Aisha was still grumbling when they climbed back into their Valkyries.
“That Leilong… question my genius… oh I’ll remember this…”
“Uh Aisha, now that we got the license, do you want to head back to the Gefion?” asked Leon.
Aisha blinked back at him and then shook her head rapidly, as if trying to clear out all the negative thoughts.
“No, not just yet, I want to show you around the islands a little bit first. You ready to go on a Flight Date?” she said, winking at him. Leon was a little taken aback by her sudden flirtatiousness.
“Um, sure, that sounds good. Seems odd to call it a flight date…”
“Oh? What would you call it when a beautiful young woman invites you to go somewhere in a Valkyrie, hmm?” she said with a grin.
“You got me there. You have a strange way with words Miss, er, Aisha,” replied, returning her grin.
“Alright! Let’s go!” she cried happily.
Later, they were flying high above the islands… the ones that were down in the ocean that is. As Aisha had showed him the various landmarks, Leon had asked her about the Hunter Guild and why the SMS needed to get licenses since they were their own organization. Aisha had said that it was largely a matter of who had been there first. SMS was a recent arrival to Ouroboros and in order to generate good will, and therefore work, they had to make nice with the locals.
“You and Leilong don’t seem to get along much though.”
“Oh that? Oh that was nothing! Leilong and I argue about stuff all the time. Leilong’s one of my best friends; she helped me through a… well she’s been an enormous help since we got to this planet.”
“So besides taking on assignments from the Guild, what else does SMS do around here for fun?”
“Currently our main project is studying the ancient ruins all over the planet.”
“What kinds of ruins?”
“The best kind!” Aisha, smiling widely from his monitor, “Protoculture ruins!”
That hit deep for Leon. The Protoculture was the universal term for the ancient Stellar Republic that had existed thousands of years ago. It was their warriors, the Zentradi, whom humanity first encountered when they’d dared to venture out into the stars and through that conflict had learned that humans and zentradi were more connected to the history of the galaxy than they knew. Ever since that time and as humanity expanded out into the galaxy, they searched for signs of where the Protoculture had been.
“Given how extensive the ruins here are, I’d say that this planet was of great importance to the Protoculture once. But since the arrival of the Aura, it’s been harder to get work done, especially with the Gefion running on a skeleton crew.”
“Well since I’m not going anywhere, I might as well help you out on that. I’m no archaeologist though,” replied Leon.
“Really?! You’ll help with my work in the ruins? You’re the best Leon!”
Just then an alert beeped at them from the comm. Leon brought it up and saw that it was Leilong, who was smiling brightly again.
“Hello there you two! I was wondering if you could do me a little favor?”
“Sure Leilong, what is it?” asked Aisha.
“Out at the World Tree, Point Y24, there seems to be a some kind of zentran rebellion!”
“A zentran rebellion? What about?” asked Aisha, clearly surprised.
“That’s what’s strange about it. There’s very little information, just that a zentran is going wild in the caves beneath the tree.”
Aisha seemed lost in thought so Leon replied, “Alright then, Leilong, we’ll check it out.”
“Be careful,” she replied before signing off.
“A zentran rebellion…” murmured Aisha.
“Aisha, something wrong?”
“It’s just that it’s weird. The zentradi on Ouroboros have always been well adjusted, for the most part. I’ve never heard of anything like this before.”
Leon could see that this was bothering her so decided to can some of his usual bravado.
“Well, I’m sure we’ll be able to help, whatever’s wrong,” he said.
“You’re right. Now follow me, it’s time to head to the World Tree!”
A little while later, they arrived at their destination. Leilong and Aisha hadn’t been kidding when they called it the World Tree. An absolutely massive trunk split out into a tangle of roots, like a demented crown, which plunged into the island below, completely covering it. The tree itself rose impossibly high, blossoming out into a glorious bloom of green.
“Wow! Now that is awesome!” exclaimed Leon as they flew towards it.
“Never seen a mile high tree before huh?” said Aisha, with a grin.
“It’s one of Ourboros’s wonders. They named it the World Tree after the old Norse legends of the tree that supported the nine worlds of the universe.”
“Yeah, looks like you could park a whole fleet in the branches up there!” said Leon, which made Aisha laugh at the idea.
They circled around the base of the tree once before Leon spotted the entrance. Aisha confirmed it.
“That’s definitely Ratatoskr Cave down there. Let’s go!”
They swooped in, transforming to battroid as they went as the tunnel was too small for GERWALK. As they descended, the light from the entrance dimmed, causing them to switch on night vision. Suddenly, they saw movement in the shadows, a large figure crouching in the pooled water at a fork in the cave.
“Is there someone there?” Leon asked cautiously, moving his battroid slowly forward.
“I think it might be the zentradi we’re here to look for,” replied Aisha.
The lights from their battroids slowly traced up the water and illuminated the figure; it was indeed a zentran, or male zentradi, and his head whipped around towards them, eyes wild and unfocused.
“Yakk?” he said, “Yakk… de zentran… Gadoras! Gadoras!!”
“Whoa, Leilong was right, he definitely doesn’t seem too friendly!” Leon said. He wasn’t very familiar with Zentradi and consequently with their language. And contrary to the movies, not everyone went around with a Universal Translator in their ear.
“Wait! Before you do anything, let me try talking him down,” said Aisha. She began to speak back to him in the Zentran language.
“De deburan! Merukesu Meltran! Fol deskeslaas?”
“Meltran?! Miclone deburan! Gadoras!”
With that the angry zentran leapt up from where he’d been crouching and took a wild swing at Aisha’s pink and white battroid.
“I don’t think he’s listening!” cried Leon as he swung is gunpod around to crack the zentran on the back of the skull. He seemed to sense the movement because he ducked, spun around and came after Leon.
“Try not to hurt him! I don’t think he’s in his right mind!” said Aisha.
“Gotcha! Alright old man, let’s dance!” cried Leon enthusiastically. Unfortunately in his enthusiasm to fight, he forgot how slow this Phoenix battroid was compared with what he was used to. The zentran managed to get in behind him and put his battroid in a chokehold. Then Aisha leapt onto him and managed to drag the crazed zentran off of Leon. The zentran began to thrash wildly, screaming curses in zentradi. Leon, eager to make up for his misstep, brought his battroid around, cocked back the fist and clocked the zentran with a solid right cross, knocking his head back against Aisha’s battroid. If the zentran had been another kind of lifeform, the blow probably would have killed him. Zentradi in their natural giant form are made tough though; some can even survive for short periods in hard vacuum.
“Whew! Well that didn’t go as badly as it could have,” remarked Leon, the fist of his battroid shaking back and forth, as if to alleviate the pain of the blow.
“Are you alright Leon?” asked Aisha.
“I do wonder; that guy was seriously trying to rip my battroid apart.”
“He might be a stray zentradi that haven’t encountered culture before. That might explain the violence and the unwillingness to speak an Earth language.”
“You think so? He isn’t dressed like a soldier,” remarked Leon. Indeed, the zentran was dressed in a simple jumpsuit.
“Ohhh… my head…” he groaned, in English this time.
“Oy, old guy, we’re members of the Hunter Guild who were asked to come check out the disturbance you’ve been causing down here. What’s your deal?” demanded Leon.
“Very subtle, Leon,” said Aisha, frowning.
“Eh? Hunters? You mean… me? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the zentran said, groaning as he leaned against the wall.
“Just try to relax and tell us what you were doing down here at all,” said Aisha.
“I can’t really recall,” muttered the zentran, “not what I’m doing here I mean. I do remember that I was in the ruins with an excavation team.”
“The ruins? I thought so!” said Aisha excitedly.
“Yes, we were working with that NUNS taskforce Hava-whatsit, and then… everything else is a blank. Someone in a Valkyrie might have been chasing me but it’s all too fuzzy…”
“Could the ruins really have done this? Very interesting,” said Aisha, who seemed to be speaking more to herself than Leon and the zentran.
“What do you mean the ruins might have something to do with this?” asked Leon, who was feeling very in the dark.
“We’ll find out, I plan on it!” replied Aisha, “In the meantime, let’s get this guy to the Guild and out of this dank hole.”
“Sure thing, though they better give us a good grade for this!” Leon said lightheartedly.
“Follow us to the Hunter Guild in Daoren,” said Aisha to the zentran, “They’ll be able to help you there.”
“Sure. Sorry about all this,” said the zentran.
“No problem,” replied Leon, although he secretly wondered how much Gerrol was going to yell at him back on the Gefion for what had happened to the VF-0.
Later, once they had flown the zentran, GERWALK-style, back to Daoren and landed back aboard the Gefion, they reported in to Leilong.
“So we’re not sure what happened or what exactly caused that poor guy to go wild,” said Aisha.
“I understand. In any case, the mission is complete and we’ll transfer the reward to SMS’s bank. Good job, especially to you Leon!”
“Yes, it does feel good to get paid, I have to admit,” Leon replied cheekily, leaning back in his chair, his feet resting on the console. Aisha swatted at his shoes to let him know they were unwelcome there.
“Oh it’s good to get paid huh? Here you have a beautiful young lady to fly around and show the sights of Ouroboros and all the excitement that resulted and that’s all you can think about? Maybe I should pay you your cut in pineapple salad, hmm?”
“Oy oy, Aisha don’t joke about that stuff,” Leon, sitting up in his chair with a worried look on his face.
“I might just if you don’t get down to the hangar and help Gerrol and his crew; they’re short-handed as it is. Get!”
Leon, not wanting to invoke the curse of the pineapple salad, beat a hasty retreat off the bridge.
“If you treat boys like that, they’ll think you’re stuck up and won’t date you, Aisha. Well, see you later” said Leilong, signing off before Aisha could make a retort.
Aisha scowled; she’d get Leilong back of course but she had much weightier matters on her mind. The NUNS taskforce that the zentran had mentioned had to be the one that had taken up residence on Ouroboros shortly before Leon had arrived and the Aura began. What could their interest be in the ruins? She wasn’t sure but she had a bad feeling about this.