The Kavakian Empire
A Space Opera by Dawn Ross
Part One – First Encounter (revised)
(If you missed the first four chapters, click “The Kavakian Empire” link under categories in the right hand column.)
Captain Robert Arden sat at his desk with Lieutenant Stein and Lt. Commander Bracht on either side of him. Bracht was no longer arguing the security detail but he was coming up with a number of security issues that he felt needed additional attention. Lieutenant Stein, an expert in anthropology, agreed with many of Bracht’s concerns.
“The Tredon warriors can be very violent,” she said. “There is no telling at what age this boy began his training. . . or what that training entails.”
Robert had difficulty imagining a boy aged ten as being dangerous, but agreed to adding security to certain parts of the ship. He had just finished the details when Commander Hapker entered the room with the boy.
Robert smiled at the youth as he stood to greet him but the boy did not smile back. Except for his piercing dark eyes, his face was emotionless.
“Welcome, young man,” Robert said as he walked around his desk and put out his hand. “I am Captain Robert Arden.”
“Jori,” the youth replied, accepting the hand shake. Robert was impressed with the grip. It was surprisingly firm for his age. But what was more surprising was that the boy accepted his hand. From what he had heard and seen, Tredons felt other races were inferior and that shaking hands with them was offensive.
“You’ve met Commander J.T. Hapker,” Robert said as he nodded to the commander. “This is my chief security officer, Lt. Commander Bracht,” he introduced, nodding to the Rabnoshk warrior. “And my relation’s officer, Lieutenant Stein,” he indicated to Jenna, his anthropologist. The boy met the eyes of each one, not even flinching at the hateful glare from the Lt. Commander. He didn’t react to Jenna either. Tredons typically had an inferior view of women so if this boy had any such prejudices, he kept them to himself.
“Commander Hapker advised that you’ve expressed some concerns regarding the welfare of your brother,” Robert said as he went back behind his desk.
“Yes, Sir,” the boy Jori said as he nodded formally. He stood before the captain like a soldier, his eyes forward and alert, his body erect with his legs shoulder-width apart, and his hands clasped behind his back.
“Rest assured that we will provide him with the best possible care,” Robert spoke with genuineness.
“As though he were part of the Alliance?” Jori responded with a hint of skepticism.
“Yes,” Robert confirmed.
“Even though he is your enemy?”
“Yes,” he assured. “We treat everyone with equal care here. I’m sincerely sorry about the rest of your crew. The crash was severe. You and your brother are very lucky to be alive.”
“Your arrival is part of the reason we are still alive, Captain,” Jori stated matter-of-factly. It almost sounded as though the boy was grateful, but his stone-faced look betrayed nothing.
Robert sat down and offered Jori one of the facing chairs. The boy hesitated a moment and decided to remain standing. Robert did not push it. If the youth was more comfortable standing, then so be it.
“We are in the process of reviewing the wreckage,” Robert said diplomatically. “But it might help us piece things together if you could tell me what happened.” By stating they were investigating the crash, Robert hoped to impress on the boy that lying was useless.
The boy seemed to consider before answering. “We were heading back home from the Melna Space Station when the Grapnes demanded our surrender.”
“Surrender for what?” Commander Hapker interceded.
“They didn’t state, they simply demanded,” Jori replied. Bracht looked as though he didn’t believe him, but the boy ignored him and continued his explanation. “We denied them, of course, and that was when they began to fire. We knew we were outgunned and so we ran.” The boy said the last word with a hint of disgust.
“I’m not sure I understand,” Robert said diplomatically. “The Grapnes are usually greedy cowards. What profit is it for them to attack a Tredon vessel, even if their ship did outmatch yours?”
“Did you have valuable cargo?” Lieutenant Stein added.
“No,” Jori replied simply. “Just some foodstuff and supplies to repair our ships.”
“There must be more to this,” Robert probed gently. “If you’re not sure, we understand, of course. But your ship is small. Surely you overheard something of the situation?”
The boy took a deep breath but Robert wasn’t sure if it was out of annoyance at Robert’s insistence or if he were nervous. “I suspect,” he answered hesitantly, “That the Grapnes were after my brother and I.”
Robert and J.T. looked at one another with furrowed their brows. “Why would they be after you?” Robert asked.
The boy’s jaw clenched and his eyes blazed. He looked as though he might refuse to answer. He glared at Robert, then at Lt. Commander Bracht, each in turn. Is that fear in his eyes, hate, or both? Robert wondered. The boy’s face was practically a mask. Only his eyes seemed to hold any emotion.
Finally, the youth answered, “Because my brother and I are the Kavakian princes.”
Jenna sucked in her breath and Lt. Commander Bracht growled. Robert and J.T. did not react audibly or even visibly, but inside Robert’s thoughts were spinning. He had the son of his worst enemy before him, and no doubt the boy thought the same regarding Robert and his crew.
Careful handling was going to be needed. This situation could easily get out of hand. The Alliance and the Tredons were not currently at war, but to say things were tense between them was a vast understatement. If something happened to the Tredon princes, then nothing would stop an all-out war. Robert didn’t know if he could handle another war. The Rabnoshk Battle of Grendork from several decades ago still haunted him.
“The Kavakian princes?” J.T. clarified with a look of incredulity on his face. “As in the sons of Emperor Devon Kavak?”
“Yes,” Jori stated.
“Fiend!” Lt. Commander Bracht roared. The boy seemed to tense but otherwise didn’t flinch. “Captain! We must . . .”
Robert briskly held up his hand and Bracht went silent. Well, nearly silent. Robert could hear the warrior’s ragged breath. Despite Bracht’s hatred and suspicion of the Tredons, he would not do anything against Robert’s wishes.
“Was your father on board that ship?” Robert asked carefully. He sounded calm when he spoke, but his heart was pounding.
“No,” Jori replied. The thumping in Robert’s chest did not cease. If the emperor found out Robert had his sons on board his ship it could still be enough to trigger a war, especially if one of his sons died. The brother in sickbay was in bad shape and the doctors didn’t know if he would survive.
“My brother was in charge of this expedition,” the boy continued. “It was a test to see how well he commanded and if he could succeed in what was supposed to be a simple mission. He failed.” Jori sounded almost sad when he spoke the last part.
“What was your mission?” the Robert pressed carefully.
“Just supplies, plain and simple,” Jori replied. Robert wanted to believe him, but the lack of emotion on the boy’s face made him suspicious. The youth must have suspected Robert’s skepticism and so continued, “You no doubt know or will find out what our cargo was. And you can check with the Melna space station. There was no wrongdoing on our part.”
Before Robert could ask more questions, Jori asked his own. “Do you still intend to keep your word, Captain? Are you going to help my brother live?”
Despite Robert’s suspicion and trepidation of having the emperor’s sons on his ship, he replied immediately and honestly, “Of course. We would do our best to help even if it were your father’s life on the line.”
“Why?” the boy asked with a slightly furrowed brow. A look of confusion, perhaps? Robert wondered. Or mistrust?
“It is not our way to simply let people die,” Robert explained. “The Core Alliance no doubt holds your father as our enemy, but we would try to save his life so that he could stand trial for his crimes.”
Lt. Commander Bracht muttered but a look from Robert silenced him.
“I find your justice system bewildering, Captain. You know he’s guilty. My father knows he’s guilty. Why waste time with a trial? It would be simpler to just let him die, assuming you had that opportunity,” Jori added. His tone was a little sharp, but not confrontational.
Robert explained patiently, “We believe that every man has a right to a fair trial, a right to defend his actions, and a right to receive impartial judgment.”
The boy shook his head in disbelief and asked, “And what of my brother and I? Will we be standing trial?”
Robert was a little taken aback by the question. “So far as I know,” he replied hoping he sounded sincere, “you and your brother are not wanted criminals of the Core Alliance. Therefore, you are not our prisoners. You will be our guests until your brother recovers and we can get you back home.”
Jori wrinkled his brow in confusion. “We are your enemies, Captain.”
“We do not consider youths such as yourselves as enemies, no matter who your father is,” Robert replied honestly, hoping to put the boy at ease. If he earned the boy’s trust, perhaps he wouldn’t be a security risk and maybe his being here wouldn’t ignite a war. No one ever truly wins a war, Robert thought sadly.
Jori looked from Robert’s eyes to the commanders, back and forth, as though considering the truth of Robert’s reply. “What do you mean by guests?” he asked suspiciously.
“Because of your age, you will need adult supervision and I have already asked J.T. here to take you into his care.” Robert briefly reconsidered having the boy stay in the brig rather than put J.T. in danger. But without actual evidence of violent intent, it would be unethical for him to do so. He had to give the boy the benefit of the doubt and hope it wouldn’t backfire. After all, peace began with trust. And if Bracht’s people could become allies after decades of being the Alliance’s enemies, so could the Tredons.
Commander Hapker did not look pleased by the prospect of having the Kavakian prince stay with him, but he said nothing. Lt. Commander Bracht, on the other hand, declared loudly, “I must protest, Captain! This boy is extremely dangerous.” The youth almost looked proud at the remark, but angered and what Bracht said next. “How do we know he won’t kill the commander in his sleep?”
“I do not kill people in their sleep!” Jori growled as he glared boldly at the tall and well-built man. Bracht bared his teeth hatefully and held the stare. The boy did not flinch or cow.
“Bracht,” Robert said with warning.
The staring contest broke and the boy replied more calmly as he turned back to Robert, “Besides, despite what you say, I feel my brother’s life may be contingent upon my cooperation.”
“As next in line, I’d think you wouldn’t care,” Bracht said snidely, ignoring the look the Robert was giving him.
“Do not speak of what you do not know,” Jori admonished warningly through gritted teeth.
Lt. Commander Bracht’s eyes blazed hatefully as a growl rumbled in his chest. He moved as though to take a step but Robert stopped him with harsh words. “Enough, Bracht!” he barked. “Or I will make you wait outside.” Robert admired Bracht’s tenacity most of the time. It made him an excellent security officer. But this situation needed to be handled with diplomacy.
He turned back to Jori and said as reassuringly as he could, “We’re doing whatever we can to save your brother’s life no matter what. But your cooperation would be most appreciated. I promise you we will get you back home safe. Not as prisoners. No ransom. Just home.”
“It would not be so for you if the situation were reversed,” Jori said soberly. The Lt. Commander harrumphed loudly. The boy ignored him.
“Nevertheless,” Robert replied, “it is not our way to take children as prisoners, nor let anyone needing medical care die.”
“He’s no ordinary child,” Lt. Commander Bracht muttered.
“I will not be interrogated,” Jori asserted. “I will not give you any intel on my father nor on any other security matters.”
“I can’t promise we won’t ask you any questions, but I do promise that you have the right to refuse to answer and we will not pressure you otherwise,” Robert said as Bracht muttered under his breath again.
Despite Bracht’s obvious hatred, the boy seemed to accept Robert’s promise.
“Now, how can we contact your father directly so that we can tell him you’re alright?” Robert asked.
Jori responded with the instructions needed.
“Thank you, Prince Kavak,” Robert replied.
“It is Swent Prince Kavak,” Jori said, swent meaning second.
“Thank you, Swent Prince Kavak . . . though may I suggest we keep your full identity between us?” Robert asked. “For your safety, of course.”
“Very well,” he replied. “Just Jori, then.”
“Thank you, Jori,” Robert said with a kind smile. “Can I trust that you’ll behave yourself and not harm any of my crew members while you are our guest?”
The boy did not return Robert’s smile. He arched and eyebrow and seemed to consider before answering. “You have my cooperation. I submit to the commander’s care and will not harm any member of your crew.,, unless self-defense should be necessary,” he added as he looked meaningfully at Lt. Commander Bracht. “You have my word.”
“For whatever that’s worth,” Bracht muttered.
Robert was inclined to agree with Bracht’s negative attitude. Emperor Kavak was not known for having any diplomacy. He was a tyrant in every sense of the word, violent, brutal, powerful, and frighteningly intelligent. Robert hadn’t met the man in person, but he’d seen firsthand what the emperor did to his enemies, and sometimes even to his allies. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was downright terrifying.
Despite his strong misgivings, Robert hoped this boy was not yet as sinister as his father. If the boy turned out to be a miscreant, Robert was going to have a difficult time in preventing a war.
(This story is protected by copyright) Copyright September, 2014 by Dawn Ross