The Kavakian Empire
A Space Opera by Dawn Ross
Part One – Starfire Dragons (provisional title)
Chapter 17 – Revised
(This is the much better 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.)
Someone came into the room where Terk lay. Jori didn’t have to look up to see who it was. He could feel him.
J.D.’s warm hand rest on his shoulder. “No change?”
His heart constricted. I don’t want to talk right now. You’re not my friend. The words were there but he couldn’t bring himself to say them out loud. He kept his head down so J.D. couldn’t see him cry.
“There’s still a chance he’ll make it.” The man gave him a slight rub on the shoulder.
J.D. probably thought he was sad because of his brother. He was, but it was more than that. You betrayed me. A pang in his chest welled up. An urge to tell the man to go away and leave him alone formed on his lips. He swallowed down the saliva building in his mouth instead.
He’s not pretending. His own emotions were in turmoil, but somehow J.D.’s compassion had pushed its way through. If he cares so much, why did he betray me? He should ask him. The accusation was ready to fly. But then J.D. would be angry again. And he’d leave.
They sat there together for a long time without saying anything. He let J.D.’s concern wash over him like a fresh blast of air from a cooling system into an engine room. His cheeks were still hot, but his tears were drying up.
Something else about J.D.’s emotions began to niggle at him. The more his own emotions began to calm, the stronger the sensation came.
Dread. That’s what it is. Dread. The awful feeling crept over into his own emotions.
Jori finally looked up. “What’s wrong?”
J.D.’s eyebrows shot up and he sensed a spike of unease from him. “Me? What do you mean?”
“Something’s wrong. The captain wants to hurt me, doesn’t he?”
“What?” J.D. sat up quickly. “No. No one’s going to hurt you.”
“Then what is it?” His voice came out sounding angry, but it was worry that he felt.
J.D. sat back and signed. “I need to talk to you about something. Later of course. After you’ve spent some time with your brother.”
“It’s okay. I can come see him again later. What is it?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” His heart was pounding. I need to know.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
“Back to my quarters where we can talk privately.” He gave a significant glance towards the curtain where guards stood just on the other side.
Jori swallowed down the lump in his throat. The walk there was silent, but at least the tension between them this morning was gone. The commander felt apprehensive but there was an odd mixture of sanguinity in it. Is he going to apologize? Does he expect me to apologize? Does he hate me? His chest tightened. Is he tired of me and going to pass me over to someone else? Or put me in a cell?
They sat down on the padded chairs in the lounge area of his quarters. J.D. brought his chair closer to Jori’s so the two of them were facing one another. The man put his elbows on his knees and wrung his hands.
He could almost taste the commanders’ worry. He stiffened and stared intently, waiting for him to speak.
J.D. looked away, as though in thought. After a long moment, he took a deep breath and spoke. “First of all, I wanted to apologize for what happened with Liam. It wasn’t something we wanted to do, but we felt it was necessary.”
He frowned. A tart reply came to his lips but he suppressed it.
“But we understand now. You’re afraid of what we will find out and that we’ll hurt you or your brother because of it.”
His throat caught. His pulse began to quicken.
“Well, I promise you it changes nothing. We’re still going to do everything we can to help your brother. And we’re still going to get you home.”
He glanced from one of J.D.’s eyes to the other. The man was nervous, he could feel it. He knows. He sat rigidly, not daring to speak.
“We know, Jori. We know you’re Emperor Kavak’s son. We know you and your brother are the Dragon Princes.”
He sucked in a breath. His chest tightened and suddenly he couldn’t breathe. A sharpness burst in his chest, like someone had grabbed his heart and was squeezing the life out of it. He pulled back, then glanced around the room assessing for a way out.
“It’s alright, Jori.” J.D. touched his hand. “Look at me,” he said in a quiet tone. Jori met his eyes. “We’re not going to hurt you. And we’re still going to help you.”
He swallowed the dryness in his throat. It feels like he’s telling the truth. Doesn’t it? His own emotions were spiraling out of control. “Why?” His voice sounded like a croak.
“Because. Because no matter what we think of your father, you’ve done nothing wrong.”
“How do you know?” His tone was challenging but his heart was racing in trepidation.
“I don’t know for certain. It’s just something I feel.”
He said nothing and tried to control the whirl of emotions. Somewhere in the mix was a sense of sincerity. It wasn’t his own so it must be J.D.’s.
“Jori.” J.D. clasped his hand. “Our people may be enemies. But you and I? You and I don’t have to be.” He gave a slight squeeze.
Does he mean it? Does he really mean it? Or is he just trying to manipulate me? He stood abruptly. “I’m going to the gym.” Everything threatened to flood out of control. He had to go.
“Now.” His own emotions threatened to detonate, but he still sensed J.D.’s confusion as well as a spike of irritation.
“I’ll go with you.”
“No. I’ll go alone.” He stiffened in resolve, trying to force the flood down. Emotion is weakness.
He sensed resignation from J.D. And the hint of disappointment he also thought he sensed from the man nearly sent him over the edge. I don’t get it. I’m his enemy. He’s faking. He’s got to be. But he feels so sincere.
He raced out.
Things blurred from there. Before he knew it, he was activating the holo-man program in the gym.
His emotions exploded at the same moment he took out the first holo-man. The flood came out in a raging yell. Tears streamed down his face. He couldn’t stop them. But he moved so fast and furiously against the holo-man that he doubted anyone would notice.
J.D. sat alone in his quarters. He moved to get up with the intention of going to see how Jori was doing. But he plopped his back against the chair with a heavy sigh for the tenth time.
Back in sick bay, Jori had known something was wrong. Maybe he really is a reader. If this was the case, the boy had to already know how sincere he was. So there wasn’t much he could say or do now that would make much difference.
Leave him be. He’ll come around on his own. Those were his father’s words. He’d said them after J.D. and his brother had gotten into an argument over a girl. They’d both said hateful things, things which would’ve led to blows if mom hadn’t stepped in.
Jori just needs some time. And maybe I do too.
He got up and went to the lounge. There were several people there, but not so many that he couldn’t find an isolated booth in the corner where he ordered a stiff drink and sat in thought.
A few officers from around the room dipped their heads in greeting when he met their eyes, but no one bothered him. It didn’t matter that he was off duty. His rank probably intimidated them from approaching. Not that he wanted to be bothered right now, anyway.
He took a sip of his drink, just enough to bite the tip of his tongue and warm his throat as it went down. He didn’t drink often, so this was a nice respite.
He tried not to think of Jori. Tried and failed. The boy’s abrupt behavior after he’d just made a sincere overture of friendship stung worse than the alcohol. Why does he keep pushing me away? I give him my trust and it means nothing.
Doubt niggled in his mind. If he was truly seeking friendship, shouldn’t Jori have sensed it? Maybe he wasn’t really making the effort he thought he was. Maybe Captain Arden had assigned the wrong man for this job.
He was about to take another sip of his drink when someone dropped down on the seat across from him.
“I hardly ever see you here.” Hanna wore a small smile.
Even though his respite was shattered, he actually didn’t mind her interruption. She was the only one on this ship he knew well. They’d been good friends at the P.A. Institute and she’d been serving under him when the Kimpke incident went down. She had even testified on his behalf during his trail.
Hanna was like one of the guys in many aspects, including her manly form. But she also had the intuition that most men seemed to lack. It made her the perfect person to speak to at this moment.
“I really needed a drink,” he said.
“The Tredon boy’s giving you trouble, huh?”
He sighed. Jori’s presence was certainly troublesome. But in looking back, the boy’s behavior was mostly justified. He was just trying to protect his brother.
“Not so much as you’d think,” he replied. “It’s just that…” Just what? That he’s the son of the notorious Dragon Emperor? He couldn’t tell Hanna this. Not in this setting. He ran his hands down his face in thought.
An attendant came by the table. Hanna ordered a drink. When the attendant left, she folded her hands in front of her. “It can’t be easy for him here.”
“No. I know it can’t.” He cupped his chin. “He won’t open up to me. Every time he comes close, something happens and I have to start all over again.”
“Understandable but frustrating.”
“Put yourself in his place.”
Try to see things from his perspective, his father had said of his brother. These words applied for just about everyone, but right now they especially applied to Jori. He quickly replayed the recent events in his mind.
He took a sip of his drink and the sharp taste of the alcohol hit him like a lightning bolt. Liam.
Thinking of the man and his ability to dig around in people’s minds always made him squirm. But this time his gut churned with guilt as well. He’d told Jori he was on his side. He told him he could trust him. And then he showed distrust by allowing Liam to do his thing. No wonder the boy kept pushing him away.
“You’re right.” He nodded his head. “I know this isn’t the prevailing feeling amongst the crew, but I don’t think he’s the monster everyone wants to make him out to be.”
“I agree with you. But I can understand why they feel this way. Tredon warriors have done some godawful things.”
“He’s just a boy.”
“A boy who’s probably seen more death than any of us combined.” She sat back and shook her head. “You have to wonder what sort of impression that makes on him.”
His stomach started tumbling again. He imagined Jori standing beside his father as the man tortured another human being. That the boy was forced to grow up with such violence and be expected to learn the tricks of the trade was sickening.
The boy could easily end up being just like his father. He has no other options. His heart ached as he recalled his conversation with the boy about why he had all those broken bones. He has no choice but to live up to his father’s expectations.
He took another drink then sat back gloomily.
Hanna’s face seemed to brighten. “Maybe his time on this ship will do him some good.”
He appreciated her trying to cheer him up. “It’s not so far.”
“It might be and you just don’t know it. It’s hard to read that kid. I’ve only seen two emotions coming from him—blank indifference and anger.”
He grunted in reply. But then he remembered how Jori had almost cried. “I think he feels more emotions. He’s just reluctant to show them.”
“Probably.” Hanna shrugged her shoulders. “I can’t think of anyone better than you to make a positive impression on him.”
“Yeah.” She smiled. “You have a way of talking to people. You’re not so big-headed that you always think you’re right. You listen to people. And if you disagree, you say it in a way that doesn’t put them off.”
“Huh.” His cheeks burned. It could have been the flush of alcohol in his blood, but then again it had been some time since he’d received a compliment.
“I wonder if this kid has ever been exposed to someone like you,” Hanna said.
“I’m not sure if he’s seen that side of me. I’ve lost my temper at least once. Said something I shouldn’t have.”
Hanna shrugged. “Sometimes that’s necessary. As long as I’ve known you, you’re only stern when you have to be. And you’re always fair about it.”
“Maybe.” His cheeks flushed again.
“Come one.” She touched his arm casually. “I’m sure the kid is used to far worse. Besides, if I know you the way I think I do you probably apologized. A kid used to being dictated to, one who probably sees everyone always acting like they’re better than everyone else and never admitting when they’re wrong, has got to be at least a little impressed with you.”
His cheeks really burned now. If it had been another woman, he’d think she was flirting with him. He shook his head.
“He’s probably too young to recognize it yet. But seriously J.D., you really are the only one who has any remote possibility of being a good influence on him.”
“Really.” Her tone was reassuring.
Maybe, just maybe, there was still a chance. He was so close before with getting Jori to open up. If he could just help him see what life was like without cruelty, maybe he could show the boy how to make better choices. And perhaps the Tredons and the Alliance could have the peace that Captain Arden so hoped for.
Maybe. It was worth a try at least.
He and Hanna talked for a little while longer and afterward he returned to his quarters. Jori returned about an hour later.
J.D. clicked off his digiview. When he looked up at Jori’s face, his shoulders slumped. The boy’s face was blank—as usual. “How are you doing?” he asked anyway.
“Well.” The boy’s eyes didn’t even flicker.
“Can we talk?” he asked gently.
Jori didn’t say anything, but he put his hands behind his back and stood in an attentive at-ease stance.
He suppressed a despondent sigh and turned his chair so he was facing the boy directly. “I realized something earlier. I realized I should have stood up for you when the captain allowed Liam to read you. I told you I was on your side, and I failed you in that. I’m sorry. I truly am.”
Jori’s brow furrowed. “You think you should have gone against your captain?”
It wouldn’t be the first time. “I should have at least said something against it. As I said, I didn’t disagree with his decision. But you shouldn’t have to face all this alone.”
Jori was silent for a moment. The boy kept eye contact and glanced from eye to eye, as though searching for something. The scrutiny gave J.D. the urge to fidget, but he pushed the feeling down.
“You really do want to help us and get us home,” the boy finally said.
“Yes,” he answered even though it wasn’t a question.
“I wish to speak to Captain Arden.” His tone was hard, but not demanding. “You say this, despite who we are. But I must hear it from him.”
He straightened. “You really are a reader, aren’t you?”
Jori’s eyes darkened. “I can’t do what that man Liam can do. I don’t invade peoples’ heads and pull out their thoughts like a thief.”
“I’m sorry,” he said sincerely. “I didn’t mean to accuse you of anything.”
“I can only sense emotions that people give off.” Jori’s tone was slightly softer. “It’s barely any different from someone who can read body language.”
A very low-level reader, then. One that doesn’t even require registration, at least according to Alliance regulations. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, then stopped himself so Jori couldn’t sense his unease. “Can all Tredons do this?”
“No. Just my brother and I…and our mother.”
“Not your father?”
That’s a relief. “I bet this ability probably comes in handy,” he said carefully.
“It is why I didn’t shoot you when you and your men confronted me on Pensla,” Jori said humorlessly. “It’s why I trust you when you say you will help save my brother and why I must hear confirmation from the captain directly.”
He flushed at the word ‘trust’. Perhaps he’d made some positive headway after all. “Fair enough.” He nodded. “I’ll arrange it for tomorrow. But don’t worry too much in the meantime. I know the captain intends to help you.”
Jori made a nod. It was a good thing J.D. was more certain about where Captain Arden stood now. Otherwise, Jori probably wouldn’t have believe him.
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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