The Kavakian Empire
A Space Opera by Dawn Ross
Part One – Starfire Dragons (provisional title)
Chapter 16 – Revised
(This is the revised version of part one of my science fiction story. If you’re visiting for the first time and would like to begin with the first chapter, check under the categories or the archives, which are further down. Chapter one of the revised version was posted on January 26, 2016. I highly recommend not starting with the unrevised version. The story has changed and it could be a spoiler alert.)
J.D. ran his hand down his face. “That didn’t go over well at all.”
Captain Arden let out a long sigh. “No, it didn’t. But we have no new information from Depnaugh. They’re being just as secretive, which concerns me greatly.”
“I agree.” So why do I feel so guilty? “But I still don’t think he murdered anyone.”
The captain turned to Liam. “Lt. Garner?”
“I sensed a nervousness from him, but only for a moment. He blocked me after that.”
The captain’s thick eyebrows shot up. “Blocked you?”
J.D. stiffened. “So he knew what you were doing?”
“How was he able to do that?” the captain added.
Liam shrugged. “Not many are capable, but it’s not unheard of. It’s mostly people with reading skills of their own who are able, though.”
He glanced at the captain. “An inherited genetic ability?” What Lt. Stein had mentioned? If the boy was a reader, who knew what he’d been pulling out of his head. A sour taste rose up from his throat.
Liam shrugged again. “If he is a reader, I’d guess he is just a low-level reader. He never tried to get in my head and I never sensed him trying to get into yours.”
That’s good, at least. He cupped his chin. But if he can read me… Did I do or say anything to set him off? He’d tried to reassure the boy, to let him know he was safe. But he also let his frustrations get the best of him and dark thoughts had crept in. If he read that…
Captain Arden folded his hands together. “It’s something I should have considered.”
“I should go and try to talk to him.” For whatever good it would do. The boy’s attitude wasn’t so pleasant before. It surely wasn’t going to be any better now.
The captain opened his mouth to reply but was interrupted by the beep of the comm.
“Captain.” It was Lt. Stein’s voice.
“You’re not going to believe what I’ve just found out. I request an urgent meeting.”
His heart skipped a beat. Something about Jori?
“Done, Lieutenant. I’m in my ready room with the commander and will call Bracht in from the bridge.”
“I’ll be there shortly, Sir.” The comm clicked off.
“Thank you, Lieutenant Garner,” the captain said to Liam.
Liam nodded and left the room.
He resisted the urge to tap his foot as he waited. What’ve you been hiding, Jori?
Bracht was the first to arrive. No one said anything as they waited.
Lt. Stein couldn’t arrive soon enough. She had a sheen of sweat on her forehead and her face was pallid. Her harried look made his skin prickle.
“May I?” she asked, pointing with a trembling hand at the large viewscreen on the wall opposite of the captain.
Captain Arden nodded.
He and Bracht turned to face the screen. His foot was shaking and he forced himself to stop.
Stein touched her digiview to the side panel of the screen. An image popped up.
“That’s the Tredon Emperor.” Bracht’s voice was rough and there was a hint of disdain in it.
Stein nodded. “Emperor Kavak. The Dragon Emperor. But that only be part of what I wanted to show you.” She touched her digiview and the image on the viewscreen zoomed in to the warriors standing just behind the emperor.
He squinted his eyes at the blurriness. Then his heart did a double-flip. “That’s Jori’s brother!”
“Yes. I believe he be the emperor’s son.”
His throat tightened. Captain Arden flattened his hands on his desk and his mouth fell open. Bracht’s face turned dark and a low rumble emanated from his throat.
“Are you sure?” Captain Arden said. “I thought the last of his sons was dead.”
And wasn’t the Dragon Prince supposedly killed by the Emperor himself? A shiver went down his spine. The conversation he’d had with Jori about why he had so many broken bones ran through his head. I wouldn’t be the first to die by my father’s hand, the boy had said. “I didn’t know he could have any more children,” he said instead.
“I believe the rumors about him not being able to sire any more children, even artificially, be true. But the incident that is said to be causing this happened about ten years ago, after these boys be born.”
Bracht’s grumbling grew louder.
The captain stroked his beard. “But if these are his sons, why haven’t we heard of them before?”
“Perhaps he be protecting them until they became of age.”
His brow tightened. Could it be true? Is this what Jori’s been hiding? “This is just one image. Aren’t we jumping to conclusions here?”
Stein replied by tapping her digiview. Another image popped up on the viewscreen. This one was a split image with Emperor Kavak’s face on one side and a close-up of Jori’s brother on the other.
He sucked in a breath and his throat tightened again. Dear god. He looks like a younger version of the emperor! Jori didn’t look so much like the emperor. But he looked very much like his brother.
“I did a facial map analysis. The results not be conclusive, but the resemblance be uncanny.”
“I knew he was trouble.” The loudness of Bracht’s voice startled him. “Sir! We must lock them up.”
Captain Arden sat silently with his hands folded. His eyes flickered across the dual image as though studying it. “If they really are the Dragon Princes, then we have a very delicate situation here.”
“They’re vicious criminals!” Bracht barked.
The captain’s composure remained calm. “Their father is a criminal. I have no evidence that these boys are.”
Bracht snorted. “Their family name is evidence enough.”
His initial shock began to wear off. Pieces were starting to come together. “This is probably what Jori’s been hiding.” It made sense. The boy’s secrecy. His defensiveness. “He’s been trying to protect his brother.” It was like someone had thrown ice-cold water on his face. Only instead of opening his eyes to a raging river, a swell of understanding washed over him.
The captain nodded. “It would explain what the Grapnes were after. And the bounty hunters.”
“Two Kavakian Princes make a great ransom,” Stein said.
He frowned. “Or be used as a way to get revenge on the most hated man in the galaxy.” His gut churned at the thought. If they had turned those boys over to the bounty hunters, there was no telling what sort of tortures they would have been subjected to. Whoever the boys’ father is, they don’t deserve that.
“You know. If you really think about it, this is a great opportunity,” Captain Arden said.
He stiffened and his gut roiled. “Opportunity for what?” His tone was sharper than intended. His imagination took flight as all sorts of gruesome opportunities came to mind.
“If the emperor can’t have any more children, as Stein says,” Bracht said, “then we have the power to put an end to the Kavakian reign once and for all.”
His heart clenched. “You mean kill them?”
The captain put up his and. “No one’s going to be killed.”
“Keep them.” Bracht’s eyes were hard. “Force the emperor to abdicate.”
He felt a flash of heat. “You mean take them hostage and hold them for ransom, the way those ruffians intended?”
“Yes. That’s exactly what I mean. Keep them and force them to tell us what they know of the emperor’s plans and military might.”
He cringed. His fists tightned and the heat rose. “You can’t. They’re not paws in some game. They’re children.”
“Children of a man who’s committed genocide.”
“No,” the captain said sharply. “The opportunity I’m referring to is the opportunity to sow peace.” Sincerity was apparent in the man’s face.
He kept picturing Rear Admiral Zimmer sitting there. Except Zimmer would probably agree with Bracht. He unclenched his hands. Captain Arden isn’t Zimmer.
“Making friends with the boys won’t make us any allies,” Bracht scoffed.
“Perhaps not now,” the captain admitted. “But if these are the heirs, then maybe someday.”
Bracht twisted his face.
“Commander.” The captain leaned towards him. “Why don’t you talk to Jori. Send him my apologies for using Liam and see if we can help assure him that he’s still safe.”
Bracht’s face was even darker now. “We’re going to supplicate ourselves to them!”
“Do you mean to tell me, Lieutenant Commander,” the captain said in a hard tone, “that you truly advocate locking these children away and subjecting them to torture? The same as was done to your brother by his enemies?”
J.D.’s eyebrows shot up. This wasn’t in Bracht’s file.
Bracht looked down at his feet and shifted his stance. “It’s not the same thing,” he mumbled.
“Isn’t it?” The captain paused dramatically.
Bracht didn’t look up. Whatever had happened to his brother, it seemed to have left a very strong impression.
“This violence and hate has got to stop somewhere,” the captain continued. “We can either try to make peace with our enemies or we can commit the same atrocities and be just like the emperor himself. I think you know very well where I stand on the matter. It’s why you’re here, isn’t it? Why you chose to serve on this ship?”
The captain was talking to Bracht, but he couldn’t help but feel like he was speaking to him as well. A memory of him sitting on his grandfather’s lap and watching the news flashed in his mind. He was just a boy at the time, but he remembered how happy his family was to hear the Alliance and the Rabnoshk people had made peace. He remembered it because most other people were angry. After all the Rabnoshk warriors had done, they’d said, how could peace be made with them? The power of peace is far greater than the power of war, his grandfather had said.
He wasn’t sure he agreed at the time. But after the Kimpke incident, he began to understand. He didn’t accept the commission on the Odyssey just because it was the only decent offer he’d received. He accepted it because of Captain Arden’s reputation as a peacemaker.
From what he’d read in Captain Arden’s files, the man had received commendation for his part in the making of peace between the Alliance and the Rabnoshk people. Was Bracht a part of that too? The two of them had served together long enough.
The captain glared at Bracht, but the man still looked downcast with his shoulders slumped and his chin resting on his chest. “Yes, Sir.”
The captain’s eyes softened. “I’m not saying we should let our guard down. I’m merely saying we should give the child a chance—the same kind of chance you and I had given to one another that time long ago.”
J.D. wanted to stand up and cheer. Not because Bracht was being rebuked for his hateful behavior. If anything, he saw the Rabnoshk warrior in a whole new light. It was because of how genuine the captain’s words had felt. If only I had served under him a year ago.
But a year ago, he had still been eager to prove his worth as a security officer. If Kimpke had a son and if he and his son were the only ones on that ship, would he have fired on it then? In his younger years he would have seen the logic in an eye for an eye. If Kimpke can take our sons, then we should take his.
But he wasn’t that ignorant youth any longer. Even though Jori was being a brat, and even if he was the son of a man who’d committed heinous crimes, he couldn’t willingly allow anyone to harm the boy. There were a few unsettling differences between Jori and other boys his age. But he was still just a boy—a boy who was only trying to protect his brother.
“Commander?” The captain’s eyes were softer now.
“Yes, Sir?” Oh, wait. He’s waiting for my reply. “I mean, yes, Sir. I’ll talk to him.” He doubted it would do much good at this point. But he wanted to try.
Jori stalked out of the ready room, ignoring the sound of his guards scurrying to catch up. He’d had it with these people—them and their false backstabbing niceness.
A rising heat swelled within him. How stupid do they think I am? They say I’m not a prisoner, yet they still treat me like a villain. He balled up his fists tightly. Why can’t they just believe me?
He marched deliberately down the corridor towards the gym, eager to vent on the holo-man program. His thoughts whirled chaotically—Calloway’s nasty comments, J.D. ignoring him this morning, the sight of his men lying dead, J.D. calling him a childish brat, J.D. angry at him, Liam attempting to get inside his head and J.D. just sitting there watching, J.D.’s coldness earlier, His brother lying lifeless, J.D.’s genuine warmth on that day when he first visited his brother and nearly cried. He misstepped and dipped low in order to regain balance. He was faking. That wasn’t real.
He shook his head dismissively, but the memory of the man’s emotions kept resurfacing. Was he pretending? Emotions can’t be faked, can they? He clenched his jaw and his fists in determination. It wasn’t real! And even if it was…he betrayed me!
A deep hurt spiked in his chest and grew like a dying star. Only instead of cooling like the star, the hurt grew hot enough to smother out the fire of his anger. His chest tightened and his sinuses began to tingle. He blinked at the growing wetness in his eyes. Don’t cry you baka. You’re acting like a foolish child again.
He turned the corner and found himself in sick bay. It wasn’t where he’d meant to go. But Terk was here. His brother, the only one who really understood him—the only person he had here on this damned ship. If only he wasn’t dying.
A burning tear began to fall down his cheek. He quickly wiped it away and held his breath, trying to hold in his tears as well.
“Get out,” he said through gritted teeth to the guards who were watching his brother.
His tears threatened to burst. The damned guards couldn’t move fast enough.
One of the men gave him a dirty look. He bared his teeth at him in reply. He would have growled too, but was sure it would come out sounding more like a wail instead.
When the guards closed the privacy curtain behind them, his head fell to his brother’s bedside. A sob escaped. Dammit! He should be angry. He wanted to be angry. But the stupid tears had to fall instead. Why the hell am I crying? Why should I care about what J.D. did? He really was acting like a stupid spoiled child. J.D. was right.
He pursed his lips, trying to keep anyone from hearing the sounds of his anguish. But his facial muscles seemed to have a mind of their own. His mouth opened and a low moan came out. He cradled his head in the crook of his arm and let the racking sobs loose.
A swarm of emotions spiraled around like space debris on the cusp of an event horizon. And one by one, the emotions crossed over, falling towards the lonely singularity that was him—all alone with no one to protect him, no one to trust, and no one to give him comfort.
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 April, 2016 by Dawn Ross
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