Kyra had a secret. Her shell collection was more than just a childhood school project; it symbolized the defining relationship of her young life. Kyra’s parents were marine biologists with the local university and as such were on assignment more than they were home. On the weekend her project was due, they were on the other side of Hyneria studying the fifth cortex cycle of undersea water currents famed for providing a fresh supply of nutrients to the very shellfish Kyra sough for her collection. Shellfish reproduction had hit an all-time recorded low and no one knew why.

Papa Kyra, which was how she referred to her grandfather, had retired from the famed Blue Onyx special section more than a decade before. Living the life of a retired metaphysical Zing Tao warrior (less than fifty were known to still be living), Kyra was his pride and joy and the two were hardly ever seen apart. Although he often chided his daughter and son-in-law on being away too much, truth be known, he relished every moment he had raising the girl, the way only a grandparent could. The shell project became their project. Walking the beaches, barefoot on the warm clay-like sands, they discussed and debated the merits of each selection.

Kyra won every debate, but it really wasn’t about shell selection for Papa. It was an opportunity to teach his young granddaughter to think, to analyze, to use discretion and judgment. More than all that, however, Papa saw the opportunity to teach the merits of intuition and instinct, traits he had spent years refining as a Zing Tao within the Blue Onyx. Intellectual skills were important, but Papa had buried many a brilliant mate on the field of battle who lacked that intangible trust great warriors placed in their instinct. Kyra learned the way learning was meant to happen, with laughter, with love, and without ever knowing a lesson was at hand. Papa had not risen to the rank of Zing Tao master of the ninth order for no reason.

When Kyra came of age, Papa bequeathed his most prized possession to the jewel of his eye, his hard-earned Blue Onyx ring. Zing Tao warriors from the Blue Onyx special section were given a plain blue and gold ring upon graduation from the academy. With each successful campaign a rare sterling blue onyx horn was crafted and melded on the ring by master artisans. Larger the horn, greater the accomplishment achieved—peace or war mattered not. Papa’s ring had been worked on by master artisans more times than he could remember. Four major Merits of Honor adorned his ring, the most ever awarded. And he gave it to the love of his life, his sweet baby k.

Kyra wore her papa’s ring on a chain around her neck. She never, ever took it off. As in life and now in space, Kyra and Papa were inseparable. Twirling the ring between her fingers she placed the shells back in their rightful place, just as she put away the thoughts roaming her mind. Papa would have been proud of her skill. Now, intuition and instinct were needed, a lesson born on the beaches of Valla and carried close to the heart in a symbol of blue and gold, a symbol of love between a grandfather and a granddaughter.