The Kavakian Empire
A Space Opera by Dawn Ross
Part One – First Encounter
(Begin reading “The Kavakian Empire” by following the link under categories in the right hand column. Chapter 1 was written in August 2014.)
The daily briefing with the captain was largely uneventful, but interesting. The captain admitted he had not yet contacted Emperor Kavak. He felt that the longer he waited, the less likely the emperor would be able to set a trap. J.T. and the others agreed.
J.T. told the captain and the other officers how Jori had reacted to his brother’s near death. If the captain was shocked, he didn’t show it. He was as impassive as ever. Jenna showed her surprise, while Bracht kept insisting that the boy was acting.
The captain played the video of the Serpent’s cockpit to demonstrate otherwise. J.T. had forgotten to watch the video, so seeing it was a thought-provoking revelation. Just before the ship had crashed, Terk forced his brother into a safety seat and buckled him in. He didn’t have time to get himself secured so he used his body to shield Jori instead.
Perhaps other Kavakian princes had been rivals, but it was evident that Jori and Terk cared greatly for one another. Before, J.T. had hoped Terk would live so as not to provoke a war with the Tredons. But now, he hoped Terk would live for Jori’s sake.
J.T. silently reevaluated his opinion of Jori on the way to sick bay where the boy watched over his brother. Just before J.T. entered the room, he overheard an argument between Jori and Calloway.
“Someone should just exterminate the whole lot you,” Lt. Calloway said hatefully.
Rather than be angry, Jori replied derisively, “Funny. That sounds exactly like something my father would say. Perhaps you are more like us than you think.”
“Listen, you little …”
“What is going on here?” J.T. demanded angrily as he entered the room.
“Nothing, Sir,” Calloway replied quickly as he snapped to attention.
“Calloway and I were just having a philosophical debate,” Jori replied somewhat smugly, giving Calloway a taunting sneer.
Glowering at Calloway, J.T. said, “It sounds more like you’re trying to pick a fight with a ten-year-old, Lt. Calloway.”
Calloway darkened but didn’t respond.
“You can step outside now, Lieutanant,” J.T. ordered. “We’ll talk about your behavior later.”
Lt. Calloway gave Jori a dark look, to which Jori responded with a mock smile that showed all his teeth.
When Calloway and the other guards stepped outside of Terk’s room, J.T. took a seat beside Jori.
“You didn’t start that, did you?” J.T. asked, careful to sound curious and not accusatory.
“Would you believe me if I said no?”
“I want to believe you,” he said truthfully.
“I have no reason to lie to you, Commander.”
“I suppose not,” J.T. admitted. “I apologize for his behavior.”
“No worries,” Jori replied. “I understand how my father’s reputation makes others feel. Calloway is just being diligent about expressing himself.”
“Has he said other things to you?”
“No, but I can feel his hatred.”
“Hmm,” J.T. replied with a little concern. The last thing he wanted was to rankle Jori again, especially now that he and the boy seemed to be on better terms. “I’ll make sure he keeps his comments to himself.”
Jori just shrugged as if it were no big deal.
After a few moments of silence, Jori sat up and leaned in towards J.T. It seemed like he wanted to say something, but was hesitant.
“What is it?” J.T. asked.
Jori took a deep breath before speaking. “I just wanted to apologize for my behavior the other day, at dinner.” J.T.’s eyes widened in surprise, but he said nothing. “I was being petulant, or childish, if you will.”
“Thank you for that, Jori,” J.T. replied sincerely. “I can understand, though. You must be under a lot of stress.”
“That is no excuse,” Jori said. “I am quite capable of controlling my emotions. Besides, you and the captain have every right to question me. Considering everything you’ve done to help me and my brother, I have no reason to behave so impudently.”
“I really appreciate the apology, Jori. And you’re forgiven,” J.T. said as he gave Jori a reassuring pat on the shoulder. After a few moments of thought, J.T. said, “May I ask why you feel that you need to apologize? You know we are still going to help your brother regardless, right?”
“Yes. But I know I behaved badly and I’ve been taught to take responsibility for my mistakes.”
“Your father taught you this?” J.T. asked in surprise.
“No,” Jori said with a wry face. “Master Jetser is one of our primary instructors. He says that if you can’t take responsibility for your mistakes, then you’re just a dog that keeps chasing his tail.”
J.T. smiled. “Sounds like a sensible adage. You like this instructor?” J.T. asked, thinking that Jori must have some loyalty to the man if he followed his advice, even in the face of the enemy.
“Yes,” Jori replied.
“What else does he teach?” J.T. asked. Jori was opening up to him and J.T. was enjoying it.
“Most all of our fighting techniques, except strategy and aerial combat.”
“Hmm. He must be a good teacher. I’ve seen your techniques in the gymnasium. Pretty impressive.”
“Thanks,” Jori replied. “I still have a long way to go.”
“I bet when you grow into your strength, you’ll be quite adept.”
“I have to be more than just adept. Terk and I have to be the best. Otherwise we will not be fit to lead.”
“Sounds like a lot of pressure,” J.T. replied.
“Despite what Calloway thinks, being a prince doesn’t mean living a life of privilege. It means I have a lot to live up to.”
“Does that ever pit you and Terk against one another?” J.T. asked, thinking of what Jenna had said about the Kavakian princes killing one another.
“It could, but it won’t,” Jori said frankly. “Sure, we compete. But we also try to complement one another’s abilities. We each have our strengths and weaknesses.”
J.T. nodded thoughtfully. J.T. felt his misgivings about Jori melt away. The more he talked to the boy, the more he liked him. In a way, he almost felt sorry for him. It sounded as though Jori had never had a real childhood, with all the responsibilities and expectations he had to meet. But Jori didn’t seem to bemoan his fate, and J.T. respected him for that.
J.T. planned on ending the conversation here. He didn’t want to press Jori too much and alienate him again. But Jori had different ideas.
“I am confused about something,” Jori said with a questioning look.
“The captain doesn’t seem like a warrior, but everyone here does what he says. How does that work?”
“There is more to leadership than just being able to force people to do what you want,” J.T. replied.
“Like trust. A good leader doesn’t just bark orders. He takes an interest in his men. He respects them. And he cares for their well-being. In return, his followers don’t just give him their subservience. They give him their loyalty because they trust that he will look out for them.
Jori nodded thoughtfully. “Are you loyal to Captain Arden?”
J.T. took a moment to reply. “Yes. Yes, I think I am.”
“Why the hesitation?” Jori asked.
“He hasn’t been my commanding officer for long. But the more I get to know him, the more I respect him.”
“You’ve had commanding officers you didn’t respect before?” Jori asked with curiosity.
“Oh, most definitely,” J.T. replied.
“But you obeyed them anyway, yes?”
“Most of the time, but …”
“Come now, Commander. I have bared my soul to you,” Jori prodded almost lightheartedly.
J.T. raised his eyebrow. Then he smiled and replied, “Fair enough.” J.T. sighed as he took a moment to think about his words. “We are told that we should always obey our commanding officer. It is ingrained in us from the very first day we enter the academy. So that is what I do, even when I don’t like the orders I am given. But,” J.T. hesitated again. He hadn’t really discussed the Kimpke incident with anyone. Sure, it had come up between him and the captain, but they didn’t really discuss it. Not fully, anyway.
“But,” J.T. continued, “when I was ordered to fire upon a vessel that I knew had innocent people on it, I refused. I was the tactical officer on board another ship under the command of a rear admiral. The ship in question was harboring a dangerous criminal, Jokko Kimpke. The rear admiral had been pursuing this man relentlessly for months. And when he finally caught up to him, he refused to be deterred by the other vessel’s refusal to give Kimpke up. We tried many techniques to get the ship to surrender Kimpke, but nothing worked. The rear admiral was so angry that he finally ordered me to open fire. Not only did I disobey, but I also temporarily disabled the torpedoes. Kimpke got away.”
Jori, who had always been careful to mask his emotions before, was obviously riveted now. He looked like he was impressed with the way he raised his eyes widened. “What did they do to you as punishment?” Jori asked. “You can only guess what my father would have done if someone had disobeyed him like that.”
“Oh, I can imagine,” J.T. replied. “My punishment was harsh, but nothing like that. I was put in the brig. The rear admiral charged me with willful insubordination. I was nearly convicted of the crime, but luckily the court determined that the rear admiral’s order was unlawful and I was acquitted.”
“So the court ranks above the rear admiral?” Jori asked in astonishment.
“Only when it comes to crimes,” J.T. replied. “The court system is a way of applying checks and balances so that the military does not overstep its directive.”
“We don’t have anything like that,” Jori said, shaking his head.
“That means when you and your brother come to be in charge, you’ll have to be mindful of the fact that just because you can do whatever you want, doesn’t mean you should.”
Jori nodded in agreement, but didn’t offer anything more. J.T. didn’t want to instigate an argument about the injustice of the Tredon government, so he left it at that.
When it came to suppressing his emotions, Jori was not as adept as his brother. Terk never cried about anything, not ever. But Jori had been known to shed a few tears on more than one occasion. He never cried when his father punished him. He had been taught to endure physical pain. But crying from sadness was harder to suppress.
Jori should have felt ashamed for the way he exposed his emotions with J.T. He had been taught better than that. Emotions are a weakness, he told himself. But he didn’t feel ashamed. He felt more secure, less alone, and relieved. The past several days had been trying. He was alone and helpless in enemy territory. He was scared at times, but determined to hide it.
Everything fell apart, though, when he felt Terk dying. He tried so hard to keep it together. But he felt J.T.’s compassion and it broke him.
J.T. was so sincere that Jori didn’t feel embarrassed about exposing his weakness. The Alliance could have used Jori’s concern for his brother against him. They could have held his brother’s life over his head in exchange for information.
But they didn’t. Jori was a little confused about this. They had no reason to trust him. He would have thought that their regard for him as a child was a fatal flaw, but there was more to it than that. J.T. especially seemed to have a genuine concern for people, even a person he was supposed to hate.
When Jori was around J.T., he no longer felt like he was talking to an enemy. Why was the Alliance supposed to be his enemy to begin with? Master Jetser had always told him there were both good men and bad men in all races, so judge each man individually.
The Alliance was Jori’s enemy because his father made them his enemy. But Jori didn’t have to see them in this way. In fact, it was getting more difficult to do so, even with the hate emanating from Calloway.
J.T.’s sincerity far outweighed anything Calloway did. J.T. was honest, and lately, genuinely caring. Jori had sensed that J.T. hadn’t liked the idea of the reader any more than he did. When Terk was dying, J.T. was truly concerned.
The way J.T. disobeyed a commanding officer to do what was right intrigued him. Jori found himself respecting him more than he ever thought was possible for an enemy. It was like what J.T. had said about trust. Jori trusted him. Terk might call him gullible, but Terk’s ability to read people was not as great as his. Jori would have to convince him, that is, if Terk ever woke up.
(This sci-fi story is protected by copyright) Copyright March, 2015 by Dawn Ross
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