The Kavakian Empire
A Space Opera by Dawn Ross
Part One: Edge of the Dragon’s Shadow (provisional title)
Chapter 1 – Revised
(Note from the author: The following is the rewritten version of part one, chapter 1 of my sci-fi novella. The unrevised version was posted in the summer of 2014. Only a few things are being changed in this revised version of chapter 1. First, I’m writing this in the commander’s perspective rather than the captain’s. In the original version, the commander is named J.T. But I realized that this sounds too much like James T. from the original Star Trek, so I’ve changed his name to J.D. I’m also changing the name of the generic name of the Alliance Core to the Prontaean Alliance. Additionally, this rewritten version will have more sensory details, will make J.D. more relatable, and will hopefully do a better job at making the reader more anxious to read chapter 2. Even though this is a revised version, it still needs work. So please, feel free to leave constructive feedback on my science fiction story.)
“Sir. We’re getting a distress signal from outside the Hellana system,” the communications officer said.
Commander J.D. Hapker’s reverie cleared away like a ship coming out of the gloominess of a dense nebula. Finally, something to break this endless tedium. He moved his hand to rub his eyes but realized this wouldn’t look good in front of the crew and raked his fingers through his short sandy-blond hair instead.
“Who is it?” his captain asked.
“It’s coming from a Tredon ship, Sir,” the communication officer said. J.D. noticed Lt. Brenson’s tone came out in a higher pitch than usual. The man pressed the side of his half-bald head into the earpiece designed specifically for the unique inner and outer shape of his pointed ears.
Tredon? J.D.’s chest tightened. He glanced at Captain Arden and noticed his eyes were as wide as his own. “Do you suppose it could be a trap?”
The captain gave a slight nod in agreement. His forehead wrinkled over his bushy brows. And despite the man’s full beard, J.D. could tell he was frowning.
“Sir,” Lt. Brenson said. “They state they are being pursued by the Grapnes.”
What the heck? This has to be the first. Fierce warriors running from scavengers. “Do your scanners pick up a Grapne ship?” J.D. asked.
The lieutenant paused to review the information on his console. “I do detect another ship, Sir.”
“Forward the coordinates to the helm,” Captain Arden said. “Jensin, set a course to intercept.”
J.D. reflexively gripped the armrest of his chair as a slight jolt in the ship indicated the Odyssey’s change of direction and speed. He watched the digitalized image on the viewscreen—two dots moving rapidly towards a planet.
“Something isn’t right,” J.D. said. One hand held his elbow as the other held his chin. His face felt naked now that he no longer kept a beard.
The captain didn’t acknowledge J.D.’s statement in any way. J.D. resisted the urge to squirm in his seat. I never know what that man is thinking.
J.D. pushed his worries aside. There are more important things to deal with right now than whether or not I’m making a bad impression on my new captain. “Lt. Handly,” he said to the young-looking operations officer. “Can you identify the makes of the two ships?”
“It’s still a bit far but we’ll be in range shortly, Commander,” Lt. Handly replied.
J.D. leaned forward in his chair. The dots on the viewscreen were moving much too slow for his taste. No one spoke, but J.D.’s ears still rang with sounds—mechanical beeps, fingers tapping consoles, and there was this slight hum that he could always hear, and feel, when the Odyssey went over a certain speed.
J.D.’s stomach tingled slightly. At the moment, things could hardly be considered intense, but nothing had happened in so long that he was itching for some excitement.
J.D. noted that Captain Robert Arden looked almost impassive. The man sat back in his chair with his hands relaxed on the arm rests. His face always appeared to be scowling, but J.D. realized it was only because his brows were so prominent.
“The Tredon ship is just a small Serpent,” Lt. Handly reported. “And the Grapne ship is actually an Angolan Cougar.”
That explains it. J.D. had seen a Serpent only once before. Although it was equipped with weaponry, he knew it was far too small for anything other than hit and run pirating. A Cougar, on the other hand, now that’s a full-fledged fighting ship—almost as well-equipped as the Odyssey and other Prontaean Alliance vessels. How in the heck Grapnes managed to get their hands on one was beyond him. If they didn’t steal it, they salvaged it.
J.D. absently rubbed his jaw. Knowing the types of ships involved shed some light on the situation. Yeah, But it doesn’t explain why the Grapnes would risk of attacking such a fierce warrior race. The Tredons must have something very valuable on board.
“We’re in visual range, Captain,” another officer announced.
The captain flick his hand. J.D.’s eyebrow went up when the officer responded by replacing the image on the front viewscreen. Not a word?
The Serpent ship appeared on the viewscreen. A memory of a black cottonmouth popped into J.D.’s head. This ship definitely resembled its namesake with its flat head and narrowing tail. Its sleek design was worth admiring. If only it didn’t belong to the Tredons.
The cameras made the ship look close, but J.D. knew it was still some distance off. The Cougar ship was much closer to it, right on its tail. J.D. had seen a real live cougar once. It was a magnificent animal. But the only thing cougarish about this ship was its yellow color. Otherwise, it looked more like a clam.
Both ships were firing on one another. J.D. inched forward in his seat and realized he was already sitting on the edge. The viewscreen’s view went wider and J.D. saw the blue-grey planet the ships were headed toward.
“Is that Pensla?” he asked no one in particular. He was new to this sector of the Prontaean Alliance territory so he wanted to be sure.
“Yes, Sir.” Lt. Handly was the one who replied. “Fifth planet from the Hellana system star. It supports life, sir, but it’s uninhabitable.”
“I remember seeing that in my studies,” J.D. said. “It’s a small mining planet, but without masks or air filters, one could only survive a few weeks. Is that right?”
“Yes, Sir, Commander. We call it the Blue Demise.” Lt. Handly had a small smile on his face. J.D. returned it. Of all the officers J.D. had met in his new command so far, Lt. Handly was the most personable.
“Communications are in range,” Lt. Brenson said.
J.D. sat up in his chair.
“Open a channel to both ships,” Captain Arden replied.
The half-bald man with the distinctly pointed ears of his Vrucian race made a few quick taps on his console. “Open, Sir.”
“This is Captain Robert Arden of the Prontaean Alliance ship, the Odyssey. You are in Alliance territory in violation of the Ornman Treaty and committing criminal acts by the use of your weapons. Stand down immediately or you will be fired upon.”
J.D. felt the strength of the captain’s words. The man’s tone was gruff. He hardly speaks, but when he does, he certainly gets his message across.
“We will be within firing range in 20 clicks,” Jensin said when the comm channel was closed.
There was no response from either of the intruding ships. J.D. found himself on the edge of his seat again as he watched the two ships on the viewscreen. The Serpent headed directly towards Pensla at an alarming speed. Slow down. He almost couldn’t bear to watch. J.D. had seen ships enter planetary atmospheres too fast before and it tore them apart.
“What are they doing?” J.D. asked out loud but more to himself. Surely not attempting suicide. Tredon’s were more of the ‘die fighting’ type.
“It looks like they’re going to try a skimming maneuver,” Jensin said.
J.D. knew the ensign was right but couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “They’d better be damned good pilots to try that,” he said. The maneuver highly frowned upon because it was so dangerous. J.D. had only seen it in simulation. In the few times it had worked, the skimming maneuver ignited the planet’s upper atmosphere, blinding the pursuers and allowing the fleeing ship to disappear onto the other side of the planet. It was an amazing feet and there was a time in J.D.’s youth when he wanted to try it. Unfortunately, though, most attempts resulted in destroying the very ship attempting it. These Tredons certainly are desperate to get away.
J.D. resisted the urge to put his finger in his mouth and bite his nail. He rubbed his chin instead. His pulse beat rapidly in anticipation.
Suddenly, an orange cloud burst over a section of the planet’s atmosphere and rolled out in a wave like a raindrop in a pond. J.D. pulled back from the screen. Did it work? He realized his mouth was hanging open and snapped it shut. “Where’s the Serpent?” he asked.
“Are we in range?” Captain Arden asked.
“Almost, Sir,” Jensin replied.
J.D. watched the fire ripple in waves of yellow to brown. The Cougar was barely visible now, but J.D. could see it was still firing. Their shots were chaotic, so he doubted they had any idea where the Serpent was either.
“They did it!” Lt. Handly called out.
J.D. felt his heart jump. The viewscreen focused on the Serpent as it flew away from the inferno. Amazing. J.D. would have said it out loud, but realized he was marveling the enemy.
Apparently, the Odyssey crew were not the only ones who found the Serpent. J.D. cringed inwardly when one of the random shots from the Cougar hit the Serpent just before it went out of range. He felt a tinge of dread for the ship that had just successfully performed an amazing tactic and was now spiraling out of control.
“Comm to the Cougar, Brenson,” Captain Arden said. His tone was louder than usual.
Lt. Brenson acted quickly. “Cougar ship!” the captain said. J.D. noticed the man’s knuckles were white as he gripped the armrests of his chair. “You will fall back at once!”
J.D.’s eyes widened. He had never seen the captain this heated. He’s obviously not a man to be disobeyed. You never get to know a man until you see him in a stressful situation.
“The Serpent’s going to crash,” one of the officers said. J.D. realized he actually felt sorry for the crew of the Tredon ship as it wobbled into the atmosphere of the planet with its tail in flames.
“We’re in range, Sir,” Jensin said.
“Arm torpedoes!” Captain Arden ordered.
J.D.’s heart pounded in his ears. The anticipation of battle made him feel all jumpy inside, but he managed to display an outward calm.
“Armed, Sir,” Lt. Commander Bracht said from the tactical station.
Captain Arden opened his mouth to give the fire command, but Lt. Brenson spoke up. “The Cougar is hailing us, Captain. A Captain Seth.”
“They’ve disengaged their weapons,” Lt. Handly added.
The captain gave Bracht a look. J.D. wasn’t quite sure what the look meant but he suspected that Bracht was to keep the weapons armed and ready. Bracht, a Rabnoshk warrior allied with the Prontaean Alliance, glowered darkly but nodded respectfully. Bracht always seemed eager to fight, but had never given in to violence—at least not that J.D. had seen so far.
“Open the channel,” the captain said to the communications officer.
As Brenson tapped his console, J.D. watched the captain straightened and puff out his chest. The viewscreen changed to the image of a Grapne. J.D. could see he was a typical Grapne in appearance. His body was thin and wiry, and in J.D.’s opinion, he had a sly look about his face.
J.D. disliked him immediately. He generally tried to keep an open mind about various cultures. But every Grapne he had ever met were notorious deceivers, although luckily not very smart.
The captain spoke before the Grapne could make his introduction. “Captain Arden here.” J.D. could hear an angry harshness in his tone. “What in the hell are you doing firing your weapons in Alliance space?”
“Captain Arden, we apologize for the intrusion,” the Grapne said. He tipped his head down in a way that reminded J.D. of a groveling dog. “We were in pursuit of these thieves and didn’t have the opportunity to seek permission.”
“I do not have any reports of thieves, Captain Seth,” the captain replied. “Protocol states you are to report such things to the proper authorities. You didn’t even do this much. I can only assume you are here for a personal vendetta rather than an ordinary pursuit of a thief.”
J.D. noted the captain hadn’t actually checked to see if anyone had reported anything to the authorities. But perhaps he knew something J.D. didn’t.
“I assure you, Captain, my intentions are honorable.”
“I doubt that,” J.D. muttered.
Captain Arden glanced at J.D., and J.D. realized it was a look of reprove. It was just a fleeting look, but still, J.D. felt a sudden twist in his gut. The uncertainty of his new position came to the fore of his thoughts. He pushed them down immediately.
“Nevertheless,” Captain Arden said to the Grapne, “you will stand down and await disciplinary action. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Captain Arden,” the Grapne said. J.D. thought the Grapne was trying to sound meek, but he sounded more like a devious little rat.
The viewscreen switched back to the full view of the planet. J.D. couldn’t see any evidence of what had just happened. The fire in the planet’s atmosphere had dissipated quickly, leaving the grey-blue planet as serene-looking as ever.
“The Serpent has crashed,” Lt. Handly reported before either the captain or J.D. could ask.
“Survivors?” Captain Arden said.
“Unknown, Sir. The atmosphere distorts our scans.”
“Commander, take a team of medical personnel down to the surface,” he said to J.D. “And two teams of security as well.”
J.D. felt like jumping out of his chair. Finally, I can do something useful. “Yes, Sir,” he replied.
It occurred to J.D. that perhaps the captain was giving him a chance of some sort. Generally, Bracht, as head of security, would lead such a team where security was concerned. But J.D. had once been head of security on another ship, so he was just as qualified—except for the fact that he had failed in that position, of course. At least according to some.
J.D. glanced at Bracht to see if the resented the fact that J.D. was going and not himself. The warrior was frowning, but this was nothing unusual. One of these days, J.D. said to himself, I’ll get a better feel for this ship.
Before J.D. left the bridge, he was stopped short by the operations officer.
“Sir!” Brenson said. “It looks like the Grapnes are sending a team down as well.”
“Hurry,” the captain told J.D.
J.D. quickened his step. His heart raced in anticipation. He doubted that if any of the Tredons survived they’d be able to fight. But the Grapnes would be there and he had no idea what the heck they were up to. Whatever it was, he’d better be at his best. The last thing he needed was to get on the wrong side of another superior officer.
J.D. and his team landed just outside of a firefight. It was four—no three Grapnes as one fell from a single laser fire from a Tredon warrior. The Grapnes were shooting wildly while the Tredon hunkered down behind a large bit of ship debris. J.D. squinted his eyes at the distance and realized the Tredon warrior was just a child.
Crap! A chill went down his spine, but it could have been due to the colder temperature of this planet. His jumpsuit should kick in at any moment, but it was the least of his concerns.
J.D. readied his weapon. The security officers behind him did the same. “Fire only if fired upon,” he said. His voice sounded funny with the filtering device that fit in his nose. “Let’s go!”
J.D. ran hard. To his surprise, the jumpsuit didn’t interfere with his movements. The planet’s stronger gravity pull did that. His feet pounded heavily on the flat dry surface. Dust would have been flying everywhere on his home planet, but he might as well have been running on rock here.
J.D.’s heart pounded in his ears from the exertion. He and his team was still too far away to take action. The transporter chief had purposely put them at a distance to make sure they didn’t get deposited into the crashed ship’s wake. Indeed, when J.D. looked to his left, the ground was torn apart. Bits and pieces of the ship wreckage were burning at the wayside.
J.D. instinctively aimed his weapon at one of the Grapnes ganging up on the boy. Nevermind that the boy was a Tredon. He was still a boy.
J.D. meant to fire as soon as he was in range, but the Grapne fell. Two more quick shots from the Tredon boy and the other two Grapens went down as well.
J.D. stopped short. One of his teammates bumped into him but he ignored it. Did that boy just single-handedly take out four Grapnes? He wasn’t certain, everything happened so fast, but he thought the boy only fired four shots. Four Grapnes, four shots. J.D. felt his skin prickle. His own skills in marksmanship were above average, but he doubted he could have hit his marks so quickly and accurately—and under such distress.
“Deflectors up and hold fire,” J.D. said. He lowered his weapon and pressed the button on his wristband. The electric buzz of his deflector shield told him it was activated. Several more hums told him his team had charged their deflectors as well.
His legs were still burning from the exertion. J.D. motioned his team forward again, this time at a walk. The last thing he wanted was to appear threatening.
Too late. The boy turned abruptly, phaser aimed ready. Piercing dark eyes were perfectly aligned with the weapon and J.D. knew the boy was aiming directly at him.
His throat caught as it occurred to him that he might have to kill a child—or that a child could kill him. He came to an abrupt halt and his team followed suit. Some of the security officers poised their weapons. “Hold fire,” J.D. said again.
J.D. glanced back to make sure everyone obeyed. One of the officers still had his phaser aimed, but he lowered it as soon as he saw J.D. looking at him. J.D. almost didn’t blame the man. The Tredon child had not fired at them yet, but he looked determined enough. J.D. was tempted to shy away from those dark hateful eyes.
J.D. could clearly see how young the boy was. Perhaps ten. But the youth looked every inch a warrior in his black armored uniform. J.D. noticed the boy’s stance was poised both defensively and offensively. And the threatening look in in his eyes along with the way he held his weapon told J.D. that he was ready to fight.
J.D’s pulse quickened. The boy didn’t move a muscle, but his glower rested squarely on J.D., as if daring him to make the first move. J.D. held eye-contact, but tried not to look confrontational.
“We’re here to help,” J.D. said. His adrenaline flushed through his body, but he kept his voice calm. Without taking his eyes off the boy, he holstered his phaser and put his hands out in a nonthreatening gesture. With a flick of his hand, he motioned his security team to do the same. With another gesture, he indicated the medical personnel. “I have three medical officers with me. Do you or your crew members need medical attention?”
The boy didn’t respond. J.D. resisted the urge to swallow down the saliva building up in his mouth. The youth obviously needed aid. He had blood on his forehead and his other arm was at an odd angle, completely broken. To J.D.’s dismay, the boy didn’t show any signs of being in pain. If anything, he looked ready to spit fire.
“We’re not here to harm you,” J.D. said. “I promise.”
The Tredon boy slowly lowered his phaser. J.D. let out his breath and felt his shoulders relax a little. Best to keep vigilant, though. The weapon had been lowered but J.D. saw the boy still had a strong grip on it.
Without a word, the youth turned and walked back towards the crashed ship. J.D. motioned his team to follow.
The ship was a complete disaster. J.D. dodged smoldering metal pieces. He brought his arm up to his face and coughed as hot acrid air entered his lungs. Fire was still burning somewhere and the smoke thickened as he got closer to the ship.
Despite the haze, J.D. could see a couple bodies just inside the gaping door of the Serpent. Twisted limbs, blood, pieces of tissue, and the smell of burning flesh assaulted all his senses. That anyone had survived this crash at all was surprising.
The boy led them in silence straight to one of the bodies. J.D. set his nervousness aside and knelt down by unconscious warrior. It was another boy, and older one but still a boy, and his body was greatly broken. J.D. scanned it, sure he was dead. But to his surprise, the heart was still beating. He was alive—barely.
“Here!” J.D. yelled to get the attention of one of the medics.
Dr. Jerom squatted down by J.D.’s side and did his own scan. “We need to get him to the medical bay immediately,” the greying man said. His cleft chin jutted out firmly and his light brown eyes lit up with determination.
J.D. turned to the boy standing beside him. The youth’s dark eyes were hard, but J.D. thought he saw a look of concern in them too.
“We can help him on our ship,” J.D. said. “We can help you both, but you have to trust me and put your weapon down.”
“Trust you?” The boy practically snarled the words.
“Trust me,” J.D. said. His tone was sincere. It didn’t occur to him that Captain Arden might not be willing to help Tredons. But these were children and J.D. would do whatever he could for them. Dr. Jerom looked like he felt much the same.
“Put down your weapon, son,” J.D. said to the boy, “and we’ll get you both some medical attention. I promise.”
The boy’s glower softened. J.D. held his breath. When the boy powered the weapon down, J.D. exhaled.
The youth hesitantly handed him the phaser. J.D. took it from his hand and noticed with alarm that the phaser was a Tredon Star Fire. This weapon didn’t have a stun setting, just a powerful kill setting. The Grapnes are dead then, not just stunned. It was self-defense—but still, he’s just a child.
J.D. sucked in a breath and let it out again, trying not to think of the implications. He shook off his unease and took out two transport detectors from a pocket in his jumpsuit. “These are so our ship can beam you on board,” he said. The boy didn’t reply. “You’ll be taken to the medical bay immediately. I promise.
“You three.” J.D. pointed to the three nearest security personnel. “Escort these two with the doctor to the medical bay.” He tapped his comm to open a channel to his ship above. “Five to beam up, two for immediate medical attention.” No need to mention the two are Tredons. I made a promise.
J.D. watched the small group disintegrate with the boy warriors. His lungs burned with the heat of the still burning ship and smoke burned his eyes. He coughed again and stepped away from the wreckage.
“Sir,” one of the security officers said. Her cheek had a smudge of soot and her blue eyes were watery from the smoke. Lt. Hanna Sharkey was the lead officer on this team, and J.D. felt she was one of the best security officers on the Odyssey.
J.D. nodded, indicating for her to report.
“There’s no other survivors,” she said.
J.D. felt a churn of his stomach. “Were any of the other passengers children?”
“I don’t think so, Sir. They were all adults as far as I could tell.”
Great, J.D. said to himself. What are we going to do with two orphaned warrior boys capable of killing and who’ve probably been taught to hate us since birth? “Any indication of why the Grapnes were chasing them? Precious cargo or something?”
“We’re still checking, Sir, but it’s hard to tell.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. Keep looking.”
“Yes, Sir,” she replied.
The lieutenant went back to work. J.D. glanced around and tried to see if he could discern something from the wreckage. There can’t possibly be anything of value left, so what the heck did the Grapnes expect to find?
Whatever it was, it must have been worth risking their lives for. Four Grapnes dead, just like that. He hoped it wasn’t a mistake to bring the Tredon boys onto his ship. Captain Arden isn’t going to like this. Yet what else could I have done?
J.D. took a deep breath. God help us.
Please comment below with constructive criticism, tips, and/or hopefully some praise.
(This sci-fi saga is protected by copyright) Copyright January, 2016 by Dawn Ross
You may share this sci-fi novella so long as you link back to this website and mention, The Kavakian Empire by Dawn Ross.