The Kavakian Empire
A Space Opera by Dawn Ross
Part One – Starfire Dragons (provisional title)
Chapter 18 – Revised
(I’m worried this chapter may be repeating too much from a previous chapter. So if this feels like déjà vu, let me know. Let me know which parts you think can be deleted, if any. If you’ve missed the previous 17 chapters of this science fiction story, scroll down to find Categories in the right hand column. Then click under “The Kavakian Empire” link where it says “Sci-Fi Part 1 – Revised”.)
Captain Robert Arden sipped his coffee. Black. Bitter yet smooth. And just the stimulation he needed for the weighty decisions he had to make.
“We are harboring a dangerous enemy, Captain,” Bracht bellowed. “He should be placed in the brig immediately.”
“I am well aware of how you feel about the boy, Bracht. While I agree he has the potential to be an even greater risk than I first thought, he is still just a boy. I will not lock him up unless he gives me reason to.”
Lieutenant Stein leaned forward. “As Dragon Princes, these boys be even more dangerous than we assumed. There be no telling how many genetic enhancements they’ve inherited. Intelligence, strength, speed, these all be things we’ve seen evidence of. But what else is there that we haven’t seen?”
True enough. But the presence of the Kavakian Princes held implications far beyond the security of this ship. If the emperor finds out we have them…
He rubbed his brow. The situation was exceedingly delicate. Things could easily get out of hand. The Alliance and the Tredons were not currently at war, but to say things were tense between them was a vast understatement. If something happened to the Tredon princes, then nothing would stop an all-out war.
His coffee suddenly tasted even more sour than usual. He didn’t know if he could handle another war. The Rabnoshk Battle of Grendork from a couple decades ago still haunted him. The battle at least resulted in both sides finally opening their eyes to the levels of destruction their hatred had wrought. Peace followed, but there was still much left to heal.
Bracht leaned his big bulk forward. “We should keep him in the brig.”
If one didn’t know the Rabnoshk warrior as well as he did, they’d think he was making a demand. The man was certainly brusque. But he’d trust him with his life…and the security of this ship.
Bracht’s notion was tempting, but it didn’t sit right with him. Barring the child’s attitude, he exhibited no signs of violent intent. He should give be given the benefit of the doubt, regardless of who he was. After all, peace began with trust. And if Bracht’s people could become allies after decades of being enemies, so could the Tredons.
“I have made my decision on this matter.” His tone was low and firm.
Bracht opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted by the sound of the ready room doors sliding open. Commander Hapker entered with the Dragon Prince at his side.
“I must protest, Captain. This boy is extremely dangerous.” Bracht flicked his hand vehemently. The youth looked smug at the remark. “How do we know he won’t kill the commander in his sleep?”
The child’s face darkened. “I do not kill people in their sleep.” His voice came out in a growl and he glared boldly at the tall and well-built warrior.
Bracht bared his teeth hatefully and held the stare. The child didn’t flinch or cower and his glare matched the man’s.
“Bracht,” Robert warned.
The staring contest broke. The child turned away and faced him with a cool composure. He stood like a soldier, his eyes alert, his body erect with his legs shoulder-width apart, and his hands clasped behind his back.
“Welcome, young man.” He smiled kindly but the child did not smile back. There was no emotion on his face, just in the bold confidence of his dark eyes. “I’m sure Commander Hapker extended my apologies, but I appreciate this opportunity to give them to you in person.”
Jori only nodded.
“I do sincerely apologize for allowing Lt. Garner to use his skills on you. However, I don’t regret my decision to do so. I have the safety of my crew to consider. And although it pleases me a great deal that I have been able to help you and your brother, your presence here poses a number of concerns.”
“So you take back what you’ve said about helping us?” The child’s eyes darkened.
He rest his elbows on the table interlocked his fingers. “Rest assured that nothing has changed in regards to you or your brother’s well-being, or to my promise that we will get you home.”
“Even though we are your enemies?” His eyes flickered into disbelief.
So much expression in those eyes. They reminded him of the eyes of another young warrior not so long ago. Well, Bracht wasn’t this young when they’d met. But still young…and full of ardor. “Yes. We treat everyone with equal care here.”
“Despite what you say, I can’t help but to feel my brother’s life may be contingent upon my cooperation.”
“As next in line, I’d think you wouldn’t care,” Bracht said snidely.
Robert looked at him pointedly but the man didn’t seem to notice.
“Do not speak of what you do not know,” Jori warned the man through gritted teeth.
Lt. Commander Bracht’s eyes blazed hatefully and a growl rumbled in his chest. The child’s poise remained cool, but his eyes burned.
“That’s enough, Bracht. Or I’ll have you wait outside.” He admired the man’s tenacity…most of the time. It’s what made him an excellent security officer. But this situation needed to be handled with diplomacy.
He turned back to Jori, “We’re doing whatever we can to save your brother’s life no matter what. I promise you we will get you back home safe. Not as prisoners. No ransom. Just home.”
“It would not be so for you if the situation were reversed.”
Jori’s sober tone made his spine tingle. The Lt. Commander harrumphed loudly but the child ignored him. Although these two warriors had more similarities between them than they probably would have liked, there was one major difference. Bracht’s disgust was plainly evident with the way he grimaced, while the boy’s face gave nothing away. Only his eyes, and occasionally his tone, revealed anything.
“Nevertheless,” he replied, “it is not our way to take children as prisoners, nor let anyone needing medical care die.”
“He’s no ordinary child,” Lt. Commander Bracht muttered.
“Even if it was my father you’d saved from the planet?”
Lt. Stein sucked in a breath. Both J.D. and Bracht’s eyes widened. His own hands twitched. Thank goodness this wasn’t the case. But his answer was still the same. “Of course. We would do our best to help even if it were your father’s life on the line.”
“Why?” The child’s tone was flat. Only his eyes reflected his puzzlement.
“It is not our way to simply let people die. The Prontaean Alliance does indeed consider your father as a criminal, but we would still try to save his life so that he could stand trial for his crimes.”
The boy’s mouth twitched. “I find your justice system bewildering, Captain. You know he’s guilty. My father knows he’s guilty. Why waste time with a trial? It would be simpler to just let him die…assuming you had that opportunity.” His tone was a little sharp, but not confrontational.
Bracht made a low grunt in agreement.
“We believe every person has a right to a fair trial, a right to defend their actions, and a right to receive impartial judgment.”
The boy shook his head as though in disbelief. “And what keeps you from putting my brother and me on trial?”
“So far as I know, you’ve done nothing illegal.”
“So far as you know.”
Bracht let out low rumble.
His spine tingled again. “Are you saying you’ve done something illegal?”
The child narrowed his eyes. “Not in your territory. But I’d think you’d consider the likelihood of us doing so in the future.”
“What you do is your own choice. Your family history doesn’t have to presage your future.”
The placidness of Jori’s face was broken by the wrinkling of his brow. “We are enemies, Captain.”
He brought his folded hands up and rest his chin on the point of his two index fingers. “Why? Why are we enemies?”
The question caught him off guard. Jori’s mind raced. Dozens of things, things he’d heard his father or his father’s men say, came to mind. But each one of the reasons seemed weak.
The Alliance had killed a few of their best warriors. But he’d read the reports. Those men had been causing trouble in Alliance territory.
The Alliance had intercepted some of their ships and confiscated cargo. True. But he knew what the captain’s response would be. Tredon ships weren’t allowed in Alliance territory. And since Alliance vessels were likewise not allowed in Tredon territory, it was fair. Not to mention the stark difference between how Tredons in Alliance territory were treated when compared to how people from the Alliance were treated when found in Tredon territory.
He’d asked Master Jetser this very question once. General Trevine interrupted and said the Alliance was nothing but a bunch of do-gooder know-it-alls. Jetser later told him this wasn’t a good enough reason. The real reason was because of how large the Prontaean Alliance was and because it only kept getting larger as planet after planet joined them. This was a threat to his father’s rule because it meant they would soon be powerful enough to destroy him if they chose.
He opened his mouth to tell Jeter’s reason to Captain Arden, then closed it again. He knew what the man’s response would be to this as well. The Alliance didn’t expand by conquering. People joined them of their own free will.
This is another trick. He’s trying to trick me. So what if his ancestors had acquired their territory by force. So what if his father’s intent was to get back what his grandfather had lost. Captain Arden didn’t understand their ways.
His cheeks grew hot and he clenched his fists.
Captain Arden put up his hand. “It’s all right. I didn’t mean to put you on the spot.”
J.D. put his hand on his shoulder. He almost flinched. The man had been standing quietly beside him for so long he’d almost forgotten he was there. “I’m sure your people feel their reasons are valid.”
Damn right they do. But even if they did feel their reasons were valid, were they rational? Doesn’t matter. These are my enemies either way.
The captain folded his hands again. “Now that you know we mean well, I’d like to get clarification on a few things. Your reluctance to tell us who you were is completely understandable. Since you didn’t lie to me and only withheld the information, I assume you’ve been telling the truth on the other questions we’ve asked?”
“I’m no liar.”
“I believe you. I really do. But what do you suppose the Grapnes wanted? And the bounty hunters?”
He scowled. Just because the captain knew his secret didn’t mean he had to spill his guts. At the same time, though, it would be nice to have the captain off his back. His earlier anger at the captain’s little trick with the reader had mostly been all cried out. “Ransom or vengeance, I assume.”
“So they know who you are?”
“No one was supposed to know, but one of my men let it slip.” Bok was a braggart even when sober. Add a little drink while visiting one of Depnaugh’s many pubs, and he became a loudmouthed baka.
“I see,” the captain said. “Why would your father send you both out there? Wasn’t he worried about the danger?”
He huffed. Father worried about danger? “How will we gain experience if all we do is play simulated games?” The heat was rising to his cheeks again. He didn’t like being questioned—even if the questions did seem reasonable. “This was just supposed to be a simple mission. One we could have completed if they hadn’t found out who we were.”
“What was your mission?”
He clenched his fists. The captain was pushing it. The man knew it too. He could sense it. “Just supplies and information, plain and simple. No thievery. No killing.” Simple, and yet we still failed. His cheeks burned again, but this time in shame.
“This information you speak of, it was about scientists, was it not?”
The captain’s tone was casual, but he knew better. “That’s none of your business. I’ve already made it clear that we’ve done nothing illegal.”
“Fair enough.” He sensed the captain’s curiosity fall away. “Now, how can we contact your father directly so that we can tell him you’re alright?”
He tensed. What would his father think if he found out he was here, being treated as a guest on an Alliance ship? He’d think I’m a traitor. That’s what. “You actually think speaking to my father is a good idea?”
“Don’t you want to let him know you’re safe?”
He huffed again. “He would never believe I’m safe here. Even if I told him so myself.” His father would probably torture him when he got home in order to force him to say what he believed the truth to be. Their mission had already failed terribly. It was bad enough he and Terk would return with no ship, no cargo, and no men. But if father found out they’d also been captured?
The best way to recover from this mission was to lay all the blame on Bok and pretend they’d escaped certain death all on their own. They at least still had the information on the scientists. But his father wouldn’t trust the information if he knew they’d spent time here.
“I think he’d realize you’d been kept safe when we finally get you home.” The captain’s tone was confident but he could sense the man’s uncertainty.
“Not if my brother doesn’t make it.”
He sensed a spike of fear in the captain. From Lt. Stein and J.D. as well. Bracht was still stewing, but only mildly now.
“I see your point. So you still recommend this man named Jax at the Chevert Outpost?”
“How do you know you can trust him? I don’t know a lot about Tredon politics, but I do know there are a number of Tredon lords who would love to see an end to the Kavaks.”
“Jax is no lord. He’s just a merchant. Many lords covet his position, though, for their younger sons. My father’s favor helps him keep his position. He’d be a fool to get on his bad side—or ours, for that matter.” Not to mention how Terk had once saved his life. Jax would certainly be grateful if he was able to return the favor.
“Very well. I will think on it. Thank you, Prince Kavak.”
“It is Daini Prince Kavak, as in second. My brother’s not dead.” A pang pierced his chest.
Lt. Stein stepped forward. “So there are only two of you, then? Two princes, I mean.”
A flash of heat surged through him. He wasn’t supposed to reveal that. Damn these Alliance people.
He gave her a dirty look. The captain seemed to be pretending he hadn’t heard her. “My apologies. Thank you, Daini Prince Kavak,” he said. “Though may I suggest we keep your full identity between us? For your safety, of course.”
“Very well. Just Jori, then.” He extinguished the heating embers. Everyone would know soon enough that his father only had two heirs left.
“Thank you, Jori.” The captain’s smile was kind. “I appreciate what a wonderful guest you’ve been so far. I hope we can continue our cordial relationship.”
Wonderful guest? Cordial? This man is full of sickeningly sweet politeness. “I’ll continue as before, unless self-defense or the defense of my brother becomes necessary. You have my word.”
“For whatever that’s worth,” Bracht muttered.
He ignored him. Dammit. I shouldn’t have said that last part. When Terk woke up, if he woke up, they still had a duty to their father to steal information or commit sabotage. How had he forgotten about that?
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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