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Katie Mah tapped out the combination on her temperature controlled locker then placed her thumb on the biometric scanner. The door popped open. She swapped things needed for the last two classes of the day before grabbing the lunch pouch.  She turned around to look at the quad from outside the science building. It was a Friday, which meant there wasn't any sort of on-campus club meeting she needed to go to, so she went to her usual spot. It was a low concrete wall across the quad in front of the Arts and PE building where her friends started to gather.
The wall surrounded a big old tree giving shade under the hot winter sun of Southern California. The smell of ashes wafted in the air. She ate her sandwich and shared snacks while listening to her friends talk about plans to go somewhere fun, to parties, or hang out with their boyfriends. Instead of talking, she just doodled things like centaurs, dragons and mermaids in her sketchbook.
She never told anyone about Alpha Centauri. Who would believe her?  Nothing else about her was all that important or exciting to tell others. She was average academically and so were her friends. Some were friend of a friend she did not share any classes with but joined the group anyway. Some of them didn’t feel comfortable in any of the other peer groups so they joined hers. Everyone was just nice to each other and everyone went off to do their own thing once the second lunch bell rang.
After school, she was dropped off at the local hospital to do community service hours she signed up for on Monday. She already clocked enough hours to graduate but she needed to do more to look good on her college applications. She didn’t mind it but things like this got in the way of hanging out with her friends or even getting a boyfriend.  It has been like this ever since she came back from Alpha Centauri. Five years had passed, she doubt she would ever see any of them again but she held out hope all the same.
Katie sat on the ground in an empty basement classroom prepping bundles for an upcoming event. The fluorescent lightbulbs flickered but she didn't notice at first. She was daydreaming and thinking about the SAT test prep class tomorrow and Chinese school on Sunday.  Even when the room went dark she was not worried. It must be a power outage from all the air conditioning units running. It was a very hot winter in Southern California. With all the vegetation burning, everyone was staying inside. The backup generators should be up and running anytime soon. Then she saw colorful ethereal lights shining through the small windows of the double doors to her room.
Strange time to start having a dance party.
She got up to open the door to ask the hospital staff outside to turn the lights back on.  Standing in-between the elevators, stairwell, and her was a portal opening up.
“Holy smokes! What could this be? “ she said out loud. Her mind raced thinking of all the horrible things that could be coming after her and finish the job of wiping out all of planet Earth.
Two centaurs in soldier spacesuits came through the portal with a futuristic rifles pointed and ready to fire. Katie raised her arms showing she was unarmed. “What's going on? What are you doing here?”
The centaurs withdrew their weapons before moving to take off their helmets.  “We’ve come to find you!” said a female palomino removing her helmet first.
The two of them squealed and hugged.
“Don’t forget me!!!” smiled a now grown-up female  painted centaur.
”Petal!!! You’ve grown up!”  
The three girls squealed and hugged as best friends do after not seeing each other for a long time.
“I’ve missed you all!”
“I had always hoped to see you again!”
It was the familiar yet deeper sound of Baku’s voice.
“Baku?!” she said barely able to see his face with the light of the portal behind him.
The portal closed and the fluorescent lights in the basement came back on. It was him, but larger, with stress lines, cuts, bruises, scars, and burned off fur framing his hollowed eyes. She was sad to see what he had become. They hugged each other as hard as they could as if trying to squeeze the air out of each other.
“What happened to you all?” said Katie seeing the equally disheveled state of the others as the two hugged, both afraid the other would vanish again.
“We are at war with the dragons.” said Batya.
“We did our best to hold down the peace with the friendship you helped us establish with them.” said Petal.
“Is Zeba ok?”
“She’s fine. She is herd leader now.” said Batya
“How did you get here?”
“This portal is on Proxima Centauri, the dragon planet. We fought our way to get a hold of it.” said Petal, “you know Zan, right?
“He’s a clan leader now. You know him better than any of us. He liked you, he may still like you and hear you out. We need you to talk to him to negotiate peace so that we can stop all this fighting,” said Batya.
“Ok, I can come with you. This planet is trashed anyway. Let me grab my stuff.” said Katie as she ran back to the classroom to gather her belongings, a backpack full of the latest technologies she could get her hands on.  Helmets on, Batya and Petal walked into the portal while Baku held it open with the arm device.  He tilted his head gesturing she should go next. With a deep breath in, Katie stepped inside.
Ok, chapter 1 first draft is done... on to chapter 2.
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:icondiana-huang: More from Diana-Huang

Intrepids ch. 14 Archery LessonsPetal still followed her around up on the grass as if she had nothing better to do. Batya chased her to give her cuddles and big wet kisses on her reluctant face. Baku teased and pulled pranks to cheer her up whenever he saw her. At first, the attention of others was welcomed. She knew they cared but lately, everyone started to get on her nerves. She spent more and more time in her room trying to avoid everyone. People knocked on her door inviting her to the fun things they had planned. Katie was only in the 6th grade still. She could feel the limitations of her education while trying to understand more complex things. The computer tablet hid this up to a point and she was worried it was a matter of time before her own ability to understand things failed her and had nothing left to offer the herd. She went to find Zeba, but she was always too busy to talk to her as defense stations along the edges of Altiplano and around the sinkhole were being constructed. One evening as Katie quietly ate dinner, Eta was busy playing with her tablet when it started to ping and buzz. “What is this?” said Eta holding up the tablet with an alert notification button on the screen. “Tap it.” said Katie trying to recall what it could be. An explosion of colorful flashy animation played across the screen to the song of “Happy Birthday”. Katie turned red with embarrassment as if she was in a restaurant with waiters singing to her. “It’s your birthday?” exclaimed Batya along with others in the room. Petal jumped up and down clapping her hands in delight. “I guess so. A year on Alpha Centauri is longer than Earth.” said Katie shrugging to not making a big deal of it. “It matters! Your world went around your star eleven times, right? So, Happy Birthday!” said Batya giving her a hug and big fat smooch on her cheek before dashing off into the kitchen. “Birthdays are a big deal here because its harder to survive. Here, eleven is old enough to do many things now,” said Baku. “Like what?” “Like train to be a fighter!” said Eta “That too, childhood is over for you.” said Baku “What do you mean?” Baku was hesitant to say anything more. “What does he mean?” asked Katie looking around the room. Nobody said anything but simply laughed, and wished her well. Batya returned from the kitchen with others bearing a tray loaded with special treats and small gifts reserved for festivities making her forget her question. Musicians in the herd brought in their instruments and tables were pushed aside to make room for a dance floor. The youngest centaurs bounced around kicking and twisting midair circling the floor. Older centaurs like Baku and Batya made choreographed moves in the middle. They used all four legs and arms, creating interesting forms and rhythmic drumbeats with their hooves. Petal pulled Katie onto the dance floor to join her. Katie danced the way she learned from school parties and other people’s birthday parties. It was then she hip bumped Petal at her withers. Petal giggled and bumped back. The others laughed and wither bumped each other too. Everyone, including Baku, took turns hip bumping and dancing with her. Everyone went to sleep tired but happy that night. The next evening, as Katie worked alone in the library, Zeba came in and placed a bundle on the table. Katie untied the string and spread open the cloth. It was a bow just like Zeba’s. It was shaped to like two kangalope horns joined together made of wood and bone. A set of fifteen arrows in a leather quiver was set in its center. Everything was sized to fit her small body. Katie's face beamed with delight. Jumping up and down she hugged the archery set and then Zeba. “Come with me. It is time for proper training!” Zeba led her to a chamber set aside for archery practice. On the rock wall and formations jutting up from the ground were targets. Some of them were ordinary objects like damaged pottery and sacks of dried grass made to look like various animals. Katie noticed various sized holes and scorch marks on them. Adult centaurs trained to use the newly developed weapons in there. Zeba pulled out her own archery set. “Stand like this. Hold arrow and string with fingertips like this. Raise arms, pull back until the hand is next to your face. Line the arrow up to your eyes as they look at the target. Since there is no wind, aim a little above the target, the arrow will arc down because of what you call gravity. Release.” Zeba’s arrow hit the target’s center with incredible force. The sound echoed in the silent chamber. Katie did the same thing but missed with a clack of wood on stone. “That was very close! Try again. Again. That was better. Again. You did it! Great job! Ran out? Use up mine, keep going!” coached Zeba. They gathered up all the arrows so Katie could try again. She practiced until arms ached and fingertips raw from the thick rough string. The target bristled with arrows all over with a handful at the center. “The skin will grow thicker and harder, it won’t hurt at all. Spend as much time as you can in here,” assured Zeba as they gathered the arrows strewn around the chamber. The next day, after an early breakfast with Zeba, Katie walked with her to the top. A group of fifty adult centaurs loaded with provisions and equipped with new weaponry and armor stood around waiting for Zeba. “When this is over, I will help you get home. I promise. Practice, get better, and defend our home, okay?” said Zeba. “OK!” replied Katie as one by one the centaurs follow Zeba down and out of view. Katie went to the empty archery room to practice. She was determined to get better and shooting something relieved her pent up anger and stress. After a handful of lousy warm-up shots, she started to get the hang of it again. “I thought you left with the others.” She recognized Baku’s voice and tried to ignore him as the next shot was prepared. It missed. He grabbed a simple stick bow set from storage landing perfect shot after perfect shot at the different targets in the chamber as he clip-clopped up next to her. “Don’t worry. I’ll protect you,” he said in jest. Did he just call her weak and useless? Was that a challenge? She would show him! Her blood pressure went up making her more focused and determined as she aimed. The last three arrows hit her target. Keeping her mouth shut she as she gathered her arrows from all over the chamber. “I do not need your help.” stated Katie flatly holding back the urge to snap at him. “I don’t mind.” “I need to go now,” said Katie politely while taking the bundle he held up to her and retreated. Baku learned from the adults that Katie held a lot of pent up thoughts and feelings from things unknown to them. Others told him not to take it personally. His desire to support her came from a genuine affection that Katie was unable to see or feel....
Intrepids ch. 13 AdaptationAsking around Katie learned Zeba was in one of the magician's workshops. They told her how to get there. Taking a mental note she wandered through the upper-level tunnels. Many of the doors were locked with signs warning of dangerous things inside. After a while she became disoriented. Shasta came out of one of the doors and stood there. “I was coming to get you,” he said. “Hello! Can you tell me where Zeba is?” Shasta turned around and did something to open the door. He went inside but kept the door open. Katie followed him inside and examined the door mechanism as she closed it. The magicians looked up from their workstations and were delighted to see her. Some had visited her in the library before. “She’s looking for Zeba,” announced Shasta. “Hello Katie, I’m Maya. Nice to have you come down to visit us! Let me show you around!” said a light grey centaur guiding her past tables with drawings, doodles, scribblings of math, physics and chemistry formulas on stacks of open books. They were too advanced for Katie to understand. Large colored drawings of flying machine designs draped from the walls of one chamber. Glider wings and harnesses hung from the ceiling of it. Air and water tight material was being sewn together to cover the wooden frames next to it. A large painting showed plans to build an airplane elevator and ramp leading up to a runway. The design reminded Katie of an aircraft carrier she visited while docked for repairs at a local naval base. She was stunned by the centaur's ambition and speed. Finally, they found Zeba testing out newly finished pieces of weapons and armor in a different chamber. “ZEBA! I know how I got here!” “What?” replied Zeba and Maya in unison. “I know how to go home!” Katie explained everything showing her the drawing and pictures on the tablet. “That tree might have something to do with the gowels showing up and disappearing without any sign,” said Zeba. “Do you think the gowels have their own tree?” wondered Katie “They would need many of them to make that many gowels move at the same time,” reasoned Maya. “Maybe they turn the fruit into juice and everybody drinks it at the same time?” speculated Katie. “Did you see anything unusual at that tree?” said Maya. “There was nothing but the tree on a hill.” “We need to find that tree but it is a long journey back to where I found you. We may not have the time right now. They seem to be only attracted to concentrated settlements of people. I am afraid this place will be next to go. Come with me.” said Zeba Katie followed Zeba into the other workshops on that upper level. She saw cannons and smaller things like grenades that utilized the gunpowder’s explosive qualities being built and tested. New metal alloy mixtures for stronger, lighter armor and other kinds of weapons were being created in another area. Then Katie came upon a room holding the massive body of the space dragon that Zeba mentioned when they were with Zan. Its wings were propped open for taking measurements to design wings. There were scorch marks, cuts, and exposed leathered skin where scales were removed. “They are a threat to everyone and everything. I do not know how long this is going to take. I am getting a large group together, to hunt for the Gowels. Perhaps we can lure them into a trap first.” Katie nodded her head in agreement. “Follow me, I have something else to show you,” said Zeba as she was led to the secret staircase that led down to the caves that lead to the oceans. Energized by the thick sea air, she was shown water caves she did not see the first time. They contained boats and small sailing ships tied to wooden docks. “Just in case we are attacked and things go very bad, we have these to escape with. The sea people have told us of other lands that we can go to.” “What's that?” asked Katie, pointing a wooden structure being built on the dock. “We are trying to build our first underwater ship. We are trying everything you gave us.” “Wow! All because of me?” “Yes! Follow me.” Zeba led to the cave Batya first showed her. When the door opened, a blast of cold air blew out. It felt like the giant refrigerator rooms of a warehouse store her parents would go to buy ridiculously large quantities of ordinary things. Katie stepped inside while folding her arms for warmth. There was a massive chunk of ice sticking high up out of the water. “Wow, that is huge!” “You confirmed what we suspected from living up here, that our world really is round and not flat. We also learned from you we have poles. We asked Rava and Sway if there are places that froze and made floating ice islands. Turns out they go there every year. So we asked them to bring us one. That used to be a whole lot bigger when they began bringing it to us but there is still plenty to use. We can now refrigerate our food and make icy desserts on hot days! Isn't that nice?” “Wow!” “Wow, indeed!”...
Intrepids Ch. 8 The Table Top Lands“Wake up! It’s time to climb,” whispered Zeba as the first sun rose, “This is going to take the whole day.” Taking deep breaths, Zeba scaled the sheer cliffs of the table top lands with the sure-footedness and confidence of a mountain goat. She was following a path that Katie could not see. Occasionally, one of Zeba's four legs would step on a loose rock or trip over a crack but the other three would catch all the weight she carried on her back. Zeba was unbothered, but Katie would get flashes of shock and grip tighter with her thighs when Zeba stumbled. As they went higher, Katie’s fear of heights kicked in as she looked down. Katie's legs felt like jello. The wind chilled the sweat coming off her skin making her cold. She buried her face to calm herself down by not looking anymore. “Do you need to rest?” asked Katie as she tried to hide her anxiety as the thinning air made her weaker. “We are halfway there, its noon, we are making good time. I could use a break.” Zeba replied as she came to a stop, “My legs are feeling a little heavy now, but I’m fine. Up there is where I grew up. Actually, going down, I feel stronger, I can run for miles and feel fine. Why is that, Katie?” “It is because of the oxygen we breath. There is more down there than up here.” “What’s oxygen?” asked Zeba. “Oxygen is a tiny thing, a molecule, they are too small for us to see. That’s what we breathe in that gives us energy. Without it, we die. There is more down there than up here because it's heavy and sinks down.” said Katie tiredly as her mind was distracted by the conversation. Taking a deep breath and trying to feel the oxygen, Zeba replied “Oh, that is interesting this oxygen. Where does it come from?” “I’m not sure exactly but my science teacher, Mrs. Estella, says the air we breath out has carbon dioxide, it's another molecule, is turned into oxygen by plants.” “The plants? You mean all of them?” “Yes,” responded Katie. “That is something to think about... We have plants up there, I guess that’s where our oxygen comes from. It does not grow thick like down there. I like it there but we all live up there now. Most of them are too afraid to go down there because of the stories about dragons eating us.” “You can all live down there now, the dragons are ok.” “That will be hard. With the pictures and information from your magic tablet, we can change their minds. You can teach others the way I have been learning from you. I am rested, we need to get to the top before it gets too dark to see.” said Zeba as she took deep breaths before climbing again. They continued on like this, stopping and starting as they checked the positions of the three setting suns. In the dimming light, Katie pulled out her tablet and turned on the camera flash to light the way for Zeba. “That magic thing is so versatile! We are almost to the top.” said the centaur as she gathered her strength for the last ten feet to the top. Huffing and puffing Zeba slowly heaved onto the flatness that is the tabletop lands. After a momentary pause to regain her strength, she trotted along with ease as she made her way to a large hole that was giving off a dim fiery glow. As they made their way to its edge, Katie could see torches dotting a spiral path down. On the opposite side of the wide opening was a waterfall that dropped down beyond view. The entrance to the sinkhole had a round rock door rolled to one side. Plant growth draped down brushing their bodies as they passed. After going down one spiral, Zeba called out “Hello! I have returned!” Echoes of the greeting bounced around the walls for a moment. Just the roar of the water falling and the rustling of the plants that lined the rock walls were the only sounds heard. Eventually, a handful of centaurs came out of the various tunnels that lined the spiral descent. “You’re home! Are you tired? I have dinner ready. Come eat!” asked an older dun colored centaur. “Thanks, mom.” said Zeba as she twisted her torso to guide Katie off of her back and into view of the others. “I have brought a guest. This is Katie. She is from very far away. She has many wonderful things to show us!” “Hello!” said Katie sheepishly upon seeing the strange new faces. She was nervous about meeting new people, not sure if they will like her or not. “Now that’s different!” said a bay adolescent male. “This is Baku,” said Zeba to Katie. “Wow, what are you?” asked a chestnut male looking much younger than herself. “He is Eta and over there is Petal,” said Zeba gesturing to a quiet little painted centaur girl with white, pink, and brown blotches on her face and body peaking from the tunnel entrance. “Hello!” said Katie giving her a smile. Quietly they made eye contact but then Petal bashfully looked down at the ground while trying to hide behind the wall. “She can talk, she just doesn’t want to,” said Baku. Katie saw herself as a social outcast but not shy like Petal. Suddenly, Petal lept forward on dainty hooves with a female palomino the size of Baku, herding from behind. “Aah! You’re so cute! Hello! I’m Batya.” said Batya as she picked up, cuddled, and kissed Katie’s cheeks like a pet rabbit. “Batya has a new pet. Thanks, Zeba,” joked Baku. Bewilderment turned to embarrassment when Katie saw Petal with a look of amusement in her eyes. After putting Katie down, the group moved through a tunnel to a spacious room. She was led through a forest of legs both wooden and centaur to an empty table. Lit by fire lamps, more faces of centaurs peered down at her from the table tops that hovered at her eye level. “Get that box over there, Batya. You can sit on that, Katie. Show them your magic tablet!” said Zeba while unloading all the things she carried. Batya fetched two crate boxes from the side of the chamber and set one down at the table. “Here you go,” said Batya with a smile. Katie climbed on and sat with the table top at chest level. She slipped off a strap of the backpack, swung it forward onto her belly to unzip and pull out the tablet. The second box was set to the right of her. Petal quietly leapt onto it then collapsed her legs to intently watch Katie. After flipping open the protective cover, Katie pushed the button on the bottom and the black shiny smooth surface glowed a cool white light with a quick blast of ethereal music filling the room. Bright colorful squares lined up neatly in rows and columns. “What is that?” said every centaur in the room. They gathered around Katie. “This has everything my people know. Each square is a button to do different things, called apps. These are games, books, moving pictures, music. That’s a camera to take pictures, a microphone to record sound,” explained Katie while opening and flipping through the various programs and demonstrated their function. Eta placed a bowl of food in front of Katie “Are you hungry? This is my favorite thing to eat. Can I try it next?” “Oh, here’s my favorite fruit juice. Can I try it after him?” asked Baku. Each centaur took their turn playing with the tablet as Katie tried the different foods offered to her. She helped them navigate the device when they got confused. While the others were busy with the tablet, Katie looked over at Petal, eyes peeking through tufts of mane. “Do you want to play with it?” asked Katie. Petal nodded. Katie passed the tablet to Petal as soon as it came back to her. Making up for lost time Petal played intently with no signs of stopping. “You have it too long! Let me have it” whined Eta as he tried to take it away from Petal. Petal clutched the tablet tightly as big bold eyes glared at him as if to say: I'm not done with it! “I want my turn!” said Eta angrily trying to pry it out of Petal’s grip. “Noooooo! Stop!” said Petal. “Wow, you got her to talk!” joked Baku Both pulled hard and the tablet slipped out of their hands and tumbled into a bowl of soup. Soup splashed over the table and onto Katie. There was a collective gasp. Katie fished the tablet out of the soup as others scrambled to get towels. Katie pushed the buttons on the flat screen but nothing responded. “Oh no! We broke it! We’re sorry” said Eta giving her a clean cloth. “That's ok,” said Katie wiping the tablet then herself. Delighted but stuffed with food very tired Katie looked for a way to end the night. Luckily the battery indicator went to red. The screen dimmed and went to black. “We have to stop. It's out of power. I will recharge it in the morning.” said Katie, closing the tablet cover. “Aweeeee!” said the youngest centaurs in unison. “That's ok, we should all go to sleep anyway, especially you! Come, we have a room for you,” said Zeba. Katie was led to one of many hallways with rooms set aside for sleeping. A skinny black centaur colt wearing glasses was coming towards them, the moment he spotted them he ducked away into a room and slammed the door shut. “That’s Shasta. He is very shy. He is an apprentice to the magicians. You will visit them eventually.” said Zeba before opening a door to a room with a thick stack of blankets on the ground and a small fire burning in a lamp on the shelf carved into a rock wall on the other side. Clean clothes were neatly folded on the shelves. “This room is yours to use. The washing room is at the end of the hall. Sleep well, Goodnight!” offered Zeba before leaving. “Good night!” said Katie as she leaned her backpack to the wall near the blankets. She kicked off shoes, tugged off socks, pulled off her soup stained shirt and pants before grabbing a shirt that went down to her knees. There were no pants since they did not wear any. Pulling open the top layers of blankets she laid down. Wrapping herself in the clean fragrant blankets she fell fast asleep....

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November 3, 2018
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