The Kavakian Empire
A Space Opera by Dawn Ross
Part One – Edge of the Dragon’s Shadow (provisional title)
Chapter 5 – Revised
(This is the revised version of part one of my science fiction story. Hopefully, it is a better version. I believe it has a better deep point of view and I think it sets up more tension between Jori and J.D. Don’t be tempted to go and read the unrevised version of this novella. The story has changed in some important aspects. Just come by every Saturday and read a new chapter in the revised version. Please leave feedback because even this revised version is not the final version.)
So far, Jori was not at all what J.D. had expected. Honestly, he wasn’t sure of what to expect. The boy had made some cutting remarks here and there—that was a given. But his mannerisms were very adult-like and his level of intelligence was surprising—surprising and unnerving.
Looking at him now, he appeared to be an ordinary child. He was tall for his age and had some features identifiable as Tredon, the dark hair and the narrowness of his eyes. But he was virtually indistinguishable in the diversity of the Prontaean Alliance. What made him stand out was his mentality and his behaviors.
He walked like a soldier, straight and stiff, as they made their way down the corridor towards the ship’s main common area, the last stop on the tour of the Odyssey. A handful of security guards trailed them, but the boy seemed not to notice or care.
“So you enjoy the science and physics of starships?” he asked casually. They had just left the engineering room where Jori showed an amazing aptitude for the warp engine’s inner workings.
“I wouldn’t say enjoy,” Jori replied. “Father requires I know the information and so I do.”
“If science isn’t something you enjoy, what sorts of things do like to do in your spare time?”
“I have very little spare time.”
“Well, what do you like to do in general?”
“I like to practice in the martial arts.”
“Yes, I got that impression.” He smiled. When he had shown the boy the gymnasium, his eyes lit up and his mouth actually fell open. It was the only emotion besides irritation that he had seen him express so far. “What else?”
Jori stopped and faced him. His eyes narrowed further. “Why do you want to know?”
Great. More irritation. “Just curious,” he replied honestly. “You and I will be spending a lot of time together so I just want to get to know you better.”
“Know your enemy, you mean,” Jori replied candidly. “I can understand that.”
“Well, I suppose that could be part of it. But sometimes when enemies get to know one another, they realize they are not so different and become friends.”
“Hm,” the boy said. J.D. wasn’t sure whether he meant it as acknowledgement or as a derision.
Okay, then. This isn’t going well. “What about games? What kind of games do you like?”
Jori sighed audibly. “I don’t play games, Commander.”
“None at all? No physical games or strategic games?”
“I suppose I like physical challenges and games of strategy.”
“What about Barson Hop or Treasure House?”
“Those are children’s games,” the boy replied with a hint of disdain in his voice. “I definitely don’t play children’s games.”
J.D. suppressed a sigh. The boy’s tone was grating his nerves. “Okay, fine. How about Schemster?” Schemster was his favorite strategic game. It might be too complicated for someone Jori’s age, but it was the first adult strategic game that popped into his head.
“Yes, I like Schemster,” Jori said.
“Really?” he said in a spiked tone. Although he had begun playing Schemster with his grandfather when he was about seven, none of his friends had. “Good. How about after we eat, we play a game of Schemster?”
“Very well,” Jori replied formally without any hint of either eagerness or reluctance.
When they entered the common room, the boy’s posture somehow became more rigid and on guard. It was busy here. It wasn’t as crowded as J.D. had sometimes seen it, but he could understand how being in a room full of people considered as enemies could make one feel so he chose a table in the rearcorner of the room.
Jori took a seat with his back against the wall. It was where J.D. would have sat if he were in a strange place because the vantage point gave a good view of the room.
Shra, one of the common room attendants approached with a smile. “What can I get for you?” Her voice was almost song-like.
J.D. tried to get Jori to order one of the chef’s specialty dishes, but he declined when Shra told him the ingredients. After the food came, J.D. savored each bite. Most children ate all the good food quickly and picked at the stuff they didn’t like, but Jori ate his meal mechanically.
“So, Jori,” he said after they finished their plates. “I’ve been meaning to ask you something.” The boy met his eyes. J.D. hesitated, not sure how to ask. He cleared his throat. “Was your father was on the ship?”
Jori stiffened and looked at him with wide eyes. The look disappeared quickly, though, and the boy squinted at him as though in suspicion. “No,” he said.
What was that about? Well, at least he’s not an orphan. “Good,” he said. “So we can get you back to your family.”
“You’re going to send me back?”
“Of course. Don’t you want to go home?”
“I certainly don’t want to stay here.” The boy frowned. “What sort of compensation are you requesting?”
“Compensation? So far as I know, we won’t be asking for any compensation.”
The boy’s eyebrows drew together. “So you’re helping us and sending us home without expecting anything in return?”
The question caught him off guard. For him, the answer was obvious. Helping people was a normal part of his life. It’s what his family had done and it’s what people all around him had always done. But how do I explain it to this boy in a way that he’ll understand? He struggled for the right words. “It’s what we do. We’re not just out here to patrol our borders. We also help ships in need.”
“Yes. It’s part of the directive of the Prontaean Alliance. To provide assistance to any vessel traveling within our territory, whether it be medical or mechanical.”
The boy made an indecipherable grunt.
“May I ask why your ship was in this area to begin with?” he asked, hoping his tone sounded curious rather than accusing. “You’re a little far from home.”
The boy leaned back but didn’t answer.
“It’s okay. You’re not in trouble,” he said.
Jori’s jaw tightened, but otherwise his face was unreadable.
“I’m not going to pressure you into answering if you don’t want to. But it would really help us if we knew. Wouldn’t you want to know if our situation was reversed?”
“You don’t want to know what things would be like if our situation were reversed, Commander.”
J.D. felt his skin prickle at the boy’s tone. “Maybe not. But how you are being treated here and now should be a point in my favor, right?”
The boy didn’t answer. His jaw was no longer clenched and his face was still unreadable. He met J.D.’s eyes with a directness that he’d seldom seen in other boys his age.
“Very well,” the boy finally said. “We were on our way back from the Depnaugh Space Station when the Grapnes confronted us with a demand for our surrender.”
“Surrender for what?” he asked.
“They didn’t state, they simply demanded,” Jori replied. “We denied them, of course, and that was when they began to fire. We knew we were outgunned and so we ran.” The boy twisted his mouth when he said the last word.
“I’m not sure I understand,” he said. “The Grapnes are usually greedy, but they’re also cowardly. What profit is it for them to attack a Tredon vessel, even if their ship did outmatch yours? Did you have valuable cargo?”
“No,” the boy said. “Just some foodstuff and supplies to repair our ships.”
That confirms what my team has found so far, but there must be more to this. “If you’re not sure, we understand, of course. But your ship is small. Surely you overheard something of the situation?”
Jori’s brow furrowed and his jaw line hardened again. “I don’t know,” he said through clenched teeth.
J.D. suppressed a sigh. The boy was hiding something. Why else would he be so unyielding. But he didn’t want to push it, so asked another question instead. “So when your captain ran, did he intentionally go into Alliance territory?”
At first, he thought the boy wasn’t going to answer. His lips were pressed tight and he jutted out his chin. J.D. didn’t press him, but he waited for an answer.
“We hoped the Grapnes wouldn’t follow,” the boy finally said. “That and we thought the Hellena system would provide us with some cover.”
That made sense, at least. But it still didn’t solve the mystery of what the heck the Grapnes were doing. The boy was hiding something, that he was certain. But he could see the boy’s aggravation was building. As curious as he was, he didn’t want to further rankle the enemy child who would soon be sleeping in his quarters.
J.D. couldn’t move his general. His soldiers were blocked and three of his key pieces were in danger of being captured. He stroked his chin as he studied the board, trying desperately to find a way out of this mess. There was none.
He wasn’t quite sure how the boy had done it. One moment, his soldiers had Jori’s pieces caught in a pincher and the next moment, his general was on the verge of capture.
The pincher formation had long since been scattered and Jori could win in less than five moves. Darn the boy’s smart. He couldn’t believe it. He may not be a professional player, but his major at the Institute was in strategic planning and analysis. Schemster was actually a required subject for anyone seeking a degree this field, and he was the second best Schemster player at the academy that year. To be beaten by a ten-year-old was both shocking and humbling.
“That was amazing,” he said after Jori won the game. “The last person to beat me was a Schemster Master from Harbon.” No one could beat a Harbon strategist. Harbon was planet within the Alliance that specialized in strategic warfare.
The boy’s eyes narrowed. “One should never underestimate his enemy,” he said in a low town.
A chill went down his spine. “Shall we play again?” he asked, pretending the boy’s bluntness didn’t get to him.
Jori agreed and they played another game.
J.D. had let children win before—not that he had let Jori win. The boy won fair and square—but his manner sparked his competitive side. This time, he paid more attention to the moves. Still, the boy outflanked him here and blocked him there. J.D. moved his red colonel in an attempt to keep Jori’s soldiers from getting past his front line. But two moves later and his colonel was down. It wasn’t without sacrifice, though. Jori had lost a major and two soldiers in the process. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to stop him.
J.D. frowned as he studied the board. His strategy wasn’t working. The boy’s strategy seemed to be to win at all costs, even at the loss of important pieces. This gave him an idea.
He let Jori’s pieces get to his side of the board. Then one-by-one, he took out both the boy’s colonels, all but one of his majors, and five of his eight guns. It was only a matter of time before he captured his general.
Fourteen moves later and J.D. finally won. He half-expected Jori to pout or to be angry, as some children his age tended to be when they lost a game. But to his surprise, the boy seemed to take it in stride.
“Your moves are unpredictable,” Jori said. His face lacked any expression.
“Well, you know what they say about keeping your opponent guessing.” It was a taunt of sorts, a way to get even for Jori’s comment about underestimating one’s enemy. He didn’t mean to say it out loud. It made no sense to antagonize someone he’d be sharing quarters with. But it slipped out. There it was.
The boy raised his eyebrow but said nothing. J.D.’s skin prickled ominously. Bracht was right. He’s no mere child. Not at all.
I’d love to hear some constructive criticism. Please leave a comment below. Praise would be most welcome as well.
(This sci-fi saga is protected by copyright) Copyright February, 2016 by Dawn Ross
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