ACE - Soltan - Volume One

3 - Three Months

Three Months


-Darren Adler-Landing Compound

The man waited until the cover of darkness before he made his move. He was in need of certain supplies and it would only attract unwanted attention if he procured them the legal way. The warehouses were unguarded, but there were lights along the exterior of the buildings that would reveal him to anybody that happened to be looking in his direction at the wrong time. 

'I should have got someone else to do this,' the obese man thought as he waddled towards one of the doors. The door was unlocked, just as Adler had expected, so he quickly slipped inside, making sure that there wasn't anybody inside the building before he let the door shut behind him. He almost breathed a sig of relief when he found himself to be alone in the dimly lit structure. 'I have to be quick.'

The man moved to the shelf he needed and pulled the plastic crate from the shelf. Adler pulled the lid off of the crate and nearly crowed with delight when he saw the three bags of medical supplies sitting inside. He dropped his duffle bag down on the floor and began filling it with the contents of the crate. 

"Fuck, this thing is heavy!" Adler huffed after he had returned the crate to its spot and lifted his duffle bag to his shoulder. He knew he couldn't stop without grabbing everything, though. Brenth would have the warehouse locked down once the different drugs were found missing.

The next crate that Adler stopped at was filled with different sizes of daggers that the Colony's Blacksmith had made during the past few months. Adler was looking for three specifically, though. The three he needed each had sapphires encrusted in their hilts, representing the blood sacrifices that they would be used for. Korinth had told him to grab those items, and those items only. If he broke the rules set forth before him, Korinth would punish the man.

Adler took what he had come for, and quickly made his way to the door he had used to get inside. Those were part of his instructions. If he didn't do it exactly as told, Adler would be caught by Brenth and his plan would be ruined. Adler had sworn his life to Korinth. He would never let the God down. He couldn't without facing death itself. 

'Good, my Child,' the heavy voice, filled with lust said in the depths of Darren Adler's soul. The man was so startled by the suddenness of it that he nearly dropped the bag he was carrying. 'Easy,' the voice of the God admonished him. 'Take your prizes to the place of your dreams and all will be revealed there.'

"Yes, my Lord!" Adler acknowledged, knowing full well that he would obey every breath of this higher being. Korinth had already shown the man what he was capable of when Adler questioned his existence.

'I can give you another display,' Korinth said darkly, his voice thundering within Adler's mind. 

"That won't be necessary, my Lord," Adler replied quickly, trembling as he remembered the horrific visions that Korinth had shown him. "I will never question your presence in this universe, again."

'Good,' the voice responded smugly. 'I will speak with you soon.'

Adler headed west, slipping away from the Landing Compound without being seen. With the first part of his quest complete, Adler could move on to the next part of his journey. It was time for him to meet up with his small group of travelers and leave the northern continent behind until Korinth beckoned his return.

-Zachary Brenth - 47 - Landing Compound

Zachary almost groaned as he listened to the overweight medic continue to drone on with his morning report. The Colony Leader glanced around the table and saw several other council members struggling to stay awake. The dark-haired man finally decided to end the torture for everyone.

"Okay, then," Brenth stated loudly, clapping his hands together to wake everyone back up. "Master Frost?"

"Yes, sir?" The pudgy man asked, clearly annoyed at having been interrupted halfway through his report.

"Is there anything in your report that may be of interest to the rest of us?" Brenth asked, with a hint of amusement in his tone. "I honestly don't mean to sound rude with the question, Master Frost. I just don't need to personally know the name of every single person that was inoculated yesterday. I'm certain that your team is doing an excellent job at taking care of our brothers and sisters, but the most I want to know about, is if there is a sickness starting to brew. Understood?"

"Yes, sir," Frost replied, keeping his tone even, but Brenth could see the anger in the man's beady-dark eyes. 

'He's going to make my life entertaining,' Brenth thought bitterly as he turned his attention to his eldest son. "What does the Logistic Division have to report, Mister Brenth?"

Cole blushed profusely before he stammered nervously through the report his mother had prepared for him. Jessica Brenth had been admitted to the infirmary with a severe case of morning sickness, and Cole was handling things while his mother was out of service. It had only been three days since the teenager had taken over the division, but he had already secured himself as a future leader with the negotiations the boy had been handling between the Gypsies and the Landing Council. Zachary Brenth couldn't help but to be proud of his eldest son. The teen had been working with his mother since before the Soltan Expedition had even left Earth, and had always shown the same amount of enthusiasm and dedication as his younger brother Zyan. If the boys continued to work together, they would be unstoppable.

"Thank you, Cole," Brenth stated before he moved the meeting onto other things. 

"There's one other thing, father," Cole stated bluntly. Zach motioned for his eldest son to continue. "There was a break-in at the warehouse, last night." The room was suddenly filled with murmurs of shock and dismay until Zach held up his hand for silence. "The thief took three bags of medical supplies and they also stole a few daggers that were being made for the Summer Festival. So far, nothing else has been reported missing."

"They took my daggers, aye?" Master Tomlin asked in a surly voice from near the other end of the table. Cole looked at the Master Miner and nodded.

"They did, sir. Three of them," Cole informed the man. "The packing list showed that they had jewels in their hilts."

"Jared isn't going to be happy to hear that," Tomlin commented in disgust. "I'll get with the Master Smith to see what types of locks we can come up with."

"Thank you, Master Tomlin," Cole commented before his father could speak. "My mother would be appreciative, I'm certain."

"Any ideas on how we can find these items, or the people responsible?" Zach asked the group.

"I can put the word out to my Clans to keep an eye out," Lisa Knox stated. Her reputation had also grown with the gypsies, and many of them had chosen her to be their unofficial leader. "Unfortunately, without any footage there's nothing else that we can do, at this time."

Zach nodded understandingly. He respected Lisa's judgment completely, and knew that the woman would do everything within her powers to get the supplies back, or find who had taken them. Brenth had his suspicions as to the guilty party, but he knew it was too early for him to raise the alert. Only a few people knew about the secret asset that Brenth kept in secret contact with. Zach couldn't risk blowing Thorn's cover, for any reason.

"Fine," the man finally continued with the meeting. "Cole, if you could, mention to Lady Jessica that I would like round-the-clock security at all of the supply buildings, until further notice."

"Yes, sir," Cole quickly replied.

"Thank you," Brenth stated with a nod before he looked around the room. "Now, before we conclude this meeting, I would like to remind everyone that we are going to be rotating rest breaks for the next two months until the remainder of the colony gets here. We've got the fields tilled, so we are only waiting on the weather to break to begin planting. The Terran crops that we have growing in the greenhouses seem to have adapted well to the soil here, so we have that going for us. Once it stops dropping below freezing for more than three nights in a row, we'll sow our fields. Has there been any volunteers to go check out the Southern Continent?"

"I have a few volunteers in my work group, Brenth," Simon Foster, the Chief Biologist informed the group. "Tanya Little, Ed Stout, and Freeda Reed all mentioned an interest in checking out the plant life down there. The Medics have been mentioning running low on painkillers, so we are hoping to find a suitable substitute."

"Keep an eye out for uncategorized fauna, as well," Brenth added as he looked around at the others. "Is there anything else we need to discuss?" When the man was only met with silence, he ended the meeting. "Have a great day, everyone! I'll see you in the morning."

"Do you think it was Adler?" Kyle asked once everyone else in the room had left.

"I do," Zach replied with a nod. "I trust that you understand the reason for my silence regarding my suspicions?"

"Of course, Admiral," Kyle replied. "Should I get your drop set up?"

"Yes," Zach said. "Get some extra rations from Kim Sutherly and leave them in the usual place. Tell her they are for the Eyes."

"Yes, sir," Kyle acknowledged with a nod before leaving Zachary Brenth alone in the conference room.

Brenth leaned back in his chair with a sigh of relief. He had nothing on his schedule for the next three hours, and the man was planning on using that time to do absolutely nothing. . . 

He had already said his goodbyes to Zyan and Christian before they left for their getaway to Silver Ridge Valley. Pilot Combs was going along with the boys, so the Commander wasn't too worried about the children getting themselves into trouble. Zyan and Christian were more responsible than some adults that Zachary knew. Zachary leaned back in his chair and sighed in relaxation.

-Zyan Brenth - 11 - Silver Ridge Valley

"We're here, boys," Riley stated with a grin as he set the shuttle down in a grassy field on the northern end of Silver Ridge Valley. With the flip of a few switches, Riley had the shuttle powering down, making it safe for the passengers to disembark.

Zyan and Christian headed for the shuttle doors as fast as their legs would carry them. Each of the boys were laughing happily as they pushed the passenger hatch open and jumped out into the thick grass of the field. The grass was still damp from the rains the area had received through the past few days, but it had swelled the banks of the three lakes that ran down the center of the valley. Zyan couldn't help but smile as he breathed in deeply of the different aromas that were filling the air around him.

"Dude, this place is awesome!" Christian crowed with delight!

"Hey, guys?" Riley called out from the rear of the shuttle. "Come get your bags and stuff, then you can go exploring. We've got all month to get your caves ready for habitation."

Zyan and Christian each laughed as they made their way back over to the shuttle. Riley chided them about dragging their feet when there was work to be done, but the pilot was smiling the entire time, so the boys knew they weren't in any kind of trouble. The trip to the valley was their vacation, too, after all. The boys had spent the past week studying the survey reports of Silver Ridge Valley just to be certain of where they wanted to focus their search efforts. They were focused on finding their forever home before Zachary Brenth gave away all of the good land in the valley. Riley was their chaperone for the next few weeks while the boys were on their expedition, even though he planned to go check on his own stake of land that he had laid claim to.

The pilot had already cleared the side venture with Admiral Brenth, planning to leave Zyan and Christian alone for three days, at the most. Zyan didn't mind, either. He knew that he would have many nights alone in the valley, and he wanted to see what it would be like to be there, now. 

"If we find someplace safe, we won't have to worry about any predators," Zyan had told Christian as the two planned their journey.

"I hope we can check out those caves," Christian added. 

In the distance, Zyan could hear the calls of different species of birds, along with the howl of a lone wolf. While the wolf howl sounded like it was far off in the mountains to the northwest, the sounds of birds filled the valley itself. Even a distant rumble of thunder couldn't break the grin that was spreading across the eleven-year old's lips as he listened to the different sounds.

The trio made quick work of pulling their supplies from the rear of the shuttle before they took a short break. Riley sat on the side of a fallen tree, while Christian and Zyan sat on the shuttle ramp. They were talking about their plans for the day when Zyan felt a chill go down his spine. The boy looked around himself as he tried to figure out where the strange sensation was coming from. For a moment, he thought he saw some bushes move towards the west but he dismissed it as the wind when he saw the trees swaying in the gusts that were flowing through the valley.

"Are you okay?" Christian asked, noticing his friend's absent expression.

"Huh?" Zyan asked as he snapped back to reality. Then, the dark-haired boy quickly smiled and motioned towards the direction of the caves. "Want to go exploring?"

"I thought you would never ask," Christian returned the smile. 

Both boys turned back to the shuttle and grabbed their backpacks and canteens.

"We're going spelunking, Riley," Zyan told the young man. "Wanna go with us?"

"Sounds like an interesting time to me," Riley agreed with a shrug. "Let me get the shuttle closed up, really quick."

"I'll help," Zyan added with his own grin.

Once the shuttle was secured, the trio headed towards the looming cliffs that made up the northern rim of the valley. Survey reports and satellite images showed a path leading up the face of the cliff to three caves that were stationed next to a small waterfall. The waterfall was fed by some spring hidden higher in the Brenth Mountains and turned into the small stream that fed the large pond that was half of a mile south of the cliffs. The tall field grass swayed in the breeze around the trio as they followed the western bank of the creek. The cliffs loomed high above them but Zyan spotted the path that was cut into the side of the cliff face, winding back and forth as it climbed towards the cave openings that the group was heading to explore.

"We could easily build a banister along this ledge to make it safer in the winter," Christian acknowledged as they passed beyond the tops of the trees. 

"I'm sure my dad will mandate it," Zyan observed with a giggle. 

Halfway up the twisting path, the trio took a short break to drink water from their canteens before they continued on their journey. They made small talk about the view, each giving their opinion on what life in the valley could bring. 

"I wonder if I can choose a different site for my holding," Riley mused as the path continued to twist back and forth through the dry grass lining it.

"Do you believe my father would ever let you give up your lumber mill?" Zyan asked with a chuckle. "We need your supplies too much."

"I'm not going to be able to run it forever, ya know!" Riley pointed out. "I have to be able to retire at some point in my life."

"Good luck with that, Riley," Christian added with his own giggle.

Riley sighed in exaggeration before he started laughing with the two boys. "You're probably right, guys. Once I get my operation set up, I don't think I'll ever give it up. I've already got a damned waiting list that keeps growing."

"Have you hired any crew members?" Zyan asked.

"A few," the man replied with a shrug. "They're good-solid workers and they stick to the patterns that I've made up."

"But?" Christian asked.

"I need more wood cutters to chop down trees to keep up with production," the man continued with a shrug. "I'll get more people hired once the remainder of the colony arrives. It's only a few more weeks."

Zyan frowned at the reminder. There would be more work to be done once the remainder of the colony arrived, and the peaceful solitude of Landing would be broken by the onslaught of nearly seven-thousand people. Colonists looking for their own chances to start anew. Zyan had been there for the majority of the interviews that had been held with the potential colonists when the applications were first opened for the Soltan Expedition. Those were followed by psychological exams and then enlistment in a special school where the future colonists were put through training classes specifically geared towards life on Soltan. Zyan's entire life had been completely immersed in the Soltan Expedition. The boy was taught from the very beginning that his years on Earth were going to be few. Now that he was on Soltan, Zyan had entertained the idea of living a life filled with peace, but something in the back of his mind told him that his father had bigger plans for him.

"These caves are huge!" Riley exclaimed when the trio made it to the middle of the cliff face where the path widened out into a large landing and three cave openings stood out in a line. The first opening was the smallest of the three, but Riley would still walk through with plenty of room to spare. He held a flashlight in front of him as he stepped into the first cavern, moving slowly just incase the group startled any critters with their intrusion. 

The first cavern was only one room, but it was large enough to hold meetings with a long conference table down the center of it. Riley commented on the different possibilities for the room before they moved back out onto the ledge. The next opening was a little further up the path with a ledge sticking out over it and the larger cave opening beyond it. A small creek ran past the last cave opening before tumbling off the edge of the cliff into the lake nearly three-hundred-feet below.

"At least you've got fresh water," Riley commented as he pointed to the waterfall. Then, the man pushed aside some vines covering the middle cave opening and peered inside with his flashlight. "It's pretty much a closet."

"Aww," Christian pouted slightly. "I hope the next one is big enough to live in."

"We could always get Chief Tomlin to make them bigger, Christian," Riley suggested as they made their way to the last cave. This cave had the largest opening, along with multiple smaller openings higher up along the cliff face, letting in enough light for the trio to look inside the cave without a flashlight.

"Oh shit," Christian muttered.

"Think it's big enough?" Riley asked as he stepped inside with Zyan and Christian close behind him.

"It's perfect," Zyan said with a smile. 

The interior of the first cavern was large enough to serve as a kitchen, living room, and study all-in-one, with each boy having their own side of the cave if they wanted. Three openings led further into the cavern. Each corridor wide enough for three men to walk abreast of each other. One of the caves led to a small chamber that had a hot spring in the center of it. The other two caves led to smaller chambers that the boys could use as their private rooms.

"You could build a fire pit in the center of the main room and build a chimney above it to catch the smoke," Riley suggested when they all returned to the main room. "I'm sure Chief Tomlin could help put a hole in the ceiling for a chimney pipe to go through. He could widen that window over there, and you would be able to access the creek without going outside."

The rest of the day was spent moving things from the shuttle to the caves before Riley left Christian and Zyan alone for the night, with a firm warning that they weren't to stray far from the caves until he returned.

"It's still a dangerous place, guys," Riley cautioned as he powered up the shuttle. "I'll be back by midday with some more supplies. I'll also radio you when I get to the Lumber Mill."

"It's already built?" Christian asked.

"Yeah," Riley grinned. "Your father saw the request for my building plans, and sent a crew to get the job done, already."

"That's awesome, Riley!" Zyan acknowledged.

"Just remember what I said, boys," Riley warned them. "We don't know enough about this place yet, for you to be out wandering around. Wait until I get back before you do any exploring."

"We will, Riley," Zyan nodded. "Promise."

"Alright," Riley smiled. "Radio me if you need me to bring anything with me tomorrow."

"Yes, sir," Christian said as he and Zyan climbed out of the shuttle.

Riley waved from the cockpit as he closed all of the hatches and fired up the engines. The boys moved away as the shuttle jumped into the air, before taking off above the mountains to the northeast, heading towards Riley's Lumber Mill.

Zyan and Christian watched the shuttle disappear from sight before they made their way back up to their cave with smiles on their faces.

"Let's set up our bed rolls before we build a fire on the ledge," Christian suggested. "That way we have more time to relax after we have our supper."

"Good idea," Zyan agreed before the two boys began setting up their home for the next few weeks.

Once the bed rolls had been put out, Christian set to work building a fire outside on the ledge, while Zyan set up a table near the opening with the creek outside of it. Then, Christian went inside and used the table to prepare a few vegetables and meat cuts in a pot of water. When he was finished, he took the pot out to the fire, and set it on the edge of the coals. Then, Christian and Zyan set to work hanging lanterns throughout the cave so they could see as the night grew darker. 

When the stew was finished, Zyan and Christian enjoyed their supper sitting on the ledge, overlooking the valley as night settled around them. The crackling of the fire did little to dampen the different sounds coming from the valley below as the creatures of the dark began their moon lit adventures.

"I could get used to this, Christian," Zyan whispered.

"Me, too," Christian agreed softly.

-Riley Combs - 23 - Combs' Hold

The young man made his way to his cabin with a weary grin on his face. His day had been long and filled with activity as he helped Zyan and Christian get settled into their own holding. The path that had been cut through the trees was lined with lamp posts every few feet that illuminated the route from the small landing pad to the homestead. Riley couldn't help but smile as he broke through the trees and came upon the location where nine-small cabins had been built. Three of the log cabins were occupied by Riley's crew, while another one was Riley's personal home. Riley's goal was to fill the other five homes with people from the ships that were still in route to the new world. 

'They've been busy,' Riley thought happily as he walked down the path between the cabins. The path wasn't a very large one, but it led the way from the warehouses and work sheds to the cabin area that Riley was currently walking through. The path was barely wide enough to fit one wagon down, due to Riley making hand carts for the purpose of toting stuff around the cabins. He didn't want to constantly smell horse dung right outside his bedroom window, so the wagons weren't permitted in the living area. Any work that needed to be done, was required to be done down at the work sheds in order to keep from disturbing the peace of everyone else that was living  in the holding. Riley knew that those working at the mill would be around loud noises all day. Everybody needed a quiet place to get away from it all. 

"You missed dinner, again, Mister Combs," Becca Conley called out as she leaned against one of the wooden columns holding up the roof over her front porch. The overweight woman was Riley's Headwoman and she was worth every copper piece that he paid her. The woman was only twenty-four, but her time under Lady Sutherly was enough to help the woman earn her place amongst the other colonists. 

"I had to take the boys some supplies," Riley replied. "I'll be picking them up in a week, though. I'm sure they'll be excited about that."

Becca laughed cordially. "Enjoy your night, Lord Combs," the woman said with a slight bow. "Breakfast is at eight."

"I'm looking forward to it," Riley grinned before the woman returned to her own cabin with a wave. 

Then, Riley slipped inside his own cabin, grateful to finally be alone for the day. The young man already knew what the next day would have in store for him. Brenth had been very stern about the proposed tour of the Shooting Star Islands. He had even gone as far as suggesting that Zyan and Christian should return from their vacations early, but Riley had managed to convince the colony leader otherwise. Zyan and Christian both needed their time alone. It would be one of their last chances for the year, since Riley doubted that Brenth would go for the idea of letting the boys spend their winter in the valley. 

The man chuckled to himself as he got himself ready to take a shower. 'Zyan will probably convince Jessica that she and Zachary need to spend the winter in the valley. That will be how he gets his winter in the valley,' Riley thought with a grin. 'I'd bet five gold pieces that's how it's going to play out.'

After his shower, Riley changed into a pair of long pants, and slipped into his bed for the night. He had barely hit the pillow when Riley fell into the world of dreams. Except, Riley's dreams were nightmares.

First, Riley found himself standing aboard the bridge of the Ambassador, staring at a bright dot in the distance. He had barely spotted the strange ball of light when he noticed that it had a tail to it. The young man's brow furrowed in confusion before he saw a red light beginning to flash on the console in front of him. Riley glanced down at the monitor to see several words that sent chills down his spine.

"Impact Probability - 100%"

"Holy shit," Riley muttered in disbelief before turning to hit the alert button, only to find that he wasn't on the Ambassador any longer. The young man was suddenly standing in the middle of a snow covered field, the night sky above filled with an ominous green light. Riley turned to see that the light was emanating from an asteroid that was crossing through the upper atmosphere. The ball of fire had just passed beyond a range of mountains when it exploded into a blaze of fury that sent shockwaves racing across the surface of Soltan. 

Riley shot up in bed screaming. His entire body was covered in sweat as he struggled to catch his breath. Outside his open window, Riley could hear the different sounds of the forest surrounding his homestead, and made himself focus on those noises to relax. 

Once he had gotten his breathing under control, Riley slipped out of bed to grab himself a drink of water.

"What the fuck was that?" Riley asked himself as he walked quietly to his kitchen. "Why would I dream about an asteroid?"

The man just shook his head in disbelief before he filled a cup with water and made his way back to his bed. Riley tossed and turned for several hours before he resolved himself to tell Zachary about the dream, as soon as possible. 

-Zachary Brenth - 47 - Landing Compound

Zach stared at the man's scar, vaguely remembering the night that Thorn had acquired it. The two men had been on a top secret mission to collect a sample of a precious gemstone that was the source of a type of energy that would replace the current plasma fuels being used throughout the Association of Colonization and Exploration. Thorn had been attacked by a strange animal that had nearly taken the man's eye when it scratched his face. Now, Thorn was left with a permanent reminder of his own near miss.

"Word has it," Thorn was saying in a bored tone, "your son has quite the following, Lord Brenth."

"Does he, now?" Zach asked with interest. "Do you think it'll be enough for him to take the throne, when the time comes?"

Thorn shrugged. "Maybe," he mumbled.

"What do we do?"

"Continue putting him in charge," Thorn shrugged. "That's what I would do."

"His teachers have been telling me that the other children all look to him as their leader," Brenth added with a proud grin. "I've had several parents tell me the same thing."

"That's a good thing, Brenth," Thorn reminded the man. "It means that your plan may work after all. Where's he at, anyway?"

"Riley took Zyan and Christian to the valley for me," Zachary informed the man with the scar. "The boys wanted to spend a few weeks exploring the caves at the northern end of the valley."

"Good," Thorn replied. "But I think you should start working on your city project while they're gone."

"I've already started," Brenth smiled. "Master Tomlin is currently transferring all of the stone needed for the project to the site this week."

"That's quite an undertaking."


"Do you think he can get it done?"

"As long as Lisa and Cole can keep the gypsies working, yes," Brenth replied. "The entire project is dependent on their cooperation."

"Good luck," Thorn chuckled. "My experiences have never been very positive when it's come to the gypsies."

"Are they that much of a problem?"

"They don't trust outsiders, Brenth," Thorn said with a sigh. "It makes negotiating with them difficult, to say the least."

Brenth nodded as he took note of the man's words. "Have you considered opening a spy organization, yet?"

"I've mulled it over," Thorn shrugged. "It'll be a lot of work."

"Work that you can manage," Brenth told him.

"I'll do it," Thorn said indifferently. "It'll give me something to do while I'm following Adler around."

"Get with Jessica, she'll get you anything you need to get started."

Thorn nodded before he stood from his seat and stretched. "I should get going. There's a couple people that I need to talk to this morning."

"Be safe."

"I always am," the man with the scar replied before he left Brenth's office. "See you in a few weeks when the others get here."

Once Thorn was gone, Zachary pulled out the blueprints for the Diamond Keep that was being built at the future site of Sador City. The man hoped that the castle would be the future home of his son, knowing that it all depended on an election that wouldn't be held for five years. An election that would determine the future of the entire colony. The man sighed before he rolled the plans back up, and tucked them into his desk drawer. Then, he went to find Kyle so he could discuss how the different classes were progressing as the colonists prepared for the arrival of the remaining colony members. Brenth wanted everything to run as efficiently as possible. The only way that was possible, was with careful planning, something that the man had been pushing on his people for the past few weeks. The Landing Council met weekly, without fail, and always planned out the entire week before making a tentative plan for the next week. The group would switch their meetings to daily for the first few days that after the other ships arrived, before going back to weekly for three months after the remainder of the colony arrived. Then, the Landing Council would switch to monthly meetings. Only then, could the council members focus on their personal lives on a permanent basis. Even Brenth's visits to the valley were kept short so he could attend to his duties.

'There's always work to be done,' Brenth thought with a chuckle as he made his way across the Landing Compound.

-Zyan Brenth - 11 - Silver Ridge Valley

Zyan and Christian ran through the damp grass, enjoying the last week of their freedom from their colonial duties. The two boys had spent the prior three weeks setting up their caves in the northern cliffs of the valley. Now, they spent time gathering more supplies to last them through their first winter. Zyan's father, Zachary Brenth, had already started working on his own house and farmstead the prior week, leaving work crews behind to finish up what he had laid out for them. Zyan and Christian made it their duty to keep track of the work crews, making sure they didn't deface the natural curves of the valley.

Then, on their last day in the valley, Zyan and Christian made it their responsibility to make sure everything was locked down against wild animals or anybody that may stumble into the valley. Riley arrived several hours before sunset and the boys were home before the first moon showed its head over the star-filled horizon. Riley radioed Zachary to meet him at the Landing Strip to help him carry the two sleeping boys back to their cabin. As the two men carried the sleeping boys, Zachary and Riley discussed the changes that were underway throughout the colony. Brenth was focused on the rapid expansion of the original colony, afraid that they would piss off the remaining colonists that were coming on the other ships.

"It's happening faster than we wanted it to, Mister Combs," Zachary muttered with a shake of his head. "I'm afraid that we might have to put a stop to the claiming of lands until the remainder of the colony arrives. We're already stretched clear to the Eastern Sea, and that wasn't supposed to happen until the kings took their thrones."

"We could hold a formal meeting at the camp fire to discuss it with everyone," Riley suggested. "Let everybody know that we're spreading our resources too thin."

"I'm just going to have to remind everyone about the current Charter," the older man stated. "The contract states that you're not supposed to claim land before your due time. It's all about maintaining a balance."

"That's why you're the man in charge, Zachary," Riley grinned as he shifted Zyan to his other arm. "These boys are starting to get heavy."

"Yeah, but I'm enjoying the little moments like these, Mister Combs. They're few and far between."

Riley looked over to where Zachary had Christian in his arms, the boy's brown hair nestled against the man's shoulder.

"He's my son, too," Zachary grinned when he noticed Riley was watching him. "I adopted him and Kyle before they joined us at the Base Camp."

"I didn't know that, sir," Riley replied.

"Not many people do, Riley," Brenth admitted. "It's not a secret. We just didn't go around broadcasting the fact that I was adopting the brothers."

"Was it yours or Jessica's idea?"

"Both, actually," Zachary replied. "Don't tell Kyle this, but it was their grandmother that submitted their applications for the Craftsman Program. He thinks it was one of his teachers, but alas, no. It was the feisty old lady that raised those two boys. She swore my ass to secrecy, though. So, if anybody finds out, I'll know it was you," Zach started with a stern look before he broke out into a fit of laughter. "Nah, if they find out, they find out. It's not like we can go back and confront her about it."

Zyan, having awoken when Riley had shifted him around, swore to himself that he wouldn't ever tell Christian about his grandmother's secret. Then, Zyan drifted back to sleep, vaguely aware of being placed in his own bed at some point.