Wars have happened throughout human history. They're usually the result of one country invading another - much as is happening in Europe at the moment. Russia has invaded Ukraine and the Ukrainians are resisting. But sometimes wars can start over silly things.
Hans Island is in the middle of the Kennedy Channel between Greenland and Ellesmere Island, which means it's between Canada and Denmark (which owns Greenland). Those two countries couldn't come to an agreement about this bare slab of rock and they've been at 'war' about it ever since. Periodically, the Canadians leave a bottle of whisky on the island, and the Danes replace it with a bottle of schnapps. It's all very polite and actually quite funny.
But that's because the Canadians are unfailingly polite and the Danes have a sense of humour. If either country wanted an excuse for war, then Hans Island could well be a candidate.
It's that sort of situation at the heart of Crisis at Validor. The planet has two continents, with Humans living on Nestor and the Ptorix living on Dhnizan. Between the two continents lies a chain of volcanic islands which is home to the Berzhani, a species endemic to Validor. Neither the Ptorix nor the Humans own Berzhan Island but some Ptorix live there, supporting a temple to the Berzhani. The creatures themselves just want to be left alone.
All you need to break that fragile neutrality is politics.
Newly-promoted Captain Brett Butcher is about to achieve his life-long ambition to command a battle cruiser. But before he takes up his new posting, he goes home on leave, hoping to perhaps catch a glimpse of his first love, the unattainable Lady Tarlyn.
When the queen is assassinated in a terrorist attack, Tarlyn’s life is thrown into turmoil when she, too, becomes a target. The last person she expects to rescue her is her childhood sweetheart, Brett Butcher.
As Validor’s Ptorix and human populations face off over a group of islands neither owns, the calls for war grow louder. Torn between duty and ambition, Butcher and Tarlyn struggle to prevent an inter-species conflict, while the ember of love that has smouldered for so long bursts into flame. But with planetary peace at stake, both will be forced to choose; love or duty.
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Butcher meets the berzhan
The base of the wall seemed to shift and transform, taking on a different pattern, drawing back from the rock. A column rose up in front of the high priestess. A column with glowing red eyes.
Butcher' legs turned to jelly. The breath caught in his throat. The bloody thing was huge, as thick as his own body and he couldn't see the end of its tail. The great tapered head hung above the khiphra like a portent of doom. Just at the edge of hearing Butcher recognized a tune. She was singing to the damn thing.
Oh, suns and stars, the creature answered her. The tone was low enough for his translator to intercept the sounds, but the words were meaningless.
The berzhan's head turned. The faceted eyes faced forward, and that alien gaze, cold as starlight, fixed on him. Butcher was sure his heart would burst out of his chest. But it turned away, swaying its body to reach Lurmask and the two children.
Tarlyn grabbed his arm, digging in her nails. "Don't interfere. The children are safe. She won't hurt them."
"Yes. The matriarch. U'long Mar. She's the living representation of the great sky dragon." Butcher knew about that one. It was what the Ptorix called the galactic lens, as visible from Validor. Superstitious nonsense it might be, but the berzhan in this cave was real enough.
The berzhan's head hovered over Lena and the three Ptorix. Lena smiled, gazing up at the beast.
"You've seen this… this creature before?"
Tarlyn's throat rippled. "No. But I know about her."
Butcher prised Tarlyn's hand off his arm, felt the tremor. "You're nervous."
She managed half a chuckle. "Yes. But not really. I trust the khiphra."
Good for her. Butcher had learned not to trust anybody too much. But he held her hand in his, aware of how comfortably their fingers intertwined. They exchanged a smile.
The berzhan was gone.
But where? Where in this room could it be?
The creature materialized in front of him, a column of interlocking armor topped by that dreadful head. Short legs ending in three talons supported the body. He jerked Tarlyn's arm, forcing her behind him, his eyes locked onto the berzhan's icy stare.
"You have no need to fear."
Stars in space, the thing spoke Standard. Tarlyn pushed back to stand beside him. "I am… we are… honored."
The great jaws parted slightly, revealing rows of teeth. "Honor. I think not. You fear me."
How did it form the words? Not out of that mouth. But something that articulated sounds, or copied them. Not that it mattered. "I fear anything that could eat me," Butcher said.
The head dropped a little lower, the jaws parted. That smell Butcher hadn't been able to define wafted around him. "I could." The head rose. "But I will not. I prefer fish."