. One of their ships crashed. By the treaty of planets," Dara said, cursing, "Do you know the tentacled ones had some of our people on their ship. All were dead though."

"And the tentacled ones? Did the troops make sure they were dead too? So they couldn't hurt more of our people or get word back to their own people?"

Dara shook her head.

Alarm tingled along Kendra's spine. "What? What aren't you telling me."

Dara pulled out a sheaf of papers and handed them to her friend. "One lived. He was semi-conscious when we found him. We've isolated him in the new room built to hold their type. This one isn't going to escape. The bonds we have him in will hold him... and Kendra... that means you will finally get to examine one of them."

"Alive?" Kendra opened the papers and read the orders. Top scientist in her field, she had been assigned to take over the project and find a weakness in these tentacled beasts.

"Yes. Alive. You should have seen him. The beast was strong even though he was only semi-conscious. He was muttering something. I couldn't understand it."

"You were there!" Kendra's gaze shot to Dara's.

Dara grinned cockily. "Of course. I was the one who hauled it in. Tall, well over five metraes and wiry, just like the others. Not an ounce of fat on him. Those tentacles wrapped around one of my men's arms... but amazingly enough, it didn't hurt my man. Zolar panicked and screamed and the beast collapsed."

"He's injured then?" Kendra pulled out a stylus and took notes.

"I think some head trauma and who knows what else. Though it was tempting to undress him and find out just how much this thing is like us, I didn't."

"Dara!" Kendra looked up, shocked.

"If he didn't have those tentacles on him, I'd have kidnapped him and have another mark on my pistol belt right now." Dara's eyes turned sensuous. "He was handsome. Can't imagine one of them looking so handsome."

Kendra nodded. "That's the problem. They look just like us, except for their incredible strength, their ability to run faster than us, and the eerie way they look at their victims...as if hypnotizing them before the grab them and murder them."

"Just like the night beasts," Dara said, nodding.

"Except these beasts come out in the day," Kendra corrected, "As well as night."

"Has people wondering if there might be some sort of truth to the legend about the penumbra."

Kendra shook her head. "This has been happening for months now, Dara. How many of these invaders have been caught and murdered? How many that the public knows about let alone us? You know better than to buy into the legend come true theory. Besides, it's not just the invaders…" Kendra said hesitantly then continued, "You've seen what they've done to some of our own, the sickness just before they mutate."

Dara's gaze turned black. "The children," she murmured.

"That's still top secret and not out in the press."

"I know, we're the ones isolating the families this has happened to," Dara muttered now, her dark gaze snapping with frustration.

Kendra made some more notes before lying the stylus aside. "That's for the best. I intend to find out just what is going on here, who's behind this attack against us and some of our young ones and who's trying to ruin my father's peace Coalition, before it's all for nothing."

Dara's smile faded and she reached out, touching Kendra's hands. "I know, shala," Dara whispered empathetically. "I don't want the peace accord destroyed any more than you. Perhaps though, these attacks are good. We've been telling the government that getting rid of the military is an unwise decision. Peace cannot be peace without a way to enforce that peace."

Kendra smiled wearily. "Enforcement can only be enforcement by the loss of life."

Dara chuckled and squeezed her hand. "I'd expect the United Coalition's Peace envoy's daughter to be no different."

"Nor would I expect Dara, Night Stalker, leader of the third division of the United Coalition, Balka planet to be any different."

Kendra squeezed Dara's hand and then stood. Going to the sleeping alcove she pulled off the soft aqua shirt and pants and replaced it with her House's purple and silver. Slipping on a tan cloak lined with the purple and silver she headed toward the door. Without protection from their white dwarf, she would easily burn. Dara could spend hours and even days now out there without suffering, but Kendra, once again, so opposite from her friend, could spend no time out there.

"Mind if I come along?"

Kendra paused and turned, studying her friend. "To the lab?"

Dara smiled. "I want to see your face when you lay eyes on him."

Kendra shook her head. "I'm a professional, Dara. I assure you, I won't notice a thing."

© Cheryl Wolverton 2000.  Do not reprint without permission

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