Irfan Levy

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Irfan stepped into the Excalibur's shuttle bay. It was a vast, mostly empty rectangular space that ran along the bottom of the Exaclibur, spanning most of the length of the ship. The far side opposite the entrance opened directly into a view of stars -only an invisible energy field separated the inside of the bay from the coldness of space. There were four shuttles, two scout ships, and one light combat fighter positioned around the room. Just beyond the upper lip of the bay, Irfan could make out the shape of the Avalon in the distance. Two crew members chatted near a maintenance terminal. Levy walked towards them.

"Hello!"

"Sir." The shuttle attendants broke off their conversation and faced Irfan.

"Would one of you be available to take me over to the Avalon?"

"Absolutely. I assume you're authorized?"

"Yes -pursuant to my active orders."

"Uhh... Okay." He leaned to type into a nearby console, "Well, what's the purpose of the shuttle -for the log."

"Just put: 'meeting with expert on Avalon pursuant to orders from Captain Barron.'"

"Okay," he tapped in the requisition order. "Right this way," he motioned for Levy to follow, walking towards a shuttle. As they walked, the other worker left in the opposite direction with a cursory wave.

"They know you're coming?" Irfan's escort looked over his shoulder as they made their way to the shuttle.

"Yes. It's been arranged."

It was a long walk across the bay. Irfan was lost in thought, looking forward to his meeting with experts in the field of magic -mana dynamics, as they called the academic discipline. Researchers from the Alliance were far ahead of the Federation in their understanding of magic. The isolationist policies of the Federation had virtually guaranteed that they would fall behind. Irfan counted himself lucky that they supported the Viziers at all. After all, their skills were passed to them from outsiders.

The shuttle door slid open with a hiss. Irfan entered, pulling up his robe to avoid tripping over the edge as he stepped in. He sat in the small compartment on one of two benches running along the sides, and the door hissed closed behind him. The pilot entered through a separate door. The cockpit was not visible to Irfan. A series of clicks, whirs, and hums preceded the eventual lift-off. Irfan felt a tingle through his body -they had just passed through the energy field and out of the Excalibur. Switching on the viewscreen, which acted as virtual windows, Irfan could see the surrounding stars. The Excalibur shrank in the distance as they approached the Avalon up ahead. Far off to the side, Irfan could see the massive Delta Gate -an Alliance facility used to send ships across one of the more powerful wormholes in the known galaxy. It would be the first major jump in their journey to Clarion, taking them beyond the edge of their native galaxy to the Apex -an intergalactic crossroads on the way Caldwell 57, nearly a million light years away. The Delta Gate was surrounded by a constellation of Alliance vessels. Irfan gazed absent-mindedly at the fleet of ships in the distance. Before he knew it, the shuttle was touching down onboard the Avalon.

The door hissed open. A familiar figure stood near the shuttle door, looking towards him. Irfan had met him only hours earlier -Seaton Gemini, head of mana dynamics research on the Avalon. Seaton was an older, silver haired man with a sturdy frame, who walked with a wooden cane.

"Welcome to the Avalon," Seaton extended his arm.

"Thank-you," Irfan said, almost stumbling out of the shuttle to shake Seaton's hand. "It's good to meet you in person."

"Shall we head to the testing area?"

"Yes, please."

The two began walking together, Seaton only a half step ahead. They made their way out of the bay and into a long, twisting hallway.

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