Dangerous Solutions (Archeons, book 3)
Book three of the Archeon series: Separated from their foxes, two raptors travel to different worlds to find survivors from the disasters that have been destroying planets. Meanwhile, their foxes are trying to comprehend what lies outside the universe, which makes them capable of destroying it.
Deka and Kylac watched their homeworld destroyed for a second time, and now Friend has abducted Kylac. Without their raptors, Kylac and Friend are sure to revert to their animal ways.
Friend has a plan for that. He is forcing Kylac to perceive the mysterious space beyond the universe. It works, but as their perception of reality grows, they become capable of destroying the universe to satisfy their animal nature.
Meanwhile, Deka and Rive travel to the last planets suffering from the disasters to gather survivors from Rel. Deka understands what happened to his mate. She's out there, beyond the universe, and there is still a chance she can come back.
Relians need a new homeworld. Humanity needs a companion species.
Who better to bring them together than a dragon?
Available at B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dangerous-solutions-james-l-steele/1134831868
Amazon version: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732282420/
From KTM Publishing.
Editing by Renee Carter Hall
Cover art by Hyprknetc
Nameless Volcanic World
The spacetime orb opened high in the troposphere, just below the volcanic plume. A giant flying reptile covered in dull yellow scales fading to black around his belly leaped through the opening, panicked at the lack of solid ground, and plummeted four hundred paces down toward the ash-covered surface. He tumbled head over tail, screaming in thirty different languages.
At last Norh remembered he had wings. As he flapped them violently, his body righted itself, his descent slowed, and with each stroke of his wings he rose two whole body-lengths up. Just below the clouds he stopped and hovered in place, turning to scan the landscape below.
Volcanoes were sprinkled about as far as Norh could see, most of them spewing toxic gasses. One in the distance seemed to be giving off a constant pyroclastic flow, engulfing so much of the land in boiling hot smoke and ash that Norh couldn’t see beyond the cloud resting on the ground.
The angry mountain peaks stretched to the horizon, and Norh remembered they covered most of the planet. They didn’t seem to be arranged in any particular pattern, not in a long line of mountains or in a ring around a tectonic plate. The entire world was just covered in them like warts. Norh remembered the crust of this world was thin, allowing the entire planet to heat up and magma to bubble up everywhere.
The frequent rain cleansed the atmosphere and kept it breathable. Otherwise this planet would be a toxic waste dump, just like Norh’s garage when he was a kid, and his father bought a puppy but didn’t housebreak it, so it shat all over the garage, and after a month without cleaning it up it was the nastiest place Norh could remember.
Norh tucked in his wings and flew over the mountain ranges, scanning the ground as he soared. Pockets of habitable areas existed in some of the valleys between the peaks, regions where lava flow occurred less frequently and life had a chance to take root. Norh was searching for one particular valley. He had no scent to guide him, so he used his eyes.
The mountain peaks didn’t line up as Norh remembered. Nothing seemed familiar, and as Norh realized this he streamlined his body and flew faster and faster, scanning the ground as if he were mowing the lawn, back and forth, back and forth in straight lines.
“Where are they?” he roared in English. “The mountains moved. That’s gotta be it. The mountains moved. I’m sure I opened the way directly over them—my calculations can’t be off. No. No, the people must have moved to a different valley—but no, no, that’s not right either. It’s the only valley in sixty miles they can live in. The only life forms on this planet, and the only place they can live is that tiny valley. An entire ecosystem tucked between mountains of lava—”
Norh’s mind kept wandering aloud as he mowed the air in hundred-mile-long strokes. His course took him through several plumes of ash and smoke, but he barely noticed. His scales insulated him from the intense heat, and he closed his eyes and relied on his Archeon senses to keep his course straight.
“—these poor people. Their bodies are so adapted to the heat and poison and the ash they can’t live without it. Take them anywhere else, and they’ll freeze to death. Horrible luck—not their fault, and it dooms them to live in this hell. How can God exist when things like this are happening all over the universe and nobody knows about it? I’m the only person alive who knows these people exist! But wait—wait—”
Norh did a Max Headroom double-take, shaking his wings, laughing at an imitation nobody was around to see.
“How did I find this planet in the first place? Oh, it’s been so long I’ve forgotten all the years I spent on Kronia, thinking about the stars, watching them wobble, searching for the pattern of an unknown planet orbiting them. Yes. Yes, it took years to find them, but I did! I miss those days...”
Norh relaxed his rigid course and did a barrel roll. Suddenly he realized while performing a barrel roll, he could not be harmed, and now he flew in a straight line, imagining fighter jets and alien spacecraft shooting pixelated lasers at him. Norh flipped, dodged, and fired his own imaginary lasers back, adding his own sound effects. He launched a few nova bombs and cleared the screen, banking side to side in a lazy victory dance.
“Damn, Alex, that game is so much fun,” Norh said. “I wish your mom would let you play it more. Hell, I wish she’d let me play it more. She doesn’t want me to play it without you because you have homework and it’d be too distracting for me to play it while you’re trying to work.”
He flew into another cloud of poison gas and ash. Norh twirled around in it, shaping the clouds, blowing them backwards as he laughed, and then dove straight into the caldera.
As he hovered above the churning lava, Norh brought his hands up to his earholes, stuck his thumbs in them, and waved his hands at the lava. “Nah, nah, you can’t hurt me!” He tried to give it a raspberry, but his lips didn’t seem to move that way anymore.
The volcano spat a few chunks that splattered on Norh’s underside.
“Is that all you got? As long as I’m here, you won’t hurt these people!”
The lava pool bubbled and spat at him. Norh snorted and let himself drop in, submerging all the way. His eyes closed, and the lava wrapped him in a warm blanket. He spread his arms and legs and floated between the surface and the bottomless column of molten rock. When he was sure the elements had heard him, he righted himself, climbed up, and flew out of the lake and straight into the atmosphere, leaving a trail of lava behind him.
He did loops in the air, rolling and spinning. He’d forgotten how good it felt to fly, and he didn’t want to waste a moment of it. He never wanted to take it for granted again, and he twisted and rolled every way he could.
Clouds of smoke and ash blew by. Norh huffed at them, flapped his wings, and pushed the smoke back where it came from, leaving his playground clear. He righted himself and soared over the deadly landscape, humming a tune he couldn’t quite remember, but the word “Orabidoo” came to mind, and he flapped gently with the pace of the melody.
“Why haven’t I bought one myself?” Norh said, thinking about the game again. “I can afford it, so why don’t I have one?”
Suddenly he remembered where he was, and why. He flipped over and sped back the way he had come, chasing the magnetic field until it reached the right intensity. He had forgotten he could sense the planet’s magnetism, and he remembered exactly how it felt over the habitable valley, and now he laughed at himself for wasting so many hours trying to find it by sight.
By this time he had flown halfway around the planet, but his new sense took him directly where he needed to be.
The daytime star had set on this side of the world, but the ground was alight in lava. Norh noticed a lava flow coming from one of the mountains, and his sense of the planet’s magnetic field locked in place and told him he was in the right area.
He brought his wings to his flanks and dove straight for it. He thought of the valley, of the villages, of the people inside it—people who had lived in this valley for a thousand years, intelligent but not quite self-aware.
And they were lonely. On a previous visit, Norh had scoured the planet for another sentient life form, hoping this would not become a lone species after all, but there was nothing alive on the world except for the people here in this one particular valley.
The lava flowed like ranch dressing. Norh would have preferred honey, or syrup—not flavored corn syrup, but real tree sap—that was the best. Norh craved pancakes. He promised to make some when he returned home, after he took care of this.
He hit the ground hard, aligned parallel to the flow, claws dug in. The flood of red-hot liquid smashed into him, but the Krone held his ground and pushed back. The lava yielded and pooled against him. He wanted to push the lava back up the mountainside, but it was too hot and thin to work.
“As soon as this is over,” he shouted in a language he didn’t know he knew, “I’m finding you a new valley! There has to be another one! There has to be some other place you can live on this world that isn’t on fire!”
Even as he said it, he knew it was an empty promise. These people had to live in volcanic regions. Their bodies did not produce any heat of their own, and their skin was so thick and lungs so well-adapted that they were physically incapable of living anywhere without the searing heat and poison gasses.
The lava began to cool. When the weight of the molten rock became too much for him to hold, he began walking sideways down the mountain, and the lava moved down the slope with him, spreading out, cooling faster. Norh spread his wings and fanned it. The surface began to harden, and Norh kept walking, encouraging the liquid rock underneath to flow out.
Eventually, the flow finally stopped. He had tamed it. Norh turned around, expecting people to run up and thank him, but no one was there. Norh scented the air. He walked away from the basalt road he had just paved and into the valley where the village should be.
The entire valley was covered in fresh, volcanic rock. No scents anywhere. Norh was sure this valley was protected from all but the rarest lava flows, but it appeared this place had been covered many times. He realized his elevation was about six paces higher than he expected.
This valley had been full of life. Plants, animals, people—all coexisting here, surrounded by death and poison yet touched by none of it. Norh remembered it so clearly it didn’t seem possible he was in the same place.
He wandered the valley, searching for a remnant of civilization, but the lava had destroyed all of it. His sense of magnetism confirmed the location, though his eyes still didn’t believe it. He turned his head and neck up. The mountain peaks lined up with his memory now. A few new peaks had appeared since his last visit, which puzzled him.
Suddenly memories slammed back into his mind, and Norh dropped to his stomach, shuddering and wishing he had an aspirin, while also knowing aspirin would not affect his body anymore.
These people... Even with death and destruction surrounding them, they had still found a reason to fight amongst themselves. They were carnivores, and they ate the other animals that fed off the plants, so they began to fight over the hunting grounds. The valley itself was only three hundred square miles from end to end, and so narrow one could walk from one side to the other in just an hour.
Norh had thought they would learn to cooperate, but they never had. They’d just kept fighting. Norh had taken several of the most aggressive ones to the air with him, showing them how he saw the world, but it hadn’t helped them gain any new perspective. All they cared about was their territory.
“Why didn’t they see it?” Norh’s wings unfolded over the ground. “Why did they keep fighting—why didn’t they cooperate? If only I could have moved them somewhere else!”
Norh tried to cry, but he couldn’t remember how. Wings hanging low did not seem to do justice to what had happened here, so he held his mouth open and gasped, trying to mourn them properly.
“Moving them wouldn’t have mattered. They still would have fought. If only they saw the planet like I did. All those years... I’m so sorry.”
Behind him, the volcanic flow resumed and began covering the valley in a new layer of rock.