Hera - By Chrystalla Thoma

Chapter One

The sky stretching over the urban sprawl of Artemisia was a blazing blue, the day bright and windy, just perfect for a first coast patrol. Hera wondered what the town looked like from up close. When they’d arrived in the early dawn, flown in by helicopter, she had only caught a brief glimpse of it, a web of tall buildings and dark streets. The military Gultur complex where they had landed was located at the outskirts, protected with high walls and fences.

She stepped onto the hard nepheline deck of the wavebreaker, her black boots rasping on the rough surface, and climbed down into the co-driver’s seat. Absently she pulled on her safety belt, then reached to her hip and checked if the safety catch of her longgun was on.

Footsteps rang on the deck, and a moment later Sacmis climbed in beside her, grinning. “Ready?”

Hera grunted a vague reply. Of course she was ready; they’d trained for patrolling for most of the past year. If only she could concentrate on the task at hand and not on that other matter...

The engine of the wavebreaker, an old speedboat model launched at least ten years back, rumbled into life and Sacmis mumbled a quiet, “Here we go.”

Hera looked back at the town as they sped out of the port and saw nothing but faint lights flickering. Then those, too, faded as they circumvented a cape and raced alongside sheer cliffs, slicing smoothly through the waves toward the north.

Sacmis drove, her sandy hair pulled back in a neat ponytail in the standard military style, long strands whipping in the wind, her expression distant but determined.

Hera just stared at her, fingering her own non-standard hairdo – a thick braid wrapped around her head like a ribbon – her mind not quite on the task of patrolling.

Which was unexpected, ill-timed and annoying, given it was her first official unsupervised patrol as a member of the elite Gultur force, granted the privilege and power to make decisions.

But finding an old message from her mother the previous night had also been unexpected and ill-timed – a message Hera had discovered hidden inside an old scripture book at the bottom of a drawer in her room.

Hidden. Or just forgotten. Meant for Hera. Or not. Her mother, Tefnut, wherever she was currently posted, probably did not even remember her daughter anymore.

Then who was it written for? The message spoke of things best left unsaid – the War, the lesser mortals, the future. It fanned embers of doubt that had burned in Hera’s mind for some time now. ‘The mortals did not start the Great War.’ The words floated before her eyes. ‘They suffered like we did, if not more.’

That was blasphemy and would land her mother in jail if it became known. Of course, that was only if Tefnut still lived, something Hera would probably never know. Mothers were not allowed to see their daughters after these entered the service at the age of four. Twelve years had passed already.

Hera had hesitated, about to burn the piece of parchment, wondering why she wanted to save a mother she could barely remember. All she recalled was a feather-light touch on her brow, a soft voice singing in her ear. A lullaby, soft musical notes and a warm breath caressing her neck.

She raised a hand to touch the spot and shook her head. Maybe that had not been the reason she’d kept the message. What if... What if there was some truth in those words? Tefnut’s words had sounded like those of an insurgent. A rebel. A member of the resistance. Maybe even of the Undercurrent group, the oldest name linked with the rebels.

Hera shook herself and took in the landscape they sped through. Stop making up stories in your mind. There had to be a perfectly good and innocuous explanation for that message.


On the far right, the islands of Kukno and Torq formed dark masses shrouded in fog, mountains and glittering towns visible in places. The wavebreaker bumped on the choppy sea and Hera patted her safety belt, finally releasing it, feeling suffocated. It was but a small act of defiance to the regulations, and it made her feel better and worse at the same time.

Outside, the gray cliffs of Dakru rose vertically, hemmed with the white of crashing waves and foam. A fine, salty mist fuzzed the air. The wind whistled through cracks, and seabirds cawed and circled over their nests, high up on the rocky summits. Pelicans rose from